Project Canterbury

After the Tractarians
by Marcus Donovan
From the Recollections of Athelstan Riley

no place: Philip Allan, 1933.

XIII. Ecclesiastical Politics

THE CATHOLIC CLAIM so unfalteringly made by the Tractarians was bound to have reactions outside the confines of the Church of England. Relations with the East, discussions with Rome, negotiations with other Christian Communions, play a large part in the story of the Revival.

As far back as the time of the Nonjurors there had been correspondence between Eastern and English priests, but nothing came of it. In 1870 a Greek prelate, Lycurgos, visited England, and some churches were consecrated for those of the Eastern obedience. Official action was tardy, but visits to Russia were paid by English ecclesiastics at intervals between 1880 and 1914, and a society for the promotion of mutual understanding was formed in Russia. Valuable lectures on English Church ways were given by English clergy visiting Russia, and in general a spirit of friendliness was promoted, which has deepened considerably since the War brought its burden of suffering upon the Russian Church.

The work on the Anglican side has necessarily been slow. Dr. Neale and his friends founded the Eastern Churches Association as far back as 1864. Realizing the affinities between the East and ourselves, they doubtless hoped for speedy intercommunion. But there were serious set-backs. The first was the anomalous position of the Anglican-Lutheran bishopric at Jerusalem which, it will be remembered, was one of the factors that occasioned the loss of Newman. Canon Liddon had visited Palestine and criticized in The Guardian the practice adopted of proselytizing from the Orthodox Church. It could not be expected that happy relations could exist while this policy persisted.

After the death of Bishop Barclay, the see was in abeyance until 1887. It was at this time that Mr. Athelstan Riley, whose knowledge of Eastern ecclesiastical affairs was probably unrivalled, was invited by Archbishop Benson to report on the situation with a view to the revival of the Jerusalem bishopric under less compromising conditions. In 1884 Mr. Riley had made a journey to visit the Assyrian Patriarch, Mar Shimun, in Kurdistan, and to report on certain tentative Mission work which had been undertaken at the request of the latter. This was a somewhat adventurous journey in those days, and resulted in a very valuable piece of work, the establishment of the Archbishop's Mission to the Assyrian Christians. In the succeeding year Mr. Riley took out the first priests who joined it, Canon Maclean (now Bishop of Moray and Ross) and the Rev. W. H. Browne, who died in Kurdistan after a most remarkable career: he embraced the life of an Oriental monk, as an example to the native church. The Archbishop's Mission was, in a sense, unique: it was animated by a single-minded desire to help and train the Assyrian Christians, and had no thought of proselytizing. Its work was carried out faithfully in that spirit and it enjoyed the services of truly devoted priests.

This step on the part of the Archbishop was a significant gesture^ for no proselytizing was allowed: the Latin missionaries and the American Protestants were already at work on proselytizing lines, but the Anglican attempt was made in the interests of the local church, and one of the first publications of the Mission was the Liturgy of St. Addai and St. Mari.

Archbishop Benson's policy with regard to the Jerusalem bishopric followed similar lines. No countenance was given to any efforts at detaching members from the Orthodox obedience. Mr. Riley drafted, at the Archbishop's request, all the letters to the Orthodox Patriarchates, and was obliged to act as intermediary between the Archbishop and Canon Liddon, who warmly opposed the plan. To conciliate the view which insisted strictly on territorial jurisdiction, the title was altered to that of "Bishop in Jerusalem," in place of "Bishop of Jerusalem." The new arrangement was free from the influence of Prussia, which had united in 1841 with Britain in promoting the original scheme, and one of the greatest barriers to friendly relations with the East was removed by the Archbishop's declaration in 1887 which desiderated "the maintenance of Christian charity with the other Christian churches represented in Jerusalem, especially the Eastern Orthodox Church, with a view to co-operation on Catholic principles and to the promotion of Christian unity." These principles have on the whole been observed by Bishops Blyth and Mclnnes, and of recent years, the various pilgrimages to the Holy Places have helped to cement the friendship which is a prerequisite to official relations.

It should be observed here that a special responsibility rests upon Anglicans in Palestine in view of the sad plight of the Eastern Orthodox in the Holy Land. The Russian remnant under the saintly bishop Anastasy and a colony of some thousand Greeks constitute the enfeebled remnant of the church of the old Christian Empire. Despoiled by the Bolsheviks, who confiscated £200,000 lying in Russian banks, the Patriarchate is forced to relinquish the great work formerly carried out in colleges and schools, while the clergy and religious are all but reduced to starvation. Against this impoverished church has been arrayed the mighty and disciplined force of Rome. It is difficult for Anglicans, whose position is identical with that of the Orthodox in their centuries of protest against the claims of Rome, to stand aside unmoved. To aid them in preserving their existence is the special task before the Anglican Church. If the labours of the Anglican Communion in Palestine tend in the direction laid down by Archbishop Benson at the revival of the bishopric there will be no reason to regret the presence of an English bishop in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, work was being done in England by the Eastern Churches Association which published sundry useful papers giving information about the practices of our fellow-Christians of the East. The death of Mr. George Williams, who had assisted Neale to found the Society, brought it almost to an end by the late 'seventies, but the episode of the Jerusalem Bishopric, already alluded to, brought about a revival of interest, and the society was re-started in 1887, among its supporters being D. C. Lathbury. editor of The Guardian, and Canon Hensley Henson. In course of time the Eastern Church Association was merged in the Anglican and Eastern Church Union. Interest in the Eastern Church owed much to that zealous champion of Orthodoxy, the late W. J. Birkbeck.

It may not be out of place to quote the tribute to this remarkable man from the pen of a distinguished fellow-worker in the same cause. Canon J. A. Douglas writes in The Christian East: "It is not overmuch to say that no Anglican who has not lived himself into the atmosphere of Orthodoxy has a right to form an opinion upon the Orthodox Church or the problems of Anglican-Orthodox relations until he has assimilated the flair which is so incommunicable a quality of his (Birkbeck's) writings about the Christian East ... he knew Russia and its Church as not many Russians themselves know it. The finest kind of country gentleman, he was devoted to the English Church. Knowing Russia intimately, he enjoyed unusual and close friendship with the martyred Tsar Nicholas, and was trusted and employed by King Edward VII. . . . Strong Anglo-Catholic though he was, he possessed the confidence of Anglican leaders, who all knew that he was incapable of abusing it for sectional ends. Archbishop Davidson consulted him in all things to do with the Christian East. Our present Archbishop has been heard to say "We have no Birkbeck to advise us now. His death early in 1916 on his return from a confidential mission to Petrograd saved him from the exquisite pain he would have experienced at the crash of the Tsardom and the present crucifixion by Bolshevik tyranny of the Russia which he loved. . . . He was one of the men who really count and who get things done."

With Birkbeck and the Catholic-minded leaders in the work at this stage were associated many 'Central High Churchmen' such as Bishop Wordsworth of Salisbury and Dr. Headlam now Bishop of Gloucester. It was a policy that was fundamentally honest, as well as being diplomatically advantageous--two considerations not invariably found together--to associate representatives of the central stream of Anglicanism with those who gloried in the Catholic tradition. For no progress towards recognition could usefully be made, as Canon Douglas has pointed out, except between the Churches as a whole. The Bonn Conference of 1874-5 was a disappointment to-those who thought otherwise. At the instance of Dr. Dollinger, it was attended by representatives of the Old Catholics, the Orthodox, and the Anglican bodies. The Orthodox knew little of us except that Rome condemned us as Protestant, and beyond a pious hope that Dollinger's estimate of us might prove correct, they were not prepared to go. Necessarily, therefore, the work of establishing contacts had to go on for years before closer acquaintance could remove misunderstanding, and it is not too much to say that the patience of those years has been largely rewarded. When a delegation of Eastern ecclesiastics, led by the Archbishop of Alexandria himself, attended the Lambeth Conference of 1930, it will be seen that the advance made has been consolidated: it has not been confined to friendly gestures on the part of a section of the Church, but has concerned itself with the Church of England as a whole, and as it is. The present position is difficult to grasp by those unfamiliar with the characteristic Eastern theory of economy but, perhaps, it may roughly be described as the right to modify ecclesiastical regulations at the discretion of the Church to which is committed the stewardship of the mysteries of Christ. Such economy would assuredly only be exercised in favour of those in whom great confidence was felt, and it is so employed by the Easterns as to allow of close and friendly relations between the two Communions. These relations have issued in repeated fraternal actions, such as the presence and participation, officially, of Orthodox prelates in such services as those of St. Paul's Cathedral and other churches, as well as by their less official appearances at Congresses and other gatherings. The two main points at issue have all along been (i) the Validity of Anglican Orders, (2) the question of doctrinal agreement. The patient investigation by Eastern theologians of the first of these has been proceeding ever since 1896, and when in 1922 the Synod of Constantinople reported in favour of acceptance of our orders a milestone was reached on the long journey. This acceptance, confirmed by the churches of Cyprus and Jerusalem, has never been controverted by any of the Orthodox Churches and may now be considered as generally accepted. The largely signed Anglican declaration on doctrine promoted by the English Church Union in 1922, did much to assist in the resolution of the second difficulty, but much remains to be done within our own borders. We have to repel the description of that stern but well-disposed critic, Professor Androutsos, who saw in the English Church "a sort of patchwork thing and a calculated affair constructed to admit all possible interpretations of the Creeds." When "a unity of heart and faith," to use the phrase of the Patriarch Meletios, prevails between the two Churches, then Intercommunion will be in sight, and not until then. To the Easterns, questions of administration fall into the second place.

This is the place to acknowledge the debt of gratitude which all promoters of the reunion of Christendom owe to Mr. Athelstan Riley. Of his work, Lord Halifax says:

"His experience and first-hand knowledge rendered his help supremely valuable in the delicate and often difficult negotiations between ourselves and the East. The Church in this country has been indeed fortunate in possessing two such experts as Mr. Riley and his lifelong friend, W. J. Birkbeck. Ever since his first visit to the East in the 'eighties of last century, he has put his store of knowledge at the disposal of the Church, and the authorities have not hesitated to give him their fullest confidence. Archbishops Benson and Davidson, in particular, relied largely on his knowledge of and sympathy with the Eastern Churches, and to him, more perhaps than to any single individual, is due the better understanding (it would be premature to call it by any more ambitious name) in which we rejoice to-day."

Lord Halifax continued, in reference to his 'trusty colleague' to recall Mr. Riley's championship of Church Schools throughout the protracted controversies of the 'nineties and the early years of the present century, remarking that the advocates of undenominationalism found in him their most formidable adversary and feared his searching challenges more than all the fulmina-tions of dignitaries. But it is in connexion with his labours for the promotion of the union of Christendom that Mr. Riley's work is entitled to the enduring gratitude of Catholic-minded Churchmen. He succeeded Mr. J. D. Chambers as Master of the Association for the Promotion of the Union of Christendom (referred to later) and in his untiring efforts to promote the welfare of the oppressed Eastern Christians, he has been instrumental in cementing an alliance which may yet change the face of Christendom.

It would give a seriously wrong impression of the progress of these protracted interchanges if the dominating personality of Archbishop Davidson were omitted. The late Archbishop had at heart the cause of reunion, indeed his occupancy of the throne of Canterbury was marked by unprecedented efforts in this direction, and (as one who worked with him has recorded) "without his zeal, patience, wisdom, courage and greatness of vision, that which is to-day could never have been. A large book would be needed to record all that he did, and the repercussions of what he did, to further the movement for closer relations between East and West: . . . the affectionate gratitude with which the Orthodox cherish his memory is evidenced by the eagerness with which they made their way on their arrival in 1930 to Canterbury, to praise God for his life and love and to pray for the peace of his soul at his grave in the garth of the Cathedral."

Reunion projects must include some reference to the Old Catholics. With them the stage of definite intercommunion has now been achieved. Dr. Dollinger had championed the validity of English Orders as long ago as 1872, and some Anglican and American bishops were present at the first Old Catholic Conference in that year. Sporadic acts of mutual courtesy took place subsequently, and some theological discussions were held, but nothing definite was recorded. The work of intercession and investigation went quietly forward, the former being promoted by the Society of St. Willibrord, founded in 1910. The result is seen in the acceptance of Anglican Orders by the whole body of Old Catholic Bishops assembled at Berne in 1925, notified to the Anglican Church by Archbishop Kenninck in 1926. This has now been implemented by further documents and by practical action, so that, the Church of England is to-day in communion with Catholics of the Western type whose sacramental life and orders admit of no question.

Less happy have been the relations between Anglicans and Rome. As Professor Goudge puts it, the situation "is full of what the Elizabethan dramatists call 'alarums and excursions', especially of 'excursions'," and it is this latter circumstance which has complicated the whole position. Hence it is impossible to discuss at all fully the attempts to promote a better understanding with Rome without trenching upon the whole 'Roman question'. The secession of individuals from the English Church has, it has been truly pointed out, created fresh bitterness, increased Protestant distrust and weakened the general cause of Catholicism.

Ever since the beginning of the Church Revival, there has naturally been a keen desire for union with the rest of the Western Church, among all who value the Catholic claims, though this has often gone hand in hand with a vigorous repudiation of the Papal claims. Indeed, it would in a sense be accurate to say that there was a strong anti-Papal feeling among many of the Tractarians and their successors. In spite of constant controversy, not entirely due to Protestant prejudice but largely fomented by Papalist aggression, there has never been lacking a stream of earnest intercession that the breach created in the sixteenth century might be healed. The Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom filled a useful place among English Catholics for many years. Cardinal Manning forbade Romanists to join it though it had been started in 1857 at the instigation of a R.C. layman seconded by an Anglican priest and supported by a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. An Anglican layntan, Mr. J. D. Chambers, a leading liturgiologist, was the Master, and the society had a considerable membership. Dr. F. G. Lee, identified more notably with the Order of Corporate Reunion, was a strong supporter of A.P.U.C., but his position was always distrusted by his co-religionists, who felt that he was attempting to confuse the two societies, though their aims were by no means identical. The society was denounced by the Inquisition in 1864, and though in later years Canon Lacey wrote a Latin letter to the authorities in the hope of getting the prohibition modified, no result ensued. Ultimately the society came to an end, with many others, during the War. But the earnest intercession offered by its members throughout the years of disappointment have not been without fruit.

The visit of Lord Halifax to Rome in 1896 and the 'conversations' which took place at that time appeared to have merely a disappointing outcome, the Papal bull condemning Anglican Orders, yet in after years the same venerated leader was able to visit Rome once again, this time to receive the Pope's personal blessing, which His Holiness extended to the work which has been Lord Halifax's consuming interest, the promotion of Reunion. On his return journey, Lord Halifax visited Cardinal van Roey, who had succeeded that great champion of the Faith, Cardinal Mercier, in connexion with the promotion of further efforts on the lines of the Malines Conferences and the Cardinal expressed himself as willing to preside over further gatherings for mutual study and consultation.

Malines marked a fresh stage. It would be easy to urge that 'nothing came of the meetings, but they explored and to some extent mapped out the territory of agreement, while by no means ignoring the area of discussion. From 1921 to 1925 conferences between responsible and representative theologians on both sides were continued. Agreement was discovered on much of great importance, and the Roman Report went so far as to declare that "the Anglican Bishops have opened the way for the practical solution of a very thorny problem" and though the day of union may be very far off, there can be no doubt that it is appreciably nearer as the result of the increasing knowledge gained, and above all, of the spirit of charity exhibited.

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