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The Present Position of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England

An Address delivered at the Conference of the Clergy of the Diocese of New York
At Lake Mahopac on October 18, 1933.

By Will Spens
Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1934.

I have been asked to attempt the difficult task of speaking to you today about the position of the Anglo-Catholic movement in England. In a sense that is an impossible task. In every party in the Church there are wide divergencies of opinion. The Anglo-Catholic movement in England is no exception, and I must preface what I am going to say by warning you that the position which I am going to indicate is characteristic of Cambridge rather than of Oxford Anglo-Catholics and, since at the moment the leading Anglo-Catholic churches in London are in the main staffed by Oxford men, of the Provinces rather than of the Metropolis. I may add that in recent years this position has found its organ in Theology, under the editorship of the Dean of Winchester, rather than in the Church Times, although the latter has treated the point of view in question with marked respect and consideration.

I would wish to add two remarks. Such party divisions as we have in the Church of England constitute a tolerable situation only in so far as the different parties come gradually to feel that they are gaining from each other, and move gradually towards a synthesis. The position which it is my task to describe is one which has certainly learnt much from the work of other schools of thought in the church; I believe that my colleagues on the Doctrine Commission, set up some ten years ago by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, would tell you that it has also done more than a little to commend to those of other schools Anglo-Catholic conceptions. Nor has that often been more strikingly the case than in recent discussions on that Commission about the Ministry and about the sacraments. Further this has, I think, an assignable cause. Many, indeed most, of those of us who have come to hold this position were not Anglo-Catholics by tradition, nor at least in the first instance by natural attraction. We were concerned primarily to face weighty attacks on any form of Christian belief and we came, sometimes with reluctance, to the conclusion that the broad grounds on which such belief could be defended led us to Liberal Catholicism rather than to Liberal Protestantism. That was my own case. It is common knowledge that it was so also with others. Many of you will have read "The Faith of a Moralist" and some at least will have contrasted with this an earlier work of its distinguished author. Secondly, if I am to sketch the theological position with which I am concerned--or indeed any theological position--in twenty-five minutes I must crave your indulgence in that I shall have to compress much that I would gladly expand, and I must ask you to forgive me if I am at times rather highly technical. You have set me what is, I think, the most difficult task with which I have ever been confronted in a considerable experience of theological discussion.

Subject to this preface I propose to speak briefly of doctrinal authority, of the attitude adopted to Biblical criticism, of the Church, and of the sacraments, as being those topics which will best illustrate and differentiate the point of view which I have in mind. It is inevitable that I should do so in my own way but I do not think I shall say much if anything which would not be accepted by the Dean of Winchester, Archdeacon Rawlinson, or Canon Wilfred Knox, who are three of the best known theologians of the School in question, or by C. P. Hankey and Cyril Tomkinson to mention only two well known parish priests with whom as it happens I have been in close contact.

First as to the question of authority. A typical discussion from this point of view was provided in a reply to Fr. Vernon's book, published by two members of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, Fr. Eric Milner White and Fr. Wilfred Knox, under the title of One God and Father of All (Morehouse Publishing Co.). A much fuller treatment is given in The Development of Modern Catholicism (Morehouse) which is again by two members of the Cambridge Oratory, Fr. Wilfred Knox and Fr. Alec Vidler. I can only indicate very briefly the kind of position which is adopted. In the first place there is a definite acceptance of the principle which gave rise to the old defence of Anglican theology as a via media between Rome and Geneva. There is none of that 'cocksure blackguarding of the Reformers' which has characterized and still characterizes some phases of the Catholic revival. It is taken for granted that in the Reformation controversies, and not merely over the Papal claims, it is most unlikely that truth lay wholly or overwhelmingly on one side. On the other hand there is a marked divergence from the older conception of a 'via media'. It is characteristic of the twentieth as opposed to the nineteenth century to expect that, when there is a deep divergence of thought into two schools, the truth will be found not so much in a 'via media' between the two points of view as in a synthesis, which finds room for the ideas for which each side was contending. No doubt the belief is held that Catholicism is as it were the main current. That belief would be maintained on the ground that at its best Catholicism appears to produce, not so much a higher level of sanctity than does Protestantism at its best, but sanctity of more varied kinds and among more varied types of individuals; and on the ground also that, when all is said, the Reformation was a reaction, however necessary, and that reactions invariably go too far. There is however quite clear recognition that the Reformers' criticisms of contemporary Catholic theology were largely justified and that, at the least, this needs restatement at various points to meet these criticisms. I will try to indicate the kind of restatement which I have in mind when I come to speak of the sacraments. I am concerned now simply to emphasize that there is no tendency to treat mediaeval theology as final, as adequate, or even as a system which needs only excogitation rather than revision. In the second place, as I have already indicated, great stress is laid on the view that the test of theology lies in its congruity with Christian experience and with the Christian consciousness as educated in that experience. That view is held on epistemological grounds into which I cannot now enter but it is also held to be the clear teaching of the New Testament. The Roman Catholic conception of an oracular infallibility is repudiated less because of particular objections than because it is felt that there is in the New Testament a positive line of teaching, as to doctrinal authority, which definitely points to the test of experience rather than of official promulgation. On the other hand the contention is emphasized that theology must take account of all experience; that this again points to the need of synthesis which will cover Catholic as well as Protestant experience and more especially the positive elements in each; and that, as a consequence, truth must be sought in a liberalised Catholicism. [1]

In regard to the Scriptures there is first of all quite clear recognition that the New Testament is not merely the first chapter in Christian thought; that it affords us our evidence of a unique revelation of God to man; and that there is ample reason to regard it as an inspired record of that revelation. It is in consequence regarded as normative for Christian thought, not indeed as an alternative to the test of experience but as the record of unique experience; nor as exhaustive, since there is quite clearly development in Christian thought, but as requiring even in regard to development conformity to its implications. In regard to Biblical criticism, belief in inspiration is held to imply confidence that criticism, when carried far enough, will confirm the Faith, rather than to remove the necessity for fearless investigation. Further it is held that Biblical criticism has already reached a stage where such confirmation is markedly forthcoming, and in particular as against the Liberal Protestant conception of Christ as a supreme prophet who was deified by his followers. The view which is held as to the present state of criticism will be found best in Archdeacon Rawlinson's Bampton Lectures and, in an even more recent form, in The Riddle of the New Testament (Faber, London) by two members of my own College, Sir Edwyn Hoskyns and Mr. Noel Davey. I should add that all these writers attach great importance to the Barthian movement.

As to the Church, I think the most striking tendency is to stress the conception of the Church as a new race, as the New Israel, rather than the less Spiritual conception of a Society. [2] On this basis divisions are viewed as failing to destroy a real unity, just as the partition of the Polish state did not destroy a real unity existing between all members of the Polish nation. On the other hand such a unity in spite of divisions is reinforced, and is also more easily realized, in so far as there is conscious community of thought and the use of common forms. Anglo-Catholic thought of the type of which I am speaking is concerned with Roman theology and tends to adopt traditional Catholic practices far less as steps to external re-union than as expressing and reinforcing a real unity which already exists. Actual re-union with Rome is regarded as outside the realm of practical politics, until much water has flowed under all the bridges, in the main through Roman conceptions of doctrinal authority. As to the Church's ministry there is quite definite acceptance of the doctrine of the Apostolic succession and on the whole a growing belief in the importance of this doctrine. It is however regarded far less mechanically than used to be the case. What is emphasized is that, taken as a whole, the New Testament picture represents the Apostolic government as governing in virtue of a special authority received from their Lord during His earthly ministry; that in short He gave the Church a 'superimposed' government; and that the preservation of a real continuity with that Government, which from an early date has been effected by episcopal ordination, secures that the Ministry acts by and with the commission of the Incarnate Lord and thus bears witness to the Incarnation as a fact of history. [3] On the other hand there is, in the first place, a real recognition that abnormal circumstances require abnormal action and that the Orthodox doctrine of 'economy' has a real relevance even if it does not cover all for which its authority is sometimes claimed. In the second place there is not only full recognition that the work of non-episcopal ministries proves that they "gather" with us, but very great unwillingness to ask them to submit to anything which they would regard either as invidious, or indeed as impossible unless or until they had accepted precisely our view of ministerial authority. In this connection Archdeacon Clayton made an interesting suggestion when speaking at the first Anglo-Catholic Conference in London. [4] He said in effect: 'Let us drop fighting as to what is essential for a fully authorized ministry. Let us recognize that, if for no other reason yet in order to facilitate the ultimate re-union of Christendom, it is desirable not only to have a valid ministry, whatever that may involve, but a ministry the validity of which is nowhere disputed.' He went on to suggest that in any re-union scheme, where the question of orders was the stumbling block, this principle should be accepted and the Anglican clergy concerned, no less than the ministers not episcopally ordained, should accept for the sake of unity conditional re-ordination at the hands ultimately of Orthodox or Old Catholic Bishops.

I turn, finally, to the sacraments. First as to the historical question. It would be generally held that modern Biblical criticism, and the consequent uncertainty of arguing from the particular texts, rendered it dangerous to distinguish sharply between Baptism and, for example, Confirmation, on the ground of Dominical institution; but it would be held that little difference was involved whether Our Lord instituted a sacramental rite before His ascension or whether the Church instituted such a rite under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, provided guidance was attested by the proved value of the rite and provided the grace which the rite purported to convey was itself the subject of Dominical teaching. I ought to add however that all Anglo-Catholic theologians of my acquaintance, however Liberal, regard the Eucharist as of Dominical institution in the narrower sense and the case for the contrary view as having broken down. I cannot of course in the time at my disposal enter upon their reasons. [5] I may however say that some are inclined to think that at the very first the breaking of bread may have taken place without direct reference to Our Lord's sacrificial death, but that even these are convinced that the form as well as the content of the Pauline passages can only be accounted for, if the Lord had undeniably used language which justified S. Paul's conception so clearly as to account for the absence of any sign of serious controversy when he expounded that conception.

In regard to the Eucharist all would deny any material or quasi-material identity between the Sacrament and Our Lord's natural Body or Blood. An exegesis would be very generally accepted which took the words of institution in their context as necessarily implying no more, but no less, than that by devout reception of the bread which had been broken, or the cup which had been blessed, we become partakers in the blessings of Our Lord's sacrifice and in His life; that in the words of the Article, the Eucharist is 'a sacrament of our Redemption,' at once its outward and visible sign and means whereby it is received. There would however be insistence on three things: first, that the rubric as to re-consecration, and the almost universal admission that communion from the Reserved Sacrament is a valid communion, imply that in a real sense the consecrated elements convey the opportunity of grace and do so in virtue of their consecration; secondly, as a consequence, that it is no more reasonable to speak of the consecrated Host or Chalice as if they were merely bread or wine than it would be to describe a dollar as merely a piece of silver, indeed far less reasonable since the spiritual opportunity has, in the Divine Will, a basis no less ultimate than that of the opportunities of natural experience which constitute bread or wine; and thirdly, that objects which not only represent Our Lord as our Heavenly food but by which He is this, and which thus make possible a more intimate relation to Him than did even His natural Body, must be regarded as mediating a special presence. [6]

As to the Eucharistic sacrifice all the theologians whom I have in mind would say that however difficult it is to rationalize, in terms of modern thought, the conception of Our Lord's sacrificial death, this conception is too deeply rooted, alike in Scripture and in Christian experience, for it to be explained away or its importance minimised. I cannot now enter on any account of how they attempt the task of explaining, so far as it can be explained, the mystery of Calvary. I am concerned rather with the question as to how, taking for granted the conception of a sacrificial death, they relate this to the Eucharist. They regard a sacrifice as involving three things; namely, the oblation or giving of the victim; the immolation; and the consecration, meaning by this last some act or acts which either expressly or by some recognized convention give to the death a sacrificial significance. They regard some such acts as an essential element in sacrifice alike as a matter of history and as supplying a solemn acknowledgment before God and man of the purpose of the sacrifice and of the need for it. They point out in regard to Our Lord's sacrifice that such acts are to be found, and are only to be found, in the Last Supper and in the Eucharist. They hold that, if we think of sacrifice in terms of the act of destruction, Christ was once offered upon Calvary; but that if we are thinking in terms of the acts which invest the death with its sacrificial significance, He is offered in every Eucharist. [7]

I ought to say something finally about the general conception of sacraments as means of grace. It is held, at least by a number of the theologians in question, that just as in the Eucharist the symbolic objects afford the opportunity of grace, so in the other sacraments or sacramental rites the symbolic acts and the accompanying words convey to the recipient opportunities of grace. Consider Baptism. This is thought of by these theologians not as conveying grace directly but as conveying directly a status which is the cause of grace if advantage be taken of it. The sacraments are regarded as causing grace in the sense: causa causae, causa causati. In the case of Baptism the status, which is the immediate cause of grace, is acceptance by Christ, and incorporation into the Church. As accepted by Him through acceptance on His behalf with due authority, and as members of His Church, new opportunities of grace exist for the baptised. It is not denied that these opportunities may be given otherwise where Baptism is not available or when in all good faith it is thought unnecessary. It is asserted that they are given in Baptism and that it is God's will that they should so be sought. [8]

I would wish to emphasize two points as to this view of the sacraments. It is consistent with and indeed requires the strongest possible insistence on the place of faith. Alike in regard to the Eucharist and in regard to the other sacraments or sacramental rites the opportunities of grace must be appropriated and clearly faith is essential to this, the means whereby this is done. In the second place, while of course every operation of grace is miraculous in a real sense, there is nothing peculiarly miraculous, still less magical, about sacraments as so conceived. Spiritual opportunities are attached by the Divine will to objects and actions. The modus operandi is precisely the same as when, for example, a Government gives a certain purchasing power to its token coinage, or when I as Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge in giving a medical degree conferred, by the authority of the Government, certain opportunities to practice as a doctor. In each case there is the attachment of opportunities to outward signs by a will which can determine alike the opportunities in question and how they shall be afforded. We may, I think, go further and say that one strong reason, for the use of outward symbols, is the same. The Church and the nation each find their expression in a society and in a social life. When you are dealing not with men as isolated individuals but as members of a society, it is important that the status, rights, and opportunities of each should be known by all concerned; and, therefore, that these should depend upon definite and known acts.

In conclusion I would make one remark about the position, in another sense, of the Anglo-Catholic movement in England. From time to time you will see statements that it has shot its bolt, passed its zenith, and so on. Such statements have appeared every two or three years for as long as I can remember. They were seldom less justified by the facts. The attendance at the recent London Congress far exceeded that on any earlier occasion. The Congress was reported in the Press, and received sympathetic attention in the Press, to an extent which was altogether new. The relations of the movement with the Episcopate and with liberal minded members of other parties have never been so good. That is not merely my estimate. I cannot but think that in such statements as I have in mind the wish is, at least very largely, father of the thought; and I would not willingly give you merely an estimate open, as mine would be, to an immediate 'tu quoque.' I took therefore an opportunity of discussing the position recently with the Archbishop of York and I am authorised by him to express to you his substantial agreement with what I have said in this connection. I know no opinion in the Church of England so entitled to acceptance. At once a great ecclesiastic and a great theologian, the Archbishop has more than any man I know contact with all parties, and more especially with the younger members of all parties.

Gentlemen, I have finished: I thank you for your attention.

[1] Compare a paper read by the writer at the Catholic Congress of the Episcopal Church, in Philadelphia, October 5, and printed in The Living Church, October 7, 1933, in which the case for an empyrical, as opposed to an oracular, conception of Doctrinal authority is discussed at some length: compare also the two books quoted in the text. For the apologetic treatment of the argument from experience compare the writer's book 'Belief and Practice;' Longmans Green and Co.; and especially the appendix to the second edition: also an article in Theology, January, 1025 (publisher S.P.C.K.).

[2] Compare a paper by the Rev. E. Milner White, O.G.S., Dean of King's College, Cambridge, Report of the First Anglo-Catholic Congress, 1920, S.P.C.K., where this line of thought is more fully inclosed.

[3] Compare Belief and Practice, Lecture XIII.

[4] Archdeacon Clayton's paper is printed in the Congress report quoted above.

[5] All the New Testament scholars whom I had in mind hold that the Lord used at the Last Supper some such words as are recorded as to the Bread and Cup. They would differ as to whether there was an express command to continue. The view which I have indicated in the text, and which I myself hold, is that not only the Didache but certain of the Pauline phrases suggest that at the first the 'Breaking of Bread' took place without the use of the 'words of institution' and if this was so, that there had probably been no explicit command to repeat. On the other hand if the Disciples had been accustomed by the Lord to hold Fellowship Meals, in accordance with current practice (compare Gavin, Jewish Antecedents of the Christian Sacraments, S.P.C.K., London; Morehouse Publishing Co., Milwaukee, page 64 ff), these would naturally in any case continue after the Resurrection. If so, what the Lord did at the Last Supper was to give new content and meaning to a rite which would naturally continue, and the existence or otherwise of an explicit command to continue becomes unimportant. The whole of the facts seem to be explained best if we also suppose further that at the beginning the Fellowship Meal was continued without reference to the words of institution or, at least, without full realisation of their significance, and that S. Paul's part lay in bringing this significance home to the Church. It appears however impossible to believe that there would not be more controversy as to his Eucharistic teaching unless either there was nothing new about it or, as I think more likely, it involved at least new emphasis but had decisive support in the undeniable use by the Lord of words about the Bread and Cup which were felt to justify the Apostle's teaching.

[6] Compare a paper by Professor A. E. Taylor and the writer on 'The Real Presence, Theologically and Philosophically Considered,' Report of the Anglo-Catholic Congress, 1927, Morehouse Publishing Co., on page 114 line 12 for 'has' read 'is.' In regard to (5.) compare also the paper by the Rev. Sir E. Hoskyns, Bart in the same report.

[7] Compare the paper by the Dean of Winchester, the Very Rev. E. G. Selwyn in the same Report: also an article by the writer, Theology, October, 1923, and the last essay in Essays Catholic and Critical (Macmillan, New York).

[8] Compare an article by the writer, Theology, September 1931.

In the above notes I have chosen so far as possible statements for which I was myself responsible, but statements which I had discussed fully with others and more especially with the Dean of Winchester and Canon Knox. I regret that in a number of cases the only possible reference was to articles in Theology but hope that for some at least these may be available. W.S.

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