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The Faith of an English Catholic
by Darwell Stone, D.D.

London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1926.

Chapter II. Belief in God

IT is easy for a casual visitor to an Anglo-Catholic church to make great mistakes. He observes, perhaps, a pageant of worship, careful attention to minute details, regard for symmetry. He listens, perhaps, to strong assertions about sacramental grace, to some panegyric of our Lady or the saints, to emphatic insistence on the more outward aspects of Christian duty. He is, it may be, given an impression of formalism or unreality. If to some extent he appreciates the splendour or the exactness or the regularity, he may in other ways be repelled, and he may miss much of the real meaning of what he sees and hears, and may fail to understand what is behind it. It is easy to know a man for years and even to talk much with him, and yet not to understand what is nearest to his heart and what he cares for most. It is easy, again, to know a man from his public reputation, and to have formed an unfavourable opinion of him, and later somehow to find that the man himself is most conscious of and most deplores the faults which to the outsider have obscured the real beauty and power of his life. In some such way, one who has looked at the outside only of Anglo-Catholic teaching and worship may sometimes have seen formality, superficiality, harshness, narrowness, where these really are not; and have failed to discern what is behind and beyond the external features which he has observed. For devotion to the great truths of the Christian religion is the essential element in Anglo-Catholic life.

Central among the great truths of the Christian religion is the doctrine of God. By a long process, extending through the books of the Old and the New Testaments, the Christian doctrine of God was developed. It was asserted or implied in the decisions of the Church, and was elaborated in the common thought and teaching of the Christian divines.

The Christian belief in God regards Him as eternal, as transcending the universe which He created no less than immanent in it, as distinct in nature from the highest of His creatures, as possessing the moral perfection whereby He includes in Himself all possible good, as able to do all things which do not contradict His own being and attributes. He is supreme love. He is pitiful, He is merciful, He is full of long-suffering, He is One the ascription to whom of grief for human ills fails only because it is true in a sense higher than any known in man. He has all that is most loving in a parent's care. But He has also in supreme measure other attributes of a good father. He is not without sternness. As He has grief and pity in senses far surpassing the human meaning of the words, so also He has righteous wrath. The Catholic tradition has steadfastly kept the assertion of those widely differing qualities in the divine life which Holy Scripture in rich abundance reveals.

Tractarians and Anglo-Catholics have held this tradition fast. [1] It may be true that there have been differences between them. In the Tractarians, awe and reverence and an intense recollection of responsibility may sometimes have taken the wrong form of gloom. Among Anglo-Catholics the dread of gloom, rightly recognized as often strengthening temptation and leading to sin, may sometimes have seemed to lessen the sense of responsibility and reverence and awe. So far as this has been so, the differences have been due to differing imperfections as the pendulum has swung first one way and then another; they have not been the result of any fault in the fundamental belief. In an age when there are many tendencies to ignore God, or to regard His Being as not essentially distinct from that of man, or so to pervert the idea of His Fatherhood as to minimize the thought of Him as the almighty Ruler and the righteous Judge, there is need of the great truths about God which are common to Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic alike.

The central truth about God is the assertion of His love. His love is not limited to time. It is a part of His eternal Being, existing, real, active, before the work of creation began. Through eternity the life of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost has been. The love of the Father for the Son, of the Son for the Father, of the Father and the Son for the Holy Ghost, of the Holy Ghost for the Father and the Son, had no beginning, as it will have no end. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity--of the three Persons who are one God--was seen by the Church to be necessarily implied in the teaching of Holy Scripture, and was made part of the constant message of Christian truth. In their emphasis on this doctrine Catholic theologians endeavoured to meet the deepest needs of Christian thought and devotion. For these needs cannot be satisfied save in the God who is eternal, in whose eternal Being there are the activities of life, and in whose life before as well as after creation is an abiding exercise of love. A theology which departs from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic have received from the Universal Church, may have a temporary attraction; but its failure to satisfy the abiding demands of human thought and prayer deprives it of real and lasting value.

[1] It will be convenient in this book to adopt the popular usage by which "Tractarians" denotes the earlier generation, and "Anglo-Catholics" their successors at the present time. Properly speaking, the words are inter changeable.

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