Project Canterbury

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

London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1926.

Chapter IV. The Church

THE redemption of mankind was accomplished by our Lord when in the ascension He presented to the Father His finished work. But the results of that work had yet to be developed and applied. As the ascension followed on from the death and resurrection, so also the ascension itself led to the descent of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost, the third Person in the Holy Trinity, who had always since the creation had His work on earth, was now sent by God the Son from God the Father in a new manner and with new operations. The people of God, who in Old Testament times had received God's special vocation, and had been in special fashion the instrument of His will, was now to be filled with new power. The little remnant of the chosen race, which had been faithful in the supreme crisis of the vocation, and had accepted our Lord as the Messiah, and had become His disciples, inherited the promises to the race, and was made to be the Christian Church, and was filled with the Holy Ghost.

The Church thus formed was the instrument of God. It had its divinely appointed work of teaching and hallowing those who through its missionary efforts should become Christians. As the teacher of truth and the home of grace, it was, in the power of the Holy Ghost, to make the gifts of God through the Incarnation effective in human lives. On its outward side, it was a company of men and women and children united in a fellowship of life and prayer which was sustained by the teaching of the apostles and by sacramental grace. In its inward being, it was the bride and body of Christ, the shrine of the Holy Ghost, the family of God. As time went on and the Church grew, its limits were clearly seen. The members of the Church were those who believed the orthodox faith, who had been baptized into the body of Christ, and who continued in communion with the episcopal ministry which had descended from the apostles.

The Church is the teacher of truth. The method of its teaching may take different forms. There is the promulgation of Holy Scripture. There are the decisions of Councils. There are the utterances of accredited teachers. There are the necessary inferences from worship. In each case what is important is how far that which is taught is the right and permanent expression of the Church's mind.

In promulging Holy Scripture the Church has given Holy Scripture a very distinctive place. Phrases such as that Holy Scripture is the word of God, or that God is the author of Holy Scripture, or that through Holy Scripture the Holy Ghost spoke, have been frequently used, and have been accepted with a greater or less degree of authority. The written word of God has often been compared with the personal Word of God in such a way as to suggest some correspondence between the revelation in Holy Scripture and the revelation in the Incarnation. With these expressions a pronounced view of the authority of Holy Scripture has been associated for a long period of time and by very many teachers. The absence of error has been asserted. Each word of the original texts has been said to be inspired in the sense that, if the record was designed as history, the history is necessarily true in every detail; if statements are figurative, the facts or doctrines represented by the figures are wholly accurate; if there is teaching, the teaching cannot contain any mistake. The tendency has been to minimize the human element in the books, and towards making the divine inspiration almost all. Such a view of Holy Scripture was the most usual way of regarding it in the early Church. There were important exceptions, but it was the opinion of most of the Fathers. It passed from them into the theology of the middle ages. In the sixteenth century it received a new emphasis; for, while retained both by Roman Catholics and by the Reformers as a whole, the stress on it became greater in Protestant quarters because among Protestants there was less use of the mystical interpretation which had somewhat lightened the burden of the theory for the Fathers and the mediaeval writers. The Tractarians inherited and did not question this general way of regarding the Bible. And they accepted with it as a matter of course the traditional ascription of the books of the Bible to particular writers, and the traditional view of the composition of the books. The last century has been a time of much study of the Bible, a time of vehemently maintained and passionately attacked theories, a time in which almost every received opinion on the subject has been challenged. The effect of all this has been seen in the successors of the Tractarians. There is probably no matter on which there is more difference among Anglo-Catholics to-day than the questions about Holy Scripture. The opinions of some differ little from those of the majority of the Fathers or the Schoolmen or the Reformers. Others have accepted theories affected by the historical and critical methods of the time, and have found no difficulty in fitting new opinions about the composition and the authorship and the interpretation of the books of Holy Scripture into their theological beliefs. In this respect, perhaps, more than any other, many Anglo-Catholics have departed far from the mind of the Tractarians, as also they are far removed from the most authoritative teachers of the Church of Rome. It may not be without significance that a similar change of position appears to be taking place among the Evangelicals in the English Church.

Some change, though not so great a change as in regard to Holy Scripture, may be seen also in the attitude of the Anglo-Catholics towards the authority of the Church in general as compared with that of the Tractarians. Both alike affirm the complete authority of decisions of Councils universally accepted which have denned doctrines as being of obligatory belief, and the high importance of the uniform teaching of representative theologians, and the high value of inferences which may be drawn from worship found everywhere within the Church. But a difference may be seen in the reasons because of which these conclusions are received. By the Tractarians, for the most part, universality of belief or practice was valued chiefly because it was regarded as a sign of apostolicity, because it was a witness to the tradition which had been handed down in the Church from the first. Many Anglo-Catholics, on the other hand, regard universal consent within the Church as in itself the result of the divine guidance; and attach importance no less to a providential development than to the preservation of a tradition committed to the Church by the apostles. This difference of attitude brings with it another difference also. For the Tractarian, the older a doctrine or practice, the nearer is it to what is true and right, because it is less far removed from the time of the apostles; and the appeal to antiquity is one of the most marked features of the Tractarian teaching. For many Anglo-Catholics the appeal to antiquity has less weight than other considerations; and, if there be universal acceptance within the Church, it is not for them a matter of serious moment whether that acceptance is found in the fifth century or in the first half of the eleventh.

There can be little doubt that in the ancient Church the Bishop of Rome held a very remarkable, and, in some respects, a unique position. He was regarded as the chief Bishop in Christendom; he had a primacy which, if undefined, was not unimportant; it was natural for him to initiate inquiries and to promulgate the results of inquiries. In the course of time, the influence and power of the Popes increased; their claims became greater; the tendency was for the primacy to pass into a supremacy. The supremacy of the Pope and the necessity of communion with him for membership in the Church were maintained by the Popes in the fifth century and later; through the middle ages this supremacy and necessity were usually acknowledged in the West; and in the nineteenth century belief in the infallibility of papal decisions for the whole Church on matters of faith and morals, which had already been held by many, was made obligatory for those in communion with the See of Rome.

The Tractarians were not concerned to deny that the Pope had possessed some kind of primacy in the ancient Church, and that, if Christendom should once more be united, he would again naturally be the primate of the universal Church; but papal supremacy and the necessity of communion with the Pope as a condition of communion with the Church were rejected by all of them except those who became Roman Catholics. Those who were still alive in 1870, the year when papal infallibility was denned, continued to deny that doctrine. Among Anglo-Catholics of to-day there are considerable differences in the attitude taken towards the papacy. The position of some is much the same as that most characteristic of the Tractarians. But with many there has been a certain change of outlook. Probably there are but few who are so far inconsistent in remaining within the English Church that they are ready to acknowledge the supremacy and infallibility of the Pope; but there are many who have come to recognize more fully and cordially that in the light of history the Pope may claim a primacy in the Church, and some of these are willing to assert that this primacy has a degree of divine right or divine authority which others would not allow.

During the last fifty years the desire for the re-union of Christendom, which had never become quite extinct in the English Church, has grown steadily stronger. It is felt by all Anglo-Catholics; and most of them agree that, whatever possibilities there may be with Protestant Dissenters, union with Rome and the East is of chief importance, and is the most likely to lead eventually to the re-union of all Christians. Some--probably the considerable majority--regard the prospects of re-union with Rome as more hopeful than the prospects of re-union with the East, and attach most value to such a reconciliation as will make Western Catholics one united Church under the primacy of the Pope. Others hold the contrary view that for the present our hopes should be extended rather to the Churches of the East. All these alike would wish that the first partial re-union--whether with Rome or with the East--should be a step towards a union which may include all Catholics of the West and Orthodox of the East, and finally gather into itself all Christian societies.

The wish for, and the anticipation of, re-union have a practical bearing on policy. Nothing ought to be denied to Rome by England or the East which Rome can rightly claim in the light of Scripture and history and dogma, and nothing ought to be granted to Rome of which Scripture and history and dogma demand the rejection. Sacrifices on all sides will be needed if the great work is to be accomplished; but they must be sacrifices in which no Catholic principle is on any side abandoned.

The hope of re-union has its bearing, too, on the appeal to authority. Authority has taken a somewhat different form in the East and at Rome, and again in the Church of England. In each of them, also, there have been different conceptions of freedom. It is important, if re-union is to be sound and lasting, that nothing which is of value either in the way of authority or in the way of freedom should be lost, and that nothing which is useless or hurtful should be retained.

The Catholic appeal to authority is partly to the past. It looks back to Holy Scripture, to the doctrinal statements in which the Church has drawn out the meaning of Holy Scripture and which have been accepted as creeds, to the conciliar decisions which have been authoritatively imposed as binding on the whole Church, to the common teaching of representative divines. The Catholic may not reject anything to which he believes that the Church as a whole is really committed, anything which the whole Church has made part of its permanent life. It may often be a difficult task to determine exactly how far the authority of the Church has gone, whether the decision of an accepted oecumenical council has been so completely a matter of principle that it may not be altered or has been so entirely a detail of only temporary importance that it may well be changed, whether, for instance, any utterance is to be ranked with the affirmation of our Lord's deity at the Council of Nicaea or with the prohibition of kneeling during Eastertide by the same council, whether the concurrent teaching of divines through a long period of time indicates an actual acceptance of the teaching by the Church itself. But, whenever it can be determined that there has been a decision to which the Church as a whole is permanently committed, the acceptance of that decision is obligatory.

But, besides the appeal to the past, there is also an appeal to the future. The Catholic of necessity looks back to the past; for in the past is the tradition which sustains his belief. But of necessity also he looks forward to the future, to the re-united Church which is to be, and he sees that the past will find its full significance in the development which yet has to come. For the Church's life is greater than of any one century, or of any particular series of centuries; it is for all time.

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