Project Canterbury

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

London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1926.

Chapter XV. Conclusion

IT has been emphasized more than once in the foregoing pages that there are differences in opinion and differences in practice among Anglo-Catholics. It may be well to add here two further illustrations relating to matters of practice. The first is in regard to the fast before Communion. There is no difference among Anglo-Catholics that the historic custom of the Catholic Church prescribes that for priest and for people no food of any kind is to be taken before Communion. It is agreed, again, that this custom is of moral obligation for members of the Church of England who accept the authority of the Universal Church. It is agreed, also, that for persons near death it is lawful to receive the Holy Communion when not fasting. But, if we go on to further statements, a difference arises. There have always been those both among the Tractarians and among their successors who have held that other exceptions to the ordinary rule than the exception for dying persons ought to be made, and that those recovering from illness, or chronic invalids, or some in ordinary weak health, might rightly communicate after food. Of those who have maintained this opinion, some have held that each such exception should be made subject to the permission of the bishop of the diocese; others have allowed that this permission is not necessary. In the last few years the position of those who have thus believed that the rule of keeping the fast before Communion allows of certain considerable exceptions has been strengthened by the attitude adopted in the Church of Rome. A hundred years ago, the Church of Rome maintained its traditional law that the relaxation of the fast before Communion in any individual case required a dispensation from the Pope, and this dispensation was rarely given. During the last twenty-five years some change has been made. It is understood that in the early years of the twentieth century the papal dispensations were given more frequently than had been the case formerly; in 1906 and 1907 the sacred congregation of the Holy Office allowed individual confessors to grant them; the revised canon law of 1917 recognized that individual confessors might allow liquid food to be taken before Communion by some in ill health; and in 1923 the congregation of the Holy Office permitted the celebration of Mass by priests who had taken some liquid food other than alcoholic in circumstances which make the observance of the fast specially difficult. There are, then, Anglo-Catholics who hold that, in view of the divine command to receive Communion being of higher obligation than the Church's rule of the fast before Communion, of occasional exceptions to the rule known to have been allowed in the early Church, of the relaxations in the Roman Catholic Church, and of permissions granted in the Churches of the East, the need of maintaining the fast before Communion cannot be without exceptions other than the case of the dying. On the other hand, some Anglo-Catholics hold that the law against receiving food before Communion has so fully had the sanction of the Universal Church that only a formal decision of the Universal Church could free any from the obligation of observing it.

The second instance is in regard to the marriage of the clergy. The historical facts are well known. In the early Church married men were permitted to be ordained priests, but priests were not allowed to marry after their ordination. In the Eastern Church the broad features of this rule have been maintained with the added regulation that the unmarried priests are irt monasteries, the parish priests are from those who have been married before ordination, and the bishops are selected from the unmarried priests. In the Church of Rome the early prohibition against marriage after ordination has been extended so as to prohibit also the ordination of the married except in the case of Easterns in communion with Rome. In the Church of England the allowance that those already married may be ordained has been extended so as to allow also that those who have been ordained may marry. In view of these historical facts, and of considerations of a different kind, three different opinions are held among Anglo-Catholics. There is the opinion that the Church of England has been right in allowing priests to marry as well as the married to be ordained, since married priests were recognized both in the New Testament and in the later history of the Church, since there is no fundamental difference between marriage before ordination and marriage after ordination, and since what thus is theologically and ecclesiastically tenable has the support of grave. moral considerations. There is another opinion that the prohibition of marriage after ordination is of such universal authority that no authority less than universal can alter it, and that the ancient custom still preserved in the East ought to be maintained. There is a third opinion that the Church in the West acted within its powers and acted rightly in prohibiting the ordination of the married (apart from certain exceptional cases) as well as the marriage of the ordained, and that therefore the present practice of the Roman Catholic Church is right. Each of these three opinions has its advocates among Anglo-Catholics at the present time.

These two instances have been selected because they bear intimately on practical life, and because the different opinions held about them indicate some differences of outlook. But it would be a great mistake to suppose that these and other differences imply any real want of unity among Anglo-Catholics. In reality their coherence is very strong, and their agreement about fundamental principles very great.

It would also be a great mistake to suppose that the only or main interest of Anglo-Catholics is in matters of theological definition or ecclesiastical observance. They would be wholly misunderstood if they were thought to care only or chiefly for the externals of religion. Even the sacramental system which fills so large a place in their theology and practice is a part of a much larger whole. The sacraments are what they are because of their dependence on what is more fundamental. They fit into a whole method of belief and life. For the Catholic religion is not a series of doctrines and maxims and rites which are separable from and independent of one another. There is a great body of Catholic truth and practice, to the whole of which Anglo-Catholics recognize their responsibility.

It is a trust which has been committed to the Church by Almighty God Himself. The doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, of the Atonement, of the Holy Ghost and the Church and the Sacraments, of the eternal issues of life, make up the great factors in that trust. Subsidiary doctrines, maxims for life, rites to be observed, are the consequences of these great truths. If circumstances have led to undue emphasis or wrong proportion or any neglect on the part of Anglo-Catholics, this must be ascribed to the faults of individuals and not to anything in Anglo-Catholicism itself.

Anglo-Catholics are sometimes charged with being too self-centred, too indifferent towards social evils and wrongs, too little eager for the conversion of the heathen or for the spread of Catholic truth among other Christians. Whatever may have been true in this charge at particular moments, at any rate a great effort has been made to remedy the defect. Since the time of the first Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1920, there has been missionary enterprise of many kinds, and representative Anglo-Catholics have done much to promote converting and spiritual movements. The Anglo-Catholic Congress Committee, the Society of St. Peter and St. Paul, the promoters of the " fiery cross," and of many conventions for priests, have certainly shown abundance of enthusiasm and vigour. And indeed the charge was never true of Anglo-Catholics as a whole. The devoted labours of many parish priests in England, much evangelistic and pastoral work abroad, the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the Community of the Resurrection, the Society of the Sacred Mission, many communities of women, testify that this is so. That an increase of zeal is to be desired may not be denied. It will not be reached by depreciating what already there is.

Rumours are sometimes heard that it will go hardly with Catholics in the Church of England at the hands of authorities. It is inconceivable that anything should be done to render the position of the main body impossible. The members of it are too numerous, they are too strongly entrenched, they have made themselves too valuable to the general work of the Church, they are too much in touch with some in high office, for any attempt at excluding them from the Church to succeed. It is more likely that any policy of exclusion will aim rather at making a division among Anglo-Catholics, at separating those who are thought to be more extreme from those who are considered more moderate, at making things easy for the more moderate and unsufferably hard for the more extreme. The probable result of such a policy would be to rally all who are called "High Churchmen" to the defence of those thus attacked.

That Anglo-Catholics will not be found unreasonable if treated with understanding and sympathy may be illustrated from the discussions which have taken place about the revision of the Prayer Book. For many years after revision was first seriously proposed, all projects for it were steadily opposed by Anglo-Catholics. They held that, whatever imperfections there may be in the existing Prayer Book, the balance of advantage was in its being preserved unaltered. Two circumstances had influence in promoting a different policy. First, it became clear that some kind of revision was almost -certain; and the opinion grew that, if there was to be revision, Catholics ought to show of what kind they desired it to be.

Secondly, there were some--chiefly liturgical students or the younger parish priests--who had come actually to wish for a revision. The change in policy which thus came about under the pressure of circumstances found expression in the year 1922, when the English Church Union, hitherto the opponent of revision, put forward proposals for the consideration of the Church Assembly and Convocation which were popularly described as the "Green Book." The general policy which underlay the innumerable details in the proposals was thus described:--"Liturgical chaos is an existing fact, which cannot be brought to an end by coercive measures. It is not practically possible to enforce the rigorous observance of the present Prayer Book, nor, if such enforcement were possible, would it be very congenial to many of ourselves. And the doctrinal differences which exist within the Church of England make it impossible to substitute by general agreement any one other Rite in the place of the Prayer Book as solely obligatory. There is, therefore, in our opinion, no other course open to 'Catholic-minded ' members of the Church of England than frankly to resign themselves to an era of liturgical experimentation and 'alternative Rites.' .... The policy, therefore, which commends itself to us is that of asking for the inclusion, amongst the permissible alternatives, of those rites and usages which are dear to us. We desire, in short, to ask the authorities of the English Church and our fellow-Anglicans to extend frank and complete legal recognition to the expression of Catholic faith and practice, as embodied in our suggested amendments. But we do not wish to force Catholic ideas or usages upon anyone. Coercion, even if we were in a position to exert it (which we are not), is always and necessarily futile in such matters: we only desire to display the English Catholic idea in its full practical embodiment. We have deliberately refrained from demanding the excision of some alternatives which are uncongenial to ourselves, but are obviously designed to meet the views or susceptibilities of others. We disclaim any wish to compel 'Evangelical' or 'Central' Churchmen to say or do things which they do not want to say or do; we merely ask for permission to say and do the things which we do desire to say and do. May we not hope that other sections of the Church will meet us in the like spirit of generosity, confident that 'Truth is great, and must eventually prevail'? [Report of the Committee on Prayer Book Revision (Office of the English Church Union, 1922), pp. 3, 4.]

The proposals thus made were at first uncongenial to a good many Anglo-Catholics. These felt that in some respects the proposals gave them less than they had been accustomed to use for many years, that they would be on stronger ground if there were no alternative to the existing Prayer Book, and that the suggested toleration of what others wanted would be a mistake. But it soon became clear that, notwithstanding some such misgivings, if the proposals made by the English Church Union were authorized as a whole, Anglo-Catholics, with remarkably few exceptions, would cordially accept and honestly use the alternatives thus provided. In the judgement of the present writer, both the proposals themselves and the way in which they were regarded showed signs of a reasonable temper and a conciliatory spirit. It is still his conviction that the authorization of the "Green Book" would do more to remove difficulties and promote peace and order in the English Church than almost anything else of which he can think.

By some means or other the practical policy of our rulers must find a way of tolerating the Anglo-Catholic section of the English Church. But, the history and circumstances of the English Church being as they are, those who are thus tolerated must in their turn tolerate others. It was a mark of the policy adopted by authorities in the English Church and State during the reign of Queen Elizabeth to allow within the National Church men of most widely differing opinions, on the one hand those who were almost Roman Catholics provided they did not hold a doctrine about the Papacy inconsistent with the supremacy of the crown, and on the other hand those who were almost Puritans provided they would outwardly conform to the regulations of the Church. This policy differed much from the policies of intolerance adopted in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI and Queen Mary; it was open to objections from very different quarters and of a very serious kind; at least it held the English Church together and kept possibilities open; with various modifications it has remained the policy of the English Church ever since.

To such toleration there must, of course, be limits. But, so far as the present writer is able to form an opinion, the limits will be preserved rather as those who ought not to be within them remove themselves than as they are coerced or forcibly excluded. In his judgement any who so far accept the doctrines of the supremacy and infallibility of the Pope that their position in the English Church is really untenable will in time find this out for themselves and will act accordingly; and, in a different quarter, those who have definitely rejected the certain teaching of the creed to which the Universal Church is committed will come to recognize that their right place is not within the historic Church. On all sides now, there is great need for patience, for sympathy, for care to deepen rather than to uproot. And to the great work of a renewed Christendom, powerful to grapple with falsehood and injustice and moral evil, the English Church has its contribution to make, and, within it, Anglo-Catholics have theirs.

Ne reminiscaris Domine delicta nostra vel parentum nostrorum.

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