Project Canterbury

The Test of Theological and Ecclesiastical Development

by the Rt Revd Charles Gore

This lecture was delivered by the Rt. Revd. Charles Gore, M.A., D.D. (1853-1932) of the Community of the Resurrection, Canon of Westminster [subsequently to become Bishop in the diocese of Worcester (1902-1905), Birmingham (1905-1911) and Oxford (1911-1919)] at the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Church Historical Society on December 6, 1900. It was originally printed by special request from a shorthand report.

Transcribed by Ian B. Pitt
AD 2001

I think it would be recognised that the general idea of development, in its widest application to nature, has outlived to a certain extent the fascination which belonged to its first youth, simply because we have become so thoroughly familiar with it. It is the characteristic category of our time. In a general sense we accept it inevitably and in all departments of thought. To answer the question "What is this thing or institution?" means for us to answer the question "Whence comes it, and by what law, and with what tendency?" The idea of an abrupt, an isolated production or creation has gone from us; we could not bring ourselves to entertain it.

But, granted this, the course of time has also made us familiar with a number of considerations which have led us to realise that our first enthusiasm for "the doctrine of development" was a little unregulated. For, first of all, it has been brought home to us—more perhaps than the public in general has yet discovered that the survival of the fittest does not mean the survival of the best. There is a very timely admonition to that effect in the second volume of Huxley’s Life. "The survival of the fittest," he says, "is a phrase which I have always deplored, because it misleads people into thinking that the survival of the fittest means the survival of the best, whereas natural selection may and sometimes does work towards degradation." That, of course, is a modifying principle of extraordinary importance.

But also, I suppose we have been made alive to the vast number of unanswered questions which remain to embarrass the "doctrine." Variations occur. They must exhibit some law. By what law, then, do they occur? Is there such a thing as a variation occurring with a certain completeness to start with? (an idea to which again Huxley gives a favourable reception in a letter to Mr. Bateson). Again, what is to be said in regard to the continually asked and yet unanswered questions about the maintenance of variations in their initial stages before, as far as we can see, they can have reached the point of being useful? Or, what is the place of natural selection as a whole in the process of development? What is the place (if any) of use-inheritance? What is to be said on the old controversy between the physicists and the geologists and biologists as to the time required by the existing developments? Are we to suppose that developments occurred much more rapidly at first; that is to say, that there was in some sense an epoch of creation followed by an epoch of maintenance? What are we to say to the absoluteness of the break between life and what is not living? One realises, I say, that all these, still unanswered, questions leave what we may in general terms call the theory of development in a very much weaker position than we used to think it occupied as a controversial weapon. Or, in other words, we are forced to recognize that an extraordinary degree of caution is necessary in the controversial use of it. A glass house is not a good position to fight from.

And that which has taken place in the biological region, or in the application of the idea of development most generally to nature, has happened I think also in the application of the same idea to the ecclesiastical and theological field. Fifteen years before Darwin’s Origin of Species was published, Dr. Newman fascinated us, or our fathers, by his application of the idea of development to theology and the Church [1]. There again, I venture to think that the extraordinary fascination of the idea as first promulgated by him — a fascination which in some measure it is still retaining by the same instrumentality of his book — was in very large part due to its novelty. It was a new thought to us, at any rate at that time, this idea of Christianity as a developing idea or organism. For so he put the Christian religion before us:— Here you see it in the apostolic age; here in the patristic; here you see it as it passes through the medieval period; here you see it in our modern times. Look at it – this thing, this idea, this organism. It starts as you see it in the New Testament, as at Pentecost. Watch it. It grows through various stages, and it becomes the "Romanism" of to-day. The Roman Church—that is the thing into which this Apostolic Christianity has grown. You must judge of the real nature of a thing by what it becomes. Here then is the thing which Christianity has become. — From that point of view Newman is obliged to treat the Orthodox Eastern Church and the Russian Church as representing the back-water, as compared with the real current of a river; or as a dead formula as compared with a living truth. Protestantism in all its various forms is accounted for as a reaction, which has whatever strength it has shown itself to have from being a reaction; and Anglicanism appears as an attempt to combine what are really the two opposite principles of Catholicism and Protestantism.

Now a large part of the fascination of this idea or argument lay in what is indisputably true, that if you watch the development of Apostolic Christianity into Romanism as we know it there is no point at which you can say — Here the one thing stops and the other thing begins; here is the point where the corruption is introduced; here you pass out of the period of a pure Christianity into that of medieval popery. There is certainly no point at which you can put in the knife and say— Here one thing stops and another thing begins. Of course, over and above this argument, Dr. Newman suggested tests to us, tests by which we are to try the claims of any development calling itself Christian. But I think that nobody can have read the famous book without feeling that it is exactly when you get to the question of these tests that you are disappointed. They do not at any rate in their application appear to be by any means rigorous; they are elusive and vague tests. Taken by themselves they would have given very little force to the book; its attraction indisputably belonged to the fascination of the mere idea of development which was then so new and so interesting. But now we come back to the idea in a perfectly different attitude of mind. We are quite certain, to start with, that whatever ideas and institutions come into the world, come into the world obviously to undergo a course of development; that it would be ridiculous, even from the most fanatical Protestant or anti-Romanist point of view, to suggest that there was any particular moment where you could say that pure Christianity ceased and corrupt Christianity began. The very idea would not suggest itself to our mind. Of course Christianity gradually developed; and of course Romanism is a real development of Christianity, a real and continuous development out of the original Christianity. But this, we feel to-day, does not take us far. A great number of questions suggest themselves to us. To say that anything is a development is not to say that it is necessarily a justified development; or that it is the only possible development; or the best development; or the final development; or that it may not in its present form be an arrested development.

I suppose we may say at starting that there are certain points of view from which, if Dr. Newman’s book had been published to-day, we should at once have had more material ready to hand than our fathers had, for dealing severely with it. With regard, I mean, to its being possible to treat Romanism as for practical purposes the only broadly real and historical development of Christianity some opposing considerations are now much more obvious. In part it is that the great Russian Church has loomed more evidently and obviously into our view than it had done in 1846. We have become acquainted with the Russian Church; we have read one of the most extraordinary books of our time and become acquainted with one of the most extraordinary personalities, Father John of Kronstadt. I suppose to a great many of us the Russian Church is looked at more or less through that person, because we feel that, in spite of the inadequacy of any national Christianity, we are able, to a certain extent, to judge of a Church by its popular saints, by the men who make most impression on its imagination. Thus we feel that a Church that can produce a man like this and exalt this man at once on to the pedestal of sainthood—a Church which can say of such an one as John of Kronstadt, "This is our saint; this is our characteristic man" – that Church must have in it potentialities of development in the truest and most spiritual direction which are really immense. For undoubtedly Russian Christianity is national and embraces all the life of the nation, in a sense in which it could truly be said I suppose of no other country in Europe at the present time.

Once again, I suppose that there are very few of us now who would be the least disposed, taking Protestantism in the broadest sense of the term, to imagine that it can be accounted for, or can be regarded as it at present exists, with any kind of adequacy, as a reaction or rebellion against abuses, which had in it no positive life or truth of its own. In the one single matter of the interpretation of Scripture, in the one single matter of making Scripture live again, which after all, judging by the analogy of the ancient Church, is quite one of the most important functions for which the church exists, as it was the function to which the great Fathers were beyond any other function devoted,—in regard then, I say, to the interpretation of Scripture, almost all the work, both the pioneer, critical work, and the reconstructive work, has been done outside the Roman Communion.

We should feel then—even more perhaps in some ways than it would have felt fifty years ago—that this prima facie claim to treat Rome as really the one historical and continuous development of ancient Catholicism is a claim which at the threshold we should be inclined to meet with a decisive and reasoned negative. But it is to considerations other than these that I want to pay particular attention to-day, and then to apply them to test other parts of the Church beside the Roman Church; it is to considerations which would be equally valid even if the Roman Church really stood alone as representing ancient Christianity.

Let us look at some other developments of institutions. How extraordinarily interesting, and in some way analogous to the development of the Papacy, is the development of the Roman Empire out of the Roman Republic. That development is continuous; there is no break in it; there is no moment when you can say Rome ceased to be a republic and became an empire. It was a development due to the adaptation of a certain form of polity to the requirements of the time, and the requirements of the time as they were influenced by the genius of some great individuals. There you have a development remarkably analogous to the development of the Papacy out of the earlier forms of Church government. Take another, the development of the modern English Cabinet. This is an interesting development out of the power of the Crown and the power of Parliament into a power which may be said to run a fair chance of becoming a substitute for both. Here again we have an instance of a development which is quite gradual, which is quite constitutional, as we say; that is to say, it is a development without at any moment any revolution or upheaval. Yet obviously both this English development and that of the Roman Empire are developments which left out a great many elements that were originally in the constitutions out of which they grew; they left out a great many elements in the process of becoming what they became. And not only did they leave out much that was originally there, but the whole method by which they became what they became, if it is to be justified, is to be justified only because it is right for organisms to change in response to environment, and therefore excludes any idea of finality attaching to the form of polity which has in fact been reached; it postulates continually the same power to change in response to environment in the future as has existed in the past; the power to change with the same degree of intensity and profundity in the future as in the past. Otherwise what was alive has become dead.

Take another instance of development which is more analogous to the development of Christianity because it is the development of a religion. Take the development of Buddhism, that is to say, of the original teaching of Siddartha Gautama, into Llamaism, the religion of Thibet. Here is another remarkable instance of a development which involved no striking catastrophe or revolution. It was, as far as we know, a development by accommodation to what we will call natural religion, to certain broad tendencies existing in human nature everywhere, and existing, amongst other places, in Thibet. Among the ritual and sacrificial, the idolatrous and polytheistical tendencies of natural religion, the Buddhist "teaching" has gradually changed its character completely. It has in effect become a polytheism, and has lost practically altogether its original ethical character, and that by a gradual adaptation to the ordinary requirements of what in perhaps the most legitimate sense we ought to call natural religion. In preparation, then, for what may have to be said a little further on, I should like to comment upon this phrase "natural religion."

In England we have become accustomed to mean by natural religion a thing which never existed, that is to say, a sort of lofty monotheism, based upon the conclusions of reason and not upon divine revelation. Such a theism has never existed as a working force in the world. There has never been a great national life based upon what is called natural religion in the pages of Butler. It is neither natural in the lower sense of what men easily fall into, nor in the higher sense in which the full truth about God and man alone is natural. But there is a thing or tendency which historically I suppose would have the most claim to be called natural religion in the lower and ordinary sense. It is the sort of religion that has mostly to do with institutions and rites and ceremonies. Man is constitutionally and universally sacramental. In all ages and in all parts of the world you may see sacraments and sacrifices—what one may call ecclesiastical observances—enthusiastically and popularly accepted and reverenced, generally in proportion to the slightness of the moral effort required and involved in them. Almost everywhere, again, you see a tendency to venerate popular saints and wonder-workers, and especially after their death in connexion with their tombs or their relics. The traveller cannot fail to observe that these are tendencies which he finds equally and with strictly similar characteristics in a Buddhist country and a Mohammedan country and under the religious authority of the Brahmins, and in many parts of the Christian world. And they constitute a very large part of that picturesque attractiveness of popular religion which arrests the attention of us Englishmen so much when we get away from our country, where, through some mysterious operation of the laws of God, the hold of this dominant tendency upon humanity seems since the sixteenth century to have utterly vanished.

The point upon which I want to insist is that this sacramental, ritual, sacerdotal tendency which exists everywhere or almost everywhere, and which always has certain religious ideas, higher or lower, attached to it, is what would have the best claim to be called natural religion. If we believe that God is the author of our nature, we are not disparaging this tendency by calling it natural religion, and of course it is because it is natural that Christianity in its most authoritative form, as it came from Jesus Christ, has adopted this natural religion—this sacramental method and principle—into itself. It belongs to what is essential for a religion which is to appeal to human nature. At the same time, it exists everywhere in a debased form. If left to itself it exercises a debasing, lowering influence on spiritual religion, simply because of its almost purely non-ethical character. It seems sometimes as if it flourished most where there was least moral claim associated with it.

Here again we have a development profoundly suggestive as regards Christianity; obviously, to a large extent, the same did occur with Christianity as with Buddhism. The question is merely to what extent. To a certain extent it plainly happened that—especially when persecution was over, and Christianity grew rapidly as regards numbers or even incorporated whole races with very little real conversion—Christianity changed its character by accommodation to what I have called natural religion. It relaxed its ethical requirement and lowered its ethical level. It was more easily satisfied with observances and the less ethical kinds of worship. This development by accommodation was, then, a purely natural process. It occurred with Buddhism, as with Christianity. But the fact that it occurred tells us nothing as to the development being legitimate. In Buddhism we commonly recognise it as deterioration and failure (so far) to be true to itself. Have we any reason to say that Christianity as a religion of divine revelation and more divine authority was not open to the same peril and did not admit of deterioration?

This brings us to examine the religious development which has for our present inquiry the greatest significance of all—the development of a religion which had a special degree of divine authority, and which was, in its profoundest and deepest sense, a religion of divine inspiration—I mean the Old Testament. There is nothing surely more remarkable and more noticeable than the process of perfectly gradual development by which the religion of the prophets became Pharisaism. I doubt whether any appeal which could be made to history for saying that the Roman Church has been the development of original Christianity could not be made with the same force for saying that the development of the religion of the prophets in our Lord’s time was Pharisaism. And I think that from this point of view our Lord’s attitude towards ecclesiastical authority in the Church of the old covenant is a matter of extraordinary importance, and one to which we have not been in the habit of giving nearly enough attention. Our Lord, we know, has supplied protestants against ecclesiastical authority with their most formidable weapon, through words of His about Scribes and Pharisees, which ever since they were uttered have sunk and burned in the consciences of men: "Thus have ye made the word of God of none effect because of your tradition." "Ye have taken away the key of knowledge." "Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves." I say that these tremendous phrases have always supplied the protestants against ecclesiastical authority with what is by far their most serious weapon, because there are moments in Church history when the great conscience of man feels that those are exactly the words which need to be spoken again.

Now, of course, the easiest thing in the world is to be one-sided, and of course the majority of the people who have felt most deeply the force and the application of these words have been led away by this feeling into the obvious error of virtually seeking to sweep away or annihilate ecclesiastical authority altogether; but the noticeable thing about our Lord is that that is precisely what He did not do. First of all, in regard to the actual religious leaders whom He was denouncing, He yet recognised their authority. "The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat; whatsoever therefore they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not after their words: for they say and do not." That is to say, you are to accept their authority, but you are not to follow their practice. But secondly, it is even more noticeable that, in full view of the liability of ecclesiastical authority to such startling abuses, our Lord, in founding or refounding the Church of the New Covenant, unmistakably reconstituted this very authority. The phrases about binding and loosing, the phrase about remitting and retaining men's sins, these phrases are quite unmistakable in their meaning. Discussion may arise as to the relation of the clergy and the laity in the carrying out of this authority, but I do not really think that there can be any serious disputing at all as to the meaning of the phrases, that they describe the grant to the Christian society of a legislative and a disciplinary authority over its members with the highest divine sanction.

Now what ought to have been the attitude of thoughtful Christians towards ecclesiastical authority, resulting from our Lord’s whole attitude towards it? I think that the Catholic Church ought to have maintained and used ecclesiastical and sacerdotal authority, but that its maintenance and its use ought to have been accompanied with a continual fear. Because they had before them this fact, that however divinely authoritative, however securely resting on a basis of legitimate and genuine inspiration, yet the ecclesiastical authority of the Old Covenant, by no process of sudden revolution, but simply by a process of gradual development, was capable of becoming something so utterly alien in spirit from what it was intended to be, that when the Christ came, to prepare for whom and to welcome whom was the one reason for which it existed, it did in fact reject Him utterly. Now I think that what alarms and arrests the reader of Church history is just the fact that over great periods of Church history this fear has been on the whole so exceedingly little in the mind of the ecclesiastical rulers and leaders of the Catholic Church. The Church was given a great authority, but it was given a great authority which was at the same time secondary; the authority not to reveal but to perpetuate a revelation; an authority therefore which needed a continual guarantee, the same in substance as was implied in our Lord’s words of rebuke, when He directed the attention of the ecclesiastical rulers of His own time back to their original authority in the inspired Word: "Thus have ye made the word of God of none effect by your tradition." He would have had them go back continually to the message of the prophets and continually test their present teaching by that message of the prophets. And in fact you find that this idea of the continual testing of religion by its inspired originals took hold of the Christian Church from the first. St. Paul had already grasped it: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you [at starting], let him be anathema." Thus from the first Christianity was recognised as a "faith once for all delivered to the saints," and that was, as we all know, a commonplace in the Church for a great many centuries.

It has been my business to read the Fathers more I suppose than any other part of human literature, except the New Testament itself, and by the study of the Fathers one receives gradually certain impressions; and I think one of the strongest impressions so received is of the moral and spiritual, as well as theological, restraint involved in the fact that the Fathers were continually exercising themselves upon the text of the New Testament, or of the Bible generally. This—to an extent that it would be hard to exaggerate – acted as a resisting and retarding force as against superstitions or material perversion of the Christian religion. Now I cannot profess to be at all largely acquainted with mediaeval writings, but I have tried to read one particular mediaeval controversy with a certain degree of thoroughness down to a certain point, that is the controversy over the Eucharist. Certainly the change—speaking generally, and without attempting to define exactly where one period ends and another begins—the change, I say, between the method of the Fathers and the method of the Church at that period when transubstantiation became a dogma of the Western Church—the period of the Berengarian controversy – is quite extraordinarily marked. You remember the controversy about the homoousion doctrine; you remember how serious an objection it appeared to the use of the word "homoousion" that it—the actual term—was not in the Bible; and how then the great Fathers explained, that though the term was not in the Bible, yet the idea was in the Bible; and that the particular word was the one word necessary to guard what was the central and fundamental faith of the Christian Church. And we feel that their claim for this word was magnificently justified. It was the one word which was necessary to guard Christianity from fundamental corruption, by the intrusion of the idea of demigods or intermediate existences between God and man. But in all this controversy they are laboriously anxious to vindicate their claim that this new term represents nothing new in idea, and that they are simply choosing that word which alone will guard the thing which by the confession of all is fundamental and scriptural. The appeal to Scripture is paramount.

But in the Berengarian controversy all is changed. Not even Berengar thinks of the appeal of Scripture, as distinguished from other authorities. The jealous scrutiny of a proposed new dogma in the light of antiquity, and of the inspired writers most of all, has quite vanished. I venture to think that I am not using too strong language if I say that it is hardly possible to conceive a controversy concerning dogma which inspires one with so profound a distrust in the methods employed, and in general with so profound a sense of intellectual insecurity, as the eucharistic controversy which ended in the dogma of transubstantiation. If the authority given to the Church is authority so absolute and so mechanical that it is impossible for it to go astray even though it apparently neglects all the safeguards of correct action, well and good; we must accept the result without inquiry. But if it is authority given in any measure under the law of human responsibility, and therefore dependent upon the use of safeguards for its legitimate action, then in face of the Berengarian controversy one must ask, Were the safeguards used at all? Or, in other words, if it is possible for the authority of the Church to be misused, is it not, in this case, being misused?

Let me take another rather small point of mediaeval eucharistic doctrine, and yet one of very great interest, the Melchisedekian priesthood—the priesthood of Christ according to the order of Melchisedek. That appears of course as an element of Christian doctrine in the New Testament, in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The three points of comparison between Christ’s priesthood and Melchisedek’s which are there emphasized are (1) the union of kingship and priesthood in one person, (2) the eternity of priesthood as it appears symbolically in Melchisedek’s introduction into history "without father, without mother, without beginning of time, without end of days," and (3) its superior authority to the priesthood of the tribe of Levi. But the whole argument of the Hebrews makes it plain that the priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchisedek is exercised in heaven; Christ enters into its exercise as He enters into the heavenly place in the power of His once-offered sacrifice; it is a heavenly priesthood indisputably and unquestionably. Now in the Fathers you observe the point fastened upon that Melchisedek as he appears in Genesis "offered bread and wine." We will not here discuss the question whether the contention is justified in fact, whether bread and wine are represented in the narrative as sacrificial things; but at any rate they were so taken to be by the Fathers. Therefore they say that our Lord also entered upon His Melchisedekian priesthood when He offered bread and wine. But, in spite of this contention, the constant habituation of the Fathers with the language of Scripture keeps their eucharistic doctrine absolutely right, because the heavenly ministry, the heavenly priesthood of our Lord is always in their mind, and I venture to think that the preoccupation of the mind with the heavenly priesthood is the one thing which does keep eucharistic doctrine right, by keeping the earthly action on a line with our Lord’s perpetual pleading of the once-made sacrifice. The Fathers then upheld the idea of the offering of bread and wine, as the characteristic act of the priesthood according to the order of Melchisedek, but were kept entirely right in their great conception of the eucharistic sacrifice because the Epistle to the Hebrews, constantly present to their minds, asserts the heavenly exercise of this priesthood. But pass to the Middle Ages, and you at once perceive the consequences which arise when this Scriptural background is gone. The heavenly priesthood of Christ is forgotten. Read the decrees of the Council of Trent and you find it declared that Christ must still be a priest, and must exercise the Melchisedekian priesthood; that this means He must offer bread and wine; and that He does this by the hands of His priests on earth, at the altars of the Church on earth. You observe my point. My point is simply this, that what is gone is the Scriptural background, and with it the whole idea of the heavenly priesthood of our Lord. That great correction for possible errors has vanished. The sole idea which remains to be represented is that of the exercise of the Melchisedekian priesthood through the hands of the priest on earth who offers the eucharistic sacrifice. And I feel sure that all the subsequent dangers which have arisen in the Western development of the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass have been due to the same cause, the vanishing of the Scriptural background. Moreover, on other fields, such as the development of the doctrine of purgatory or the development of the doctrine of saint-worship, you would feel substantially the same thing. The idea of the inspired writings constituting the standard and limit of the Church’s faith and teaching is forgotten. For example, however inevitable to our minds is the conception of a purgatory after death, however irresistibly we feel that there must be a purgatory, yet, in fact, there is almost nothing about it in Scripture; and therefore it is at least a probable conclusion, that it was because we are meant to exercise our responsibility solely in view of our probation in this world that the nature of what lies beyond was shut out of the limits of revelation. And so long as the teaching authority of the Church was supposed to be limited by Scripture, so long any considerable development of teaching about purgatory became impossible. The same result follows in regard to the worship of the saints.

It appears to me to be certain and obvious, though I cannot now stop to prove it at greater length, that unless there is some absolutely cogent reason driving him to the contrary conclusion, the student of the mediaeval Western development is bound to recognize three tendencies manifestly at work there on the largest scale, and with the most decisive results. First, there is apparent a certain deterioration of Christianity owing to the religion as it stands represented in its sacred books having been freely accommodated to an environment of natural religion. Secondly, a one-sidedness of development is manifest in the direction of what is generally called sacerdotal authority, by which the ethical element tends to be reduced to one point, that of obedience to authority. Thirdly, through the premature or needless fixing of dogmatic requirement this one-sided or imperfect development becomes arrested and removed from the possibility of reconsideration, or the modifying action of changed feeling.

As far as I know the only way to resist this conclusion is to believe that it is precisely such mistaken action on the part of Church authority which is precluded by the divine promise to the Church. The Church cannot have been so far in error. But, when we examine them, the grounds of such a belief in a mechanically safe action of Church authority—safe, whether the Church is at pains to inform herself or no—are found to be most precarious. The perpetuity of grace and truth is promised to the Church in a general sense, but not the degree or exactness of infallibility which this theory requires.

It is worth noticing that the original idea of the authority of the Church is not such as would be expressed in the phrase "the living voice." The idea of the living voice does indeed suggest the idea of a central oracle of infallible truth, and the phrase is in fact associated with the rise of the Papal idea. But the earlier and more really Catholic idea of Church authority is better expressed by the idea of witness. The Church is a Catholic body witnessing to a faith once given. And the strength and security of witness lies not in centrality, but in the agreement of converging and independent testimonies, which is the principle underlying the authority of general councils. This I have sought elsewhere to show [2]. My present point is only to indicate that the more stress we lay on the idea of the Church’s authority as lying in a witness to a once-given faith—a witness consisting in part of the agreement of independent lines of tradition in different Churches—the less mechanical does it become. Witness-bearing involves fidelity or taking pains to keep our witness true. If, on the other hand, what we are looking to is the assistance of the Holy Ghost, here again all that we know leads us to expect that the fullness with which this assistance is given to the Church will depend upon her faithful correspondence with the purposes of God.

I am very anxious that we should not apply this principle only in order to test the Roman development, but that it should be applied to test the Anglican development also. We have in many respects a very remarkable development of Christianity in the Anglican Church. Examine it only in the one particular matter of the relation between Church and State. The idea of nationality in religion lies very deep in the English character. When after the Norman invasion they sought to deprive St. Wulfstan of his bishopric because of his unacquaintance with Norman-French, the saint marched out of the council which was being held in St. Catherine’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey into the great church itself, stuck his crozier into the tomb of the Confessor, and said, "Edward, thou gavest me this staff; to thee do I give it back." That very Erastian sentiment of the saint plainly points to a complete amalgamation of the ideas of Church and State in the early history of our country. Plainly Wulfstan, or those who handed down this story about him, did not much distinguish ecclesiastical and civil jurisdiction. Now after the Norman conquest the more Catholic Western ideas no doubt greatly modified that original English nationalism, but there was a recurrence of it in an intensified form at the period of the Reformation owing to the abrupt severance of England from Western Christendom. The result is the national theory of the Church which is a distinct development of Christianity—I mean the theory of the substantial identity of Church and State as it appears in Hooker. At that time it had a certain plausibility; but of course this identification of Church and State leads very easily to the distinctive powers of the Church becoming merged in the State. This in fact took place in England, and then afterwards the State necessarily abandoned its religious exclusiveness and became as a matter of course a body made up of persons of all sorts of religious opinions, on a basis of complete equality. The result has shown itself to be disastrous. The State cannot any longer act as a Church, and the Church has no freedom to act apart. Yet in this (and in a great many other respects) I think that Anglicans show an extraordinary readiness to do for themselves precisely that which they are always objecting to Roman Catholics doing, that is, to accept their own local or partial development as final, to resent to appeal back to our origins, to prefer the appeal to the Reformation settlement. Yet the appeal to a particular moment of Christian development as having any degree of finality seems to me, intellectually, morally, and religiously, to be doing precisely that very thing which is subversive of the whole foundation upon which our claim to reform ourselves, without losing catholicity, has stood. So far as the Reformation settlement in England brought with it certain definite and specific obligations embodied in the Prayer-book those definite and specific obligations we recognize, and we must faithfully abide by them; or if we repudiate them, we must take the consequences. But when you get behind specific agreements to the settlement of principle, there is no more reason why we should be bound by the theological opinions of one (specially controversial and one-sided) age than by the theological opinions of the thirteenth century or any other period. We exist, and we exist only, on the basis of our willingness to be continually recurring to our originals, to our inspired originals, and to find our authorization in no narrower or lower sphere than Catholic consent, antiquity and Scripture. But to be true to this principle will involve a great deal of trouble. First of all, we must plainly apply it to that particular matter of ecclesiastical authority. We have suffered our Church to be crippled by the loss of that free legislative and disciplinary power over its members with which our Lord endowed it because it was to be a society, and to which He gave a divine sanction because it was to be a divine society. But a Church without this power utterly fails to correspond to the ancient, catholic and scriptural principle. No development of doctrine or practice in the Roman Church is less to be justified than the development in Anglicanism of a Church without the power of legislation and discipline in spiritual things.

But I must hasten to a conclusion.

I suppose these are the three main dangers to which ecclesiastical developments are liable: (1) The danger of undue accommodation to natural religion or to the indolence and superstitious tendencies of human nature, from which result undue and unguarded accretions upon Christian doctrine and perversions of it. (2) There is the danger of one-sidedness by accommodation to the particular tendencies of a particular age. (3) There is the danger of an arrested development, because ecclesiastical authority acting hastily or unguardedly solidifies the one-sidedness or undue accommodation of a particular moment of the Church into a premature and unjustifiable dogma. There is, I venture to think, for all these dangers one remedy, and one remedy only, and that the most old-fashioned; and yet it is with this that is bound up all that is most true, all that is most free, all that is most spiritual in the Church. The remedy to which I refer is what—to apply in a new sense a phrase from biology—we may call reversion to type: the continual recurrence to the original pattern, the continual appeal to antiquity and Scripture. Such an appeal limits the dogmatic authority and in a sense the whole authority of the Church. But it is by the maintenance of this appeal, and only so, that you can safeguard what is, after all, the most important thing, that is, the real power of the Church to be true to its own best spirit, to reassert the original teaching in all its freedom and largeness of application, without being trammelled and contracted by the errors and narrownesses of particular periods.

[1] In his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and elsewhere.

[2] See Roman Catholic Claims, chap. iii; but I cannot now assent to the position of Archdeacon Wilberforce that "the authority of the Church diffusive is no less binding than the authority of the Church collective." It is less binding, it seems to me, for this reason: that it lacks the deliberate examination of traditions, a careful comparison of tradition and scripture, and sifting of arguments by theologians, which have actually gone to form the basis of the great ecumenical decisions about the person of Christ. The authority of the Church diffusive means authority unsifted, not cross-questioned, nor vigorously examined.

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