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Catholicism and Roman Catholicism

Three Addresses delivered in Grosvenor Chapel in Advent, 1922.

By Charles Gore.

London: Mowbray, 1922

III. Protestantism and Anglicanism

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem."—Ps. cxxii. 6.

IN the first of these addresses I sought to present to you the idea of Catholicism—the idea, that is, of the religion of Jesus Christ as not merely a doctrine to be apprehended by the individual, but membership in a visible society held together in unity by an accepted faith or word of God, by sacraments of fellowship, and by an authoritative ministry; and I endeavoured to show you that Catholicism is the original Christianity of the New Testament. From the first the New Covenant was a Covenant with the visible Church, the successor of ancient Israel.

In the second address I asked your attention to different types of Christianity appearing within the Catholic fellowship—the most conspicuous being the Greek and the Roman. I showed that the Greek Church—which in later days, having its centre in Constantinople, came to be known as the Orthodox Church—in spite of the schism between East and West, remained undoubtedly as much a true part of the Church Catholic as the Western or Roman Church. It has shown, no doubt, like every part of the Church, disfiguring blemishes and impaired vitality. But lately it has endured almost unparalleled sufferings, and vast multitudes of its sons and daughters have been true martyrs—that is, have yielded their lives, when they might have saved them and retained their liberty by denying their faith and turning to Islam. Such fidelity to its faith, even to death, is part of the traditional glory of the persecuted Eastern Churches. And if "the blood of martyrs is a seed," we of Western Christendom, whose ignominy it is to have allowed these widespread massacres to take place, must at least pray with all our hearts that these long-suffering Churches may in a more peaceful future, both in the Near East and in Russia, feel the spring of a new life arising within them, and that in a renewed intimacy of intercourse we may feel it too. To-day there is much to encourage this hope.

But since the Great Schism, all through the later Middle Ages and the period of the Reformation, and, for the most part, since the Reformation, the West has had little or no intercourse with the Orthodox Church, and has known little about it. Thus, when we are approaching the consideration of the Reformation, we must leave the East out of sight. There was nothing confronting the European world except the imposing structure of the Roman Church.

The period of the greatest glory of the Latin Church was the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. That was a grand flowering time of saintliness, intellect, and art. But by the fifteenth century it was exhibiting terrible signs of corruption. Its best friends knew its need of drastic reformation "in the head and in the members." The tragedy is that all the efforts of the reformers from within proved futile until the outbreak of revolution had rent the unity of Western Christendom, as it seemed incurably. So only could the Church of the Roman obedience be roused to reform itself. For what we call the Reformation was truly on the Continent a revolution. A great part of what was most intelligent and progressive in Europe left the ancient Catholic Church and set up new organizations based, as they believed, on the pure word of God, so to speak, rediscovered.

That they had abundant excuses none can deny. But I think also none can deny that, in establishing what they thought were pure Churches on a quite new basis, they were violating fundamental principles of Catholicism as it had been from the beginning. Elsewhere I have tried to justify this statement, here I can only affirm it. As it seems to me, the most effective and impressive answer of Protestantism to this indictment is that God has so manifestly blessed the Protestant Churches, who deserted the ancient Catholic structure, and the Holy Spirit has so manifestly shown His action through them, that they are proved by their fruits to be at least as true parts of the Church as any ever planted. The force of this argument from fruits we must fully acknowledge; but it is double-edged. We must, I say, acknowledge its force. If we think of the wealth of sanctified characters in Protestant communities, and of all that we owe them in Christian literature and the interpretation of the Bible, and of the place they have taken in the evangelization of the world, we must feel it to be a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to deny His presence and activity, not only with individuals but with the Christian organizations to which they have belonged. I wish to say this without restriction. The exhibition of the religion of the New Testament in the world would have been immensely poorer without the special excellences of Christian communities which have deserted the Catholic fabric. And there is no recognizable limit.

Thus I feel bound to acknowledge that all baptized persons are, as individuals, members of the Church Catholic. I cannot see how any one who accepts the Western doctrine of the validity of all baptisms by whomsoever given can deny this in some sense. To be really baptized into Christ is to be baptized into the Church inevitably. But this is not enough. I must acknowledge the same reality of the fruits of the Spirit in the Society of Friends, which ignores baptism.

Now, granted that the Catholic principles are true, still it has been recognized by the more thoughtful theologians that "God is not tied to His own ordinances." That He should have poured out His Spirit and His gifts so widely beyond all covenanted or ordinary channels seems to me in no way surprising if we think what aspect the Catholic Church presented in many parts of Europe just before the Reformation, or still, alas! presents in some districts where it has had least to resist it, or what sort of aspect our own Church, which claims Catholicity, presented, say in the eighteenth century. When we reflect upon these things, can we wonder that there have arisen movements and organizations of people who saw in the Church, as it was among them, not the Bride of Christ, but Babylon or an alien stepmother, and did not consider that in separating from her they were sinning against the will of their Master?

Nevertheless, if we attempt an impartial survey we must acknowledge that this argument, from the fruits of Protestantism, is double-edged. It is not only that Protestantism in its continental homes, where it had its origin, has been a profound disappointment. Who would not admit this about the Lutheranism of Germany or the Zwinglianism of Switzerland, or the great organization of Calvin? Since it lost the support of the belief in the infallible Book, the movement of continental Protestantism has shown an extraordinary degree of instability and weakness.

But, what is more important, it has become evident on the largest scale that Protestantism means continuous disruption. The principles which justified the first secessions continue to justify new ones. Each fresh vision of the truth, real or imaginary, but at least one-sided, justifies a fresh organization. In this way English and American Protestantism presents a deplorable picture. So do the young Churches of China and Japan, of India and Africa; for there, too, we have propagated our differences.

For a long time—through the age when free competition was the accepted watchword of successful effort—the eyes of the Protestant world were blinded to the evils of schism. But a great change has come over us. Very widely, among Protestants, there has dawned the perception that, if anything is certain, it is certain that visible unity in the Church of His disciples was the will of Christ. If so, to a horrifying extent, we have departed from His will: and the question of questions among serious believers has become: How are we to return to it? It must be acknowledged that there was something quite as wrong with the principles of Protestantism as with the principles of the Roman Church. Our eyes turn longingly back to the New Testament and to the Christianity of the early centuries. Some sort of Catholicism is the will of Christ. What is it?

Here it is that there seems to have been a special providence in the form which the Reformation and the repudiation of the Roman authority took in England. Here the appeal to Scripture, positively and against the claim of the Roman Church to supremacy—the appeal to Scripture which was the heart of the Reformation movement—was joined with a conservative retention of the three great elements of Catholic unity—the Catholic Creeds, the Sacramental system, and the Apostolic Succession of the ministry.


Now I cannot speak as one who can be enthusiastic about the Anglican Church as it has shown itself in history. I confess that its history fills me with profound humiliation. I know that one of the best and greatest men of the last generation spoke of it once as in spite of all its faults "the most glorious Church in Christendom." I could not say anything of that kind. I find its continuous Erastianism, its complacent nationalism, its frequent deafness to the most urgent and obvious moral calls, its long-continued identification of itself with the interests and tastes of the "upper classes"—these and other continuous traits of the Church of England I find, I must confess, depressing and humiliating. I cannot think of it as ever rising to fulfil its vocation without drastic reforms and a very fundamental change of spirit. In particular, having so faithlessly merged its spiritual authority in that of the State, and abandoned its liberty of action into the hands of the State, it now finds itself, when the State has become impartial or indifferent in matters of religion, a scene of undiscipline which would be discreditable to any society, and is so much more to a Christian Church.

But I think that the very fact that a person is keenly alive to the defects of the Anglican Church, as it has been and is, only strengthens his witness to the sufficiency and glory of its substantial principles. It stands in the providence of God for a scriptural Catholicism, for, as I have said, it has maintained the essential Catholic elements of the Creeds, the Sacraments, and the Apostolic Succession.

We are very thankful that recently the authorities of the Patriarchal See of Constantinople have formally, after careful and protracted examination, accepted the validity of Anglican Ordinations: just as we were thankful when Dollinger, that great authority in the history of the Church, who had in earlier years spoken very sharp words of criticism concerning the Church of England, expressed his final judgement about our Orders: "The result of my investigation is that I have no manner of doubt as to the validity of the episcopal succession in the English Church." But we do not depend on these external testimonies. We have searched into our title-deeds for ourselves, and feel sure that, judged by the standards of the undivided Church, we do not fall short in any essential. And to these doctrinal and sacramental qualifications we added at the Reformation, with reiterated emphasis, the appeal to Scripture both as the final testing-ground of dogmatic claims and as the school of personal piety for every member of the Church. This appeal was the constant principle and practice of the ancient Church; and it is a matter of the greatest importance. It means that the Church has not any power to proclaim any Article of the Faith, nor the priest any right to lay it upon the conscience of the faithful, unless it can be made plain that it can be verified in the New Testament. The dogmatic authority of the Church is not anything more than the authority to proclaim, explicate, and defend the original word of God given through the prophets, consummated in Christ, and affirmed and implied in the New Testament.

This is the safeguard of doctrinal liberty. Moreover, the constant public readings of Scripture, and the familiarity of all the members of the Church with the sacred books of Scripture, and the obligation upon the teachers of the Church to preach out of Scripture, are the greatest safeguards that can be devised that the spirit of the Church shall not permanently diverge from the original pattern. Whatever may be truly said against the Church of England, at any rate it finds its real glory in its great tradition of the knowledge of the Bible, and in the scripturalness of its preaching and teaching. May it ever retain this distinction!

This is the vocation which Providence, working in the events of history, seems to have assigned to the Anglican Church—to bear witness to a scriptural Catholicism, a Catholicism in which Scripture is enthroned in the highest place of controlling authority in the Church and in the most familiar places in every home and in every heart.

Of course, we do not deceive ourselves. We know that even a perfect expression of the mind of Christ would not, any more than when Christ was on earth, win the allegiance of all men. And the positively anti-Christian forces are very strong today. Nevertheless, this sort of Catholicism which, because it breathes the spirit of the New Testament, must be always predominantly ethical—a religion of character—and which rests, like the New Testament, on a word of God, but proclaims for dogmas only certain truths, central and few, and which welcomes free inquiry on the part of all—this sort of Catholicism, scriptural and liberal, appeals to what is best in so many of the best men that its witness is sorely needed all the world over.

Once more we must not deceive ourselves. The recovery of unity—a reunited Church—will need truly profound, almost miraculous, changes in the spirits of men in all parts of our divided Christendom. But the new sense—deep and wide as it is —of the necessity of a united Church, if we are to be true in any measure to the purpose of Christ, gives us a great opportunity and a great responsibility: and here, too, the special witness of the Anglican Church is needed all the world over. It is the sense of this which has made the appeal of the Lambeth Conference a document which has moved the hearts of men over a very wide area of Christendom (may I not say?) more than any document of recent days.


My point, as you will see, in this address is this: within the area of the Churches which have maintained the Catholic tradition of the undivided Church there are different types, with some markedly different features. Of these I have spoken of two as the chief in historical bulk, the Greek or Orthodox and the Roman. They, I have endeavoured to show, must both be regarded, in spite of their variations and in spite of their having lost intercommunion, as communions within the area of the one visible Catholic Church. And, without considering whether there are other Christian communions, as, for instance, the Swedish National Church, which belong to the same group, I have made the same contention for the Anglican Communion, which, of course, has its special interest for us. But not for us only. In the providence of God it has a special witness to bear in the whole Catholic fellowship. The whole Church of Christ would be a poorer thing without its distinctive gifts.

Now public spirit, or what in nations we call patriotism, is a duty of every individual member of any society. In the Christian religion salvation is a corporate as well as an individual thing. What we have to think of under the heading of the "salvation of our souls" is not merely our private spiritual interest. We have to think of the duty and privilege of co-operating with God in His purposes for the world. And if a special purpose of God appears clearly enough for the Anglican Church, and if at the same time it does not appear to have broken itself off by any decisive act from the Catholic fellowship, our special duty as Anglicans is to co-operate with God, as members of the Anglican Church, in spite of its weaknesses and sins.

The same duty of course lies upon the individual members of every communion of Christians, so long as it is believed to be a true portion of the Catholic Church of Christ, and the purpose of God is seen to be working in it. The whole heritage of the Catholic Church can only be maintained by the maintenance of a rich variety of special vocations corporate as well as individual. Each portion of the whole ought to recognize the others—that is, there ought to be, what at present there is not, intercommunion. But each group within the whole has a special vocation and a special duty of loyalty.

It sometimes happens that a man's personal temperament inclines him towards the group to which he does not belong; and where intercommunion does not exist, that inclination, where it is yielded to, must mean leaving his own part of the Church and joining another. Thus there are amongst us individuals for whom the majestic order and unity of practice of the Roman Church, by contrast to our own disorders, exercise an almost irresistible fascination.

Now I cannot deny that at the last resort every man is bound to follow his conscience, even when his conscience is perverted or mistaken. Thus we cannot believe that even those who have left the Christian Faith altogether, under what seems to them the irresistible pressure of conscience, are to be condemned. Their ultimate fidelity to conscience, even a mistaken conscience, must, we feel, be the way by which they will reach the true light at last. But for an Anglican to secede to the Roman obedience is to do the act which, as much as anything which he could do, bears public witness against our communion. Foreign Protestants at the Reformation found the impulse irresistible to desert the Catholic Church, on account of its corruptions. But those persons whom I am thinking of would say, glibly enough, that they ought to have resisted their impulse and remained to assist in organizing reformation from within. So I would say to them: Are you quite sure that what God really asks is not that very discipline of patience which the special circumstances of the Church of England renders so unpalatable to you? Our Lord contemplates for His disciples in "the last days" an extreme strain on their patience. "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." He even contemplates the failure of the public witness of the faith altogether. "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" Have you really shown yourself equal to the extreme strain of "enduring unto the end"? Is there any certainly promised help of God which you have not at your disposal where you are? Are you qualified, by an act of your own private judgement, to prefer the Roman argument to the argument against the exclusive claims of Rome, which has seemed to some of the best and wisest men so conclusive? If you contemplate the final judgement of Christ on your acts, and if you seek to saturate yourself in the Gospels that you may know His mind, can you really allege that there is anything there more decisive than His warnings against trusting mere ecclesiastical authority, divorced from "the word of God"? Or can you fail to see that the whole force of His demand on you is concentrated on the duty of active co-operation in the positive work of His redemptive love? "Inasmuch as ye did it not . . . depart"! Can you find anything there which makes you feel certain that the denial of your Romeward inclination is likely to displease Him?

Meanwhile, while we must be true to our distinctive responsibilities in the place where God has put us, we must, by all means, constantly remember that the divisions within the Church, though they are sadly deep, do not go near the root. In the unseen world where Christ is and the blessed dead, and in the Holy Spirit who works in every heart and every sacramental ordinance, the Church is still one. Let us live in the sense of that deep and high unity, subsisting at the heart of our wearisome divisions; and let us ask that the prayers of all the saints, reunited now even though they were separated on earth, may be with us to encourage us to faithfulness; to faithfulness alike in our struggle to become better Christians, in our struggle to reform our own part of the Church on the original Catholic pattern, and in our struggle to knit together again the sadly divided communions of the one Church of Christ.

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