Project Canterbury Some Comments on the South India Scheme By the Reverend Frederic Hood
Principal of Pusey House, Oxford
Written for the Church Union and addressed primarily to
the members of Diocesan Councils of the Church of India, Burma and Ceylon.
Church Literature Association, n.d.
DURING the coming year many will be called upon to exercise the great responsibility of voting for or against this scheme. The voters live in a country where the horrors of disunion are ever before their eyes. They are deeply concerned for the welfare of India, and are convinced that the greatest need is faith in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and fellowship with him in the communion of his Church. All will approach the matter then with a strong leaning, which they cannot doubt is of God, to vote for the scheme, if they can do so without violation of conscience. The promoters of it started on their herculean task relying upon God's grace to see them through. Prayer has been fervently offered at every stage, and the measure of agreement arrived at seems really surprising. Whatever happens eventually, the Christian friendship and charity exhibited throughout must do untold good. But can there not be far more to say than this? Shall we not see within the next few years a step towards union unparalleled in our life-time, which will be a model for other parts of the Church to follow?
The writer of this essay ventures to hope that he is as eagerly concerned for Christian unity as any of those who have co-operated in drawing up the scheme. In many parts of the world he has witnessed the tragedy of disunion, and seen it as among the greatest of all hindrances to the advancement of Christ's kingdom. Yet with the utmost reluctance he must express the hope that the scheme in its present form will be rejected, and he must proceed to explain his reasons for so apparently distressing an opinion.
It is not necessary to labour the point that the mere fact of much prayer and Christian charity is not enough to prove the satisfactoriness of a scheme. History abundantly illustrates the fact that contradictory views would often be true, if this were so. The prayer and the love are wholly to the good, but God has given us reason, which it is our duty unflinchingly to exercise in his service.
Our considered belief is that grave harm will be done to the very cause which we all have at heart, if this scheme is approved without drastic revision. We therefore beg for careful and unprejudiced consideration of the remarks which follow.
It will hardly be questioned that the historic episcopate is of the very essence of Anglicanism, and no doubt the promoters of the scheme realize this, for they say that "the uniting Churches accept the historic episcopate in a constitutional form as part of their basis of union" (p. 7). But they proceed as follows: "Some regard episcopacy merely as a form of church government which has persisted in the Church through the centuries and may as such be called historic, and which at the present time is expedient for the Church in South India. Others believe that episcopacy is of divine appointment, and that episcopal ordination is an essential guarantee of the sacraments of the Church" (p. 7). It is made clear that the united Church is not committed to either of these theories. But is it fair in that case to say that the uniting Churches accept the historic episcopate? It seems clear from the Preface to the Ordinal that Anglicans are deeply committed to the latter of the opinions referred to above. Many authoritative statements could be quoted in support of this. We content ourselves with citing a passage from Resolution eleven of the 1888 Lambeth Conference:
"That, in the opinion of this Conference, the following Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing made towards Home Reunion: [(A) to (C) omitted]:
"(D) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of his Church."
Clearly this must apply equally to reunion overseas, for reunion at home and abroad cannot be based on contradictory principles. An exposition of the exact meaning of this resolution is extant. Bishop Stubbs, who with Randall Davidson (afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury) and Bishop Lightfoot was mainly responsible for the wording of the Encyclical Letter issued by the Conference, explains it as follows:
"The Historic Episcopate, not merely as a method of Church government--in which sense it could scarcely be called historic--but as a distinct, substantive and historical transmission of the commission of the apostles, in and by which our Lord formed his disciples through all generations into a distinctly organized body or Church--the historic episcopate is of the very essence of the Church of England; and could not be suffered to be called in question by any body or individual desirous to be incorporated in our Communion." It is true that the scheme contemplates the inclusion of those who hold the "Catholic" view. But if it is held that episcopal ordination is an essential guarantee of the sacraments of the Church, how can those who believe this agree that "all are . . . real ministries of the Word and the Sacraments in Christ's Church, nor can any Church say that the sacraments and other ministrations of ministries which he has blessed are invalid"? (p. 2). We must always bear in mind that "invalid" means not "ineffectual" but "unguaranteed." Moreover, though a loop-hole appears to remain for a "Catholic" churchman to belong to the united Church, the view of episcopacy actually adopted in the scheme is quite distinct from the traditional view, as may be illustrated by the fact that presbyters join in the laying on of hands at the consecration of a bishop (p. 27, etc.). We must note also the danger that the episcopate may be overruled even in matters of Faith and Order by a General Synod of the Church (pp. 63/.).
At the time of writing (September, 1935) it is still possible that this difficulty may be obviated by the method of "voting by houses," the votes of bishops, presbyters and laymen being taken separately. But the proposal in this regard reported in the account of the meeting of the Joint Committee held in March, 1935 (p. 102, par. 27), is hardly satisfactory, as this method of voting is only to be adopted if at least ten members of the Synod ask for it.
It may be urged that in fact many Anglicans today do hold opinions contrary to those of the formularies. We are not. concerned to deny this: but we appeal to those voters who value the consistent tradition of the Church to see that nothing is passed which contradicts it. It is one thing to tolerate in our midst some who cannot subscribe exactly to our formularies: it is quite another to alter the essential content of those formularies, and the hope is a vain one that such compromise will be in the ultimate cause of reunion.
For the thirty years after the inauguration of the union, episcopal and non-episcopal ministries are to exist side by side. One cannot help being deeply impressed by the great care taken to see that consciences are not over-ridden either by Church authorities or by majorities. But the fact remains that a congregation formerly Anglican can choose to be ministered to by one not episcopally ordained. Some congregations might well do this without fully realizing the principles involved. Yet such choice would be clean contrary to the plain teaching both of the Preface to the Ordinal and the Constitution of the Church of India, Burma and Ceylon, where it is stated that "to no person except a Bishop or a priest is it committed or allowed to celebrate the Holy Eucharist." Some have held that the irregularity is excusable because it is temporary and will lead to clear gain in the future. Unhappily, however, there is no sort of guarantee that the matter will be rectified in thirty years. "After this period of thirty years, the united Church must determine for itself whether it will continue to make any exceptions to the rule that its ministry is an episcopally ordained ministry, and generally under what conditions it will receive ministers from other Churches into its ministry" (p. 15). The proposed Body then can abandon episcopacy, but cannot exclude all non-episcopally ordained ministers. [ "It is understood that the status of those at that time (i.e., after thirty years) already received as ministers in the united Church shall not be affected by any action which the united Church may then take" (p. 16).]
Note also that a "minister of any Church which is in fellowship with any of the uniting Churches will be free as a visitor to minister or to celebrate the Holy Communion in any church of the united Church, if he is invited to do so" (p. 19, par. 6), subject to the pledge of fair dealing. A stern sense of reality makes us wonder here what would happen if a female minister or an unbaptized minister desired to celebrate. We must further draw attention to the fact that the word "Priest" occurs nowhere in the scheme, the word "Presbyter" being used throughout in referring to the Second Order of the Ministry. In the sixteenth century the word "Priest" was always understood as the translation of sacerdos, and the Reformers deliberately retained it. The sacerdos was to absolve from sin and to dispense God's Word and Sacraments. The omission of the word "Priest" is evidently deliberate, and again suggests a compromise of essential Anglican principles. We thankfully recognize that non-episcopal ministries have been divinely blessed: and this we should expect in every case where convictions are sincerely held. But such blessing can hardly be regarded as a test of validity, for the divine blessing has undoubtedly rested on the ministrations of those religious bodies which have neither pastors nor sacraments. We must ever remember that the large majority of Christians have always believed and still believe that the apostolic ministry is necessary for the proper dispensing of the sacraments according to the will of God. Let the voters be very sure of their ground here, lest unwittingly they should be resisting the Holy Spirit. A particularly disquieting fact may be mentioned here, which colours and affects much which the scheme contains. In 1932 the Episcopal Synod agreed by a majority "not to call in question" the action of Anglican delegates on the Joint Committee who felt constrained to receive Communion at the hands of Methodist or S.I.U.C. ministers at the meetings of the Joint Committee, or of those and other members of the Province who acted similarly at conferences organized by the Joint Committee to promote the union. The action has taken place and still continues. Some delegates do receive Communion at such services; and if an Anglican celebrates on a Tuesday, a Methodist on Wednesday, and a S.I.U.C. minister on Thursday, the impression can hardly be avoided that some at least of the delegates regard all three ministries as on an equality. This irregularity has been excused on two grounds:
(a) anticipating the union--surely a dangerous ground, if pressed;
(b) the "power of dispensation" accorded to a Diocesan Bishop under Declaration Four of the Constitution of the Church of India, Burma and Ceylon, i.e., "of suspending or modifying in special cases, if there seems to him good cause, the strict letter of the ecclesiastical law." This dispensing power is held to cover not only the present permission just referred to, but permission for the widespread reception of Communion at the hands of non-episcopally ordained ministers in the united Church. But it can be shown that this permission is not applicable here. No dispensation can reach to the abrogation of the law. A dispensation is a particular, limited, temporary removal of the obligation of a law. Such permission as is here suggested is contrary to a "fundamental principle" (Constitution 7) of the Catholic Church that "to no person except a Bishop or a priest is it committed or allowed to celebrate the Holy Eucharist." Further, it is not particular, but general: nor is it to cease at any given date, so it may well become not temporary, but permanent. If the custom becomes general, the law to the contrary will not be dispensed, but destroyed. Hitherto the Church of England has kept within her fold those who differ about the Apostolic Succession, because as a matter of fact she allows none to celebrate who have not received episcopal Ordination. Now the pact is in the process of being broken: no Bishop in the proposed united Church could protect his flock against erroneous and strange doctrines about the ministry. The promoters of the scheme desire to retain those who hold the "Catholic" view, but in fact they would seem to be excluding them.
The law of the Catholic Church in this matter is laid down in the rubric: "There shall none be admitted to Holy Communion until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed." It is not a mere disciplinary requirement of the reformed Church of England. It is in accordance with Catholic tradition both in East and West. Confirmation was always regarded as the complement of Baptism, the two rites representing two essential stages in the "sacrament of initiation." This is a matter of principle, and no dispensation can cover the omission of Confirmation. We cannot but admire the effort which the promoters of the Scheme have made to see that it is acceptable in this respect to those who hold the traditional view. But this admiration must not blind us to the exact facts. When a member of the united Church has attained to years of discretion, he is to make public profession of his faith and his purpose to follow Christ as a member of his Church. "They shall make this profession at a public service which shall include prayer for them that they may be strengthened by the Holy Spirit" (p. 37). The form used may be the service of Confirmation or the form of admission to full membership now used by the Methodists or by the S.I.U.C., or other similar forms may be adopted. In a footnote (p. 9) the Anglican authorities, while not insisting on Confirmation, earnestly commend its use. We must be thankful for this note, but where essential principles and the eternal welfare of souls are concerned such commendation is not enough. The note is admittedly in accordance with the view expressed by the Lambeth Conference Committee in 1930. About this so weighty an authority as Dr. B. J. Kidd has written as follows: "The original meaning of Confirmation and its original connexion with the Baptism seem ... to have entirely escaped the Bishops of the Lambeth Conference. They appear to have been unaware that Confirmation is the complement of Baptism, and Baptism therefore incomplete without it."
4.--RELATION WITH OTHER CHRISTIAN BODIES
It has been thought by some that Anglicans as a whole will not be compromised by what happens in the proposed united Church, because it is not to be reckoned as a Province of the Anglican Communion. But this cannot be sustained in view of the following facts: (i.) the Provincial Synod of the Church in India will have given a deliberate assent to it; (ii.) the proposed Body is to be in full Communion with the Church of England. The proposed Body will "retain communion with all the Churches to which the uniting Churches owe their origin, and at the same time will hope to work towards a still wider fellowship" (p. vii). It is relevant here to quote the warning given by Bishop Gore at the Church Congress in 1910: "The Anglican Communion would certainly be rent in twain on the day on which any non-episcopally ordained minister was formally allowed within our communion to celebrate the Eucharist, and any Colonial Church of our communion which recognized in this way the validity of non-episcopal Orders would either be disowned by other parts of the Anglican Communion or, if that were not the case, would cause ... [a] division within our communion at home." These are solemn words. And it is vital that the voters should realize that it is not only those who are called "high churchmen," but the large majority of the rank and file of Anglicans, who treasure what they believe to be the security of the episcopal ministry. To be in communion with a Body which was itself in communion with many who were in no way committed even to the fundamental truths of the Faith would cause the gravest distress and heart-searchings. And if it ever came about that non-episcopally ordained ministers were formally allowed to celebrate at Anglican altars, a schism might be expected to ensue. Some voters may feel on reading this that such rigid adherence to principles is narrow and misguided, but they will respect the conscientious convictions of those who hold them--and realizing that the number of such persons is very large, they will give their opinion due weight in deciding how to vote. To these "orthodox" persons it seems that the Holy Spirit has been clearly guiding his Church, and that no apparent individual "guidance" must be followed, if it contradicts this. The following of such "guidance" has often led to chaos and tragedy, despite the good intentions of those who followed it. It is necessary moreover not to forget the effect which the scheme may have on our relations with Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Old Catholics. The question of possible reunion with the Eastern Church is particularly in point, for the formation of the proposed united Body is likely indefinitely to hinder its accomplishment. Another very relevant matter under this heading is the attitude of the united Church to the Creeds. "It accepts the Apostles' Creed and the Creed commonly called the Nicene, as witnessing to and safeguarding that faith, which is continuously confirmed in the spiritual experience of the Church of Christ, and as containing a sufficient statement thereof for a basis of union" (p. 24). "In the preparation of candidates for baptism, the Apostles' Creed (or, if so desired, the Nicene Creed) shall be used as the basis of part of the necessary instruction. It shall not be necessary that, in answering questions with regard to their faith, candidates for baptism should use the actual words of either of these Creeds in affirming their belief" (p. 38). "The use of the Creeds in worship is an act of adoration and thanksgiving towards Almighty God for his nature and for his acts of love and mercy, as well as a joyful remembrance of the faith which binds together the worshippers" (p. 67). The recitation of Creeds in Church is neither to be forbidden nor imposed. It is hard to escape the conclusion that baptized churchmen are free to believe or disbelieve any clause even of the Apostles' Creed. This is distressing from many points of view, particularly that of the reunion of Christendom.
To sum up, it is our earnest hope and prayer that the voters will view the matter with the whole of Christendom in mind, lest they should take a short-sighted view, with results just the opposite of those anticipated. Reunion on a small scale in South India may lead to disunion on a wide scale elsewhere: and this would be due not to prejudice and perversity, but to deep-rooted convictions conscientiously held. The problem is much vaster than might easily appear to those on the spot who are longing and praying for unity, and seem to see it in sight. A false step now may delay even for centuries the accomplishment of God's will.