Project Canterbury

Recollections of Malines
by Walter Frere, C.R.

[London: The Centenary Press, 1935 119pp]

ADDENDUM VII (See p. 57.)
THE PAPER OF BISHOP GORE On Unity with Diversity.

Concedit (Cyprianus) salvo jure communionis . . . diver sum sentire


So St. Augustine commemorates, with constant reiteration, St. Cyprian's toleration, as shown in the heat of a great conflict. St. Cyprian was stoutly maintaining against the extreme pressure of St. Stephen, the Bishop of Rome, the duty of re-baptizing, or (as he would have said) of baptizing simply, converts from heretical or schismatical bodies. With the merits of the controversy, subsequently decided against St. Cyprian, we need not concern ourselves. But in conducting it, Cyprian showed a spirit the opposite of Stephen's in the respect, that whereas the Bishop of Rome was ready to excommunicate the re-baptizing churches, Cyprian constantly insisted on the duty of tolerating those who held the validity of heretical baptism, even though (according to his own belief) this meant the recognition, as members of the church, of those who had not really been baptized at all. His insistence on this duty of tolerance was based on the principle that there are certain fundamental conditions of Catholic communion, but that we must not extend those conditions beyond the certain warrant of scripture. Beyond this lies the region in which it must be allowed to each bishop with his church to hold different opinions or follow different practices, without breach of "communion" or "unity."

After 150 years St. Augustine is in controversy with the Donatists, and finds them quoting St. Cyprian's doctrine and practice in support of their own; and, with even wearisome reiteration, he repudiates their right to quote that venerated saint and martyr, because they did not follow his example and precept of "perseverantissima tolerantia." As to the teaching of Cyprian, he says, that has been pronounced erroneous by a "plenaria synodus" representing the authority of the whole church—an authority which he professes no doubt St. Cyprian would have accepted. (He tacitly modifies, we notice, the extreme assertion which St. Cyprian makes of the rights of an individual bishop.) But, while the Donatists respect his error, they do not follow his charity—his, who constantly and emphatically refused to allow the opinion which he held to be true, and the practice which he held to be right, to justify any breach of communion with those who thought differently.

In this high estimate of St. Cyprian's spirit of toleration within the limits of Catholic communion, on any matter on which judgment of the whole church had not yet been expressed by an authoritative council, St. Augustine is following St. Jerome; and a similar assertion of the principle of diversity within unity could be quoted from other writers of authority.

I suppose that the principle of toleration on matters which are not de fide will be admitted on both sides of our conference table. The differences between us would only begin to appear with the question, What is de fide, or—What is the final voice of authority? What I want to do now is not to raise this question directly, but to put in a plea for the widest possible toleration of differences between churches, both in doctrine and practice, on the basis of agreement in the necessary articles of Catholic communion. I notice that there are two distinctions in matters of doctrine which appear to be recognized by Roman Catholic theologians. There is (i) the distinction between doctrines which are de fide, and those that, however much authority they may have behind them, do not bind strictly under penalty of heresy, or are not binding at all, but are simply at best pious opinions. And there is also (2) another distinction, between doctrines which are fundamental and those which (whether de fide or no) are not fundamental. Fr. Janssens shall be my authority with regard to this latter distinction. As to fundamentals he tells us that "quid non fuit ab initio doctum et universaliter creditum non pertinet ad Christianae fidei fundamenta." As an instance of fundamental doctrine, "which does not admit of real development," he takes the doctrine of the deity of our Lord. " It has always," he says, "been explicitly held. There was no development in the doctrine; but only in its terminology." As an instance of non-fundamental doctrines he takes the infallibility of the Pope. Of this he says, "It has admitted of a true development, a real doctrinal progress. It has been held but implicitly in the first three centuries, and had been doubted afterwards, even until the time of the Vatican Council."

Now I am not concerned to inquire whether Fr. Janssens' statement of the opinion and teaching of the primitive and later church about Papal infallibility is in any sense adequate. That is not our immediate concern. But I am concerned to ask whether his use of "implicit" and "explicit" is acceptable. He does not enumerate the doctrines which he considers fundamental. Doubtless the doctrine of the Holy Trinity would be one. But I should have doubted whether it could be truly said that this doctrine had always been explicitly held in the Church, e.g. in the age of Hermas and Justin Martyr. Surely it is truer to say that this was taught implicitly by St. Paul and St. John and was always implicit in the tradition, but became explicit—say, in the 3rd and 4th centuries. For "explicitly," in his definition of "fundamental" doctrines I should wish (in order to make it correspond with the facts) to substitute the words "in substance." Fundamental doctrines are those which have always been held and believed in the church in substance. There has been no development in the doctrine but only in the terminology. In this sense there is a series of doctrines which would be pronounced fundamental—not only the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, but the doctrine of the Atonement and of the inspiration of Scripture, of the visible Catholic church, of the sacraments as real instruments of specific divine gifts, of the resurrection of the body, of the intermediate state, of the day of judgment, of heaven and hell. Vincent of Lerins' Commonitorium supplies us with a formula which exactly corresponds to fundamental doctrine, so defined.

Only Vincent of Lerins (tacitly, I suppose, pleading for St. Augustine's better mind against his worse) would not admit that any doctrine, not really and in substance believed everywhere and always in the church, could be part of the necessary faith. He would not admit development in the substance of the gospel or the church's authoritative message.

This also appears to be the final mind of J. H. Newman. Lord Acton called attention to Newman's apparent withdrawal from the extreme position of the Essay on Development. Newman's latest statement (as far as I know) is as follows: "First of all, and in as few words as possible, and ex abundanti cautela, every Catholic knows that the Christian dogmas were in the church from the time of the apostles; that they were ever in their substance what they are now; that they existed before the formulas were publicly adopted, in which, as time went on, they were defined and recorded." Here Newman precisely agrees with Vincent: and, like Vincent, he applies the formula to the dogmas of the church generally. He does not contemplate anything being de fide which does not come under the formula. But this formula (as it seems to most of us Anglicans) manifestly and certainly does not apply to certain dogmas which we understand the Roman Catholic Church imposes as a condition for Communion—not, for instance, to the infallibility of the Pope or the immaculate conception of Mary, nor to the definition of transubstantiation, nor to the definition of purgatory. With regard to the Infallibility Fr. Janssens admits this. He admits development in substance which Vincent and Newman would not seem to admit.

Now here I come to the point of the memorandum. It is an appeal to the theologians of the Roman Catholic Church in the first instance. I write as an Anglican who has not the slightest desire to submit himself as an individual to the Roman authority, but with all his heart would desire to see his own Anglican communion, and the communion of the Orthodox Churches, reunited to the Holy See of Rome. The, at present insuperable, obstacle to such reunion, in either case, is the demand for submission, as to de fide dogmas, to certain doctrines, which, as claiming to be part of the essential faith, seem to us to conflict with history and with truth. I must speak with simple frankness. It seems to us illegitimate to yield that faith which we give to the fact of the virginal conception of our Lord, or His resurrection, or His ascension, to the immaculate conception of Mary. The former group of accepted facts rest upon original witness and good evidence: the latter on nothing that can be called historical evidence at all. But to believe in a fact on the mere ground of a priori reasoning as to what is suitable, without any evidence of the fact, seems to us to alter the fundamental character of the act of faith. It also makes with the other doctrines just specified, a claim for the authority of the church, as centralized and absolute, which the ancient church never made. It frees it from all those restrictions of universal agreement and unvarying tradition and scriptural authority—which in our judgment make the fact of faith rational. It seems to us quite clear that the existing Roman demand, as we understand it to be made, is and remains quite unacceptable. I do not want to discuss the position. But it is notoriously the position of Anglicans in general and of the Orthodox.

Now what I want to ask, with a sense of my audacity in asking it, is—not for any strictly theological change in the teaching of the Roman Church, nor for any alteration in the terms of communion required of those who feel constrained to submit themselves individually to the Roman Church. What I am thinking of is corporate reconciliation. And what I am asking of my friends of the Roman Church, with whom I am having the pleasure of quiet conference, is whether the idea is wholly impossible that, with a view to the corporate reconciliation of the Orthodox Communion and the Anglican Communion, the Roman Church could be content to require not more than the acceptance of those articles of faith which fall under the Vincentian Canon, which I am at present supposing to coincide with what Fr. Janssens recognizes as fundamental doctrines.

C. G.

P.S.—As a minor inquiry I want to ask what exactly is required of any Orthodox Group desiring to become Uniats. Is it the requirement formulated at the Council of Florence? Or the "Creed of Pius IV," or what? And are those formulas regarded as final and infallible?

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