Project Canterbury

by J.G.H. Barry

New York: Edwin S. Gorham, 1922.

"O son of man, I have set thee as a Watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the Word of my mouth, and warn them from me."--Eze. XXXIII, 7.

When a man is ordained to the priesthood he is told by the bishop that it is his function to be a watchman, and he promises that he will "with all faithful diligence, banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines." He is warned that he is called to a "weighty office and charge"; "to teach, and to premonish, and to feed and provide for the Lord's family." This is indeed a weighty and soul-wracking burden of responsibility. It is a responsibility to listen, to report, to enforce: to listen to the word that God speaks, and so to listen that one takes in the whole of the revealed message. There is constant danger that the priest will be satisfied with but fragments of the divine truth; that he will listen up to a certain point and that then his interest will fail; that he will be content to gather from the total message truths that seem to him important and neglect the rest. But he is pledged to the whole revelation of God. He is bound to report; he owes to the flock of Christ committed to him the entire truth that has been revealed. He may not withhold part of the truth because there are members of his flock who will be offended by it, or because he thinks that the congregation is not yet ready for it and that he must prepare them. He has to think not only of the spiritual backwardness of some members of his flock, but of the spiritual readiness of others: not only of those who are indifferent but of those who are eager. And this message he is bound to enforce. The Gospel has never made its way in the world without opposition; and therefore the priest must urge on men the truth he has received at the mouth of God, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear. He oftentimes has to speak amid the shouting of those who cry: "Speak unto us smooth things; prophesy deceits."

What the priest must do for the parish, that in a certain sense, the parish must do for the community. The parish as a whole must listen to the revelation of God and must report what it has learned. The parish must show the revelation in action--bringing forth fruit. It must enforce the truth by the example of life. Men must be able to look at it and report: "There is the Gospel of Jesus in action; there is displayed the meaning of the revelation of God." Nothing short of the embodiment of the Gospel in the life of the Christian community will convince men of the truth of what we profess.

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that S. Mary's stands today and has stood for the last fifty-three years quite squarely for the acceptance and presentation of the whole Catholic faith. Its ideal as a parish from the beginning has been the ideal of a fully realized Catholicity. Its boast has been and is that we have received and will teach and hand on unimpaired our Catholic heritage.

That is a phrase that one hears often, "Our Catholic heritage." It is easy to talk about it in vague terms. But what do we mean by it? One sometimes feels that it is a phrase that in common use is quite empty of meaning. Sometimes one fears that it connotes a fondness for High Mass and solemn processions, rather than for the more strenuous activities of the Catholic religion. A taste for ceremonial is as harmless and as useless as a taste for cream puffs, if it goes no further than that. To be of any use ceremonial must be expressive of underlying and justifying truths. So I ask, When we talk about our Catholic heritage what is it that we mean?

Some years ago I was present at a convention of this diocese in which the present bishop of New York, Dr. Manning, presented a resolution condemning the use in schools of certain text-books which, it was alleged, taught that the Church of England was founded by Henry VIII. That is an assertion that is very commonly made, and at which we who are directly descended from the Church of England are very indignant. And when we are asked to disprove the statement we point to the fact that the episcopal succession was preserved from the pre-reformation to the post-reformation Church. The Church of England, we say, is organically one throughout its whole history.

This seems to me an unfortunate way of treating the subject. The stress that is laid on the episcopate as a guarantee of Catholicity is rather more than it will bear. It is no doubt true that the valid episcopate is necessary to the being of the Church, but it is not exclusively necessary; and the Anglican tendency to argue as though the episcopate were the sole test of catholicity is, to put it mildly, unfortunate. There are religious bodies which seem to have preserved the episcopate and to have preserved nothing else. I am not an expert in such matters; but we are told that the Scandinavian churches have a valid episcopate. That may be; but along with it they have certainly repudiated a good part of the Catholic religion.

It is possible to retain a tactual succession and to repudiate the Catholic faith. If therefore the phrase "Catholic heritage" is to have any meaning we must think of something beyond the episcopate as having come down to us from the past. If we are one with the pre-reformation Church we must be one with its religion in the broad sense. Our whole faith and practice must agree with it; not, to be sure, in every detail, but in its essential meaning, its permanent content. To repudiate the religious faith and practice of the Middle Ages were to repudiate our connection with the Catholic Church; and the possession of a technically valid episcopate could not save us. If the Tudor establishment was a new religion it would not matter a whit that it was presided over by a valid line of bishops. Continuity is something vastly larger than machinery. A nation boasts of the continuity of its national life. Does it mean that it has had the same form of government in the whole course of its existence? Not at all. France has had half a dozen forms of government in the last century, but through them all it has preserved the continuity of its national life. That continuity is the continuity of culture, of ideals, of aspirations, etc. These are the valuable and permanent elements that constitute the unity of the life of the French nation. So in Anglican continuity, without at all forgetting the essential nature of the episcopate in the life of the Church, one must insist on the equal necessity of the whole body of Catholic truth and practice. If at the Reformation the Church of England repudiated these then the possession of the episcopate did not save it. Our Catholic heritage is the heritage of the whole religion of the past.

And of the whole past. Whatever may have been the faults and failings of the Church at this or that time it still remained the Church and in possession of the whole faith. We may not pick and choose and declare our adherence to the Church of this or that age, and repudiate the Church of some other age. There is no greater blunder than the assumption that the Church of some special age is of superior authority. The Protestant appeal to the Church of the New Testament is fallacious; and so is the common appeal of a certain school of Anglicans to the primitive Church. In the first place, the primitive Church does not mean anything to which an appeal can be made. There is no Church that in some special sense is primitive. What shall be the primitive Church to which appeal is made every man determines for himself in accordance with what he wants to prove. And then the primitive Church has no special authority of its own; our Lord did not found a primitive Church or promise that the gates of hell should not prevail against the Church of the first four centuries. The Cathohc Church is the whole fact of Christianity, and there is a sense in which the Church of the later centuries is the preferable court of appeal, inasmuch as in the course of the centuries the Church succeeds in thinking out more fully the meaning of the Gospel-trust committed to it. But the authority is the authority of the Church, not of the age. When we talk of our continuity with the past what we claim is to possess and practice the whole body of historic Christianity. There is no point at all in talking about continuity if we are to disregard all that has happened from the year one hundred, or the year four hundred, or any other year, till the Reformation. If we can speak of continuity and a Catholic heritage, it must be a continuity with and a heritage from all the ages of the past. It is pure Protestantism (and also pure nonsense) to talk of a Church that failed at some indeterminate time and was revived in a pure form under the Tudors.

I read somewhere the other day a dialogue between a small boy and his mother: "Did God make all the world in six days?" the boy asked. "Yes," was the answer. "Did He make all of it?" the boy persisted. "Yes, all," said the mother. The boy \vas not satisfied; he went on: "Is the world finished?" "Certainly." "Then," said the boy, "what is God doing now?" One may, with all reverence, ask a certain school of Anglican apologists, what God was doing between the primitive Church and the Reformation? And just why and when did God leave the Church, so that the Church, in consequence, ceased to be primitive and became mediaeval and corrupt?

"My father worketh hitherto, and I work," is the word of our Lord; and we are bound to believe that in accordance with His promise He has been shaping the fortunes of the Church in all the ages. And if we have any right at all to the title Catholic it must be because we can show our oneness with the Church in all ages. We must seek the tests of continuity, not merely in organization but in life and action.

And therefore we must go further and say that even the Creeds are not a sufficient expression of religion. The Creeds contain a condensed statement of what is of necessity to be believed; but the practice of religion is much broader than that. We cannot say that what is not contained in the Creeds is not important. In the very nature of things they cannot be exhaustive of practice; they can be no more than guides. We cannot say of any formularies that they contain all things that are necessary to the practice of religion. And when we think of our Catholic heritage we are thinking of practice as well as of necessary belief. If we are one with the past we must have in operation the whole sacramental system--seven sacraments and not merely two. If we are continuous with the past we are entitled, nay obligated, to use the sacrament of Unction as well as the sacrament of Orders. We must believe in the Real Presence and act upon it, though we are directed to do so by no creed.

To put it another way: our assertion of continuity must mean continuity with the mind of the Church in all ages as that mind has been expressed by its doctors and saints. There would seem to be small point in honoring a saint whose teachings we straightway repudiate. What can we mean by the assertion that we are one with the Church of S. Anselm--that S. Anselm was a bishop of the Anglican Church whose legitimate successor is the present Archbishop of Canterbury--if at the same time we repudiate all that S. Anselm taught and practiced about the Blessed Virgin? Certainly it is very difficult to make out a case for Anglican continuity if the Anglican Church and the Churches descended from it are understood to have repudiated the seven sacraments, the belief in the Real Presence, and the practices that grow out of a belief in the Communion of Saints.

The Churches of the Anglican Communion have over and over again since the Reformation denied that any new Church came into existence by any action taken at the time of the Reformation, or that their founders had any intention of originating a new religious body independent of the pre-reformation Church. Over and over again synods, councils, Lambeth Conferences, General Conventions, and all sorts of official bodies, not to speak of individual bishops and theologians, have declared the oneness of the Anglican Communion with the past. I am a priest of this Church and stand here today because I believe that those utterances are sincere. I do not believe that there has been any Anglican intention of founding a new Church or departing from the religion of the past. I do not believe that the assertion of the validity of our orders is a mere controversial pretext as against Rome, which we declare to be meaningless when we come to deal with Protestants. I do not believe that the true Anglican mind is the mind of Mr. Facing-both-ways as expressed in the Thirty-nine Articles. If I am mistaken in these beliefs, I have no place here and should take my departure. But if I am not mistaken, then it follows from the honesty of the Anglican assertions of continuity with the past--that the Church of England was the same Church after the Reformation as before--that such beliefs and practices as have commended themselves to the mind of the Church in the past, as that mind is expressed by an authorized formulae and by the teaching of saints and doctors, and have not been repudiated by Catholic authority, are a part of the Catholic heritage of which I am so proud to boast: that my Catholic heritage is not the heritage of the first or fourth or any other century, but is the heritage of all the Catholic life and action of all the centuries. The Anglican is entitled, by virtue of constantly reiterated professions of continuity on the part of the authorities he has been taught to respect, to the use of such devotions and means of grace as he finds approved by the mind of the past which he is assured is his past, and not the exclusive possession of an alien body whose authority the Anglican Church has repudiated.

It is on this basis, I repeat, that I became and remain a priest of this Church. If I am wrong, I have no place here. If I am right--then we are but exercising our rights here at S. Mary's, in the use of the various means of devotion that we have found so beautiful and helpful during these past years. We propose to go on as we have begun, because we believe that these means of devotion have come down to us from our spiritual ancestors; and if our immediate ancestors have not cared to use them, they have at least made professions which imply the legitimacy of their use. We shall go on in the use of eucharistic devotions--of Benediction, of Exposition, of processions of the Blessed Sacrament. We shall find it within our inheritance to use such devotions as the Rosary and the Litanies of the Blessed Virgin and of the saints. I am sure you agree with me in this, and that we shall go on hand in hand, devoting ourselves to the sublime work of spreading the knowledge of the Catholic faith and building up our spiritual lives through Catholic devotions, convinced that by so doing we are in the deepest sense manifesting our loyalty to the oft-asserted principles of the Anglican Reformation.

Project Canterbury