Project Canterbury


Archbishop of Canterbury


SEPTEMBER 12, 1946


Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010

FOR the second time in history, an Archbishop of Canterbury is allowed to address your General Convention. I count it a very high privilege to be received by you in this way. One who has been, as I have, Bishop of London cannot forget that once this country was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, nor can he forget the extremely ineffective way in which that jurisdiction was exercised. Perhaps as Archbishop, I may be allowed to forget those earlier episodes of our joint history, and to remember only the close and intimate ties which now hold us together in one communion and fellowship. The war interrupted the constant interchange of visitors between our two Churches which was so frequent and so valuable before the war, and which is now once more being resumed. But the war brought about one valuable act of fellowship to which I wish to refer. In the early years of the war you made a notable and generous gesture. You gave to the missionary societies of the Church of England over two years something like £90,000 to enable them in those difficult days to maintain their work for the extension of Christ's Kingdom overseas. That great gift was very deeply appreciated, for itself, for the practical understanding and fellowship which it showed, and for the concern for the whole work of Christ which it displayed. That gift also inaugurated a new relation between us in regard to the missionary work of the Anglican Communion. It started a system of cooperation between us in this field, long overdue, and of great importance and benefit. I was particularly glad to bring with me Canon Campbell, secretary of the missionary council of the Church of England that by his presence he might mark our appreciation of your gift and be able to enter into personal conversation with his opposite member here.

On what theme shall I address you? Not, I think, on the general state of the world. You are as familiar as I am with the alarming picture that can be drawn of that. In a sense, I feel that it does not matter so much. Of course it is alarming; of course we must analyze it carefully so that we may be ready as effectively as possible to penetrate the heavy armor of false philosophies and indifference to ultimate truth by which the world shuts itself off from its own salvation. But that the world is in a sorry state need not surprise us. It is simply what we as Christians must expect of a world which in large measure has abolished God from its thinking and made man the measure of all things. That kind of humanism is bound to lead to the kind of result we see--because man is what he is, a being capable of choosing life or death but, left to himself, more likely to choose death than life.

Standing here, only the second Archbishop of Canterbury who has ever addressed your General Convention, I feel that my right course is to speak to you of what, for lack of a better name, we must call the Anglican Communion of which you here and we in England are members.

First a word about the Church of England. From it, of course, originated historically all the Churches of the Anglican Communion, sometimes by its active energies; sometimes, as in this country, in spite of its really deplorable inadvertence. But a genealogical tree no longer fits the situation. What matters is that spread over the world are at least 13 autonomous, national Churches, all members of this Anglican Communion; and in addition, covering almost all the rest of the world are a large number of dioceses on the way to becoming national Churches, with their own established life, but still looking for final jurisdiction to a mother Church. Here is a great family of Churches within the Holy Catholic Church, which, for reasons I will refer to later, has its own special task and responsibility within the whole task of the whole Church.

I have recently read a book which interested me greatly, called Men and Movements in the American Episcopal Church by your historiographer. It told me much that I did not know before. Chiefly it revealed to me that in spite of all differences the ecclesiastical history here had run pretty well parallel with ours in England--with different men, but generally speaking with the same movements. If the parallelism still holds, it may interest you if I say something of the Church of England today. There is of course a whole class of problems which we have and which means nothing to you, a class of problems arising out of our historical position in relation to the State. We are much concerned with problems of Church reform--reform that is of the machinery of the Church; and sooner or later that must involve some further alteration or adjustment of the conditions of establishment. A hundred or so years ago, the only method by which the Church could legislate for itself was by act of Parliament, and the Church was content to have it so. The old theory that Churchmen and citizens were the same set of people under different names was still held. In the last 100 years we have regained what since the Declaration of Independence you have always had, the proper sense of the spiritual status and autonomy of the Church, inherently belonging to it by its nature as the Church of our Lord. That recovery had led to some readjustment of our relations with the State and must in time lead to more. But in England in matters like this we move slowly, and in this case there is good reason why we should. It is not good to have freedom before one is ready for it.

We are under necessity to establish our organs of self-government on a firm basis before we claim liberty for self-government, especially in such matters as liturgical order, round which controversies within the Church are liable to arise. The creation of the Church Assembly 25 years ago, with large powers of legislation, was a long step in the direction of self-government. In it bishops, clergy, and laity are represented, but it does not cover the whole ground of faith and doctrine. There is another organ of crucial importance, the Convocations of Canterbury and York, the oldest representative bodies in the country, older than Parliament--each consisting of the Upper House of Bishops and the Lower House of Proctors for the clergy. The original legislative body of the Church is particularly concerned with Faith and Order. For a century and a half the Convocations were suppressed and Parliament was all-powerful. In the middle of the last century they were revived with their ancient power of creating new canons with the royal assent. But it has taken time for them to recover their old spiritual authority in the life of the Church; indeed the process is not yet complete. It is, however, in progress. The Convocations are exercising themselves in the use of their authority. They are shortly to undertake a general revision of canon law, and the reality of their spiritual authority is being recovered. The time is, I hope, in sight when we shall be able to claim greater freedom because we able to use it, when the general sense of the Church is ready to accept the authority of Convocation and when all priests are ready to obey its clear direction.

That brings me to a topic which is perhaps less remote from your own experience. The same movements which have been felt here have operated over the last century in England--Evangelical, Tractarian, Modernist, and Anglo-Catholic. Because central authority was, as I have described, weak on the spiritual side and complicated on the legal side, there was little control of these movements. Perhaps that has been in the end a good thing. Each of them has made its own contribution, gone its own way, and revealed its limitations. In each was a centrifugal force--sometimes one that took its exponents to the edge or beyond the orbit of the Anglican tradition. My own belief is that those centrifugal forces have spent themselves. My conviction is that what we need in England is a centripetal movement, and I think it is in sight. There is a good deal of evidence of impatience with those who are in effect sectarian. There is a good deal of evidence of a growing reaffirmation of loyalty to the Church of England as such, which is our local expression of the common Anglican tradition--which is in its turn our expression of the Catholic Faith as we have received it. I must, however, in honesty say that controversy over the South India Scheme has been a disturbing influence in some quarters, tending to create division of opinion when the need is for a more comprehensive unity.

I need not, I think, expound to you what I mean by the Anglican Tradition: for it is what you mean by it also. It has its strong Catholic element--which emphasizes the historic continuity and organized life of the Church as the appointed channel of the Divine grace through creed, ministry, and sacraments. It has its strong Evangelical element, which emphasizes Gospel before Church, personal conversion before corporate expression of it, spiritual immediacy, the direct response to the Holy Spirit wherever He may breathe. It has its third strong element, not easy to give a name to, which acts as a watchdog of both the other elements, and brings into our tradition a special element of intellectual integrity, of sobriety and moderation of judgment, of moral earnestness--an element which is as aware of what we do not know as of what we do, which does not wish to go beyond the evidence but to judge all things with a large and reasonable charity.

No Anglican should be without something of these elements. But difference of emphasis does often lead to widely different results in the presentation and practice of our common faith. Therein is an apparent weakness. I would say that it is the real strength and glory and special responsibility of the Anglican Churches that they hold together these three elements in one fellowship without resort either to schism or suppression. For all these elements are essential parts of the Christian Faith already visible in the New Testament; they need each other for their own correction. While the frailty of man makes them centrifugal, the truth of Christ should hold them together in Him as their center. An Anglican, as it seems to me, is one who above all does not desire or wish that any one element shall part company with the others; that any one shall prevail over or suppress the others. He cannot be a partisan, in the sense of thinking he is right and the others are wrong. Rather it is part of his special profession a part which requires of him humility, patience, and a real cost in spiritual effort and discipline, to think of, to value, and to learn from the others, and never to push his own emphasis or preferences to a point which could unchurch his partners. I do not know whether the term "Central Churchman" is here a term of praise or abuse. Sometimes in England it is used to mean a person who believes and who does nothing very much. I would say that he is a man who is to be highly regarded. There is a center, in the Anglican tradition, where the various tensions within the thought and life of the Church come nearest to being harmonized in a full energy of utterance and witness to the truth of Christ and His Church. Because it exists, it is possible for varying emphases to coexist without breaking the fellowship but rather enriching it.

It is because we are by the grace of God what we are in the Anglican Communion that we have so important a part to play, as I think, in the difficult field of reunion. I read in a book on religion in America that America thinks of the problem as one not so much of "reunion" as of "union." In this country, it was said there never has been a Church visibly one; so the question is seen as one of creating what has never been rather than of recreating what has been lost. But in the Episcopal Church the historic sense is, I am sure, strong enough to make the term "reunion" right. For we have in our bones the memory of the Church which preceded all the divisions of it, the Church as it sprang from Christ on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets. It is that unity we desire, not to be made by us, but to be recovered from Christ Who made it first and wills it still.

I have, of course, no intention at all of referring to problems of reunion which you are discussing here. It would be most improper for me to do so. What I wish to do is only to emphasize the importance of our position in this field and to give an illustration of it. The Church of England is in full communion with the Old Catholics in Europe, and in a relation not far short of full communion with some of the Orthodox Churches. That on the one side. On the other we are in communion with the Lutheran Episcopal Churches of Sweden and Finland. No other communion but ours could be such a unifying influence. Owing to our position, at once Catholic and Reformed, we can hold out hands of friendship in both directions and be interpreters of the one to the other. It is because of the comprehensive strength of the Anglican tradition, because of the fact that we hold together in the organic communion strands of the Christian tradition elsewhere separated, that we are able to perform this service to the whole Church and prepare the way for a fuller intercommunion. But it is important always to recognize and give full value to the context with which these considerations stand. The context is that of real spiritual unity between all who profess the faith of Christ as God and Saviour.

Our Lord said that He came to bring not peace but a sword. There is a deep dividing line. It is between those who do and those who do not respond to the initiative of God taken and revealed in Christ, the eternal Son of God. All the Christian Churches stand on the same side of that line, and base their faith on the Incarnation, the Atoning Death of our Lord, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the coming of the Holy Ghost, and the hope of eternal life. Our differences are real, but they are domestic, within the Household of God. The recent Lambeth Conferences have borne witness to that fact.

I would return, before I close, to our own Anglican position. If it is to fulfil its task and discharge the responsibility which our Lord lays upon it, it must be coherent in its own life and practice. As I have said, the Anglican Communion embraces many national Churches, provincial in name or character, and a large number of dioceses not yet organized as separate provinces or national Churches. They are spread all over the world. The name Anglican is already a misnomer; it indicates their remote origin, but it does not at all describe their present condition. They are indigenous Churches not only here and in England and in the British Dominions, but in India, China, Japan, Ceylon, and Africa East and West. Wherever they are, they stand for a particular tradition within the Holy Catholic Church of Christ: and until that tradition is taken up into a wider fellowship, they must cohere. But separated as they are by geography, by race and tongue, by environment, how shall that be? They are not, I think, to be overcome by any form of unified control or by giving any overruling power to a Lambeth Conference or any other body. The autonomy of provinces or national Churches is not an accident of history with us; it embodies a principle which is derived from the New Testament and from the early Church and which is to be preserved and treasured. Yet it may well be that more attention should be given to securing a frequent and effective interchange of thought and understanding throughout the communion to assist in coordination and correlation, to giving mutual encouragement and increasing unity of action. This is a matter which, I hope, may engage the attention of the next Lambeth Conference.

What is the final authority within our communion? The Bible has its authority with us--but it does not stand alone. Tradition, the working out in history of the Christian faith, has its authority--but it does not stand alone. Empiricism, the living voice of today's thought and spiritual experience, has its authority, but it does not stand alone. The past has shown that any one of these, taken in isolation as the one authority, leads to confusion and loss. Each requires constant correction from the others. We believe that in each the Holy Spirit speaks to us--though in each what He would say may be misinterpreted by the fallibility of man. In the Anglican Communion we rely upon the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, speaking to us through a fellowship of authorities, the Bible, tradition, and the voices of today; expressing Himself in a fellowship of Churches. That is our unity. Of its nature it cannot have definition in a supreme council, a code, or a confession. It carries with it the Bible as the record of what God has spoken and done in Christ; it orders its life by Creed and Sacrament and those corporate acts which unite it to the Church of Pentecost; it looks upward to God and outward on the world of human experience and seeks to hear what God would say to us and do through us now. The Book of Common Prayer unites us not by the letter of it, but because it represents the union of Scripture and tradition and empiricism which is the mark of our tradition.

I have not spoken to you of the secular world. I have not described the task of the Church in presenting with new fire and zeal the challenge of Christ to that world, or called you afresh to it. These things are ever-present to our minds and in our prayers and service. If I have spoken only of this communion to which we belong, it is partly because it is natural for one who holds my office with its historic place in that communion so to do; it is partly because to that communion I owe all I am and give all the loyalty of my heart; it is yet more because I believe that as God has done great things, for all our faults, for us and through us, so God still has a work for us to do, of great moment, for Him, for His redeeming purpose, for the whole Church and for the world.

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