Concerning Neutralization of Territory in the Region of Sacramental Theology
[Extract from a Reinecke Lecture read before the Faculty and Students of the Theological Seminary at Alexandria, Va.]
"Now I take my farewell of my most deare brethren of the forrain Churches with the exhortation of most holy Augustine, If you will live of the Holy Spirit, hold Charity, love Verity, desire Unity, that you nay come to Eternity. To the God of heaven who is the God of Peace; to Jesus Christ our Lord who is the Prince of Peace; to the Holy Spirit, who is the Bond of Peace, be Glory, Honor, and Thanksgiving for ever and ever. AMEN."
Closing Sentences of Bishop Davenant's
Exhortation to Brotherly Communion.
IT is written of the Lord Jesus Christ that, as the end drew near, He gathered his disciples about Him in an upper room, and having broken bread with the words "This is my body," and having blessed wine with the words "This is my blood of the new covenant," He gave them to eat and to drink, adding the injunction, "This do in remembrance of Me." It is further recorded that after the resurrection, on a mountain in Galilee, at a meeting specially appointed, and so given an emphasized sanctity and significance, He said to the Eleven, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." From the Book of Acts, our first chapter of Church History, we learn that the disciples understood this commandment to involve the use of the element of water.
It thus appears that to his Gospel, which might otherwise have been understood to be a simple announcement of abstract truth with respect to "the idea of God" and "the destiny of man," Jesus Christ indissolubly linked two outward observances, each of which necessitated a use of what physicists and chemists know as matter. A spiritualist, as Lucretius would have judged Him, a materialist, as Plato would have declared Him, the Son of Man stood up in full face of both philosophies, and said, "I pronounce you wedded. Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder."
The opening words of the General Confession in the Communion Office of the Book of Common Prayer, wherein we address the Almighty as the "Maker of all things" and the "Judge of all men," suggest that God sustains a close and real relation to two worlds,--a world material and a world spiritual,--and that in a deep sense (though not in Spinoza's sense) both of these worlds are one in Him. It is true that in the order of the phrases a distinction of rank is recognized. We are not encouraged to infer that the two worlds are of equal value or of equal dignity. It is by an ascending climax that we pass from the Maker of "things" to the Father and the Judge of "men." But what is distinctly asserted with respect to both body and spirit, things and men, is this,--that between them there lies no such difference as necessarily involves contrariety or schism; they admit of harmonizing if only one can get at the true formula of their harmony; they are not really enemies, they are friends. Alone among theists, the Christian has the courage cordially to welcome this belief. Partly because Nature has always been the stronghold of idolatry, and partly because so much of what goes on in Nature appears to militate against our conceptions of the holiness and the loving kindness of God, theists, as such, find themselves strongly tempted to mark a great gulf between the two realms, the spiritual and the material, and to plant danger signals on the hither side.
"Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams? "
asks the doubting heart in In Memoriam, evidently disposed to think that so it must be; and even such a clear-headed Christian thinker as Coleridge is said to have defined Nature as "the devil in a strait-jacket. "But in its censure of the Manichaean heresy, the Church early set the stamp of its disapproval upon sentiments of this sort, and reaffirmed, in the face of objections that must have seemed even more formidable to the mind of those days than they seem to the mind of these, St. Paul's dicta that "the earth is the Lord's," and that "every creature of God is good."
These thoughts lead up to the following questions:--
(a) How, as a matter of fact, has the mind of Christendom stood affected towards the sacramental element in the religion of the New Testament during the centuries that have elapsed since the mandates "Do this" and "Go, baptize" were issued?
(b) How stand the two Sacraments of the Gospel related to the general question of the unity of the Church?
(c) Is there anything about the third article of the Lambeth Declaration that conspicuously differentiates it from other formal utterances upon the same subject with which it is natural for us to compare it? ["The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him."]
First, then, how has it fared with the institutes themselves? How have men thought and felt and spoken and written about sacraments during the sixty generations, more or less, covered by Church history?
"Very variously," is the only answer possible.
As was just intimated, the attitude of the individual Christian towards the sacramental element will, in every case, be largely determined by his native cast of mind. If he be one who naturally inclines to take things in the concrete, and who abhors abstractions, esteeming them to be mere unsubstantial nothings, he will incline to magnify the sacraments, and to wonder why there should be so few of them. If, on the other hand, his personal bias is distinctly towards idealism, disposing him to brand as unspiritual and earthy whatsoever religious product refuses to let itself be completely volatilized in the alembic of criticism, he will almost inevitably take the minimizing line, and instead of wondering why Christ should have ordained no more than two sacraments, as generically necessary to salvation, will rather marvel that He should have ordained any at all. For to a completely subjective system of theology, a sacrament is ex vi termini an excrescence.
As with individuals, so with their followings; for, after all, a "school of thought," so called, is but the aura that exhales from and orbs itself about a strong personality: sects, parties, denominations, are observed to be sacramental or non-sacramental in their general tone, according to the character of the invitation given out by the founder when the sect, party, or denomination took its rise.
Moreover, it is inevitable that in this matter the law of reaction should, from time to time, make itself felt; religion of the ultra-sacramental type becoming so plainly and hopelessly materialistic and mechanical that earnest men are impelled, out of very loyalty to Him who is a Spirit, to break with it altogether.
The Protestant Reformation, on its theological as distinguished from its political side, was a gigantic movement of this sort. A complicated sacramental system, hammered out on the anvils of the schoolmen, had been fastened as by bolts and rivets about the body of Christ, until the Church had found itself actually imprisoned in its own armor. What wonder if, in the violence of the escape from this man-made coat of mail, the inner and more delicate fabric of the true sacramental vesture which Christ, out of pity for man's nakedness, had woven with his own hands should have suffered hurt? It could not be otherwise. A live Christianity protests against a materialized religion as instinctively as the eye protests against the cinder that has found its way beneath the lid; and when men have had dinned into them for centuries the doctrine that only by sacerdotal manipulation can they be saved, it only needs the translation of the New Testament into the vulgar tongue and a consequent acquaintance with what that document has to say about mint, anise, and cummin and the baptism of pots and pans, to precipitate a revolution.
Thus swings the pendulum, thus ebbs and flows the tide: first the image-maker; then the image-breaker; then, chisel in hand, the restorer of damaged carvings, saying cheerily, "After all, the image was not so bad; let us supply the lost features, change the expression a bit, and put it back in the old niche." Eighteenth-century Boston turned the Gospel of Christ into a metaphysic, but kept on observing the "ordinances" by force of habit, all unconscious, as it would seem, that Puritan premises necessitated Quaker conclusions. By and by came Emerson, true child of idealizing forbears, saying to his startled communicants, What have these material emblems to do with a spiritual religion? How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Pope be right, follow him; but if George Fox, follow him. Either take these things hence or dismiss me from my charge.
This sounded logical as well as ethical, and many of New England's best flocked to the transcendental standard. But after one generation of these keenwitted folk had made trial of a Christianity stripped of its raiment and left bare, devout hearts not a few woke up to perceive and to confess that the outward side of religion had its value also; the voice of Oxford, nay, of Rome, was heard in the gates, and it began to be whispered of Bostonians, Lo, they attend Mass.
(b) What is the bearing of the sacramental element in religion upon the general question of the unity of the Church?
All societies are committed by the very nature of their being to some measure of symbolism. Men who find themselves, by the condition of their birth or by a definite voluntary act of their own, knit together, insist that by some outward action or object this oneness shall be made apparent. The essential fact itself is indeed invisible, but who is to be the wiser for the fact, unless at some point in the circuit the viewless unifying force flashes into light? Scores of familiar phrases testify to this truth; "a family crest," "the regimental colors," "a civic seal,"--these are witnesses, respectively, to tribal, military, and municipal unity. People seldom, if ever, dispute about these emblems, and for the simple reason that they are understood to stand for facts with respect to which there is no difference of opinion. The data of a man's origin and kinship are settled and fixed; how, then, should he dispute over the heraldic token of that which he cannot change if he would? Manifestly, his true wisdom is to make the best and the most of what is unalterable. Hence, as a rule, men take both pride and satisfaction in any symbolism that reminds them of a unity to which they stand, so to say, inevitably committed. Only "the man without a country" would dream of going in search of the most beautiful of all flags in order that under it he might live. He instinctively cheers the flag under which he was born, because, having been born under it, he has always thought of it as his own flag. It indicated national decadence and disunion that the Psalmist should have felt moved to complain, "We see not our tokens." Rob the Church of her sacramental guarantees of unity, break down with axes and hammers her font and altar, and you provoke the same cry. How can we know that we are one if we see not the tokens; and, contrariwise, if we see the tokens, are we not reminded by the very sight that, however we may differ on a thousand points, we still, in the very truest and deepest sense of all, are one body in Christ? Sacraments, in a word, are sacraments of pre-existent fact.
But there is more to be said for the unifying power of sacraments even than this. It is not enough to show the emblematic value of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. These forms of action are, indeed, witnesses to the oneness of those who join in solemnizing them, but how stand they connected with that Spirit of life without whose energizing and vivifying presence unity is, and must continue, a barren name?
The masters in Sociology tell us that the two prime factors in the evolution of the human race are the instinct of reproduction and the struggle for food. Children perpetually coming to the birth, men forever toiling and moiling that they may find bread for themselves and for those whom they have begotten,--this, even this, after history has mouthed its finest phrases, and art spread its brightest colors, and poetry sung its softest notes,--this, even this, is what it all comes to, so far as the earthly side of things is concerned, that we should be born, and having been born should strive for the means of keeping alive. Surely to Sociology we may say, if this be indeed her last word to us, "Thank you for nothing."
But what a different aspect the whole thing takes on when looked at from the heavenly places! Christ comes into the world, not only that He may live the life of man, but that He may, in the fine phrase of the Te Deum, "lift us up for ever," so carrying the very manhood itself into God. His mission is not merely to prepare people to die,--what a melancholy blunder it was, ever to have put such an interpretation upon his errand!--not merely to prepare people to die, but to prepare "a people" to live. He appears upon the planet's surface that He may become the re-organizer of the human race. "Make ready for the Kingdom," is the cry of his announcer. "Make ready for the Kingdom," is his own cry when He is come.
But the new Society, the coming Kingdom, is not to be wholly different from the old. It is to be the old glorified and ennobled. Whatever, therefore, is most central to the Sociology of human life as it is will be likely to discover its counterpart and analogue in the Sociology of the Kingdom. Even so we find it. His Church is given by Christ two sacraments, and only two; because these are adequate to meet the two great demands of society as such--namely, the need that members shall be born into it, and the need that for the children thus begotten and brought forth there shall be food; otherwise the grand enterprise of making a people must fail. The sacrament of Baptism is the sacrament of birth. The subject of it is regenerate or born anew into the family of God. The sacrament of Holy Communion is the sacrament of nourishment. "As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me." Certainly it ought to startle those who are today belittling the claims of Jesus Christ upon the gratitude of mankind, to note how marvellously his sacramental mandates have anticipated the ripest modern thought. It would appear that it is Science that is catching up with Christ, rather than Christ who is lagging behind Science.
This is one interpretation of the significance of the sacraments; others are possible and valuable, for it is the glory of visible symbolism that it combines under a single outward form more shades and phases of truth than can possibly be put into any single verbal proposition. This particular rationale of the matter seems to be the one that underlies the sacramental offices of the Book of Common Prayer. It may be considered as a Greek in contrast with a Latin way of looking at the thing.
(c) But what of the attitude taken up by the Bishops at Lambeth with reference to this whole subject? The third of the four articles that compose the Declaration reads as follows: "The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him."
This language would seem to admit of only one construction, and that a very generous one. As against those who hold that no sacraments are essential to the unity of the Church, it is indeed exclusive; as against those who hold that sacraments other than those ordained by Christ Himself are essential to the unity of the Church, it is also exclusive; but it is hospitable to all who, having accepted the Scriptures and assented to the primitive Creeds, are content to receive and to observe Baptism and the Lord's Supper under the form prescribed in the New Testament. The large catholicity of this way of putting the thing has scarcely had justice done it thus far in the discussion. Neither in England nor in America does there seem to have been any adequate appreciation of what it meant for Anglican theologians to concede so much as is here conceded. That this article should have been allowed to pass, as it has passed, almost without challenge and as if it were the merest commonplace, is, of all the surprises of which this long debate has been prolific, the most surprising. When we consider how the whole Anglican Communion has been, for three hundred years, racked and torn by disputes as to the true philosophy of the sacraments; when we recall the scores, yes, the hundreds of volumes that have been written during the last half-century, to go no further back, for the purpose of unfolding and establishing the true theory of baptismal regeneration and eucharistic grace,--how astonishing it is that a proposition to throw theories to the wind and to rest content with simply observing the mandates, leaving the blessing to come in such fashion as it shall please God to send it,--how amazing that, with all the facts of the past in full view, such a proposition as this should have provoked no ripple of dissent, stirred no syllable of protest! One might suppose that the Church of England and its sister Church in this country would have been up in arms. And yet well-intentioned people by the thousand, who do not mean to misrepresent any person or any thing, go on saying that the Lambeth Declaration exhibits no real concession on the part of those who framed it, and that it is nothing in the world but a plausible device for persuading non-Episcopal Christians to become Episcopalians in ignorance of what they are about. No concession on the part of Anglicans in declaring that henceforth there shall be on their part no insistence upon any theory of the sacraments provided the sacraments themselves are honored and their use maintained? No concession? ' Why, the history of English religion, since Elizabeth's reign, shows nothing to compare with it. Think of the long succession of wrangles over this subject, beginning from the day when men were burned to death for having erroneously conceived the doctrine of the real presence, and coming down to the latest instance of imprisonment for ritual malpractice; recall the Gorham controversy, the Hampden controversy; remember the silencing of Pusey, the hegira of Newman; refresh your recollection of the Tractarian literature; read again the Apologia arid the Eirenicon; look back at the genesis of the Reformed Episcopal Church, and then declare, is it nothing that the leaders of the Communion which has witnessed all this fratricidal strife should come forward--voluntarily come forward--and declare that a man's philosophy of the sacraments shall no longer be made the test of his fitness to receive the sacraments?
And yet we are continually hearing it said, on this side and that, as the discussion proceeds, "Oh, as to the first three articles of the Declaration, we need not waste time over them,--about them we are practically agreed already; the only point worth arguing is ' the historic Episcopate.'"
Now, while it is true that the question of the historic Episcopate, for the reason that it touches particular individuals and imports a personal element into the debate, is, in a way, more interesting than the questions of the Bible, the Creed, and the Sacraments, it is not true that it is intrinsically more important than they. If those who have been criticising the Bishops for what they "demand" in the fourth article would give a little time to considering what these same Bishops concede in the third, we should come, all of us, into calmer mood, besides attaining, or, let me say, because of our having attained, a truer perspective.
But whether the Bishops of the Anglican Communion accomplish anything for unity or not, they are to be congratulated as theologians upon having taken in this matter of the sacraments a position which is intrinsically unassailable.
Why should we expect to know more about the body spiritual than we can possibly pretend to know about the body natural? Ecclesiology ought to be esteemed at least as difficult a study as Physiology. If Baptism be the sacrament of birth and Holy Communion the sacrament of nourishment, we surely ought not to complain if these phenomena of the spiritual order show themselves as little amenable to analytical treatment as do the corresponding phenomena in the natural order. No man, in the present state of our knowledge, so much as dreams of explaining the inner secrets of embryology and nutrition; why then should we expect to understand, or why should we wish to force others into saying that they understand, how souls are born or how spirits are fed? It is not first the spiritual and then the natural; it is "first the natural and then the spiritual." We reverse the true order of the mind's progress when we grapple with the hardest problems first. If the day ever comes for us to understand all mysteries and all knowledge, we shall doubtless, along with other things, possess a complete philosophy of sacraments; but perhaps by that time we shall have got beyond the need of sacraments. Lambeth, Geneva, Rome will all have been forgotten.