Monday, August 30, 2010

Ecclesiastical Evolution IV: Reformation

I am used to describing myself as an Anglican Papalist. I wonder how accurate a term that is in me. I've said before that being an Anglican Papalist necessarily involves living in a confused ecclesiology: holding the Supremacy of the Pope yet remaining out of communion in order to hold on to an Anglican Integrity which is despised by the Roman Canon Law. We know that Anglican Identity is hard to define and it is our faith that it is right that makes Communion with the Pope something of a existential anomaly. I've already said that some believe to be Anglicanism to be that which is expressed within the pages of the Prayer-Book, others believe Anglicanism to be that which has grown from an English Heritage stemming back way before the Synod of Whitby. There are others still...

However, I am not an Anglican Papalist, because I am a human being and "Anglican Papalist" is just some description of how I express myself in terms of relationships with the Church of England, the Anglican Continuum and the Holy See. If I define myself by being "Anglican Papalist" then I am not being a human being.

I am happy to admit to having a confused ecclesiology. I don't understand how I can hold to Catholic Doctrine as expressed by the Roman Magisterium and yet remain out of Communion with the very person whom I regard to be the man appointed by God to guide the Church. I try to see that as the state I'm in now and trust in the Grace of God to bring me in line with the Truth. This is part of my own personal Evolution: I have the core idea, i.e. that God exists and loves me as evidenced by the Lord Jesus Christ, and my life evolves according to how the love of God grows within me. Perhaps one day I shall be entirely consistent.

So far this is terribly personal - not very Catholic - and I suppose one may take me to task over a pick-and-mix attitude to the way I approach religion. Romans tend to regard that as being Protestant - whatever that word means.

The key to understanding (if it's possible) Anglican Papalism is to look at the Reformations of Christian life in Great Britain. Below, I have tried to argue that the litmus test of any development within the Church has to be Love.

Well, it doesn't take very much digging to see the level of hatred within the 16th century between Reformers and Romans, but is it fair to judge the sentiments of those times with the 21st Century morality of "live and let live"? A lot of people from both sides lost their lives horribly, standing up for what they believed in. Why then did they lose their lives? For the reason that the other side saw them as dangerous corrupters of the True Faith. What of the Reformers wishing death on the Pope in their hymns?

Martin Luther writes:
Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort
Und steur des Papsts und Türken Mord,
Die Jesum Christum, deinen Sohn,
Wollen stürzen von deinem Thron!

However this gets translated today as:
Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.

The second line isn't correctly translated, is it?

What of the Bull of Pope Pius V who, in excommunicating Elizabeth I also said:

Praecipimusque et interdicimus universis et singulis proceribus, subditis, populis, et aliis praedictis, ne illi eiusve monitis, mandatis et legibus audeant obedire. Qui secus egerint, eos simili anathematis sententia innodamus.

We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication.

So the erstwhile Pope is inciting at best civil disobedience and at worst regicide.

Of course, we can easily try playing the blame-game. Just whose fault was the first Reformation? Leo X? Luther? Henry VIII? pre-Reformation "heretics"? Anne Bullen? Cranmer?

Utterly irrelevant - we can't change a thing!

The only relevant thing is the Elephant in the Room, not the keeper who brought it in.

Were the Reformations born out of love? That is the question that we are tempted to demand be asked and answered honestly. I disagree on the grounds that this brings us back to the who-did-what-to-whom rather than focus on the true issue: groups of Christians do not regard each other as being truly Christian.

I suppose the real question is: How do I hold on to the expression of the Christian Faith which I believe to be fundamentally true and yet express Christian Love as fully as I can to someone else who claims to be Christian but who holds a radically different set of Doctrines?

The Reformers were concerned with the purity of the Faith and seeking the ease of others' souls by demonstrating to them their errors to the point of saving their souls by destroying their bodies through fire. That may be the way they understood the Love of God in their time, but it doesn't sit right ith our consciences in this day and age and one can reasonably doubt that it would ever sit right on a Christian man's conscience.

As an Anglican Papalist, I see myself engaged in a similar struggle. The Church of England is riven with diverse doctrines which are slowly tearing Christians apart. There is spiritual and therefore moral confusion coming about from a ghastly inconsistent set of beliefs. They cannot all be right. Adult baptism has always been sufficient in the Christian Church, but some groups in the CofE say that it is necessary. Others say that it is not necessary. They cannot both be right. And there are other issues too.

Where do we turn to find the pure Faith? Lots of people will go the Bible and then realise that the same passages that are being used to support the issue are being used against the issue. There is no consistency in just reading the Bible for ourselves. So then one must choose whom to believe, which authority, which pastor, priest, professor, prelate or Pope? This only works if pastor, priest, professor, prelate or Pope are acting in the True Faith themselves. If they are acting for their own devices as Pope Leo X was when trying to collect money for his building projects (but was his motivation the love of God?), then there are problems.

We can see this coming out in the Child Abuse Scandals rocking the Church with the clergy closing ranks, effectively creating the barrier between them and their flocks. Now that's not Love, that's trying to protect appearances. Obviously it is only the tiny majority of priests who are actually guilty of abuse, but the clericalism has exacerpated the situation (as has, admittedly a sensationalist press). Yet, what of pastors inventing their own religions in order to denounce Roman Catholicism as the expression of the Antichrist, or to finance their own over-indulgences (pardon the pun).

Nonetheless, one should seek refuge in the Church that has always sought to preserve the Truth, humbly accepting that it is by God's good grace that it holds that Truth. In reflecting on the Lord's parable of Pharisee and Tax-collector, St John Chrysostom says that it is better to be a sinner and yet humble than virtuous and yet proud. Love breeds humility and it is a mark of the Church to be humble because it is made up from sinful men. Humility seeks obedience to the Faith as laid down from the first and faithfully transmitted through the Fathers.

Were the Reformations born out of love? If I have to answer an irrelevant question, I would say "no" in that it has separated Christians contrary to the uniting principle of Love. I maintain that the Reformations were born out of a fear of loss of control, but I do not care if this is the wrong answer. This is not the issue, especially since the Christian Faith has still grown in the various post-Reformation bodies which have sought to preserve the organic growth evidenced by Tradition. However, any parish that calls itself Christian has to provide evidence of Love in order to do justice to the name. How does it do that? Well, if it's Christian, it should know!

No comments: