Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reform of the reform of the reform of the....

Reformation is always a hot topic. I've made no secret of my great distress and distrust that originated therefrom. Doctrinally (as well as almost literally) babies got thrown out with the bathwater: lives were lost and martyrs made. The Reformations in the sixteenth century were born of genuine concern for the Faith, but tempered in the heat of mutual condemnation - a heat which has never truly gone out. I blogged below on the nature of schism and mentioned a wee bit about heresy.

Heresy always forces a walking apart and there is some form of schism extant if it is not always recognised or even deliberately glossed over to preserve some semblance of unity. If we cannot agree on what constitutes Lawful Christian Authority, then schism has already happened. The problem is that with heresy comes the temptation to demonise. We can see this with the literal demonisation of the Pope: the number of rather silly ways of proving that the Pope is the anti-Christ is large. However, so is the demonisation of the Reformers. Luther, Knox, Calvin, et al, have all received the same denunciation as anti-Christ as the Patriarch of the West and all with equally silly proofs. The Anti-Christ is cleverer than that and certainly lies at the heart of the demonisation rather than actually in one person or group here.

My learned colleague and friend, Fr Chadwick, has certainly blogged on the nature of Christian anarchy and one might say that there is Ecclesiastical Anarchy growing ubiquitously as traditional sources of authority are rejected. Every new group is a reform of something or other. Group B is the reformed Group A but rejects the doctrine of X because it is not in canon Y.

Reform is always a rejection of a form of authority whether that be a personal authority like a monarch or a pope, a textual authority like the Bible, or social authority like a congregation, or the authority from a milieu -"polite society". In the Sixteenth Century, the Reformation involved the rejection of the monarchy of the pope and of the material stranglehold that it was exerting over the Laity in the name of Salvation. Followers of Marx would certainly agree that this blind acceptance of authority should be questioned. As the Rev. Adam Smallbone demonstrates in the above clip in his caricature, power and priesthood together have a dark side.

It has often been said that the ACC is committed to undoing the English Reformations. That's not strictly true. The break with Rome had to happen because unnecessary dogmata had indeed been added to the Faith. The climate was certainly that of oppression rather than seeking to free the oppressed. There were many good things happening too. There were Godly priests who looked after their cures well. There were congregations who chose to make much of their church buildings because they valued it rather than feared the authorities. However, small good things seem only rarely remembered in the light of political turbulence.

The Reformations happened because people do not want to live with the fear of Damnation but rather to aspire to Salvation:  that is an orthodox and fundamentally Christian desire to be encouraged and assisted.  Damnation certainly does come from rejecting authority, namely the authority of God, but can a hierarchy that seeks to exact control over others through fear guarantee damnation for those who are disobedient to it? The major issue of the Protestant Reformation was indeed about the recovery of the Good News of Salvation, but at what cost given the slaughter of innocents? The economical attitude of Pilate was there in getting rid of a few noisy people in order to preserve the peace. There are ways and means, and perhaps the prevailing culture meant that the ways and means that we would use now were not open to them. But then are the ways and means we use now any better? One cannot really see that in places such as Syria and in Africa!

The corrupted view of the Papacy stated that Salvation only comes with obedience to the pope. The corrupted view of the Reformation stated that Salvation is a purely individual affair. While I can only agree with St Paul that one must indeed work out one's own salvation with fear and trembling and that I will one day stand before God to render an account of what He has given me, this salvation can only come from being part of the Body of Christ which is visible. We know that the Church is visible since St Paul compares it to a human body with parts and organic unity (I Cor xii.12) and organisation cannot occur in a community who doesn't know who its members are. Likewise, Our Lord Himself reminds us that we are to be like beacons, like a city on the top of a hill. (St Matthew v.14).

Rather than rejecting the Reformation outright, I think it true to say that the ACC seeks a reform of the reform - a refining of the sharper edges in the light of the Church's existence before the schisms grew in earnest. This was already a work in progress in 1543 when the King's Book was published and thus represents a very Anglican response to what was happening on the Continent. The ACC rejects the authority of the pope as monarch, however, the ACC also rejects a doctrine of Salvation that seeks to fragment the body of Christ. In the words of Fr Matthew Kirby, the ACC cannot agree that "the word 'justification', and associated words in the New Testament, always have solely imputational meanings, and never any impartational or transformational connotations."

For the ACC, there is an authority to accept and that is the authority of Bishops on matters of Faith and Doctrine, as well as a healthy remembrance that humanity is fallen and (thanks be to God) our Bishops are human beings! It is this remembrance that should cause us to pull together in prayer and mutual humility in accepting an authority that comes from Christ Himself and that that authority is invested in the Episcopate which is made up of individuals as vulnerable and as prone to failure as anyone else. That pulling together must come through the equality of humanity in the eyes of God rather than with a dictatorial "I am the sole arbiter of Faith and Morals". Priests and Bishops are set apart by their calling by God on behalf of the people for the service of that people, yet their obedience to the Authority of Christ means that while their priesthood is shared with Christ and thus beyond the remit of the angels (Hebrews i.5), their humanity is grounded upon the Earth with its concomitant tendency to failure, sin and folly.

The only option is really the means of checks and balances, and that will mean reform of the reform of the reform... et c, so that the whole Church is in a state of flux rather than a monolithic institution. That's how it should be, it's a body, not a tomb, but it is a body with "Tradition as its DNA" as Ed Pacht once told me! We have the instruments to maintain reform by holding on to the Traditions of the Early Church. As someone commented on Fr Chadwick's blog, it may well be that schisms will last right up until the parousia.  I think, sadly, he's probably right. Perhaps, it is best just to keep praying for the integrity of Holy Church and working at bringing more charity into the world.

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