Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Augustine, Anglicanism and the Body of Christ

This year the Feast of St Augustine gives way to the Feast of Corpus Christi as is proper. Any Saint willingly gives place to the Lord, decreasing so He may increase. Yet it is still difficult for us English folk to put St Augustine away just like that. We have here a monk, nay an abbot, who, at the orders of Pope Gregory, is assigned the task of converting the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

The fact that many people miss is that Christianity has been in Great Britain since the Roman occupation under Claudius. There were British Bishops at the Council of Arles; the heretic Pelagius was a British priest with a wrong view about our part in our own salvation; St Alban was the first British Christian martyr: all pre-date St Augustine’s arrival in the sixth century by two to three hundred years.

Under St Augustine, influential British kings become Christian, and dialogue begins between the Celtic Christians, who have largely been abandoned by the Roman Empire, and the Patriarchy of the Pope. It is at the Synod of Whitby some fifty years after St Augustine that the Western dating of Easter is accepted by the English Church and that monasticism is given greater consistency. Not until the Norman Conquest do the British Isles become truly Roman Catholic.

St Augustine is the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and he can rightly be thought of as an Anglican Catholic, sent to ensure that the Angles and the Celts are put in harmony. He does not seek to put down the one at the expense of the other. The Pope has primacy, but not supremacy. St Augustine himself is consecrated Archbishop by Aetherius of Arles, according to St Bede.

It is in his conversations with Pope Gregory that the seeds of Anglican practice are sown. Clerks can marry. With regard to Liturgy, Bede reports the following interchange:

St Augustine asks: Whereas the faith is one and the same, why are there different customs in different churches? and why is one custom of masses observed in the holy Roman church, and another in the Gailican church?
Pope St Gregory answers: You know, my brother, the custom of the Roman church in which you remember you were bred up. But it pleases me, that if you have found anything, either in the Roman, or the Gallican, or any other church, which may be more acceptable to Almighty God, you carefully make choice of the same, and sedulously teach the church of the English, which as yet is new ln the faith, whatsoever you can gather from the several churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things. Choose, therefore, from every church those things that are pious, religious, and upright, and when you have, as it were, made them up into one body, let the minds of the English be accustomed thereto.

With regard to Bishops, we have:

St Augustine asks- may a bishop be ordained without other bishops being present, in case there be so great a distance between them, that they cannot easily come together?
Pope St Gregory answers. - As for the church of England, in which you are as yet the only bishop, you can no otherwise ordain a bishop than in the absence of other bishops; unless some bishops should come over from Gaul, that they may be present as witnesses to you in ordaining a bishop. But we would have you, my brother, to ordain bishops in such a manner, that the said bishops may not be far asunder, that when a new bishop is to he ordained, there be no difficulty, but that other bishops, and pastors also, whose presence is necessary, may easily come together. Thus, when, by the help of God, bishops shall be so constituted in places everywhere near to one another, no ordination of a bishop is to be performed without assembling three or four bishops. For, even in spiritual affairs, we may take example by the temporal, that they may he wisely and discreetly conducted. It is certain, that when marriages are celebrated in the world, some married persons are assembled, that those who went before in the way of matrimony, may also partake in the joy of the succeeding couple. Why, then, at this spiritual ordination, wherein, by means of the sacred ministry, man is joined to God, should not such persons be assembled, as may either rejoice in the advancement of the new bishop, or jointly pour forth their prayers to Almighty God for his preservation?

We see here the teaching that only one bishop is needed for the consecration of another to be valid, the others serve as witnesses to the fact and represent the consent of the Catholic Church. Pope Gregory is clear in setting out that in grave cases of absences of Catholic Bishops, a bishop consecrated by fewer than three bishops is truly a Catholic bishop.

What we are witnessing here is the integration of the Body of Christ. That there is an order and a principle and a desire for harmony of Englishness and Catholicism. In St Augustine, Anglican Catholicism takes fruit and grows within Christ Himself.

Until the last few decades, the U.K. has been regarded as a pious nation, fearing God, and recognising that being Christian is inherently British. The Established Church, when it was Catholic, showed how a Catholic Mass could be said in English. It held to a Benedictine rule of life remnants of which can still be seen in the old school system, universities, and hospitals. This Rule was brought by St Augustine himself and can still be seen in the Book of Common Prayer.

At the centre of it all is this principle that English Spirituality is brought into unity with other local Christian spirituality in the Body of Christ. All the established rites whether they be Roman, Gallican, Glagolitic, Slavonic, or English, are properly Catholic and Christ is manifested in them. In them is the same sacrament, the same Real Presence in the host, the same Holy Trinity to be worshipped and adored.

This is where the Anglican Catholic Church comes from. It is a branch, and I, like Fr Nalls, believe in the Branch Theory insofar as our Church exists as a properly Catholic expression of the Historical Christian Faith as once delivered to the saints. There are those who would question our orders, yet we apply the same principles as St Augustine of Canterbury is given by Pope St Gregory. We are no less an expression of the Catholic Church than any other.

We may be tiny, but so was St Augustine’s mission in a land of Arians and Pelagians. If we are to grow, then we must ourselves be devoted to the Body of Christ, deepening our personal spirituality under the discipline of the Catholic Faith. We must be principled, and our principles must begin with love for God and then with neighbour. We must seek consistency, even as St Augustine sought consistency with the indigenous Church that he found when he set foot on English Soil. We must be persistent, knowing that we have many precedents as to how the humble heart and fervent soul can influence nations. And we must continue receiving the grace of God in the sacraments knowing that this very grace draws all things into Heaven itself.

No comments: