Friday, January 06, 2017

Uncompromisingly compromising or vice versa?

I see lots of discussion in the Anglican world about the nature of sacraments, in particular the Eucharist.

Nothing causes more friction at a gathering of Anglicans than the mention of the word Transubstantiation. Say that, and the urbane soirée turns into the final battle in Return of the Jedi.

Is the Real Presence of Christ spiritual, physical, corporeal, or symbolic? Does it matter? Yes, of course it does, and the ink ( and blood! ) that has been spilt on this very issue shows that it cuts to the very heart of one's relationship with God. How on earth can Anglicans be reconciled if they differ so much on this issue?

Let's turn the problem around and look at on what Anglicans, and given the breadth   of what Anglicans believe, what most Christians agree on.

First, the Eucharist is important enough not to compromise one's belief on. It is commanded by Christ, and somehow bread and wine take on something of Christ in some way. For many Christians, the bread and wine take on the full identity of Christ as an objective locus of His Presence at the expense of their identity as bread and wine. There are disagreements as to how this identity is to be recognised and the nature of the locus. Is it spiritual? Is it a memorial, by which I mean something more than a simple remembring but a relication of one's experience in time? Is it physical? Is it metaphysical? It does matter what we believe, but we have to hold fast to what we believe unless the Holy Ghost compels us to believe.

This brings issues in that the one who believes in Transubstantiation could be accused of idolatry by one who believes in a spiritual presence. Yet, the one who believes in the spiritual presence could be accused of faithlessness and rejection of the words of Christ by the one who accepts Transubstantiation. Notice that I say could be accused. That doesn't mean that we have to accuse. Remember that the literal translation of Satan is "the accuser". What we must each do is to be true to our sincere belief, constantly thrashing our intellect against the Rock of Christ so that we do not become Kripkean in our dogmatism. If this means that we cannot be present at the same Altar in this Time, so be it. But we must trust in the same One Christ that we believe in with the same One Faith being members of the same One Church that we, and those with whom we disagree, are going to be together at the same altar in Heaven. Indeed, many of us believe that this happens at every valid Mass anyway!

Second, we must remember that there is no Anglican Church, no Roman Catholic Church, no Anglican Catholic Church, no Orthodox Church, there is only One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. That's it. Some of us may be Anglican as a noun by the doctrine of the prayer book and the formularies. Some of us may be Anglican as an adjective by history or by succession. Some of us may be Roman by location, by doctrine, or just by being in communion with the Holy Father. Again, that's just us. We can and should argue but not to convince, but rather to explain. Debates become tedious when they're very old. The Church Fathers say nothing conclusive about the nature of the Eucharist, save that Christ is really and objectively present following His promise to us. A promise that He keeps even when we do not keep ours. Christ's promise works for the salvation of the faithful be they Anglican, Roman, Orthodox, or Protestant. In Christ we are all brothers and sisters, yet we seem to accuse and abuse each other on the same level as the sons of King David!

Third, we should not compromise our liturgy. These words bind us in time with those who have gone before. If we say the prayer book rite whether it be the 1549 Canon,  or the 1928 Canon, or if we use the Missal, whether it be English, Anglican, Sarum, or even Roman, or if we use one of the ancient Orthodox liturgies then we should remember that at the very least they agree about the words of consecration. The same intention is there in every rite - to make present the body and blood of Christ. There are, indeed, some truly terrible modern liturgies out there, but they are only invalidated if they do not embrace the true Christ as proclaimed in the great Creeds of the Church. If one's intention is to dumb things down to make it "accessible" rather than allow the great words said by so many unlearned folk throughout the ages, then one is compromising one's integrity for the fashionable by introducing a disconnection. The old language is still good enough for Shakespeare: it is still good enough for the majesty of the Holy Sacraments.

Fourthly, this brings me to the fact that the old language is a source of Anglican unity for those who seek to hold that connection with the Reformers. We do have that in common, and it won't do to forget it. I remember being picked up on the words "miserable offender" by Deacon Christopher Little. I had forgotten that the word "miserable" had changed meaning. Perhaps each Christian needs to ensure that they do not compromise on the language that they speak, but commit to learning that language as thoroughly as possible. One we truly understand our own language, then we have a better basis by which we can translate for each other. It has often been said that the English and the American are separated by a common language: let Anglicans then be united by their common  language . Whether Cranmer is heretic or hero, he is certainly to be venerated for his translation and use of liturgical language.

We should not compromise on our sincere belief in Christ, but we must be prepared to suffer for that lack of compromise. If we recognise that suffering in others, then perhaps that is enough for us to come together in suffering, mutual support, mutual protection, and continue to point to that One Christ. All Catholics have the same Nicene Creed (preferably without the filioque), pray the same Our Father, and agree on 66 books of the Holy Scriptures. We all have received the same commandments from the same Christ. That should be the basis of our unity in Christ.

1 comment:

Fr. Gregory Wassen said...

Dear father,

Thank you, again, for a sensitive post. It is certainly true that we do not *have* to accuse anyone. Even in disagreement. It is a difficult thing for us to accept the other's sincerity when we are so *obviously right ;-)

It is also true that there is *only* one Church. There is indeed only one Christ, one sacrifice, one baptism, etc. True-churchism is *not* a helpful thing. At best it is idealism in denial of reality.

The point about liturgy is also fair enough. I have long - since joining the ACC - advocated the centrality of liturgy. Though to me this leads to some very un-welcome conclusions (unwelcome to most Anglicans).

More specifically: I recognize that the BCP order of Holy Communion is valid (even in its 1552 form) I would advocate that its theology is at best ambiguous. In the worst case scenario Dom Gregory Dix is right that 1549 and everything that follows is the core doctrine of protestantism in liturgical form.

Iow I would argue that the pre-Reformed Office & Mass ought to be our standard and that the BCP ought to be incorporated into that. How this could be done is visible in the Anglican Breviary as well as in the Benedictine Office, and the various Missals. Adopting these as "standard for worship and doctrine" delivers us from the BCP's in-built ambiguity.

Also I am not quite convinced that the same Nicene Creed (I am opposed to removing the filioque), the 66 Books of Scripture we
"agree" while there are in fact 73 are a good basis for union. There are areas of contact between us as Christians of various denominations, but I am not sure we should boil things down to what we all have in common. For that matter ... even the Our Father and the 10 commandments have different versions between Catholics and Protestants.

Iow I think it would preferable to acknowledge our unity in Christ in spite* of our differences in the above mentioned things. Being fully aware that we differ, sometimes more and sometimes less, these differences *do* confess and give practical expression to faith in Jesus Christ. Our unity is not by "boiling down" but by recognizing that we *all* believe in Christ and practice our belief differently.

For example, if we should pray together with the Orthodox at a joint venue we would not include the filioque for their sake. Yet when we worship in our own services, even in the presence of an Orthodox visitor, we still adhere and confess filioque. The same if the roles were reversed.

I suppose what I am getting at is that I would like to try and see "comprehensiveness" in different expressions of following the same Jesus Christ. But a comprehension limited by the bounds of "orthodoxy." Iow to filioque or not to filioque is *not* a deal breaking issue, denial of the Trinity *is*.

I am not all sure I have sufficiently indicated where I would want to go with this ... I suppose what it really comes down to for me is that I think finding a "dogmatic" or "liturgical" minimum has has the risk of becoming the new maximum over time. If that makes sense ... I would love to hear your thoughts if I may!