Friday, August 29, 2008

The Marian Dogmas

Traditional Anglo-Catholics of the Tractarian mould, like myself, deny the dogmatic and salvific necessity of the novel RC doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Our Lady, and maintain that they are theologumena, theological beliefs or pious opinions which may be personally held but do not comprise part of the Apostolic Tradition or the Deposit of Faith given by Our Lord to the Apostles. They are not de fide tenanda, to be held as part of the Catholic Faith, and must not be taught as such. We reject the Papal Dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII in 1950, as we equally reject the Papal Dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

Many traditional Anglo-Catholics also distinguish these two Marian beliefs, as do I personally. I do not at all believe in the Immaculate Conception, a doctrine lately introduced into Western Christendom and having no basis in Scripture and primitive Tradition. Saints Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux expressly condemned the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as contrary to the received doctrine of the Western Church. The Eastern Churches have never known or embraced the doctrine. The Immaculate Conception is a doctrine more about the Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin than about the Blessed Mother. Saint Augustine's view of 'original guilt' and of ancestral sin transmitted genetically from generation to generation necessitated, in the mind of medieval theologians, the need to explain how Our Lady might be exempted from Original Sin, and thus, primarily Franciscan theologians such as Saint Bonaventure and Duns Scotus developed the doctrine in the Middle Ages as a matter of 'fittingness' for the dignity and prerogatives of the Mother of God. But the Immaculate Conception is completely novel and was never taught by any Council or Father, Eastern or Western, during the first nine centuries of the Church.

On the basis of Tradition, I accept the theological belief of the Dormition as a private opinion, but I am compelled to deny the Immaculate Conception, instead affirming the Orthodox doctrine that Our Lady was purified and cleansed from sin at the Annunciation, when the Holy Ghost overshadowed her and caused Our Lord to be conceived in her immaculate womb. The Orthodox call this purification and sanctification of Our Lady by the Holy Ghost the Katharsis. At the moment she became the Temple of the Holy Ghost and the Mother of God the Word, she was made all-holy, panagia, freed from the power and consequences of sin. In essence, Mary received at the Annunciation the effect of Christian Baptism.

The Assumption (assumptio) or Dormition (koimesis - Falling Asleep) of Our Lady is very different in nature and authority. Although it is not a dogmatic revelation, but a doxological mystery, expressed liturgically in prayer and intended only for those who have been initiated into the Christian verity and who live in the heart of the Church, the bodily death and glorification of the Holy Virgin is an ancient component of Catholic doctrine and teaching and has been universally held as true by both the Eastern and Western Churches since the sixth century - it is undoubtedly possessive of Catholic consensus. For example, Saint Germanus of Constantinople and Saint John Damascene, the Seal of the Fathers and the great synthesiser and expositor of patristic tradition, preach beautiful homilies affirming the death and resurrection of the Mother of God.

All Catholic Christians have believed in the Assumption in one form or another since the patristic age, a belief reinforced by the lack of relics of the Holy Virgin and the veneration of the place of her repose and glorification going back to the beginnings of church-building and public liturgies after Roman persecution. I do believe that Our Lady died and was physically raised and glorified after death, as a sign and promise of our own resurrection and glorification on the Last Day. Mary's Assumption is a foretaste of the assumption of the whole Church. This is because Our Lady is the icon and type of the Church, the prototypical Christian, whose passage through death, judgement and glorification anticipates the future glory of the Church as Christ's Body and Bride. Our Lord did not wish to see the one from whom He assumed His human nature corrupted by death, nor His flesh found in His own Mother subject to destruction, and so the Church has ever taught in her ancient Tradition.

Although the Assumption or Dormition is a consentient and universal part of ancient Tradition, it does not stand on the same level as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Virginal Conception and Birth of Our Lord, or the Resurrection of Christ, and thus it is not acknowledged either by Anglicans or Orthodox as an essential article of the Catholic Faith and Creeds. Neither Anglicans nor Eastern Orthodox desire to dogmatise the mysteries of Our Lord's Mother, which are not part of the Church's public profession of faith or kerygma, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore we not recognise the necessity of believing in this doctrine for eternal salvation and it is not accounted a dogma, or revealed truth necessary for salvation, of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

An Anglican is free to believe or not believe in Our Lady's corporeal Assumption, but all agree she died and went to Heaven!

These words of Father Vladimir Lossky, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, are very helpful indeed:

'The feast of the Dormtion of the Mother of God, known in the West under the name of the Assumption, comprises two distinct but inseparable moments for the faith of the Church: firstly, the Death and Burial, and second, the Resurrection and Ascension of the Mother of God. The Orthodox East has known how to respect the mysterious character of this event, which, unlike the Resurrection of Christ, was not made a subject of apostolic preaching. In fact, there is here a mystery, not destined for the ears of "those without", but revealed to the inner consciousness of the Church. For those who are affirmed in faith in the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord, it is evident that, if the Son of God assumed His human nature in the womb of the Virgin, she who served the Incarnation had in her turn to be assumed into the glory of her Son risen and ascended into Heaven....

The glory of the age to come, the last end of man, is already realised, not only in a Divine Hypostasis made flesh, but also in a human person made God (theosis). This passage from death to life, from time to eternity, from terrestrial condition to celestial beatitude establishes the Mother of God beyond the General Resurrection and the Last Judgement, beyond the Second Coming which will end the history of the world. The feast of August 15th is a second mysterious Easter, since the Church therein celebrates, before the end of time, the secret first-fruits of its eschatological consummation...'

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Yes, I discovered the passage from MacCulloch and I do agree with his perspective. It appears there was a purposed evolution in the development of Cranmer's liturgy, as Dom Gregory Dix forcibly argues in The Shape of the Liturgy.

From what I have read over the years, I too have come to the conclusion that Cranmer converted to radical reformation, low Calvinist or Zwinglian, views on the Eucharist in the earliest stages of the protestant revolt and intended to use the 1549 as an incremental step, an interim rite, towards the attainment of a Eucharistic rite that conformed more closely to his theology. The centre of the 1552 Communion Service is the reception of the Blessed Sacrament as an act of subjective personal faith (receptionism), all other foci, such as the Consecration and Canon, the objective aspects of the sacramental action (Real Sacrifice and Presence), being reduced and downplayed to the greatest possible extent. The 1549 was intended, I think, to be a temporary and transitional liturgy meant to ease Catholics along the lines of his liturgical and theological reform, ironically, not terribly unlike the effort of the Anglican Communion in the 1960s and 1970 to promulgate a new liturgical order through a series of draft transitional liturgies (England: Series I, II, III - America: Liturgy of the Lord's Supper 1967, the Grey Book, the Green Book, the Zebra Book, etc.).

The reversals and revisions of 1559, 1604 and certainly 1662 did not conform as closely as 1552 to Cranmer's ultimate vision. Personally I still believe the 1549, as transitional and impermanent as it was intended to be, is still the finest Anglican liturgy in all history and the most expressive of traditional Catholic sacramental and Eucharistic doctrine. It more carefully perpetuates the 'hermeneutic of continuity,' reform based on Tradition, than any other Anglican Eucharistic rite, based as it is primarily on the Sarum Use and the Eastern Liturgies. Mercifully for us, the Scottish-American rites of 1764-1789 adopt 1549 as their basic theological and structural paradigm instead of 1552-1662. The 1928 American Book best recaptures the spirit of 1549 of any modern Anglican liturgy, with the exceptions, perhaps, of Scotland 1929 or South Africa 1954.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Assumption

In the nick of time, for the Octave of Our Lady's Assumption...


by Father Edward Yarnold SJ

Venice is one enormous art gallery. In all that magnificent collection, the most spectacularly placed and probably the most looked at picture is the painting of the Assumption by Titian. As you enter the Frari church after paying your hundred lire, you turn left past the porter's enclosure, and there it is, in the place of honour and prominence over the high altar, skilfully floodlit to bring out its triumphant reds and its other-worldly gold — Mary, with the ties of earth and the clutching hands of the apostles unable to hold her down as she makes her glorious ascent to the embrace of her divine Son.

This representation of the Assumption is unique only in its expressive power: the ascending Mother of God has been a favourite theme of western religious artists. The iconographical tradition of the east, however, has preferred to imagine the scene differently. We see Mary on her death bed, surrounded by the apostles, and her divine Son over her carrying what appears to be a baby, but is in fact his mother's soul which he is welcoming to heaven. The eastern Orthodox speak of the Dormition, the falling asleep of Mary, rather than her Assumption; we should not, however, be misled into thinking that underlying the difference of terminology and iconography there is also a difference of understanding. Both sides of Christendom believe that Mary was received body and soul into heaven to be reunited with her Son in glory.

Let us return to Titian. That painting of his seems to me to be not only the most powerful and spectacularly placed of all the paintings in the world: it also seems to possess to an almost unequal degree the quality of numinousness. By this I mean that the artist (helped by the exhibitors) succeeds in conveying a sense of the power and the glory of God. We find ourselves caught up in the exultation of the moment. We may not understand that artist's conceptual grasp of the Assumption. That does not matter. A painting is not a theological treatise. But we are moved and attracted by his vision of a spiritual reality which is deeper than any conceptual formulation in words. It is on this intuition into the Assumption that I wish to concentrate. The Assumption is a mystery. We experience it even if we do not understand it. By speaking of the Assumption as a mystery, I mean that it is something given, a revelation of God's goodness and power, something precious given to us by God's self-communicating love, which we must first accept in gratitude before we can attempt to clarify to ourselves its meaning more rationally.
This is not true of all parts of revelation. A doctrine like the Incarnation, which asserts that Jesus is truly God and truly man, is one which we can understand, partly at least, before we confess our belief in it. Some doctrines, on the other hand, work the other way round. We believe them before we understand them. This is true, I suggest, of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Most people, I think, would be totally unable to explain in what sense they believe that God is one, in what sense three, and if they attempted an explanation, I suspect it would more likely than not be wrong. We accept the doctrine as the truth because it is part of revelation, and through making our prayers on the basis of it, we learn to experience the Trinity more deeply, even if we still cannot give a rational account of it. Such a doctrine we call a mystery — meaning by that term not an insoluble problem, but a truth which is too deep for conceptual analysis, which is open to experience and prayer rather than rational definition. We must not discard the mystery, trying to replace it by some more immediately comprehensible form of words. If we do, we will almost certainly discard some of the depths of the mystery. We need our speculations but we can never be sure how far and in what way they fail to do justice to the mystery. So we must retain the mystery — contemplating it whenever we make the sign of the cross and say the grace.

Some mysteries are of a different kind. They are not statements about facts like the assertion of the threeness and oneness of God — but about events — for example, Jesus was transfigured; Jesus descended into hell. Such statements are not primarily historical — as is the doctrine that Jesus died on the cross, or that he spoke of God as his Father, and taught a new law of charity. In the Transfiguration and the Descent into Hell there is a mixture of literal narrative and symbolic elaboration. There is an element of myth — meaning by myth not a fictitious legend, but a belief couched in partly symbolic, figurative terms, which express a truth which is too deep for conceptual analysis. As with the other sort of mystery, e.g., the doctrine of the Trinity, we have, as thinking beings, the duty to reflect on the myth, to incorporate it into our prayer, and to try to give to ourselves a rational understanding of it. But the mystery is always greater than our analysis. We dare not discard the myth and substitute our intellectual translation of it. Let us then, before attempting to analyse the meaning of the Assumption, reverently accept the mystery — standing, so to speak, in the church at Venice, looking up at that artistic and religious miracle of red and gold.

However, there is perhaps one other question we ought to ask ourselves before we begin our task of penetrating a little into this mystery, and that is: "What are the grounds for accepting it at all?" If it is a mystery, we do not accept it because it is plausible, but because it is given. Here at once we must acknowledge that the mystery of the Assumption stands on a different footing from those other mysteries we have considered, viz. the Trinity, the Transfiguration, and the Descent into Hell. These three mysteries are clearly part of scripturally based revelation: the Trinity and the Descent being included in creeds; the Transfiguration being narrated in the synoptic gospels. But the Assumption is not part of any Christian creed. Nor is it recorded in the New Testament; the compilers of lectionaries have to use some imagination and ingenuity in finding readings for the liturgical feast. There is, of course, the glorification of the woman crowned with the stars in the twelfth chapter of Revelation. However, many scholars have maintained that she is purely a symbolic figure representing the church, and is not meant to be identified with Mary. I personally find this view unconvincing. It seems to me implausible to suggest that the mother of the messiah ("he who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron") must bear no correspondence with the Virgin Mary. I suggest that this is a place at which theological suppositions have coloured exegesis. But granted that the Woman is a symbol which includes reference to Mary among its many layers of meaning, her taking up into heaven and her glory are still less precise expressions of doctrine than either the western Assumption or the eastern Dormition, both of which emphasise her bodily share in the glory of her Son.

If then the mystery of the Assumption is not expressed explicitly in scripture which is not to say that it is contrary to scripture — what is our justification for regarding it as given?

First we can say that the two most numerous churches in Christendom, the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches, are committed to belief in the mystery. Moreover, many Christians from other churches also give assent to it. It can therefore plausibly be said to represent a part of mainstream Christian tradition, guaranteed by the Spirit of truth who leads Christ's followers into all truth and reminds them of his teaching. The mystery is no product of post-Tridentine doctrinal exuberance or of mediaeval counterfeiting of evidence: it can be traced back to Byzantine homilies of the sixth century, and by the eighth century finds classical exposition in the works of the great Greek doctors, John Damascene and Germanus of Constantinople. I have not verified my statistics, but it must be true that at least three-quarters of the Christians in the world are committed to the doctrine; and that even in England the largest group of regular churchgoers is committed to it. And in any event I suggest it is true that if we accept that Christian bodies come to their beliefs not out of malice or ignorance but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Christians should accept one another's mysteries, though not necessarily one another's interpretations of the mysteries. The task of interpreting our mysteries we need to perform together.

Belief in the Assumption, then, cannot be dismissed as a monophysite apocryphal legend (John Saward refutes this view in his paper on the Assumption, published by the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to which I acknowledge a great debt). But neither is it right to postulate some unwritten tradition deriving from the apostles which emerged into written form in the sixth century. Rather we should think in Newman's terms of a development of doctrine. The mystery came to be expressed in the sixth century because the seeds of it were already present in the original scriptural revelation. The Church at every age knows Christ at first hand. "You have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know... You have no need that anyone should teach you..." (1 John 2. 20, 27). It is this living relationship with Christ which enables the teaching authorities in the Church to judge that some statements of belief are true accounts of the faith while others are not—i.e. to formulate doctrine and to reject heresy. The same living experience of Christ which all Christians share leads the teaching authorities in the Church to formulate mysteries like the mystery of the Assumption. The Church saw that the mystery corresponds to its experience of Christ in the work of salvation he accomplished in and through Mary. Because it is a mystery its meaning is greater than the conceptual accounts of it which have been given by the Church either then or now. But it is up to us, while accepting the mystery gratefully, to try reverently to penetrate its meaning more deeply and to crystallise that meaning in words for ourselves and others.

What then—at last we come to the question—is the meaning of the mystery? It puts before us the consequences of Mary's unique relationship with her Son. The early accounts of the Dormition, John Saward tells us, 'stress constantly the proximity of Mother and Son in Incarnation, the beginning of redemption, and thus also in resurrection, its consummation; indeed, Damascene applies to Mary a text from the Canticle — "she who is near to me", proximo mea; Mary is the one who is close to the God-Man' (loc. cit., p. 2). In similar vein a contemporary writer, St Germanus of Constantinople (d.733), represents Christ as saying to his Mother, 'Where I am, you shall be also, Mother inseparable in her inseparable Son' (ibid.).

But it would be a mistake to think that it is by the fact of being his Mother that Mary is' near' her Son and 'inseparable' from him. This understanding of the uniqueness of Mary's spiritual relationship to Jesus is not present in the Gospels. When the woman cries, 'Blessed is the womb that bore you!', Jesus replies that all can be equally blessed in hearing God's word and keeping it (Luke 11. 27-28), thus referring to all believers the words spoken to Mary by her cousin, 'Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord' (Luke 1.45). When told that his family are waiting for him, Jesus replies, 'My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it' (Luke 8. 20-21) — not excluding Mary, but extending her position to all the faithful. At Cana, when Mary presumes on her relationship to draw her Son's attention to the lack of wine, Jesus rebuffs her with the severe words, 'O woman, what have you to do with me?' (John 2.4 — though other interpretations are possible). When on Calvary, Jesus once more calls his mother 'woman', it is this time to give her the special role of mother of the Church, of which the Beloved Disciple is the symbol: 'Woman, behold, your Son' (John 19. 26); but even here, though she is given a unique role, nothing is said to suggest that she is to possess a spiritual relationship with her Son which is different from that of other Christians. It is true that Elizabeth calls her 'the mother of my Lord' (Luke 1.43), awarding her the kind of reflected honour that we pay to the Queen Mother; but Mary's immediate reaction, expressed in the Magnificat, is a disclaimer of any special privilege arising from that position. 'He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree' (Luke 1. 52).

Of course, she remains in heaven the Mother of Jesus, who is both man and God. 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord... for their deeds follow them' (Revelation 14. 13). What we become in this life, we remain, transformed and purified, in heaven. Mary is eternally the Mother of her Son. But, since the Gospels imply that Mary's blessedness is not unique in kind, but is shared by all who hear the word of God, it seems to follow that she was assumed into heaven not because she is the Mother of God, in which she is different in kind from all other Christians, but because she was uniquely obedient to God, in which she differs from other Christians in degree. That is the fundamental way in which she is 'near' her Son.

Or, to say the same things in different terms, God released her from the power of death because she was free from the source of death, namely sin. But in this respect, too, she differs from us, in degree rather than in kind. The sinlessness with which she was endowed in her lifetime, will be ours eventually, after purification.

Therefore Mary in her Assumption symbolises the destiny of the Church. The Preface for the Mass of the Assumption in the Roman Catholic liturgy thanks God because 'today the virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection'. Mary is the type or model of the Church, the archetypal redeemed human being. I say 'redeemed', because in our devotion to Mary we must never forget that the archetypal human being tout court is Jesus, 'the last Adam'. It is through participation in his human life in its total dedication to his Father, in drawing life from him who is our Head, that we, the cells of his body, are redeemed. His humanity is the source of redemption. Mary' s humanity is the model of redeemed humanity, the sign that the redemption brought by her Son is effective.

Mary's Assumption, then, her final entry into the glory of her Son, is the sign of our future glory. It is only in this way that the Assumption can be held, not only as a pious opinion, but as essential Christian truth of universal validity expressed in a figurative form. In the words of Donal Flanagan, 'All truths about Mary are expressions of aspects of the mystery of Christ and his Church, of the mystery of God's saving presence in and with man, and the form this takes. They are not pieces of Christian information, which have no relevance to our understanding and living of our Salvation' (An Ecumenical Future for Roman Catholic Theology of Mary, published by the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, p.8).

What then are the aspects of the mystery of Christ and his Church which the Assumption expresses? Two, I believe, in particular.

First, the Assumption represents Mary's final share in her Son's resurrection, when death is conquered and she enters eternally into the glory of her Son. The same life-giving action of God made us too 'alive together with Christ... and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus' (Ephesians 2. 5-6).

Of course, Mary is unique in that her Assumption presents us with the mystery of one who is already in glory in the fulness of her humanity, body and soul, whereas for us the resurrection of the body (another mystery whose depths cannot be fathomed) is an eschatological event to which, as we state in the Creed, we 'look forward'. Her anticipated glory is a guarantee of our glory. In her Son we see the glorification of the humanity of God incarnate; in Mary we see the sign that the glorification of humanity is achieved also in human beings who are not God incarnate, but simply sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.

Secondly, Mary was assumed into heaven in the fullness of her humanity, body as well as soul. To us too salvation comes as human beings, compounded of matter as well as spirit, and not to souls imprisoned in a corrupting, confining or alien body. Death is not liberation, it is disintegration. But heaven involves the restoration of wholeness, the glorious transformation of complete human beings in their compound spiritual and corporeal natures.

Life on earth is our growth to the maturity that God wants of us so that when we die we can receive 'what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him' (1 Corinthians 2.9). Mary's bodily Assumption proclaims the fact that all human values contribute to this process of maturing. It is not only the pagan poet who can say that nothing human is alien to him. Christian life is this-worldly as well as other-worldly. Whatever is not a distortion of human nature is cherished by God's grace, and finally transformed in the likeness of Mary's Assumption by sharing in the Resurrection of her Son. The Assumption is above all the feast of the secular dimension of Christianity.

Mary is the symbol of our destiny. She is a fellow climber who has reached the summit and sends down to us signals that the ascent is possible. Christian devotion may call her in the words of the Salve Regina 'our life' and 'our sweetness', but Christian faith recognises her also as the embodiment of 'our hope'.

On the Oxford Movement

Dear N.,

Thank you so very much for your incisive and insightful reflections on John Keble's Assize Sermon, and your excellent general thoughts on the genesis of the Oxford Movement. They are simply wonderful, and show with great power how very applicable, timely and practical the concerns of the Catholic Revival of the nineteenth century are for today's Church. The underlying moral and spiritual malady that motivated the Oxford Fathers into action from 1833 forward was what they called 'liberalism' - today we would call it revisionism or post-modernism, the same exact phenomenon with exactly the same theological, spiritual and moral errors which characterise it.

The cultural and institutional indifferentism to claims of divine truth and revelation, the elevation of perceived social justice and social virtues of a subjective kind over the authority of the Church to teach and proclaim a divinely-revealed Gospel, the denial of the supernatural and the transcendent reality of religion, and the reduction of spiritual claims to relativism and pluralism, all of these symptoms of modernism plagued the Church of England in the nineteenth century and certainly impact the Church of our own day, even more so in fact!

All these problems the Oxford Movement sought to address and correct, through a restoration of belief in the divine authority and commission of the Church of England as the Catholic Church of the English-speaking world, through a recapturing of the sense of the sacramental and of God's presence in the created order through the Incarnation of the Word, through a call to recover a sense of holiness and of personal conversion and sanctification in the lives of Christian believers, through a summons once again to see the Anglican Church as a divinely-given and grace-filled Society, the Body of Christ, in which and through the sacraments convey the life of God and sanctify us, conforming us the image and likeness of Christ in the Holy Spirit.

The objective character of authentic religion, its salvific grace and glory, its moral demands and commandments, its divine origin and revelatory nature, its delight in the good, the true and the beautiful, worship in the beauty of holiness and reverence, the transformation of society and the healing of social ills through mission work and service in the Name of the One who condescended to become Man, these are the hallmarks of the Tractarians' renewal. The religion of the Oxford Movement is the religion of God With Us, God Within Us, of the God Who became Man so that men may become God...

For the Catholic Revival, the Church of England was not merely a department of the state, an agency or wing of the government, it was the living manifestation of Christ in the world, the sacramental fellowship by which the individual and society would be transfigured by grace, 'our one channel to Christ' as Alexander Heriot Mackonochie described it. And in the midst of this call to reclaim the Church as the Church was the clarion call to personal holiness of life, to prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to a deeper commitment to the teaching and preaching of the Church in her Tradition and a more frequent recourse to the sacraments, to the centrality of the Mass as Sacrifice and Real Presence and to the Apostolic Priesthood and Succession as the sure means by which we are made one with Our Lord and each other, because they are the mystic extensions of the Incarnation in space and time.

My, how we need the Oxford Movement in our day! Never has there been a time when the Oxford Movement was more needed than now. For all of its internal divisions, difficulties and weakness, the Continuing Church offers all men the continuation, not only of Anglicanism itself, but of the Oxford Movement which once brought Anglicanism back to life and can do so again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Saints and the Liturgy

The honour and veneration of the Saints as our elder brothers and sisters in the communion which is the Family of God and the Temple of the Holy Ghost are a key and indispensable element in proper orthodox Christian worship. By honouring the Saints in liturgical prayer and devotional life, we emulate their examples, embody and recapitulate their virtues, and attempt to reproduce their lives of holiness in our own experience. No Christian communion which ignores or purposely evades the veneration due to the Saints can hope to inculcate the spirit of Christian virtue and the intensification of grace which Our Lord expects of His chosen race, His holy priesthood and royal nation. The liturgy is in fact a participation in the Communion of Saints, as the Book of Common Prayer so explicitly declares: 'therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name...' The Church is totus Christus, the whole Christ, both Head and Body, and in her the Saints participate with us in the one perfect and eternal Liturgy of the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. All the saints and angels gather round the heavenly Throne and the heavenly Altar and worship God and the Lamb - the mystery of the worship of heaven, the action of the eternal heavenly liturgy, is made present and activated on earth in the Eucharist. We do on earth in the Mass what the saints and angels do forever in heaven.

Thus the Fathers of the Church describe the Mass as 'heaven on earth' and the Church as an 'earthly heaven.' The veil between heaven and earth is pulled back in the celebration of the Eucharist and we are caused by grace, united in the Risen and Ascended Lord, to be joined at the Altar with our own great-great grandfathers and great-great grandchildren in the mystical communion of Christ's Body, the Church triumphant, expectant and militant. All Christians living and dead are presented to the Father anew through Christ the High Priest in every Mass. Our Lord's eternal priesthood prevails once more under sensible signs on earth for all who have ever lived, past, present and future. All generations of God's people from the beginning of the human race to its consummation at the end of time are mystically and supernaturally present at the Altar, united to Christ, who pleads and exhibits the One Sacrifice for our sake.

Our veneration of the Communion of Saints, our hymns, prayers and devotions in honour of God's Friends above, reminds us of our own eschatological destiny in Christ and the victory we already share with the Saints in the crucified and risen Jesus, the Lord of all creation. 'Until His coming again:' the Mass is essentially an eschatological event in which we pass through death and judgement and enter once again, in time and space but beyond them, into the glory of the Risen Christ to live and reign with Him and to worship the Holy Trinity in Him, through Him and by Him. We don't need to believe in the 'Rapture,' because every Eucharist is a literal coming again, a true Advent of the Saviour to us here and now. The Second Coming occurs over and over again in the Mystery of the Altar. In the Eucharist we ascend with Christ, that where He is we might also ascend and reign with Him in glory. In the Mass 'our life is hid with Christ in God' and we are made continually to dwell in the heavens with Him. We never pray alone; we are not saved alone, but only as members of Christ. The liturgy of the Eucharist should express most profoundly our communion with the Church in heaven, in paradise, and on earth, with all who share the mystery of salvation with us. We are only brought to redemption and eternal life through the Church, whose most worthy members are those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and who now rest in the sleep of peace. In essence, the Eucharist is the Life of the Holy Trinity, as we go to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost, united to all those in this life and the life of the world to come who are, like us, made partakers of the divine nature. The Saints pray with us and for us in the liturgy of the Church. These ideas should certainly reinforce for us the need to recognise that the Communion of Saints links us not only in a vertical direction to the Church of eternity, but also horizontally to the other great Apostolic Catholic Churches of East and West.

75% of the world Christians directly invoke the prayers of the Saints in public worship. If we really are Catholics and we really believe in the catholicity of the Church and the Communion of Saints, then Anglicans will seek to convey in a liturgical manner our belief in the intercessory prayer and honour of those who have been glorified with Christ in His divinised life, as a foretaste of our own future glory. One essential characteristic and proof of Anglicanism's Catholicism should be its explicit reference to the Saints in the liturgy. A Church that does not reverence the Saints as exemplars of the Christian life and heavenly intercessors and relatives cannot be said to be Catholic. Anglicanism has historically held the Saints in the highest esteem, and has offered her liturgy in honour of their holy memory - and that hallmark of our patristic Catholicism, a biblical, sombre, restrained and dignified treatment of the Saints, has been an irreplaceable treasure shared in common with both Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy. We just need to bring that aspect of our history into more prominence over time... and the way forward is teaching, gradual implementation and then... full expression of the communion sanctorum.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


What about Rome?

The Roman Church is the Patriarchate of Western Christendom; she holds the primary Apostolic See in the West and has served as the central primacy and focus of catholic unity throughout most of Christian history. She is the largest Apostolic body on earth and the most influential Christian communion in the world. The Bishop of Rome is historically the First Bishop of the Church, the Primate and chief representative of the Church Catholic. These are all positive and endearing characteristics, from which neither Orthodoxy nor Anglicanism has ever formally dissented: the Roman Church deserves our honour and respect, and all due devotion and obedience as guardedly allowed and mandated by the Undivided Church of the First Millennium. We accord to the Bishop of Rome that which the First Millennium Church accorded his office. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons and Saint Cyprian of Carthage proclaim that the Bishop of Rome 'presides in love and honour.' Anglicans honour the Roman See as primus inter pares, first amongst equals in the undivided and consentient Catholic episcopate. But there are serious problems with the Roman Communion, impediments and barriers which forestall the possibility of Anglicans entering into the Papal Fold. We believe Rome fails the strict litmus test of universality, antiquity and consent, the Canon of Saint Vincent of Lerins, in several key areas of Christian doctrine and practice.

The Anglican Tradition, believing as it does in the 'branch fact,' that the Catholic Church on earth is divided by human history and sin into separate jurisdictions which may or may not be in full communion with each other, and often are separated sacramentally from one another, although all the branches are fully and truly parts of the One Catholic Church because they are sacramentally, dogmatically and eschatologically one with Our Lord and the Communion of Saints, does not believe, as Rome does, that the totality and completeness of the whole Catholic Church on earth is contained in and comprehended by the See of Rome. We cannot say, as Rome does, that the Papal Communion is coterminous and coextensive with the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The Church Catholic is not identified with or synonymous with the Roman Communion in an exclusive sense, and yet this is precisely what Rome claims for herself. According to Rome, those Churches in communion with the Pope are the Church, and uniquely the Church qua Church. We find that proposition an inadmissible and flatly anti-historical claim. The Papal Church also professes that the Bishop of Rome is infallible ex cathedra, from St Peter's Chair, and exercises a ministry of infallible teaching in faith and morals apart from the consensus of the Catholic episcopate. Rome also contends that the Bishop of Rome possesses universal and immediate jurisdiction over every Church and Christian on earth, disregarding the ancient sees and dioceses which have historically constituted Catholic communion. We maintain that papal infallibility ex consensu ecclesiae and papal universal jurisdiction are contrary to Scripture and Apostolic Tradition. We assert that the Pope is not above Tradition and the Ecumenical Councils, and cannot legislate doctrine in opposition to received universal Tradition or the consensus patricum and consensus ecclesiae.

Rome also requires belief in the Marian dogmas as necessary to salvation, de fide tenanda, they must be held as belonging to the essence of the Catholic Religion: she holds that one must believe in the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady (1854) and the corporeal Assumption of Our Lady (1950) in order for one to be saved. Rome equates the value of these novel doctrines, defined in the last two centuries, with the dogmatic and Creedal dogmas of the Trinity, Incarnation and Resurrection. Again, we believe such a salvific necessity for the Marian dogmas is unwarranted by Scripture and Primitive Tradition. Rome also continues to require a belief in fire-purgatory, in which souls make expiation for the punishment due for sins committed in this life, a retributive and penal punishment for sin even after the absolution of sins through the sacraments of the Church. She adds 14 Councils to those which are held by universal Catholic Christianity to be genuinely Ecumenical and General. There is a plethora of other theological difficulties which I could add to this litany, but these examples are the most serious and suffice to demonstrate that Anglicans believe the Roman Church had added innovative and novel articles of necessary belief to the Catholic Faith of the Creeds and Seven Ecumenical Councils of the first thousand years of the Christian history. We love and esteem the venerable Church of Rome, but we believe as a matter of faith and conscience that we are more Catholic than she. Genuine Catholicism is primitive, biblical and patristic orthodoxy, ancient in faith, universal in scope, consented-to in authority.

May 2024 Comprovincial Newsletter

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