Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Catholic and Protestant

The Church of England (and by definition all its 'daughter' churches in the Anglican Communion) is 'Catholic' in its adherence to the three ancient Creeds and 'Apostolic' in its orders of clergy and the consecration of its bishops, again, traceable back to the Apostolic appointments of the first century. It is also 'Protestant' in rejecting the claims of Papal supremacy and in some of its reformation theology which rejects, among other things, the concepts of needing a 'spiritual intercessor' in the form of a 'saint,' Mary, the Mother of Christ or one of the Apostles to 'speak' on our behalf to God in the person of Christ. The Anglican belief follows the early church understanding that one 'spoke directly to God' and did so individually or as a part of a congregation.

It is often said, in derogation, that the Church of England was born out of Henry VIII's desire to obtain a divorce. In part this is true, but it is rather the tip of a much larger iceberg. Henry, like many other Sovereigns, was increasingly frustrated by the refusal of the clergy to recognise his authority or to submit to justice and the 'law of the land.' Henry certainly wasn't the only sovereign having trouble with Abbots and Bishops who had become so rich and powerful they kept their own armies, made their own laws and sometimes issued decrees in defiance of the King. Records from other European nations show a similar pattern. 

The Popes were often in the pay of one or another would be "Emperor of the World," and were also usually members of one of the ruling families of Italy or another of the Southern European Kingdoms. On occasion there was more than one "Pope" at large as well. At the time of Henry's matrimonial problem the Pope was a "guest" of one of Henry's wife's relatives. He certainly wasn't going to do anything to upset his "host."

Within England, many of the bishop's saw an opportunity to reform the church and get rid of the superstition, abuses and, it must be admitted, consolidate their own positions. In its original form, the Church merely rejected the "Bishop of Rome's" overriding of the laws of England and Wales. The relevant legislation states very simply, "The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm," and it would very likely have stayed within that 'traditional catholic' state were it not for the immediate excommunication the said Bishop of Rome then issued, and the even stupider direct attempt to claim that Henry held his throne and crown by the 'consent' of Rome. When the Pope went one step further, calling for Henry's assassination, that was enough to launch an anti-Rome purge of all offices of state and all the livings of anyone who still harboured hopes of a return to the 'fold.'

It was the opening the more protestant reformers were waiting for, and they seized the opportunity. The teachings of Calvin, Luther and Zwingley found a ready reception among a populace sick to death of the "Roman" clergy lording it over them, living literally in many cases like lords, often seizing property 'in lieu of tithes' and always hiding behind the common people's fear of being denied absolution or being condemned by a priest or monk to Hell for some minor slight or observance. One thing often forgotten - or perhaps not generally known today - is that at the time of the Reformation the vast majority of people attending church to 'hear' the Mass were not 'communicants.' The nearest most commoners got to it was to see the Host raised in a Monstrance at a Benediction. Only the clergy and the nobility ever got communion at these services and the English reforming bishops recognised this as the travesty it was.

This led to the Mass being translated into English and the forbidding of the use of Latin, the King and the bishops declaring that to be included in the Eucharist, a man (and a woman obviously) must be able to understand the words of the Mass. They went one further, when Henry died and Edward VI came to the throne and declared that the Bible must be read, and the Gospel proclaimed, in English. 

It was under Edward VI that the Protestant Reformers really got the bit between their teeth, and very nearly went completely overboard. Fortunately Parliament refused to ratify the Prayer Book they produced which, incidentally, contained the first version of the Articles of Religion numbering more than fifty. In the 1662 version, many of the more extreme items were struck out and the list reduced to the 39 we still have today. It also required that, for a Eucharist, the "Communion Table" was to be set in the Quire, longwise, and those 'admitted to Communion' to be seated around it. It then directed that the priest stand upon the North side to celebrate the Eucharistic Rite. This was, in part, carried over into the 1662 Prayer Book which states only that the priest must 'stand on the North side' but omits the position of the 'table.'

One has to appreciate that all of that was purely to put a distance between the 'reformed' Church in England, and the Roman east facing practice. There is no liturgical reason for the priest to attempt to perform the consecration or any other part of the Eucharist from the North End of the altar, other than the politics and prejudice of the 16th Century. It has no Biblical or theological credence and its perpetuation by the 'Protestant' wing of the Church of England is purely a matter of practice and the desire to reduce the importance of the central act of worship for anyone who believes in the 'catholic' traditions and understanding of the significance of what the Eucharist represents. 

Much as I love the poetry of Cranmer's prose in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, I have to acknowledge that it was a compromise. It was an attempt by the Church leaders of the 'Restoration' to hold together the conflicting demands of the 'catholic and apostolic' wing of the Church of England, and reconcile the demands of the anti-catholic 'presbyterians' who had held sway over all religious practice under Cromwell. Thus, the Eucharistic Rite includes much that is 'catholic' and blends it with the 'Protestant.' So we have the opening Collect for Purity and the Prayer of Humble Access preceding the Prayer of Consecration. 

The Eucharist was intended, in the minds of the 17th Century compilers of the BCP, to follow, by arrangement and the agreement of the Church Wardens, the 'normal' Sunday Morning Prayer service. Thus there was no provision for a sermon in the Eucharist, since anyone 'admitted to communion' would already have endured one of at least an hour and a half in Morning Prayer. Don't think you could get away with only attending the Eucharist either. If you weren't present at Morning Prayer, the Vicar had the power to deny you access to the Eucharist. This was the purpose of his having to give 'notice' that he intended to celebrate the Eucharist, and to charge those wishing to attend to 'prepare themselves and amend their ways to ensure they were worthy of admittance.'

The Rubric states that, having prepared the 'table' (ghastly protestant term) and led the congregation as far as the reading of the 'charge' as set out in the BCP service, he was to station himself at the entrance to the chancel and examine each person who wished to remain and be admitted to the Eucharist. It further states that he was to turn away those HE considered 'unworthy.' As late as the early 19th Century, these 'rules' were enforced and followed - and it took the 'rebellion' of John and Charles Wesley and their 'Methodist' movement to shake the CofE out of this 'Protestant' hatred of the the catholicity of a Eucharist open to all to cause this unChristian and frankly ridiculous system to be abandoned.

It must be one of life's great ironies that the Methodists now have a closer resemblance to the Church of England in the 17th Century than its 'parent' does (though there are sections of the Anglican Church 'family' that make the Methodists look positively "Roman!"). 

The Book of Common Prayer was revised in 1928/29, but an atheist Parliament refused to allow its use. It was however, adopted by a number of the 'Provinces' of the Church, among them South Africa, Australia and Canada. Further attempts to sort out the unworkable elements of the BCP resulted in the Alternative Service Book, which rather fell between stools in the sense that it tried to be too inclusive and to provide for all options. It also abandoned the beauty of Cranmer's prose and adopted expressions and language that many felt was overly familiar and 'common.' Hence the comment by Josephus on my recent post regarding the Catholic and Apostolic nature of the Church of England. To a very large extent his criticisms are addressed very successfully in the Common Worship services now in use in England, Wales and elsewhere. It does strike a happy balance in that it preserves the best language, provides a liturgical platform which fits with both 'catholic' practices and with those who adhere to the 16th Century 'north side' celebration. It also gives alternatives to Evensong and Morning Prayer - though the Monk confesses, his daily 'Offices' remain his beloved Prayer Book versions of these.

The tension between 'Catholic' and 'Protestant' remains a part of the Anglican Church. There will always be those who find it either 'too Catholic' or 'too Protestant,' but, as I said in my opening, that is probably healthy. It ensures that it cannot be dragged back into the folly of the Cromwellian Presbyters and their hate filled vision and it also ensures it cannot become 'another Rome.'

The Anglican Church has much to offer, and the new Archbishop has a great deal to build on to move this great church forward during his tenure. I commend him to everyone's prayers.

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