ROAD TO UNITY
Catholics and Anglicans To-day
SIR,-Tisis year the Unity Octave returns at a moment of special
urgency to the English-speaking world. The year has been a successful one for the Corrununist cause, specially in Asia; the Western Powers are not united in any plan against it. France is especially weak. And when we return to religion, we see the Anglican Church compromised afresh by the degree of its new entente with extremcr Protestants.
If British Catholics think of Church Unity, the body to which they owe their first consideration is the Church of England. It is the most numerous of the denominations; its prestige is beyond comparison. Its worship has always been closer to their own. and it has shown in the last hundred years an extraordinary revival of Catholic ways and thought. Its ritual and theology have changed-its scholars have turned towards Dante, scholasticism, and the mystics. It has abandoned Protestant fanaticism to become aware of the Catholic Church as the most important in Christendom which on a Sunday can, even in England, bring far more people to Church than it can do itself. And its worship has become one of frequent communion.
Against this must be set the spread of Modernism, a shocking decline in Church attendance, and a sharp turn towards Protestantism under the present Archbishop of Canterbury, who is a vigorous and popular figure in the whole English-speaking world.
• Part of this Protestant reaction, however, is attributed to rebuffs from the Catholics who, it is alleged, do nothing for Unity, proclaiming it is their duty to stand still while others do the moving. To what extent can we deal with this complaint ?
We cannot alter the plain fact that the solidarity and continuity of the one true visible Church is centred on the Holy Sec which cannot compromise with error or division or falter in the confidence that it has withstood, and will ever withstand, the gates of Hell. But it would be wrong to emphasise
the intransigence of the Church against its conciliation; it would he
wrong to let the sanctity of its truth, and its mysteries close our eyes to the possibility-and also alas! the record-of human failings and errors among its members. including ourselves. It would he wrong to forget that while it cannot alter its doctrine, it allows for much divergence of psychology, language, ritual and music. It would be wrong also to pretend that all the faults-and, therefore, all the obligations-are on one side, or that visible unity has precluded the need of reform. In a word, we should never let faith in unity gloss over spiritual pride or sloth.
Let us rid ourselves also of historical misconceptions. Let us remember the scandals of the Middle Ages and the breakdown of monastic life in the 15th Century. Let us remember that the rejection of the dogma, then 400 years old, that the Pope was the Teacher and Father of Christians, came not from the sole tyranny of Henry VIII but from every Bishop and Abbot in the House of Lords, except one. If Ecclesia Anglicana (mentioned in Magna Carta) is now Protestant. these Catholics made it so, It is a Catholic responsibility, just as in more recent times, anti-clerical laws in France have been voted by men brought up in Catholic schools. In the unity of the Church historic responsibilities have become ours.
If Anglican orders arc invalid they were made so by a man who had been accepted by the Pope as the Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. In this connection two great facts demand honest scrutiny.
One is that Cranmer took so much out of the Catholic ordinal which had made him pricst and bishop and.put so much new in its place that he plainly intended to alter the idea of what a priest was in his office and work. He left out everything to do with offering sacrifice and put in a great many current Protestant conceptions about the ministry. Now it was and is for the Church as a whole to decide if it could accept those changes as not qualifying what it meant by ordination. One national Church cannot set itself up as an authority against the rest, and expect the rest to bow to its decisions. The Holy Spirit is with the Church as a whole, the Universal Church. That is one fact. But there is another : the Protestant Reformed Church of England did not reject everything that was Catholic; it even emphasised some Catholic things which had been obscured. bringing the Bible and even much of the liturgy nearer to the people. If it did much harm, it did some good. The simple truth is that. in spite of its mutilation of the Mass, the Anglican Prayer Book put before the people in a way they could read and follow much more of the liturgy than they knew-or than is known by the immense majority worshipping today in the churches of Rome itself !
The city of Rome has seen a
great increase of communions among its worshippers in the last 50 years, but when it comes to the words of the Mass and all they should convey to the laity, there is in the laity a fearful vagueness, and the men in Church are a tiny minority.. • . Let us not therefore pretend that all is wrong with the Church of England, and all is well at the centre of visible unity.
It is plain Catholic teaching that everyone who is validly baptised is horn again, child of God. Rome teaches the validity of Anglican baptism. Catholic theology is equally clear that we owe our adherence to visible unity to the gift of faith. and faith is a supernatural grace illuminating reason by the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is quite simply the gift of God. The question of Church Unity with regard to Anglicans is how to foster the original gift of the Holy Ghost in baptism so that it shall grow up into faith not merely in a dim Anglican idea of universal Christendom which too often fades away through nationalism into total indifference, but into St.
Paul's picture of the Church : one baptism. one body, one faith in one God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in
you all. He is the God of peace and love who gives men one hope in their calling, a hope not only of glory hut of seeing God's kingdom coming among them and His will being done on earth as it is is Heaven. His will is that we should be holy.
If Catholics could manifest such love, such hope, such holiness in all they showed the Church of England then indeed they would be the channels of the Holy Ghost in his gift of faith in visible unity. Then they would counteract the sins of those Catholics who at the Reformation made Anglicanism schismatic . . and Anglican bap tisms would bear their noblest harvest.
And in the meantime what are we to say of Anglican communions? If Rome cannot guarantee the historical unity of sacerdotal functions through the Protestant excesses of the Reformation, no more can she allow that those who ask God for bread will receive from Him a stone.
In other words Catholic theology teaches that those who turn towards God in faith arc acting under the impulsion of His grace and will not he deprived of what they ask in faith, according to the lights they have. Who can set limits to the depth and the riches of the wisdom of God ? Who would not thank Him if while He is drawing back towards the paths of the Church those baptised into a Communion separated 400 years ago from visible unity. He recompensed the sincerity of their worship from the abundance of His mercy?
Robert Seneourt. 1, Piazza Caracci. Rome.
[The normal limit to letters is 400 words, and in view of the very large ?mother of letters submitted each week for publication, we want to adhere to this limit. But in view of the Chair of Unity Octave and the great value of Mr. Sencourt's analysis, we believe that readers and correspondents will forgive us for making this exception.-Eprroa, C.H.)