Faith of our Fathers

Arthur Middleton on the continuing of Catholic order

 

The Church of England has the right and authority to continue Catholic order, but is not free to choose the methods for doing this. ‘Scripture and the Primitive Church are the criteria by means of which the authenticity of a Church and the truth of its teaching are assessed’ [Bishop Jewel, Apologia]. The fundamental principle of the English Reformation was restoration not innovation, and Jewel insisted that we had not ‘changed anything taught and approved by the fathers, but only errors, superstitions and abuses… Lawful reformation of our Church…is so far from taking from us the name and or nature of true Catholics…of depriving us of the fellowship of the apostolic Church or impairing the right faith, sacraments, priesthood and governance of the Catholic Church that it hath cleared and settled them unto us.’

Queen Elizabeth I told Parliament in 1589 ‘that the state and government of this Church of England, as now it standeth in this reformation...both in form and doctrine it is agreeable with the Scriptures, with the most ancient general Councils, with the practice of the primitive Church, and with the judgements of all the old and learned fathers.’

From this line Anglicanism has never deviated. ‘We do not arrogate to ourselves a new Church, a new Religion, or new Holy Orders. Our religion is the same as it was, our Church the same, our Holy Orders the same, differing from what they were only as a garden weeded from a garden unweeded’ [Archbishop Bramhall, Works, Vol. I, p.119]. ‘Our Church…did always acknowledge the same Rule of faith, the same fundamental Articles of the Christian Religion, both before and since the Reformation,’ without the medieval corruptions [Bishop Bull, Works, Vol. II, p.205].

In Articles VI, VIII and XXIV, the Ordinal, Homilies and Canons of 1571 and 1603, the Church of England appeals to ‘Ancient Fathers,’ ‘Ancient Canons,’ ‘Fathers,’ and ‘Decrees.’ She is ready to be judged by the earliest and best ages of the Church. This appeal is not the opinion of individual theologians; it is written into the foundation documents and structures of Anglicanism. This is her authority and the proper criteria by which she may continue Catholic order in a way which is of universal significance and not peculiarly Anglican.

She has no authority to extend Catholic order and her Canons have never sanctioned this. It would be a contradiction of the essence of catholicity, and outside the intention and jurisdiction of Anglicanism at the Reformation and since. Her catholicity consists of certain qualities of faith and order, which are of universal rather than of English significance. The catholicity of the Church is about wholeness, not only communion.

Catholic means primarily the inner wholeness and integrity of the Church’s life, and belongs not to the pragmatic but to the metaphysical plane. Extending Catholic order unilaterally would impair that wholeness and integrity of the Church’s life, the inevitable consequence of which would be schism, innovation not reformation.

To extend Catholic order would require a consensus that only a general Council could ratify. A unilateral action would place Anglicanism outside that catholicity within which she has always ordered her life. Adhering to the rulings of Ancient Councils and Ancient Canons preserves that catholicity, whereas the unilateral act of extending catholic order is condemned in the Seventh Canon of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus.

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