A symposium focusing on the present relevance of a report originally presented 60 years ago.
Eric Abbott, Harry Carpenter, Vigo Demant, Gregory Dix, T. S. Eliot, Austin Farrer, F. W. Green, A. G. Hebert, Robert Mortimer, Michael Ramsey, Ambrose Reeves, C. H. Smyth, Edmund Morgan, Lionel Thornton. That is an impressive roll-call of mid-twentieth century Anglo-Catholics (of various shades, sorts and conditions). They were the contributors (under Michael Ramsey’s chairmanship) to Catholicity: A Study in the Conflict of Christian Traditions in the West: Being a Report presented to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. It had been commissioned by Geoffrey Fisher. He was anxious about the divisions in Christianity at the end of the Second World War and invited the distinct ecclesial and doctrinal strands in the Church of England to offer their observations from their individual perspectives. This group of distinguished scholars met in 1946 and produced its conclusions in the following year.
Seventy years later, at a time of continued divisions within Anglicanism in particular and of Christianity more widely, despite an increasing ecumenical understanding and co-operation, the Society of the Faith has organized a symposium, Catholicity in the Church of England, to discuss the Report and its insights in the light of present circumstances, and to consider whether or not it still has relevant and important things to say to this and future generations.
The Terms of Reference provided by the Archbishop Fisher were to identify the underlying philosophical and theological contrasts or conflicts between the catholic and the protestant traditions; to identify the fundamental points of doctrine where those differences crystallized: to consider whether or not a synthesis of these differences was possible: if not, to consider how they may co-exist within the one ecclesiastical body and under what conditions that co-existence might occur. These questions, to a large extent, remain at the heart of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion today.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the contributors had difficulties in framing their response in the precise framework provided by the Archbishop. The Report pointed out that the terms protestant and catholic were shorthand for a number of nuanced types and conditions. Protestantism embraced the classical formulations of Luther and Calvin as well as ‘the liberalized protestantism, whose roots are more in the Renaissance than in the Reformation. Catholic can be used to describe the opinions and the
religious attitude of those who adhere to certain positions within a divided Christendom. It can also be used to
describe, not a type of thought or outlook, but certain facts whose existence and authority Christians acknowledge: the catholic church, the catholic creeds, the catholic faith, the catholic sacraments.’ The contributors were also conscious that contemporary catholicism in the West could not fully be understood without taking into consideration the Great Schism of 1054. They identified the problems posed to them as not ones susceptible to a binary understanding but ‘of a fragmentation of Christian faith, thought and life, which has led in turn to some measure of distortion of the truth.’ That ‘fragmentation’ could not be repaired by re-assembling the pieces but ‘must spring from a vital growth towards a genuine wholeness or catholicity of faith, thought and life.’
The Report provided a useful short-hand to the ‘fragmentation’: Salvation by faith/ Salvation by works. Grace / Reason, morals, feeling. Revealed theology / Natural theology. Christus pro nobis / Christus in nobis. Justification / Sanctification. Man as sinner / Man as imago Dei. De servo arbitrio / De libero arbitrio. Man in contradiction to God / Man in continuity with God. A Creator and creature incommensurable / Creature and Creator mutually necessary. Christ as Saviour / Christ as pattern. History as sin / History as divinely ordered progress. Political pessimism / Politics as the coming of the Kingdom. God transcendent / God immanent.
The Structure of the Report, in effect a history of Christianity, began with the Unity of the Primitive Church and moved through the Background to the Western Schisms (with sections on Orthodox Protestantism, the Renaissance and Liberalism, The Post-Tridentine Papal Communion), to a section on fragmentation and synthesis and concluding with the Anglican Communion. Although time and history have moved on, and new insights and fresh interpretations can be found in more contemporary work, this structure and, more significantly, the content of the Report, stands up well in the modern era and repays study and examination. Whether it can provide a guide to contemporary concerns and difficulties is something for the symposium to explore. This outline does not seek to pre-empt that discussion, rather to commend the symposium and its outcome. The Society of the Faith hopes to publish the papers and contributions of the participators next year. Meanwhile the original 1947 report is available to be read on the internet.
The symposium will be held on Saturday, 4th November 2017, 10 am and 4 pm, at Southwark Cathedral. The participants will be: The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Robin Ward, Fr Peter Allen CR, Dr Andrew Chandler, Dr Andrew Davison, Dr Carolyn Hammond. The Chairman is the Bishop of Norwich. Cost £30 (including morning coffee, lunch, tea). Places are limited; early booking is recommended. Apply to the Society’s secretary, Mrs Margery Roberts, 7, Nunnery Stables, St Albans, Herts AL1 2AS to reserve a place. Cheques should be payable to The Society of the Faith. Please also send an email address. Bookings should be made no later than 1st October.