Arthur Middleton on serving the Church’s Catholicity and Holiness

We catholic Anglicans have been given a race to run which we must win. Despite the fragmentation of our Church and the odds that seem against us, let us not despair but keep our eyes open to the reality of this fragmentation and the causes of it.  Rather than trying to escape from it by going elsewhere we can be encouraged by the example of John Keble, who, in a different situation, experienced a ‘state of decay’ in the Church of England but firmly believed that it was his duty to remain where God had placed him. Furthermore, he believed “no less firmly that the Church in which God had placed him, though imperfect in many respects, was part of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church. He believed himself called to serve both its holiness and its catholicity, knowing that that could lead us to a way of the Cross within as well as outside the Church. He recognised that, for many who shared his convictions of the catholic heritage of the Church of England, the state of the Church would appear to be only a ‘conditional, temporary footing, so unsatisfactory, so miserably poor and meagre, so unlike the glorious vision which they have been used to gaze on of the one catholic, Apostolic Church’. Such experience, however, is the lot of every Christian in whatever communion.” Nevertheless, “since God almighty has assigned it to us  for our trial, shall we not accept it and make the best of it, in humble confidence that according to our faith it will be to us?” 

Today God is calling us priests to serve that same holiness and catholicity of Anglicanism in a situation we believe is temporary, conditional, unsatisfactory, “so miserably poor and meagre”. Our task is to be reconcilers, enabling our Church to recover and be reconciled to that vision and reality of its catholic heritage as part of that “one catholic, Apostolic Church” that Christ gave us when he “appointed twelve that they might be with Him “  This ministry of reconciliation  has four integrated strands. First, the reconciliation of man with God, and of man with man and is the ministry of Jesus Christ who “appointed twelve that they might with with Him”.  St. Paul speaks of God ‘reconciling the world to himself in Christ’ and handing on to us the work of reconciliation, emphasising that it springs from God and is already accomplished and yet mysteriously he invites us to share in it with Him. Secondly, the reunion of men with one another and with God in Christ, in the visible body of His Church. Thirdly, the ministry of Jesus Christ, exercised by the priests of Christ and of His Church, and animated by His Spirit, – such are our pastoral functions. The twelve were appointed “ to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons,”  or as some texts translate, to heal. Fourthly, the science whose object it is to prepare us for pastoral functions and guide us therein is Pastoral theology.          

If we are to serve that same holiness and catholicity that Keble served and enable our Church to recover in all its fullness that vision and reality of its catholic heritage in the one catholic and Apostolic Church, we will need to reverse those trends in our Church whose primary concern is to supplant the classical model of the pastoral office and pastoral care with a secularised model determined and reshaped by the secular professions.   To illustrate this let me quote an important point made by the American Orthodox theologian, the late Father  Alexander Schmemann. He criticises the “real” Church for paying lip service to theology, while virtually ignoring it in her  “ real ” life. The first to ignore it are the clergy whose very place and function in the Church make them especially “realistic”. He illustrates this by the example of a priest who writes his seminary graduation thesis on St Maximus the Confessor, or the “created” versus “uncreated”  grace controversy, but then turns for help and guidance in his pastoral work to theories of  psychotherapy and clinical techniques derived from a vision of man completely different from what is found in Maximus the Confessor or the Christian doctrine of grace. More alarming is the failure to spot an incompatibility between the two approaches, “between the dogma one finds in theological books and the practice one learns from the scientifically proven wisdom of ‘this world.’