Darwell Stone: The Faith of an English Catholic

Stone’s convictions determined his every act. Conscious of his vocation to the stewardship of belief the possession of which he never doubted to be of momentous significance for every individual soul, he found no labour too great if thereby others could be aided to give them their assent. His faith was thus the ground of all his actions, personal and public. It dictated the policies he advocated whether in the more intimate councils of the High Church party or in the more public arenas of Convocation and the Church Assembly. It determined his attitude to countless questions of morals. And beyond doubt it was decisive in regulating his personal religious life. Apart from his convictions, Stone’s life and work must remain unintelligible, especially as pragmatic considerations and appeals to expediency always left him unmoved (FL Cross, Darwell Stone [Dacre Press, 1943], p36).

Stone disliked the term ‘Anglo-Catholic’ but its popular use made it unavoidable. Nevertheless, for linguistic and theological reasons he preferred to call himself an English Catholic. For the English Catholic the test of truth, in faith, worship and morals, is the consensus of East and West, the undivided instinct of undivided Christendom, because there is one Body and one Spirit, so that this ‘universal instinct’ is nothing less than the mind of the Holy Spirit. This for Stone was the great desire of the Tractarians, ‘to find and express the true authority for theological belief and church organization and religious life … they sought to know what was the tradition which the Church of the first centuries had received from the Apostles, to see how it was sustained by Holy Scripture, to understand how the early Church had given it expression and form. There was one way – the way of truth, the way of worship, the way of holiness – which once for all had been committed to the saints, which was the abiding inheritance of the Church on earth. It was the gift of God, not made but received by man’ (The Faith of an English Catholic, p2.). The historic Catholic Church is the teacher of truth and the home of grace.

These Tractarians appealed not only to the ancient Church and the Scriptures behind it, they appealed also to the preservation of that early tradition that it was believed could be found in the Anglican formularies and in the great divines of the English Church since the Reformation. Also they realized that the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Church could not be lightly ignored or dismissed, so the need was to search for agreement, rather than difference. This stimulated a desire to adapt and use the principles and methods, the thought and devotion, of these historic Communions. In The Faith of an English Catholic Stone develops these principles in relation to the doctrines of Trinity and Incarnation, Ecclesiology, Sacraments and Worship, Holy Order, The communion of Saints and Eschatology.

This Catholic Faith has always been there and is not an invention of humankind but a revelation of God, a touchstone of truth. Any innovation in religion has got to show that it has always been there. The burden of proof lies with the innovator who has to prove that his particular ‘ism’ was always there. Take, for example, the intrusion of secular feminism that is wreaking havoc within the Church. It reduces God and his revelation to the transient nature of political correctness and the historic threefold order of ministry to the politics of human rights, in order to feminize it. The fact that Hippolytus in the early third century had declared, in the face of Montanism, that this was diametrically opposed to apostolic faith and order, seems to have gone unnoticed. Like the battle of Waterloo it is an historic fact that since then, and until the later twentieth century, the feminizing of the threefold ministry was unheard of, so that protagonists have had to leap over eighteen centuries and invent it. To do so they have used a hermeneutic of sociological reductionism to displace the theological consensus of undivided Christendom in order to reinterpret apostolic faith and order. Their feminizing of the threefold order, therefore, is grounded in sociology and politics and not in theology. Thereby it is bereft of apostolicity. The application of this same way of sociological and political reasoning to Christian morality, demonstrates how easy it becomes to relativize and dismiss the consensus of moral theologians of undivided Christendom and reject the Church as the bearer of moral truth.

If Anglicanism claims membership of the Holy Catholic Church, then every innovation must be brought to the touchstone of apostolicity and catholicity. We are not managers of abstract ideas and ideology but guardians and trustees of the revelation of God in Christ that is rooted in the Judaic-Christian tradition. The test of true development is whether it bears witness to the Gospel, whether it expresses the general consciousness of Christians and whether it serves the organic unity of the one Body in all its parts.

Arthur Middleton is a tutor at St Chad’s College, a writer and a retreat conductor