Ernest Skublicks eschews the irenic and inclusive approach
Some proponents of a new province insist that this is not a Catholic cause but one that should unite all traditional Anglicans (e.g. Dr Tan in last month’s ND).
However, our problems may be rooted precisely in the Elizabethan illusion that you can hold together all traditional Anglicans, Protestant and Catholic, in the same ‘church.’ While Henry’s attempt to nationalize the English portion of the Catholic Church without doing it any essential harm may have had some provisional merit, once the anti-Catholic culture of Continental Protestantism had permeated this ‘Catholic’ fragment, it should have become obvious to all that oil and water do not mix.
It is because of this fundamental incompatibility that the historic opportunity of a new province must avoid continuing the same fallacy of trying to hold Protestant and Catholic together in a deadlock, despite all the idealism and the strength-in-numbers that suggest it. While these two pull in opposite directions, a greater unity is at stake.
The incompatibility turns on the implications of the Incarnation. While there is agreement on the doctrine of the two natures – divine and human – joined in the one Christ, the all-pervasive reasons and implications of this reality are not equally understood by these two radically different Christian traditions.
By means of the Incarnation, God adapted himself to our ‘embodied’ human condition, working through the created human medium. The divine Person of the Son became a human Person in Jesus. The divine Word becomes human word in Scripture, preaching and teaching through human ministries. God’s grace is embodied and conveyed through physical sacramental rites and ministries. We are saved by being incorporated into the visible Body of Christ whose sacramental unity is foundational to the whole economy of salvation.
Of course the Protestant principle of ‘by Scripture alone,’ ‘by faith alone,’ has been mollified within Anglicanism, yet its instinctive dualism – holding the divine and uncreated reality of God and his salvation strictly apart from the human, created and physical realities – continues to distrust sacramentalism, ritual and iconography, the sacrality of created things as vehicles of grace. At each of these points classical Protestantism has fought the claim that God works through ritual actions, moral effort and divinely appointed humans (priests, bishops, popes).
As a result, ecclesiology has a relatively low priority in Protestant thought. The individual’s relationship with God is seen as an inward reality of grace, of which the Church is an almost inessential consequence rather than its essential source. Hence the visible unity of the Church is subordinate to Scripture, Faith and Grace, accessible directly to the individual.
The demand for a new province can therefore be seen in two diametrically opposed senses. The one is essentially endeavouring to build a firewall around a continuing autonomy, protecting itself from what it believes to disagree with Scripture, without seeking greater unity, while the other is trying to move towards the restoration of lost Catholicity, eventually striving to heal the breach we have suffered from the Universal Church.