Arthur Middleton on Herbert Thorndike (1598-1672)

As I wrote in Fathers and Anglicans, ‘To betake ourselves to the Fathers, to listen in humility rather than look through the restrictive parameters of the Roman Church, the Greek Church, the Anglican Church, Protestantism, or a myopic modernism, can instantly alter the scene… Despite the fragmentation of the West and the indigenous loyalties to what has been received in Ecclesia Graeca, Ecclesia Romana, Ecclesia Anglicana and Western Protestantism’ and today’s liberal ideologies:

‘… the truly ‘loyal’ member will be just that one who is striving to see beyond the present state of his Church to something richer and truer. Such a Church in effect appeals from itself as at present informed to itself as better informed in the future, and must be constantly consulting those sources from which that better information may be expected to come. The official formularies of the Church of England and its tradition of theological method are in accord with this requirement; for the appeal to Scripture and the appeal to the Fathers both leave room for reinterpretation and adjustment as the Bible and the Fathers come to be better understood’ [H. A. Hodges, Anglicanism and Orthodoxy, A Study in Dialectical Churchmanship].

This is what we find in Herbert Thorndike (1598-1672). Being a theologian who appealed to principle rather than to party or policy, Thorndike was bound to alienate his friends more than conciliate his opponents. It is the same today, because people of principle always put obstructions in the way of the pragmatist’s hopes and schemes. The title of Thorndike’s book, An Epilogue to the Tragedy of the Church of England, is unfortunate and gave an erroneous impression of the tone and temper of the thesis:

“That book was no Epilogue to the played-out tragedy of an extinct Church. It was in spirit, what against all expectation it proved to be in fact, the Prologue to the renewed life of a Church more vigorous than ever. He, who would reform, believes in the existence, and in the value, of that which is to be reformed. And he who spent unlimited toil in searching out and measuring the

foundations of a Church, then, humanly speaking, on the verge of extinction, assuredly believed in that Church’s vitality’ [Haddan, ‘Life’, in Works].

‘Unity in the Church is of so great advantage to the service of God…that it ought to overshadow and cover very great imperfections in the laws of the Church, all laws being subject to the like’ [Thorndike, Works].

This is especially true in dealing with the universal Church. As Lacey points out: ‘I think we may take it that the breaking up of the Church of England brought home to his conscience the greater urgency of the task of rebuilding the ruins of the Catholic Church, and the necessity of subsuming the smaller reconstruction under the conditions of the greater. In our own day we have been taught by a similar pressure of circumstances that local unification of Christians must not be sought by expedients which would render the larger problem of Catholic reunion more difficult. The necessity of getting down to the bedrock of first principles has been demonstrated. This was the task to which Thorndike now set himself.’

Let the House of Bishops and General Synod take note of this principle before sacrificing the reunion of the universal Church on the altar of political correctness.