Arthur Middleton on Christian Unity

In his Vindication of the English Church (1654), John Bramhall took as a motto some famous words of Pacian, Bishop of Barcelona (365-90), who resisted the heresy of Novationism: ‘My name is Christian, my surname is Catholic; by the one I am known from infidels; by the other from heretics and schismatics.’

Bramhall’s firm belief was ‘that the Church of England before the Reformation and the Church of England after the Reformation are as much the same Church, as a garden before it is weeded and after it is weeded is the same garden…’ He believed in the continuity, catholicity and self-identity of the Church of England.

‘Whosoever doth preserve his obedience entire to the universal Church, and its representative a general council, and to all his superiors in their due order, so far as by law he is obliged; who holds an internal communion with all Christians, and an external communion so far as he can with a good conscience; who approves no reformation but that which is made by lawful authority, upon sufficient grounds, with due moderation; who derives his Christianity by the uninterrupted line of Apostolical succession; who contents himself with his proper place in the ecclesiastical body; who disbelieves nothing contained in Holy Scripture, and if he hold any errors unwittingly and unwillingly, doth implicitly renounce them by his fuller and more firm adherence to that infallible rule (i.e. the Rule of Faith expressed in the Creed); who believeth and practiseth all those credenda and agenda, which the universal Church spread over the face of the earth doth unanimously believe and practise as necessary to salvation, without condemning or censuring others of different judgement from himself in inferior questions, without obtruding his own opinions upon others as articles of Faith; who is implicitly prepared to believe and do all other speculative and practical truths, when they shall be revealed to him; and, in sum, that prefers not a subtlety or an imaginary truth before the bond of peace; he may securely say, ‘My name is Christian, my surname is Catholic’

‘From hence it appeareth plainly by the rule of contraries, who are schismatics; whosoever doth uncharitably make ruptures in the mystical body of Christ, or ‘sets up altar against altar’ in His Church, or withdraws his obedience from the Catholic Church, or its representative a general Council, or from any lawful superiors, without just grounds; whosoever doth limit the Catholic Church unto his own sect, excluding all the rest of the Christian world, by new doctrines, or erroneous censures, or tyrannical impositions; whosoever holds not internal communion with all Christians, and external also so far as they continue in a Catholic constitution; whosoever, not contenting himself (or herself) with his (or her) due place in the Church, doth attempt to usurp an higher place, to the disorder and disturbance of the whole body; whosoever takes upon him to reform without just authority and good grounds; and lastly, whosoever doth wilfully break the line of Apostolic succession, which is the very nerves and sinews of ecclesiastical unity and communion, both with the present Church, and with the Catholic Symbolical Church of all successive ages; he is a schismatic, whether he be guilty of heretical pravity or not.’ If General Synod proceeds with women bishops, Catholic continuity in the Church of England will end and she will become schismatic, like The Episcopal Church in America.