Arthur Middleton on T.A. Lacey, his contribution to the debate on the validity of Anglican Orders and the quest for Christian unity

The Abbé Portal had discussions with Lord Halifax and in 1893 published his treatise validating Anglican orders. This prompted Leo XIII to appoint a Commission on Anglican Orders. In 1894 Canon T.A. Lacey joined these discussions and in 1895, with Edward Denny, published an apologetic on Anglican Orders. The Commission met in March 1896 in Rome and the historian Duchesne, who favoured the validation of Anglican Orders, and Cardinal Gaspari, invited Lacey and Fr Puller ssje to Rome to help the Commission.

In his Roman Diary (1910) Lacey wrote, ‘to throw oneself into a hostile position, to argue upon the assumptions there treated as indisputable, and to wrest from them an affirmative conclusion, was a new employment from which one might naturally shrink. But the work seemed to be needed.’

The diary describes their joys and frustrations at the differences among Roman theologians, the enthusiasm of the Pope and the high expectancy of a positive response. Yet it was the English Roman Catholics who were implacably opposed to any validation of Anglican Orders and the Bull Apostolicae Curae condemned them, which in the end was a political decision rather than a theological one.

Underlying brotherhood

This did not diminish Lacey’s enthusiasm for Christian unity. In Unity and Schism he found the combination of a toleration of Christian divisions with an active movement towards Christian union curious. ‘To make disunion the starting-point, to seek union without condemning schism, or to condemn its manifestations only on the ground of expediency, is to pin one’s faith to a purely human scheme’ that was artificial. It is impossible to understand schism or heal division before knowing the nature of the fabric that is torn. The whole Catholic Church is in schism but possesses a unity in the underlying brotherhood of all the baptized.

Church and denomination are not identical. The aim should not be the uniting of denominations, but deliverance from them into the catholicity of faith, life and institution which expresses outwardly the underlying brotherhood. This will not be achieved by papalism, federalism, intercommunion or episcopacy but by an integral catholicity. He criticized the ‘dominating theories on which the sections of Christendom build their practice,’ but never contradicted anything taught by the whole Catholic Church or treated disrespectfully the teaching and actions of any part of the Church.

He was influenced by The Fellowship of the Mystery by Fr Figgis cr. Figgis envisaged the ‘thrill of tradition as the true catholicity’, appropriated by the lowliest Christian. ‘It is not merely that we belong to the Church, the Church belongs to us … the weakest Christian commands the treasures of all the ages, their holiness and love…we are rich with their achievements, brave with their martyrdoms, dowered with the grace and beauty of their devotion.’

The first note of the Church is unity, a unity in diversity. No one Christian can represent the God-Man Christ, but each in his place, time and circumstances may hope to reflect somewhat by living in personal communion with him. Through the ever extended representation of the Christ the work of reconciliation proceeds. Because of this a means of unity for all and each must be provided. Our Lord established centres of such unity in ordaining the Apostles to represent him in the world, and these centres still exist by his authority in the Apostolic ministry.

A matter of religion

For Lacey the unity of the Church is a matter of religion rather than theology. In The Unity of the Church as treated by English Theologians, his concern was with numerical unity, the unique character of the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic Church’ of the Creed, and the identification of this one society in relation to a multitude of Christian sects. He saw this unity as ‘essential, natural, organic, social,’ as the work of God alone, fixed and immovable as the laws of nature, a ‘functional unity.’

Using the Pauline physiological analogy he speaks of our interdependence as members of a living body as ‘severally members one of another.’ ND