Arthur Middleton on the error of extending Catholic order

Religious controversy with the genuinely sincere and well informed is always disquieting. To find doctrines which have been loved, believed, lived and acted upon for centuries, challenged and regarded as mistakes, or lacking wholeness, is startling and perplexing. Especially is this so when those who so oppose are earnest and godly people. In no way should this prevent us from yielding them just and reasonable causes of these things, which for want of due consideration, heretofore, they misconceived.

Continuing of Catholic order

The Church of England certainly has the right and authority to continue Catholic order, but is not free to choose the methods for doing this. ‘Scripture and the Primitive Church are the criteria by means of which the authenticity of a Church and the truth of its teaching are assessed’ [Apologia for the Church of England (1562), chief author John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury].

The fundamental principle of the English Reformation for the continuing of Catholic order was restoration, not innovation. Jewel insisted that we had not ‘changed anything taught and approved by the fathers, but only errors, superstitions and abuses… lawful reformation of our Church…is so far from taking from us the name and or nature of true Catholics…of depriving us of the fellowship of the apostolic Church or impairing the right faith, sacraments, priesthood and governance of the Catholic Church that it hath cleared and settled them unto us’ [Apologia, Dedicatory Preface]. Queen Elizabeth I herself told Parliament in 1589 ‘that the state and government of this Church of England, as now it standeth in this reformation…both in form and doctrine it is agreeable with the Scriptures, with the most ancient general Councils, with the practice of the primitive Church, and with the judgements of all the old and learned fathers’ [J.E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her Parliaments, vol. II, p. 198].

The CofE’s authority

This is the line from which Anglicanism has never deviated. ‘We maintain that our Church and the pastors thereof, did always acknowledge the same Rule of faith, the same fundamental Articles of the Christian Religion, both before and since the Reformation; but with this difference, that we then professed the Rule of faith, with the additional corruptions of the

Church of Rome, but now God be thanked, without them’ [Bishop Bull, Works, vol. II, p. 205] .

Not only in her Articles [VI;VIII; XXIV], but in the Ordinal, Homilies, Canons of 1571 and 1603, the Church of England appeals to Ancient Fathers, Ancient Canons, Fathers and Decrees. She is ready to be judged by the earliest and best ages of the Church. Such an appeal is not the mere opinion of individual theologians but written into the very foundation documents and structures of Anglicanism. Therein lies her right, her authority and the proper criteria by which she may continue Catholic order in a way which is of universal significance and not peculiarly Anglican.

No extension sanctioned

The Church of England has no right or authority to extend catholic order and at no time have her Canons sanctioned such an extension. Not only would it be a contradiction of the very essence of catholicity, but also outside the intention and beyond the jurisdiction of Anglicanism at the Reformation and since. To speak of the catholicity of the Church is to speak of wholeness, not only communion, and not a simple empirical communion. Catholic means first of all the inner wholeness and integrity of the Church’s life, and belongs, not to the phenomenal and empirical but to the noumenal and ontological plane. To extend Catholic order unilaterally would impair that wholeness and integrity of the Church’s life, the inevitable consequence of which would be schism.

The extending of Catholic order would need a consensus that could only be ratified by a general Council. To act unilaterally in this matter would place the Church of England outside that catholicity within which she has always claimed to live and order her life. Furthermore, if she claims to adhere to the rulings of Ancient Councils and appeal to Ancient Canons, whose concern is to preserve intact that catholicity in which she claims her birthright is registered, the unilateral act of extending Catholic order is condemned in the Seventh Canon of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus [NPNF (1978), 2nd ser., vol. xiv, p. 231; see also Canons of the Church (1843), p. 69]. ND