Arthur Middleton on the Ecclesial Dilemma

Crisis of Identity

Today the notion of heresy, while present in church vocabulary, is manifestly absent from the vocabulary of contemporary politically-correct theology – a theology that prefers to refer to “pluralism” and to speak of admissible and legitimate differences. Indeed, St Paul himself wrote that ‘there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval’ (1 Cor. 11:19). But what kind of differences was he referring to? Certainly not those which concerned the essence of faith, of church order or of Christian morals. For, in these matters, there is only one truth and any deviation from it is none other than heresy. (Metropolitan Hilarion – Address to Nicaean Club, Lambeth Palace 9th September 2010.)

It is this politically-correct ideology that holds the Church of England captive to a  hermeneutic of sociological reductionism as it ignores the Anglican mind and determines the policy of the Church of England while ignoring theological principle. It has led to a severe identity crisis within Anglicanism in general and the Church of England in particular. Rather like my aunt with Alzheimer’s disease sitting on the garden wall, she does not know where she has come from, where she is or where she is going. Metropolitan Hilarion went on to say,

‘It is impossible to pass silently by the liberalism and relativism which have become so characteristic of today’s Anglican theology … The principal problem lying at the basis of this difference is that Orthodoxy safeguards the norm of apostolic faith and order as fixed in the Holy Tradition of the Church and sees as its task to actualize this norm continually for the fulfilment of pastoral and missionary tasks.   

More Secular

This results in the Church of England becoming more conformist to a secular culture rather than prophetic, so that there appears to be little interest in converting the culture and transforming the world by the grace of a Saviour about whose claim upon their lives they are deeply uncertain if not dismissive. In short, there is emerging a silent schism from our membership of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as the Church of England clutches the hem of a secular culture’s garment. Georges Florovsky pointed out that the present tension between ‘liberalism’ and ‘neo-orthodoxy is a re-enactment of the old Christological struggle, on a new existential level and in a new spiritual key. The conflict will never be settled or solved in the field of theology, unless a wider vision is acquired.

Wider Vision

A revived understanding of Christian dogma is indispensable if the Church is to have a living word for today. It will be through that presentation of the faith alone which can use its dogma to interpret temporal history that Christianity can push into the future.  We need what Florovsky described as ‘a wider vision’ and what In the mid-twentieth century, some French theologians, that included Henri de Lubac, Jean Danélou, Henri Bouillard, Yves Congar, Louis Bouyer and Marie-Dominique Chenu, and the Swiss, Hans Urs von Balthasar, found they needed for the renewal of their Church. They had to initiate a remarkable theological movement termed ressourcement theology. These theologians shared a common belief that the writings of the early church constitute an incomparable source for the contemporary renewal of the Church. Here were sources for a deeper understanding of the gospel in our world and for the renewal of liturgy and the sustaining of our spiritual life. Hooker is our resource here.

Richard Hooker

Richard Hooker lived before the words Anglican and Anglicanism were coined but he is a thoroughly Church of England man and is our Anglican resource to a wider vision alluded to by Florovsky and the way into the same resources that inspired those French theologians. What is being made present in England with Hooker in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is the spirit and the substance of that catholic vision of the mystery of Christ which characterizes those early centuries of the Primitive Church in East and West. For Hooker the Chalcedonian Christology is the hermeneutic for the exposition of the Church and Sacraments and he demonstrates how using such dogma enables us to understand more fully the particular characteristics which mark the Anglican mind which we have received. Despite the discontinuities of the time there is an awareness of the continuity and wholeness of the Church’s tradition in which Hooker and those divines who followed him lived and for which they worked.  Such people included Lancelot Andrewes, William Laud, John Pearson, John Cosin, Bishop Overall, Henry Hammond, Herbert Thorndike, William Beveridge, Joseph Bingham, et al. Their aim and purpose was to be representatives of the Christian tradition in all its fullness, organic wholeness and unbroken unity. Hence, what we find in their understanding of continuity is no mere mechanical concept, but continuity as a dynamic and living transmission of certain living qualities of faith and order.

As Owen Chadwick pointed out their paramount duty is to the Catholic Church; their sub ordinate and derivative duty is to the Church of England as the representative of the Catholic Church in this country. The Catholic Church is known by its faithfulness to the primi tive model. The Church of England has no choice but to follow that model, must seek to apply the principle rigorously and exactly. Her is the wider vision of which Florovsky speaks and Hooker is our way into it.