Sunday, March 16, 2014

Back in the Saddle

The Enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury

Well, sorry for the unexpected break.  Life throws us curveballs every so often and this latest knocked me out of commission for some three or four weeks but I am on the road to recovery and anxious to get back to the blog.  I appreciate the various emails and phone calls from those who have cracked the code, and I am really anxious to resume the blog as so much is happening in the Church and has happened of late.
While I am anxious to get on to some recent developments in the contemporary Church, I do want to tie up some loose ends on Cranmer’s Reformation in the Church of England.  There is still much to bring up in the history of Anglicanism so that we can have a better understanding of the challenges of reuniting Christendom.  We have the Marian Restoration and then the Elizabethan settlement both of which are crucial in the issue of Anglican Orders.  And then there is the Jacobite issues with Archbishop Laud and the fight between the Puritan ascendancy which had controlled the Church under Elizabeth with the Catholic revivalists led by Archbishop Laud.  The Civil War and the suspension of the Church of England which ends with the accommodation of the dissident (and Presbyterian) clergy to the Established Church provides a very serious issue of continuity of the Apostolic succession even for those who held it has survived in the Church of England.  And even after that we still have two centuries up to the Oxford movement and Catholic revivalism—so we are not even half way there yet. 
It had been my hope months back when I began this series on the history of the Church of England (and now, the Anglican Communion) to basically follow Bishop Stubbs’ line that the Church of England, if not Protestant before the Reformation, remained Catholic afterwards.  I was not unaware of Cranmer’s radical liturgical revisions and his commitment to a somewhat eclectic Eucharistic theology which incorporated elements of Calvin, Zwingli, and other reformers from the more extreme theological left.  Nevertheless, I had presumed a certain theological integrity in Cranmer that I have now come to question.  I am not sure that in the broadest possible sense there is still continuity, if not with the medieval Church, with the Church of the first six centuries or so and I personally believe that the issue of “Apostolic Succession” needs great study—not infallible definition—but study in its historical development before a final judgment can be rendered, if indeed such judgment should be rendered regarding its survival in the Church of England and its affiliated branches.  Indeed, I think such a study needs be made in such a way to evaluate not only Anglican Orders but Orders in each of the great Churches (or, should you prefer, Ecclesial Communities) of Christendom. 
In the short view, however, I must admit that Thomas Cranmer’s liturgy—elegant as it is in its language—marks a definitive break in the Tradition of the Church.  This is not because he removed a pseudo-oblation of bread and wine from the “offertory,” but because of his failure to understand the Eternal Nature of Calvary and that the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross slips the bonds of time and space to stand eternally before the Father as a timeless atonement in which we of every generation participate when we break the bread and drink the cup, proclaiming his death until he comes again.  The Body is not broken again; the Blood is not shed again but rather we become present to Calvary and participants in its feast Sunday after Sunday, even day after day.  This is the heart of our life, for those of us who have been baptized into death with Christ, that we have been crucified with him and it is no longer we, or better I, who lives but Christ Jesus who lives in me.  Cranmer failed to see that Calvary’s Sacrifice was not a given April afternoon in 33 AD, but rather stands timeless and placeless, with access to all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord. 
Of course, at the very same time that I say Cranmer failed to comprehend this mystery, did Bellarmine?     Again, the Catholic voices of the sixteenth century were as wound in their scholastic grave sheets as the Reformers were overanxious to react to Catholic exaggerations.  I am not sure but that today’s scholars need to examine the history and the theological development with a broad eye to find out how we can disengage from centuries of poor theology on both sides and return t to the Faith of our Fathers.

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