Remembering A New Way

A Celebration of Our Anglican Roots

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4:1-19

October 15, 2017

The Rev’d. Gretchen S. Grimshaw

Episcopal Parish of St. Paul, Newton Highlands, MA

My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I can’t think of a better piece of scripture with which to celebrate the founding of our Anglican tradition than this morning’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This community was thought by some to be the first Christian community in Europe. And Paul is thought to have written this morning’s letter to the Philippians about thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, around the year 62 in the common era. And so it was effectively a part of the start of the Christian church, such as it is. This letter offers some of the earliest pointers to following Jesus Christ in community.

The letter, like all of Paul’s letters, gives us a bird’s eye view of the earliest ecclesiology in our Christian tradition. Anglican ecclesiology is what we celebrate this morning. Ecclesiology is a ten dollar word that just means a particular way of being church.

In the beginning, the way was much less traveled than it is now. And so Paul was writing to a community of Christians who had no church experience or authority to guide them, no scripture, no tradition, nothing but what they knew or had heard of Jesus Christ and the Spirit which had authorized them to act as his followers. And so when they began to experience a bit of communal division and angst Paul wrote this letter to help re-ground them in their Christ-following values, in their holy “reason.”

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul implores: Hold on to what you have learned and heard and received. And so hold on to that holy “reason” championed by the early church, and then skip ahead roughly 1500 years to a time when the church had been more than well established. The scriptures had been canonized for over one thousand years. But they were still only accessible in the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, and in the Latin Vulgate. That meant that Bible was only accessible through the clergy, who were fully in control of the traditions of the church, and charged with the mediation of the relationship between God and all of God’s church-going people. The tradition of the Roman Catholic Church was paramount throughout Europe, and the authority of the Pope superseded even the authority of Kings.

And so when the English Monarch, King Henry VIII sought a divorce from his childless wife, Catherine of Aragon, the Roman Catholic Church, in the form of a Papal Bull, issued an unequivocal, non-negotiable response: “no.”  The authority of the institutional church in Rome had become so deep and broad and powerful that the King of England could not free himself from a marriage that was precluding an heir to his throne.

In March of 1530, Pope Clement VII denied Henry’s request for a divorce. In February of 1531, Henry VIII severed ties with Rome and declared himself to be the: “Sole Protector and Supreme Head of the Church of England.” Henry appointed a scholar priest named Thomas Cranmer to be his first Archbishop of Canterbury, whose first assignment, no surprise, was the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine.

Henry’s only preliminary intention in breaking with Rome and elevating himself to the lofty position of “Sole Protector and Supreme Head of the Church” was to secure a divorce. But his new Archbishop of Canterbury had other ideas. The rest of the European Continent had been undergoing a radical re-formation of its own which had started roughly fourteen years earlier, when a German priest and professor of theology, Martin Luther, posted his Ninety Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the door of a Wittenberg church in Saxony. And just like that….the Protestant reformation was born.

The English Reformers, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and priest theologian Richard Hooker, followed the lead of the Protestant Reformers on the Continent, but they did not entirely break communion with the traditions of the Roman Church, at least not quite so conclusively. Rather, they sought their vibrant new path by honoring the sacramental tradition of the church while elevating the role of, and direct access to, holy scripture. The Anglicans rerouted the laity’s access to God, from the narrow path that required the assistance of the clergy, to a direct route that encouraged full responsibility and participation on the part of every faithful soul.

The essence and practice of the new Anglican way was embodied in the Book of Common Prayer which was designed and compiled by Thomas Cranmer, and absolutely perfectly named for its purpose. Because perhaps the most powerful and far reaching change in Anglican ecclesiology was the shift in authority from the clergy and the traditions of the church to the laity, the common people, and their direct access to God through their own interpretation of scripture and their reception of the sacraments.  The Book of Common Prayer, represented a middle way between the traditions of the church and the radical new Protestant Reformation that grounded itself in scripture alone. The Anglican Way was the middle way; the via media.

I want to talk in a bit more depth about two pillars, maybe THE two pillars of our Anglican middle way that illustrate the shift in power from the church and the clergy to the laity, from the church as the gatekeeper of the faith to the church as the shepherd of the flock, a resource for the crowd-sourceing. Two pillars of the Anglican way that make it both distinctive and incredibly cool, speaking only for myself, of course. Both are a bit pithy, so please bear with me. But these are two foundations of our theology that we need to know…..at least in my humble opinion. They are Anglican Biblical Theology and Anglican Sacramental Theology. But in the Anglican tradition, they are to be mitigated by a third pillar, reason. You remember the authority articulated in this morning’s Letter from Paul to the Philippians. That is the third pillar: reason. And so these pillars support what Richard Hooker called the three legged stool of Anglicanism: Scripture and Tradition through the lens of reason.

So let’s start with scripture. Anglican Biblical Theology. In our liturgical world, this part of our story informs the first half of our Sunday morning service – the Liturgy of the Word.

Maybe the first and most powerful facilitator of the Re-formation on the Continent, was the translation of the Holy Bible into the vernacular. That is, from Latin, the language of the church, into the language of the people. Actually, from the Greek and the Hebrew into the language of the people.  Luther’s translation was in German. William Tyndale published the first full translation of the Holy Scriptures in English in 1535.  And for the first time in hundreds of years, over a century, people who were not religiously trained and ordained by the church had access to the scriptures, direct access to the Word of God. Germans, albeit educated Germans, and Anglicans, albeit educated Anglicans, could read, and more importantly interpret, the Gospels for themselves.

The Reformers all over the European Continent thought that reading scripture for one’s self was a prerequisite to being a Christian. They said that the Christ of Christianity was present and truly accessible only in and through scripture. Scripture was the word of God and the embodiment of Christ, and thus the sole source of Christian theology.  And so the Holy Bible, not the Holy Father (that is, the Pope), became the boundary for “the truth.” And it was therefore not only a right but a responsibility of every Christian to experience Christ for themselves through the study of scripture, now accessible in their vernacular.

With this new emphasis on the primacy and authority of scripture came a new emphasis on the importance of preaching. The Word and its interpretation were elevated to an almost equal status with the sacraments. And in fact, in our Episcopal tradition (which is, as you know, essentially the American arm of the Anglican tradition) we do consider preaching to be a sacrament; the Sacrament of the Word.

Now let’s turn our attention to the second pillar of our middle way, the tradition of the church, or  Anglican Sacramental Theology. The sacramental theology of the Anglican Church, established in the 16th century by the effective co-founders of the Anglican tradition Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker, was truly a re-formation rather than a rejection of the foundations of the Roman Catholic tradition. Unlike the Protestant reformers on the rest of the Continent, the English reformers did not change the fundamental structure of worship which featured the Eucharist at its center. However, the purpose and perspective behind the structure – as they related to the person, presence and participation of Christ in the sacraments – was subtly, yet substantially altered. The Church’s mediation of the relationship between each believer and God was replaced with a means and opportunity for that relationship to exist directly.

With the Anglican shift in focus from the sacraments in the hands of the church to the Holy Bible in the hands of each believer, the sacraments themselves became a vehicle for each of the faithful to partake in the redemptive Christ directly. This shift effectively elevated the role and responsibility of the receiver of the sacrament, and diminished the role and responsibility of the priest, and, the substance of the sacrament itself.

Instead of seven sacraments designated by the church, the new Anglican tradition acknowledged only two; not surprisingly, the two sacraments ordained by Christ in the Gospels: Baptism and Eucharist. Again, the primacy of scripture ungirds even the sacramental theology. And good news for you, we are only going to tackle the Sacramental theology of the Eucharist this morning.

There were some radically different theologies of the Eucharist afloat in the 16th century. The Roman Catholic theology insisted that the sacraments were objectified doses of grace which the Church alone controlled and distributed. On the other hand, there was a contingent on the Continent, lead by Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli, which held that the sacraments themselves had no inherent efficacy whatsoever, and it was the faith alone of the recipient which empowered the Eucharist. The genius of the Anglican position was not its creation of something entirely new, but its creativity in harmonizing these two polar opposites.  Like the middle way between scripture and tradition with respect to authority, the Anglican reformers established a middle ground in its uniquely Anglican sacramental theology.

The soul of that theology is articulated in Thomas Cranmer’s Thirty Nine Articles penned in 1571[1], and Richard Hooker’s five volumes of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity published in 1594. Stick with me now. This is a little bit confusing, but it is the answer to that question that we all ask about what our Anglican tradition claims actually happens in the Eucharist.

The primary disagreement in the debate on sacramental theology, not surprisingly, was all about authority. Where exactly is the authority in the sacrament located?  Where and how is Christ present? Is the efficacy in the sacrament itself (in the bread and the wine), or in the ministering of the sacrament (in the priest who consecrated and distributes the bread and the wine), or in the reception of the sacrament (in the way you receive the bread and the wine?). Where is the authority located? The answer to that question makes all of the difference in how we understand our relationship to Christ through the sacrament we receive at the Eucharist. For example, if the authority is in the minister, in the priest, and the priest turns out to be a dirty rotten scoundrel, does that mean that none of the bread and wine consecrated by that priest was actually consecrated? Are the baptisms of children baptized by broken clergy valid? If the authority is in the priest, the answer might be no. The location of authority matters.

And so the purpose of the Eucharist was the first point of departure between the Roman Catholic Church and the English Reformers. Both agreed that, as Richard Hooker wrote, “grace is a consequent of sacraments.” But the Roman Catholic position did not concur when Hooker went on to say that the sacraments, “contain in themselves no vital force of efficacy, they are not physical but moral instruments of salvation, duties of service and worship, which unless we perform as the Author of grace requires, they are unprofitable.”[2] Sacraments were taken by Hooker and the Anglican contingent  to be a conveyance of grace, but they were not in themselves substantially divine. Moral instruments of salvation versus physical embodiments of grace.

The sacramental tide had shifted in the Anglican way from a physically endowed object to a spiritually empowered presence.  The conviction behind the new Anglican sacramental theology was predicated on a new perception of its foundational pillars regarding the person, presence, and participation of Christ in the Eucharist.  Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was a creative, complex, and convincing presentation of the Anglican point of view regarding these pillars.

At the risk of oversimplifying Hooker’s brilliant argument, he held that the authority in the sacrament was inextricably bound to the fundamental attributes of the person of Christ. He wrote that there were four attributes that equally, and fundamentally, and axiomatically describe Jesus:

  1. he is divine. 2. he is human. 3. He is both of those things together. 4. He is each distinctly and yet one. [3]

These are the four elemental principals that describe the wholeness of Christ. And on this fourfold definition, Hooker predicated his views on the presence and participation of Christ in the Eucharist.

He said, if these four attributes were indisputable truths about who and what Christ is/was, then none of them can be violated without calling into question the very substance of the Christian faith. All of them had to be true at once. That made the issue of Christ’s presence, and the way that Christ is present in the Eucharist, both critical and controversial. If Christ is present, it is in all four of these ways. Equally. And all at the same time.

You see the problem brewing, don’t you? The Roman Catholic notion of transubstantiation says that the bread and wine themselves becomes the real presence of Christ. But according to Hooker, this denies Christ’s divinity, because it denies that he is everywhere, it denies his infinity by trapping his presence in the bread and wine. The Lutheran notion of consubstantiation says that the bread and wine are both elements in which Christ is present, but it is still just bread and wine, because Christ is everywhere. According to Hooker, this theology denies Christ’s humanity, because it denies that he is fully and exclusively available in the bread and wine. Neither understanding of the presence of Christ satisfies all four of Hooker’s descriptors.

And so instead of transubstantiation or consubstantiation, Hooker compares the presence of Christ to the a character on a line. A point on a line, says Hooker, is both finite and infinite, “in its possibility of application” it is at once finite in its local presence and infinite in its potential presence.[4] Right. At once the point is right here and as part of the line, could go on and on and on forever. Finite and infinite at once. A brilliant analogy! The presence of Christ is finite in our hands, but infinite with respect to its potential application in and through our lives. Who knows what we will go into the world and accomplish!

And so Hooker spelled out the bottom line on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist: “it is not the bread and wine that are changed, here it is the real transmutation of our souls and bodies.”[5] Our souls and bodies are the infinite application of the finite bite of bread. How great is that?!

And in this vein, Thomas Cranmer made a slight but powerful change to the prayer of consecration in his 1549 prayer book. He revised the wording regarding the bread and wine from the traditional, “to become the body and blood of Christ,” to, “to be to us the body and blood of Christ.”  Sooooo Anglican…..We are part of the sacramental equation.  This slight change clearly illustrates both the substance of the Anglican shift in position and the subtlety with which it was implemented. Gorgeous! Anglicans were no longer to be infused with the objects of grace, but were to receive Christ in a personal, spiritual, and even mystical (in its lack of objectified definition) relationship for which the sacraments provided a venue. Hooker’s new Anglican understanding of the authority in the Eucharist was called receptionist.

I think that is about enough for us to chew on for today. But let us notice how both the new emphasis on direct access to the Word of God by the People of God, and the Eucharistic sacrament as being both finite in the bread and wine and infinite in us and our lives, are cornerstones of our uniquely Anglican Way that rests much of its authority in the particular hands and hearts and minds of the faithful.

And the third cornerstone of our Anglican equation was laid back in the early church, as we heard this morning from the Apostle Paul. Neither the scripture not the sacrament can realize their full potential without the engagement of our values, our own sense of reason.  And so my friends, our re-formation as Anglicans both re-visions a new way and re-grounds us in the early church.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

 

Alleluia!

Amen.

 

© October, 2017 The Rev’d. Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw

 

 

 

 

[1] You can turn to page 872 in the BCP in your pews to see Thomas Cranmer’s original statement in The Thirty Nine Articles. Article 25 reads: “Sacraments ordained of Christ, be not only badges or tokens of Christian mens profession: but rather they be certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and Gods good will toward us, by which he doth work invisible in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in him.”

[2] Keble, John (ed.) Of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity by Richard Hooker , V.57.4

[3] Hooker, Laws, V.54.10

[4] Hooker Laws, V.67.8

[5] Hooker, Laws, V.67.8

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