Liturgy and Temporal Authority in Addleshaw

In G.W.O. Addleshaw’s The High Church Tradition (Faber & Faber, 1947) I find much to appreciate, but its ecclesiology, or political theology, has errors that I cannot let pass. These errors are the same kinds of errors, except in an Anglican context, that we encounter today in the teaching of the Escondido school: these are the errors that confuse the two kingdoms, the spiritual and the temporal, with the ministerium and magisterium respectively.

On the basis of these errors, the Rev. Mr Addleshaw, facing the reality that the old Elizabethan settlement is in poor health, has overstated his claims about the authority of ‘the Church’. Admirably he attempts a principled approach in order to avoid anachronism (since the Church is a living organism and not a museum), but I fear the cure may be worse than the disease. A book of such merit as The High Church Tradition deserves also, in my opinion, to be purified of error, that it may better represent the principles underlying the liturgy of the Church of England.

It must be noted that Mr Addleshaw, unlike other, less responsible writers, both acknowledges and approves of what the old High Churchmen thought of the Church-State relation:

The Church is so closely connected with the State that it is wrong to think of the relationship as one between two different entities. It is one society, from one aspect a Church, from another a State. The theory is not Erastian as the latter word is commonly understood. The part played by the King and Parliament in the affairs of the Church is not an interference by representatives of some body other than the Church. They are part of the Church; the king has been anointed and clothed with priestly vestments at his coronation; Parliament is a lay synod. Erastianism means the subordination of the Church as one society to the State, a society other than the Church and alien to it in temper and outlook.

Mr Addleshaw rightly locates this unity’s classical expression in the last book of the judicious Hooker’s Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, and it is in that book, I trust, that we will find resources to bring Mr Addleshaw’s back to a genuinely and consistently Protestant standard.

Speaking of change, of evolution, of growth in the living liturgy, Mr Addleshaw resists the temptation to treat the Prayer Book as a typical statute law and legally permit only what the Prayer Book mentions. Though the 1662 Prayer Book was given the authority of Parliament by the Act of Uniformity, he says, not thus was it made the liturgy of the Church of England:

Yet in spite of all that High Churchmen say about the Act of Uniformity, they are quite clear that it is not the legislative enactment which made the 1662 Prayer Book the liturgy of the Church. The Convocations are the proper bodies for this kind of legislation; but they would have added that the lack of Church discipline made it desirable for the conclusions of the Convocations to receive Parliamentary authority.

The Convocations have traditionally had an upper house for the bishops and a lower house for the other clergy. Since the bishops have been the ones to interpret the Prayer Book and judge what ceremonial in their own dioceses would faithfully represent the doctrinal and liturgical norms adopted by the Church – for that is a great part of their role – it stands to reason that their consent is of greatest importance in governing worship; and under them the other clergy, especially the priests (presbyters), since this is part of their divinely ordained duty. Yet to call these alone the Church would be a mistake, and so it is not only obedience but also authority that laymen may add to the holy counsels of the clergy.

This Parliamentary authority is consistent with the political thought of John Calvin. The Rev. Steven Wedgeworth and Mr Peter Escalante alert us to what Calvin said of magistratical authority in the Church: ‘it is one thing to deprive the Church of her right, and transfer it entirely to the caprice of a single individual; it is another thing to assign to a king or emperor the honour of confirming a legitimate election by his authority.’ Likewise the authority of the Prayer Book, which embodies the authority of the clerical Convocations, is well confirmed by the divinely ordained authorities of King and Parliament.

Mr Addleshaw goes on to tell us, with approval, the Rev. Charles Wheatly’s thoughts on the Prayer Book’s authority, which are laid out in A Rational Illustration of the Book of Common Prayer (reprinted 1849). He says,

Wheatly in the introduction to his rationale takes great pains to point out that the authority on which the Prayer Book rests is not statute law, but that of the bishops and clergy in provincial synods, ‘the king and parliament only establishing by civil sanction what was there done by ecclesiastical authority’. As passed by the Convocations the Prayer Book is obligatory in foro conscientiae; as confirmed and ratified by Parliament it becomes obligatory in foro civili. As an instance of what he means, Wheatly says that the Act of Toleration has made nonconformists no longer liable to the penalties imposed by statute for not attending the services of the Church of England; but they are still guilty of the sin of schism for not attending the services imposed by due authority in the Catholic Church of the country. Sparrow treats the Acts of Uniformity in much the same way. The authority of the Prayer Book comes from the Convocations; Parliament had no hand in drawing it up; it merely gave it the confirmation of temporal law. (136–37)

A glance at Mr Wheatly’s introduction confirms Mr Addleshaw’s representation; indeed Mr Wheatly is the one who first calls the Prayer Book liturgy ‘obligatory in foro conscientiae.’ But I cannot support the assertion that the Prayer Book, however edifying and however empowered by ecclesiastical authority, is obligatory in foro conscientiae, as if it has the force of divine positive law. Colour me Erastian, but I do not identify the decisions of even the most catholic church with the laws of God. With Wheatly I do affirm that many in England are in schism, and that the fault lies with those who separate from the Church of England not out of conscience but out of wilfulness; yet any sin that consists in failure to obey the authority of the Prayer Book is no more serious than a crime against royal authority, and I think it unedifying, unreformed and tyrannical to insist that the Prayer Book liturgy is obligatory not in foro civili but in foro conscientiae. Yes, a divine-right Erastian would make nothing of a bishop’s authority unless it had the backing of a magistrate, but I wish only to protest the opposite extremity of holding ecclesiastical authority to be greater than magistratical authority, and a crime against the former to be more grievous than a crime against the latter.

This is precisely because the juridical institutions of the visible Church are not literally the judgements of God, nor is the visible Church literally the catholic Church eternally known to God. For this reason John Hales said,

The Church is not a thing that can be pointed out; the devil could show our Saviour all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them. I hope the Church was none of these; it is the glory of it not to be seen and the note of it to be invisible; and when we call any visible company of professors a church, it is but a word of courtesy: out of charity we hope men to be that which they do profess, and therefore we so speak as if they were that indeed whose name they bear; where and who they are that make up this kingdom is a question unfit for any man to move, for the Lord only knoweth who are his.

Even without the magistrates, it is true, the bishops and presbyters of the Church are duly constituted judges in ecclesiastical discipline: this is how the visible Church can maintain its discipline when the State persecutes rather than helps it. But the clergy, even with their special calling, are themselves no higher in authority than the magistracy, for they cannot but fallibly represent the infallible voice of God. To break the laws of the bishops, then, is no greater a sin than to break the laws of King and Parliament, nor is it one jot more an offence in foro conscientiae.


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