The Anglican Communion is one of the smaller denominations of Christendom.
Even in the English-speaking world it is by no means the largest.
Outside the English-speaking world and certain parts of the mission field it hardly exists.
It is of the greatest importance to us because we belong to it.
It is of considerable importance to all English speaking Christians.
It is of some importance to Christendom as a whole because it is almost the only part of the universal Church that has come to terms with the Reformation.
But for that very reason it is probably the most difficult denomination for those who are not members of it to understand.
The Anglican Communion has never claimed to be the whole Catholic Church.
Such a claim would be absurd.
It is therefore forced to accept the theory that the Church is divisible,
that is, that the external unity of the Church may be broken by a quarrel without either side being thereby excluded from the Church.
(This is sometimes called the Branch Theory, but the term is misleading because the branches of a tree are a natural growth, whereas breaches in the unity of the Church are not natural but contrary to the will of God.)
Both the Roman Communion and the Orthodox Communion reject the theory of
the divisibility of the Church.
The Roman Communion teaches that the whole Church must be subject to the Pope.
Whoever is not subject to the Pope is outside the church.
The Orthodox Communion allows that there may be breaches of communion within the Church, but only partial ones.
For instance, the Bulgarian Church is out of communion with the Church of Constantinople, but both are in full communion with the Serbian Church.
The doctrine that the Church cannot be divided is difficult to reconcile
The Church of the Old Covenant was certainly divisible.
Whatever may have been the exact nature of the revolt of Jeroboam against the house of David, it is certain that both Israel and Judah continued to belong to the Chosen People.
Jeroboam's calf worship did not put Elijah, Elisha, and Amos outside the covenant.
The history of the Christian Church is full of temporary breaches of communion.
Rome and Constantinople were several times out of communion with each other before the final breach on 1054, which was not at the time regarded as final.
Between 1377 and 1415 there were first two and then three rival Popes.
(Though modern Romanists are no doubt right in saying that Urban and his successors were the true Popes, there was no means of knowing it at the time).
There is no Divine promise that the Church shall never be divided,
and the evidence of history shows that she has often been divided.
Otherwise we must either hold that the whole of Western Christendom from 1054 onwards has been outside the Church, or else that the whole of Eastern Christendom (except the Uniat churches) from 1054 onwards has been outside the Church.
Both views are intolerable.
The theory that the Church is divisible, which is forced upon the Anglican
Communion by its isolation from the rest of Christendom, is apart from this
more consistent with the facts than either the Roman or the Orthodox theory.
But since the Anglican Communion is committed to it, the reunion of Christendom presses on the Anglican conscience more urgently than on those who hold that reunion is no more than the reconciliation of heretics to the true Church.
It is desirable, though perhaps not absolutely necessary, to inquire which
of the other communions of Christendom are to be regarded as belonging to
the true Church;
for we are constantly in contact with their members and may be met with rival claims to allegiance.
We apply to these claims the same tests as we have applied to our own.
We do not set up to be judges of other communions,
but we have the right to say that the principles of the communion to which we belong appear to us to imply this or that view about them.
The Church of England has never declared formally which communions she regards
as orthodox because she does not regard it as her duty to sit in judgment
on other churches.
In the early days of the Reformation the English Church was commonly identified with the Lutherans (as by Bishop Jewel);
but as soon as the Anglican position began to be worked out, we find bishop Andrewes, in his Preces Privatae, praying for "The Church: Eastern, Western, British".
This threefold division was given fresh emphasis by the Oxford Movement and has now become traditional.
Thus the Book of Church Law (by J. H. Blunt, revised by the first Lord Phillimore, 1876), says (p. 4):
The Church of England has never broken off communion with the churches that
recognize the jurisdiction of the Pope, nor with the churches of the East;
but it maintains strongly its position as an independent branch of the Catholic Church, subject to no authority external to the realm of England except that of a General Council.
The Orders of the continental and Eastern Catholic clergy have always been recognized by our law, and such clergy can be admitted to minister in Churches and Chapels of the Church of England in the same manner as clergy of Colonial or American ordination (37 and 38 Vict. Ch. 77).
On the other hand, the episcopal system is so essentially a part of the constitution of the Church of England that no communion is recognized between it and those religious bodies in England or elsewhere which are not dependent upon the episcopate for their existence.
The ministrations of Scotch Presbyterian, German Lutheran, Swiss Calvinist, or English Dissenting ministers have always been considered illegal, and the positive prohibition of them dates back to the Act of Uniformity.
Nevertheless the possession of bishops properly consecrated is not sufficient
without right faith.
On the other hand, the traditional threefold division does not cover the whole ground.
The Orthodox Eastern Communion, to which belongs that Church of Jerusalem
from which all others are derived, consists of the churches of the old Byzantine
Empire and of those countries that received the Gospel from it directly of
These are the four ancient patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, all now very small, and many national churches in communion with them;
some autocephalous that is, subject only to a general council and others autonomous that is, self-governing internally but dependent on the Patriarch of Constantinople.
(There is a similar difference in the Anglican Communion between self-governing provinces as in South Africa, and missionary dioceses as in Madagascar.)
The faith of the Orthodox Eastern churches is defined by the Seven Ecumenical
Their succession is not denied by any one.
Their jurisdiction in their own territory and over their own people everywhere can only be disputed by those who believe that all jurisdiction is derived from the Pope.
The faith, orders, and jurisdiction of the Orthodox Communion are fully recognized by the Anglican Communion, which has been in friendly relations with it for 300 years.
It is because the Orthodox churches have doubts about our faith,
not because we have doubts about theirs,
that we are still out of communion with each other.
There are, besides the Orthodox Communion, two other ancient communions
in the East:
the Patriarchate of the East, commonly called the Assyrian or East Syrian Church which rejects the 5th Ecumenical Council (Second of Constantinople which condemned the Three Chapters), and the Armenian, Jacobite or "Syrian Orthodox", and Coptic Churches
[The Ethiopian or Abyssinian Church is a province of the Coptic Church.]
which reject the 4th Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon).
The position of these churches has been already discussed (pp. 70, 86, 97).
They are all remnants of churches which were once much larger than they are now, which have kept the faith under severe persecution for many centuries, and which have borne witness to it by innumerable martyrdoms.
Their faith is undoubtedly orthodox apart from the Christological errors of which they have been suspected for fifteen centuries;
and commissions appointed by the Lambeth Conference of 1908 have come to the conclusion that they are not really guilty of these errors.
Nevertheless the doubts about their orthodoxy have not been fully cleared away.
No one has ever disputed their succession.
If their orthodoxy be assumed, their jurisdiction over their own people must be recognized, each church being also a separate nation.
Members of both the Orthodox and the Lesser Eastern Churches may be admitted
to communion in Anglican churches, subject to the consent of their own bishops,
by resolutions of the Lambeth Conference.
[In some cases members of these churches have been given communion, by "economy" in Orthodox churches.]
There is in India a small communion called the Mar Thoma Church, which separated
from the Jacobite Church during the nineteenth century under the influence
of Evangelical missionaries.
It differs from the other Eastern churches in various secondary matters of doctrine and discipline.
It retains the episcopal succession, but its jurisdiction appears to be very doubtful.
However, the Anglican Church of the Province of India, Burma, and Ceylon has made a preliminary arrangement with it, not amounting to full communion, which has not yet come before the Lambeth Conference or been accepted by any other Anglican church.
The Roman Communion is the largest, the most widespread, and the most active
of all Christian denominations.
It consists of the churches of the Latin half of the Roman Empire, and of all the countries that received the Gospel from them except those which have thrown off the control of Rome during and since the Reformation.
It separated finally from the Orthodox Communion, after a series of temporary quarrels, in 1054 (when, as the Orthodox say, Rome ceased to be Orthodox by claiming supremacy over the other patriarchates).
What made the breach incurable was the sack of Constantinople by the so-called "Fourth Crusade" under the leadership of Venice in 1204 which, it is only fair to say, was contrary to the Pope's orders.
The final breach between the Anglican Communion and Rome took place in 1559
after the accession of Elizabeth but was not completed until 1570 when Pope
Pius V excommunicated the English Church.
Until the sixteenth century the British churches had always been part of Latin Christendom and had been completely under the papal jurisdiction since the twelfth century.
But the English people had long been growing more and more dissatisfied.
The final breach was due to various causes one of which was the discovery that the claims of the Pope and other doctrines commonly taught had no foundation in Scripture or in the writings of the Fathers.
The English Church never formally seceded from Rome
but only refused to be subject any longer to the jurisdiction of the Pope.
Nevertheless the dispute was not merely about jurisdiction.
The Council of Trent concluded its sittings just after the accession of Elizabeth,
and the English Church refused to be represented at that Council
or to be bound by its decrees.
The difference is therefore a difference of faith and not only of jurisdiction.
The official attitude of the English Church towards Rome is stated in the 30th Canon passed in 1604.
So far was it from the purpose of the Church of England to forsake and reject
the Churches of Italy, France, Spain, Germany, or any suchlike churches in
all things which they held and practiced, that it doth with reverence retain
those ceremonies which neither endamage the Church of God nor offend the
minds of sober men;
and only departed from them in those particular points wherein they were fallen both from themselves in their first integrity, and from the apostolical churches which were their first founders.
The faith of the Roman Communion is fundamentally the faith of the Apostles and the Fathers, but it has been so much overlaid with later additions that the Anglican Communion cannot accept it as the pure faith.
The additions to the faith made by the Roman Communion must be reserved
for a later chapter (see pp. 307-315).
It is enough to mention here the papal claims and the decrees of the Councils of Trent and the Vatican, particularly the decree which makes Tradition unsupported by Scripture a sufficient basis for necessary dogma, and sets up the Pope as judge of what is true tradition;
for this decree has enabled the Pope to introduce new doctrines unknown to Scripture and to the ancient Church and to declare them necessary to salvation.
The Novatians and Donatists were regarded as heretics by the ancient Church
because they added one point of discipline to the faith and would not admit
to the sacraments those who would not accept it.
[The Novatians held that no one could be forgiven sins committed after baptism; the Donatists, that a priest who had sacrificed to idols under persecution could not become a bishop.]
The Roman Communion has added many new dogmas to the faith and insists that the churches that will not accept these dogmas are heretical.
These new dogmas and other doctrines that are not formally defined have gravely distorted the original faith.
We do not doubt the succession of the Roman Communion (but the Orthodox Communion holds that non-Orthodox denominations, even the Roman Communion, have no true sacraments or orders).
We have always recognized the jurisdiction of the Roman Communion in its own territory over its own people, but not in the territory which has always been occupied by the Eastern churches nor in the British Isles.
The bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England (Article 37).
It is true that this article appears to refer to temporal jurisdiction,
but the declaration required of priests who were to be instituted or licensed
until recent times explicitly repudiated the spiritual as well as the temporal
jurisdiction of Rome.
The Anglican churches repudiate the papal jurisdiction as part of the papal claims and the patriarchal jurisdiction of Rome as not extending to these islands.
The patriarchal, as distinct from the universal, jurisdiction of Rome was confined in ancient times to central and southern Italy and certain Mediterranean islands.
The extension of it to England was the consequence of the forged decretals of the ninth century (see p. 304), the real nature of which was not discovered till the sixteenth century.
In repudiating the jurisdiction of Rome, both papal and patriarchal, the English and Irish churches were reasserting their original rights;
and they have formally denied the right of the Roman Communion to establish itself in their territory (see Canons 2, 8, 9, 10, 11).
However, conditions have changed since the seventeenth century;
and as the difference between the Anglican and the Roman Communions is a difference of faith and not only of jurisdiction, we cannot reasonably deny that the Roman Communion must provide for its own people, both foreigners and the descendants of those who could not conscientiously accept the changes made by the Reformation (in Ireland they were the majority of the people).
But we deny that the Roman Communion has any jurisdiction over members of other churches, and we have good reason to protest against its unfair methods or proselytizing.
It attacks the churches outside its communion by every means in its power,
setting traps for children and ignorant people,
offering free education as a bribe,
issuing grossly unfair propaganda,
and forcing unjust restrictions on parties to mixed marriages.
As long as the Roman Communion continues this policy,
it is impossible for us to have friendly relations with it.
[These criticisms and others in later chapters are not directed against individuals but against the official policy of the Vatican, which is the result of its doctrine.]
The Orthodox Communion does not behave in this way and does not deliberately proselytize from other Christian denominations.
The policy of Rome is not, therefore, a necessary consequence of the claim to be the only true Church, which the Orthodox Communion makes as strongly as the Roman Communion.
We conclude that while the churches of the Roman Communion are true churches,
they have made additions to the faith which render it impossible for us to
treat them simply as sister churches;
that their attempts to proselytize from other churches in countries where they have only responsibility for their own people are schismatic;
and that as the whole Roman Communion is implicated in the unjust excommunication of the English Church, and in the constant attacks which are made upon Anglican doctrine and history, we regret that we cannot treat Romanists as fellow Catholics but are compelled to defend ourselves against them.
The Old Catholic churches which are now in full communion with the Church of England have already been mentioned.
It was held by the older Anglican divines that the Lutheran and Reformed
denominations on the continent of Europe, having only protested against the
errors of Rome and having been excommunicated for doing so, were
"true but defective churches".
They were true churches because they were orthodox in faith.
They were defective because through no fault of their own they had been deprived of the episcopal succession.
It was on this ground that many of the Anglican divines defended the close relations that certainly existed between the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran and Reformed communions on the Continent.
But they held that the Presbyterians and Nonconformists in the British Isles had no excuse for refusing to accept the jurisdiction of the Anglican bishops who had rejected the errors of Rome (W. Palmer, Treatise of the Church, Part I, Chapters 12-13).
Unfortunately the theory that the Lutherans and Calvinists were deprived
of the episcopal succession through no fault of their own is not tenable.
Both in France and Germany there were bishops who accepted the Reformation and from whom the succession could have been obtained, not to mention the bishops of England and of Sweden.
But neither Lutherans nor Calvinists had any interest in succession.
Calvin indeed rejected the pre-Reformation Church and her ministry as anti-Christian.
He himself was never ordained by anybody, and his followers required all bishops and priests who joined them to receive a new ordination.
[J. L. Ainslie, Doctrines of Ministerial Order in the Reformed Churches, pp. 210-17. (See below, pp. 404-7.)]
(This alone seems to dispose of the claim that the Scottish Presbyterians, whose principles were those of Calvin, maintained a "presbyterial succession" through the pre-Reformation Church, which was not put forward before 1650, ninety years after the Scottish Reformation.)
The German Lutherans did not reject the principle of succession, but they did not think it of any importance.
Luther "consecrated" a bishop of Naumburg,
though there were bishops who could have done it for him.
In Denmark the King forbade the bishops to consecrate anyone,
and his new "bishops" were "consecrated" by Bugenhagen who was only a priest.
These instances show that the Lutherans in Germany and Denmark lost the apostolic succession not because they could not keep it but because they did not value it.
In the eighteenth century all the Continental Protestants were profoundly affected by the rationalist movement known as the Enlightenment (Aufkl?ung), and many of them lost their hold on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
It is said that early in the nineteenth century there was not one minister in Geneva who believed in the Trinity.
We cannot therefore admit that the Lutherans outside Sweden and Finland [Also Estonia, Latvia, and Slovakia.] possess true churches,
still less that the "Reformed"
or Calvinists do.
The Lutherans have lost the succession,
which would have united them to the ancient Church.
The Calvinists have deliberately rejected the doctrine that the universal Church is visible, and the principle of succession, and for the most part do not even claim to belong to the ancient Church.
So there is no question of jurisdiction.
The one exception is the Church of Sweden with which we must rank the Church
In Sweden the whole church threw off the papal supremacy and, after a period of uncertainty, accepted the Confession of Augsburg, the Lutheran doctrinal basis, in order to exclude Calvinism (1593).
Now, the Confession of Augsburg in its original form is the most moderate of the doctrinal formularies of the Reformation.
There does not appear to be anything in it contrary to the Catholic faith,
though there are some statements that are doubtful.
It explicitly accepts the creeds and the definitions of the ecumenical councils.
It is more definite about the sacraments than the Thirty-Nine Articles.
It is certainly more satisfactory than the Creed of Pius IV,
which is regarded by the Roman Communion as necessary to salvation,
whereas the Church of Sweden does not insist on the acceptance of the Confession of Augsburg by other churches.
The Church of Sweden has preserved the episcopal succession.
The most careful inquiries into the history of this succession and into the intention of the Swedish Church in preserving it have shown that it cannot be questioned except on grounds that are equally applicable to the Anglican succession.
If the Swedish Church has preserved the right faith and succession, jurisdiction has also been retained; for there has never been any rival jurisdiction in the kingdom of Sweden where 95 per cent of the population still belong to the ancient church.
However, the preservation of the succession would be useless if the Church
of Sweden had departed from the faith.
The Confession of Augsburg includes the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds.
Baptism is regarded as necessary to membership of the Church, which implies belief that the universal Church is visible.
Certainly there is nothing in the Confession of Augsburg denying it.
This confession also declares, "So far are we from wishing to abolish the Mass that it is celebrated among us with the utmost reverence".
The Eucharist (Hogm'sa) is still the principal service of the Church of Sweden, and the words "priest" and "altar" are used.
Melanchthon, in the Defence of the Augsburg Confession which is still an official formulary, calls the Eucharist a commemorative sacrifice.
(See also Y. Brilioth, Eucharist Faith and Practice, pp. 42-48).
The Swedish priest is expressly given the power of absolution, and in some parts of Sweden private confession and absolution is common.
But we must admit that the Church of Sweden has some serious defects.
Perhaps the gravest is the absence of laying on of hands in Confirmation.
Confirmation does indeed play a very important part in the life of the Church of Sweden.
It is almost universal even in towns
and is prepared for by a long course of instructions.
But it is not the laying on of hands.
It is a public questioning on the faith administered by the parish priest, not by the bishop, and a declaration of belief.
(It is hard to understand how a practice so clearly commanded in Scripture and described in the Epistle to the Hebrews as a foundation of our religion (6:2) came to be dropped by the Lutherans, but probably confirmation in the immense dioceses of northern Europe had become a mere form by the sixteenth century.)
Nevertheless the practice of laying on hands has been revived in Sweden and is growing rapidly with the approval of some of the bishops, but it is not yet recognized officially.
Another defect is that though episcopal ordination is universal in Sweden,
there are no bishops in the Swedish missions in China and South Africa and
in the "Augustana Synod" of the Swedes in America;
and priests administer ordination.
Apparently Episcopal ordination is considered desirable but not necessary;
and where it is impossible or even inconvenient, a priest may ordain.
There are also serious defects in the Swedish liturgy
which, like other Lutheran liturgies, has no real prayer of consecration
but only a recitation of the institution followed by the Lords Prayer;
and the celebrant does not necessarily communicate himself,
a defect which is everywhere else held to render the Eucharist invalid.
The Church of Sweden is a part of the Lutheran Communion,
the greater part of which has no history behind the Reformation.
But this is not a closely linked communion,
for the Lutherans tend to regard organization as unimportant.
While the connection of the Church of Sweden with the other Lutherans is anomalous and difficult to defend, it does give the Church of Sweden and the Catholic movement within it a very widespread influence.
The Church of Finland was part of the Church of Sweden till 1809 and is
in the same position except that in 1884 the succession, which had been maintained
till then, failed because all the three bishops died within a few weeks,
and the Russian Government would not allow it to be renewed from Sweden.
The Church of Finland had provided for this possibility by making a law that if the succession of bishops should ever fail, the Dean of Turku, the metropolitan see, should consecrate the new bishops; and this was done.
Possibly it might be argued that in passing this law the Church of Finland had given Episcopal power to be used in case of emergency to all the clergy.
In any case when Finland had become independent, the Archbishop of Uppsala was invited to join in Episcopal consecrations;
and as the Bishop of Fulham had assisted at his consecration, the majority of the bishops both in Sweden and Finland can now trace their succession through the English as well as the Swedish line.
Although the Churches of Sweden and Finland suffer, through long isolation,
from certain defects, by the standard of the ancient Church they are not
guilty of any fundamental error; and we cannot refuse to recognize their
claim to be part of the Catholic Church.
The Anglican Communion has made agreements with them, passed, in the case of Sweden, by the Lambeth Conference, in the case of Finland by the English provincial synods, which permit their members to receive communion at Anglican altars;
and similar agreements have been made with the Lutheran Churches of Estonia and Latvia which had bishops consecrated by the Archbishop of Uppsala (Sweden);
not yet with the Lutheran Church of Slovakia.
We conclude then that six communions are to reckoned as sharing the inheritance
of the ancient Catholic Church:
in the East, the Orthodox, Armenian (Coptic, etc.), and Assyrian;
in the West, the Roman, Anglican (with the Old Catholic), and Swedish.
They are not all equally orthodox; for if they were, they would be agreed; and if they were agreed, they would probably be united.
But we cannot say that any of them has erred from the faith or lost the succession.
In all of them we find the same creed, the same sacramental life centred in the altar, the same government by the successors of the apostles.
They differ enormously in size.
The Roman Communion is much larger than all the rest put together.
The Orthodox Communion is only second to it.
The two other Eastern communions are composed of remnants of churches which were once much larger, but are important as representing Asiatic and African Christian traditions which differ considerably from those of Europe.
Each of these communions has its own contribution to make to Christendom which cannot afford to do without any of them.
[I have myself been present at the Eucharistic worship of all these communions.]