Friday, August 12, 2005

Charles Porterfield Krauth on Anglican Difficulties

One of the purposes of Dr. Krauth (picture here and biography here) in writing his magnum opus was his desire to promote Christian unity on the basis of the conservative reformation. In his preface, he thus had to deal with the claim of the Anglican Churches to best represent this middle way between Catholic and Orthodox corruption and sectarian radicalism. His analysis, penned in 1871, is still incisive today, and is all the more interesting for being conducted from an Evangelical Lutheran standpoint, one that is simultaneous more reformation-minded and more conservative than either of the two parties--the Anglo-Catholic and the Evangelical--now combating the ongoing apostasy within the Anglican Churches.

I have edited the following selection; those interested in the full text may go here.

The Church of England is that part of the Reformed Church for which most affinity with the conservatism of Lutheranism is usually claimed. . . . The Conservatism of the Church of England, even in the later shape of its reform, in many respects is indisputable, and hence it has often been called a Lutheranizing Church. But the pressure of radicalism to which it deferred, perhaps too much in the essence and too little in the form, brought it to that eclecticism which is its most marked feature. Lutheranizing in its conservative sobriety of modes, the Church of England is very un-Lutheran in its judgment of ends. The conservatism of the Lutheran Reformation exalted, over all, pure doctrine as the divine presupposition of a pure life. . . The Lutheran Church has her Book of Concord, the most explicit Confession ever made in Christendom; the Church of England has her Thirty-Nine Articles, the least explicit among the official utterances of the Churches of the Reformation. . . . . . .

Like the English language, the English Church is a miracle of compositeness. In the wonderful tessellation of their structure is the strength of both and their weakness. . . . With more uniformity than any other great Protestant body, it has less unity than any. . . . No Calvinism is intenser, no Arminianism lower, than the Calvinism and Arminianism which have been found in the Church of England . . . It has a long array of names dear to our common Christendom as the masterly vindicators of her common faith, and yet has given high place to men who denied the fundamental verities confessed in the general creeds. It harbors a skepticism which takes infidelity by the hand, and a revived medievalism which longs to throw itself, with tears, on the neck of the Pope and the Patriarch, to beseech them to be gentle, and not to make the terms of restored fellowship too difficult . . . It has a doctrinal laxity which excuses, and indeed invites, innovation, conjoined with an organic fixedness which prevents the free play of novelty.

Hence the Church of England has been more depleted than any other by secessions. Either the Anglican Church must come to more fixedness in doctrine or to more pliableness in form, or it will go on, through cycle after cycle of disintegration, toward ruin. . . The numbers of those whom the Church of England have lost are millions. It has lost to Independency [i.e. Puritan Congregationalism], lost to Presbyterianism, lost to Quakerism, lost to Methodism, lost to Romanism, and lost to the countless forms of Sectarianism of which England and America, England’s daughter, have been, beyond all nations, the nurses. The Church of England has been so careful of the rigid old bottle of the form, yet so careless or so helpless as to what the bottle might be made to hold, that the new wine which went into it has been attended in every case by the same history—the fermenting burst the bottle and the wine was spilled. Every great religious movement in the Church of England has been attended ultimately by an irreplaceable loss in its membership. To this rule there has been no exception in the past. . . .

To those who, though they stand without, look on with profound sympathy, the internal difficulties which now agitate those Churches seem incapable of real, abiding harmonizing. True compromise can only sacrifice preferences to secure principles. The only compromise which seems possible in the Anglican Churches would be one which would sacrifice principles to secure preferences, and nothing can be less certain of permanence than preferences thus secured. These present difficulties in the Anglican Churches proceed not from contradiction of its principles, but from development of them. These two classes of seeds were sown by the husbandmen themselves—that was the compromise. The tares may grow till the harvest, side by side with the wheat, with which they mingle, but which they do not destroy, but the thorns which choke the seed must be plucked up or the seed will perish. Tares are men; thorns are moral forces of doctrine or of life. The agitation in the Anglican Churches can end only in the victory of the one tendency and the silencing of the other, or in the sundering of the two. In Protestantism nothing is harder than to silence, nothing easier than to sunder. . . . The trials of a Church which has taken a part in our modern civilization and Christianity which entitles it to the veneration and gratitude of mankind can be regarded with indifference only by the sluggish and selfish, and with malicious joy only by the radically bad.

(From The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1871, pp. ix-xii.)

For a list of all my posts on Charles Porterfield Krauth, go here.

Originally posted at Here We Stand