Thursday, 9 February 2012

The truth of the Church of England - from Charles Williams

*

Of the Inklings who were Anglicans but not clergy e.g. the Lewis brothers, Coghill, Dyson... the only one who seemed to have a very strong and specific affiliation to the Church of England was perhaps the one who might have been thought the least likely to affiliate to any church at all: Charles Williams.

I find myself returning to re-read a particular passage in the early, biographically incomplete but deeply insightful, memoir of Charles Williams by  Alice Mary Hadfield (An Introduction to Charles Williams, 1959).

This passage almost perfectly expresses (or rather, enabled me to understand) the nature of my own positive affiliation to the Church of England - such as it is:

*

Extracted from pages 131-133. The passage relates to 1939:

Charles Williams remained an unswerving son of the Church of England, and was never seriously tempted by any other centre.

For doctrine he always preferred the whole to the part and said that in claiming to be the only holder of the truth the Roman Church was separated from the Universal Church.

He opened out and deepened his position in the Church of England until it was one through which all his thought could pass, and had no hidden feeling that a more valid authority belonged elsewhere.

*

He was convinced that one could not be convinced of the existence of God. One could decide to believe, but not more.

Therefore he preferred to be a little able to choose what he would decide to believe than to have one final definition in matters which he thought could divide and had divided, as for example over the essentially hidden mode of the working of grace in sacraments.

The English method of having certain shades of belief open within one constant framework which itself fitted into the shape of the whole Church was one which he particularly valued.

*

He would deny nothing. Rome, Byzantium, Canterbury, Jerusalem, were to him diocese of Christendom, differing in glory but all sustained by Christ.

But of the great variants of Christendom C.W. chose the Church of England for himself deliberately.

*

Her acceptance as a living principle that belief is a tension between different poles was part of his deepest makeup.

I have seen him march up and down his office for half an hour castigating newspapers and superior articles which said that the Church of England did not know itself what it believed.

*

The Report of the Commission on Christian Doctrine in the Church of Engalnd, published in 1938, was a matter of deep interest to him.

He would pull a copy from the shelf in his office and walk up and down turning over the pages and declaiming:

'Three main schools of traditional thought are to be distinguished.... The first school teaches that ... on these grounds... Most clearly opposed to that is the teaching... on these grounds... A doctrine between the two affirms that... The strongest Anglican tradition is to affirm that ...'

And then he would talk with his fullest emphasis on the theme that to say that a man could either believe this, or that, giving grounds for each, was totally different from saying that he could believe anything he liked, or that no one knew what he should believe.

He never tired of pointing out that to refuse extreme of belief need not be compromise but accuracy, and a more intellectually valuable state for those who operated it than to be drawn by either lodestone.

*

Both the deep sources of the English faith nourished his mind.

He was Protestant for his basis in the Word, in personal conversion, experience and communion, and in salvation by faith.

*

On the other hand his vision was always of the Church Catholic and universal.

His sense of the sacramental character of all that we see, touch, and do, grew with him throughout his life. Everything expressed another nature.

He carried this to extreme lengths in his perceptions of domestic life and love, and in religious terms he exhibited always a natural adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

*

He very much disliked arguments on the doctrine of Transubstantiation, but if pressed to a statement he would say that, knowing nothing of real theology, his sense of the true existence of matter in its won right, of each human body, of bread, and of non-supernatural goodness, kept him from that final abandonment.

Body was not dream to him, but reality, as were all material details; and, adore the indwelling presence as he did, finally he said that Our Lord maintained the material reality of the consecrated bread, and did not break through.

His feeling was in fact nearer the consubstantiation of the Orthodox belief.

*

A key section for me is: "to say that a man could either believe this, or that, giving grounds for each, was totally different from saying that he could believe anything he liked, or that no one knew what he should believe. He never tired of pointing out that to refuse extreme of belief need not be compromise but accuracy, and a more intellectually valuable state for those who operated it than to be drawn by either lodestone."

*

My own attachment to the Church of England is mostly historical by a sense of direct, mystical contact.

I am - of course - extremely dissatisfied with the current, institutional Church of England; I regard it is thoroughly corrupt and anti-Christian in overall tendency.

(In this it is merely typical of all modern powerful institutions.)

*

The institutional C of E has, since Charles Williams died in 1945, tragically lost those subtle theological characteristics which CW so valued.

Perhaps Archbishop of Canterbury (1961-74) Michael Ramsay was the last well-known exemplar of what C.W. refers to; and he was also the last leader personally to be loved for his goodness, his holiness (although he utterly failed to push back the wave of secular modernity which has now engulfed the Church).

*

The strain of trying to include the views of non-Christian bishops, and secular-motivated changes, broke the subtle mechanism of finding a middle way. There is no middle way between the primacy of Christianity and the primacy of secular, materialist hedonism.

*

Yet even now the mechanism works with respect to Anglo-Catholics and Evangelical Protestants in the Church of England.

Although these are superficially regarded as extreme poles of the Church - on opposite sides with respect to the Reformation; since they are both Christian, both are - in principle as well as in practise - compatible.

Thus I feel no sense of compromise from worshipping at both types of church in the same week - attending midday mass at an Anglo Catholic church, or at a church using the Book of Common Prayer; and Sunday service at an evangelical Anglican church.

No compromise, the same core; but a difference in emphasis.

Indeed, the two - together in one mystical English Church - much fuller in Christianity than either could be individually.

*