Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The ACNA Catechism: Part Two



In my previous post I looked at the new ACNA Catechism which has been released for commenting upon before a final version is reached.  I considered  the fact that in many ways it is a truly great Christian resource ,yet in two significant areas is not 'Anglican.'  These are that it takes an Arminian view of election which is clearly contra the Articles, and it calls things other than the Lord's Supper and Baptism 'Sacraments.'  

"As Anglicans we believe that there are only two Sacraments, whilst other things may often be called such they are not and it is unhelpful and confusing to call them Sacraments."

When writing that post I uummd and aaahd over whether or not to include a section on the Homilies - after all I had previously pointed out that they give the most authoritative account of the theology and interpretation of the 39 Articles and BCP etc.  In the end, for the sake of brevity (at the best of times I am not well known in either writing or preaching to understand the concept of brevity!), I decided not to include reflection on the Homilies.  Having spoken to some people though I do feel comment needs to be made for, whilst I think they completely support what I said, they are in themselves a very important resource on the matter.  The Homily in question is the "Homily That Common Prayer and Sacraments ought to be ministered in a known tongue"  from the Second Book of Homilies.   There is one section which deals with meaning and number of Sacraments.  For the sake of simplicity, I will copy out this section below. 

 You can find the whole Homily at:     

http://www.footstoolpublications.com/Homilies/Bk2_TongueUnderstand9.pdf   

I would highly recommend you get yourself the actual Book of Homilies and read one a night to the growing and strengthening of your faith in truth.  You can buy it here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Book-Homilies-Church-England/dp/1573833916/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393975347&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Book+of+Homilies





What do the Homilies say?


"Now with like or rather more brevity you shall hear how many Sacraments there be that were instituted by our Saviour Christ, and are to be continued and received of every Christian in due time and order, and for such purpose as our Saviour Christ willed them to be received. And as for the number of them, if they should be considered according to the exact signification of a Sacrament, namely, for visible signs expressly commanded in the New Testament, whereunto is annexed the promise of free forgiveness of our sin and of our holiness and joining in Christ, there be but two, namely, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord. For, although Absolution hath the promise of forgiveness of sin, yet by the express word of the New Testament it hath not this promise annexed and tied to the visible sign, which is imposition of hands. For this visible sign, I mean laying on of hands, is not expressly commanded in the New Testament to be used in Absolution, as the visible signs in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are; and therefore Absolution is no such Sacrament as Baptism and the Communion are. And, though the Ordering of Ministers hath his visible sign and promise, yet it lacks the promise of remission of sin, as all other Sacraments besides do.  Therefore neither it nor any other Sacrament else be such Sacraments as Baptism and the Communion are. But in a general acception the name of a Sacrament may be attributed to any thing whereby an holy thing is signified. In which understanding of the word the ancient writers have given this name, not only to the other five commonly of late years taken and used for supplying the number of the seven Sacraments, but also to divers and sundry other ceremonies, as to oil, washing of feet, and such like; not meaning thereby to repute them as Sacraments in the same signification that the two forenamed Sacraments are. And therefore St. Augustine weighing the true signification and exact meaning of the word, writing to Januarius, and also in the third book of Christian Doctrine, affirmeth that the Sacraments of the Christians, as they are “most excellent in signification”, so are they “most few in number”; and in both places maketh mention expressedly of two, the Sacrament of Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord. And, although there are retained by the order of the Church of England, besides these  two, certain other rites and ceremonies about the Institution of Ministers in the Church, Matrimony, Confirmation of children by examining them of their knowledge in the Articles of the Faith and joining thereto the prayers of the Church for them, and likewise for Visitation of the Sick; yet no man ought to take these for Sacraments in such signification and meaning as the Sacrament of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are, but either for godly states of life, necessary in Christ’s Church, and therefore worthy to be set forth by public action and solemnity by the ministry of the Church , or else judged to be such ordinances as may make for the instruction, comfort, and edification of Christ’s Church."



What does this mean?

In my previous post I said that the earliest commentary on the Articles (and if you look even at the slightly later ones you find the same thing) takes the uncompromising position that those things "commonly called" Sacraments - confirmation, penance/absolution, ordination, marriage, extreme unction/anointing - are simply not Sacraments and should not be called such.  I believe this is the position to hold and to call these other five things 'Sacraments' is confusing, unhelpful, and not strictly speaking true.   Does the Homily support this idea?  Let us have a look.   

The Homily from the start points out that, strictly speaking, concerning the exact meaning of the word there are only two Sacraments: 

"as for the number of them, if they should be considered according to the exact signification of a Sacrament, namely, for visible signs expressly commanded in the New Testament, whereunto is annexed the promise of free forgiveness of our sin and of our holiness and joining in Christ, there be but two, namely, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord"

There can be no doubt that there are only two real Sacraments.  The Homily then goes on to explain why the other five things which are often called Sacraments are not actually Sacraments: namely they are not commanded or given visible order by the New Testament or there is no specific promise attached to them concerning God's conveying grace.


"The earliest commentary on the Articles takes the uncompromising position that those things "commonly called" Sacraments are simply not Sacraments and should not be called such."


The Homily then gets to the most important part for our topic:

Therefore neither it nor any other Sacrament else be such Sacraments as Baptism and the Communion are. But in a general acception the name of a Sacrament may be attributed to any thing whereby an holy thing is signified. In which understanding of the word the ancient writers have given this name, not only to the other five commonly of late years taken and used for supplying the number of the seven Sacraments, but also to divers and sundry other ceremonies, as to oil, washing of feet, and such like; not meaning thereby to repute them as Sacraments in the same signification that the two forenamed Sacraments are.

Only two things are truly Sacraments in the fullest and truest meaning of the word: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.  BUT it is generally accepted that a wider meaning of the word Sacrament is anything by which "an holy thing is signified."  This rather opens the playing field!  The Roman Catholic Church came to the number 7 for the Sacraments as official teaching during the Council of Lyon in 1274, this was reaffirmed at the Council of Florence  in 1438-1445.  The Council of Trent which lasted from 1545-1563 (not all in one sitting!) and gave the definitive response of the Roman Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation likewise said that there were seven Sacraments.

This teaching differs from that held by the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Whilst the Eastern Orthodox, from whom the Roman Catholic Church split officially in 1054, accept that the 'seven sacraments' are indeed Sacraments (and many would say are the primary ones) they do not accept that number.  In the Eastern Orthodox Church what we call Sacraments are called Mysteries - things through which God mysteriously works - and there is no number given to them for God can work through many, many, many things.  Thus for the Orthodox the blessing and using of oil is a Mystery/Sacrament as is the liturgical washing of feet, or the blessing of nuts etc. When the Homily refers to the "ancient writers" it refers to the teaching still followed by the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Numbering the Sacraments at seven is not following the teaching of the apostles or the early church but rather the corrupt teaching of Rome which is at dissonance with the testimony of the early Fathers.  (To be fair the Roman Catholic Church can at times be slightly more nuanced about the number of Sacraments as it says the whole Church is a Sacrament, but in general the definitive number is seven just as in Anglicanism it is two.)  

"If we call these other things sacraments we need to qualify it EVERY TIME by saying that they are not really Sacraments in the truest sense."

So if we use the word sacrament in this much wider and broader sense, then these other five things can indeed be called sacraments - but not Sacraments in the same way or meaning or 'signification' of the Lord's Supper and Baptism.  

The problem with the ACNA Catechism as it stands is that it doesn't say this.  What it says is that there are two Sacraments of the Gospel, and five other things which we can call sacraments and which God conveys grace through.  Hence it asks concerning each of the other five "What grace does God give you in...."  No where in the Homily does it speak of God using these things to convey grace in the same way as the Lord's Supper or Baptism.  No where does the Homily limit this wider meaning to only five things, indeed it widens it to include oil and feet washing - yet these are not mentioned as Sacraments in the ACNA Catechism and as things that God uses to give us grace.  

The Homily ends by making clear why these five things commonly called Sacraments have been retained in some form in the Anglican Church:

"although there are retained by the order of the Church of England, besides these  two, certain other rites and ceremonies about the Institution of Ministers in the Church, Matrimony, Confirmation of children by examining them of their knowledge in the Articles of the Faith and joining thereto the prayers of the Church for them, and likewise for Visitation of the Sick; yet no man ought to take these for Sacraments in such signification and meaning as the Sacrament of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are, but either for godly states of life, necessary in Christ’s Church, and therefore worthy to be set forth by public action and solemnity by the ministry of the Church , or else judged to be such ordinances as may make for the instruction, comfort, and edification of Christ’s Church."

What does this tell us?  It tells us (again) that no one should take these things as being Sacraments in the same way that Baptism or the Lord's Supper are.  Given the number of times this point is repeated in this short section of the Homilies we have been looking at I get the impression that the author is at pains to make this point!  Instead these things are either

-  Godly states of life which people go through and it is good to proclaim and pray for publicly

or

- things which are useful for instruction in the faith, comfort of mind and soul, and the building up or edification of the whole Church of Christ.




So what are we to make of this?


The Homilies affirm the two things that the Articles do - that there are only two real Sacraments in the full and true meaning of the word, and that there are other things which are often, commonly, or generally called Sacraments but which are strictly speaking not.  

What the Homilies add to this is important:  if we use the wider meaning of the word sacrament - something which signifies something holy - then not only should these five commonly called things be called sacraments but so should lots of other things like the blessing of oil or the washing of feet etc.  

The problem today is, and in the current version of the ACNA Catechism, this wider meaning is not explained to the people in the pews and because of how we act and what we say great confusion arises.

If we call these other things sacraments we need to qualify it EVERY TIME by saying that they are not really Sacraments in the truest sense.  In reality this just does not happen.  Indeed the confusion can be seen even in what Ritualists wear.  Whilst, in my humble opinion, no real, historical Anglican should ever wear a stole in the first place, if one does it should be only for the Sacraments: these are only two in number. Yet many Ritualists wear their stoles for weddings, and ordination, and absolution, and anointing, because they are also 'sacraments.'  This practice only brings confusion and shows that despite what they may say (but likely don't) they don't really believe there is any difference in practice between these things and the Lord's Supper or Baptism.  

Today same sex relationships which are recognised by law are "commonly called" marriage.  But they are not Marriage in the true and Biblical sense of the word.  If ministers were to go around calling these relationships 'Marriage' just because under a wider meaning of the word commonly accepted they could be it would cause havoc and confusion.  Whilst this is an extreme example the exact same thing applies to the Sacraments.  As Anglicans we believe that there are only two Sacraments, whilst other things may often be called such they are not and it is unhelpful and confusing to call them Sacraments.

It remains my prayer that the ACNA Catechism will drop reference to these other things as sacraments all together for doing such is not only eminently Anglican but saves everybody the time and effort of rooting out misunderstandings and error in the Church created either unintentional or, regretfully, intentionally.  

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