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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Eucharist, Ecumenism and the Episcopacy



I have been thinking a lot about the Eucharist and the need to labour for a real ecumenical enterprise with hopes of it coming into fruition. One of the things that Andrewes reminded me of in my reading of him is that it is one thing to pray for the unity of the Church and it is altogether another thing to labour for it. I have come to firmly believe that there will be little to no unity in the Church without an episcopal structure. Unity is impossible to exist without the Church being centred around its Bishop who is centred on Christ. Look around at Protestantism and its many factions and schisms shows the necessity of the episcopacy for real unity. It is pride that keeps us from submitting to those who rule over us (Heb. 13.17). We simply do not care to be ruled in our ever-growing individualistic worldviews. But, until the Church recognises that unity will not be maintained without an episcopate, the Church will continue to divide itself. The problem is getting around these 'self-proclaimed defenders of the faith' who believe their individual calling is to determine the purity or lack of purity in the Church. Some will assert their authority through their paper popes and call them a confession of faith. Making any headway with these characters is difficult because their soul authority is their private interpretation of the Scriptures. It's as if the Church hasn't been reading the scriptures for 2,000 years; and being led to do so by the Holy Spirit. These are the people who, as Luther said so rightly, have Popes in their own bellies. They decide what and to whom they will submit. They pick and choose Church custom and liturgical practices based upon their own taste. They may romantically talk of the Church's authority and importance but it is frequently subject to their interpretation and the will of the democratic vote of a committee. Like G.K. Chesterton once asked, what park has ever erected a monument to a comittee? Uniformity is a threat to schismatics. If there is disagreement on a theological point, then they decide that it's time to pack up and move to other fields. Pride is at the heart of this problem.

In my Lenten reading, I have been following the reading of the Fathers. St. Ignatius of Antioch makes this very point that I have written above. He writes,
CHAPTER III.--AVOID SCHISMATICS.
Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found any division among you, but exceeding purity. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ.].

CHAPTER IV.--HAVE BUT ONE EUCHARIST, ETC.
Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God.
What this doesn't mean is that there is a 'pure' episcopacy presently to follow. One could just as easily look around those churches with an episcopal structure and see all sorts of abuses. What will give in these situations? How do we keep what St. Ignatius is calling the Church to keep? This is a tough question but one that must be asked if we are going to reach an ecumenical enterprise that Jesus calls us to work towards. I am increasingly convinced that the abuse of the episcopacy is not an open door to abolish the episcopacy but to correct the errors of those who are called to maintain and uphold the faith once delivered to the Saints. We must get our heads around this important ecclesiological point if we are going to ever have true unity that matches that of the Church, which Jesus established. The episcopacy may need some reforming but unity will not be possible if it is demolished.

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    O God, most glorious, most bountiful, accept, we humbly beseech thee, our praises and thanksgivings for thy holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all who bear the name of Christ; for the faith which it hath conveyed in safety to our time, and the mercies by which it hath enlarged and comforted the souls of men; for the virtues which it hath established upon earth, and the holy lives by which it glorifieth both the world and thee; to whom, O blessed Trinity (+), be ascribed all honour, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.
    --Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

Societas Sanctae Crucis

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