Friday, August 10, 2007

Reformed Catholicism: The Via Media Church

Browsing around the library at our diocesan conference center the other day, I came across an interesting old book. Written by John Henry Hopkins, the Rector Emeritus of the Church of the Redeemer in Chicago and published in 1941, it has the rather dry title of Practical Confirmation Instructions: Thirteen Lectures (Morehouse-Gorham, 1941). [I’m not sure if this Hopkins is related to the John Henry Hopkins (1792-1868) who was the 8th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.]

Hopkins also wrote a life of his wife, Marie Moulton Graves Hopkins, which you can read here.

The dry title notwithstanding, Hopkins’ Practical Confirmation Instructions is worth pondering – even if parts of it sound abrasive to our 21st Century ears (I think, for example, that his use of the language of “Romanism” and “Romish” is problematic and might be offensive to Roman Catholics). In particular, some of the claims he makes about the character of the Episcopal Church that differentiate it from Roman Catholicism and from Protestantism are important, if not always worded with ecumenical sensitivity. I think that Hopkins wants to say that, as part of the Anglican tradition, the Episcopal Church is the Catholic Church – not Roman Catholic, but not Protestant, either. Rather, we are a genuine via media between the two.

In short, Anglicanism is a distinctive tradition that upholds the ancient catholic faith. The Episcopal Church thus belongs to something much bigger and more ancient than itself.

Hopkins might not agree, but if we were to call ourselves something other than Episcopalians, perhaps we could call ourselves Reformed Catholics.

Here are some excerpts from Practical Confirmation Instructions (emphasis is in the original text).


Page 59:
One point about this lecture should be carefully guarded, namely that it is given not in any unkind or supercilious criticism of other kinds of Christians, whether they be Protestants or Romanists, but simply as plain, important facts which all true Church people ought to know, even if some of these facts are regrettable, as they certainly are.

Page 67:
And, to repeat, this study must be carried on in a spirit of friendliness and humility, not at all in that of arrogance and snippy superiority. The adults will understand that there are two sides to every quarrel, and that much fault is to be found with our ancestors of the historic Church for having allowed the conditions which brought on the Protestant schism in the Church of England.

Pages 67- 68:
This supplement … shows –
1. that the Church of England and, therefore, our own American “Episcopal” Church, her daughter, both have the primitive Faith of early, original, world-wide (Catholic), Christendom;
2. that No new Church of England was “founded” at the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century;
3. how the three branches of the Catholic Church, namely, the English, the Greek or Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Russian Church, and the Romans agree;
4. that the English Church did not separate from the Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation, but only purified herself from the accretions of Romanism, and went back to its original Catholic Faith;
5. that the Romanized branch as added to the primitive Faith, by itself, and therefore unlawfully, the features which constitute “Romanism” as distinguished from Catholicism;
6. the dates of the Romish Councils in Europe that are not accepted by the other branches of the Catholic Church, but which have unlawfully set forth the main additions to the original Catholic Faith which, to repeat, constitute “Romanism” as distinguished from Catholicism.

Pages 73-76:
Comparing the Prayer Book branch of the Holy Catholic Church with some of the Protestant communions started during or since the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century, we note as follows:

1. While the Church of England, and, therefore, our own American Church, her “daughter,” maintain:

a. The ancient Ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons;
b. Clings to the ancient Faith, Sacraments and Liturgy;
c. Continues the old historical Church in the British Isles;
d. Dates back to Pentecost, fifty days after Christ’s Resurrection.

The other religious groups which are non-Roman, a few of which are mentioned here, have only a recent origin, claim only human founders, often name themselves after human leaders, and all reject some or more of the ancient, original, Biblical, world-wide Faith and Order of the Church.

Some reject a good deal. Others reject not so much.

2. Consider, therefore:
a. The Church. She was founded by the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, He Himself being “the Chief Cornerstone,” A.D. 33. She was introduced into England certainly in the Second Christian Century, and tradition says in the First Century.
b. The Congregationalist, also called “Independents.” Also called “Brownists.” Founded by Robert Brown, and introduced into England as a separate group or denomination in 1568.
c. The Baptists, originally called “Anabaptists.” Founded by a German minister in 1523, and introduced into England in 1633.
d. The Quakers, or Friends. Founded by George Fox in England, in 1644.
e. The Presbyterians. Three kinds: German, founded by Martin Luther; French, founded by John Calvin; and Scottish, founded by John Knox, in the years 1520 to 1561. Introduced into England as a denomination in 1649.
f. The Wesleyans or Methodists. Founded by John Wesley’s followers in England, in 1795. John Wesley was a wonderful man. He was a priest in the Church of England. He died in 1791. Before he died, he said, “I live and die a member of the Church of England.” He begged his followers not to leave the Church of England. They did so within five years after his death.

3. There are more than 175 different Protestant denominations of Christians in the United States at present, the great majority of them having come into existence since A.D. 1800. Some have been started since 1850. All of them have, of course, some of the original Christian religion in their teachings. Some have more, some less, none of them have it all, in its primitive and Catholic completeness.

In God’s mysterious Providence, we of the Prayer Book have it all. We should struggle to deserve it. We should greatly desire to share it and spread it.

4. At present we are called the Protestant Episcopal Church. [Note: The General Convention voted in 1967 to add a preamble to the Constitution that says, “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church) …”] That is our legal title. It is found on the title page of the Prayer Book. We are the lineal daughter of the Church of England, inheriting all of her gifts, history, and credentials.

Our present title is misleading, unless carefully understood.

It does not mean that we are “one of the Protestant denominations started at the Reformation.”

It means that we “protest” against the Roman additions to the Catholic Faith set forth in the Prayer Book, but it also can and should mean that we “protest” against the denominational subtractions from that complete Faith, which are found all through the 175 Protestant denominations.

These “protests” are only incidental. We do not exist chiefly to protest.

They are incidental to our position, as we hold firmly the whole Faith of the whole ancient, original, world-wide, Catholic Church.

Of course we honor all of the devotional life and active discipleship of our Lord shown by the earnest members of any and all of these groups, but we do not share their additions or subtractions.

Our title is thus confusing, and should be carefully understood.

It will probably be changed some day for one which will clearly express our historical position and credentials as the American Branch of the Holy Catholic Church.

Pages 78-79:
Our present title is “Protestant Episcopal,” meaning that we “protest” against both Roman additions to and Protestant subtractions from the original, universal Catholic Faith. We will probably change this title some day for one stating clearly our world-wide or Catholic inheritance.

Our “Mother Church,” the Church of England, was not founded by Henry VIII. She was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ and God the Holy Spirit, on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1, 2), fifty days after our Lord’s Resurrection.

Our most practical name is “the Church,” or “the American Church.” Of course, we are in fact “the American Catholic Church.”


Peter said...

You are right in guessing that this John Henry Hopkins is related to the Presiding Bishop by the same name...the author you quote is the PB's son...check it out here:

Very interesting things to ponder, here, thanks!


Peter said...

actually, it may be a grandson...I didn't check the dates...sorry...Peace, Peter

Bryan+ said...

Thanks Peter! I figured there had to be a connection with PB Hopkins, but until your comment I had not found anything on-line to verify it.

I see that Bishop Hopkins' second son Edward studied for a few months at my alma mater - Kenyon College.