A commentary on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians
Chapter 11 from “Enthusiasm” by Msgr Ronald Knox
This Book is still available and should be seen as Spiritual Warfare between Paul and the Mystery religions in the early Catholic Church.
THE CORINTHIANS' LETTER TO ST. PAUL
It is a common assumption, bred in our minds by pious literature and frequent pulpit denunciations that the first age of the Church was in every respect a golden age. So it has appeared, especially to the leader of later enthusiastic* movements. Your (Prayer leader or prophet) prophet who passes for an innovator in the eyes of his contemporaries does not admit the charge; he claims, rather, to be restoring the godly discipline which flourished in apostolic times, now overgrown with neglect. We shall find abundant instances of this claim being made in the chapters, which follow; we shall see religious types, so antipathetic to one another as the medieval Lollard and the seventeenth-century Jansenist, agreed on one point, that antiquity is the mirror of Christian perfection. It may be worth our while, then, to consider, on the very threshold of this inquiry, whether the actual records, which have come down to us, even from the apostolic ages does justify this rose-coloured estimate. Do we really find perfect harmony, severe moral standards, unquestioned loyalty to the apostolic teaching, evinced everywhere among the rank and file of Christendom? Is there not rather reason to suspect that in those early days, error followed hard on the heels of truth, and liberty would not have been slow, but for incessant vigilance, to degenerate into licence?
Among all the New Testament documents, none gives me more strongly this impression of perilous currents flowing in early Christianity than St. Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. And at the same time, none is more germane to our present subject. (the Pentecostal Movement)For they are the same currents, If I have not altogether misunderstood their nature, which have brought several of the enthusiastic movements in later history close to the verge of shipwreck. It is not always easy to reconstruct the lost side of a correspondence, especially when the surviving half of it expresses a mind so full of afterthoughts and half expressed qualifications as St. Paul's did. But, in this one instance he has been at pains to docket his subject-headings in orderly fashion, telling us where he is replying to a direct question sent to him from Corinth, where he is deriving his information from hearsay evidence. Nor do we often complain, as we do in reading the other epistles; that the scent of his argument has got crossed. You picture him, for once, not in a hurry.
What are the lessons he finds it necessary to read to his friends at Corinth? He tells them (1) that they ought to be ashamed of being divided up into parties, as holding by Apollos, or Paul, or Peter (chs. 1-4.) (2) That when a member of their congregation contracts an incestuous alliance, they ought to excommunicate him instead of manifesting pride over what has happened (ch. 5). (3) That they must live uncontaminated by the heathen society around them, instead of having quarrels which they fight out at law, and relapsing into habits of fornication (ch. 6). (4) That virginity is not a precept, but a counsel of perfection, with other advice about marriage and widowhood (ch. 7). (5) That, for fear of scandal and of relapse into heathenism, it is wrong to join in the sacrificial feasts of their heathen neighbours. (chs. 8-11). (6) That women should have their heads veiled in church; that the love-feast which precedes the celebration of the Divine Mysteries ought to be a real manifestation of unity (ch. 11). (7) That the use of preternatural spiritual gifts ought to be regulated and rationed, and that charity is the greatest gift of all (chs. 12-14). The fifteenth chapter, which deals with a denial, by some converts, of the Resurrection, and the concluding chapter, which reminds his readers of the collection to be made for the church at Jerusalem, and adds a series of personal messages, do not belong to our subject.
Now, who in the world were the people who needed to be told all this? Our New Testament commentators, faithful followers in one another's footsteps, will tell you that St. Paul's influence at Corinth was in danger of being undermined by 'Judaizing' teachers. For this statement they adduce no kind of proof; meanwhile, the evidence is all the other way. Would Judaizers encourage incest? Would they discountenance marriage, or the use of marriage? Would they tolerate the eating of meat offered to idols? Would they welcome the sight of women prophesying in public? Surely, if anything, it is a 'Gentilizing' influence that St. Paul here sets out to combat. Some of the rival teachers may have been Jews by birth; 2 it does not follow that they made propaganda for Judaism. To judge it by its external manifestations, the spirit which had got abroad at Corinth betrays, not a Judaistic, but a Marcionite tendency. It foreshadowed the Marcionite heresy that was to arise two generations afterwards, very much as the angel-worship which threatened the faith of Christians at Colossae foreshadowed the coming of Gnosticism.
Marcionism, however, lies outside our orbit. What I would call attention to here is the appearance, in first-century Corinth, of a set of symptoms which we (the Church)have decided to group under the title of enthusiasm. The supernatural germ of life planted in them so recently is in danger of running to seed, and producing a harvest of ultra-supernaturalism. The thing strikes us, at first hearing, as incredible; was it possible so to misinterpret the mind of Paul, when he had been but a few years absent? Yet it is to be remembered that the mind of Paul has been misunderstood all down the centuries; there is no aberration of Christianity which does not point to him as the source of its inspiration, found, as a rule, in his epistle to the Romans. Corinth, after all, was a city well known in a world of sufficiently lax standards as the paradise of the prostitute. The sudden conversion, accompanied by violent emotional experiences, of souls hitherto sunk in debilitating vice might give rise, without difficulty, to a kind of enthusiasm, which would need regulation by an expert in the discerning of spirits. In Corinth, perhaps more than elsewhere, St. Paul's preaching stood out against a background of unconverted Judaism; it appeared, therefore, as a gospel of revolt. It would not be surprising if, when his presence was withdrawn, the more indiscreet among his converts should exaggerate the spirit of revolt into sheer antinomianism. We shall find these exaggerations among the immediate disciples of Fox, of Wesley, and of many other teachers. There is no ground in tradition or in common sense, for supposing that the inerrancy of the apostles in their teaching was at once communicated to all who heard them.
By way of justifying this reconstruction of the Corinthian picture, it will be well to consider, more in detail, the seven main divisions of the letter as I have outlined them above. When we have contemplated the difficulties of the Church in her cradle years, we shall be better fortified against the shock which might be caused to our notions of probability by later developments in 'her history.
The Birth of Sectarianism
St. Augustine, commenting on the expulsion of the traders from the Temple, enlivens the story by identifying them with the leaders of those various factions into which Donatism had broken up since its foundation. 'There is Primianus at Carthage, he has one stall; Maximian, he has another; Rogatus in Mauretania another; there is another in Numidia, sect after sect, now past our powers even to name.' In the same way, ]ansenism in its eighteenth-century phase has already produced a crop of Vaillantistes, Augustinistes, Margouillistes, and so on, all disowned by the official party itself. Schism breeds; for a time the influence of one dominating personality may hold it together, but death or failing powers will diminish that influence, and rival disciples will become the eponymous heroes of fresh disunion. In the first days of Christianity, when the needs of a world waiting to be evangelized made discipline precarious, and encouraged the activities of doubtfully qualified teachers, the Church herself was at the mercy of similar perils. 'Each one of you has a cry of his own, I am for Paul, I am for Apollos, I am for Cephas, I am for Christ'
The commentators are at odds, whether we should understand this phrase as referring to the existence of four different factions, or only three. For myself, on the principle that entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, I have never felt certain there were more than two. St. Paul had preached at Corinth; after he left, Apollos, who had been in contact with his friends but not with the apostle himself, visited the city, and must have made a great impression by the eloquence of his preaching. If Apollos, whose instruction in the faith had been recent, and perhaps a little hurried, left on the minds of these immature converts an impression slightly different from that made by the founder of their organization, was it wonderful that this should lead to controversy, when the teaching given by the two missionaries was compared in retrospect? Apollos, it must be confessed, is an enigmatic figure in history; we hear no more of him, after his refusal to revisit Corinth (16. 12); he has found no niche, I think, in any of the martyrologies. It seems quite possible, in spite of the charity which forbids any personal attack on him, that St. Paul regarded him as responsible for the divisions of opinion which reigned at Corinth. The tribute which St. Luke pays to the eloquence of the Alexandrian may, perhaps, explain the apostle's eager protest chat he was not sent to preach the Gospel with an orator's cleverness; and even his following it up with the quotation 'I will abolish the wisdom of wise men' (1. 17, 19). But if he did intend to give that impression, he quickly found means to efface it. 'All this, brethren, I have applied to myself and Apollos, but it is meant for you' (4. 6). All we know is that there were rival schools of thought at Corinth, one of which used the name of Apollos as its rallying-cry.
One was for Paul, one was for Apollos; did no appeal lie beyond those names? It is surely probable that the adherents of St. Paul, who had visited the city when fresh from his triumph over the Judaizing party at Jerusalem, alleged in defence of his orthodoxy the fact that he was in full agreement with, and in some sense commissioned by, the Apostolic College. Hence 'I am for Cephas'; if you held with Paul, you held with that apostle who was the most representative figure in Christendom. What reply was the faction of Apollos to make? It devised an expedient which has been imitated by sectaries more than once in later times; appealed behind the Apostolic College itself to him from whom the Apostolic College derived its dignity; 'I am for Christ'. There is no mistaking the importance of this first, blundering effort to drive a wedge between the Christianity of Christ and the Christianity of the Church. It meant that you were appealing, away from ecclesiastical authority to the validity of a private revelation; and later chapters abundantly prove that private 'revelations were no rarity in Corinth'. Once you have done that, you have set your feet on the perilous slopes of disunion. Nobody can fail to be struck by the insistence with which St. Paul, in both his epistles to the Corinthians, dwells on his own personal authority. The reason is not hard to seek. He was arguing with men to whom the maxim 'quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus', made no appeal. Only a superior revelation would convince them chat they were on the wrong tack.!
(2) Liberty and Licence
For the sake of clearness, I have distinguished above between the argument of chapter 5 and that of chapter 6; it will be simpler, here, to consider them together. The first eleven verses of chapter 6 are probably a digression; St. Paul has been pointing out that the jurisdiction of the Church does not extend to unbelievers, and he takes a sudden look, as his habit was, the other side of the picture. If only Christians really believed in their solidarity as Christians, no occasion would arise on which it was necessary for unbelievers to have jurisdiction over the Church. In this parenthesis, it must be admitted, St. Paul is not rebuking his converts for drawing too sharp a line between the natural and the supernatural; it is the other way about; they are not drawing the line sharply enough. At the same time, he is probably thinking of the scandal, which lawsuits between Christians give to their watching neighbours. The fear of scandal, in all this early part of his epistle, is never far from his mind.
He had good reason for his apprehensions. 'There are reports of incontinence among you, and such incontinence as is not practised even among the heathen; a man taking to himself his father's wife. And you, it seems, have been proud of it, instead of deploring it, and shutting out the man who has been guilty of such a deed from your company.' To do the Corinthians tardy justice, we may remark that the verb, which is always rendered 'you have been puffed up' has, in Pauline usage, the sense 'you have been contumacious'; they had defied the warnings of authority. It was not that they actually boasted of the enormity. Even so, we rub our eyes at the intimation that Christians of the golden age could defend, even if they did not applaud, such a neglect of primary decencies. To put the offence at its lowest (we hear nothing of the details) marriage with a widowed stepmother was forbidden alike by Jewish and by Roman law. And it is difficult to conjecture what ground can have been alleged for condoning the offence, unless it were that on St. Paul's own principles the Mosaic law must be held to have been abolished, and therefore a breach of the law of affinity was no crime; rather, it was a splendid assertion of gospel liberty. So narrow is the border-line between the supernatural and the ultra-supernatural way of looking at things.
It is unlikely, however, that the urgent warning against fornication at the end of chapter 6 (reiterated in 2 Cor. 12. 21) had reference only to a single incident. Relapse into the habits of low life would seem to have been common among the believers at Corinth; and there was worse behind it than mere weakness of frail human wills. It seems clear that there were those at Corinth who adopted the antinomian attitude; who claimed that sexual purity was a Mosaic scruple, which had disappeared with the other Mosaic scruples. Christian life was a life of the spirit, not of the body; the Christian, therefore, should be above these materialistic taboos. That the apostles had to use their influence to combat such notions, in a world pagan till yesterday, is clear from the decree promulgated at Jerusalem, which included 'abstaining from fornication' among the precepts of the Mosaic law that were to remain in vigour. And the argument on which• those notions were based is fully illustrated by the passage which lies before us (6. 12_20) St. Paul explicitly repeats, what was perhaps a favorite maxim of his own, 'all things are lawful to me', in inverted commas, it is clear, as an argument used by his opponents. It did not apply here; it only applied to ceremonial ordinances, like that of abstaining from certain kinds of meat, no longer binding Wlder the new dispensation. But (he continues in 5. 13) the law of purity is not to be reckoned among these transitory regulations; it has another and a deeper meaning. The body, no less than the spirit, has to be dedicated to Christ. Such reasoning could only be necessary. where there was an antinomian doctrine to be crushed. And the need for it reappears, as we shall see, at frequent intervals in the history of enthusiasm, down to the beginning of last century, if not beyond.
A Hint of Rigorism
The seventh chapter, on marriage and virginity, is what we like to make of it. With the loss of the Corinthians' letter, we have lost the clue to St. Paul's reply. I do not mean merely that some of the situations envisaged are defined in vague terms. I mean that the whole emphasis of the chapter varies, according as you understand it to be answering the question? Is marriage ever allowable? or the question, Is celibacy a Christian ideal at all? The commentators are mostly agreed. and on the whole the tone of the chapter justifies them in assuming, that the Corinthians had expressed the former of these doubts. As later at Ephesus, there were those who forbade marriage, or the use of marriage at any rate. We need feel no surprise at finding traces of such a tendency in a Church prone to the errors we have just been considering; indeed, a reading oflater history will make it appear quite possible that the libertines of chapter vi were actually the rigorists of chapter 7. The same ultra-supernaturalist point of view which looks upon bodily impurity as a mere imperfection among the elect, because it is only something carnal, will, in other moods, condemn the whole institution of marriage as a carnal institution. Some of the Corinthians may have held the doctrine attributed to Molinos, that sins committed in the body could not defile those who were living in the spirit; others, with Ann Lee, may have tried to make celibacy a condition of Church membership.
It would be out of place here to consider all the intricate theology of this chapter, and the debates that have arisen over it. What concerns us is only to point out that this mention of 'forbidding to marry' need not imply a tendency towards Gnosticism. There is no reason to detect, here, those adumbrations of it which clouded the dawn of Christianity at Colossae. For the Gnostic, and for the Manichean, the functions of sex are something which belongs to matter, and is consequently evil. For the enthusiast, they are something which belongs to nature, and is consequently, for better or worse, irrelevant. Gnosticism is an Asiatic phenomenon, obscurely allied with the non-Christian thought of the East. Enthusiasm is a recurring Christian phenomenon, and might easily make a home for itself in first-century Corinth.
(iv) The Antinomian**as Idolater
The chapters on meat sacrificed to idols call for close reading; the argument does not lie on the surface. The apostolic injunction, reported in Acts 15. 29, was plain in its condemnation of any such communicatio in sacris. But that injunction was addressed, specifically, to the Christians of Syria and Cilicia; the Corinthians, naturally, had been taught the same doctrine when St. Paul visited them, but in the absence of any local controversy they may have followed his teaching about such points with languid interest. After all, you bought a piece of meat in the market; who was to know whether it had done duty in temple worship or not (10. 25)? At any rate, some of them were attempting to solve the difficulty on highly ingenious reflex principles, which St. Paul admits as principles, while he denies their application. It is convenient to speak of false gods as if they were something that exist in competition (so to speak) with the true God; but we know that such false gods have no existence outside men's minds. What has been sacrificed to Venus of the Isthmus has been sacrificed only to an. imagination, sacrificed, therefore, only in imagination; it is common meat like any other. We know that, and therefore we can sit in a pagan temple and eat what we will. It is the heathen who does not know, who thinks the gods of his false worship really exist, that sins mortally in eating.
St. Paul's reply is based, in the first instance, on the consideration of scandal. This superior knowledge of which the Corinthians boast is leading to a defiance of authority; if they would only learn to boast about; charity instead!. Charity edifies; recognizes that it has a duty to the souls of others. They are not sinning against their own consciences; but, by their co-operation, they are leading their half converted or unconverted friends into demonstrable sin. In the first twenty-two verses of chapter ix he develops this point, referring to his own carefulness to avoid the imputation of scandal, even pharisaical scandal. He is at liberty to take alms from the faithful, to support his own needs, and, for that matter, the needs of some faithful woman attendant; other apostles have no scruple about doing this. He prefers to work with his own hands, leaving no room for the enemies of the Gospel to accuse him of feathering his own nest. Is it too much to expect, from the Corinthians, respect for the consciences of other people?
It may be worthwhile drawing attention here to a curious philological point. The word scandal, in the sense we have just been giving it, belongs to our Catholic vocabulary; the ordinary Englishman is unfamiliar with it; to him, 'scandal' means uncharitable gossip. Nor has he any equivalent for the word in his own vocabulary. In point off act, he realizes the duty of 'setting a good example' to other people, and he is careful to avoid 'shocking' them, so that his practise is often beyond reproof. But it is as a moralist, not precisely as a Christian, that he makes these allowances for the spiritual existence of his neighbour; as a Christian, he is apt to mistrust the idea of edifying your neighbour, as perilously akin to hypocrisy. How are we to explain this abandonment, by the post-Reformation world, of a theological notion, which St. Paul valued so highly? (Like the two chapters we are considering here, Romans xiv is full of it.) The answer, as I see it, is a curious one. Enthusiasm never managed to take over the direction of the Reformation movement; but the theology of enthusiasm influenced profoundly the Reformation attitude towards life. And for the enthusiast the vocabulary of scandal does not exist. He is so sure of being in the right, that he would hold it an infidelity to countenance the scruples of those who disagree with him. If they are shocked by what he does, he can reply 'Honi soit qui mal y pense'; he is acting under the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and to criticize him is to betray a 'carnal' mind. Anabaptist and early Quaker might 'go naked for a sigll'; the Convulsionist might gesticulate, head over heels, and the Perfectionist throw down the gauntlet, even more decidedly, to common standards of decency-you were not to interfere; it was God's work.
The argument used by the Corinthians was probably much the same. 'We know' -it was a claim, not to worldly wisdom, but to direct spiritual enlightenment. (That is the sense in which St. Paul regularly uses the word 'gnosis'; one which, later, the Gnostics borrowed from him.) That the gospel liberty, the gospel wisdom which he had preached to them should be thus distorted by his converts and pressed into the service of idolatry, was already an ominous , development. But he seems to have detected the currency of a still more dangerous error, which is fatally entwined with the history of enthusiasm. The Corinthians, if they have not already asserted, are already in danger of asserting the indefectibility of grace. It cannot be with any other error in view that St. Paul, at the end of chapter ix, compares the position of Christians with that of competitors in a race, some of whom will be baulked of their prize; adding that he himself, with all that hope of final perseverance which he elsewhere expresses so confidently, is at pains to buffet his own body, and make it his slave, is fearful that he, who .has preached to others, may himself be rejected as worthless. At the beginning of chapter x he resumes the same point, even more forcibly; drawing out a characteristically Pauline parallel between the Christian pilgrimage and the journey of Israel through the wilderness. We Christians have said good-bye to the world, by common consent, just as Israel went out of Egypt, to all appearances a single people with a single common destiny. We have all been mystically enlightened, mystically buried in the tomb of Christ, when we were baptized; just as the Israelites were all 'baptized' in the cloud that illumined them, the sea which engulfed them. We are made one people through the Body and Blood of Christ, as the Israelites were made one people, mystically houselled with the manna from heaven, the water from the riven . Rock. Yet so many Israelites fell away, through idolatry, through impurity, through love of faction; might not the same thing happen at Corinth? Was grace indefectible***? No; anyone who thinks he stands firmly, should beware of a fall'.
If anyone is inclined to ask how the Corinthians, raw novices though they might be in the study of theology, could reconcile this antinomian, perfectionist attitude with the teaching of St. Paul, let him reflect that St. Paul himself was accused by his enemies of teaching it. Let him reflect that all the many enthusiasts down the ages who have fallen into this error have quoted St. Paul, and especially his epistle to the Romans, in their defence. How easily his contrast, in the seventh chapter of that epistle, between the law of the flesh and the law of the mind lends itself to the purposes of a John of Leyden, a Molinos, a Henry Prince! They hear in it the echoes of that madman's logic which seems to them incontrovertible. Trust in God means believing we are predestined to heaven; the predestined cannot sin; but we do perform actions which, in a heathen, would be described as sinful; therefore 'sinful' actions on the part of the predestined are not sin. Somehow or other, they are not true actions; it is the lower self that is responsible for them, and the lower self does not count .... So they argue, never thinking to check the data of Romans by the data of Corinthians; if they would do that, their argument would be arrested in mid-course by the picture of those innumerable bones, bleaching in the wilderness of Arabia.
(5) The Decencies of Public Worship
The eleventh chapter begins with a word of congratulation to the Corinthians on the loyalty with which they adhere to the traditions handed on to them. This is St. Paul's characteristic intimation that he is going to find fault with them for their neglect of tradition. Enthusiasts in the making, they are out of sympathy with all the institutionalist side of religion; rules are meant for the herd, not for the elect. St. Paul selects two instances of this exaggerated free and easiness; he may have had others, too, in mind.
The section which insists on women keeping their heads veiled in church is full of exegetical difficulties. Perhaps the most obvious question that presents itself to the reader's mind is the question why, in this context, the apostle objects to women prophesying with their heads uncovered, whereas at the end of chapter 14 he objects to women prophesying in church at all. No solution really meets the difficulty except the obvious solution-that if women wore thick veils over their faces they had the choice of a strict alternative, to remove their veils or not to prophesy. That devout women, in this as in every other age, were sometimes granted revelations in the course of their private devotions, cannot be doubted; we have the evidence of Acts 21. 9. It was a different matter, whether they were free to communicate these revelations to others at times of public worship. From the Montanist movement onwards, the history of enthusiasm is largely a history of female emancipation, and it is not a reassuring one. Martha Simmonds escorting Nayler into Bristol with cries of Hosanna, Madame Guyon training up her director in the way he should go, the convulsionary priestesses going through the motions of saying Mass at St. Medard-the sturdiest champion of women's rights will hardly deny that the unfettered exercise of the prophetic ministry by the more devout sex can threaten the ordinary decencies of ecclesiastical order. With the arguments which St. Paul adduces we are not here concerned; they are a problem for the exegete. What more concerns us is the appeal with which he closures the discussion, in xi. 16 and again in 14. 36. It is an appeal from local to universal custom, from the liberty of the spirit to ecclesiastical authority. Not even the qualified enthusiasm of a Donatist or a Port-Royalist should have been able to contemplate that appeal without searchings of heart.
The second half of chapter 11 deals with a very different type of religious disorders. Our notions of the primitive Agape are derived, in the main, from the passage before us; we have little in the way of collateral evidence. In Corinth, whatever may have happened elsewhere, it seems clear that the love-feast for which the Christians met before the celebration of the Divine Mysteries took the form of an eranos (pot luck); everyone who came contributed to the meal, no doubt with the implied intention that the rich should supplement the needs of the poor. For whatever reason, the rich Corinthians had formed the habit of coming as early as possible, and eating the food they themselves had brought without waiting for the beneficiaries of the scheme to arrive. Thus the Agape, no longer a bond of unity, had become a source of scandal. By the time the Eucharist was celebrated, 'one man goes, hungry, while another has drunk deep'. Unlike what we mean by Christian worship nowadays-so much more what we should expect (if the whole truth must be told) from some country-side Bethel at the height of a welsh revival. Corinth may have been more highly blessed in this respect than other churches; we can hardly suspect irony, but we can perhaps trace a faint note of surprise, in the congratulation which St. Paul expresses in his opening salutation at the full measure of the spiritual endowments it had received (1. 7). But at the best it will only have been a difference of degree; it was not (as we shall see) till the second century that such manifestations grew rare, and were viewed with misgiving by those in authority.
At .the same time, a second reading of chapters 12-15 does raise a faint doubt in our minds whether all was well, and whether St. Paul felt all was well, with the Corinthian Church. The whole tendency of these three chapters is to limit the scope, and to regularize the use, of supernatural faculties. There is to be no quarrelling over the relative importance of this or that type of manifestation; it is the same Spirit who grants them all (12. 4-11). The prophet, the healer, the speaker with tongues are contributing, severally, to the edification of the Church as a whole; we must not lose sight of unity in diversity (12. 12-27). There is, to be sure, a hierarchy in such matters, but it is not altogether the hierarchy which the Corinthians would have expected; the apostles come first, then the prophets, then (without any claim to miraculous powers) those engaged in teaching. Gifts of healing and speaking with tongues are mentioned in the same breath, to our minds somewhat incongruously, with works of mercy and the management of church fmance (12. 28-30). In a word, the Church is one body, expressing itself in a variety of organs, and it is not necessarily the most interesting of them that are the most significant.
Then follows the great chapter on charity, so familiar to us in isolation that we are apt to forget its relevance to the context. Highest in all the scale of gifts comes charity, greater than any other, indispensable to the right use of any other. We are not to think of it here as meaning the love of God, or as meaning the love of man, exclusively; Catholics are too ready to identify it with the possession of sanctifying grace, while other Christians associate it too closely with acts of kindness towards our fellow men. The main point here is surely that charity is the bond, which unifies the organic body of model to imitate. Nor has such wistful admiration of past things depended, entirely, on the illusion created by long retrospect. A bare century was to elapse before the vagaries of unregulated prophecy called for serious attention, and the Church, not without disaster to one of her most gifted sons, had to try her strength against the solvent forces of enthusiasm.
Christendom, as St. Paul has defined it in his preceding chapter. Useless to ask whether we are speaking of a supernatural quality or of a moral virtue, for it is both. What St. Paul evidently fears, is that an unwholesome preoccupation with the charismata in their more startling forms is creating an atmosphere uncongenial to the exercise of charity; it fosters pride, jealousy, backbiting, and other uncharitable emotions. History has vindicated his fears; the spiritual endowments of a Donatus or a St. Cyran will contribute directly to the Africanism of the Donatist, the aigreur (acrimoniousness) of the Jansenist.
With this danger in view, the apostle proceeds to a series of injunctions (chapter xiv) which will introduce, it may be hoped, some kind of discipline into the behavior of the Corinthians at prayer. Speaking with tongues merely for the sake of theatrical effect is to be discouraged; it is childishness (verses 1-20). A babel of conflicting voices will only confirm the unbeliever in his incredulity, as Isaias prophesied; whereas the gift of prophecy may arouse compunction in him (verses 21-25). There must be no speaking with tongues, unless they can be interpreted (verses 26-28). The prophets are to speak one at a time, giving place to one another; women are not to prophesy in public at all; the congregation must sit in judgment on the prophetic utterances (verses29-3S). Evidently it is the curb, not the spur, that is needed in first-century Corinth. Let these exuberances go unrepressed, and the state of the Church there may anticipate, before long, the scenes enacted in eighteenth-century Paris; scenes which the older and staider element in Jansenism was powerless to control.
'If it goes so hard with the tree that is still green, what will become of the tree that is already dried up?' If such formidable clouds could gather on the horizon of Christendom, when preachers were still living, who retained vivid memories of our Lord's sojourn on earth; when apostles were still endued with mysterious powers of coercing the refractory; when (above all) no schism had loosened as yet the fabric of Church unity, what would be the experience of later and more degenerate times? The same tendencies which had appeared at Corinth would reappear in varying forms under other skies; and the too-ardent souls who favored them would forget the warning tone of the apostle's tender remonstrances, would see, in that chiaroscuro of primitive Christian life, only a tradition to regret, and model to imitate. Nor has such wistful admiration of past things depended, entirely, on the illusion created by long retrospect. A bare century was to elapse before the vagaries of unregulated prophecy called for serious attention, and the Church, not without disaster to one of her most gifted sons, had to try her strength against the solvent forces of enthusiasm.
*Enthusiast.... a visionary who is a fanatic, preoccupied, overly jealous about his or her belief
**Antinomian...Faith alone saves
***Indefectible...incapable of making a mistake in theology..does not sin.
The English Catholic Church and the validity of Anglican Orders
From The Biography of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan
When Herbert Vaughan was Archbishop of Westminster, he became involved in an issue that, in Edward Norman's opinion, was both "unnecessary and irritating." In order to initiate a discussion between Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians, the French Catholic Abbe Portal, and a leading layman of the Church of England, Lord Halifax, chose a topic which instead became the focus for suspicion and misrepresentation. The "device," as it was later referred to, was the validity of the orders of the Anglican priesthood. They hoped that a discussion of Anglican orders would initiate a gradual rapprochement between the Churches that might one day lead to a corporate reunion.
Instead, it resulted in the Papal Bull Apostolicae Curae of Leo XIII on 13 September 1896:
"We pronounce and declare that Ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been and are absolutely null and utterly void."
It was, according to John Jay Hughes, Herbert Vaughan "on whose stubborn and unyielding opposition the soaring hopes of Halifax and Portal were to suffer shipwreck “
The problem of Anglican orders for the Roman Catholic Church did not begin with Portal, Halifax or Vaughan. It was, according to George Tavard, "a creation of the past two centuries." It became a topic among several French theologians in the early eighteenth century when they studied the history and ritual of ordinations in the Church of England. Their debate was reactivated in the nineteenth century. In 1852, at the first synod following the restoration of the hierarchy in England, it was suggested that Anglican ordinations be "solemnly declared null and void." The synod did make such a declaration, for the members believed that Anglican ordinations had already been declared invalid by several popes. The central question concerned the rite of ordination: "Is it capable of doing what is done by the corresponding rite in the Pontifical" of the Roman Church?
"What had been a question turned into a problem when, urged from both sides, Leo XIII examined the thesis of the validity of Anglican orders and found it wanting." He disappointed the expectations of many Anglican clergy who were obliged to be ordained unconditionally if they wished to enter the Catholic communion as priests, and others, both Roman Catholics and Anglicans, who hoped to move towards a corporate reunion. The legacy of the controversy, and the disappointment of many who looked forward to reunion, remains alive.
Cardinal Herbert Vaughan was a leader of the opposition and he did not stand-alone. He represented the English bishops. He established a commission set up to study the issue in 1895. It was made up of Canon James Moyes, Dom Adrian Gasquet, and the Franciscan David Fleming. They concluded in their 1896 report that Anglican orders are null, and Anglican clergy who converted must always be ordained again absolutely and not conditionally. In Rome, the future Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val acted as the agent for the English bishops at the Vatican and lobbied on behalf of a negative answer by the Pope to the proposition.
There were English Catholics who did not share that view. Among the upper classes some were sympathetic to the English Church Union, a society of Anglican clergy and lay people formed for the defense and maintenance of Catholic principles in the Church of England. The Union was founded in 1844 by Anglo-Catholics, within the Anglican Church. From 1868 its president was Charles Lindley Wood, the second Viscount Halifax, a man personally inclined toward the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope had censured Roman Catholic members of the Union in 1865. Between 1894 and 1897 the old schemes of the Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom (APUC) were revived, "despite the censure of its attitudes and assumptions by the Holy See in 1865." In the 1890s, Anglican sympathizers initiated the idea of reunion. Lord Halifax was its leading promoter.
Lord Halifax while on the island of Madeira with his family in the winter of 1889-90, met a French Vincentian, thirty-four-year-old Abbe Etienne Fernand Portal, a student of the reforming Bishop Felix Dupanloup of Orleans. Abbe Portal was on the island partly for his health and partly in connection with work, he was doing for the Sisters of St Vincent de Paul. Halifax found him extremely kind and one of "the quickest and most intelligent people I have ever met." According to Snead-Cox, the men soon discovered they had many common interests, and took long walks together discussing the condition of religion in their own countries. Portal was equally impressed with Halifax. "Here was a representative of the Anglican Church, the President of the English Church Union, and yet what a little seemed to separate him from Catholicism!" Following their meeting, for the "astonished Abbe, all things seemed possible, while the work of doing everything that could be done to put the position of the Anglican Church fairly before Catholic Europe became an imperative duty. To bring about a reunion between England and Rome seemed a project which required only patience and good-will."
Halifax, however, represented only a very narrow section of his co-religionists. Within the Church of England, ritualism and Anglo-Catholicism were attractive to some, but aroused fierce antagonism on the part of many others. One faction called it "Anglo-Romanism," and felt that the movement did not belong within the Protestant establishment. Ritualism, especially in the use of the confessional, was unpopular among the middle classes and evangelical churchmen. In addition, there were divisions and tensions within the Anglo-Catholic movement, which surfaced later in the Cavalier case of 1899. Therefore, Lord Halifax was representative of an ambiguous position within the Anglican Church. Nonetheless, during 1892, Portal and Halifax corresponded and searched for a way to unify the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church in the near future. They decided that a discussion about the validity of Anglican orders was one way to reach the goal of corporate reunion. According to John Jay Hughes, theirs was a daring idea for the time "too daring as the sequel was to show." In July 1892, Halifax visited Cardinal Vaughan at Westminster and presented his plan. From the outset, Vaughan made it clear that the recognition of the Pope's primacy was the decisive element and not the validity of Anglican orders. According to Hughes, Vaughan was honestly convinced that Halifax's movement was a threat to the Roman Catholic Church and faith. "He made use of every means at his disposal to thwart what Halifax and Portal were attempting. Given his convictions, it is difficult to see how Vaughan could have acted otherwise."
Vaughan wrote in February 1894:
“Halifax and his party are anxious to get some kind of recognition anything that and could be twisted into a hope of recognition will serve their purpose. They wish to keep people from becoming Catholics individually and tell them to wait for a corporate reunion. He wrote this will never be until after the Last Judgment and all the poor souls that will be born and die in heresy before reunion must suffer in their own souls for this chimera of corporate reunion. They are also most anxious to get some kind of assurance about their Orders, at least the statement that they are possibly valid! But, this again is to keep souls back from submission to the Church”.
What Hughes terms Vaughan's "ruthlessly logical approach" finds support in observations made by Snead-Cox and Wilfrid Ward. Snead-Cox noted that Vaughan's application of some theological proposition to everyday life often had "little regard for the special circumstances and without a thought for such an irrelevancy as the feelings of the person concerned." Wilfrid Ward saw Vaughan as a man with "a curious combination of romantic ideals with intensely unromantic details." He had seen a Vaughan who could override, "almost brutally, the romance of ordinary home life and human love if they stood in his path. Nothing could be more practical than the means he took. He followed the well-known General's advice to his soldiers, for according to Ward, "he kept his powder dry while he said his prayers. In the mean time Portal had thrown himself into the scheme and published in France, under the pseudonym F. Dalbus, a pamphlet entitled "Les Ordinations Anglicanes." In it, he called the consecration of Matthew Parker, who had been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1559 by Elizabeth I, valid in terms of the "historical facts," but expressed doubt concerning the "intentions" of the consecrator. The pamphlet achieved "an astonishing popularity, and attracted the attention of many scholars on both sides of the English Channel" when it was reviewed by Abbe Louis Duchesne, a church historian and author of the Liber Pontificalis, in the Bulletin Critique. Duchesne used Catholic teaching on the sacraments to argue against Portals' treatment of intention and said, that "the conclusion is, that Anglican Orders may be regarded as valid.’’ Hughes considers the purpose in bringing up the issue of "intention" as a tactical move to get the discussion moving.
Just as Ambrose Phillippe De Lisle had convinced Nicholas Wiseman, who had in turn convinced Pope Pius IX, that a substantial part of the Church of England was ready to reunite with Rome, so also did Portal and his supporters in Rome convince Leo XIII that the Anglican Church was ready to submit. "I hear they are on the point of coming over," Pope Leo told Vaughan, who, Edward Norman writes, "had to bear the onus of seeming to be unresponsive and un-open to the daring vision of a wider movement of opinion." Even the historian Abbot Gasquet, "with realism that was like Vaughan's, whose opinions he was representing in Rome on the question-was lectured by Leo on 'how the whole nation was being drawn to Catholicism.'
In an interview on his first day as Archbishop, Vaughan was asked about Protestants and the Church of England. He stated clearly that "I recognize Protestants as fellow Christians but I do not recognize their religion as the true faith." He continued: "There are two currents even in the Church of England itself today-one towards Catholicism and the other towards rationalism. It is only what I would expect in a church of so many inconsistencies." In September 1894, Portal visited Halifax in England and was introduced to Anglican bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury, E. W. Benson, was very cool to the idea and just as sure of his convictions as Herbert Vaughan. At the same time, Vaughan was annoyed that Portal did not come to visit him at Westminster. Vaughan, writes Hughes, could understand the Church of England as a "thoroughly Protestant and Erastian institution" but not the position of an Anglican like Halifax, nor Portal's advocacy of "friendly theological discussions" that might lead one day to corporate reunion. The Church of England, as he saw it, was a familiar enemy he could come to grips with, "an age-old foe which had oppressed his forefathers." He would not accept dealing with a Church, that claimed to be "the ancient Catholic Church of this land," whose archbishop and others denounced him and other Roman Catholics with scorn as "the Italian mission," who "claimed to feed its children in the Eucharist with the true body and blood of Christ, and to forgive their sins in the sacrament of penance as truly as the pope himself this was too much for Herbert Vaughan."
Vaughan's answer to calls for a "gradual 'rapprochement' was characteristically simple and straightforward submission." He was to repeat it time after time "with a sublime disregard of its negative 'psychological effect. Individual submission to the see of Peter, he said in a speech at Bristol on 9th September 1895, was the only hope there was for reunion, and the greatest obstacle to this submission was pride." Any other path suggested for reunion was to him a snare and a delusion, a "trick of Satan to keep people back from the truth.”
Portal went to Rome and saw Cardinal Rampolla, the Vatican Secretary of State, to whom he gave his impressions of the Church of England. The next day he met with Pope Leo XIII for an hour. Portal suggested that the Pope call for a conference between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches. He returned on the third day in hope of receiving a letter from the Pope for Archbishop Benson of Canterbury, but instead he received one from Cardinal Rampolla. The Secretary of State's.1etter praised Portal's efforts and expressed a hope that England "return to the only center of unity."
Portal then traveled to England to visit the Archbishop of Canterbury again and received an even cooler reception than the first time. Benson considered it imprudent for such a momentous interview with Halifax and Portal to be just sprung upon him and was "deeply annoyed, and made no attempt to dissimulate his feelings." Snead-Cox quotes Benson: "Portal had seen only one side of English Church life with Lord Halifax; and that the Pope could have no complete view of England before him.
Halifax met Pope Leo XIII and proposed a direct offer to the Anglican bishops, bypassing Cardinal Vaughan. Abbot Gasquet brought the news to Vaughan that the Pope had decided to write such a letter to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Vaughan asked Gasquet to return to Rome, and the Cardinal came close behind, arriving on the evening of 19 January 1895. The next day he saw the Pope at 12 noon.
Vaughan wrote to Fr Farmer at Mill Hill about his visit to the Pope. He had gone first to Cardinal Rampolla and suggested that if the Pope wrote the letter “Ad Anglos”, he should do it as an appeal to all who were seeking the truth in England, just as Jesus did when he taught his disciples how to pray. "I urged upon him the need of trusting more thoroughly to the supernatural in the central government of the Church."
On 28 January 1895, Vaughan went to see the Pope. He had been warned by Gasquet through Moyes that the Pope had been convinced by Dalbus and the "French influence" in Rome about the possibility of reunion. "One idiot," Gasquet continues, "advised the Pope to write to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York." "We Catholics have all along misjudged most unfairly the position of these good men," the Pope wrote in a letter received privately by Gasquet. In the matter Gasquet thought "it a most fatal policy to give home authority away like it has done.. No doubt the Cardinal will hear about it when he goes to Rome."
Vaughan gave Farmer an unflattering description of Pope Leo's appearance during his visit: "When he opened his mouth there appeared here and there some rather unpolished tusks-probably not over four or five-a great mouth and dark eyes in a deeply set-face crumpled and not well shaven."
Vaughan was greeted "affectionately" and asked, if he had anything interesting from England. "I said I had brought him the results of the bishops' meeting of January 4th." Vaughan first spoke of their request to withdraw the prohibition against Catholics attending Oxford and Cambridge. He then commented to Farmer about the conversion of England: "If he appears before England as the Doctor of prayer like his Divine Master, no better preparation could be made for any doctrinal encyclical he might issue later on.. This is a matter that needs much prayer." The "great work for the conversion of England is thus now in the balance and next week or so may determine whether I am under a delusion or not as to one of the measures that have to be adopted by the Holy Father. "Halifax "and his party" were looking for recognition. "They are also most anxious to get some kind of assurance about their orders, at least a statement that they are possibly valid! But this again is in order to keep souls back from submission to the Church. I have my hands quite full with pressing these facts on people here. At the same time it is most important to keep in touch with these people and if possible to lead them to the truth." In his conversation with the Pope, Vaughan emphasized that there was no chance of corporate reunion and the only prospect was in the increasing number of converts who were coming into the Roman Church.. He warned the Pope of Anglican intentions and that they were "all opposed to the supremacy of the Pope, and that his letter could not alter that.." Leo Xll finally told Vaughan that he would issue an "Encyclical on the Church and her Head in the middle of this year, if he lived so long?“
From the English College Vaughan wrote to Carmel, Notting Hill, concerning the issue, on 25 February 1895: "It has been an unspeakable consolation to me to find that the Vicar of Christ has fully entered into the supernatural way of dealing with England by means of prayer. Lord Halifax is coming out to see and argue! with the Pope. I am in correspondence with him and he is in great need of prayer.. Though so good and earnest, it will be a miracle if he, the head of a sort of sect, is converted. But what cannot prayer do! 'If Stephen had not prayed, Paul would not have been converted' says St. Augustine." On 13 March he wrote again from Rome that "Lord Halifax arrived today and came to me at once to have a good talk. The Holy Father will see him, but I have not much hope of a good result.
Abbot Gasquet had seen the Pope at the end of January in the presence of the new Secretary of State, Rafael Merry del Val. After the Pope finished speaking, Gasquet took the opportunity to support the warning given earlier by Vaughan. Merry del Val, part English himself, supported Gasquet. According to Hughes, without the assistance of Rafael Merry del Val, "none of those who worked so hard for the condemnation of Anglican orders-not: Gasquet, nor Moyes, nor even Cardinal Vaughan himself could have achieved the outstanding success which ultimately crowned their efforts." By 1896, for example, Merry del Val, a confidant of the Pope, was convinced that Portal was "spreading heresy and poisoning people's minds." The Pope called in Rampolla, and Gasquet repeated what he had told Pope Leo. "That interview was decisive, and the Pope knew that the dream of corporate reunion was not to come true in his time."
On 14 April 1895 the Pope issued an apostolic letter, Amantissimae voluntatis, addressed to the English people, urging that a discussion of the validity of ordinations might lead to a conference which could start the process towards reunification. According to Derek Holmes, it is clear that this call by the Pope
for the English people to pray for the light to know the truth in all its fullness was influenced by Gasquet, Vaughan and Merry del Val. The letter was published in England on 22 April. It was not addressed to the Anglican Archbishops or to the Church of England, but to the whole nation: "To the English people who seek the Kingdom of Christ in the unity of the Faith." It was an invitation for England to pray for the truth. Towards the end of the letter Ad Anglos, the Pope urged Roman Catholics to pray the rosary for the conversion of England and granted indulgences for doing so. In general, the letter was well-received in England. Even Archbishop Benson spoke of its "honest appeal" but noted that it made no mention of the Anglican Church. Vaughan wrote to Carmel from Paris on 11 May 1895, informing Mother Mary that had he been that day to see the Cardinal Archbishop about an appeal he planned to make throughout the convents of Europe for prayers for England. He had already begun at Orleans. "I have today recommended you and your anxiety to the Mother at Notre Dame des Victoires. I spend my mornings there, not without fruit. "
Vaughan explained to Fr Farmer that he had written directly to the Pope: "My letter to him has been a very bold thing to do--but I have done it deliberately." The letter referred to was probably that of 25 August 1895: "The extreme importance to the Church in England of the way in which the Anglican question is treated by Rome is my apology for writing direct to your holiness." Vaughan warned that it would be a serious mistake if a decision on Anglican orders were made in Rome, "reversing the practice of the Church from the very beginning of the Anglican heresy," without having fully heard from the theologians and historians of the Catholic Church in England. He did not object to "French Ecclesiastics identifying themselves with Lord Halifax," but asked that the Pope allow the English hierarchy to "see their
statements and arguments." "We fear lest matters closely concerning the Church in England should be discussed and carried on towards a decision without our knowledge and behind our back."
Vaughan was in favor of an examination of the question but "if the representatives of the Catholic Church in England are excluded, while foreigners who are partisans obtain a place and a dominant influence in certain quarters, the discontent and mischief in England will be of the gravest kind."
He then reminded the Pope that the previous April he had asked that if a commission on the subject of Anglican orders were formed, he would be informed and the Pope would appoint two or three English experts to the commission. Shortly after an announcement at the Preston Conference, in September 1895, that Rome was going to reopen formally the question of the validity of Anglican orders, a committee was formed in London to consider the evidence. The year 1896 was also to see the publication in June of the encyclical De Unitate addressed to all the bishops of the Church. In March 1896 Pope Leo XIII appointed an international commission to meet in Rome to look into the question. Cardinal Mazzella presided and Merry del Val was secretary; Merry del Val kept Vaughan informed. The members of the commission were Gasquet, de Augustinis, Duchesne, Gasparri, Fleming, and Moyes. The pro-validity members also had the help of Anglicans, Lacey and Puller, who supplied them with information from England. Two more members were added: Fr T. Scannell and Jose Calasanzio de Llevaneras.
On 30 April 1896 Vaughan wrote to Archbishop James Smith in Scotland asking for his support:
"The English Bishops have unanimously desired me to express to the Holy See their opinion on Anglican orders. They consider that any departure from the tradition of 300 years, during which the Church has treated them as invalid, would be a shock and a scandal to the faithful. They hold that Anglican Orders are not valid and would pray the Holy See to declare them invalid, if such be its judgment. They consider that this modern pretension of Anglicans to possess sacerdotal powers is being pushed, and that recognition of them by Rome is being sought, in order to give color to the Anglican Communion to be an integral part of the Church Catholic, and hinder conversions. It would be exceedingly valuable if we could add the adhesion of the Irish and Scotch Archbishops to our letter to the Holy Father. I should, therefore, be very grateful if your grace would give me your adhesion to this letter, or a letter, which I might use, not of course for publication!
The commission met on twelve occasions between 24 March and 5 May 1896. Vaughan's letter, in the name of the bishops of England and Wales, accompanied by letters of support from Archbishop Smith and the bishops of Ireland and Scotland, was sent to Mazzella on 10 May 1896. Tavard considers the document disingenuous: "It showed both a ferocious determination to stop any recognition of Anglican orders, and a great ignorance of the theological mood of the Church of England past and present." In his opinion, the emotional appeal of the letter needs to be remembered. The devil was "at work in the Anglo-Catholic movement," and a happy result might be expected from a condemnation; a large influx of converts. It was a line of thought that could not be dismissed by a pastorally-minded pope, who lived before the start of the ecumenical movement." The final vote took place on 7 May 1896. Voting for recognition of Anglican orders were Louis Duchesne and the Jesuit Emilio De Augustinis. Pietro Gasparri and another member said that the orders were doubtful. "The Vaughan group voted against it." According to Tavard, the commission could not reach a conclusion and handed its documentation to the Dominican Raffaele Pierotti. Leo XIII asked him to sum up the commission's work and present the findings to the Holy Office, which would make a formal recommendation to the Pope!
On Thursday, 16 July, the Holy Office met in the presence of the Pope and voted unanimously that Anglican orders were not valid. Only the Secretary of State, Mariano Rampolla, was absent. On 10 August Vaughan wrote to Mother Mary of Jesus from Llandrindod, Wales:
I am having a novena to our Lady to help the Holy Father in the matter of Anglican Orders. It is important that nothing should be said of his intentions, because your Abbe Portal, and my Halifax and one of my own colleagues in Rome would exert every effort to hinder the condemnation of Anglican Orders, if they thought a condemnation likely. I hear all over the country they are resting in their sacerdotal offices and care very little for the Encyclical compared to the idea that they are sacrificing priests. This is the last ruse of the devil to keep the people in heresy and schism. Much prayer is therefore needed just now."
The validity of Anglican orders was formally rejected in the papal document Apostolicae Curae of 13 September 1896. It was composed by Merry del Val.32
The expectation that the numbers of conversions would increase if submission to the authority of the pope was clearly demanded was not fulfilled. The Pope, one month after the decision, sent a letter to Vaughan concerning the economic hardship experienced by converted Anglican clergymen. Leo XIII expressed his own ideas on conversions from the Anglican Church and, from his initiative, the Convert's Aid Society was formed.
Labels: anglican orders, anglican priesthood; Anglican church; Anglo catholic; True faith; Ad anglos: Apostolicae Curae, protestant priests