The “Pro-Roman” Position, by Charles Chapman Grafton (1908)

To the Editor of The Living Church:[1]

WE have read with much sympathy the article in your late issue in behalf of pro-Romanism. We believe those who agree with it are loyal Churchmen and have a right to a place amongst us. Our heart’s desire is that we Catholics, who are a feeble folk and small in number, shall keep in loving union. We have grown together by years of suffering and struggle and must not let questions which are largely academical divide us into factions.

Will my pro-Roman friends give one who for sixty years has been in the fore-front of the battle a kindly hearing? God, in His good providence, has placed us here in this portion of His vineyard with a special work to do in reviving in the Church its Catholic heritage and preparing souls for their exaltation into the kingdom of Glory. This is our great mission, and if I may so say, the terminus ad quem of the Catholic movement.

We have all of us, at times, sorrowed with our Lord over the condition of a divided Christendom and desire to see its reunion. But we must be careful in our spiritual life not to make of reunion an idol, nor, by determining the way in which it might be brought, to dictate seemingly to Almighty God. The Church is Christ’s Church and not ours, and as He can make all things work together for good, even the sins of men, so He can the division of Christendom. Christ prayed both for internal unity and the outward union of His Church, and His prayer was accomplished. The Apostolic Church became one by unity of a divine life sacramentally given that cannot be broken; also for a thousand years it was, with some disorders, practically united. Through the sins of men, Christian fellowship has been interrupted, but whether it is God’s will that it should be reunited by restoring inter-communion, or otherwise, no one can affirm. He did not pray or promise that if union was once lost it should ever be restored. He did not bring the Jewish nation together after its disruption, and we cannot affirm that it is God’s will to do so to the Christian Church. So far as God’s will is made known to us in Holy Scripture it does not look like it. For the prophecies concerning the Church foretell its outward rending. The gates of hell will not prevail against it, but it is not said they shall not divide it. While the inner garment of Christ was preserved in its entirety, the outward garment was rent in pieces. While it was prophesied that no bone of His body should be broken, and thus unity should be preserved, it was also written that all His bones should be “out of joint.” The gospel ship in which salvation was promised nevertheless outwardly goes to pieces, though all in it are saved. In the latter days we know that both sun and moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall fall, and “when Christ cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?”

We cannot, therefore, say but that it is the will of His good pleasure to let the divisions existing remain and to work through each to the gathering in of the predestinated number of the elect. We must, therefore, not make an idol of any scheme or theory or plan of our own concerning the Church’s earthly future, for doing so only brings distress and unsettlement of mind; but we must learn to rest securely in His dear will, though it is a hidden will of God.

If, indeed, it is His purpose to reunite divided Christendom, then is it not more likely that the reunion should begin by an establishment of our recognition by the East? We are but very slightly separated from the East in doctrine, and more like the Orthodox Churches there than we are now in agreement with Rome. From Rome we differ in our form of Church government, having for our final authority a General Council, and, with the East, rejecting the monarchial idea of the Papacy. Our rule of faith differs from that of Rome, which involves a belief in the Papal infallibility, and so does that of the East. We reject together the dogmas of Papal infallibility and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. While agreeing with the East in allowing a married clergy, we differ from Rome in this and its discipline, give with the East the Blessed Sacrament in both kinds, and have the services in a tongue understood by the people. Is it not rather, then, through the East that union should first come, if reunion is the will of God’s good pleasure?

Of course we recognize that there is a difference between ourselves and our pro-Roman friends in regard to the Papacy. We believe that there is a difference between the mediaeval and modern monarchical Papal claims and the precedence of honor and dignity of the early ages, While some of our pro-Roman friends give a minimizing interpretation to the Vatican decrees, we must, as serious thinkers and practical men, take the interpretation of them as given by accredited authorities. According to Roman authorities the Pope is “the source and fountain of all jurisdiction.” The appointment of all Bishops is claimed by him. He is the source of all legislation, so that the Church without him can do nothing. He is, in a word, the absolute monarch of the Church, and apart from general councils, his utterances, when he speaks ex cathedra, are infallible. Along with the Eastern Church We believe this claim to supremacy is largely the outcome of a human spirit and the great cause of the divisions of Christendom.

Your correspondent refers to the statements of Harnack and Dr. Briggs concerning the Papacy, but the environment of neither has been such as to give them a spiritual insight into the gospel system or make them authorities for Churchmen. We possess no such Biblical learning as either of these scholars, but we venture humbly to state that we know more about the relations of the blessed apostles, including St. Peter, than either of them. We have stated the discoveries the Holy Spirit enabled us to make in our book, Christian and Catholic, which we believe if our friends will seriously consider they will abandon their view that the modern monarchical Papacy is entitled to any divine authority.

How in this condition of things can union be ever brought about? Certainly not by any arrangement or scheme of theologians. No joining together in such wise as diplomats might arrange an alliance or union of nationalities would result in any spiritual benefit to either party or to the world. A restoration of Christian fellowship to be spiritually effective must be brought about by the action of the Holy Ghost leading all parties of the Church to repentance for their own sins and those of their forefathers. If Peter is to strengthen his brethren he must first of all be converted.

Catholicity and the Papacy are two distinct things. One is of God, the other largely of man. Until the Papacy is repented of and given up, reunion with Rome is impossible; and if this is impossible, so, too, reunion with Rome is. Our pro-Roman friends, we fear, will not agree with this, and holding what they do, these courses of action are those apparently open to them:

First, believing in the divine authority of the Papacy, they might individually submit to it.

Secondly, holding that their orders, in which they believe, prevent this, then to work for reunion with Rome by making our Church as like her as possible; and to show their sincerity in the importance of this, for those who are married to separate themselves from their wives.

Thirdly, if this plan involves an immoral rejection of obligations they have assumed, then to apply for some sort of a Uniat Church, which, while it would involve the desertion of their posts of duty and assumption of the responsibility of the harm done to souls, and involve a reordination and create another scheme, would, on the other hand, allow of the retaining of their wives and give them the gratification of a smug little Church all by themselves with the academical delight of using King Edward the Sixth’s liturgy.

Or, lastly, they might give up their own wills and submit to God’s will, who can overrule the divisions of Christendom to His own ends of gathering in the predestinated number of the elect. Then would they be at peace in their own souls, and would find that they could work best for the union of Christendom, if that was God’s will, by staying where they are and helping on the good, work of developing our own Church’s Catholicity.

We shall do our best work for reunion by standing firmly for the ancient Catholic faith as set forth by the Ecumenical Councils, and by working for the renewal amongst ourselves of a true Catholicity, and cultivating a spirit of charity towards all in our own communion, and a greater trust in God.

C. C. Fond du Lac.
Baltimore, Feb. 11, 1908.


[1] The Living Church, February 22, 1908, pp. 567-568.

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Filed under Anglo-Catholicism, Episcopal Church history, Liturgy

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