Brooke Lunn, January 2006
This book was published in 1902 when Spencer Jones was Rector of Batsford with Moreton-in-Marsh. It runs to 440 pages, plus an introduction of 16 pages by Viscount Halifax, and a preface of five pages by the author. It is subtitled An Essay towards Reunion, and is written primarily for the benefit of the English people and members of the Church of England, to commend to them the idea of reunion with the Holy See. It is not an attempt to commend the Church of England to the Holy See with a view to reunion. In 1902 anti-papal, anti-Roman, anti-catholic sentiment was still widespread in our society. This sentiment remains into our time, though much diminished in a society where Christianity itself is increasingly marginalised.
The Preface gives some indication of the author and his motivation:
If in the following pages I speak for the most part in the first person it is because I am speaking only for myself. I have to shelter myself, therefore, under the well known saying that in questions of this kind egotism is true modesty…
My thoughts have been running upon the subject of Reunion for thirteen years; and I have made some attempt to analyse what I think may be described as the chronic difficulty of the Anglican Church; until at the last I feel constrained to speak…
My general aim is to contribute materials for discussion and to do something towards restoring the great doctrine of unity to that position in the context of Christian thought which properly belongs to it; and the leading idea throughout is the principle of proportion as applied to any progressive movement that may arise in the direction of Reunion with the Holy See…
For the rest, if the unity of the Church is destined to become one of the commanding and controlling thoughts of the New Century, words recently uttered by the late deeply revered Bishop of Durham may here be set down in order to give a certain stamp and seal to this project. “If I were to choose a motto,” he said in his annual charge to his clergy (1900), “If I were to choose a motto for the coming age I should say that its work and its aim lies in applying to every relation of life the truth which is now dawning upon us, ‘Ye are all one man in Christ Jesus.’ ”
In seeking to commend the Holy See, the writer puts forward a principle which he terms proportion. He sees a great disproportion [p.23] between our attitude towards Dissent and our attitude towards the Holy See. We are fair towards the former and unfair towards the latter. His principle of proportion, therefore, requires equal fairness in our attitude to others. This fairness requires that we seek to know and understand others before forming judgements; that is, that we should consciously avoid prejudice.
Much of the Essay is taken up with exploring particular areas of prejudice, seeking to throw light on these areas, and so eradicate false and unfair judgements. The largest chapter, more than a third of the book, entitled ‘Hindrances and Helps’, looks at some of these areas, seeking to clarify and so assist fair judgement. The area most treated is the place of the Bible in the catholic Church. Other areas include The Blessed Virgin, Infallibility, Indulgences, Images, Jesuits, and so on. It is a measure of change that I understand why Jesuits were included, for when I was young our protestant world presented them as bogeymen. Today Ignatian spirituality is appreciated well beyond the bounds of the catholic Church.
Spencer Jones sees three types of unity:
Unity, Saint Peter, and Divisions
Unity, Saint Peter, and Divisions
The question is, are we to wind up our dogma at the risk of alienating men, or are we to relax it in order to attract them?
The Undenominational type of Unity follows the latter course, and the Catholic type of Unity the former.
The basis of Undenominational Unity is a common sentiment; and of Catholic Unity a common faith. And the latter would seem to be in accordance with the teaching of the New Testament and the experience of history.
Spencer Jones further distinguishes these two types by seeing their different ends as, respectively, union and unity. Union is some sort of coming together, recognising each other - today sometimes referred to as Federal unity. Unity, on the other hand, necessitates full agreement on the essentials of doctrine and morals. Union implies an invisible unity; unity necessitates visible unity.
The writer calls the third type Anglican. This is the so-called Branch Theory - Anglican, Greek and Latin. Spencer Jones simply and briefly describes this and passes no judgement on it other than to leave it behind.
Now of these three principle types I think it will be acknowledged that the Roman type comes nearest to that ideal of Unity presented by Our Lord which I have made some attempt to pourtray [sic] in this chapter.
Chapter III treats of Saint Peter in 89 pages, presenting a case for the Petrine ministry. In this the writer is to some extent anticipating the work of ARCIC. Chapter IV is entitled ‘Divisions’.
It may be convenient to consider Contradiction and not Division as the proper antithesis of Unity; and to restore the proportions of Christendom not to destroy its divisions as the proper aim of Reunion…
So to regard Divisions is to recognise them as a necessary condition of our case; it being only when they are pressed beyond their limits that we rightly describe them as contradictions or conveniently characterise them as unhappy. Unity is not uniformity, although the two ideas are often confounded; and discrimination in the use of the term Division will perhaps best secure the proper distinction between them.
Let the idea of Division, then, be considered as at once necessary and subordinate to the idea of Unity, and our unhappy Divisions or Contradictions as destructive or antagonistic to its life.In short, unity in diversity - legitimate diversity.
Returning to the first chapter, entitled ‘On the Principles of Reunion’, Spencer Jones sets out twenty-eight propositions:
With a view to promote discussion…some of which, indeed, will appear obvious, while as regards others I shall ask the reader to assume the limitation of a prefix, such as, Let it be granted - or, Let us assume for discussion’s sake - or Does it not appear likely that ? - but all of which are intended to clear our minds and to guide us in the consideration of the subject that is before us:
- That Christendom is divided against itself.
- That a house divided against itself cannot stand.
- That our Lord meant us to be one.
- That it is our duty, therefore, to compose our quarrels.
- That he has endued us with the power to do so.
- That this power discovers itself in the work of the Holy Spirit on the part of God, and in prayer and labour on the part of man.
- That it was to the Church regarded as one that our Lord vouchsafed the promise of His presence.
- That the enterprise of Re-union is, therefore, genuine since its purpose is divine.
- That a “divine ideal must be capable of fulfilment.”
- That as a matter of history no other form or principle of Government has been able to come near to the Holy See in its power to keep together in the bond of a living fellowship so many thousands of Christians.
- That the Communion of Rome is conspicuous in the records of Scripture (“I thank God that your faith is spoken of throughout all the world”); and appears at once unique and conspicuous in the subsequent records of the Church.
- That the See of Rome is the Apostolic See and is destined to become the visible centre of Christendom.
- That Rome is in fact the mother of English Christianity.
- That Reunion, for the English Church, signifies Reunion with the Church of Rome.
- That England cannot formally remain as she is except in so far as she is infallible.
- That Rome cannot formally cease to be what she is since she claims to be infallible.
- That two cannot continue to agree except they walk together.
- That fellowship and communion are therefore necessary if faith is to continue one.
- That two cannot walk together except they be agreed.
- That it is therefore necessary to study the belief of other Communions before we oppose them or unite with them.
- That a more extended recovery of contact is calculated to destroy prejudice and thereby to prepare the way for Communion.
- That since “large changes and adaptations of belief are possible within the limits of the same unchanging formulae,” explanation will be found in fact to remove misunderstandings and to reduce the distance between us.
- That time, which is an “element in all growth,” has already effected much.
- That circumstances which alter cases do thereby, and so far determine duties.
- That movements, therefore, which may be inexpedient at one point of time may come to be wise and proper at another.
- That fair and free discussion as distinguished from recommendation of practical steps will serve to prepare us for conjunctures.
- That Reunion has come at length to be frankly recognised both as an idea and a necessity among all Communities of Christians; and that the same freedom of discussion must be allowed in relation to Rome as is universally permitted in all other directions.
- And that at all times and under all circumstances “love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Spencer Jones is an Anglican country parson and scholar, writing primarily for Anglicans, in the classic Anglican tradition - scripture, tradition and reason - sweet reason. While his style is very much that of 1902, his content, again and again, speaks directly to our situation a century later. His key principle of proportion has made some headway, specifically in the work of ARCIC. However, the official Anglican attitudes to the catholic faith on the one hand, and on the other to those who follow alternative religious paths, remain disproportionately favourable to the latter.
It is particularly noteworthy that his principle of proportion is most ironically ignored when it comes to Anglican Papalism itself, of which he is such a key exponent. It remains an urgent question for Anglican Papalists as to why we continue to be so misunderstood, misjudged and misrepresented. Whatever the reasons for this, a reasonable acquaintance with the writings of Spencer Jones would serve as a significant corrective.