Directed by a friend to one link, I noticed this one: the great nineteenth century Anglican Evangelical J. C. Ryle on unity among Christians . He believed strongly in Christian unity, but unity for him had its limits:
Protestantism is the backbone of the Church of England; and any attempt to procure unity by removing or weakening Protestantism endangers the life of the Church. Peace between the Anglican and Roman Churches, unless Rome first makes peace with Christ and the Bible, I hold, with Bishops Jewell and Hall, to be objectionable and impossible. The parties were rightly divorced three centuries ago, and cannot be reunited. I, for one, shall never cease to forbid the banns.
I think Ryle is wrong about Rome, but he is bracingly, admirably clear-minded about it. The general question of Christian relations I’ve been pondering as the discussion of my No Mere Christianity (Monday’s “On the Square” article) continues, with some interesting responses, but none speaking like Ryle, once in his world a mainstream figure. What he said, the pastor down the street would have said, or (were there such a thing then) the “On the Square” respondent with a pen name like “Reformer” or “Here I Stand.”
Importantly for our purposes, Ryle speaks with a certainty and an assertiveness his present successors among the serious Anglican Evangelicals don’t have. Some of them I number among my good friends (like David Holloway , who once hoped to publish a uniform edition of Ryle’s works) and I can’t imagine them using the phrase “makes peace with Christ and the Bible.”
Un- or even anti-biblical they believe much Catholic teaching to be, but they do not believe that Catholicism has placed itself at war with Christ. They would not say of Benedict, as Ryle would have said of Leo X, that he does not truly know the Lord. They see in Benedict, as Ryle would not have seen in Leo, a faithful brother in Christ.
David Holloway, for example, recently gave his thoughts on the Catholic Church in an article written for his church after Benedict’s visit to England, and he speaks respectfully though he disagrees. He makes no final, sundering judgments, no demands that Rome “make peace with Christ.” Indeed he ends calling for prayer “for continuing reform in both Roman and Protestant churches.”
Ryle would be shocked. And that’s a good thing. There’s hope that the friendship across differences will keep growing.
* * * * *
By the way, Father Neuhaus made a passing reference to the limits of the idea of “Mere Christianity” in a “Public Square” item from November 1999 (unfortunately behind the paywall).
Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College has suggested (The Second Coming of C. S. Lewis, FT , November 1994) that there was a certain guile in the mereness of Lewis’ Christianity. Lewis combined the intellectual panache of Oxford and Cambridge with a one-size-fits-all Christianity that required no uncomfortably specific decisions about church, sacraments, and the sometimes embarrassing baggage of the Christian community through time, also known as tradition. I think there is considerable merit in Jacobs’ argument, and it has a great deal to do with why Lewis, unlike Chesterton, is so very popular with Protestants, and especially evangelical Protestants.