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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 21

21 August, 2016

In last week's musings I reflected briefly on our words and The Word. Today I would like to begin a series of musings on the related topic of sacraments. Anglican theologian, John Macquarrie notes: "[the word and sacraments] are the particular vehicles or structures which the Church employs in its re-presenting of Christ, or in bringing primordial revelation into the present experience of the community" (Principles of Christian Theology, London: SCM 1977, p. 448). Since the Reformation sacramental theology in particular has been a point of hot debate.

On 3rd March 1547 the Council of Trent published its First Decree and Canons. Commenting on the sacraments in general, no punches were pulled: "If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema" (Canon I; see here...).

A few years later, in 1563, the Church of England hit back at Rome with one of the Thirty-nine Articles: "There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord. Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God" (Article 25; see see the "prayer-worship" tab under the Book of Common Prayer link).

Three hundred years later, under the tutelage of Prof. E. B. Pusey, and six years before he became the first Tractarian bishop, A. P. Forbes published what was to become a classic Anglo-Catholic commentary on the Thirty-nine Articles. In considering the problematic Article XXV he writes: "The language of the Article is unfortunate, not in that it raised two Sacraments above the rest, but in tending to obscure the sacramental character of the other five rites by undue disparagement.... They have ever been regarded to have a mystical significance of their own, and separately from the beginning have existed as practices in the Church" (Forbes, An explanation of the Thirty-nine Articles, Oxford: Parker 1871, pp. 453-4).

As Anglo-Catholics the seven sacraments have long been a central component of mission; our re-presenting of Christ to the world. Over the coming weeks, therefore, I will offer seven short reflections on Sacrament and Mission, and welcome your comment and feedback in response.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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