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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Saturday, April 17, 2004


In my theology class, we've moved on to the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians. I find that our text is a bit of a disorganized read, and occasionally assumes some estoeric knowledge of British historical details and political machinations that I do not always have; but it's interesting stuff, nonetheless.

One bit of extra reading that I've found fascinating, once I slog through the scholarly language of the 19th century, is delving into the tracts themselves-- the set of pamphlets written by various of the leaders of the Oxford movement, to support their vision of the catholicity of the Anglican Communion. You can find all the Tracts here, if you're interested in such things. Some are better than others, of course; but the one that caused the most furor is the last one, Tract 90. Written by John Henry Newman, it looks at the 39 Articles of Faith, to which Every Good Anglican is expected to subscribe, as distinguishing them (us) from the doctrine and theology of Roman Catholicism. Newman tries to demonstrate how they actually don't argue against catholic (note the small c) theology so much as others understand them to.

Some of Newman's arguments seem to really stretch the point, in his effort to find catholic commonality between Roman and Anglican disparities. But in other places, he makes some interesting points. One of my favorite comments of his includes the following, taken from the section on sacraments:

The Roman Catholic considers that there are seven [sacraments]; we do not strictly determine the number. We define the word generally to be an 'outward sign of an inward grace,' without saying to how many ordinances this applies. However, what we do determine is, that CHRIST has ordained two special sacraments, as generally necessary to salvation. This, then, is the characteristic mark of those two, separating them from all other whatever; and this is nothing else but saying in other words that they are the only justifying rites, or instruments of communicating the Atonement, which is the one thing necessary to us.

The emphasis added above is mine. I did so, because I had not heard sacramental theology phrased in quite that way before. When added to the idea of Atonement as "At-One-Ment," it gives a different slant to the understanding of Baptism and Eucharist.


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