“I think I warned you before that if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don’t mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is, the better. And it isn’t the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred between those who say “mass” and those who say “holy communion” when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker’s doctrine and Thomas Aquinas’ in any form which would hold water for five minutes.
And all the purely indifferent things – candles and clothes and whatnot – are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials – namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples.
You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that, the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility.”Yesterday was my dear husband's birthday. Since 1963, he's had to share his birthday with the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It turns out it's also the anniversary of the deaths of C.S. Lewis and Martin Luther. I have been reading a biography of Luther at Project Gutenberg lately and have been surprised to find that his personality so often gave way to an almost hysterical vituperation, equating Catholic adherence to various doctrines and rites as the worst sort of devil-worship. (What kind of man thinks that celibacy is inherently evil? And what was with the obsession with calling his enemies pigs and donkeys?)
In Luther's time people were ready to fight to the death over distinctions that make little or no sense to me today. As Lewis notes, from the Devil's point of view, the more lukewarm I am on points of real doctrine the better, and I no doubt have a lot to learn from people for whom the questions of eternity were daily matters of life and death. Nevertheless, I'm not sorry to be able to regard with indifference quarrels over the precise meaning of sacraments. I have never noticed that questions of this sort much occupied Jesus's thinking. My impression is that He thought sacraments were beside the point except as they brought our devoted attention back to what was always important, which was God. Nevertheless, I am probably more easily tempted to irreverence than idolatry, so a sect like Episcopalianism, with its emphasis on rites, is a good one for me.
Gutenberg has been full in recent months of works furiously condemning the Reformation. It's a perspective that is fairly unfamiliar to me, so I am reading about it with interest. The common theme is that Protestants (and pseudo-Protestants like Episcopalians) erred in believing we could turn loose hundreds of millions of Christians to decide for themselves what the Bible means and what God wants from us. How, they wondered, will anyone know what to believe if no one can agree on an authoritative source? I acknowledge the danger of sectarianism, but I'm unable to see how reposing our faith in a single infallible human interpreter helps matters. As a people, as a body of worshippers, we're always going to have to confront the problems of dissension and error. Nevertheless, again, because of my strong tendency to contrariness, disobedience, and iconoclasm, it's probably just as well for me to be connected to some kind of apostolic tradition, to keep me somewhat in the straight and narrow.
I always come back to the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees got the rap for a mindless adherence to ritual, as if they were performing magic tricks to force God's hand. The Pharisees at least understood that our hearts have got to be in the right place, but they were still far too hung up on legalism and formality. Christ blew all that away, not by abolishing forms but by refusing to be distracted by them into trivialities. He was forever responding to picky demands to rule in favor of this or that technical rule with parables showing why both rules completely missed the point. Even with this example, we spent next two thousand years fighting out the question of form over substance. I don't think we can be all about substance; most of us need form as a reminder and a discipline. But with form always comes the temptation to obsess on the dead container instead of the living Content.