Another quote today from Father Arthur Middleton’s Fathers and Anglicans: The Limits of Orthodoxy. Middleton is reviewing Archbishop William Laud’s legacy and impact on the Church of his day and ours. Of course, Laud is well hated by many who find themselves enamored of the Puritan camp—no matter what the stripe of Puritan. Middleton, however, cuts to the chase and deals with the theological realities of the disputes between Puritans and High Churchmen. Essentially, is the Church going to follow the patristic and ancient Church (High Churchmen, such as Laud) or is it going to follow the contemporary model of Geneva (Puritans)?
Here, Middleton deals with Laud’s legacy of the Altars at the East end of the Church surrounded by rails and the theological implications therein.
...The greatest triumph for Laud is the adoption by the whole English church of a prominent position for the altar at the east end, fenced by communion rails where communicants kneel to receive the Sacrament. This illustrates the central focus of Laud’s theology in the Incarnation as an objective fact and its organic connection with the Church as Christ’s mystical body. This is patristic and quite alien to the Puritans, whose theology was certainly Christocentric in making the value of Christ to the soul a central and dominating idea, but their emphasis was on our experience of Christ as Saviour, rather than on the Incarnation as objective fact. Hence for them the efficacy of the sacraments was dependent upon the preaching of the Word, reducing the sacraments to a position of inherent inferiority, so that the sermon becomes more important than the Sacrament. The logical consequence is…that preaching becomes valued by the Puritans almost to the exclusion of worship, prayer, and sacrament. Therefore to Laud the position of the altar and the ordering of the Liturgy is crucial in demonstrating that the Christian life and ministry must be centred in the sacraments, whose efficacy does not depend upon an instructive imparting of knowledge, but on divine grace. (154-155)