Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Welcome Children, Welcome Me

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Welcome Children, Welcome Me

Article excerpt

In the Jena Codex1, a late fifteenth-century Utraquist manuscript providing, among other things, illustrations for Nicholas of Dresden's polemical works the Tabulae veteris et novi colons and Consuetudo et titus primitivae ecclesiae et modernae sive dirivative there are a series of polemical illuminations depicting the "pure" practices of the primitive Church and the "corrupt" practices of the contemporary Roman Church. Most pairs of pictures are easily exegeted. For example, it is not difficult to "get the message" from a set of illuminations, one of which shows Jesus washing the disciples' feet and the other of which shows the pope having his feet kissed by monks2 or from another set in which Jesus is shown chasing the money changers from the temple, set alongside Charlemagne crowning Pope Silvester with a crown identical to his own.3

What is more difficult to exegete at first sight is a pair of pictures, one of which portrays a celebration of the eucharist, and the other a battle during one of the Roman crusades against the Utraquists.4 At first, one is almost inclined to think that a folio has been misbound. On closer examination, however, it becomes quite clear that we are, in fact, looking at a piece of very telling polemic. in the illumination of the eucharist, which portrays the moment of communion, it is two infants held in their mothers' arms who are depicted in the act of communicating, with one receiving the host and the other the chalice. In the battle, it is infants who constitute three of the four visible victims. One is being trodden underfoot by the horse of a Catholic crusader while another infant is shown impaled on the lance of a Catholic soldier, while on the lance of a third soldier is the head of another infant. It would be difficult to find a more striking contrast between the "old way" and the "new." Infants in the early Church (and, by imputation, the Utraquist church whose eucharistic practices were based on what they knew to be the primitive pattern) are welcomed and fed with the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.5 In the "modern" (i.e., contemporary Roman) Church, however, infants are the first victims of a war waged to suppress the practices of communion under both kinds (sub utraque specie-hence Utraquist) and the communion of all the baptized-practices which were deemed heretical by the Roman authorities. The contrast remains a stark indictment to this very day and serves as a useful standard against which to set our theme "Welcome children, welcome me."

The Place of Children in Anglicanism

Of the many visible changes that have taken place in the course of the reform and renewal of liturgical practice within the Episcopal Church and a number of other Provinces of the Anglican Communion over the past three decades, the most visibly striking would probably not be the position of the presider at the altar (facing the people rather than "eastward"), the posture of the community (standing, rather than kneeling) or even that the presider may well be a woman but, rather, the regular presence of young children and infants at the altar as communicants. For many Anglicans, the admission of children to communion seemed to turn the whole world on its head.

As is often the case, a so-called "traditional" (i.e., nineteenthcentury) practice of the Church was the source of the problem. The so-called "new" (i.e., biblical and patristic) practice of admitting all the baptized to the eucharist flew in the face of most Anglicans' major catechetical experience-their preparation for confirmation as teenagers. A former student of mine-a retired officer in the merchant navy-put the reaction succinctly in the first class of a course on Christian initiation. "When I was young," he said rather piquedly, I had to work hard to become a communicant. I had to go to confirmation class and learn all sorts of things. Now I go up for communion and see all these little sandbaggers who've done nothing receiving communion! …

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