There is a body of teachings and practices which is common to Christian churches and that ecumenical dialogues have revealed, which I call “the Narrow Path”. Another way of saying the same thing is the “catholicity” of the Church, its universal character that the boundary conditions of its diversity reveal. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral was an initial invitation to ecumenical dialogue. It has become a widely-used summary of Anglican ecclesiology. Already in 1888 there was a growing awareness of the diversity of Anglican (Episcopal) churches despite their common origin. The Quadrilateral served not only to outline the terms for fruitful dialogue with other churches, but in a way not intended then for spelling out the boundary conditions of churches in communion with the See of Canterbury. These conditions function in the same way as Article VI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion that states that the Scriptures “contain” that which is necessary to salvation.
The 1888 version of the Quadrilateral has four “sides”:
- The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
- The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
- The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
- The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.
We shall revisit the fraught question of apostolicity in another column. The first three “sides” set out the conditions for any beginning of dialogue, of course, but also they point to what a definition of the “catholic” Church in which we believe must include: Bible as primordial source and ultimate norm, creeds that present a thumbnail sketch of what Christians believe the Scriptures set forth, the two essential sacraments instituted by Christ — sine qua, non.