Nice Little Article on Anglican Identity

Articulating Identity by Deacon Jonathan Munn of our Diocese.

I always appreciate Deacon Jonathan’s writings, which are always very articulate. The issue of Anglican “identity” or the “patrimony” much discussed in the contexts of the Ordinariates is a difficult one. There has been enough to-and-fro between my postings and some exponents of so-called “classical” Anglicanism. Like many words and concepts, Anglicanism means different things to different people. Things are made worse when we think the way we understand it should be imposed on all in a complete lack of tolerance. It also has to be said that this fundamental incompatibility is intrinsic to the Reformation / Counter-Reformation polemical world view. There is no common ground, and one position can justify itself only by negation of the other.

This is why I have always expressed the idea that any kind of Catholicism has to transcend that period and that way of thinking (based on decadent scholasticism and questionable metaphysics). We in the ACC talk of the Undivided Church as a standard of faith and orthodoxy. In the absolute, there never has been an “undivided” Church, as Christians were in conflict right from the beginning, but what we call “undivided Church” is the general consensus of western and eastern Christianity prior to the mid eleventh century that followed the christology of the Council of Chalcedon. It is what western Catholicism and eastern Orthodoxy have in common over and above the liturgical and cultural differences. We refer to a kind of ecclesiology that situates the authority of the Church in the body of the Episcopate rather than on a single Patriarch or incumbent of one of the ancient Apostolic Sees.

Dr William Tighe wrote a very interesting essay on the question of the Thirty Nine Articles – Can the Thirty-Nine Articles Function As a Confessional Standard for Anglicans Today? Dr Tighe is a Roman Catholic who attends the Eastern Rite, but he has written this article beautifully. Fundamentally, the Thirty-Nine Articles are too tied to their historical period and a particular style of philosophical language and scholarship for them to be of anything other than of academic relevance to us today.

We in the ACC are often criticised for identifying with the mainstream Catholic tradition rather than the tenets of the Protestant Reformation whose purpose it was to combat superstition and anything like a resurgence of Paganism in a Christian context or corruption in the clergy. So be it. There will always be Christians with their convictions, traditional ideologies and inherited principles. We can hardly blame them, but rather engage a “dialogue of love” and show that we are not so wicked or superstitious after all.

We should certainly spend less time justifying ourselves than seeking to live fully the tradition with which we identify. A most edifying example I see are the many monasteries which write little or nothing on the internet, yet each day live the liturgy of the Mass and the Hours of prayer. Surely, the internet can be our scriptorium and the classroom where we can both teach and learn. I like to see it used constructively, with the priority given to our real liturgical and spiritual life. Would that not be more healthy?

I don’t mind people “blowing out”, as we all have a need to do it from time to time, but it is not the real expression of our Christian life. Perhaps our real “patrimony” or “identity” is that of being Christians with the sacramental “interface” we have between earth and heaven. It certainly bears thinking about!

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7 Responses to Nice Little Article on Anglican Identity

  1. Michael Frost says:

    As always, interesting. My initial thought was can one not ultimately say the same about interpreting and applying any substantive document over time, whether religious (Books of Leviticus or Romans) or secular (e.g., the US Constitution or the works of Shakespeare)? So, for example, in light of Vatican II, the Joint Declaration on Justification, and the state of RC liturgics and devotions, fundamentally, is the expressed thought of the Council of Trent too tied to their historical period and a particular style of philosophical language and scholarship for them to be of anything other than of academic relevance to us today? Or, take how the infamous ancient papal bull about salvation and the RCC has been so re-interpreted today that…one may wonder if the original had any real intrinsic meaning at all? 😉

    • One may wonder if the original had any real intrinsic meaning at all?

      Very good point. Very, very, good point. How far can we take it? 😉

      • Michael Frost says:

        Unfortunately, in an era of modernism, post-modernism, and de-constructionism (amongst other newfangled ways of viewing the world), there is no end to the linguistic mischief that “thinkers” can do.

        Sadly, even is areas where one would think clear meaning can be achieved and result in consensus, that seems less and less possible in the real world, at least where first principles and foundational thoughts are concerned. Take US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment on guns. There are at least 3 major schools of thoughts regarding the “meaning” and many lesser ones. So when the cases come before the court, the decisions split 5-4 on diametrically opposing and conflicting sides.

        As for the 39 Articles, they appear to be pretty clear in their meaning on most issues they discuss. And where there is “ambiguity”, one at least knows where they stand vis-à-vis the then current RCC’s position. The “murkiness” often is in regard to evaluating them in light of more similar Lutheran and Reformed schools of thought. But, pace Newman, I can’t in good conscience support any legitimate interpretation of them that claims they are in accord with the medieval scholastic dogma of the RCC as officially expressed at Trent and the prior post-schism western councils. It clearly says what is says about purgatory, indulgences, Eucharistic adoration, and more. What it says clearly opposes RC dogma in those areas. In no uncertain words.

  2. ed pacht says:

    As always Jonathan expresses himself clearly and concisely. On the whole I would hold to pretty much what he expresses as defining the actual range pf thinking in Anglicanism as we know it in the Continuing movement.

    I do consider the Articles as having considerably more weight than he allows them, however – not as a Confession such as Lutherans and Reformed hold central (I don’t buy into everything they say), but, whatever they were originally intended to be, as the raising of questions that still need to be raised. Yes, they are pretty clear in their assertions, and, no, such strained interpretations as Newman’s still don’t work. What they forthrightly oppose is not, in the light of V2 and other recent developments, the actual dogma of the RCC, but rather certain interpretations of historic dogma that had become so prevalent as to be seen as dogma. The specific ideas being condemned, though apparently accepted by the Council of Trent, and still being taught in the exaggerated forms they had taken in my youth in the 50s, are not precisely what the RCC teaches today – this being precisely what the more radical “Traditionalists” are objecting to. What the Articles do is to force us to think deeply about these questions, to examine what we ourselves teach and practice, and to ask Rome to continue thinking about the same issues. Only so can we come to act as the sister churches we really are.

    In my opinion, to ignore the Articles and go on as if they don’t exist or have no weight is to cast aside entirely the half-millennium between then and now and to affirm the radical discontinuity that Anglo-Catholics deny, and that the more radical Protestants exult in. Their purpose still exists.

  3. Caedmon says:

    I can’t work out how to reply directly to Jonathan Munns, but I think he should have used the word ‘annulments’ rather than ‘divorces’ when referring to Henry VIII. I know the distinction is nonsensical, but in the 16th century divorce was impossible, but few people were so securely married that grounds couldn’t be found for an annulment if the marriage became inconvenient.

    • ed pacht says:

      Perhaps so, but the word used at the time was ‘divorce’, though of course it never meant the dissolution of a real marriage, at least not in theory — but, then. as now, the practical difference was almost nil. It was never hard at that time, at least for the richest, to find pretext for declaring a marriage to have never been genuine — nor is it apparent today that ecclesiatical annulments are always much different from civil divorces. Those that really want a marriage to end often achieve their goal on pretexts less than convincing.

      • William Tighe says:

        The best book on the subject:

        http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=kelly&bi=0&bx=off&ds=30&recentlyadded=all&sortby=17&sts=t&tn=matrimonial+trials&x=43&y=14

        *The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII* by Henry Ansgar Kelly (1976, Stanford University Press)

        It is called “trials” in the plural because it discusses in detail the legal and canonical issues underlying Henry VIII’s three marital annulments (from Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Anne of Cleves). Two matters leap out from it (1) given the arguments that Henry insisted that his representatives advance on his behalf (that a man could never, ever, lawfully married his deceased brother’s widow, and that all the papal dispensations over the past centuries to permit precisely that were invalid and ultra vires) he was never, ever going to receive an annulment of that marriage and so the best that Pope Clement could do is delay any judgment in the hopes that the question would “resolve itself,” and (2) how in order to effect his second and third annulments Henry got Parliament to pass legislation “redefining” marriage, i.e., as effected legally by the promise or by the consummation, a total of three times.

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