Fr Jonathan Munn on Defining Anglicanism

Fr Jonathan Munn of our Diocese has written Provincial Synod and Provincial Anglicanism in his blog. He is just about to accompany our Bishop to America for the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Catholic Church. Perhaps I might go another year if my Bishop asks me to do so. Synods are not only for discussing serious business but also for renewing friendship and spiritual fellowship.

Fr Jonathan inevitably goes into the difficult question of Anglican identity. This is a contested question, especially contested by those who would like the monopoly of that title and for Anglo-Catholics and others to make the thorny choice between Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. He and I have learned to ignore such jibes (nothing to do with changing tack with the wind abaft of the boat!) and to try to express things in positive terms. The experience of the last couple of years has been most instructive for all.

We look to the Undivided Church, a notion that is really an idea that transcends the squabbling over the centuries of Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and various confessions of the Reformation. It is essentially a notion of the Church being over and above any particular group that claims alone to be the “true church”. This is a theme we go through over and over again without any agreement being reached. The True Church is higher and beyond any of us, and at the same time is within us all. The Gospels call it the Kingdom of God.

This somewhat Platonic universal idea concept of the Undivided Church enables us to see whether we are images and icons of that Church through our participation in the one Apostolic Priesthood and the living Sacrament of Christ. Such a vision of the Church allows for local and cultural variations. We are Anglicans and claim a heritage that comes from the Ecclesia Anglicana, as French Catholics appeal to the Ecclesia Gallicana. Anglican means English, but it also means placing more emphasis on the local Church than the authority of Rome. Fr Jonathan and I were born and bred in England, but this is not the case for all Anglicans. They were born in countries that were once part of the old British Empire but which are now independent nations. Many Anglicans do not even speak English, but appeal to our cultural and spiritual heritage.

Fr Jonathan makes a good point regarding those who would define Anglicanism exclusively in terms of the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles, or through being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Queen of England. We in the Anglican Catholic Church are quite diverse on these points, but our general consensus is to rely more on the Undivided Church “universal idea” rather than what are really Protestant formularies restricting the Anglican Church to its post-Reformation expression and denying even the most sublime and good aspects of her pre-Reformation heritage. Perhaps we Catholics can be accused of short-changing the Protestant heritage. We have to be selective and praise the Bible and the Liturgy in the language of the people (even an old-fashioned idiom) but condemn the doing down of the priesthood and the sacramental dimension of the Church – and remaining bogged down in endless neo-scholastic reasoning about things like grace, predestination and who gets to heaven based on Mother Superior’s reports ( 😉 ).

Even in ethnical terms, Anglicanism isn’t always well defined, since we are not all English (even though I am), and England hasn’t always been a unified state under a single Monarch. If anything, since the eleventh century, we are more “French” (Norman to be exact) than Saxons or Angles or hailing from a Germanic culture. The Norman heritage established our liturgical heritage in the Use of Sarum and the other diocesan uses until the reign of Henry VIII.

There are interpretations of Saint Augustine of Hippo outside Luther and Calvin. He is a Saint of the Catholic (wider than Roman) Church, and is recognised to have shaped western theology and spirituality. Augustine enjoys considerable authority in all western Churches, but he is not the only Church Father, even from the fourth century. Others are concerned for subjects other than simply who gets to heaven or gets sent to hell.

In the absolute, the Anglican Catholic Church to which Fr Jonathan and I belong is an independent body like the Old Catholic Church or any other that is not in communion with any of the Eastern Patriarchates or “recognised” Synods, Rome or the Lambeth Conference. We do Anglican and Catholic things, and consider our canonical separation to be simply an accident of history, which we hope one day will be repaired in God’s good time. We share our cultural roots with the Catholics of northern France. I live in Normandy, part of the same ethne as southern England. To this day, the coasts of Sussex and the Pays de Caux are so similar, and even the traditional architecture has much in common. Our liturgical heritage is the Use of Sarum, sharing its roots with the rites of Paris, Rouen, Bayeux, Coutances, Evreux and so many other dioceses in these parts. The Reformation brought translations into English for bringing a clear pastoral benefit for the people, though Latin hasn’t entirely disappeared. It is used for musical settings, a constant reference (eg. the first words of the Psalms in the Prayer Book and parts of the Mass to be sung like the Gloria in excelsis and the Sanctus), and sometimes for whole liturgies.

There is also the monastic element, which I would define as an insistence on the liturgy, a balance between work and prayer and sobriety in the devotional dimension of our spiritual life. Anglicanism has done better than post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism at keeping the parish and cathedral Office going. That is an undeniable aspect of the Book of Common Prayer over the Roman Breviary.

Fr Jonathan rightfully places a great deal of emphasis on tolerance, something I mentioned in my most recent sailing post. Some of us have very “authentic” wooden boats built the way they used to be built a hundred years ago. Other boats are made of plywood stitched and glued with epoxy resin and made to look like traditional clinker-built vessels. Other boats are made of fibreglass or plastic but have traditional rigs depending on the resources and skills of their owners. Once we are all on the water, some boats might go faster than others because of their hull shapes and / or the sailor’s skill, but we all respect each other. It should be the same in the Church. I use Sarum in Latin (English or French when needed), and others use the Anglican Missal, a careful compromise between the Sarum / Prayerbook and post-Tridentine Roman traditions. Like epoxy-plywood and plastic hulls, we do the same thing as what an expensive authentic vessel can do – sail and bring joy to the sailor and the seafaring community. We need to build up tolerance but welcoming difference and diversity.

There is the problem of comprehensiveness, the notion of compromising on what we believe to be good, true and authentic, but it seems to be the only thing that holds a Church together. But, where are the limits? These are difficulties, but there is a whole difference between the liturgy in English and women priests / “gay marriage”. We have to keep the discussion going, however difficult it is to keep tempers from fraying.

I look forward to reading about what will be achieved at our Provincial Synod, and my heart and prayers go out to those who will be assembled at Newport Beach (must be a nice place for sailing if the Pacific Ocean is behaving itself!). But our people won’t be there to mess about in boats, but to work for the good of our Church and our mission in the world.

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5 Responses to Fr Jonathan Munn on Defining Anglicanism

  1. ed pacht says:

    I like what you say here. I haven’t yet read Fr. Jonathan’s piece, but I am sure I will think well of it. As I see it the Church is quite distinctly visible. I have little patience with those who would make it an invisible and merely spiritual connection among those who do not and cannot know each other as ‘real’ members – the notion I was brought up with and have rejected. However, there is no way that that visibility can be linked with centrality of organization or specific affiliation. It is the “Church of God whish is in …”, a local body of folks that know one another and worship together, which is called upon to live in loving unity with other such local bodies. Insofar as we are unfaithful to that specific call, we make ourselves to be less than our calling, but are still bound, quite visibly, to the One Lord – even when we squabble like unruly children. The unity is real. The squabbling needs to cease.

  2. Caedmon says:

    But when was there ever an ‘undivided church’?

    • It is rather a good question. It seems to be a euphemism for more or less the Chalcedonian status quo somewhere between the 6th and 11th centuries. It can be argued out and twisted around, but it is an imperfect attempt at some kind of definition of a standard. In the absence of an absolute standard Christianity divides and subdivides and goes its inevitable way. Perhaps we can do something about it in our own tiny way.

  3. ed pacht says:

    If “undivided” implies a unified organization, well, there never was such a thing, and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be, but if we mean a basic consensus on central doctrine and an overall intent to be in communion and cooperation with other Christians, that was mostly (or at least ideally) the state of affairs up until the Great Schism. At any rate, the lack of the kind of unity was seen as unnatural and to be deplored – a radical contrast with our contemporary idea of division and competition as normal.

  4. Stephen K says:

    This is a very topical subject for me! I know a woman who was raised a Baptist. She finds, however, something in low-to-broad Anglicanism that appeals strongly to her. She now thinks of herself as an Anglican. She is not a ritualist but wants to know more about the church in which she has found a spiritual home.

    Now I think she should really speak with a broad C of E minister, but I’m thinking that I might guide her initial steps by giving her some things to read or discuss. I’m fascinated myself about what constitutes the soul of Anglicanism. There is one, despite the diversity of expression, just like there is in Roman Catholicism. However, it may take some careful analysis.

    To get a sense of a particular religious culture and ethos and a kind of theological essence, I believe one needs to have a sense of the history of things. This woman has hitherto thought her Anglicanism starts with Henry VIII. I think she needs to consider that this may be true only in an accidental or embryonic sense: that both theologically and politically, Anglicanism might be better viewed as the resolution of the Erastian-theocratic tension epitomised in the Tudor-Jacobean era, that it is largely about, in essence, saying “Here! You can all have something of what you think is important, just don’t cause trouble! Religion can be really nice and helpful if whatever you do, don’t go to extremes.”

    I think she needs to understand the Catholic roots and experience that never left Henry, against which Cranmer and Edward reacted, to which Mary thought she was resorting, to which Elizabeth prudently had regard, and which coloured the early Stuarts. She needs to appreciate, I think, why healthy Anglicanism vacillates or juggles between Jacobean scripturalism and centuries old reverence to liturgical custom. She probably needs to be aware of the commonality of the Anglican and other Christian experience with liberal, modernist and traditionalist movements over the last 150 years. If I could find a copy of Rupert Croft-Cooke’s book “Altar in the Loft”, I would certainly consider getting her to read it at some stage.

    But what do others think, here? What do actual Anglicans think the essence of Anglicanism is, or how would you describe what it means personally, to be “Anglican”? Any suggestions, corrections, perspectives would be greatly appreciated.

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