Comprehensiveness, on whose terms?

I should stress that this article is of my own initiative and not the official position of the ACC. At the same time, I am loyal to the way of my diocese in the UK (and now with a European chaplaincy) and my Archbishop in appealing to the whole tradition of the Church, not only the early Church but also the middle-ages.

I have found two articles of interest, expressing the idea that Anglican comprehensiveness can only “work” if it is contained within Reformed or Evangelical standards, viz. the Thirty-Nine Articles. This is an old and tired subject, but one that needs to be studied.

* * *

Addition on 4th December 2013:

I have already written on this subject, in Nice Little Article on Anglican Identity in particular. This article contains the link to the famous piece by Dr William Tighe – Can the Thirty-Nine Articles Function As a Confessional Standard for Anglicans Today? He has just written to me to remind me about it. There is also page 2 of this, in which former Bishop Peter Wilkinson (now a priest in the Ordinariate) expresses himself very well on this subject. If a few clergy in the TAC and the ACC privately uphold the Articles, they are not binding on anyone. I have never been asked to promise to uphold them. And I don’t.

* * *

We are faced with the old spectre, that of comprehensiveness being possible but only on “our” terms. Both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals say the same of the other party. We in the ACC have just about scrapped the Thirty-Nine Articles, even though some of our clergy uphold them as standards of doctrine. I seem to belong to the majority in the ACC that has dropped the Articles as anything other than of historical and academic interest. Other continuing Anglican Churches don’t like that, but my conversations with our bishops and brother clergy show me a greater attraction for the tradition of the Church Fathers and the life of the Church through the centuries preceding the Reformation.

If the Articles are a normative aspect of Anglican identity, those Anglicans who do not uphold them are considered by the “upholders” as not being true Anglicans but rather “impostors”. We are then invited to go away and make our choice between Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy instead of restoring a form of western Catholicism that eschews the “military” spirit of the Counter-Reformation and its polemical and polarised atmosphere. We would like to live a vision that overrides both the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, noting various moderate steps taken in the early days against clerical corruption and superstition in popular religious practices. We eschew both Protestantism and “infallibilist” or Ultramontanist Roman Catholicism, situating the notion of via media elsewhere than with the “upholders” of the Articles.

I simply note that for these postings, to which I have given the links, Anglicanism is Reformed. Therefore it is not comprehensive because it excludes Catholics. Of course, they would say the same about us. The idea is comprehensiveness, but on condition of the exclusion of both Catholics and Anabaptists. In terms of worship, at least in England and in the old days, it was the Book of Common Prayer and the status quo of before the Oxford Movement. Nowadays, it’s alternative services, female clergy and à la carte doctrine. Thus, nothing seems to matter anymore in the Church by Law Established – only for the Continuing Churches which for the mainstream Anglicans are no more than schismatic sects. We can’t use the argument of authority. If Her Gracious Majesty knows about us, she doesn’t acknowledge us as Anglicans. If you are really strict about who the Anglicans are, then you might as well say – people of English or British nationality who are baptised members of the Church of England and in good canonical standing.

We in the ACC are not all English (though I am and now living in another country) and are not all using the Prayer Book (or at least exclusively and in the version that was official in the Church of England) or upholding the Articles. So, if we are not Anglican, we are not Roman Catholics, Orthodox or Non-Conformist Protestants either. We use the term Anglican as meaning the English tradition of Catholicism, like Gallicanism being the French tradition of Catholicism. In that way, we are Anglicans.

I am not going to criticise Protestantism, but I will say it is founded on a philosophical basis that was based on post-Thomist scholasticism and Nominalism. We have better theological tools based on knowledge of history and comparative methods. Who wants to go back to eating with a hunting knife and his fingers when we have cutlery? There is a crudeness and “shrill dogmatism” that jar in the educated mind. Those who have known something of Reality cannot return to Plato’s cave of images and figures. History can only go forwards in a “hermeneutic of continuity” in our notion of Tradition.

To be fettered by the Articles means that a Catholic revival is only possible in cultural and aesthetic terms and not touching the substance of the Faith or the spiritual life or the sacramental reality of the Church. If something is “only” cultural and aesthetic, it can and should be sacrificed for the sake of the truth (which the Reformed claim as much as anyone else) and church unity on that basis.

Comprehensiveness, if it is not based on the Articles or the Prayer Book – or being pukka English under the Crown – is then based on fashion and taste. This has also happened in Roman Catholicism. Forget the religion and look to the political and social dimension – the use of religion for purposes of regulating society. It’s nothing new, but it quickly becomes something very boring and irrelevant.

In my mind, there can only be two claims to Anglicanism: something born in the sixteenth century and masquerading as a restoration of the early Church of before the third century or a pastiche revival of pre-Reformation Catholicism with the “sappy” stuff cut out like eating an apple with the core and the bad part removed for the rest to be edible. It’s a tricky choice. The alternative is to establish a similar pastiche in Orthodoxy with the support of benevolent bishops and synods or join the Roman Catholic traditionalists, who are often as shrill as the Protestants in their intolerance and dogmatism. Perhaps religion does not make people ignorant and violent, but ideology certainly does!

The second posting is very clear about some aspects of Catholicism condemned by the Articles:

  • the canonical status of the Apocrypha (deuterocanonical books)
  • transubstantiation
  • the seven sacraments
  • clerical celibacy
  • Latin in the liturgy
  • the ex opere operato view of the efficacy of the sacraments and the real presence
  • purgatory
  • indulgences
  • the “worship” of images and relics
  • the cult of the saints
  • the notion of good works as contributing to salvation
  • the “immaculate” conception
  • and so forth.

A more enlightened view would be a comparative approach with the Orthodox and other very ancient Churches of the East. All of these “Catholic” characteristics are present in the other Churches under different names and exact explanations. For example, the “immaculate” conception of our Lady was before 1854 (in the Roman Catholic Church) a pious opinion held by the Franciscans and rejected by the Dominicans and many of the older monastic orders. All ancient Churches use non-living languages or archaic forms of the vernacular.

As for defending orthodox Christianity against the ancient heresies, there is no need for the Articles, since we have the documents of the Ecumenical Councils. To follow the Articles would be to outlaw Catholicism, whether pre or post Tridentine. That is hardly comprehensive. Those who are really convinced by the Articles can only be brought to come into our churches and start breaking things up and committing acts of violence – to the “glory of God”. Catholics have done the same thing with the Inquisition and the autos da fé and fundamentalist Muslims are still doing that kind of thing today! This is the one thing that discredits Christianity and betrays the Gospel.

It is true that Ritualism was an innovation in the nineteenth century in relation to the status quo of the Church of England. It was foreign, yet represented a profound aspiration as part of the Romantic movement and reaction against eighteenth-century Georgian rationalism and privileges of the Aristocracy and nineteenth-century moralism. It was a new branch that grafted itself to the old tree, and found its de facto existence, even if it was in violation of laws. This sort of thing happened before and has happened since. Persevere for long enough and what you are doing will find its place, as if by the legal principle of prescription. Custom takes precedence over law – that is a constant principle of canon law.

As a priest in the Anglican Catholic Church, I am grateful that this title of our particular Church, consisting of two archepiscopal provinces, is Anglican Catholic and not Anglican. This is important, given our notion of Anglicanism as something analogous to Gallicanism or other forms of national Catholicism in Europe, especially in the German-speaking countries. We are Anglicans because we attach more importance to local tradition and ecclesial life than to the “universal” aspect of Ultramontanist ecclesiology. However, other Anglicans define themselves by the position they took in the Reformation era and up to the late seventeenth century.

I can only recommend that we abandon reunion schemes between Anglicans and Anglican Catholics, focusing on the coherence of our own ecclesial life in our parishes and dioceses, and then entering into dialogue at a level of Christian charity and openness. Attempts to conciliate Catholicism and Protestantism are futile, but there is nothing to prevent us from praying together, studying common ground and esteeming each other as devout religious human beings. There need to be two Anglican traditions, tolerating each other and not trying to persuade the “other side” to change.

These two traditions can perfectly well coexist like Protestants and Catholics have done over the past four centuries, in separate churches and keeping a respectful distance. With a modern notion of religious freedom and human rights, we can learn to respect each other and do away with intolerance, violence and bigotry. That would be the greatest step forward, and it doesn’t have to be done by ideological Liberalism or indifferentism / relativism. We can be faithful Christians according to our consciences and in our notions of what we believe to be right.

Perhaps Christ’s desire that all might be one would be better brought about in such a way.

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16 Responses to Comprehensiveness, on whose terms?

  1. Father Martin says:

    Though I have never been a communicant of any Anglican jurisdiction, I have nevertheless been attracted to Continuing Anglicanism. I have always viewed it as a form of Old Catholicism. However, the one aspect of Anglicanism which I have never been able to understand is the centuries old argument of High Church versus Low Church, Catholic versus Protestant. I have never been able to justify the 39 Articles with Catholic dogma and I have never been able to sweep them under the rug. They are part and parcel the essence of the Anglican Communion. It is for this reason, despite all its many and varied problems, I have remained an Orthodox Catholic Christian. The Greeks, Arabs and Russians can be very annoying at times but they have preserved the faith intact despite the best efforts of Muslims, Protestants and Papists to destroy it.

    • Interesting reflection. I would have thought that if you can’t sweep the 39 Articles “under the rug” and this irrevocably “poisons” Anglicanism (even if the Articles have been quietly dropped), it is the same thing with the Novus Ordo and the contradiction between Dignitatis Humanae of Vatican II and Quanta Cura of Pius IX – calling Papal infallibility into question. Of course there had been the Concordat between Napoleon and Pius VII. That leaves the Orthodox, but the Russians collaborated with the Soviet regime and the Greeks adopted the Gregorian Calendar and joined the World Council of Churches. I’ll leave that to be argued in the Orthodox Blow-Out Department. Perhaps there’s not an awful lot left, perhaps a few non-Chalcedonians in Syria and India – perhaps. There are of course the various traditionalist synods and Churches.

      Perhaps it’s all been wrong from the very beginning and Professor Dawkins would say “I told you so” – or the Church can heal itself in history and recover from false starts and blind alleys. I believe the latter. In my experience of life, there are blind alleys everywhere you turn and we might just as well give up, or there is a way through every situation that has occurred. Anglo-Catholicism and Ritualism were meant to be nipped in the bud in the 1860’s, but even putting priests in prison didn’t stop it. Now it is a graft on the Anglican tradition whether the Prots like it or not!

      • Father Martin says:

        I don’t think Anglicanism is irrevocably “poisoned” but I feel the 39 Articles open the door for all manner of heresy. Though the Russians were Sergianists and the Greeks did adopt the Gregorian Calendar (which I think was a wise move), non of these actions changed official dogma. I think the ACC is on the right track, I spoke with the Metropolitan earlier this year on a number of issues, including the 39 Articles. The ACC owns the copyrights to the 1928 BCP (US) and may, at the next printing, drop the 39 Articles. However, I think it will be difficult to continue using the name Anglican in the official title of the church and not have the old controversies resurface. Perhaps not anytime soon but the door will always be there, even if it’s closed I don’t think it can be locked. The situation is analogous to sedevacantism, which I’ve never comprehended. Either you’re a papist, warts and all, or you’re not. You either swallow it hook, line and sinker or you reject, which I did. My problems with Western Rite Orthodoxy stem from cultural differences, they’ve never involved doctrine or dogma. It’s almost a matter of taste, do you play Scarlatti on a Tshudi double manual harpsichord or do you play him on a Broadwood piano. Continuing Anglicans, such as yourself, are in essence orthodox Old Catholics or Western Rite Orthodox, without all the Byzantine interpolations. I find myself in a rather unique and uncomfortable situation, doctrinally I’m Orthodox but liturgically and culturally I’m occidental, preferably Sarum. If a large enough body of like minded orthodox catholic clergy could organize we could perhaps make orthodox Old Catholicism or Western Rite Orthodoxy a viable church without existing on the fringes of ecclesial society. I’ve considered the Oriental Orthodox, especially the Indian church, they have, in the past, been amenable to a western rite without insisting on the addition of eastern customs. As the old saying goes, “It will all come out in the wash”.

      • Actually, Scarlatti on a Broadwood piano or Bach on a symphonic organ by Willis or Cavaillé-Coll are quite exciting. There is something to be said for “authenticity”, but yet you have to play these composers on something or put the musical scores into an archive and throw away the key. 😉

        Actually, our Churches need to be called Anglican to distinguish them from various kinds of “vagante” Old Catholic churches you find in the US and to a lesser extent elsewhere. If the Orthodox want to open up on a larger scale, then we might consider engaging them to a long dialogue, using a long spoon.

        I think we’ll end this subject here, unless you want to continue in the Orthodox Blow-Out Department.

      • Dale says:

        Personally, I think that the ACC is on the right track. The ACC seems to be moving more towards a traditionalist Old Catholic position, but with a traditional Anglican rite. The rest of the continuum seems happy to move into the ACNA orbit which seems quite happy with late 1990’s Anglicanism, defective prayer book and women clergy (this includes the Reformed Episcopal church as well!) but seems, for the time being, to draw the line at practicing homosexuals and lesbians in the clergy. I do agree with Fr Martin that the ACC is not so much an “Anglican” church as it is an Old Catholic church with an Anglican liturgical tradition, but I have no problem with that whatsoever.

      • William Tighe says:

        I wrote a longish piece on the 39 Articles in 2006, but I believe that Fr. Chadwick has already seen it. I’ll resend it to him if he’d like me to do so.

      • Thank you for reminding me, and also for sending it via e-mail. I have added a little bit to my posting referring readers to an older posting of mine which does link to your splendid article. I have also received a link to an old piece by Bishop (now priest in the Ordinariate) Peter Wilkinson.

  2. Father Martin says:

    No need to move to the Orthodox Blow-Out Department. I agree with both of you, the ACC in my estimation is orthodox Old Catholicism. I’ve read Archbishop Haverland’s book and could find nothing in it to which I objected. He is orthodox and catholic in every respect. Would changing the name to “Anglo Catholic Church” be an improvement? Would it remove the “taint” of the 39 Articles and yet retain the flavor of the English Church? Is the BCP communion service used in any parishes or is the Anglican Missal in universal use? If not, why not publish the new edition of the BCP with the Anglican Missal rite (Gregorian Canon) for the Eucharist but retain the Orders of Morning and Evening Prayer? They are, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the prayer book.

    • I’m sure all good suggestions would be taken into consideration by our Provincial Synod. However, I think that in the minds of most people with some knowledge of Anglicanism, “Anglo Catholic” would mean the same thing to them as “Anglican Catholic”. Liturgical usage is diverse.

      In my diocese, our “ordinary” rite is the Anglican Missal. I use Sarum in Latin, though I will use the Anglican Missal for congregations accustomed to it. I know of no British ACC parishes using the Prayer Book for the Eucharist, but only for the Office. Some priests in the USA use the American 1928 Prayer Book and not the Missal. I don’t know what the proportions are.

  3. Neil Hailstone says:

    I would say that the ACC is indeed an Anglican Liturgy Church standing on the same orthodox ground as the Old Catholic Churches. Excluding, of course, certain Treaty of Utrecht OCC’s which have departed from orthodoxy.

    This in fact is what makes the ACC an appealing denomination of the Holy Catholic Church for C of E members who are still in a process of discernment over recent decisions, and unable for conscience issues to join the Ordinariate.

    • At the risk of repeating myself, it is good to have a comparative approach between European “local” Catholicism (the Church governed by the country’s bishops with an acceptable relationship with the State if possible) and the restoration of the essentials of pre-Reformation English Catholicism. This notion of “local” Catholicism needs to be separated from Erastianism and from secularising tendencies of liberalism – or drifts towards a Protestant model (dumbing down the sacred, the liturgy, the priesthood, the monastic life, etc.).

      We in the ACC need to adapt to those who are not merely leaving the Canterbury Communion but also those of these general ideas who find the door closed when looking at Roman Catholicism (no Ordinariate in that place and the continuation of the same old ecclesiology) and Orthodoxy (lack of sympathy for culturally western folk).

      The Nordic Catholic Church clearly does not wish to fulfil this role. If it grew too big in Europe, the PNCC in the USA would jam the brakes on and begin to stall. I think things are slowly evolving in a very positive direction in the ACC as we slough off the fetters of “built-in” Protestant “scholasticism”.

  4. Michael Frost says:

    All I can say is I find this statement most confusing: “I agree with both of you, the ACC in my estimation is orthodox Old Catholicism.” But what is “orthodox Old Catholicism”?

    The two likeliest models are:

    1. The Jansenist (strict Augustinian) Church of Utrecht from the early 1700s.
    2. The immediate post-Vatican I German Old Catholic movement of Dollinger et al in the 1870s.

    The ACC today doesn’t seem clearly or substantively identical with either of the above two models, which were essentially fully in accord with the theological developments of medieval scholasticism and the theology of the Council of Trent, both of which were squarely rejected by the Anglican 39 Articles and BCP (1552/1559/1662). Both had problems with the papacy, but not the overall theological framework of the schoolmen and Aquinas. Does the ACC subscribe to Thomas’ Summa? Or the Council of Trent? I don’t believe so.

    But I guess the key is in the fact that 1 & 2 above essentially merged and that both then had significant doctrinal development away from their roots. Say before about 1960, both moved in various ways either toward Orthodoxy or High Church Anglicanism (though more of the 18th century Non-juring kind than the 19th century Tractarians). Sadly, in the post-Vatican II era the Old Catholics are hard to distinguish from the heterodox ECUSA. Compare them to the Liberal Catholic Church and its ilk.

    The PNCC has some similarities with the 1870s Old Catholics but their issues were initially nationalistic and clergy specific. Of course, in the period from about 1900-1950 they move in the general direction of the Old Catholics. In the post-Vatican II world they’ve dumbed down their liturgics, hymns, etc. and seem to have a New Order way of thinking about worship. This would tend to differentiate them from the ACC and ACA. Thankfully today the PNCC have rejected the heresy of WO and ordaining practicing homosexuals.

    I think the better case to be made is that the ACC and other similar traditionalist bodies (e.g., ACA) equate rather well with the discussions by the Non-juors with the East, which eventually ended fruitlessly and help explain why even today this form of Anglicanism is unable to unite with the East. I wish more Anglicans would study Laud and the Non-jurors to see if maybe there they can find some unifying foundational roots.

    • Thank you for this. The thing about Old Catholicism is what it could have been, a continuation of Catholicism as in Europe before the French Revolution instead of the prevailing liberalism against which the Papacy finishing by reacting. It was always a phenomenon with an ideological undercurrent. We in England or in America just haven’t the cultural roots of French Jansenism and the way the same “Augustinian puritanism” was expressed in the Low Countries. Old Catholicism produced something new, and was pretty well conformed to theological liberalism like in German Lutheranism by the very beginning of the twentieth century. Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew left the Union of Utrecht in 1910 because he disapproved of the reforms already being enacted (apart from any personal issues).

      Anglican Catholicism (the ACC and similar tendencies in other Anglican communities) comes from a different source, one which I perceive as less ideological and more motivated by the desire for a “traditional” liturgical life and a more spiritual notion of the Church. Of course, we aren’t monolithic and there are anomalies to iron out in time without causing all-too-human flare-ups.

      We don’t fit into tight little boxes, and that is exasperating for some – who might have to conclude that we are a poisoned well. There has to be some compromise to participate in ecclesial life and communion, otherwise one quickly ends up as a “one-man true church”. In my opinion, we do well to identify with pre-Reformation English Catholicism, but some of our clergy refer to the Reformation and its formularies. I’m sure some diversity in these matters is possible as long as we remain at the level of “theological opinion” and no “dogma”.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Father Anthony, When considering what is “orthodox Old Catholicism” and your comment that “In my opinion, we do well to identify with pre-Reformation English Catholicism”, I guess…I’ll put you down more in the 1870s Dollinger model than the 1700s Jansenists, since this would put you squarely in the medieval scholastic era and Thomas’ Summa as interpreted by all of the medieval RC Church Councils thru the 1510s without accepting either papal infallibility or the Council of Trent as dogmatic in nature. (Though I don’t think Trent really changes much in comparison to the thought of the medieval councils; it just lays things out more systematically, cleans up some things that became issues during the early Reformation (e.g., the canon of scripture, justification) and works to unify worship (the removal of old liturgies, the updated new liturgy, the updated Vulgate, etc.). 🙂

      • I’m thinking in terms of loose analogies rather than the frequent “all-or-nothing” thinking that prevails in these questions. If it is “all-or-nothing”, then we really have nowhere to go. Time has moved on and our dreams are in the past. Or we can revive something because we cannot identify with “modern” Christianity. Part of being Anglicanism is refusing these either-or binaries and making life possible through some blurring. It’s difficult to explain and justify, but the real issue is whether we have a spiritual home or whether we have come to the historical end of the road.

        Of course, I cannot hide the influence of fifteen years of traditionalist Roman Catholicism in my life.

      • Michael Frost says:

        I do think that purely from an ecclesiological standpoint, the CA movement has its foundations in the thinking of the Non-juors. And certainly the way the “official” and “canonical” Anglican world reacts to the CAs seem analogous to how the same reacted to the Non-jurors. God bless Archbishop Sancroft, Ken and the others.

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