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.
- The Thirty-Nine Articles and Anglican Comprehensiveness (Part 1)
- The Thirty-Nine Articles and Anglican Comprehensiveness (Part 2)
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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.
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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)
- the seven sacraments
- clerical celibacy
- Latin in the liturgy
- the ex opere operato view of the efficacy of the sacraments and the real presence
- 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.