Saturday, May 06, 2006

Question to my readers: What is Anglicanism?

I'm currently teaching a course on Anglicanism over three weekends for another seminary (other than the one that employs me full-time). We just finished the first weekend seminar on the early period of the Christian History of Britain (up to 1066). At the beginning of the seminar I raised the question to my students: what is Anglicanism? Periodically throughout the seminar we paused in the historical overview to ponder this question and how we might articulate a comprehensive definition. Over the course of the next two seminars we will continue this discussion, but I don't plan to answer the question for them, though of course I will continue to guide them in their attempts to come up with an answer. They will see this question again on the final examination. I thought it might be fun to open this question up to a wider audience. So what say ye? What is Anglicanism? What does it mean to be Anglican? This should be fun.

Until next time.

P.S. The image above is the Shrine of St. Alban, first martyr of Britain.

34 comments:

Jeff said...

When you get the most creative answer on the test, please do let us all know. The answer is not the via media.

lexorandi2 said...

One of the rules of the exercise is that you can't answer the question with a negative. So give us your definition, Jeff.

wyclif said...

Anglicanism is that form of conciliar and Nicene Christianity informed by the first five centuries of Patristic theologising that bloomed during the Protestant Reformation and spread across the former British Empire.

joseph said...

Would it be fair to say that Anglicanism has a plurality of definitions that cannot be reduced to one? I am thinking of the work of Dom. Aiden Nichols titled The Panther and the Hind. A book every Anglican should read.

Wyclif, Your comment reminds me of my examination before becoming an Anglican deacon when Dan asked me "Why limit Anglicanism to the first 5 centuries?" I think my answer was something like because that is what Dr. Toon said. Maybe Jeff S. can tell us more about this because I think the 5 century comment has roots in L. Andrews???

Jeff said...

Anglicanism is a historical accident. ;-)

wyclif said...

Joseph,

But notice I was careful not to limit it to the first five centuries per Andrewes. That's what the "spread across the former British Empire" is about.

Now, I could have expressed that in a less political and more eschatological way, or even argued for Anglicanism as *jure divino*, but I think the diasporic elements of the Age of Reason are pretty important.

jon said...

Anglicanism is an ecclesiastical tradition that originated in the British Isles, specifically as the thitherto Catholic Church of England developed a life of its own and a separate identity during the era of the Protestant Reformation.

Mark said...

Anglicanism is a glorious mongrel.

-Mark

Anonymous said...

Jon,

If Christianity was brought to the British Isles by Joseph or Paul, could the ecclesiastical tradition have originated in the BI's? Anglicanism claims apostolic succession.

Can anyone comment on the fluidity of Anglicanism as it is interpreted in various contexts?

lexorandi2 said...

Good thoughts, all.

I'll let this post develop over the next day or so, then I'll post my attempt at an answer.

CSPellot said...

Mark,

Good one! I was thinking of Anglicanism as "a many splendid thing!" :)

C

jon said...

anon,

you're right, of course; i didn't mean literally originated. maybe i should've said '...that derives its name from an English people group....'

(sorry for the lack of caps; as you can see, i've got a kid in one arm! no, i'm not wearing a tux.)

joseph said...

Wyclif,
So does your definition of Anglicanism include the Council of Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680-681) and Nicea II (787)?

lexorandi2 said...

Just curious: Is there any here who would argue that Anglicanism did not exist before the Reformation?

For those who would say that it did, let me ask this question: In what meaningful way can we call those who lived earlier than the Reformation "Anglicans?"

Let's take this back further: In what meaningful way can we refer to the early Celtic Saints as part of the Anglican tradition?

Dan

Jeff said...

Well, I was actually trying to be funny when I called it a historical accident, but thinkig about it there may be some truth to it. There is no doubt an old English/Celtic spirituality that we could call Anglican. This is especially true here in my present home right next to Northumbria. I mean Bede and Cuthbert are in residence at our Cathedral here in Durham with a shrine to both!

The answer depends on the importance of legends! I travelled the River Anglicana once some time ago. The story begins something like this:

It is a cold winter’s day in 155 A.D. in the northern country near the coast of the Northern Sea as the small crew from Glastonbury pushes the river cruiser “Catholica Britannia” into the water to set sail down the River Anglicana. (*All dissenting churchmen must sit in the back and just listen! You’ve done enough!) The wind is gusting, sleet is falling, and the men are now prepared to navigate down the Anglicana to begin the journey that will tell the story of the life of the Catholic Church in Britain.

All is not well in Britain as Roman soldiers try to get this nation of our tribesmen under the control of their foreign administrators. You see, many do not believe in legends, but legends give meaning and character to our understanding of truth. Legends tell the story in ways that give a fuller picture of The Great Story that shaped Britannia’s Catholic Church history. We have to remind our children that Rome thinks they have one up on us Brits, but if they only knew the real truth of our story they would have remembered what happened about 100 years ago with our first missionary to Britain who told our fathers and grandfathers about the Christ. Maybe we should remind them to come and measure the bishop’s throne in Durham Cathedral, which is one inch higher than the throne at St. Peter’s!! You have to watch these Romans or they’ll get unruly like that bunch north of us. Now, back to the story. The man’s name was Joseph of Arimathea. He was no coward! Joseph established the Christian Church in Glastonbury, (screams from the crew “that’s where we’re from chap!” “Quiet down,” I said.) Somerset, England. Early on, around 63 A.D. Joseph is sent to our fathers from Gaul with 11 disciples. He is given some land and plants a bush where he placed his staff and the “Holy Thorn” grows on the very spot for years and years to come. Last I heard it is still alive and putting out buds.

They begin to worship in their new church building that later became known as the Benedictine Monastery of Glastonbury. Joseph brought with him two cruets “filled with blood and sweat from the Lord Jesus” and this is what is known as the Holy Grail! Well, before we get carried away with these great legends that tell the Story given to us that brings us life and fulfillment, we better get on with the journey. We have some facts that we need to tell you as you look off the port side of the vessel.

Now that was part of the beginning of Anglican spirituality that the very early fathers spoke about; Tertullian speaks of early Christian conversions around 200. The difficulty for us is that we try to describe Anglicanism by our own experience. Today it is a Protestant church with some Catholics in it.

jon said...

The more I think about my initial answer, the less happy I am with it. For one, it doesn't mention an apostolic missionary or the Celtic saints (even though they didn't call themselves Anglicans, did they?). For another, it implies that Anglicanism didn't have a life of its own and a separate identity prior to the Reformation. For yet another, it doesn't say anything of the current shift in numbers, faithfulness, and power due to spiritual disease and death in the Western Anglican churches and amazing growth in Africa and the global South.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a scholar and in my non-scholarly way, I'm thinking of Anglicanism to be the Church of Jesus Christ as it developed (and is developing) in the BI's and beyond those geographical boundaries. It is a living thing, in that it grows by considering the theological implications of new questions imposed on it by culture(s). It moves forward in history, sometimes or oftentimes shamefully, sinfully, but with the hope of correction, refinement and sanctification, until such time that Christ brings it into perfection.

joseph said...

Just curious: Is there any here who would argue that Anglicanism did not exist before the Reformation?

I would.

lexorandi2 said...

Now Joseph, you can't just say that without explanation. ;-)

Anonymous: your answer is outstanding.

Dan

joseph said...

I would say that the Celtic tradition that many Anglicans claim to be their link to ancient Christianity is Orthodox not Anglican.

lexorandi2 said...

Joseph,

Would you say the same thing about the Augustinian mission that washed up on the shores of Kent in 597?

Dan

CSPellot said...

"Today it is a Protestant church with some Catholics in it."

Thanks for your honesty, Jeff. I wonder if you say the above with some, all or no regret.

Carlos

Jeff said...

cs,

I think it is Protestant with Catholics in it because of the flagrant innovation of practice that is seen throughout the communion. Wherever the wind blows, the good ship is seen to be carried at times. At least that is true in the West, not so much in the Global South. I say it, not so much with regrets, but with historical honesty as I understand what the English Church understood herself to be. Our Caroline Divines warned the Church of it in the early C17 and we see it again. I am intrigued by our defensive posture when we are defining what we are. Is that a healthy place to be?

jon said...

If I may, there's also the problem of the question (at least the first one, "What is Anglicanism?" - not "What does it mean to be Anglican?"). I know "Anglicanism" is just a manner of speaking, and a common one at that. Maybe the problem lies with me and my nitpicking, but I have a strong aversions to -isms. I don't believe in Anglicanism, am not a member of Anglicanism, etc. I confess the Christian faith and was confirmed by an Anglican bishop. Likewise, a la Leithart (Against Christianity), I don't believe in Christianity and am not a member of Christianity; I believe the Christian faith and am a member of the Christian church.

joseph said...

Dan-"Would you say the same thing about the Augustinian mission that washed up on the shores of Kent in 597?"

I guess I should have said the ancient Christianity of the British Isles rather than limit it to the Celts. As best as I can remember, the Celts were out of fellowship with the rest of the Christian Church because of their isolation as a result of the Saxon invasion. After Whitby much of the Celtic Church conformed to the Orthodox (Catholic) Church while those who did not were considered schismatics. The Celtic bishops going to a Christian hermit for advice before meeting with Augustine is very Orthodox. St. Augustine processes to see King Ethelbert with cross and icon also very Orthodox.

lexorandi2 said...

I too have an aversion to "-isms" for the most part. But I think in this case it is an accident of semantics. For instance, we can speak intelligently of Eastern Orthodoxy which lacks an "-ism." But, semantically speaking, what sets Eastern Orthodoxy apart from, say, Roman Catholic-ism? Or the Reformed tradition apart from Lutheran-ism?

lexorandi2 said...

Joseph,

So at what point do you see Orthodoxy being extinguished in the British Isles? Certainly before the Reformation, right?

joseph said...

Dan,
I believe the last English Saint the Orthodox recognize prior to the Reformation is St. Edward the Confessor 1066. This also fits with the general date of the split of East and West in 1054. Some, I think, place William of Normandy as the first King of England under the reformed Papacy. OK, give us your definition of Anglicanism.

lexorandi2 said...

The interesting thing is that William sought and obtained the blessing of the Pope for the invasion, but refused the offer of the Pope to be crowned by him (a la Charlemagne), thus asserting the rights of the English Crown over the English Church as did the previous Anglo-Saxon kings.

My hunch is that recognizing Edward the Confessor as the last Orthodox saint in Britain is based more on the convenience of date (1054 and 1066 is a rather convenient correspondence as you also point out) than it is a real mark of change.

But let me remind you, Joseph, that you began by saying that Anglicanism is no older than the Reformation. So I have two more questions: First, would you see no continuity between the pre-conquest Church of England and the post-conquest Church? Second, would you see no continuity between the pre-Reformation and post-Reformation churches?

I'm not trying to put you on the spot, just want to see where you're coming from.

joseph said...

Dan,
You are putting me on the spot but that is OK. There is continuity of geography andan apostolic pedigree but the break is about who you are in communion with which is connected to whether or not you have the fullness of the faith and practice. I think the continuity and discontinuity can better be seen in terms of spirituality. Things like fasting, prayers to Saints, the Holy Theotokos, monasticism, icons, relics, sacraments and also things like the filioque and papal authority. These are some of the things that distinguish the pre and post English reformation.

lexorandi2 said...

Good answer, Joseph. You are thinking more and more like an Eastern Christian.

T Poynor said...

Dr. Dunlap,

In the interest of clarifying ecclesial identities, let me add that the Roman Catholic church is itself no stranger to ambiguity. Often these discussions of Anglicans give too much “credit” to the Church’s unchanging since the 16th c. However, from the point-of-view of some theologians (mostly Thomists), late medieval theology was indeed a very bad thing. After Trent every Roman Catholic is technically “reformed”. And at Vatican II medieval presbyterianism was abandoned for episcopalism with respect to the Sacrament of Orders. So, I guess that makes me a Reformed Episcopalian! What a strange turn of events.

lexorandi2 said...

Tom,

You've always known the right buttons to push to cause me to laugh coffee out of my nose! I'm glad you dropped by. Don't be a stranger, my friend.

Dan

Anonymous said...

Hallo I absolutely adore your site. You have beautiful graphics I have ever seen.
»