Some great discussion ensued in the comment section of my last entry on this question, which I fear will come to an end once I publish my own thoughts. I hope this won't be the case. So please feel free to comment, criticize, or even to help me out in my attempt to define what essentially amounts to an abstraction of the concrete experiences of those of us who belong to the great Anglican family of churches. But, alas, I'm not going to give my answer just yet! First, I wish to comment on two approaches that deserve consideration:
(1) Anglicanism as a Reformation Tradition. This view understands the Reformation formularies (e.g., BCP, Articles) along with distinctive Protestant teachings (such as justification by faith alone and sola Scriptura) as being of such normative and essential character to the definition of what it means to be an Anglican that Anglicanism itself could not exist without them. While many who think this way will readily acknowledge a degree of continuity with the pre-Reformation Church of England, and even see such as a virtue, there is nonetheless no real sense that such continuity (e.g., historic succession of bishops) is of the essence of Anglicanism, let alone of the essence of the Church itself.
(2) Anglicanism as the Ancient Catholic Faith Restored. This view is a bit more difficult to nail down in a brief summary, because its proponents may take widely different paths to reach the same end. For instance, I suggest that this view is common to both the old Non-Juring party and the early Tractarians, though they approached and answered the question in quite different ways. Lately, Andrewes' formula -- 1 Bible, 2 Testaments, 3 Creeds, 4 Councils, and 5 Centuries -- has been revived in some Anglican circles (particularly those who aspire to be traditional Anglicans) to champion the idea that Anglicanism holds out the best hope in modern times for those looking for a church of patristic faith and practice. The claim is made that Anglicanism is a tradition unencumbered by the accretions of both Rome and Orthodoxy while at the same time free to pick and choose features from one or the other or both!
The estimation of the Reformation will vary greatly among those embracing this second approach, depending on particular prejudices for and/or against. However, it is worth noting that in the end it was the intellectual demise of this second approach in Newman's mind that compelled him to leave the Church of England for Rome, and brought an end to the Tractarian phase of the Oxford Movement.
Now these two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Anglicans have a penchant for mixing and matching. I used to run in circles that were quite comfortable with maintaining the co-existence of both approaches. However, I do think that it is more common to see individual Anglicans give emphasis either to one or the other . For many years I espoused, promoted, and taught the second approach, while playing down, as much as I could, the first.
Until next time.
P.S. The image above is the commemorative stamp of the baptism of King Ethelbert of Kent by St. Augustine of Canterbury in 597 which came out in 1997.