Wednesday, May 10, 2006

What is Anglicanism? Part 2


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.

4 comments:

Jeff said...

Due to our history as a body that we have anachronistically defined as Anglican, I find that nailing down a definition of Anglicanism is almost like trying to capture the wind. Your two ways of thinking about it is just two ways of the many to approach a definition that says, 'this is what it means to be an Anglican.' Andrewes, Montague, Laud, et. al were not looking to be Anglican but truly the English Catholic Church in union with an undivided Church that spoke with apostolic authority in a conciliar approach. That was at least Andrewes' hermeneutical approach to understanding the nature of Church in England.

I believe that era was a bit drunk on the Crown but that is altogether another kink in the definition of Anglican identity. Erastianism has been a very ugly part of our Church history at times. Looking at bishops as the King's 'men' and understanding the three-fold office of ministry in that light is definitely skewed, IMHO. Cranmer seemed to think that way at times and even Hooker's loosly and pragmatic approach to the three-fold office was not in step with Andrewes who saw the three-fold office as de jure divino. Interestingly, it was not Hooker who was popular in his day but rather Andrewes was the shining light. Those changes within the category of your initial approach is in many ways what led to the second.

Is the Anglican Church a pragmatic solution to a temporary historical problem that has taken on its own identity as a communion divided by a common liturgy? ;-)

lexorandi2 said...

You're certainly correct that these are but two approaches of many. I chose these because they seem to be common currency amongst today's apologists.

However, I don't think that a definition for Anglicanism is as elusive as we often make it out to be. The problem with Anglicans is that we tend to look to a particular age as normative for Anglicanism and define our tradition accordingly. It's not the definition of Anglicanism that is elusive. Rather, the elusive part of Anglicanism are the norms employed to define what we believe.

David+ said...

As an Episcopal priest in the US, I have come to view Anglicanism through the lense of our controversies and the means of addressing them more, as of late, than as an historical question (where there may be certain continuities and discontinuities between that past and our present situation). Though I studied the history of Anglicanism in the UK at the University of Manchester, I have taken stock of my view of the Church through one particular filter: the spirit of discontentment. So the question of 'What is Anglicanism' takes a particular autobiographical nature to it for me. Is there an "essence" of Anglicanism? I don't know but let me throw out something provokative as an experiment with this question in mind. If I were to try to analyze Anglicanism - searching for its essence - I would look at categories of causation through an Aristotelian bent: its Formal cause, Material cause, Instrumental cause, and Final cause. In all these areas I could draw upon pre and post Reformation data, pre or post Interegnum/Restoration data, liturgical and formulary data, and its purported purpose or final cause - which I suspect is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. All those things point me to the idea that Anglicanism is that part of the Universal, Catholic Church that has been variously shaped by Western Christianity, both Roman and Protestant, but where a spirit of discontent has led in the past to greater ecclesial autonomy that has had fellowship implications (both in the 16th century and now full bloom in the 21st century) writ large in the issues looming before us now and whether Anglicanism indeed has a future as part of the Universal Church. Through those 4 causes one can say that Anglicanism is Catholic, or it is Protestant, or it is a mix, or it is the revival of the Catholic Faith in the form prior to the growth of sectarian Christianity in the West or it is neither and none of the above. For me, as time moves on, I suspect that Anglicanism is the idea that one can be Catholic without Apostolic Fellowship and Protestant in pretending that it does not matter. I think of myself as a true Anglican as I have been engulfed with the spirit of discontent.

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