Thursday, June 24, 2010
Restoring the Equilibrium
By Robin G. Jordan
Anglicanism is the faith of the Reformed Church of England as set forth in its formularies—in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the Ordinal of 1661, and the Books of Homilies of 1547 and 1571. It is grounded in the teaching of the Bible and the Reformation It is explicated in the works of the standard Anglican Divines in the reigns of Edward VI, Elizabeth I, and James I, and to a lesser extent in the works of the Caroline Divines in the reign of Charles I and Charles II.
The term “Anglican” and “Anglicanism” did not come into popular use until the nineteenth century. Before that time term “Anglican” was found only in a Latin phrase describing the Church of England—the “ecclesia Anglicana”, literally the “English Church.”
Anglicanism has been described as a peculiarly English conservative form of Protestantism. This is the best description of its character. The post-Reformation Church of England in its doctrine was unmistakably Reformed and evangelical. However, the post-Reformation English Church in its practices was in some ways more Catholic than the Continental Reformed Churches. This is an example of its peculiar Englishness. It can be attributed to deeply ingrained English conservatism and practicality rather than to any attachment to Catholicism. The English Church retained such practices as wearing surplice and cope in church services, kneeling to receive communion, making the sign of the cross on the forehead after baptism, giving the ring at weddings, churching women after childbirth, giving absolution to the penitent sick person, burying the dead with prayers, and consecrating bishops as well as ordaining presbyters and deacons. The English Church saw no inconsistency between its retention of these practices and its Reformed and evangelical faith.
The history of the Church of England from the reign of Charles I in the seventeenth century to the Oxford Movement in the nineteenth century reflects two opposing tendencies. The first tendency is represented by the Puritans who sought to further reform the English Church on the Continental Reformed Church model especially that of Geneva and to replace episcopacy with a presbyterian form of church government. The second tendency is represented by the High Churchmen who endeavored to move the English Church in a more Catholic direction not only in its practices but also in its doctrine and to uphold episcopacy against presbyterianism. The English Civil War would lead to the temporary abolition of episcopacy and the Book of Common Prayer. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 secured the Protestant identity of the Church of England for the next 150 years.
In this period the Evangelicals, the successors of the Puritans who had conformed at the Restoration, and the Protestant High Churchmen, the successors of the Caroline High Churchmen who had not become Non-Jurors, established a state of balance. The nineteenth century Oxford Movement would upset this delicate equilibrium. The Oxford Movement not only sought to tip the English Church not just in a Catholic direction but also in a Rome-ward direction. While the Oxford movement claims to be the successor to the Caroline High Churchmen, its claim was far from the truth. The Caroline High Churchmen were decidedly more Catholic and more ritualistic than the English Reformers and the Elizabethan Divines but they were not Romanists. The Oxford Divines did not disguise their admiration for the Church of Rome and their acceptance of the dogmas of the Council of Trent. The Oxford Movement was followed by the Ritualist Movement, sometimes known as the Cambridge Camden Movement. This movement took the position that the English Reformation was a monumental disaster. If the English Reformation had not occurred, the English Church would be like the Continental Roman Catholic Church. The movement undertook the self-appointed task of transforming the English Church into a semblance of the Continental Roman Catholic Church, introducing nineteenth century Roman Catholic doctrine and practice into the English Church and making unauthorized changes in the English Liturgy. Today’s Anglo-Catholics are the successors of these two movements. They are definitely not the successors of the Protestant High Churchmen who were a target of Oxford Movement acrimony and scorn.
A new Oxford Movement will not restore the balance between evangelical and High Church. Rather it will seek to tip the Anglican Church further toward the Church of Rome. There is a desire among traditionalist Anglo-Catholics for an Anglican Church that is Catholic and Roman but without the Pope. If they become Roman Catholics, they loose their Anglo-Catholic identity. If they are clergy, they must relinquish their orders. Even if they are reordained, they can only expect a very low place in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Those who are married may never be accepted by the Roman Catholic clergy. They are likely to be treated as second class Roman Catholics, which has been the experience of the married clergy of the Eastern Uniate Churches.
At the same time traditionalist Anglo-Catholics are not satisfied to be a minority group within whatever Anglican body they find themselves. Even if they are a small group within a particular Anglican body, history shows that they have sought dominate the church body of which they were a part—to shape its ecclesiology, its theology and its liturgy, to remake the church body more to their liking.
Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics recognize that they have no hope of transforming the Roman Catholic Church. For the time being it is better to stay in the ACNA and give that body a makeover. But the commitment of traditionalist Anglo-Catholics to the ACNA is provisional. If they see no progress in the ACNA moving in a more Catholic direction, they are likely to re-examine their options. In the meantime, the ACNA must suffer through the trauma that a new Oxford Movement will inflict upon that body.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 7:11 AM