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Theses on Anglicanism

Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 11:29 am
"Anglicanism is undergoing the birth pains of a new synthesis." If you want to make your points in a manner that is short, fast, and hard, then theses, aphorisms, and articles are a good way to do it. Theses on Anglicanism presents 42 of these and focuses on questions of monarchy and law, Scripture and inspiration, order and identity. Consider this a manifesto of Anglican resourcement, which weaves Anglicanism’s once-potent theo-political foundation back into the trajectory of its own post-monarchical future. As the author writes, “The only synthesis that matters over the long term is that which makes sense of the past; thus, the toil towards synthesis today must recognize the depth and breadth of its calling as an activity of anamnestic maximalism.” Anglicanism is not dead, the author contends, but forgotten.
Tags: anglican communion, theology, king charles the martyr, scripture, book of common prayer, feast days, richard hooker, laws of ecclesiastical polity, sacraments, lambeth conference

 Discuss this post

I. Anglican history comprises two distinct ecclesiological streams. The first is that of monarchical Anglicanism, which began with Henry VIII; this was the dominant stream for more than 300 years. The second is that of the Anglican Communion, which began with the first Lambeth Conference; this is now the dominant stream at both the international and national (i.e., provincial) levels. The Anglican Communion is a non-monarchical church (ekklesia) that depends first and foremost upon the apostolic succession of bishops as a guarantee of its historic, catholic nature.

II. The Anglican reformation was not, as is commonly claimed, primarily political and only secondarily theological. The enthronement of the monarch as the “supreme head” of the Church of England was as much a theological development as it was a political development. Thus, Anglican history and theology cannot be understood without paying close attention to the history and theology of monarchy.

III. Anglicanism must re-conceive itself as a portion of the catholic Church that was once monarchical, but is now post-monarchical. Anglicanism has yet to conceive of itself as post-monarchical, and it cannot do this until it understands what it meant for it to have once been monarchical.

IV. To ignore the theology of monarchy is to ignore the theology of law and the importance of both to Anglican history. Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was a defense of both monarchy and law. Because we have not yet conceived of ourselves as post-monarchical, we have not yet begun to consider the meaning of law for our post-monarchical church.

V. The Anglican conception of itself as a via media must be historicized, for it has had different connotations in different contexts. It cannot be reified as an ahistorical type which asserts its own validity by always already assuming that the history of Anglican theology has been nothing but the outcome of an overriding desire to avoid theological extremes, regardless as to what these supposed extremes may or may not have been.

VI. Not all developments within Anglicanism have been the result of synthesizing extremes. The Elizabethan settlement, in particular, was not a synthesis of “Puritan” and “Roman Catholic” into “Anglican,” but a refusal of both in favor of a monarchical and episcopal ecclesial body that was deeply grounded in humanist scholarship and concerns.

VII. There is nothing uniquely Anglican about avoiding theological extremes, for these extremes are contextual to the ecclesial community in question. The perfect illustration of this is the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility, which sought to avoid the extremes of ultramontanism, which saw the pope as God’s own mouthpiece, and conciliarism, which saw the pope as nothing more than the first bishop among other bishops of equal standing. For Roman Catholics, papal infallibility is a via media doctrine. On the one hand, papal infallibility rejects two radically different understandings of the papacy; on the other hand, papal infallibility synthesizes these two extremes beyond themselves into its own centrist position. This is representative of how practically every sociologically identifiable group seeks to manage itself: avoiding, at particularly tense moments, potentially damaging extremes within the community and working out these differences through some sort of compromise. For Anglicans to claim that they are the via media and that this locates the history of Anglican theology as the history of occasional compromises between extremes is to simply state that which is sociologically obvious for every other group as well. Thus, via media – when conceived of merely as the avoidance of “extremes” – is not a uniquely Anglican definer.

VIII. The tendency to see Anglican history as a series of theological skirmishes between low church, high church, and broad church “parties” is inaccurate. A 16th century Puritan has no direct historical relation to a 21st century evangelical; a 17th century Laudian is not the same as a 19th century Anglo-Catholic; an 18th century rationalist is hardly the same as a 20th century “progressive.” Only when we abandon the tendency to read Anglicanism as the history of arguments between three historically and theologically static “parties” will we read Anglican history as the fascinating history which it is, not least because it is the history of a once-monarchical but now post-monarchical catholic Church.

IX. At the time of the Restoration, Puritanism ceased to be a movement within the Church of England. The feast day for King Charles the Martyr was the historical and liturgical articulation of Anglicanism as always already non-Puritan at the very least, and anti-Puritan at the very most. The marginalization of this holiday in the 19th century was the beginning of the loss of our coherence.

X. The choice made by Lambeth 1968 to give the Holy Eucharist to those who have not been confirmed was second major blow to our coherence as a tradition. This has now become a third blow, for there are now those who wish to give the sacrament to the non-baptized. Both of these have made the acceptance of Anglican distinctives unnecessary for full participation in Anglican worship.

XI. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are the most misunderstood document in Anglicanism today. There is no opinion on the Articles that should be countenanced unless it has both studied and integrated the following key commentaries on the Articles: An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles by Gilbert Burnet, and Tract XC by John Henry Newman, and Subscription and Assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles: A report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Christian Doctrine (1968). The Articles have a history of interpretation and application that is just as important as the actual text of the Articles.

XII. The Articles do not represent Calvinist doctrine, but classic Western Catholic (i.e., Augustinian) doctrine. In the Articles, this theology is given a distinctly monarchical thrust.

XIII. Monarchical Western Catholicism is no longer fully coterminous with Anglican orthodoxy.

XIV. A theological discussion of Scripture must make its assumptions about Scripture explicit. An unwillingness to do so reflects a lack of Christian charity; an inability to do so reflects theological immaturity.

XV. The Apostle writes that “all Scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2. Tim. 3:16 – 17). When it comes to a theologically articulable understanding of Scripture today, what is needed more than anything is a theologically articulable understanding of inspiration.

XVI. A coherent and orthodox theology of inspiration necessitates a coherent and orthodox pneumatology. Anglican pneumatology has always rejected the viability of enthusiasm, particularly in terms of its claim to private revelations. Anglican pneumatology has always accepted the dynamic presence and activity of the Holy Spirit within the church’s liturgy, which is the Church’s public communication to all. A coherent and orthodox theology of Scripture must therefore be set within the liturgical praxis of the church, as well.

XVII. It is unclear whether or not those who advocate the “authority” of Scripture in the Communion at present are intent on simply repeating the Apostle’s teaching about the “inspiration” of Scripture, and the Articles’ teaching on the “sufficiency” of Scripture in matters pertaining to salvation. If they are wishing to merely restate the past, rather than add to it, they should use the language of the past, rather than new terms with unclear theological implications.

XVIII. To claim that the Scriptures are “God’s Word written” is dangerous at best, and heretical at worst. It is dangerous because it goes beyond the Apostolic statement that the Scriptures are inspired. It is also dangerous because it fails to note that humans err when they attempt to interpret and apply Holy Writ. Beyond this, it is heretical because it claims that the uncreated Word (Logos) has become text, whereas the catholic Church claims that the uncreated Word (Logos) has become human.

XIX. One cannot claim that the uncreated Word (Logos) has been emptied twice without denying the all-sufficient kenosis of the Incarnation. If the self-emptying of God into the Incarnation is insufficient, then the self-emptying of God into the Scriptures is also insufficient. However, if the self-emptying of God into Jesus Christ as the Word-made-flesh is sufficient, then the Scriptures cannot be the Word-made-text.

XX. The cross is a signifier to which Christ willingly let himself be joined. Thus, the sign of the cross is a sign that communicates in a revelatory – and, therefore, truthful – fashion (cf. Matt 27:51). It is impossible to communicate effectively when we do not have such revelatory and truthful signs.

XXI. No theology can truly give reverence to the cross of Christ if it does not also reverence the cross as both a signifier and a sign. All able-bodied Anglicans should therefore bow when the cross is processed, and make the sign of the cross at the appointed moments in the liturgy.

XXII. Bishops should see to it that the various political pressure groups who have members in their respective dioceses do not undermine the local bishop, national provinces, or the wider Communion. Furthermore, bishops should discipline and even excommunicate those who persistently reject the demands of Christian charity.

XXIII. The Anglican Communion is an episcopal, provincial, and conciliar communion that is centered on the See of Canterbury. This was implicit at its inception in 1867, and was made explicit in Lambeth 1930.49.

XXIV. Episcopal consecrations are only truly effective when the bishop’s apostolic ministry is translatable to every other diocese. This is why the episcopate is said to be “universal”.

XXV. If the Lambeth Conference resolutions carry no weight, then the ACC has no valid existence (Lambeth 1968.69), and the Archbishop of Canterbury is not the central bishop of the Anglican Communion (Lambeth 1930.49). As a conciliar meeting of bishops, the Lambeth Conference’s resolutions are precisely that – resolutions – rather than mere recommendations, mere suggestions, or episcopally articulated exercises in irrelevance and futility. Those who refuse to recognize the Lambeth Conference’s pastoral primacy should recognize this.

XXVI. The implication of these two crucial points is that the power to create and determine – and, therefore, the power to reform or dissolve – the Communion’s administrative “machinery” lies only with the bishops when they are gathered together in conciliar consultation.

XXVII. Bishops alone are the successors of the apostles. Because the episcopate exists and operates on the local (i.e., diocesan) level, no one can claim to uphold the various resolutions of the Lambeth Conferences if they have separated themselves from the local bishop and/or have also sought to undermine his or her ministry. Those who rebel against the local bishop rebel against all bishops, for the episcopate is universal.

XXVIII. The bishops of the Communion have the responsibility for standardizing liturgical practices. It is necessary that these be the same across the Communion, for sacraments are “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” Because those in holy orders are themselves “walking sacraments,” and because all signs by definition communicate, having an excessive diversity of liturgical practice within the Anglican Communion undermines the ability of Anglicans to communicate effectively with not just one another, but with everyone else as well. Just as the episcopate must be universally translatable within the Communion, so too must liturgical practices.

XXIX. Anglicans have a particular understanding of law that is not shared with other Protestants. It is most famously articulated in Richard Hooker’s great work Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. “That which doth assign unto each thing the kind, that which doth moderate the force and power, that which doth appoint the form and measure of working, the same we term a Law. […] All things therefore do work after a sort according to law” (Laws, I.2.1 – 2). This particular understanding of law was once central to Anglican existence; it must become central again.

XXX. The Anglican Communion desperately needs Communion-wide canon law. As Hooker writes, “The Church of Christ is a body mystical. A body cannot stand unless the parts thereof be proportionable” (Laws, Preface, 4.3). The parts can only be proportional if they adhere to the laws which have been set down for their guidance, so that they might work toward their appointed end.

XXXI. The inability to articulate a coherent ecclesial vision is a secession from the demands of Christian charity, especially when it comes to other Christians.

XXXII. Anglicanism lacks a recognizable pattern of piety. It is necessary to have a Communion-wide pattern of piety, for shared devotional practices unite us to one another, just as they deepen our corporate memory and also give us something to pass on to our children. Above all, a shared pattern of piety witnesses to those outside the Communion. It tells them who we are, where we locate our corporate memory, how we articulate our Christian vision, and why they themselves should participate in our way of life.

XXXIII. Patterns of piety are located in liturgical celebrations. These happen on Sundays in the Divine Service, but must also continue on appointed days of feasting and fasting. These days of feasting and fasting are located in the Church Calendar, and their celebration must be given greater emphasis by the bishops. Otherwise, our heritage remains a thing of texts, historically occasional reception, and the hermeneutical imagination, rather than a thing of bodies, successive generations, and the liturgical imagination.

XXXIV. The bishops of the Communion, in consultation with one another, should create a Communion-wide Anglican calendar made up of distinctly pre-Reformation and post-Reformation Anglican saints. This calendar should not be a pandering to political pressure groups, but the fruit of deep inquiry into the past, commemorating those who have had great influence by giving each particular collects, and other liturgical expressions of thanks. This would aid with each Anglican province receiving and celebrating each other’s corporate memory, thereby producing a pan-provincial Anglican self-understanding. This calendar should not be concerned with national holidays, but leave the celebration of these to the respective provinces of the Anglican Communion.

XXXV. The Anglican Communion needs a Communion-wide catechism. It should be based on a deep reading of Anglican history and theology, and the theological and historical lines of continuity that reach back to the pre-Reformation church. It should be based upon the Scriptures and other classical authorities: the Fathers and the four ecumenical councils, later Western doctors, the Reformers and the successive prayer books, and those authorities that have arisen since the time of the Reformation. As with the calendar, this catechism must bow to no political pressure group, and instead be based upon deep study of the history and heritage of our Communion.

XXXVI. To define oneself as a particular kind of Anglican is to make the modifier of one's identity - e.g., Anglo-Catholic, evangelical, liberal, etc. - more important than the base of one's identity - i.e., Anglican. Far from the Church needing three "streams" or "parties" in order to be catholic, each "stream" or "party" must lose itself as a unique identifier and also become what it is not: the Anglo-Catholic must become evangelical and liberal while retaining its catholic coherence and roots; the evangelical must become Anglo-Catholic and liberal, while retaining its sense of the primacy of Scripture; the liberal must become Anglo-Catholic and evangelical, while retaining its sense of the need for the engagement of contemporary culture. It is Anglicanism that should modify our own particularities and peculiarities, rather than these modifying our Anglicanism. Only in this way might it be said that we have died to ourselves and that we live for one another.

XXXVII. Theoria often follows praxis. Anglicanism sans parties will only come into being after people let go of their identities as this or that kind of Anglican and begin to refer to themselves - and, therefore, to know themselves - simply as Anglicans. This, however, involves a sacrifice of the will; it involves a submission to the larger Communion; it involves a willingness to step out into a new period of existence where old identities, which are so secure and entrenched, are seen as always already meaningless. We must learn to sit at one another's feet, as well as the feet of our spiritual forebears. We must stop seizing identities for ourselves, and instead begin receiving an identity for ourselves from one another. Bishops should lead the way in this, and see to it that their own do not fall or deviate to the left, the right, or any other direction.

XXXVIII. Christ is our great high priest not because he is male, but because he is fully united to God. The priesthood is therefore embodied by both male and female, for the work of priesthood is neither male nor female, but the work of God. Human priesthood is united to Divine priesthood by way of grace.

XXXIX. From time to time in history, there are periods of tremendous upset, which occur at the same time as periods of tremendous intellectual ferment. These periods are also periods of synthesis. Anglicanism is undergoing the birth pains of a new synthesis.

XL. The inability to synthesize historical and theological differences into a coherent eccesiological vision signifies both a lack of intellectual rigor and lack of theological imagination. Anglicanism has historically lacked neither of these.

XLI. The only synthesis that matters over the long term is that which makes sense of the past; thus, the toil towards synthesis today must recognize the depth and breadth of its calling as an activity of anamnestic maximalism. In this way, catechesis – teaching – is a descriptive activity: it must make sense of that which has been received (tradition). It is the job of the bishops, as the teachers and guardians of the faith, to see to it that the past is sounded out truly and brought to bear upon the present, rather than letting the present drown out “so vast a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1).

XLII. The Church has no control over the study of its own history: only the exclusive calling to bear witness to it. However, if the bishops will not study, learn from, and then teach us our history, the historians shall do so for them – and the historians are beholden far less to special interest groups, and far more to the demands of critical inquiry and the republic of letters, than many bishops today seem to be. The Church ignores such critical inquiry to its own spiritual peril, and therefore deserves the ridicule it receives for not cultivating but ignoring – or, what is worse, suppressing – its own intellectual life.
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