The myopia of not propagating Anglicanism

And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it - Revelation 21:22.

The Eucharist is provisional.  Scripture is provisional.  The three-fold order of apostolic ministry is provisional. When "the great Church victorious will be the Church at rest", each of these will pass away.

To say, then, that Anglicanism "is not ultimate, only provisional" - words from Eugene R. Schlesinger's article yesterday on Covenant - is to merely say that the Anglican tradition shares this characteristic with every other Christian tradition, with the Sacraments, and with Scripture, because "only Jesus Christ is ultimate".  In terms of aiding an understanding of Anglican identity or the vocation of Anglicanism, this perhaps does not particularly aid us.

Schlesinger goes on to state that Anglicanism recognises itself as "a portion and faithful expression of [the catholic] Church, but it is only a portion, only an expression, not its fullness". This is a venerable aspect of Anglican self-understanding, a recognition that catholic fullness cannot be deemed to reside in one national church - or one see.  Hence Jewel in his Apology contrasted the limited nature of the authority claimed by the Church of England with the Bishop of Rome who "willed to have the 'whole Church depend upon' himself alone".  This was the "tyranny" rejected by the ecclesia Anglicana: "these men avouch the universal possession of the Catholic Church to be their own".

Against this, much more modest aims lay behind the reformation of the ecclesia Anglicana.  Canon 30 of the Canons of 1604 emphasises this modesty, and the determination not to deny that other Churches - irrespective of the divisions of the Reformation - are a part of the Church catholic:

Nay, so far was it from the purpose of the Church of England to forsake and reject the Churches of Italy, France, Spain, Germany, or any such like Churches, in all things which they held and practised, that as the Apology of the Church of England confesseth, it doth with Reverence retain those Ceremonies which do neither endamage the Church of God, nor offend the Minds of sober Men; and only departed from them in those particular Points, wherein they were fallen both from themselves in their ancient Integrity.

This foundational Anglican insistence that we are not the fullness of the Church catholic is not, however, an inoffensive exercise in ecclesiastical hand-wringing.  It has bite, precisely because no church or see can claim catholic fullness.  This means that Schlesinger's claim that "Anglican identity is oriented toward and at the service of a larger Catholic fullness" requires - at least - considerable nuance. 

It certainly cannot mean the Ordinariate, which Schlesinger seems to point towards as an example.  Anglicanorum Coetibus, from its opening paragraph, makes abundantly clear what it understands 'Catholic fullness' to be: "governed by the successor of Peter". This is self-evidently not what classical Anglicanism has meant by the 'Church catholic'.

The language of provisionality, because it is not to be uniquely applied to Anglicanism, does not therefore contribute in a significant manner to reflection on Anglican identity or the vocation of Anglicanism. What is more, when it is regarded as having a particular applicability to Anglicanism, it can result in the following judgement:

Our primary task is not to propagate Anglicanism, but to spread the gospel of Christ, and to promote the unity of his one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. 

If Anglican churches do not propagate Anglicanism, they will be propagating another tradition, intensifying the "theological incoherence" which undermines both Anglican witness and the work of catholic unity.  If they do not propagate Anglicanism, they will not be propagating the gospel of Christ as received and proclaimed by the Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Formularies - indeed, the risk is that "another gospel", unknown to the Church catholic, will be shared.  If they do not propagate Anglicanism, they will not be shaping disciples through the practices and piety of Anglicanism. 

If Anglican churches do not propogate Anglicanism, then the "treasures in the Anglican patrimony" are lost to the Body of Christ.

It is this which would be "a myopic shrinking of our vision".


  1. I continue to enjoy your perspectives, with which I find myself in great sympathy as a committed Anglican. I wonder if you would consider some posts that take up the Anglican witness to the catholic faith, not in relation to Rome, but to Orthodoxy. Does a classical/Laudian Anglican perspective see Orthodoxy as "fallen" from the "ancient Integrity" in the same sense? You write a lot about the success of the Anglican reformers in recovering the patristic and monastic inheritance of the Church, which is obviously more central to the living tradition of the East. Then you have the episcopal/conciliar form of governance vs. papal supremacy, some real resistance to post-early-centuries encrustations of faith and practice (I love Lancelot Andrewes' motto "one canon, two testaments, three creeds, four councils, five centuries" and don't really see too many issues and dangers extending that to "seven councils, ten centuries"), some superficial similarity in the teaching of the relation to monarch and thus to the secular/political world, an approach to Holy Tradition with at least some arguable similarities, etc. (My point is not to exonerate Orthodoxy from the charge of "encrustations," etc. -- anyone showing up in an Orthodox church on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent and hearing how the Church thinks our attention on the day should be especially focused on Gregory Palamas could draw an easy contrast to the Prayer Book tradition. But, ecclesia semper et ubique reformanda, and it's still a very different comparison.)

    I'm quite curious whether articulating the relationship between the ecclesial/doctrinal realities and principles would strike you as being as simple as discussing the relation to Rome, or something much more complicated (and perhaps fruitful in those complications). Of course, Orthodoxy has not been the historical interlocutor for the Anglican project, and thus the method of historical excavation you've often been following here wouldn't quite answer. There was that Lutheran mission to Constantinople in 1570, which is certainly an intriguing historical contrafactual, but in general "ecclesia catholica reformata" never really encountered, squared its accounts with, and understood itself in relation to Orthodoxy. Even the Orthodox doctrine of salvation (I'm no expert) is hardly something Tridentine in relation to which would be simple (for me) to say how an Anglican would or should stand. So I do think Orthodoxy has some claim to be a logical sounding board for the particular approach you are taking on this blog, against which your own commitments and projects and how they fit into the historical experience of the Church could become much clearer. I hope you'll consider it.

    1. Thank you, this is a very interesting point. A few things come immediately to mind:

      1. Article 19 significantly avoids any condemnation of the Church of Constantinople. Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch are mentioned chiefly because of the patristic era Christological controversies - but no statement of error is made regarding Constantinople.

      2. Nicholas Lossky's reading of Lancelot Andrewes is particularly suggestive of how Orthodoxy can interact with and relate to classical Anglicanism.

      3. Mindful that the Calvin's theology was - in a range of ways - significant to classical Anglicanism (as a Reformed expression), Rowan Williams's suggestion that Calvin was 'the last of the Greek Fathers' is compelling.

      4. Anglicanism and Orthodoxy share not dissimilar experiences of national churches, gathering up cultures and societies in prayer and sacrament, apart from the papal supremacy.

      So, yes, there are good grounds for exploring shared ground between classical Anglicanism and Orthodoxy. That said, there are also obvious and significant differences. The most significant is that Anglicanism is a product of the Latin Augustinian West - this is a key part of our theological, ecclesial, and liturgical DNA.

      I should also say that I am very firmly of the view that the Filioque is an important aspect of this.

    2. Very interesting--thanks for this reply. I never noticed the omission of Constantinople in Article 19; I'm sure some would argue that only apostolic sees are mentioned, but I do find your interpretation attractive (and more cogent).

      Like everyone from Laud to Lossky to Rowan Williams to T.S. Eliot, I am a big fan of Andrewes, and I'd love to have a look at Lossky's book (it will have to be interlibrary loan -- cheapest copy is the French edition at $63).

      I take you to be saying that the Filioque is integral to the Western church's "theological and ecclesial DNA"--I'd be interested in learning your fuller thoughts on that. My church (ECUSA) resolved in 1994 to follow the recommendations of the Lambeth Conference of 1988 and to drop the filioque from the next edition of our BCP, and as you might imagine from the spirit of my question, I don't regret that at all. I'd be comfortable saying, "the sending of the Holy Spirit from the Son is so important in the West that we added it to the creed for a long time, and it confirmed for us some important ecclesial and theological insights" (ditto with our Augustinian inheritance)...but you are saying you think it's important that the Western church retain it *in the Nicene Creed*? While I know practical union is not nigh, I recoil a bit at the suggestion (if I understood you correctly) that this would need to be a principled cause of separation.

  2. As a long-time admirer of this blog, I'm grateful that you’ve taken the time to read and interact with my recent piece on Covenant. I’d like to offer just a few points of clarification on my purpose in writing the essay and its intended meaning.

    (1) You note that the claim that Anglicanism is provisional rather than ultimate applies to all Christian churches. Yea and amen. I certainly don't mean to imply that this provisionality is uniquely Anglican. In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Anglican Studies I make this case a bit more strongly, and also argue that Anglicanism's distinct ecumenical charism may be that it is a Catholic Church (more accurately, a communion of churches) that recognizes its own incompleteness. This allows us to invite the other churches to recognize our own provisionality and embrace a vocation to be transcended within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

    (2) Related to this, the 1948 Lambeth Conference (writing in the context of the formation of the CSI) suggested that while Anglicanism is ultimately provisional, it would be a betrayal of vocation "if the Anglican Communion were to allow itself to be dispersed before its particular work was done."

    (3) To that end, I am very much committed to the principle that Anglican churches ought to uphold and express classical Anglican distinctiveness. A major impetus of my writing was to challenge the idea, expressed by figures like Archbishop Okoh, movements like GAFCON, and alternative jurisdictions like the ACNA that Anglicanism can dispense with these. When I suggest that our task is not to propagate Anglicanism, but rather to spread the gospel of Christ, I fully intend that this will mean passing on the faith as we have received it (a catholic faith and order, as expressed by the prayer book tradition and lived out by means of the instruments of communion).

    (4) My mention of the Anglican Ordinariate is not intended to suggest that this is the way to fulfill Anglicanism's ecumenical vocation, but just to note that no less a figure than Benedict recognized that Anglicanism has gifts and graces to offer the church catholic. Entering into full communion with the See of Peter, as good as that may be, falls short of the 1920 Lambeth Conference's ideal of the Catholic Church (the union of all the baptized with all the baptized in Christ). There may be reasons for Anglicans to take the Roman Catholic Church up on this offer of full communion, but doing so does not the church's wounds (full communion with other Anglicans is left behind, to say nothing of the Catholic-Protestant and East-West divisions).

    1. Eugene, many thanks for your kind words about the blog and for taking time to respond to this post. I particularly thank you for a response significantly more gracious than the tone in my post.

      I think your 4 points address many of my questions and concerns.

      I would continue to have reservations about BXVI's recognition of the gifts and graces of Anglicanism. It seems to me that the Ordinariate embraces a very selective understanding of these gifts and graces, and is inherently incapable of recognising key aspects of the Anglican experience - national churches, married priests (any vocations nurtured within the Ordinariate, of course, must commit to clerical celibacy), the role of the laity in the governance of national churches, and - of course - the insistence that communion with the See of Peter is not required for a church to be catholic.

      Again, thank you for a very gracious response.


  3. Very fine reflections. Regarding the modest claims of historic Anglican ecclesiology, are you familiar with the Solemn Declaration of 1893? Besides being an outstanding expression of Reformed Catholic identity, it splendidly articulates the Anglican and classically Reformed position that no single church, communion of churches or jurisdiction can lay claim to being the fullness of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ:

    "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
    WE, the Bishops, together with the Delegates from the Clergy and Laity of the Church of England in the Dominion of Canada, now assembled in the first General Synod, hereby make the following Solemn Declaration:

    We declare this Church to be, and desire that it shall continue, in full communion with the Church of England throughout the world, as an integral portion of the One Body of Christ composed of the Churches which, united under the One Divine Head and in fellowship of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, hold the One Faith revealed in Holy Writ, and defined in the Creeds as maintained by the undivided primitive Church in the undisputed Ecumenical Councils;

    ~~ receive the same Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as containing all things necessary to salvation; teach the same Word of God;

    ~~ partake of the same Divinely ordained Sacraments, through the ministry of the same Apostolic Orders;

    ~~ and worship One God and Father through the same Lord Jesus Christ, by the same Holy and Divine Spirit who is given to them that believe to guide them into all truth.

    And we are determined by the help of God to hold and maintain the Doctrine, Sacraments, and Discipline of Christ as the Lord hath commanded in his Holy Word, and as the Church of England hath received and set forth in The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England; together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in Churches; and the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests and Deacons and in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion; and to transmit the same unimpaired to our posterity."

  4. "We declare this Church to be, and desire that it shall continue, in full communion with the Church of England throughout the world, as an integral portion of the One Body of Christ composed of the Churches which, united under the One Divine Head and in fellowship of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."

    This is the key statement. In addition to declaring ecclesial identity--we are obviously speaking of an Anglican church, and this is made abundantly clear in the final paragraph, which mentions adherence to the BCP, the Ordinal and the Articles of Religion--the Canadians see themselves, and, by implication, the Church of England, as an integral portion of the One Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is thus bigger than the Church of England; the latter is an integral portion but, by no means, the whole of what is a composition of churches, united under the One Divine Head, within the fellowship of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    This, it seems to me, comports very closely with NT ecclesiology. St. Paul can speak of a universal transnational people: "the Church of the living God", as he describes it to Timothy, which includes, but is not limited to the Church of Ephesus. And, yet, there are local, particular and ethnic concretizations of the universal Church in Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, et al.

    The reality and cohesion of the universal Church cannot be gainsaid. And yet, apart from its communal instantiations in a particular locale, the universal Church, which is the company of all baptized believers, is somewhat abstract. The local churches are the universal Church in microcosm; it is in them where Christ and his Spirit are found; not only in the administration of God's holy Word and Sacraments on the Lord's Day, but in the mundane business of day-to-day activity within the life of a community where all who have been joined to Christ by faith and baptism are members one of another.

    1. Many thanks for sharing Solemn Declaration - a fine text, which I have long admired. I entirely agree that it is "an outstanding expression of Reformed Catholic identity". It is very similar to the Church of Ireland's Preamble and Declaration of 1870 (also a trad High Church, Laudian document) -

      As with the Canadian Solemn Declaration, the CofI Declaration robustly affirms the Anglican Formularies, while also recognising that it is a part of the "Ancient Catholick and Apostolick Church".

      Your reference to "communal instantiations in a particular locale" is a vital part of the Anglican experience. As the late John Hughes stated of Anglican churches, they are "not ... defined by a confession or founder, but by geography and culture".

  5. Thanks for the privilege of being an interlocutor here. I'm unacquainted with the Irish church's Preamble of 1870. I will check it out at the link you have provided.

    I would hesitate to go quite as far John Hughes. Geography and culture are hugely important matters in the life of a national church; but the confession has, or it should have, a pivotal role in the formation of any geographically situated Christian culture. It is the soil in which it flourishes; a key to maintaining continuity and cultural coherence.

    The Anglican tradition, I humbly submit, is unique among the Reformation churches in matters of confessional material. Whereas the continental Reformed and Lutheran traditions can boast of superb catechisms and doctrinal formulae, ours has the distinction of including a magnificent liturgy as one of three authoritative formularies, which express not only the doctrines but the very life of the Reformed English Church.

    They do not stand alone, of course. Behind the BCP, Ordinal and 39 Articles of Religion are the canonical Scriptures--the supreme criterion against which all doctrines are measured--and the essential catholicity of the ancient Western church, handed down in creeds, general councils and the fathers of the first 5 to 6 centuries of Christian history. This kind of continuity was by no means unique to the Anglican Reformation, but inasmuch as our Reformers were eager to retain as much as possible from antiquity, it meant the English church would be blessed with a liturgy which preserves many of the old customs, cycles and rhythms of pre Reformation Christianity.

    More can be said about the unique contours of the Anglican tradition: the progressive reform of canon law and the revision of the liturgy in 1662 are very important considerations; and we would be remiss to neglect the 2 books of Homilies and that remarkable body of theology beginning with the Reformers, which stretches beyond the restoration in giants such as Beveridge and Waterland.

    The propagation of Anglicanism as a most excellent way of being a biblical and orthodox Christian is much to be desired. But our current malaise, one of conflicting theologies and antagonistic churchmanships, exacerbated by a neglect of our own spiritual patrimony, has resulted in the confusion of our culture, an inability to know who we are precisely because we have no idea from whence we came.

    1. Many thanks for coming back and my apologies for the delay in responding.

      I think Hughes would have agreed with your nuance regarding his comment on culture and geography. Indeed, in the essay from which the quote was taken - 'Anglicanism as Integral Humanism: A de Lubacian reading of the Church of England' - he goes on to draw on the Articles of Religion as "a significant part" of the settlement of the ecclesia Anglicana as "reformed as well as catholic".

      As you suggest, however, Anglicanism has given a particular emphasis to the need for the life of the Church to be embedded in a culture and this, I think, is the point of Hughes's remark. This is particularly seen in the classical liturgy crucial to the Anglican experience: it was profoundly embedded in a particular culture {and profoundly shaped that culture).

      Your concluding paragraph is superb! I could not agree more. Above all, there is a pressing need to draw attention to the coherence of Anglicanism, a coherence found in our classical formularies.

  6. Dean Eric Abbott said to me(1980) that he had asked Bp Michael Marshall "What IS Catholic Renewal?" He felt that movement, in full swing in the 80s, lacked Abglican rootage.
    When JP2 removed Hans Kung as a Catholic Theologian he said...I think we need a fresh Anglican understanding of reformed Catholicism.
    Both remarks were I thought characteristically insightful.


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