Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rebuilding a Broken House: The Foundation



I want to begin a series of posts which will lay out for you, the reader, some suggestions that I have as to how we can begin to rebuild Anglicanism, from the ground up.  This blog has been dedicated to exploring some of the historical issues associated with Anglican churchmanship; now I want to offer my ideas about how to solve some of the problems which have crept up over the past hundred years with little challenge, especially in the Protestant Episcopal Church.

I compare our Church to a crumbling house, one that is imploding on itself.  The question arises, what causes a building to fall?  The answer I think of is that the foundation is not sturdy enough to hold the building up.  I think this is exactly what has happened to our Church over the years.  We have the problem as conservatives, especially, of claiming that liberals have misinterpreted Anglican theology but on what basis do we make that claim?  Therein lies the problem, from my perspective, the theological and liturgical authority of the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion has been eroded over time, since the Oxford Movement, so that now they are ignored by clergy and unknown to many laity.  This is simply unacceptable for a Church.  What other Church ignores her foundation?  Most people know the Episcopal Church as being "Catholic lite" that is only because we have willfully ignored our own tradition to the extent that no one knows what our Church is really all about, except, perhaps, somewhat of a liturgical appreciation society for disaffected Romans who dislike their own Church's marital discipline.  My friends, this is simply unacceptable.

There is a theological authority in the Anglican tradition and that is found in several documents, which together make up what we call formularies.  This word is not a commonplace word in contemporary English parlance, thus I will quote an excellent summation of the nature of formularies from an older Prayer Book Society article, "Anglican Formularies - Are Evangelicals really missing out?":

"Perhaps here is the right place to reflect for a moment on the word “Formulary”, which is not a word in common usage, but an important word, nevertheless, as it has been used in serious Anglican discourse consistently since the sixteenth century. The Latin word, formularius (liber) [=a book of formulae], on which it is based, pointed to a collection of set forms or instructions for the performance or direction of a ceremony or an official duty. Thus a “formulary’ within a national Church is a book which contains the set forms and rules of what the Church believes, teaches and confesses, the liturgy it uses, and the way it creates the ordained Ministry. In reforming itself in the sixteenth century, the Ecclesia Anglicana reformed its Formularies (those which had been in force in the medieval period) to create three new ones – The Book of Common Prayer, The Book of Ordination Services [Ordinal] and The Thirty-Nine Articles, along with a new edition of Canon Law. Under the authority of Scripture, these summed up and presented the standards, norms and means by which the reformed Church of England sought to be the national jurisdiction of the Catholic Church of God. These Formularies not only provided the way to worship and serve God daily but they also distinguished the Church of England from other jurisdictions in Scotland and Europe. Take away the Formularies and leave only the Bible and what you have is a Church without shape, form and substance for there are no common standards or guidelines to govern all the many parts and keep them together as one."

Peter Toon (I presume wrote this) adequately defines what a formulary is and I think presents it in a good contrast to a confession.  This will serve to ease the objections of certain Churchmen to an allegiance to the Articles, for to them it stinks of Puritan confessionalism.  While I would contend this definition of confessionalism, it is fine by my book to distinguish between formularies and confessions (for that reason they are called Articles).  The formularies are not as exhaustive as other Protestant confessions and allow for that sense of comprehensiveness which is characteristic of our tradition.  The article does a good job of pointing out that there are more than one source for the formularies: the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, the Articles of Religion, and the Homilies (Toon doesn't mention them).  Also, historical canons should be considered; the more important volume is the set of 1604, which were the canonical standards in England until the 20th century.  I will treat each source separately to consider how its use would be benefitial for us.

The Book of Common Prayer

Arguably the most important document for Anglicans, I will not consider its history or contents here as this deserves its own time and space.  The Book of Common Prayer is primarily a liturgical document meant to define and set boundaries to our public and private prayer.  But as Anglicans we know that liturgy is shaped and shapes theology according to the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi.  Therefore, the BCP is also a theological document for us.  The BCP has important things to say about Baptism and Communion and other important theological matters.  However, considering its liturgical purpose, the Prayer Book defines biblical worship by limiting our prayer to those things which are agreeable to Scripture.

The BCP should be reinstituted in our minds as the liturgical standard for Anglicanism.  Let me be clear as to what I am not saying.  I do not think that the solution for Anglicans is to begin using an edition of the classical BCP tomorrow, although I don't think that would hurt us.  The real issue is to absorb the theology of the BCP first and then use its forms.  I am not of the mind that adopting Elizabethan English will solve our theological problems for I know of many heretics who can read Elizabethan English.  I think eventually the restoration of truly Common Prayer needs to be accomplished but I think that is a "phase two" aspect of Anglican restoration.  The BCP in its traditional form requires a certain sense of decency lacking in modern circles which has to be acquired by abandoning all forms of Popery and newfangled pop religion.

The BCP limits us from these departures from historic Anglican practices such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Rosaries, Novenas, Purgatory, unreformed Masses, Requiems, "hymn sandwiches," conference-style worship, etc. all which are departures from our tradition.

The Ordinal

Nowadays the Ordinal is printed in the BCP but it used to be a separate booklet.  It is primarily concerned with Ordination.  The Ordinal keeps us in a godly frame of mind when thinking of the Christian ministry.  The apostolic order requires the orders of bishops, priests, and deacons serving in ministry in Christ's Church.  The Ordinal guards us against unorderly conduct in ordination such as to think we can ordain our own ministers as is the case in Nonconformist churches and also from the error of sacerdotalism common in Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy.  The classical Ordinal also guards us from the error of the ordination of women, which is a departure from apostolic order and witness.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion

Arguably the least known of the formularies and often most ignored, deliberately.  The Articles are meant to give a theological interpretation of the BCP and also address certain issues of the time in which they were written.  In fact, this is one of the arguments against their applicability today.  Many argue that they are a relic of the past, only drawn up to answer 16th century problems (tell that to an African primate!).  While it is true that the Articles of Religion were written in response to sixteenth century problems, they still hold today as the authoritative, theological standard for Anglicanism.  A similar line of argument could be used to justify liberal theology, was not the Nicene Creed a response to fourth century issues?  It is important to note here that the 39 Articles do not necessitate Calvinism for the holder (although they do not preclude it).  The Articles are subject to interpretation as are all written documents.  The important thing here is to adopt interpretations which are faithful to the original text, which excludes fanciful interpretations such as that of Mr. Newman.  At this point, I must point out some excellent commentaries on them, from differing theological stands.  Griffith-Thomas offers the classic Reformed interpretation (Boultbee is a good alternative to him), Browne offers a classical High Church interpretation, Bicknell is one of the more popular editions but he was influenced heavily by Newman and I would discourage the use of his work without comparison with other works.

The Articles prohibit unbiblical theology such as works salvation, Purgatory, the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice, seven sacraments, images, relics, invocation of saints, memorialism, consubstantiation, transubstantiation, Anabaptism, etc.  However, they allow flexibility in areas such as soteriology (between Calvinism, Arminianism, Armyraldianism, etc.), eschatology (although classically amil/postmil), exact nature of baptism and Communion, (receptionism vs. dynamic virtualism), the exact nature of the eucharistic sacrifice (commemoration of a sacrifice vs. commemorative sacrifice, etc.), which shows the depth of theological comprehensiveness allowed by Anglicanism.  The function of the Articles is to limit that comprehensiveness to an ecumenical and Protestant creedal orthodoxy.

The Homilies

I must be honest in that I do not know much about the Homilies.  They were written to provide orthodox sermons for those priests who were not well educated enough to compose their own sermons.  They generally elaborate on points made in the Articles.  The most famous example is in the Article on Justification which refers to the Homily for further clarification.

The Canons of 1604

Although not a technical formulary in the classical sense, the 1604 Canons are a fascinating read and provide further clarity, generally of a liturgical and ceremonial matter.  For instance, they interpret the Ornaments Rubric officially to mean a surplice at the least and a cope at the most as the officially-sanctioned vestments for Anglican priests.  They define that every church must have a holy table, font, and be kept decently.  They require communion three times a year (very frequent for that time) and much more.  I think a thorough re-evaluation of our canons in relation to the 1604 edition should be considered.

I hope I have provided a case for the theological foundation of our Church, grounded upon Holy Scripture and our formularies.

5 comments:

conciliaranglican said...

This is in general a great post, and I want to commend you on offering classical Anglicanism as a means of recalling the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church to the foundation of biblical faith. Much of what you say here I whole heartedly agree with. The BCP is our standard, not just for liturgy but for theology, and we are lost when we abandon it. The 39 Articles are also an important standard for Anglican doctrine, when understood properly, and when read in light of the prayer book. So I think you’re taking the right approach here and I look forward to seeing where you go with it in future posts.

All of that being said, there are a few things here that I would quibble with, though in the spirit of friendship since I think we’re largely after the same thing.

The BCP limits us from these departures from historic Anglican practices such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Rosaries, Novenas, Purgatory, unreformed Masses, Requiems, "hymn sandwiches," conference-style worship, etc. all which are departures from our tradition.

This is kind of a jumble of stuff, and I think you need to work out just how and why you see each of these things as problematic. I’m not even sure what all of these things are. What, for instance, is a “hymn sandwich”?

I would question the inclusion of a few of these. Particularly problematic is the inclusion of the rosary, which ante-dates the Reformation and which does not contain anything that a strict Anglican could not embrace or at least tolerate. The most controversial part of the Rosary would probably be the “Hail Mary,” but even there two thirds of the prayer is simply a repetition of Scripture. So the essence of the controversy would be over the last clause of the prayer in which the petitioner asks the Blessed Mother to pray for us. While the Articles denounce “invocation of the saints,” there is no clear definition there, other than that the Roman practice is somehow tainted. Anglicanism’s starting point is a return both to Scripture and the early Church. It is arguable whether asking saints to pray for us is in Scripture but it certainly is not condemned there and it is undeniable that the early Church called upon the Theotokos for prayer. This, it seems to me, is very different from praying to the saints, asking them to do certain things for us by their own power or merit.

All of that aside, I would not want to see Anglicans forced to pray Rosaries or to participate in Christian rock concerts or any of a number of other things, but that does not mean they are illicit. Yes, the BCP rules certain things out of bounds. The BCP is our core, our foundation, and it should certainly be what we’re using for worship on Sunday morning, but I think we will make a huge mistake if we try to root out every private devotion that Anglican Christians may make use of, especially those that have a long, rich, apostolic history...

conciliaranglican said...

Many argue that [the 39 Articles] are a relic of the past, only drawn up to answer 16th century problems (tell that to an African primate!). While it is true that the Articles of Religion were written in response to sixteenth century problems, they still hold today as the authoritative, theological standard for Anglicanism. A similar line of argument could be used to justify liberal theology, was not the Nicene Creed a response to fourth century issues?

Nevertheless, the Articles are not authoritative in the same way as the Creeds because they lack any sort of conciliar basis. They are a standard for Anglicans, but only in relation to the BCP. In some cases, the Articles are only a standard for England, where they mention the role of the crown for instance. I think the danger with the Articles goes both ways. Liberals and Anglo-Catholics want to deny that they hold any authority whatsoever. Reformed want to turn them into a full throated confession and elevate them to a place of seeming infallibility. The framers of the Elizabethan Settlement would be shocked by either approach.

The important thing here is to adopt interpretations which are faithful to the original text, which excludes fanciful interpretations such as that of Mr. Newman.

It is easy to go overboard on criticizing Tract 90. There are certainly places in that tract where Newman’s efforts to fit his own theology into the Articles renders them meaningless. This is especially true when he comes to the question of justification, which I think he gets totally wrong. He plays with words, as we all do. But that does not mean that everything in Tract 90 is nonsense. There are places where Newman revives earlier understandings of the Articles that can be found in the seventeenth century. There are other places where he offers an understanding of the Articles that is consistent with the patristic period in a way that the understanding of many of Newman’s contemporaries was not. I think that sometimes we have a tendency to read Newman and the other Oxford Fathers through the lens of the Anglo-Catholicism that sprouted later. It’s interesting to go back and read through the Tracts for the Times and see how many places “Romanism” and “Papism” are criticized.

Anyhow, as I said, these are a few places where I would want to pose some challenge, but overall I think you’re on the right path. Keep up the good work!

The Hackney Hub said...

I look forward to responding to you in further detail, Father.

I think especially for us in the Episcopal Church (as I understand you are, correct me if I am wrong), I think a firm foundation is more than ever a necessary way forward for us.

Hopefully I can clarify some of the things I stated in the post in my response to you as well.

The Hackney Hub said...

Let me attempt to adequately answer your objections now.

"This is kind of a jumble of stuff, and I think you need to work out just how and why you see each of these things as problematic. I’m not even sure what all of these things are. What, for instance, is a “hymn sandwich”?"

Sorry, a "hymn sandwich" is a reference to forms of service one can find in certain evangelical circles. It's classically a reference to Presbyterian orders of worship in Scotland. Often times the liturgy is replaced by hymns which I disagree with.

"I would question the inclusion of a few of these. Particularly problematic is the inclusion of the rosary, which ante-dates the Reformation and which does not contain anything that a strict Anglican could not embrace or at least tolerate. The most controversial part of the Rosary would probably be the “Hail Mary,” but even there two thirds of the prayer is simply a repetition of Scripture. So the essence of the controversy would be over the last clause of the prayer in which the petitioner asks the Blessed Mother to pray for us. While the Articles denounce “invocation of the saints,” there is no clear definition there, other than that the Roman practice is somehow tainted. Anglicanism’s starting point is a return both to Scripture and the early Church. It is arguable whether asking saints to pray for us is in Scripture but it certainly is not condemned there and it is undeniable that the early Church called upon the Theotokos for prayer. This, it seems to me, is very different from praying to the saints, asking them to do certain things for us by their own power or merit."

I respectfully disagree with you on this point. I think that Article 22 dismisses the notion of praying to or with the saints. However, in response specifically to the Rosary, the original form of the Ave Maria did not include petitions to the Virgin (which were added in the 1200's or so I believe). I would be in favor of allowing a modified Rosary for those who are attached to this form of devotion if they used the original form of the prayer, which ended with "blessed is the fruit of thy womb." I think Anglican rosaries are fine so long as they conform to the doctrinal standards. For instance, the formula with the Jesus Prayer is an especially powerful prayer.

I think there could be a theological debate for what C.B. Moss calls "comprecation" in his classic, "The Christian Faith," which is an indirect invocation of the saints. Although I am against it in all forms, I think the overall goal of lifting the formularies back to their proper place is more important than the nitty gritty of interpretation.

"All of that aside, I would not want to see Anglicans forced to pray Rosaries or to participate in Christian rock concerts or any of a number of other things, but that does not mean they are illicit. Yes, the BCP rules certain things out of bounds. The BCP is our core, our foundation, and it should certainly be what we’re using for worship on Sunday morning, but I think we will make a huge mistake if we try to root out every private devotion that Anglican Christians may make use of, especially those that have a long, rich, apostolic history..."

You have a point and my intention is not to root out all other devotion besides the Prayer Book but I think we do have to make sure that our private devotion is not deviating from our theological standards in any way. Private devotion is usually where "folk religion" begins and fosters a sense of "superstition" that the formularies speak out so strongly against. That being said, the responsibility does not necessarily fall entirely on the laity but if the clergy are preaching the faith from the pulpits, the laity will be well-informed and the problem will in a sense solve itself.

The Hackney Hub said...

'Nevertheless, the Articles are not authoritative in the same way as the Creeds because they lack any sort of conciliar basis. They are a standard for Anglicans, but only in relation to the BCP. In some cases, the Articles are only a standard for England, where they mention the role of the crown for instance. I think the danger with the Articles goes both ways. Liberals and Anglo-Catholics want to deny that they hold any authority whatsoever. Reformed want to turn them into a full throated confession and elevate them to a place of seeming infallibility. The framers of the Elizabethan Settlement would be shocked by either approach."

Of course, the Articles are a confession but were meant to be read in conjunction with the Prayer Book, Homilies, Ordinal, and to a certain extent the Canons. They cannot stand in a vacuum because they do not answer every question of the Christian faith but, rather, limit our comprehensiveness. I think the actual name of our Church is a good example of what the limits of Anglican comprehensiveness originally were: the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. We are Protestant in a general sense but not tied to any specific theology and we are Catholic in that we have maintained apostolic order through our bishops. The Articles have been modified for America in their 1801 form, perhaps that should be the starting point? Although global Anglicans still accept the 1662 BCP and 1571 Articles as authoritative, even though they still have specific references to English politics. For me, the important thing is to remember that they do have authority in our church in matters related to doctrine.

"It is easy to go overboard on criticizing Tract 90. There are certainly places in that tract where Newman’s efforts to fit his own theology into the Articles renders them meaningless. This is especially true when he comes to the question of justification, which I think he gets totally wrong. He plays with words, as we all do. But that does not mean that everything in Tract 90 is nonsense. There are places where Newman revives earlier understandings of the Articles that can be found in the seventeenth century. There are other places where he offers an understanding of the Articles that is consistent with the patristic period in a way that the understanding of many of Newman’s contemporaries was not. I think that sometimes we have a tendency to read Newman and the other Oxford Fathers through the lens of the Anglo-Catholicism that sprouted later. It’s interesting to go back and read through the Tracts for the Times and see how many places “Romanism” and “Papism” are criticized."

I think you raise an interesting point in your last sentence which reflects that the Tracts are not homogeneous. They were mostly written by Newman but a few others contributed. Even the ones written by Newman reflect his changing theology in the years 1833-1845. My main objection to Mr. Newman's interpretation is its non-historicity according to Anglican interpretation of the Articles up to that point. You rightly point out that Newman does use some 17th and 18th century theology to back his own but this is usually selective and specifically chosen for his interests. His playing with words, in my opinion, contradicts King Charles I's declaration, usually printed right before the Articles in the 1662 BCP, which exhorts a "literal, grammatical, and historical," interpretation. There are much more authentic and faithful interpretations out there, in my opinion, especially for High Church people, Browne's Exposition is of the finest quality, providing Scriptural reference and Patristic support for every point.

Thanks for your comments! I always enjoy charitable debate.