Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Question of Terms

If you've read any of the pieces on this site, you'll soon discover that I have a high regard for the old High Church tradition in Anglicanism.  I haven't wavered from that appreciation nor from the theological principles therein.  The problem I continue to face in my interaction with contemporary Anglicanism is a question of terms.  The task of describing my theological outlook becomes increasingly difficult.  The problem that I encounter is that "high church" has become a ritual/ceremonial term (I'm not surprised by this -- nor am I just now discovering this).  The problem seems that either the ceremonial implications of this term have overshadowed the theological tenets underneath to the point that they are forgotten or, perhaps, the ceremonial connotation has taken over the theological meaning.  I always remind people that these terms (low, broad, and high) were originally theological terms, describing one's understanding of the Church.  But even that is over-simplifying things.  Originally, these terms were actually a question of emphasis, when the Protestant credentials of Anglicanism were not questioned.  Over time, the Protestant nature of the Church was doubted, questioned, and eventually denied.  I think at that point, these terms began to lose their force in ability to describe the various understandings within Anglicanism.  

I have begun to slip in a new system of terms into the articles I write here.  It's an underdeveloped system but I think it describes better the contemporary situation, or at least as I see it.  What for me was the Old High Church tradition, of men such as Laud, Taylor, Cosin, Waterland, Van Mildert, Seabury, Hopkins, Hobart, etc. I refer to as "centrist" because if you compare the theology of men claiming to be "high church" nowadays, you'll discover that the older generation never held to the things that these newer men claim they did.  For instance, all of these of the older generation were firmly Reformed (and I mean by this Calvinist) in their understanding of the Lord's Supper.  Newer "high churchmen" espouse a view approaching that of Rome or Wittenberg.  I use the term "advanced" to describe those of a Non-Juror or Scottish Episcopal flavor.  The key I use to denote this position is the "esse' position of the episcopacy and the virtualist understanding of the Lord's Supper.  Those I label as "recusants" are those who espouse views which are outside of the bounds of historical Anglican theology, such as Tractarians.  They hold to views that can only be described as Roman or Eastern, which our Church disavows.  On the other end of the spectrum are people who I label as "reformists".  Theologically, they would hold to things such as a pure memorialism in the Sacrament, thus denying that the bread and wine are efficacious signs of Christ's body and blood.  In opposition to the former groups, this group would be less "advanced" than the centrist understanding, this distinction is explored further below.  Another group is a group that I style "expansionists", they seek to expand the boundaries of the Church, usually to accommodate the Church to current societal norms.  They also hold to a memorialist understanding of the Sacrament, yet assign it a "communal" significance, which would seek to eliminate the historic limits of our theological understanding.  

A key element in my own thinking is that there is an allowable comprehension within our Church and there is a point at which a particular belief goes outside that limit.  The point of our comprehensiveness is to include a broad, spectrum of Protestant thought, not to include Protestant and Roman together.  The foundational documents for this spectrum are found in the Book of Common Prayer, Articles of Religion, Ordinal, and the Book of Homilies.  At one end of the spectrum are those who believe that the Church has reformed itself too much, and thus seek to remove the reforms of the formularies.  An example of this is the inclusion of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament or Corpus Christi processions, both excluded by our formularies, but recusants would hold that these are central to the ritual expression of their faith and therefore seek to undo the reforms of the Church in this matter.  Others believe that the Church has not sufficiently reformed itself enough, these would seek to remove things that they do not view as sufficiently reformed (usually referred to as "puritans" in other literature -- I avoid this term for the contemporary setting).  A key feature of this group is the abandonment of the liturgy.  The other end of the spectrum in this respect is the group I call "expansionist" who seek to expand the boundaries of our theology by including new limits in our understanding of the Gospel.  To give a brief correspondence between the groups, the "reformist" group is known as "low", the expansionist group "broad", the centrist "central", and the advanced "high", the recusant group could best be referred to as "Anglo-Papist" in other paradigms of outlining these things.  

This is not to say that I don't still consider myself a High Churchman but, rather, that I think to help clarify what I mean I provide these terms which I have been informally slipping into the pieces of this blog. 

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