Sunday, January 12, 2014

Defining Classical Anglicanism (Keep it Simple…)

This is a short post to follow a previous one that I posted, regarding the definition of Anglicanism. This is due to the opposition to the term "classical Anglican" in some circles. The term "classical Anglican" is a bit of an overkill but it really only exists because the term "Anglicanism" has eroded in meaning to the extent that it has that it is essentially meaningless, since no parties involved are interested in maintaining its doctrine, discipline, or worship. One can experience this by drifting through any assembling of Anglicans, either virtual or physical. One will see appeals to certain theologians (the "12345" approach) or to a consensus of theologians (i.e. the Caroline divines).

If we reflect on the terms "classical" and "Anglican" we will perhaps arrive at a comprehensible definition (or if not something agreeable to all, at least the reader will understand my point of view). I've looked for the definitions of both of these words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to discover their common meanings. First, if we consider the word "classical", we see the following four words associated with this adjective, "standard, classic" and "authoritative, traditional". We shall return to these in a moment. Briefly, when one looks for the definition of Anglican, we see, "of or relating to the established episcopal Church of England and churches of similar faith and order in communion with it" (which raises a number of questions relating to the so-called realignment).

The use of the word "classical" denotes the authoritative, traditional standards associated with something. These are set aside by public authority, i.e. not the private collection of an individual or a group of divines' thoughts on any myriad of subjects. Rather, these are the official opinions of the assembled church (with Scripture being the judge of its truthfulness). This is not to say the opinions of private individuals should not be consulted nor that they are useless but their place must be remembered. They are just the opinions of certain persons, even if they faithfully expound Holy Scripture. The thing that makes something "classical" is its authority as expressing the opinion of the whole, not the part. It is the standard by which other things are judged.

Now, we consider the other word. If the "classical" standards by which we are to be governed are the defining mark of our identity, the question arises, from whence do these come? The answer, of course, is the Established Church of England. Anglicans, being the descendants of English Protestants in this Established Church, adhere to her standards. These are marked as authoritative by the mark of royal assent. This marks the Church's approval of the doctrine contained therein.

What then are the standards that define "classical Anglicanism"? One must look to those documents approved by public authority. These include: the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer (1662), and the two books of Homilies.

Another question often arises, how are we to know the meaning of these texts (especially considering the later notion that these do not affirm the things they plainly affirm)? Firstly, one must note that there are guidelines within the texts themselves as to their interpretation. For instance, the Preface to the Thirty-nine Articles notes that they are the teaching of the Church of England and that they are to be read in their plain meaning for what they historically taught. Likewise, one can look to other documents approved by the same public authority, such as the Catechism of Alexander Nowell (referenced in the 79th Canon additionally), the Canons themselves, or the Apology of the Church of England.

Anglicanism must be left to define itself, as it has already done. This was done in the 16th century and is not dependent on the opinion of 17th century divines or 19th century divines.


underground pewster said...

Classical things withstand the test of time. Innovations can become classic, but people err when they fail to teach the old classics and people are left with nothing to prevent them from being misled by someone who says, "Follow this!" and then in short order says, "Follow that!"

The Hackney Hub said...

You have a good point. One can look around at various cultural (and even church) trends from about 10 years ago that seem infinitely outdated in our present context. I'm thinking of the comparison between Rite I and Prayer C in the Episcopal 1979 book.