Classical Anglicanism is a buzz-word these days, especially among Anglicans. Perhaps it should be a buzz-word and it should be what we strive to as Episcopalians and Anglicans. The problem is that it seems that most people bypass the historical standards of classical Anglicanism in order to arrive at a definition of what that system actually is. I think there are a plethora of problems with this method, most notably the arrival to a faulty conclusion, but also it is a fanciful method of interpreting historical documents. Given the disparity between classical Anglicanism and the various ways in which it has been "interpreted", I've come to the conclusion that it is probably something radically different from what most claim it is. In light of this, I have come up with five points which I think faithfully summarize the key points of classical Anglicanism.
The only documents I will refer to here are the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, the Prayer Book and Ordinal of 1662, and the Homilies of 1547 and 1571 because these are the historical standards of Anglicanism and subsequently define Anglicanism. A failure to grasp the meaning and teaching of our formularies is one of the key problems that we have in modern Anglicanism.
There are many other works which are helpful in understanding the nature of Anglicanism, partially due to their official status by public authority. Such works include the Canons Ecclesiastical of 1604, Nowell's Catechism, Jewell's Apology, among other 16th and 17th century documents, printed by royal authority. These documents provide additional perspectives on the nature of Classical Anglicanism, which has been obscured by a number of things, most notably a faulty interpretation, when considering the Prayer Book and Articles or downright rejection, when considering the Homilies.
In addition to these official works, I think other documents can be helpful in understanding the plain teaching of the formularies. For instance, Thomas Rogers' commentary on the Articles of Religion, The Catholic Doctrine of the Church of England, is very helpful in understanding how the Articles were understood at the time (and likely intended to be understood perpetually). In contrast to the formularies and those other documents listed above, this work was not regarded as authoritative in the same sense, yet I find it helpful for the reasons I have just mentioned.
Anglicanism is classically Protestant, implying all things that that word implies. It accepts wholeheartedly the five solas, without question. "Generally" here refers to the acceptance of general or universal Protestant doctrine, not specific to any one Protestant tradition.
VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
X. Of Free-Will.The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.
XI. Of the Justification of Man.
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification [You will find this in the Books of Homilies as "Of Salvation" -- I encourage readers to read this homily].
XV. Of Christ alone without Sin.Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world; and sin (as Saint John saith) was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptized and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.This is obviously only a small sample of the Reformation teaching present in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Prayer Book, and the Ordinal. The Protestant Reformation in England brought about a complete rupture with the medieval Church, though, without destroying the Church, in the form of a return to the faith of the Bible and early Church. The Reformation was a true reformation in England, completely purging the English Church of Romish superstitions, yet not setting up a "new" or rival Church.
The English Reformers completely rejected the Roman distortion of the Gospel by reaffirming the sole possibility of our salvation in the grace of God alone. One notes the monergism of the Reformation ("synergistic" Protestantism did not arise until the 17th c. generally speaking), denying any ability of man to save himself or even turn to God without his grace. The English Reformers equally denied erroneous teachings on the nature of justification, instead affirming the formal cause of justification as the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer, received by faith alone.
Moderately Reformed or Calvinistic
The English Reformation, while having early Lutheran influence, gradually sided with the Swiss Reformation, making it broadly Reformed. The use of terms can be confusing. The way I am using these terms is in reference to sacramental theology, particularly the nature of Christ's presence in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (as an aside, many times the word "Lutheran" was used, especially in the early parts of the 16th c. to refer to those who subscribed to justification by faith alone, in this sense Anglicanism is "Lutheran" but the term has come to be equated with a certain type of theology of Eucharistic presence). Secondly, it historically sympathized with Calvinistic predestinarianism, although not falling into a strict scholasticism that occurred later on the Continent.
Firstly, dealing with the English Reformation's context within the broader Swiss Reformation, I point out the English doctrine of the real partaking of Christ in the Lord's Supper. I have written extensively on the English doctrine of the presence of Christ in the Sacrament elsewhere on this blog, so this will be a briefer treatment of the subject than can be found in other places. Three crucial things that identify the Church of England as a Protestant, Reformed Church are first the denial of the oral manducation of the body and blood of Christ as seen below in Article XXVIII, "And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith." The second thing is the assertion that the wicked do not receive the body and blood of Christ as in Article XXIX. The third point is the assertion that Christ's local presence is at the right hand of God in heaven, not in the bread and wine. This is found in Black Rubric.
XXVIII. Of the Lord's Supper.The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.
These doctrinal points clearly locate the English Reformation within the broader Reformed movement on the Continent, albeit with its own nuances (which we will discuss below). The other point I wish to make is that Anglicanism is moderately Calvinistic, meaning accepting of predestination to life confessionally. This is a tough issue for many to accept because they have a faulty understanding of Calvinism and probably of Anglican history as well. First, I invite the reader to consider the affirmation of predestination as found in Article XVII:
XXIX. Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper.The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.
However, the relationship of the Church of England to the "five points" is a bit more complex. Firstly, the "five points of Calvinism" are a response to the five points of the Remonstrants [=Arminians] (which were condemned to be preached upon publicly in England by James I). The Reformed Churches gathered at Dort to discuss the Remonstrants' teaching. King James I sent an English delegation to refute the teachings of the Remonstrants, which they did. It must be remembered that the Synod of Dort enacted the Canons of Dort, which were binding to the Dutch Church. It would have been inappropriate for the English Church to submit to Dutch canons (and breaking with our own standards in Art. 37, which denies foreign powers in the Realm of England). However, the English delegation, under the authority of the monarch, agreed with the Dutch canons as being representative of the doctrine of the Church of England.
XVII. Of Predestination and Election.Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.
As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.
Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.
[As another aside, there has been a long tradition of hypothetical universalism (in relation to the question of the extent of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross) in the English Church.]
The English Reformers affirmed wholeheartedly the total depravity of man and his inability to turn to God on his own. We turn to Article IX (and Article X posted above):
IX. Of Original or Birth-Sin.Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek, p¢vnæa sapk¢s, (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh), is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized; yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.This condition of man necessitates the action of the God for our salvation, which is expressed above in the article on predestination. The thrust of this article is the goodness of predestination to life as a demonstration of God's mercy, grace, and love towards us. The article does not discuss reprobation or the predestination to death. Later theologians tried to include a specific mention of reprobation in the English Confession but it was not enacted. I think this allows for a bit of latitude on this point (others may disagree).
The issue of the other points (limited atonement, effectual calling, and perseverance of the saints) is not discussed in detail in the Articles, partially because they were not yet contentious issues. I do think they are affirmed in the Formularies but this is best left to a future post.
The word "Erastian" has acquired a particularly nasty significance by moderns and especially of Anglicans. Erastian solely refers to the role of the Christian monarch (or magistrate) in the life of the Church. Any student of history will clearly see that the English Reformers believed that the monarch had an incredibly important role to play in the visible Church in earth. The Reformers believed that the monarch was the rightful "head" (later softened to "governor") of the Church of England and not the Pope. For this reason, Henry VIII was given such power. For the Reformers, this was a restoration of the rightful place of the English King over the English Church, which had been usurped from the Bishop of Rome. The King was head (or governor) over all matters temporal and ecclesiastical, on earth. The question of proper authority was a crucial one at the time of the Reformation, whilst it is oftentimes left out nowadays, I think it is useful to remember this as an important part of our history.
This principle of "sacral monarchy" can easily be seen in the original Article XXXVII (the issue of the 1801 American Revision is a different issue):
Queen's Majesty hath the chief power in this realm of England and other her dominions, unto whom the chief government of all estates of this realm, whether they be ecclesiastical or civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not nor ought to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction.This article reinforces the notion that, according to classical Anglicanism, the King (or Queen) is the supreme governor of all "estates of this realm" both temporal and ecclesiastical. This gives the monarch an authority in the Church, yet not giving sacramental function to them. The latter portion of the article is key as well, "The Bisho of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England," I've often wondered if there is significance in the use of italics here. I think it means to say that foreign bishops do not have authority in countries or jurisdictions outside of their own. To put this in modern terms, the Church of Nigeria does not have any authority in the United States, according to the reading I am using of this article.
Where we attribute to the Queen's Majesty the chief government, by which titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended, we give not to our princes the ministering either of God's word or of sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen doth most plainly testify: but that only prerogative which we see to have been given always to all godly princes in Holy Scriptures by God himself, that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be ecclesiastical or temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.
The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.
The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death for heinous and grievous offences.
It is lawful for Christian men at the commandment of the Magistrate to wear weapons and serve in the wars.
This next point might be a bit tough for some to grasp, it was for me for the longest of times. The classical Anglican position in regards to the episcopacy is the bene esse position, as it has been commonly called. This means that the English Reformers retained episcopacy, not because it was necessary for the existence of the Church, but because it was ancient and also of the well-being of the Church, meaning that it had served the Church well, and there was no scriptural warrant against it, so it was retained. Yet, none of the Reformers affirmed that episcopacy was necessary for the existence of the Church. As the Ordinal states:
IT is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ's Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Which Offices were evermore had in such reverend Estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by publick Prayer, with Imposition of Hands, were approved and admitted thereunto by lawful Authority. And therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in the Church of England, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in the Church of England, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted thereunto, according to the Form hereafter following, or hath had Episcopal Consecration, or Ordination.Now, there are some important observations to be made in regards to the retention of episcopacy in the English Church. First, as stated above, this was for the well-being of the Church. There seems to be some confusion over the nature of the retention of episcopacy in England and how that related to the validity of orders of other Churches, for example, in Scotland. This confusion results from the last sentence above, which many read to be an endorsement of only episcopally-ordained ministers. However, this is not a statement of Anglican doctrine but of discipline. The English Church retained episcopacy for itself. The requirement of episcopal ordination is a requirement for the Church of England and not a statement on the validity of other ministers. Second, the retention of episcopacy in the English Church was not connected to "apostolic succession". The English Reformers flat out denied any necessity of succession of ministers, moreover, they rejected the transferral of powers via the laying on of hands. For them, the real apostolic succession, that mattered, was in the transferral of apostolic doctrine through the preaching of the Gospel. The Church of England maintained an historical succession as a link to the apostolic church but denies any sacerdotal function in notion with this chain of succession. Thirdly, in relation to the previous point about Erastianism, for the majority of Anglican history, bishops were seen as ministers of the Crown, not apostolic shepherds.
For this reason, many American churchmen did not want bishops at the organization of PECUSA, it was only the staunch high churchmanship of Samuel Seabury that guaranteed an episcopacy for America. It was also the American Church which championed the "apostolic paradigm" of bishops in opposition to the Erastian paradigm of the English Church. Consequently, the American Church rejected the monarchical episcopacy and diocesan system (in the beginning). American bishops were rectors, just like other presbyters, with really only the authority to confirm and ordain added to their responsibilities. American "dioceses" were not called such until the 1830's and cathedrals were non-existent until the latter half of the 19th century, the first of which being constructed in Albany, NY, in 1888 (other parish churches were "upgraded" to cathedral status before this).
The last point has to do with the concept of "common prayer", which is a foundational, Anglican principle. It should be noted that the Church of England is a ritualistic (="liturgical") and not a ceremonial Church, meaning the Church of England established a ritual, or set words, for its worship, not allowing much deviation from them, and a minimalistic set of ceremonial actions to go with the Liturgy (i.e., the manual acts, signation in baptism, etc.). The use of Liturgy as a vehicle for reform was a common solution in the Reformation, yet the English situation was particularly notable in our retention of many of the ancient customs, albeit reformed to teach the Reformed faith. Now, there exists a common misconception about what common prayer entails for Anglicans worldwide. It seems that many interpret "common prayer" to mean "universal prayer", however, this is not the case. The Liturgy of the Church of England is the standard for all Anglican liturgies, yet it is not the universal liturgy of the Anglican Communion (as the Ordinary Form is in the Latin Church). There seems to be some allowance for national Churches to construct their own liturgies, agreeing in theology with the English liturgy, however, I admit that there is not much reason to want to change the English liturgy, personally.
This principle is summarized in Article XXXIV:
IT is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one or utterly alike; for at all times they have been diverse, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's word. Whosoever through his private judgement willingly and purposely doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church which be not repugnant to the word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly that other may fear to do the like, as he that offendeth against common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the magistrate, and woundeth the conscience of the weak brethren. Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.Conclusion
I write all of this as a summary of sorts. I see this as a summary of a culmination of five years of serious study on Anglican history, theology, and, most importantly, identity. I am as convinced as I can be of these propositions, of course, always with the realization I could be wrong. However, the evidence I have seen for these propositions is thoroughly clear to me to be able to make these claims. The more important issue for me is basing any definition of classical Anglicanism on anything other than the standards of the Church of England. Many look to one or more theologians to construct something else which they style classical Anglicanism, which, in actuality, is nothing more than their imagination. The definition of classical Anglicanism must be by its own standards, which are the historical Formularies, anything else is not to be regarded as classical Anglicanism but something alien and to be avoided.