Although it is not "ecumenically correct" to speak of theological disputes by using war as a metaphor, the shoe fits. We may love our Christian brethren, and ought to, even when they disagree with us. Nonetheless, Anglicanism itself has been in a state of tension as long as it has existed, because outside influences have been aggressive in trying to overcome it. And, as much as we may prefer to use the expression via media, that middle way (not "middle of the road," but a separate road altogether) that avoids the extremes that create error by over-emphasis or neglect, the metaphor of war is also appropriate; not war against our brethren, but spiritual war aimed to destroy something good, strong and healthy by its own nature as most conforming to the truth of God's revelation.
In an essay called Anglican identity, I wrote:
The English Church established a carefully maintained balance between Rome, Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Zwinglianism, criticizing and rejecting various ideas in each of these systems. This in turn kept the Anglicans in a state of at least some amount of opposition to everybody all the time. Each of these camps saw the Church of England as accepting error by adopting or maintaining some of the ideas and practices of Rome, or some of those belonging to Calvin, or some of those belonging to Luther, but never to the satisfaction of loyalists in any of those parties.
And in case anyone considers "war" too strong a metaphor, let me finish quoting that paragraph:
At one point, the most extreme group of the Calvinist camp, Cromwell’s Puritans, made war on the Church of England as well as on the Crown; executing the king, finally, for refusing to abolish episcopacy, before turning their wrath on the Archbishop of Canterbury. William Laud was executed by means of a Bill passed by Parliament, for they had nothing, in the way of a criminal charge, of which to convict him. The King and the Archbishop suffered religious persecution because they were loyal Anglicans.
None of this would matter much if religion were merely a business or an amusement. But, everything we do is directly related to salvation from sin and death. Those who think on a lower plane can play "church" and have a party celebrating and even "performing," but they cannot understand the seriousness of the battle.
We should consider also that every kind of apostasy is first and foremost rejection of the very tradition in which the rebellious party is already housed. The Canterbury or official Communion Anglicans who have rebelled against generations of Christian belief and practice have rebelled, first and foremost, against the Anglican expression of Christian faith, and then against Christian faith in general. We must bear that in mind when they invoke our formularies, liturgy or scripture to justify their errors.
Right now, we have battles on all fronts, but, as always, mainly on two fronts. Within the proximity of orthodoxy, that is close enough to shoot at and cause damage to us, those two mobilized armies are a wild and unruly form of "Protestantism" (in quotation marks, because it is a false label) on one front, and Romanism on the other. Close enough to fire on the camp we are called to defend, these extremes of error are visible for us today in two blogs. On one front, Stand Firm, with a false version of Protestantism that is less extreme than the atheist version of Spong and Jefferts-Schori, and on the other front that blog that calls itself, quite falsely, The Anglo-Catholic. Both sides threaten to destroy the Anglican camp. One seeks to present a kind of Christianity that cannot really stand up against the dangers of women's ordination and every other innovation of revisionism, not even against the "same sex" heresy that they currently (as in, for the time being) condemn. The other cannot preserve an Anglican identity and ethos, and more importantly an approach that insists on true doctrine, against the softly aggressive nature of Roman Catholicism that, in fact, really does seek to assimilate and thus conquer, and by conquering, over a generation or so, eliminate.
Mobilized armies: 1) from a "Protestant" front.
The question has been raised here about the idea often expressed by Archbishop Robert Morse, who for years led the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK), that "the Elizabethan Settlement has failed." It has never been a subtle idea with him. He was not speaking of the actual historical breakdown of the particularly English political compromise, namely, the overthrow and execution of King Charles I and the legal murder of Archbishop William Laud directly following the tragic English Civil War. He was speaking, instead, of the spiritual, theological and even intellectual collapse of the Episcopal Church and other churches of the official Anglican Communion, as they began first to tolerate, then to embrace heresy and apostasy in the form of innovations, such as women's ordination. In his mind, the fault was due entirely to what he called "Protestantism," seen as rebellion against the Catholic Tradition of the Church.
Though I consider the "Elizabethan Settlement" innocent of the charge, because the classic Anglican Formularies had to be abandoned first in order for the modern apostasy to take place (inasmuch as nothing in those Formularies justifies any of it, but only condemns it root and branch), it was a modern twist on Protestantism that paved the way. That twist began not among Anglicans, but among Lutherans. Even some of the brightest Lutheran minds in the twentieth century, such as, for example, Rudolph Bultmann, had come to embrace an approach to Holy Scripture so saturated with and dominated by Form Criticism, and Higher Criticism, that direct proclamation of the Gospel became next to impossible.
This Higher Criticism became the standard method of teaching the Bible. Anglicanism became infected by the unbelief that it helped to create, as it went throughout the Protestant world of established churches. The Bible was not the source of true doctrine any longer, speaking to believers with the voice of God. Inspiration went from being the breath of God to nothing but a strong conviction and passion. Under Higher Criticism, in the place of prophets we had skeptics, pulpits filled with men who had gone into seminaries filled with faith, coming out filled only with doubts, minds bullied into unbelief by a system of teaching that we now know to have been utterly unscientific, and void of genuine intellectual substance.
Today, the "science" of Higher Criticism ought to be regarded as the theological equivalent to the "science" of medicine taught as body humors with prescriptions as effective as blood letting and bleeding with leaches. No more horrifying sound could come from a pulpit than the eerie words, "scholars believe." The problem was two-fold: It seemed more likely that scholars did not believe, and that what they imagined was not based on any genuinely scientific method. By the end of the twentieth century it had taken the form of the "Jesus Seminar," engaging no longer in subtle endeavors, but rather that of scholars making themselves into the very caricature of absurdity by trying to establish which words Jesus really said from those he simply would not have said, strictly by majority vote among themselves. That any real science was lacking from the procedure became obvious; and what became obvious was, in fact, essentially nothing but a disclosure of how shallow the whole exercise had been for several decades.
Nonetheless, the destructive work had been done. A generation of clergy searching for relevance had been steering the Episcopal Church, the Canadian Church and the Church of England away from the unchanging ever true relevance of the Gospel, always the only thing truly relevant to man's deepest need. Today, we still see the results of this false brand of Christianity in such people as Katherine Jefferts-Schori, John Spong, and a host of others.
It is true that on this front we battle an extreme that comes entirely from within Protestantism. It is ironic, however, to blame any of this on Classic Anglicanism and the Formularies simply because the apostates pretend still to claim them for their own. The fact is they do not hold to them, but merely use them for their own purposes. They invoke them when convenient, such as Ms. Jefferts-Schori quoting or alluding to very carefully selected portions of the Articles of Religion in order to justify something that the English Reformers and Anglican Divines would have condemned forcibly. The irony is that when Archbishop Morse says "the Elizabethan Settlement has failed," he is thinking mostly of the work of apostates who have rejected first and foremost the very form of Anglicanism he has identified. But, he is right that this brand of apostasy and heresy comes from the extreme end of the Protestant academy.
Against this brand of error, the "Stand Firm" version of Protestantism offers no long lasting defense, if any. When this variety of modern nouveau Evangelicals or Protestants say Sola Scriptura, they do not mean what the Reformers meant, which is to say, they do not mean what St. Thomas Aquinas 1 meant by the same term. They mean, instead, solo scriptura, with no Church and no Creeds to teach the true doctrine that Scripture contains. Rather, they are free to run wild with it. Anyone who doubts the ineffective nature of any defense they could offer to genuine orthodoxy, should read the excellent work that Fr. John Hollister did for us a few months ago in the three part Priestesses in Plano series. In it you see that such thinkers are quick to decide for themselves when the Bible ceases to be relevant. This they judge in order to be more faithful, they suppose, to its higher priority of "mission," that is, as they see it. This is not your father's Evangelicalism.
2) From a Roman, or allegedly Catholic, front.
But neither is what passes for Anglo-Catholicism your father's Anglo-Catholicism.
In previous essays from the two-part Unconfusing series (here and here), we saw that John Henry Newman, though weak in driving home the point he had made so well, demonstrated his fidelity to the Anglican Formularies as a necessary part of the Anglo-Catholic foundation, when writing Tract 90 to defend the catholic nature of the Thirty-Nine Articles. In fact, the writers of the famous Tracts for These Times, the fathers of Anglo-Catholicism never turned away from the Formularies (and until Dom Gregory Dix's inexplicable love for the Tridentine Missal, they always used the Book of Common Prayer). At the end of Tract 90, Newman wrote: "In giving the Articles a Catholic interpretation, we bring them in to harmony with the Book of Common Prayers, an object of the most serious moment in those who have given their assent to both formularies." My criticism is only that he said he gave the Articles "a catholic interpretation." 2 In fact, he had brought out the only meaning possible both in the context of the times in which they had been composed, and according to their plain and obvious meaning in the continuity of theological discourse (he had succeeded, but nonetheless retreated).
The great Anglo-Catholic writers defended the Catholic nature of Anglicanism, rather than trying to impose something from without. They held out hope for a reunion of Catholic Christianity, both with Rome and with Orthodoxy while trying to raise the understanding of various Protestant churches of the European Continental Reformations, and while taking part in missionary work wherever the Sun refused to set on the British Empire. Their approach to Rome was ecumenical in the manner first expressed by Richard Hooker during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (about which you may read here).
The Anglo-Catholic view was that Rome had erred, just as Article XIX says, and that they had erred in modern times by an innovative doctrine about the papacy itself that had, far from undergoing correction, developed further in the wrong direction. None of them advocated conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, and they foresaw the possibility of unity as requiring a process of theological reformation in which Rome corrected its few remaining errors. They did not think of Anglicanism as a failed experiment, and certainly never called Rome by such fanciful titles as "Mother Church." Their apologetics against innovative doctrines on the papacy were more forceful than what came from the other side of Anglican thought and practice.
But, the modern so-called Anglo-Catholics seem blissfully unaware of the great writings of the Oxford Movement, and of giants like Francis Hall, or the real mind of the more recent E.L. Mascall. They begin with an inferiority complex about Anglicanism itself, often are not educated about its virtues, and begin with a bias that defines all things catholic strictly by Roman criteria. Judging from their arguments, they have learned everything they "know" about Anglicanism from aggressive Roman Catholic polemics, having learned only to be ashamed of themselves and their heritage.
They offer no strong defense against a relentless and aggressive effort to convert Anglicans. In fact, they seem almost proud to be bullied into submission. They reject the Anglican Formularies, and in the process demonstrate that they have failed not only to understand their meaning, but even to think about it. It is no wonder they are constantly writing like Roman Catholics, men who already have converted in their minds. The tragedy is, when it comes to Anglican beliefs they seem never to have studied or learned, and do not know what they are rejecting.
The defense of our camp requires an honest appraisal of what we are up against. If we err on either side, by neglecting any necessary and true part of our patrimony, we cannot defend our position. The value of maintaining our beliefs and practice are contained in the true doctrine about salvation. That doctrine has its most clear and orthodox meaning protected and proclaimed by those very treasures that far too many of our own people mistake for wood, hay and stubble, because they lack discernment. If we lose who we are, and what we are, we can do little good for the rest of the Church, or for ourselves.
1. Yes, sola scriptura is an old Catholic medieval term first coined by the "Angelic Doctor." St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: Notandum autem, quod cum multi scriberent de catholica veritate, haec est differentia, quia illi, qui scripserunt canonicam Scripturam, sicut Evangelistic et Apostoli, et alii huiusmodi, ita constanter eam asserunt quod nihil dubitandum relinquunt. Et ideo dicit Et scimus quia verum est testimonium eius; Gal. I, 9: Si quis vobis evangelizaverit praeter id quod accepistis, anathema sit. Cuius ratio est, quia sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei. Alii autem sic edisserunt de veritate, quod nolunt sibi credi nisi in his quae ver dicunt. Thomas's commentary on John's Gospel, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis Lectura, ed. P. Raphaelis Cai, O.P., Editio V revisa (Romae: Marietti E ditori Ltd., 1952) n. 2656, p. 488.
Translated into English: ""It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and the like, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is what he means when he says 'we know his witness is true.' Galatians 1:9, "If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!" The reason is that canonical Scripture alone is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John 21)
2. His argument was more powerful than he seemed aware of, or ready to welcome. His private judgment by which he converted to Roman Catholicism seems already to begun to sway.