In one sense, Dix's little book is the least important work in defense of our validity (specifically, our validity, inasmuch as Continuing Anglicans have inherited Anglican Orders through the Chambers Succession), weighing in as rather light compared to other works, especially Saepius Officio (1897). The need for the book, the doubt that occasioned its writing, should be of great concern to us. The man to whom Dix wrote his letters, whether real or invented for the book, seems to have arrived on the scene rather early, his doubts a bit premature for having existed in a generation that was taught, we would think, to have confidence. It seems likely that Dix began to see a generation coming in which the people who call themselves Anglo-Catholics, or even simply "High Church," would suffer a famine on teaching materials designed to ward off the bullying of bad apologetics and attack.
When I survey the scene of "Anglo-Catholic" practice and consider the many expressions of thought I have heard from people, lay and clergy, over the last several years, I am aware of how severe the famine has been. The evidence I weigh, and the meaning of it that I ponder, indicates that even a good number of Continuing clergy are not equipped to defend their position, or what should be their position, from a kind of Roman Catholic polemicist (generally self-appointed) whose efforts amount to an intellectual sort of bullying. Many of the people who, these days, like to imagine themselves to be Anglo-Catholics among the Continuers, need to learn to take an intellectual punch and stand on their feet, or better yet, to ward off the punches altogether. It is time for them to stop learning everything they know about Anglicanism from Roman Catholic storm troopers (again, self appointed); for, generally, what little they know about Anglicanism tends to be just enough to leave them weak and defenseless, just enough to be wrong instead of ignorant.
Boosting confidence-more power to the shields
What does it take to ward off the school yard bully? Frankly, it takes knowledge. The older I get, the more I appreciate the words of my first Church History professor, Aristeides Papdakis, in 1980: "Robert, you cannot be a theologian until you are first a historian." It is the combination of history and theology that, when learned well, provides the defense needed by those who are troubled and soon shaken in spirit by the many jibes and attacks against Anglican validity offered in abundance every day, especially on websites and blogs that specialize in just that kind of misinformation. Indeed, if anyone reading this has been subjected to such treatment, or had a school yard intellectual bully making him afraid, it would be wholesome medicine to read the essays I have spent these last few years writing, partly for the aid of those so troubled, and have posted here on The Continuum. It is a course of study that takes a bit of time.
In these essays you will learn the true meaning of such words as "Catholic" and "Protestant" as, in Anglican usage, complementary rather than contradictory, and the purpose and goal of the English Reformers and Anglican Divines. You will see why the Anglican Church affirmed seven sacraments, even affirming them in the easily misunderstood Article XXV. You should regain any confidence you lost, whether confidence in sacramental validity, or confidence in your church body as fully a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
It remains, however, for us to write and speak clearly about practical issues that have never gone away, so that we may cease from doing anything to hinder our own growth. I have written enough to have acquired a reputation as a defender of Anglican patrimony from the beginning of our "separated" existence, namely the sixteenth century. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Homilies, Cranmer's actual theology of the sacrament of Holy Communion (contrasted against the popular perception thereof), and so forth.
Consequently, when my Archbishop (who is also my Diocesan Ordinary) wrote briefly to explain a few fine points of the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Catholic Church, some people wondered how we could reconcile our positions, particularly concerning his point that the Thirty-Nine Articles "have no independent authority." Frankly, it is not even difficult; and if you will wade through just a little of it, we will get to a point that should be useful. The answer is in the Canons that were discussed:
CANON 2.1. THE SEVEN OECUMENICAL COUNCILS AND THE CANONS ACCEPTED BY THEM.
This Church submits itself and subscribes to the Seven Holy Oecumenical Councils of the undivided Primitive Catholic Church and their Doctrine, Definitions, Letters, Epistles, Acts, and Decrees, both doctrinal and synodal, and the Letters and Decrees of the Regional Councils or Synods and of the Fathers received, accepted, and affirmed by the same Oecumenical Councils, all as received in the Church of England through the year 1543, as well as the Canons, Canonical Acts and Decrees, and the Rulings Canonical thereof or made therein, and the Canonical principles expressed therein, as have been accustomed and used in the Church since their adoption and which have neither been expressly altered or amended by positive action of this Church nor have fallen into and remained in desuetude...etc.
This is followed by Canon 2.2
CANON 2.2. MATTERS NOT EXPRESSLY LEGISLATED HEREIN.
Any matters not expressly legislated by or provided for by the Constitution and Canons of this Church or the Constitution and Canons of any Province or Diocese or other Jurisdiction thereof shall be referred to and be subject to the General Canon Law and the Common Law of the Church as received by the Church of England in its estates in convocation assembled as specified by the Acts of Parliament of 1534 and 1543, or any and all other Anglican Laws Ecclesiastical in effect in part or parts of North America or elsewhere prior to 1967, all of which bodies of Anglican Canon Law not expressly altered or amended by any Synod or Synods of this Church or rendered inapplicable in the particular circumstances thereof, are incorporated by reference and are to be of continued force and effect.
Students of history should know why I have used the terms first and second secession, the two waves, Henrican and Elizabethan, that launched Anglicanism. But, in reality, though there were but two secessions in history (two breaks with Rome), there were three waves: Henrican, Edwardian and Elizabethan.
Our own Fr. Charles Nalls pointed out the words of Bishop Charles Grafton, to the effect that it was Providential that the English Reformation started over again when certain forces were taking it too far in an alien kind of Reformed or Protestant direction; that is, trying to take it away from that distinctive Anglican position of Catholic Reformation that retained the Tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, including the Apostolic Succession of the Episcopate. The Church of England was, briefly, in danger of a kind of Reformation that is rooted in nothing older, in far too many particular points, than Calvinism, Lutheranism or Zwinglianism. That fate was prevented, however violent and unhappy the times of Mary Tudor's blood soaked reign (even by the standards of that century).
But getting back to the question of reconciling what some have seen as contradiction between Archbishop Haverland's essay and my arguments, and my reason for quoting from the two canons, the consistency of our positions is based on the combination of history and theology in light of what canons 2.1 and 2.2 actually say, and based on the Affirmation of St. Louis that provides a foundation for the entire body of the ACC Constitution and Canons. The point was made, by his Grace, that these canons root Anglican Catholic practice and theology in the Henrican period of Reformation. This is true, even though most of the emphasis in what we read is on the Elizabethan period.
About this I want to make the following points:
1. The goal of the Elizabethan Reformers was to root the Church of England firmly in the Tradition received from Antiquity, which also meant a return first to the Henrican standards. To this end, canon 2.2 provides a very large context, saying, "...as specified by the Acts of Parliament of 1534 and 1543, or any and all other Anglican Laws Ecclesiastical in effect in part or parts of North America or elsewhere prior to 1967." That period takes in the full corpus of the works of the Elizabethan Reformers, and also of the Caroline Divines, and so forth. In terms of "Laws Ecclesiastical" it includes standards for what may be practiced and taught.
2. This was intended as a route to Antiquity. Queen Elizabeth I, herself said that the Church of England must be faithful to what was taught by "the most ancient Catholic Doctors and Bishops." In placing the Anglican period of our Catholic history at an earlier date, we are doing exactly what the Elizabethans themselves were doing.
3. The emphasis on the Henrican standards cannot be about conforming wholly to the practices of his day, for we do not insist on celibate clergy (having mostly married bishops, priests and deacons, like the ancient Church even during times of Roman persecution before Constantine), and we do not burn Lutherans at the stake. Neither would we destroy monasteries or churches who do not pay up to the English Crown. It must be about something else.
4. It is about the intention to have a more thorough foundation from something older than the Reformation. This means we have not lost anything, but rather gained the safety of rooting who we are and what we believe in a more sure and ancient foundation. The result is that no one can misuse Anglican principles to lead our people astray, as, for example, modern Episcopalians have done.
The reality about certain things expressly and distinctively Anglican, is that they are going to stay with us. What we need to do, therefore, is understand them rightly.
Comments made on this blog have caused me to respond about the question of the Thirty-Nine Articles, and so I should say upfront, that in terms of the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Catholic Church, based on the Affirmation of St. Louis and canon 2.2 as quoted above, whatever status they had before 1967 they have now. Furthermore, because the Affirmation of St. Louis affirms not merely the Book of Common Prayer in some vague way, but specifically affirms the Canadian 1962 and American 1928 editions, the Articles have not been reduced merely to a historical document (as in the 1979 TEC Book). The table of contents in the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer does not list them as an appendix, but as part of the over all book. We are stuck with them as whatever they were before 1967 in the Episcopal Church.
Furthermore, for purposes of helping the weak in their stand against the school yard intellectual bullies, what matters is that the Thirty-Nine Articles express the mind of those through whom our life, including our Holy Orders, were transmitted. Anglo-Catholics can go on being embarrassed by the Articles, and saying that somehow God preserved a minimum of sacramental intention through a bunch of heretics, and in doing so they can go on ministering to tiny and shrinking congregations, converting people to Roman Catholicism who never really wanted to go there. Or, they can provide a better defense, and maybe even see growth in their own parishes, as they express positive appreciation for their Anglican patrimony (for, if the clergy do not believe in their own church, neither will anybody else). But, with or without defined and authorized "status," the Articles weigh mighty heavy in people's minds. Even if I were wrong about the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (which I am not), most people would still continue to see them as part of the book-properly part, not an appendix. That is not going to change.
Frankly, this can be good or bad. It can be bad, because the Articles are easily twisted and perverted in their meaning. It takes more than mere literacy to understand them, and this makes them as dangerous as they are potentially profitable. Modern readers cannot read them simply for their plain meaning, for their plain meaning is beyond even the competence of fairly educated persons in our time. John Henry Newman did understand them well, but when explaining their meaning in Tract 90, failed to drive home the fact that history and reason were on his side. He said he had given the Articles a catholic interpretation, whereas he had actually given them nothing. He merely explained their plain meaning.
Indeed, it is easy for the "hyper-five-point-Reformed" to subject our Anglican Articles to their own apparent Reform School mentality, and to do so with gusto and confidence. It is easy, then, for lazy modern Anglo-Catholics to accept their spin, and to reject the Articles themselves; of course, the Roman Catholic self-appointed polemicists agree with the Reform School of thought in this matter, for it suits well their aim. This is made more acute by the GAFCON spectacle of elevating the Articles to second in authority only to Scripture, despite the fact that Anglican tradition has never defined them as such.
The best way forward
Frankly, it is the very essay by my Archbishop, that some people have thought to contrast with what they think I have said, that gives us the best way forward. The Articles do not have independent authority, and our theological roots are much older than the sixteenth century.
The best way forward begins, also, with accepting these facts:
1. People will read the Articles and Homilies, and will not understand.
2. People will question how we could have retained sacramental validity, and begin to doubt Anglican orders and all that goes with them.
3. Lazy Anglo-Catholic clergy will continue to be embarrassed by the Thirty-Nine Articles (and everything else they misunderstand in the Book of Common Prayer), and will continue, as a result, to send people to Rome.
That is, unless, we handle the matter rightly.
First of all, the Articles really do not have any independent authority, just as Archbishop Haverland said. That is not merely an ACC idea, but a fact of history. Just as we have no chief Reformer, no Luther, no Calvin, no Zwingli, we have no chief manifesto; no Augsburg Confession, no Institutes, no Council of Trent, or any other sixteenth century Reformation document (yes the Council of Trent-as "Protestant" as it gets, if by that one means innovation and a new direction). The Thirty-Nine Articles were placed right away inside the Book of Common Prayer, which itself works like the tracks on which a train may run; and without which it cannot go where it was meant to go. They were created within a church that had established practices and Canon Law, which itself rules out much of the Reform School mentality. They were placed in a Prayer Book that contains a catechism.
Therefore, the first thing we should do is place them in their rightful context of classic Anglicanism, which means all the Henrican things that the Elizabethans had returned to, which means, in turn, the Catholic Tradition, including, by logic, the Oecumenical Councils. Also, we should read them in the historical context of the sixteenth century and the specific theological issues that needed genuine Catholic-Protestant Reform, namely, a return to Patristic Christian doctrine; i.e., return to emphasis on receiving the sacraments, etc. We have a lot of that here for you to read, beginning with my essays on Classic Anglicanism.
Finally, if we are to ask what authority the Thirty-Nine Articles actually have, we need to answer the question by quoting from Article VI :
"Holy Scriptures 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."
The Articles point the average layman to the Bible, a book which he may get his hands on and open for himself. What kind of Articles rule themselves out, as not to be believed as an article of faith, unless by the Berean method of searching the scriptures? Surely not something that was written to come across with thundering pontifical claims of authority, nor with the smile of someone who says, "trust me."
The best way forward is to know that the Articles really are dangerous in the wrong hands, but very profitable for learning in the right hands. I have endorsed often and early E.J. Bicknell's book on them; and I have written some things in my own essays. Obviously, I endorse my own essays.
Pressing questions about the confidence we may have in the route through which our Anglican Patrimony has come to us will be repeated every day, thrown at people who do not have the knowledge to protect themselves. The clergy, in many cases, need to strengthen their own feeble knees. If they can't defend themselves against the school yard bully, how can they care for the people?