Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Via Media

No, that's not via the media. We do not obtain our point of view from such a source. Neither is it middle of the road. It is the via media, the middle road. As such it is a separate road, a path that is distinct from others. Some have used this little Latin phrase to say that Anglicanism is a middle way between the Tridentine or Roman Catholic Church and the various Protestant churches of the continent of Europe. In modern times, this little phrase has come to be used by some very High Church idealists to mean a middle road between Orthodoxy and Rome, the Two One True Churches (though those who so use it would shun my sarcastic designation), or even between High and Low Anglicans. But, the last two are recent creations; and this leaves us with asking what the old concept was all about.

It is a fact that we, as Anglicans, have some things in common with the Roman Catholic Church that our Protestant brethren have tossed away; most notably, we have always maintained the Apostolic Succession of bishops and due regard for the sacraments of the Church. We have, also, the best Reformation theology of all in the very core of our teaching. This separates us from Rome, though some have tried to wave their hands and make the truth go away for the sake of a false unity. I, for one, will not surrender either treasure. The treasures that give us something in common with the Roman Catholics, and the treasures that give us something in common with the Protestant churches of the continental Reformers, are all genuinely Catholic, genuinely Patristic, and genuinely Scriptural. 

Before saying anything else, it is useful to point out that many changes have taken place among the Roman Catholics and among the mainstream Protestant churches since the sixteenth century. Many modern Christians who call themselves Evangelicals have cast off Reformation theology altogether. Among Anglicans the most extreme of these are in Sydney Australia-but their version of Evangelicalism is a new religion that is not truly Anglican at all, and in the classic sense, also not truly Evangelical or Reformed. Like the extreme Puritans in the days of Richard Hooker, they stand in opposition to right order, doctrine and discipline. 

Among various Protestant denominations, the teaching that is embraced is a far cry from anything known to Luther, or Calvin. Though they invoke these names, they are really descendants of the Anabaptist sects, not of the Reformers. Many of them have no Reformation roots, unless one so misreads history as to suppose alliance between the Reformers and the Anabaptists. Others, having Reformation roots, have dug them up and discarded them.

So too, many modern Roman Catholics are simply imitation modern Episcopalians, denied women priests, but wanting them. They are denied same sex blessings, but look the other way to accommodate "gay Masses." They give lip service to the pope, but not obedience; they hold that he is infallible, and that he is almost always wrong. Especially since Vatican II, they are as unrecognizable as modern Episcopalians.

We cannot call Anglicanism a via media between these modern expressions of trendy religion. We should desire nothing from either side of the great innovative mess. But, when dealing with people whose honest desire to be faithful motivates them to argue with us, with the aim of converting us, we can easily diagnose our condition. The diagnosis may be a healthy one, a diagnosis that we are sound. It is very simple.

If we are walking on the genuine, real and true via media of Anglicanism, we will be shot at from both sides (let us call it friendly fire by intention, but fire nonetheless). We will be shot at by both sides for the same things. Our fellow Catholics will take aim at what they see as "too Protestant," and our fellow Protestants will take aim at what they see as "too Catholic." Unless we are getting it from both sides, often about the exact same things as they see them from their respective perspectives, we can be sure that we are not sound. If fire is incoming from both sides, at the same time, and often for the same things, we may rejoice and be exceedingly glad. That is how we know we have attained to true Anglicansim, with an emphasis on the word "true." 


charles said...

Why not define Media Via by two measures. First, the content of standards but, second, also the context of historical and official engagement with continental protestants and Roman Catholics by the church of england?

In this respect, we might start with the Wittenberg theologians of the 1530's and 40's (not gnesio-lutherans, mind you). Next, the anticipation of Trent as a free general council (hence, the humanist RC's like Charles V). And, the later delegation sent by James to the Netherlands to steer Dort away from extremes of calvinist double-predestination, trying to salvage something of the protestant agreement in the 1550's.

I think those might have been the highlights, and this might place the development of England's reformation between Vienna and Wittenberg rather than Zurich v. Rome (which is a wide, wide field).

However, the problem with this suggested polarity is Wittenberg theology did not stand still. It swung between two university factions, only later giving itself over to "pure" Lutheranism. Prior to the 1570's, Wittenberg was really the center of 'reformed' theology, this being early reformed-- not to be identified with Zurich or Geneva but with the Variata 1540 and Wittenberg Confession 1536. Here, you have a relatively synergist soteriology, adiaphora in worship, working with a real presence that is accepted as 'substantial' as well as 'essential'.

That early protestant consensus was tragically lost by late-16th century confessionalism. So, when one says Wittenberg, it should be understood as early reformed, predating the sacramentarian controversies. Likewise, Vienna would correspond not to RC but to the erasmus-catholicism which Charles V favored, demonstrated by the Ratisbon conference or Worms Book.

This might be a narrower definition, but one tied to the actual concilar outlook of 16th century England. It's a tough position to hold, but it represents the conservative core of Protestantism which only CofE continued. One might even argue that by the late 16th century the continent ceased to be protestant, and only the CofE kept the original precepts of the movement.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

One might even argue that by the late 16th century the continent ceased to be protestant, and only the CofE kept the original precepts of the movement.

That is a very good insight.

H. B. Winn said...

"Sydney Australia-but their version of Evangelicalism is a new religion that is not truly Anglican at all, and in the classic sense, also not truly Evangelical or Reformed."

A new religion - or a new approach to evangelization? Perhaps you are overreacting a bit here.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

A new religion - or a new approach to evangelization? Perhaps you are overreacting a bit here.

It is evangalization alright, the attempt to convert Christians to a new religion, never before taught or practiced anywhere.

charles said...

Hi Fr. Hart, Thanks! Regarding this 'true-Protestantism', I think you might be pleased to know its heart is really found in the last half of the Henrician period, 1534-1547. Not only has vast tracks of Protestantism gone over to anabaptism, but, worst, Anglicans don't seem to even know much about our crucible period of theology. The Henrician has been painted by both Puritan and Papist as "roman catholic". Or, it has been marred by Henry's many divorces. Another fantastic myth is Henry reversed policy in 1538.

What these fabrications and slanders miss was that Henry achieved a stable and successful religious settlement that later reigns would look back upon as touchstone and reservoir. Also, if one actually bothers to read the 1537 catechism (which is an elaboration upon the 10 articles) and compares them to the 1543, it turns out the 1543 is actually the more protestant of the two. The six articles are typically used to suggest otherwise.

However, the six articles were not beyond the pale of Protestantism at the time. Lutherans didn't break off talks due to the Henrician mass but Henry's claim that celibate orders were commands of God. Regarding the ceremonial at the time in Germany, one might enjoy this study which shows early Protestantcy was often high in ritual.

Because the 1530-50's was a crucible period, the heart of the settlement can be discerned from Henry's standards, seen most clearly in the two catechisms and first book of homilies. This heart is 'right use' of ceremonial, understood through justification or the question frequently asked by early Settlement divines, "how is sin remitted"?

This is where early reformation atonement theology shines most perfectly, and the rationale behind the rest of the Settlement declared in a most simple yet elegant language. In this sense, the 39 articles should be viewed as being fundamentally practical and pastoral, like a treatise on worship/liturgy rather than one that explains all scientific points, again, the prevailing concern being the early Protestant question of 'right use'.