Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Anglican Origins and Historical Revisionism

by Fr Matthew Kirby

One of the more important trends of late in anti-Anglican apologetics by Roman Catholics has been to utilise recent “revisionist” historical scholarship on the English Reformation. The immediate aim has been to show that the Church of England that emerged from the Elizabethan Settlement was utterly Protestant and not in theological continuity with either any pre-Reformation Catholicism or the Caroline Divines and the succeeding “High Church” tradition.

The overall purpose of this historical reconstruction is twofold. First, it is to cut-off any attempt to read back into the intentions of the 16th Century Reformers the Catholic interpretations of the 17th Century. That way the strong assertions of Eucharistic Sacrifice found in the latter can be entirely ignored when dealing with the former, and so the arguments of Apostolicae Curae about the sacramental (non) intention in the Ordinal can be seen as plausible.

Second, on a broader ecclesiological basis, this historiography allows a simple dismissal (as dishonest and innovative) of the traditional claim of Anglican Churches to be constituent parts of the Catholic Church possessing a continuity with the pre-Reformation Church that is distinctive among non-Roman Churches of the West.

While the revisionist histories of scholars such as Eamon Duffy have contributed greatly to our understanding of the period of the Reformation – and have simultaneously undermined some Anglo-Catholic idealisations of the early English Reformers – they do not tell the whole story. Now, was there anything in the English Reformation, especially the Elizabethan phase, which made it distinctive?

The answer is yes. Apart from the maintenance of epsicopal organisation, we see the following features:

1. A consistently griping group of “Puritans”, the dogmatic Calvinists, who complain that the Church of England is not truly Reformed due to its “Popish” ministry and liturgy and its failing to assert “TULIP” Calvinism in the 39 Articles.

2. A Queen guiding the Church who seemed to believe in the Real Presence, liked to have a crucifix on the altar and Mass vestments, probably helped add a rubric to the Prayer Book requiring these vestments, probably was partly responsible for adding a clause to the 39 Articles that said the “the Church … hath authority in Controversies of Faith“.Queen Elizabeth a number of times defended her Church’s catholicity to foreigners and emphasised what it held in common with the rest of the western Catholic Church. For example, she objected to the “invidious difference” made between her and other “Catholic potentates” when she was invited to the Council of Trent in the same way Protestants were, and said “Many people think we are Turks or Moors here, whereas we only differ from other Catholics in things of small importance.” She also appealed strongly to the Consensus of the Fathers in her apologetic for the C of E to Emperor Ferdinand. Indeed, when the Queen addressed the Spanish Ambassador through Lord Cecil as intermediary in 1561, she informed him that the English would attend the Council of Trent if the Christian princes decided the place of meeting, the Pope presided as head of the Council but not as “universal Bishop”, and that dogmatic definitions should be drawn from Scripture, the consensus of doctors and the rulings of the ancient councils. She also demanded that all her English bishops be granted equal voice and vote with the other bishops in its proceedings.

3. A 1559 Prayer Book and 39 Articles which deleted earlier outright denials of prayer for the dead, the Real Presence in the Eucharist and sacramental grace being given ex opere operato. There are also the following in the Elizabethan Injunctions (in 18, 50, & the Bidding Prayers) of 1559: Use of the word “mass” to describe the Liturgy; characterisation of being a “sacramentary”, that is, a denier of the Real Presence, as worthy of denunciation; and the statement “let us pray God for all those which are departed out of this life in the faith of Christ”. Formularies like these that were intended to be acceptable to the non-Calvinist, ‘non-Papist’ Catholics. (The earlier denials, it should be noted, were in documents that never received legal approval by the Church itself.) Also deleted was an abusive prayer in the Litany for deliverance from Papal tyranny. The authorised 1560 Latin edition of the Book of Common Prayer contained prayer for the dead in the communion service for funerals.

4. Deliberate appointment of many moderate rather than Geneva-style reformers as bishops, some of whom we know believed in the Real Presence (e.g., Bishop Guest). Making sure all to be bishops were properly consecrated by at least three bishops. This latter condition was not always met, as I understand it, in those few Lutheran Churches that maintained some sort of episcopacy.

5. Church Law which said “Let Preachers above all things be careful that they never teach aught in a sermon to be religiously held and believed by the people, except that which is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, and which has been collected from the same doctrine by the Catholic Fathers and ancient Bishops.” The Act of Supremacy makes the first four Ecumenical Councils standards for judging heresy, while the Homilies (authorised at a secondary level) and a consensus of later divines re-affirmed the universal acceptance of the first six.

6. An Ordinal and Liturgy quite different to the vast majority of Lutheran and Calvinist ones. (See 1.)

7. An apologetic (e.g., Jewel’s and Hooker’s) which consistently appealed to the consensus of the Fathers and, interestingly, the example of the Eastern Churches as part of its justification of its Catholic identity despite not accepting Roman supremacy.

8. A significant number of those loyal to the Pope nevertheless taking the Sacrament from C of E altars up to 1570.

9. The 1561 Calender put back into the list a number of mediaeval English saints and other commemorations of mediaeval origin, which contradicts any claim of an emphatic severance from the mediaeval Church. Then there is the statement in the BCP preface, “Of Ceremonies” which states “we condemn no other Nations” and Canon 30 of 1604 (concerning the sign of the Cross) which disclaims any intention to “forsake or reject” the Continental Catholic national Churches, but only to depart from them in “those particular points” where they had “fallen … from themselves in their ancient integrity”. Admittedly this last piece of evidence is from the reign of James I, but it is before the period generally seen as having the episcopate dominated by “High Church” types.

10. An Archbishop of Canterbury (Parker) who said “God forbid that we should have such a reformation here as Knox hath made in Scotland.”

It is, I think, reasonably clear that the English Reformation was somewhat different in character to those in Europe and Scotland. There was a greater respect for Tradition both in basic doctrinal epistemology and in actual practice.

And, here’s the thing that really strikes me about the recent attempt to represent the Elizabethan Church of England as so radically different in character and self-understanding to the later period of the Caroline Divines: If they were so incompatible and discontinuous, how on earth did the “more Catholic” Caroline Divines come to be? From whence did they arise? They come straight after the Elizabethan period, and some were educated by the C of E during it. Doesn’t it make more sense to posit that there were genuine Catholic qualities and Ecclesial “substance” in the post-1559 C of E (albeit often seemingly overwhelmed by the heat of early controversy and over-reaction against Rome) just waiting to be developed and made more explicit by the Jacobite and Caroline bishops and theologians?

These are some of the reasons why I don’t think the revisionist attempt to deny any distinctively Catholic intention or effect to the English Reformation is fair or balanced. We can happily admit that many of the early Reformers taught or held as individuals material heresy in various areas. But their errors never bound the Church of England as a whole. And, just as importantly, underlying their mixed success in understanding Holy Tradition there was at least a formal and official commitment to that Tradition as expressed in the Ecumenical Councils and Patristic consensus.

A subsidiary historical argument that has been used against the Catholicity of the Church of England is that what Elizabeth did she did entirely against the will of the Church as expressed by its hierarchy. Indeed, this was so much the case that she could only impose her will by replacing almost all the bishops, since those appointed (or reconciled with Rome) by Queen Mary resisted Elizabeth’s replacing the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome with that of the Monarch.

However, the fact that the changes made in the Church of England were not sufficiently self-directed does not prove that the changes completely broke its sacramental or ecclesial continuity. One needs to look at the nature of the changes themselves to decide this matter. (As I have above.) Unfortunately, if the inability of a province to freely govern itself and teach without civil interference are sufficient evidence of de-Catholicising, then most European national Catholic Churches were unchurched many times in the middle ages, and long before the Reformation! A plethora of Kings before Henry VIII and outside England who interfered quite effectively with the Churches in their territories may be found in the annals of history. Whether it was to do with Episcopal appointments or even the publishing of a papal bull, earthly princes often imposed their will on Churches.

I should also note that most clergy in England eventually subscribed to the changes made by Henry and then Elizabeth. It is common to see this as mere widespread and repeated cowardice. But that assumes that most thought the changes were, not only objectionable or unnecessary, but a matter of basic principle, worth persecution or even martyrdom.

However, I do not think this is the case. If Henry or Elizabeth had ordered an end to episcopacy or a denial of the authority of the Creeds, the reaction would have been very different. It should not be forgotten that pressure from Churchpeople led to Henry accepting the ambiguous rider “as far as the law of Christ allows” as a qualification of his “Headship” and also led to Elizabeth only claiming to be “Supreme Governor”, and adding other statements disavowing any Ministry of Word or Sacrament.

It should also not be forgotten that conflict with the Papacy over various issues had been unusually frequent in the English Church since long before the Reformation. To characterise all those conflicts with the Pope as being simply acts of the Crown against the Church is illegitimate. English clergy had often sided with the complaints of Kings and other laymen about, for example, Papal exactions and deliberately corrupt and pluralist appointments. Magna Carta is an interesting case in point. The Pope condemned it and those associated with it, declared it void and rebuked the Archbishop of Canterbury for his involvement. Yet, successive Archbishops of Canterbury ignored this and continued to use it when enthroning Kings. And it is worth remembering that Conciliarist sympathies were by no means extinguished in England in the Sixteenth Century!

So, while most in the Church would probably prefer to have been left alone by the Monarchs, the large-scale acquiescence to the English Reformation, even allowing for the reluctance in some places and downright rebellion in others, indicates that the changes were not widely seen as a catastrophic destruction of identity.

So, although many things were said and done amiss on our side at that time and afterward, Anglicans did not see their repudiation of Roman Supremacy as intrinsically and deliberately schismatic or heretical, given the way the Supremacy presented itself back then and the fact that one of the main Anglican criticisms was that the Pope was less Petrine than Emperor-like. They did not reject the kind of Primacy both evidenced and described in recent times in Ut Unum Sint! And so there is hope for better things in the future, and a healing of memories.


poetreader said...

Father Matthew,
Yours is probably the best short treatment of these issues that I've seen. Thank you!

The de-Catholicizing of Elizabeth has been escalating of late, to the extent that there was a program on PBS (which I did not see, but had detailed reports on) that, at the least, gave the impression that Elizabeth had no religion, but merely a desire to use religion for p[olitical ends. What rubbish! There is no assertion too improbable to be used in the service of those who would remove Christianity from the public square.


LutherPunk said...

re: #6

While I think the ordinal was quite different, and continues to be due to the lingering ill effects of the Lutheran Pietist movement, I think it is hard to argue that there was a vast liturgical difference. In fact, I think most Anglicans in general would find more in common with Luther's "Order for Mass and Communion for the Church at Wittenberg" than they would with the Tridentine Mass offered prior to the Reformation (though I know a goodly number of Anglo-Catholics adopted and adapted this rite much later).

LutherPunk said...

Oops...I just realized I wrote that the Tridentine Mass was in use prior to the Reformation. I do actually know better, but was writing in a hurry.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...




Your statement is strictly correct only as long as we excise the Canon from consideration. And even then it is notable that in this area the old Roman, Anglican and Lutheran liturgies are all quite close to each other in structure.

Every version, even the shortest, of the BCP Prayer of Consecration is different to all the early Lutheran compositions in one key respect: the Anglican Canon is not just a recitation of the Words of Institution, but clearly a prayer with explicit anamnesis and an implicit epiclesis preceding the Words of Institution. While these characteristics are represented in greatly abbreviated form in the 1552, 1559 and 1662 English BCPs, that they are their at all is a significant commonality with the pre-Reformation Canon.

Also, unlike the Anglican compositions, a number of Lutheran Masses did not even have the Sanctus and Prefaces to precede the Canon with thanksgiving and adoration.

(I am drawing my information on Lutheran rites from the Lutheran liturgical scholar Frank Senn.)

The differences are even greater if one compares the Lutheran Canons with the longer Prayers of Consecration in Anglican tradition, e.g., 1549 English, 1637 Scottish, 1789 American, 1962 Canadian etc. While these are all obviously different to the "Gregorian" Canon as well, some being modelled on Eastern patterns, they are even more different from the Lutheran ones.

So, I stand by my earlier statements. Nevertheless, there was no doubt more in common liturgically between Lutherans and Anglicans than between Anglicans and Continental Calvinists.


Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Note: In my previous post, the words "this area" in the second sentence of my reply to Lutherpunk refer to the orders for Communion/Mass aside from the Canon.

J. Gordon Anderson said...

What a great article! Very well done, and absolutely correct. can't wait to read more.

Joe Oliveri said...

This is an excellent article; and the points are well-taken. However, item # 6 should be unfolded a bit more:

6. An Ordinal and Liturgy quite different to the vast majority of Lutheran and Calvinist ones. (See 1.)

I don't think that assessment is quite correct; for although Bucer's suggestion for a single ministry was pointedly set aside, and a three-fold ministry (bishop, presbyter, deacon) retained, the similarities between the Anglican Ordinal and the Lutheran model provided by Bucer make the two much closer in affinity than the former is (or was) to the pre-Reformation English ordinals.

Please see E.C. Messenger's monograph, The Lutheran Origin of the Anglican Ordinal, which I've transcribed here.

Joe Oliveri

Fr Matthew Kirby said...


I can see I am going to have to deal with the issue of Anglican Orders at greater depth later, however, for now let me make the following points:

1. I said that the Anglican Ordinal was quite different to the "vast majority" of Calvinist or Lutheran ones. Bucer's rite is one among many Reformed rites. Comparing the Anglican Ordinals to a rite actually once used by Lutherans and composed by Luther himself is sufficient to show the large differences. For a few examples to illustrate, Luther's rite is unitary not threefold, presumes an examination rather than supplying it, and has a laying on of hands accompanied (compulsarily) only by the Pater Noster, with a somewhat vague and optional prayer at the end of the Pater Noster.

2. Bucer's rite was used as a major source, but the areas where his rite was not copied and the Pontifical was used instead along with some original material were the most important parts of the rite: namely the Forms (of the sacrament) themselves! Dr Messenger shows this in his own tables but does not give fair weight to the relative significance of these sections. In other words, Bucer supplied the wealth of what may be called preparatory material, all of which is perfectly biblical and orthodox and would not have offended the Fathers in the least, BTW, given how lacking in emphasis on sacerdotalism were many of their writings on the priesthood and the ordination rites used in their time! But when it came to the key prayers, the C of E adhered to Catholic precedent in important ways. Messenger's argument that Bucer would have approved of these changes anyway is completely irrelevant. Good for him! Bucer's postulated approval in itself does not prove the Forms are intrinsically unCatholic, which is the point under consideration, and does not alter the fact that they are considerably better than the Form we know Bucer actually suggested!

3. The C of E's intention in these rites is deliberately, explicitly and positively expressed in the Preface to the Ordinal, and that is to continue the three-fold Ministry that had always existed in the Church. It is a commonplace of RC sacramental theology that it is not necessary to intend the effect of a sacrament or to understand in an orthodox way the effect of the sacrament, only to intend to do what the Church does (and has always done). It is not even necessary to identify this “Church” with the Roman Catholic Church. This is why the RCC accepts baptisms by Protestants who do not believe in baptismal regeneration and even preach against it. It is also why the fact that there are perhaps many RC priests in the West who do not believe in the Real Presence does not void their ministrations at the Mass. Messenger ignores this and so can dismiss the Preface on the grounds of purported heresy elsewhere. But even Apostolicae Curae did not say that the intention to "do as the Church does" (as expressed in the Preface) was present but voided by a heretical understanding of priesthood or sacrifice. It simply ignored the Preface altogether and said that such intention was "not only ... wanting ... but adverse to the Sacrament" since Anglicans had a "manifest intention ... of rejecting what the Church does". In other words, omission of references to sacrifice in the rite is seen as indicating an intention to reject what the Catholic Church does, and any possible compensating indications of positive intent are not considered. Indeed, the decree implies that all such indications are missing ("wanting"). But a positive statement (such as that in the Preface) in one place must trump a mere absence in another. The RC reply (e.g., Fr F. Clarke SJ) to this point has been to argue that it is not the absence but the creation of the absence in the rite that is the problem because it forces an "anti-intent", so to speak, to co-exist with an admitted general intent. But this requires that omissions or deletions by the original author be treated as proof of positive intent by the later authorisers and users of the rite to deliberately deny something to the operation of the sacramental act. It is more sensible to assume that the users of the Ordinal had only one basic intention, to ordain to the Catholic ministry common to the ancient and mediaeval Church, as they said, and that while they did not believe this would make a sacerdote in what they conceived as the Romish sense of the word, they were not trying to ordain while simultaneously actively preventing sacerdotal powers being transferred. Indeed, this would be impossible, since they would not believe in the existence of such powers. Nor does anything in the rite result in or necessitate a conscious attitude of “I am ordaining a man to be a priest while denying that I am confering the power to offer the sacrifice of the Eucharist”. Therefore, insofar as they truly denied Catholic teaching in this area (of which more in a moment), this should not introduce an "anti-intent", but only a genuine intent to make priests etc., but with a misunderstanding as to what that meant. The other problem with this subtle "OK general intent but undermining specific anti-intent" theory is that there is no such ambivalence of intent mentioned in the Papal Bull itself. The Pope did not say, "Yes, from the beginning you did claim to intend to do as the Church does and continue the same Orders as before, but you also ..." or anything like that. Therefore this particular line of defence of the Bull is presumptious eisegesis at best and disingenuous at worst. Both it and Messenger’s less subtle assertion that the Anglicans intended to create something deliberately and essentially different in nature from RC Orders run up against the fact that Anglicans always accepted the validity of the Orders bestowed under the old Pontificals, without requiring any abjuration of them. This was not always the case with other “Reformed” groups.

4. However, the English Reformers negative statements about Propitiatory Sacrifice and the Sacerdotium must be qualified by their positive statements and those of the BCP and Articles. When this is done, we find they affirmed that the Eucharist was a sacramental representation and memorial of the One Sacrifice of the Cross that also communicated its benefits. And these two things are, for Aquinas, what makes the Mass a Propitiatory Sacrifice! The C of E also made clear that the consecration of the Eucharist was the job of priests and bishops. Essentially, what they denied was any repetition of the Sacrifice or that the priest on earth "did something" to Christ in the Host to change him from an unoffered to offered state. And they did not believe this transition could occur at all, since Christ remained in his "once-offered"-ness forever so to speak (Heb. 9.25 etc.). Some RC opinions of the time very much seemed to interpret the Mass in a way inconsistent with Hebrews in the NT. Over time these interpretations have died off, but it's no good pretending they were not common once. Now, however, it is common for RC theologians to speak of the Mass as a "relative" sacrifice and deny any need to posit a real change in Christ corresponding to a distinctive act of oblation. Messenger's reflections here look increasingly outdated in an age of ecumenical theology and critical appraisal of late mediaeval assumptions common to both RCs and Reformers.

5. Messenger's gibe about Anglicans not even seeing Ordination as a "Sacrament of the Gospel" is foolish, since he must have known that the Reformers were using in this context a different definition than that he is using, and that they relaxed this usage in other contexts. If we use the word sacrament to simply mean a physical action combined with sacred words to convey grace, then the Ordinal explicitly teaches this is occurring in the Form for the consecration of Bishops: "the grace of god, which is in thee, by the imposition of handes".

6. Perhaps the silliest criticism by Messenger is that the Preface's use of the word "execute" implies that ordination was considered unnecessary for someone to be a clergyman, and that it was only necessary for them to exercise clerical functions. This completely ignores the fact that the title of the Ordinal was "The Forme ... of making ... of Archebishoppes etc." And the fact that the Preface also says that the Ordination rites were "requisite" not only to the Orders being “used”, but “continued”. Thus the existence and not merely the operation of the 3 Orders is made dependent on ordination.

7. Finally, two important pieces of historical context. First, the clear distinction that has come to exist in the RCC between on the one hand the “declarative” nature of, say, the Forms for absolution along with consecration of the Elements in the Eucharist (which reinforces the authority and instrumentality of the priest) and on the other the “precatory” nature of sacramentals and such (which emphasises God as the true Effectual Cause of grace answering a request) is not ancient. The early Church’s absolutions and consecrations were usually prayers that God would act. This does not exclude humans as “secondary causes” but leaves the precise nature of this aspect ambiguous. The Eastern Orthodox rites maintain these “precatory” forms by and large and one of their greatest saints, St Symeon the New Theologian effectively denied the Sacraments must always act ex opere operato, regardless of the faith of the participants. There was scholastic debate even in the West for some time over the precise status of absolution and whether it should be considered to itself effect remission of sins or declare what had already been effected (in the right conditions). Thus, Dr Messenger’s attempt to dismiss the Anglican Ordinal’s reference to the power of remitting sins as obviously uncatholic is unjust, even ignoring the fact he bases this on private opinions of individuals rather than official Church statements. Second, doubt as to whether bishops were a truly distinct order from priests by divine institution as opposed to ecclesiastical precept and connected doubts about whether presbyters had no power to ordain or whether they had it potentially and radically but were not permitted to exercise it were not Protestant peculiarities. They were the common heritage of Western theology in the RCC, from long before the Reformation, with scholastic disputes on the issues unresolved. Indeed, it was not, I think, until Vatican II that the RCC officially explicated a threefold conception of the ordained ministry rather than a sevenfold one, the latter notably considering priests and bishops one of two “major orders”. And some Popes even licensed mere priests to ordain at times in the Middle Ages! So, Messenger’s nitpicking over whether the Anglican Ordinal sufficiently expresses the necessity of bishops or episcopal ordination is anachronistic and liable to backfire.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Correction: The third last sentence of my previous post should have the words "taken together to be only" inserted between the words "bishops" and "one".

poetreader said...

Way back in the 'fifties, though still a Lutheran, I developed a fascination with the ancient churches. It was so long ago that I can't point at the particular books, but I distinctly recall reading what I considered bizarre statements in RC sources about how the priest was actually 'killing' Christ in the Holy Sacrifice with the sword of the Words of Consecration. I read at the same time a Greek Orthodox writer who asserted that such statements proved that the Roman church completely misunderstood the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and therefore could have no Eucharist. In that it reflected private opinions which, though common, were not officially accepted the argument was specious, but it shows that major differences in the understanding of the sacraments do exist and have existed, without therefore invalidating what Christ has given the Church. I'm not sure I've expressed my thoughts clearly here, but this, I feel, strenthens your defense of the Anglican Ordinal. Again, thank you, Fr. Matthew, for a well-reasoned and valuable presentation.


Fr Matthew Kirby said...


Another reason that the EO critic you quote is being unreasonable is that the concept of a "bloodless cutting" by the "sword" of the Words of Consecration is a Patristic one! However, the question is whether this is symbolic of the crucifixion but really conveys its effects or whether it constitutes a real immolative act performed upon Christ. Cabasilas, the great medieval EO liturgist and theologian, made the Sacrificial Act consist in the transition from to-be-offered bread into the (already) offered Christ. The bread is offered to God to be transformed into the Sacrifice Himself. There is no real immolation of Christ in the normal sense of the word. Bp Ware cites this teaching as the common one among the EO. They also emphasise more strongly than the RCC that Christ is the true Priest at the liturgy, with the earthly priest's acts being a "rational sacrifice", i.e., consisting of words and such, not literal sacrificial actions sensu stricto.

And the English Church never denied the Sacrament symbolised the historic sacrificial act of the Cross and communicated its effects. Indeed, this is affirmed in the Articles where a sacrament is defined as an "effectual sign" and this Sacrament is said to be "of our Redemption by Christ's death". Similar evidence is found in te liturgy and the statements of even the early Reformers such as Ridley!


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Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this is the right place to post, but I want to ask a question.

About Elizabeth vs. Mary Queen of Scots:
I've heard Romans defend Mary in saying she was a pious martyr because she recognized the need for authority by men, and did not want to assume as much power as a woman that Elizabeth had because there's no biblical basis for women being rulers of that sort. Basically, if Elizabeth was being godly, she would have renounced having as much power due to being a woman, and that this also may have led to the Church of England being afflicted by an evil spirit which led to women's ordination later on. What can you say about this?