Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The year that was and Anglican education

Looking back on 2008 at The Continuum, I would like to summarize the major thrust of my contributions with this simple line: We are Continuing Anglicans because Anglicanism is worth continuing. The opposite point of view was expressed by a significant bishop in one jurisdiction who made the very unfortunate remark that Anglicanism is a 450 year-old experiment, and that the case may be made that the experiment has failed. To this my answer is twofold: Anglicanism is not an experiment at all, and Anglicanism has not failed. The official Anglican Communion has failed in recent decades; mostly it has failed to continue Anglican practice and teaching. But, we are not of the Anglican Communion, since long ago they rejected our efforts to preserve sound teaching and to safeguard the sacraments.

The bishop's unfortunate remark tells me that even some Continuing Anglicans have fallen into a very dangerous trap, and that for different reasons that interact. First of all, we must confront the problem of ignorance. Obviously, many traditional or Catholic Anglicans have never read the works of the English churchmen of the formative period of the 16th and 17th centuries. As a result, they have swallowed a great deal of what our critics have to say, having nothing in their intellectual arsenal with which they may defend their patrimony. The bishop who made the unfortunate remark merely spoke for many such Anglicans who live in desperation because they believe that something extra is needed for sure and certain sacramental validity. They have no confidence in their own heritage, but nonetheless sweat it out the way conservative Episcopalians sweat out the problems of apostasy, heresy, and immorality. They await a day of some future liberation when they may become truly Catholic.

This is, however, a deception. The cause of this deception is that they have adopted medieval Roman definitions, which then develop endlessly into modern Roman definitions, as the standard of what it means to be "Catholic." But, Anglicans have always held the standard of Antiquity, the Tradition of the early centuries and above all Scripture, to provide the standard of Catholic Faith and practice. In line with what I have written several times, and with what Fr. Kirby has written, Roman definitions do not possess the necessary attributes of authenticity and authority to command either our allegiance or our obedience. The genuine meaning of "Protestantism" in the English tradition was not the same as it was on the European continent; it was not about rebuilding the Church as if it needed a foundation dug out and laid all over again. It was about restoring the true Catholic Faith and practice of the Church.

A line from the oft misunderstood Article XXV sums it up well: "Being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles." The subject of the Article was the sacraments, and it should be easy to follow what the English Churchmen were saying. For example, how Anointing for healing (a sacrament that is explained and described in the Epistle of James) became Extreme Unction for the dying involved a corrupting evolution and "doctrinal development" that strayed away from a genuine following of the Apostles. A sacrament for healing, and one that effectually signifies reconciliation to God and his Church, so that a Christian may be fully restored, was corrupted into a sacrament reserved for the deathbed only, and that carried weighty and Pharisaical requirements on anyone who survived and recovered, such as life-long celibacy, no matter what age the person was, or if he were married. A means of grace became a heavy burden of the Law, grievous to be borne. This was a corrupt following, in the same sense as a corrupt manuscript. The sacrament was preserved, but it required a purifying effort to return to the original meaning and purpose. This is what the thinking and theological stance of the English Reformation was about: Returning to what Christ and his Church taught and practiced "from the beginning."1

I have used this Article quite deliberately too, inasmuch as the average reader's ability to understand it perfectly exemplifies the need for education, which is my next, and obviously related point. In fact, it is almost redundant. But, whereas the problem of ignorance is a diagnosis, this is the prescription.

This education will not come from Roman polemicists, because they do not understand Anglicanism, anyway, and because their goal is to convert us to "the One True Church" that we may be saved (rather, the larger of the Two One True Churches). It will not come from modern Evangelicals or Reformed Protestants (i.e. Calvinists), even if they are living in the Doublethink world of confusing their theology with that of the Anglican tradition. The problem is complicated by the strong agreement between those on the right hand or the left as to the beliefs of our Fathers. They have agreed between themselves that the English Reformers were really Calvinists, and one of their number actually tried to argue that the Anglicans did not believe in Apostolic Succession. The absurdity of that claim should provoke laughter, inasmuch as the only arguments for the ecclesiology and sacraments of Continental Protestants ever made by English churchmen, in those centuries, were along the lines of a possible Divine economy, a theory that the sacraments of non-episcopal churches might be valid if the intention was to meet a true emergency. And this theory, which had existed before the Reformation as a matter of speculation among Catholic theologians, eventually died. And the theory had absolutely no effect on the practice and Canon Laws of the Church of England, in which it was never legal for any but those ordained by a bishop in Apostolic Succession, to act as priests.

What has amazed me is this: All of the evidence proves that the Church of England had always Intended to be remain Catholic in every proper sacramental sense, and no evidence exists that can, under scrutiny, contradict this simple fact. And, yet, because Anglicans are urged to turn to the right hand or to the left, and stray from the via media, many of them come to believe that the Roman and the Calvinist polemicists have to be right. This is the danger we have seen expressed in that one bishop's unfortunate remark. The poor man was sincere, and sincerely wrong. And, what is needed now is education.

Our archives are full of useful articles to that end, mostly during 2008. And, in the future it is my purpose to follow through on helping to meet the educational need. Anglicanism is worth Continuing, so it is worth learning properly.

1. I make here a deliberate allusion to Matt. 19:8, that demonstrates the same principle.


Canon Tallis said...

Father Hart,

This is a brilliant way to end the year and deserves not only praise but a commitment by all who read to move from the theoretical to the practical. You and this blob (why does that remind me of Cardinal Wolsey's "Ego et rex meus?") have done a superb job of setting forth not only the real faith of the classical prayer books and the Articles as understood in the context of the Anglican canon of "one Canon, two Testaments, three Creeds, four Councils and five Centuries" but also of the faith of sub-apostolic Church to which the Anglican reformation aimed. The two were intended to be one and it seems to me that the best of the Continuum has that same aim. If anyone doesn't believe that they should begin to read this blog from its beginning and read and re-read as necessary.

I am sure that you and Father Kirby now plan to set forth the minimum of necessary reading intended to provide the next educational phrase of this intellectual and spiritual journey which, God willing, we shall all make together. If we commit to do so and also to bring all of Anglican brethren along, first by making them aware of same and then by encouraging them to join us in this exercise, I truly believe that we shall have the beginning of a new and wonderful Anglican reformation.

But doctrine by itself is insufficient to create the fullness of the reformation which we need and seek. At our ordination we promised obedience to "the doctrine, discipline and worship . . . of the church" and I believe that it is necessary that all be made aware of the discipline and worship which the fullness of the classical and orthodox prayer book tradition intended and intends. We as deacons, priests and bishops and our missions, parishes and dioceses must be recognizably Anglican and not weak and misleading imitations of either Geneva or Rome. We may claim the best of the Roman and Orthodox tradition as Anglicanism received it and sets it forth in our formularies, but we should shun the imitation of a Rome that is no longer as well as the Rome that is for the masculinity of our own tradition. I write this because it was this imitation papalism and its necessary failures which led to the mistaken opinion of the bishop mentioned. Because of that false tradition which too many have embraced I can understand if not agree with his despair.

I sometimes feel that we have very much in common with the Anglican clergy during the Cromwellian interregnum, but we have a greater freedom than they and no less responsibility and opportunity. The fullness of the tradition it will not be able to restore everywhere at once, but the places which are able should do their best to make of themselves the sort of models which everyone will want to emulate and, in time, surpass.

By God's grace, I think it has begun.

RSC+ said...

Fr. Hart,

I look forward to another year of good Anglican catechesis. In Seminary I'll be taking a course on the Book of Common Prayer, taught by one of the bishops in TEC. So, this place will be a most welcome safe haven from all the syllogistic apologetics (read: nonsense) about the '79 Book of Alternate Worship Services.

welshmann said...

Fr. Hart:

For your benefit and that of your readers, if you search on "commemorative sacrifice" at, you will find a sizable cache of titles from
Cranmer and Andrewes to Pusey and Keble in downloadable PDF format. Two other treasure troves include Anglicans are not so well represented there--and


Fr. Robert Hart said...

I did something I rarely ever do, which is to reject a comment. Someone reacted to my words: "This is what the thinking and theological stance of the English Reformation was about: Returning to what Christ and his Church taught and practiced 'from the beginning.'"

His reaction was about the riches that Henry VIII had Thomas Cromwell loot from churches and monasteries.

Exactly what the abuses of the crown have to do with "the thinking and theological stance of the English Reformation," is not at all clear. But, discussions of corruption by the intermingling of Church and State, in general, or of greed, have nothing to do with the work of the doctors and pastors of the Church. Nor would such a discussion make Rome appear, in comparison, as any kind of saintly and pure See.

My comments were about the work that churchmen did concerning doctrine, much of which was done in the second secession, not the first. Therefore the politics and moral failings of Henry and his henchmen are irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Hart:

An interesting development.

Reading between the lines of your post, the issue seems to be that the doctors and pastors of the (Anglican) Church were thought of as willing or unwilling apologists for the policies of the British State?

This is a delicate issue for any denomination, as you noted with reference to the Roman Catholic Church. Attempts by various states to dictate doctrine to ecclesiastical bodies is nothing new. Many states covet a carte blanche "imprimatur" from the Churches within their realm.

I don't see this as an issue affecting only some denominations, since all of them come under this pressure, sooner or later. It is expected, however, that when such a time of trial comes, the doctors, pastors, and the laity will stand firm and not allow doctrine to be manipulated.

poetreader said...

I saw that one, and left it there for you to see, rather hoping you would reject it. Had I published it, my response would have been angrier than I generally allow myself to be. Yours is a good statement and certainly does not merit such a negative and historically false response.


Fr. Robert Hart said...


In the 16th century ever church in Europe was a state church, and every bishop was expected to be supportive of that state and monarch. I see no reason to suppose that the English Reformers were in any sense compromised by their loyalty to Queen Elizabeth. Most likely, they were loyal and patriotic Englishmen. But, their theological achievements ought to be regarded in their own right, and set in the universal context of Christian doctrine, where they rightly belong.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Heart:

I agree that it is acceptable and reasonable to expect Church leaders to be supportive of the State. I would go even further and say that I see nothing wrong with the past practice of Primates serving as "interrex" in those kingdoms that had electoral monarchies. That arrangement actually worked out quite well.

Having said that, it must also be mentioned that the loyalty of the Roman bishops is expected to be to the Pope and the magisterium. We can see the drama of this expectation unfolding itself today in China, with two Churches claiming to be Roman - one "patriotic", and one underground. A few decades ago similar pressures existed behind the iron curtain, where a minority of the clergy did compromise themselves. In my opinion, these cases point to a need for a certain amount of purification of these unwelcome influences.

This is the background of the question: did the patriotic Anglican Reformers experience such pressures from their State?

I'll leave it at that.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Having said that, it must also be mentioned that the loyalty of the Roman bishops is expected to be to the Pope and the magisterium.

So, do you suggest that other church leaders are not expected to be loyal to Christ and to the truth? In 1936 it was the bishops of the Church of England who gave the king a simple choice: Marry a divorced woman OR keep your crown. You can't have both.

This is the background of the question: did the patriotic Anglican Reformers experience such pressures from their State?

To do what?

We shall continue to look at the body of doctrine they left behind. It holds its own quite well. Bulverism is not going to dissuade us from this task.

Canon Tallis said...

Mark's question ignores the fact that kings and statesmen can sometimes be more loyal to God and His church than popes and other bishops. It after all was Wolsey that began the closing down of the monastarys to finance the building and endowment of Cardinal College (now King's) and to finance what he hoped would be his advancement to the papacy.

On the other hand it was Elizabeth I who was clearly the superior theologian and churchwoman after she came to the English throne, who unable to secure the loyalty of her sister's bishops had to select and train her own out of those who returned from Geneva. They rewarded her and the Church by attempting to undermind the oaths which they had taken and ordination and when frustrated wrote complaining letters back to Switzerland about the being forced to wear "the golden vestments of the papacy" while celebrating the Eucharist in her presence.

But what they did is nothing compared to the crimes of too many late medieval prelates and clerics prior to the Reformation. The journals of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este who was both archbishop of Milan and Lyon years before he was even in so much as priest's orders gives a much better indication of the state of the Latin Church prior to the Reformation.

I think anyone widely read in the history of the Church would agree with Father Hart in this case.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your responses, Father Hart and Cannon Tallis:

I can see now that I've not expressed myself clearly, and left room for assumptions to sprout.

Across the board rejection of the body of this doctrine or customs was not my intent.

I wanted to ask if, with respect to the state, a need for only a certain amount of purification of any unwelcome influences on the doctrine and customs of the Anglican Church was ever perceived to exist.

In my Roman eyes, the barque of Peter has to fend off such unwelcome influences on the magisterium, tradition, and scriptures, on a more or less constant basis. It is doubly sad when the skipper himself, or some of his officers, are occasionally not up to the task of protecting the crew, as Cannon Tallis reminded us.

Such questions are in my blood. Thus, I plead guilty to the charge of unintentionally feigning Bulverism.

Anonymous said...

Cardinal College became Christ Church (Oxford). King's (Cambridge) was founded by Henry VI.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Fr. Hart: " of their number actually tried to argue that the Anglicans did not believe in Apostolic Succession. The absurdity of that claim should provoke laughter,..."

Speaking of Anglican Apostolic Succession and laughter, please take a look at this blog post which humorously spoofs an ecclesial-theological contradiction.