What I hope will be the last installment of my essays defending the Catholicity of Anglican Catholicism. Previous installments were:
Catholic Ecumenism and the Elephant in the Room
Anglican Origins and Revisionism
Were we just wrong and was Rome just right?
Did we put up straw men?
Apostolicae Curae and our Orders
The Catholicity of Anglican Churches
One of the characteristics of much modern historical scholarship on the English Reformation is the tendency to dismiss any claims to Catholicity on behalf of the Church of England based on close study of the recorded statements and actions by those largely responsible for the Reform. And so, whether it is correspondence with Continental Reformers expressing admiration and alliance, rejoicing in the expulsion of “massing priests” and “shavelings”, or iconoclastic purges by certain Reforming bishops in their dioceses, or other facts of similar significance, the heaping up of such evidence is put before us as a proof of deliberate discontinuity with a Catholic past on the part of the Church of England, and a thoroughgoing Protestantism rendering it fundamentally indistinguishable doctrinally from other churches of the Reformation.
Why is it that this evidence carries so little weight with Continuing Anglicans such as ourselves? Mainly because the personal opinions and behaviour of teachers in that (or any other) church, even if some were among the framers of its formularies, and even if they were common, notorious and manifestly heterodox, are irrelevant in themselves for establishing the position of nascent Anglicanism qua Church. How can this be? Basically because opinions and precedents cannot bind members of a Church (and thus become properly part of its faith and practice) unless the Church officially imposes them as a corporate body in some way. If heterodox persons' statements make it into the Church's official documents, even this does not mean those statements must be or even should be interpreted as those persons would, since the Church taking up the statement, unless referring concomitantly to the author's views more generally, only accepts and authorises the statement itself. Given that a corporate body can accept a proposed statement on its own merits even though some or many in it would not agree with all the related beliefs of the proposer, such statements must be interpreted based only on their objective content (and in the wider context of other official commitments). This is especially so with ecclesial teachings, where refusal to subscribe normally means exclusion, with presumed spiritual and eternal consequences. Indeed, framers of such statements will often shape them so as to gain maximal agreement, leaving out explicit inclusion of what they know to be their own most controverted or controversial opinions.
The above principle is virtually universally accepted among theologians and canon lawyers. So, for example, the Council of Orange in repeating (often verbatim I believe) Augustine's teaching on Predestination cannot be taken as authorising all his related beliefs. Indeed, it explicitly rejected double predestination, which St Augustine taught. Some Ecumenical Councils included bishops who participated in the Councils, signed on to their formularies, but nevertheless turned out to have heterodox interpretations of the relevant disputed doctrines. This does not mean that those Councils' teachings must be interpreted in agreement with these men.
This principle is particularly relevant when considering the formularies of the Church of England at the Elizabethan Settlement. It is a known fact that people of greatly differing opinions contributed either to their writing or authorisation. Queen Elizabeth I, bishops such as Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Parker, a group of traditionalist episcopi who probably assisted in the creation of the first English Ordinal [W. K. Lowther Clarke & C. Harris, Liturgy and Worship, pp.662, 1932.], Guest, Cheyney, Jewel, the Houses of Convocation with a conservative element, et al. These were anything but a theologically monochromatic group, some believing in the Real Presence, some not, for example, and with a number not leaving us detailed records of their precise opinions. Let me spell some of this variation out.
When it came to prayer for the dead, it was condemned (at least in its “Romish” form) in an early draft of Article 22, but then this condemnation was deleted. And such prayer had been encouraged in the Bidding Prayers of the Elizabethan Injunctions. In 1559 the Dirge for the Dead and a Solemn Requiem Mass in English were sung for the recently deceased King of France by Archbishop-elect Parker.
In the same era we have an Article condemning the “sacrifices of Masses” (note the deliberate use of the plural); a Homily warning against making a “memory” into a “sacrifice” in the Eucharist; but also subscription by most bishops to a mediaeval homily saying Christ's Passion was “daily renewed at the mass through mystery” and using the Old English word for sacrifice to describe the same thing; along with other theologically equivalent statements in the Articles, Prayer Book and apologetic works of Jewel, as discussed under the heading “Sacerdotalism and the Church of England at and after the Reformation” here. And we cannot forget the interesting fact mentioned in Saepius Officio, section XIII, that some official correspondence of Elizabethan bishops applied the term “High Priest” to other bishops.
The Articles say adoration, elevation and reservation of the Sacrament “was not ordained of Christ”, that is, commanded by him. But that this is not intrinsically a condemnation of these actions is not only clear from careful attendance to the words themselves, but also from the facts that reservation was known to be accepted as legitimate by authorities in Elizabeth's day, including the Primate, Archbishop Parker, and was sometimes practised. In fact, the Queen commissioned and subsequently authorised in 1560 a Latin version of the Book of Common Prayer which included provision for Reservation for the sick. Archbishop Parker revised a draft of the Reformatio Legum, which had in its Edwardine version forbidden reservation, to allow it for the remainder of the day on which it was consecrated in order to communicate the sick. (This set of Canon Laws, somewhat anti-traditionalist in other ways, was never finally approved.) [W. K. Lowther Clarke & C. Harris, Liturgy and Worship, pp.563,564, 1932.]
We know that many of the English divines of that time were Calvinists in their soteriological opinions. Yet the Articles and BCP do not reflect the distinctive soteriological affirmations of Calvinists, though they are quite Augustinian. For example, the Sixteenth Article say that Christians “ may depart from grace” and then “may arise again” [emphasis added]. Calvinists would say that true Christians “can neither totally nor finally fall away”, as they did in the Westminster Confession. Similarly, the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, explicitly taught in the BCP, is opposed to the Calvinist understanding of baptism and salvation. When Archbishop Whitgift with some other bishops attempted to add the strictly Calvinist (or Hyper-Augustinian) “Lambeth Articles” to the formularies in 1595, there was resistance in the Church (including from a respected priest who would become one of the great Anglican bishops, Lancelot Andrewes) and the Queen set them aside.
Whereas Cranmer and some other Anglicans held the opinion that episcopal consecration was not necessary to instituting bishops, this was not reflected in the Ordinal. When Bishop Bancroft publicly upheld the divine institution of Episcopacy as a distinct and superior order to the priesthood, a Puritan cousin of the Queen's tried to get her to silence him. Instead, she silenced her cousin and went on to promote the said bishop, who became Archbishop of Canterbury. A number of other Anglican bishops and other divines took up the same position against the presbyterian Puritans in the late 16th Century, appealing both to Scripture and Tradition. [Tavard, Quest for Catholicity, p.33.]
So, the personal opinions of men like Cranmer or Jewel, especially as expressed in private correspondence or conversation with European Protestants, are of no importance or authority when it comes to establishing the nature or teaching of the Church of England. Yet modern scholarship has honed in on data such as the “Zurich Letters” to prove that the Church of England was no different to the bodies established by the Continental Reformers. (Most of this data, by the way, was well known to the Anglo-Catholic 19th Century historiographers [e.g., Bp W. Forbes, An Explanation of the Thirty Nine Articles, pp.(xxi)ff, 1871]. The difference is that they were theologically adept and understood the principles explained above.) If some reformers saw no difference between no difference between the Church of England and the Puritans and other Calvinists, for example, others clearly did. Archbishop Parker said “God forbid that we should have such a reformation here as Knox hath made in Scotland.” The real question is whether the Church saw itself as the ancient Catholic jurisdiction in England keeping (and to some extent restoring) the ancient orthodox Faith, or instead asserted a distinct identity, established de novo. It undeniably did the former, not the latter, as seen not only from the uniform consensus of its public and official apologetics, but from its deliberate legal, institutional and structural continuity and in statements such as “The service in this Church of England these many years hath been read in Latin to the people, which they understand not” [emphasis added] in the Book of Common Prayer.
As for sentiments expressed that aligned Anglicans with the Continental Reformers and against the perceived common aggressor, Rome, such general statements, particularly in non-authoritative documents, mean little for our purposes. We don't want to know whether they were considered natural allies in a general sense, but whether their Faith and Practice was adopted in those areas that might definitely breach Catholic continuity and Orthodox Faith. Did the acknowledged sympathy for and alliance with other Reformers make the Church of England's divines commit it to the distinctive doctrines of the Zwinglians, Calvinists or Lutherans? No. Did these factors cause them to abandon jurisdictional succession or the three major orders? No. Did the association of a number of them with the Genevans mean there were no Anglican criticisms of the Genevan approach? No, Hooker's works containing good examples of such criticisms. And, where they excused the loss of episcopacy in the Reformed Churches, it was often by pleading the principle of “necessity knows no law” for them and by accepting the common Roman Catholic scholastic position that presbyters had, theoretically, the power to ordain, but that this was normally bound by ecclesiastical or apostolic precept, not by an absolute divine law.
While some individual Anglicans apparently thought in terms of almost pure discontinuity with the past and a reconstruction of the true religion, others did not, and the official position followed the latter.
For example, Archbishop Parker supervised the preparation of a respectful history of all his predecessors in the See of Canterbury. His first major magisterial act was to draw up Eleven Articles, required to be subscribed twice a year by the clergy. They included the following elements: The “authority of the keys” is mentioned as a necessary characteristic of the Church. The Pope is denied to be “supreme head of the universal church ... above all emperors, kings and princes” based on both Scripture and “the example of the primitive Church”. Nevertheless, rather than being called Antichrist, denied episcopal authority or written out of the Church, he is said to have “no more authority than other bishops have in their provinces and dioceses”. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church are repeatedly appealed to, and the BCP is called “catholic, apostolic”. Ancient baptismal rites and ceremonies such as exorcism, the hallowing of the water, and the use of oil and salt are said to be abolished, not because they are intrinsically heretical, but because they had been “of late years abused and esteemed to be necessary”.. In the last article, the “extolling” rather than the existence of images is opposed, exactly as it had been in the First Henrician Injunctions of 1536. (Interestingly, images of the First and Third members of the Trinity are expressly forbidden, but not of Christ. This accords with a literal understanding of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which some Eastern Orthodox still demand.) While practices such as praying the rosary are disallowed, this is by unfavourable comparison with “prayer with the affection of the heart, and not with the mouth only”, implying that it was mechanistic prayer that was seen as the essential problem. Regarding continuity, even the, in many ways, very Protestant Bishop Jewel declared of Anglican episcopal succession and jurisdiction, “we succeed the bishops that have been before ... We are elected, consecrate, confirmed and admitted as they were.” [G. Bray, Documents of the English Reformation, pp.349-351, 1994; A. L. Peck, Anglicanism and Episcopacy, p.15, 1958.]
A minority of individuals in the Church of England denied the Fathers had much use, since the Scriptures were supposed to be self-explanatory. So, Whitaker, an Oxford and Cambridge don of the Elizabethan age, argues that the unanimous exposition of Scripure by the Fathers is not necessary for correct interpretation, as correct interpretation must have existed before the Fathers wrote. As for the role of the Church a a whole as interpreter, he accepts this but limits the Church to “only the elect”, that is, the invisible, faithful Church known only to God. On the other hand Bp Jewel explicitly gives the Fathers the role of “interpreters” and implicitly denies their consensual teaching could be wrong in his famous Apology, which received a level of official approval. And William Fulke, an Elizabethan Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, posited the “necessary use of Scriptures, doctors, councils, learnings, languages, etc.” as opposed to papal infallibility, which he argued would make the rest superfluous. (He seems to be thinking of an oracular infallibility here.) Another clergyman of the time, James Calfhill, who was bishop-elect of Winchester when he died in 1570, said that after examination of Scripture, unless one was to be a “phrenetic person”, he could also resort “to the other kind of examination of doctrine, which is the common consent of the Church”. Similarly, John Philpot, made Archdeacon of Winchester under King Edward and burnt for heresy under Queen Mary, the standard was “God's word and ... the interpretation of the primitive Church”, the Church being “the pillar and stablishment of truth”. He mocks heretics who oppose this consensus and “cry, The Scriptures, the Scriptures”. [G. H. Tavard, Holy Writ or Holy Church, pp. 223, 235-240, 1959.] Even Cranmer appealed to the consensus of the Fathers and the consensus of a free, contemporaneous Ecumenical Council and said he was ready to submit to the Church's judgement, but not Rome's alone [W. Palmer, A Treatise on the Church of Christ, p.345, 1842]. In another of Tavard's books, The Quest for Catholicity, (p.26, 1963) an exchange between the Bishop and Dean of London and two Puritans is recorded as follows: (Bishop) “All the learned are against you; will you be tried by them?” (First Puritan) “We will be tried by the word of God ...” (Dean) “But who will you have to be judge of the word of God?” (Second Puritan) “Why, that was the saying of the papists ...”. Indeed.
And so it was that, on the question of dogmatic authority, the assertion that “the Church hath authority in Controversies of Faith”, despite being absent from the Articles originally composed by Convocation, was inserted, possibly though not assuredly at the instigation of the Queen. Then it was subscribed to by the Church in the 1571 Convocation, which made the Thirty Nine Articles obligatory at the same time it composed a canon demanding that the Fathers' interpretation of Scripture be conformed to in preaching what was to be “religiously held and believed” by the people. Though the body of canons containing this statement never received the Royal Assent, this canon is sufficient evidence of the fact that the authorisation of the Articles was concomitant with a commitment to the Patristic consensus by the authorising body. Therefore it is only appropriate to interpret the Articles in conformity with this consensus, to which the Church voluntarily submitted its teaching office at that key moment.
Therefore, we can be quite sure that we are not obliged to interpret the early Anglican formularies in accordance with the particular personal opinions or sympathies, known or guessed, of any of its composers, framers or authorisers, unless those opinions are unavoidably inscribed in those formularies. And, given the variety in these personal opinions on particular issues described above and the clear reticence evidenced in the formularies to commit the Church to any such idiosyncrasies, we cannot presume to find such opinions based on a cursory reading. Instead, we must pay careful attention to the words themselves, and only in the context of the formularies and other authoritative documents as a whole and the wider context of the Anglican submission to the Catholic Church's interpretive and doctrinal Tradition mentioned above. That also means as a corollary that any doctrinal hermeneutic or epistemology that rejects the principle of such submission or manifestly opposes the Consensus Patrum is ruled out. In practice, that means that only the Catholic approach to our formularies is permissible, the “liberal Protestant” and “Evangelical Protestant” approaches being excluded by first principles. In other words, if the Anglican formularies can be interpreted in conformity with the Catholic Faith, they may be interpreted no other way, according to their own internal logic.
What, then, was the precise hierarchy of authority for Anglican Churches, according to its first principles? The Book of Common Prayer, Thirty Nine Articles and the laws governing the Church were binding, so they are near the top. But they themselves refer us to the the higher level of the Scriptures first, then the Creeds, Ecumenical Councils and consensus of the Fathers and Catholic Church more generally as necessary interpretive authorities helping to apply the Scriptures doctrinally, through the Holy Spirit. The next level down includes documents with some level of authorisation and sanction, but that are not binding, and so must be “filtered” by and interpreted consistently with the first two levels. This would include the Homilies referred to in Article XXXV, and Jewel's Apology. But it might also include other official statements by the Church's Primates, her bishops acting corporately, or even by the Supreme Governors or those acting on their instruction when defending or explaining the Church's position. Examples of these are the affirmation by King James I of adhesion to the Vincentian Canon in his defence of the faith of himself and the Church of England (the first document given in More & Cross' Anglicanism) and, much later, Saepius Officio. The united statements of the bishops at the Savoy Conference to the Puritans in preparing for the 1662 revision of the Book of Common Prayer belong in this category as well, by showing us the mind of the revisers in the changes made and refused at this very significant point, the completion of the Reformation settlement. Finally, there would be the tradition of teaching of leading divines, again, only inosfar as they conformed to the first two levels. In summary, the Anglican doctrinal priority is first, Scripture interpreted in accordance with Holy Tradition; second, the BCP, Articles and canon law; third, other officially sanctioned (but not “enforced”) documents; fourthly, the tradition of Anglican teaching faithful to the higher levels.
This means that the Reformed Church of England can only be judged as to its identity and doctrine while respecting the above hierarchy. And thus only if elements in the second level could be proven manifestly heretical, with those purportedly heretical statements receiving no possible clarification, qualification or interpretation in an orthodox sense by the other levels, could the Church of England be deemed heretical at and after the Reformation. However, given that when such critiques have been attempted in the past, Anglicans have successfully shown that anti-Catholic interpretation of the problematic elements was not necessary but that orthodox interpretation was possible (and therefore mandatory: see above), and given that modern revisionist scholarship on the English Reformation does not even attempt to respect the identified hierarchy, we can safely say that the now common dismissal of the Catholicity of the Church of England at and after the Reformation period is invalid and without theological value. It is based on using admittedly large amounts of data but with false premises as to its significance and unjust exclusion of consideration of other more important evidence. Additionally, there is often evidence of ignorance of essential theological distinctions, such as the difference between denying any repetition of Christ's Sacrifice and denial of a Eucharistic sacrifice by way of sacramental representation, remembrance and thanksgiving. Or the difference between refusing to dogmatically unchurch presbyterian bodies and accounting episcopacy as an unimportant or superfluous custom. In each case, the English Church did the former but the opposite of the latter, and, in each case, there is no excuse in the context of ecumenical theological advances for ignoring these distinctions.
But, the reader might ask, are my “rules” for understanding the early Anglican Formularies just mine? Are they an arbitrary and convenient premise with no Catholic pedigree? No. They are in fact the very kind of rules used by Roman Catholic apologists to show that apparent inconsistencies between some present and some mediaeval RC teaching are not examples of dogmatic contradictions. Examples of such historical “paradoxes” are found in the teachings on freedom of religion and conscience, the evil of coercion and violence in Christ's name to defend orthodoxy, prayer with Protestants, usury and the worshipping with latreia of certain images, crucifixes and fragments of the “True Cross”. These apologists also set the bar very high for opponents to prove that any previous errors were actually fully authoritative and binding, or they allow a hermeneutic that rescues apparent past errors from being real ones through great elasticity and ingenuity.
For example, while the Papal Bull Unam Sanctam declared that “it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff”, Vatican II certainly seemed to recognise the possibility of salvation for those outside the Roman communion. “Absolutely necessary” literally means “without exception a requirement”, so the Bull does appear strictly to deny the possibility of non-RCs being saved, with no allowance even for the old exception given in moral theology of “invincible ignorance”. I have seen this apparent contradiction dealt with 5 different ways. First, it is claimed Unam Sanctam was not infallible anyway, as it is not addressed to the whole Church, and so fails to satisfy all the requirements for an infallible decree. Second, the Bull was infallible, but “absolutely necessary” can't possibly mean “without exception” because theologians of the time knew better than to ignore the possible exception of invincible ignorance, allowance for which must be assumed. Therefore, “absolutely necessary” actually meant “conditionally necessary”. Third, it is argued (and this is my favourite) that the Bull is infallible and means exactly what it says, but not what the pronouncing Pope or most people at first glance think it says. Since it requires that the saved “be subject to” not “submit to”, it strictly refers to the fact of objective placement under authority rather than subjective, willed submission to authority. Therefore, all Christians at least are under the Pope's authority by divine law, they automatically satisfy this condition! Fourth, Vatican II may have intended to teach that salvation was possible for non-Catholics due to the salvific reality of churches outside Rome's communion, but it is possible to interpret the words to mean that these churches are only salvific insofar as they can lead people indirectly back to the Roman Catholic Church. Fifth, some traditionalists argue that Vatican II was wrong and the earlier Bull, being infallible, trumps the confessedly non-infallible, non-dogmatic Council.
All the first three attempts at harmonisation share one feature. They deal only with the final decree (the purportedly infallible part) and virtually ignore the immediately preceding teaching that, among other things, the Pope's authority (to which it is absolutely necessary to be subject) includes the right to apply the civil sword by proxy, by directing earthly rulers (who must obey?). Given that “a text without a context is a pretext” one would think that the material preparatory to the decree needed special exegetical attention too.
However, I am far from saying none of the harmonising solutions above are reasonable. What I do say is that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Therefore Anglicans are quite justified in treating their own formularies with the same charitable exegesis, carefully distinguishing true dogma from lesser statements and allowing for all relevant qualifications to arrive at what is both coherent and orthodox.