The Anglican Catholic Church, the Province of Christ the King, and the UECNA all list the Affirmation of St Louis among their important founding documents. However, there have always been difficulties about how it should be used and interpreted. The major disagreement has been whether it is a prism for the understanding of the older formularies - the Articles, Homilies and the BCP - or their replacement. None of the three "St Louis Churches" has ever come down in favour of one view or other. In the absence of any official pronouncement, we must look at the Affirmation itself, and the Anglican theological tradition for guidance.
The Affirmation of St Louis came about in response to a theological emergency. The complete abandonment of the Apostolic Ministry and partial abandonment of the Christian morality by the Episcopal Church had left orthodox Episcopalians without a spiritual home. As a result the St Louis Congress of Concerned Churchmen was held, during which the Affirmation was accepted as a basis for a revived Anglican body in North America. The framers of the Affirmation of St Louis were also far sighted enough to see that the Episcopal Church's support for abortion "rights" and the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood would lead to a whole string of theological and moral innovations. These have led, in an absolutely logical progression, to the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of homosexual unions as revisionist notions of social justice has replaced divine justice as the animating spirit of theological discourse in the Episcopal Church. In the face of this particular manifestation of zeitgeist, the framers of the Affirmation of St Louis wished to preserve the theological and moral integrity of the Anglican tradition. In order to do so they affirmed the Church's traditional theological understanding - the centrality of the Bible, the Creeds and Councils, and the Anglican tradition. They also affirmed traditional Christian moral values such as the sanctity of human life, and the sanctity of (hetrosexual) marriage. Read with unprejudiced eye, the intent was to maintain the Anglican Tradition whilst linking it unequivocably to the faith of the Church before the disunion of East and West.
In terms of 1970s Ecumenical thinking, that meant that the Thirty-nine Articles, Prayer Book, and Homilies had to be read within the context of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. However, it is possible to make far too much of this provision. This appeal to antiquity does not compromise the integrity of the Anglican theological tradition, even though Anglican theologians have often been uncomfortable with the Seventh Council. Archbishop Parker and other Anglican theologians from the 1550s onwards have always maintained that the Anglican Formularies be read "in the most catholic sense," an idea continued in the provisions of the Affirmation of St Louis. Jewel, Parker, Andrewes and Laud - like the framers of the Affirmation of St Louis - had appealled to the witness of the Ancient Church, of the Bible, Creeds, Early Fathers, and Councils against the innovations of the modern Church. This appeal to antiquity has been an abiding theme in Anglican theology since the beginning and it remains part of our inheritence as Continuing Anglicans.
Sadly, the Affirmation of St Louis has been misused to attempt to re-engineer Anglicanism into a species of Old Catholicism. This has always been a tendancy with some Anglo-Catholics, but in the covtext of post-1977 Anglicanism it has been even more divisive than it had been in the Episcopal Church, main due to the lack of liberals to unite the various conservative groups. The three provisions that they have fastened on to most often have been the requrement that the Church adhere to the first seven Councils, the inclusion of the idea of the seven sacraments in the Affirmation, and the provision that the 39 Articles and the BCP be read in accordance with the provisions of the Affirmation of St Louis.
Of the three, most use has been made of the provision that the Articles of Religion, etc., be interpreted "according to this Affirmation" as a Trojan Horse for the re-engineering of Anglicanism within the Continuum. This is especially ironic given that the provision itself reflected Caroline thinking on how the Articles and BCP should be read. Instead of continuing the old practice of reading the Articles within tradition, a concerted attempt has been made by some to interpret this as making the Articles, etc., redundant. This is a piece of wishful thinking, as any provision that requires one to interpret existing documents in accordance with it is acknowledging the continuing relevence and authority of those formularies. On the other hand, given the sort of logic chopping that the Articles have been subjected to, there was a need to establish a standard of interpretation in accordance with the traditional Anglican principles. The appeal made by the Affirmation is to the Catholic and Apostolic faith of the first eight centuries, this is perfectly in accordance with the principles laid down by Bishop Jewel and Richard Hooker back in the sixteenth century.
This appeal to antiquity has always been a central plank of the Anglican repudiation of both Papalist additions and Puritan subtractions from the Faith. It now also serves as an essential defense against liberal revisionism. On the whole, the tone of the Affirmation of St Louis is that of continuity, not innovation. The main thrust of the Affirmation is to restore and maintain the connection between Anglicanism and the Catholic faith of the first centuries - a connection that had been continually made by the Reformers, the Caroline Divines and other mainstream Anglican theologians. To read the Affirmation of St Louis in any other manner is to do violence to, even betray, the whole idea of the Continuing Anglican Movement, but that has not stopped people from making the attempt. If the Continuing Anglican movement is to achieve lasting unity, it needs to get away from the desire to innovate, and place all its energy into maintaining and continuing the Anglican tradition that has its roots in the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church.
This post was originally published on the own blog "The Old High Churchman" - http://theoldhighchurchman.blogspot.com/ - and has been republished here in the hopes of reaching a wider public.