Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Affirmation of St Louis - Some Thoughts

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" - - and has been republished here in the hopes of reaching a wider public.


Anonymous said...

I rejoice in this entire piece, but am especially captivated by this one sentence:

"Sadly, the Affirmation of St Louis has been misused to attempt to re-engineer Anglicanism into a species of old Catholicism."

Yes, I have had occasion to notice something like that going on. Nice to know that others are concerned and willing to resist. Anglicans are not just Non-papal Catholics; we are Refomed Catholics and Evangelical Catholics.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

...the three "St Louis Churches"...

I agree with this designation. Yes, the APA has signed on to the Affirmation, but after the fact having an earlier origin (of course, it is good that they have). But the TAC really cannot be called a church of the Affirmation of St. Louis anymore. Their bishops have been selling Roman Catholicism, and that is not in accord with the "spirit of St. Louis."

BCPAnglican said...

Although I'm not in one of "the three St. Louis Churches," I find this posting by Bishop Robinson and the one by Fr. Nalls on Hobart filled with valuable material for theological reflection on the heart Anglicanism.

Anonymous said...

In light of Archbishop Haverland's article, recently posted at "Retro-Church," would it now be fair to conclude that the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) views the Affirmation of St. Louis as declaration of principles for a new, English Old Catholic Church rather than an affirmation of the continuation of Anglicanism?

Fr. Robert Hart said...


That would, first of all, cause a rebellion from most of the laity. I find no defense or apologetic to have been written into what is an explanation of what has been generally assumed until now. What I find at the end is this:

"We are a Catholic Church in which all opinions are subject to correction on the clear basis of our formularies."

That includes the Affirmation of St. Louis. Discussing its contents and meaning are the key to answering most, if not all, the questions.

+ Peter said...

If the ACC committed itself to the position that the Affirmation of St Louis represents a "re-engineering" of Anglicanism, then it would probably bring attempts to reunify the Continuum to a shuddering halt. Archbishop Haverland's opinion represents the mind of one bishop in the St Louis Continuum; my article given above represents the other point of view.


Anonymous said...

I certainly hope and pray that +Peter is correct that Archbishop Haverland's view of the Affirmation is not the consensus view in the ACC. But if it so proves to be, I am equally heartened to hear him say that attempts to reunify the Continuum would screech to a halt. Formal abandonment of the Elizabethan Settlement is indeed too high a price to pay for what could only be a chimerical unity.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Death Bredon:

Is that what he said?

Why am I able to reconcile these two positions on so many points?

I agree with the what Bishop Robinson has said here in his essay; but, I do not think the ACC has tried to re engineer Anglicanism, and I appreciate in the other essay the honesty about the fact that in the early days fierce Anglo-Catholic partisanship had dominated the clergy. I saw it as admission, not triumphalism. If that were still the case, as I have said, there would be no room for the likes of Fr. Wells nor me. We are not Anglo-Catholics.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart,

I simply fail to see how one can (1) claim the "Henrican Settlement" of 1543, with its King's Book, as a formulary, and (2) expressly deny any and all formulary status to the Articles of Religion, while simultaneously remaining in any meaningful or coherent sense (3) a faithful son and heir of the Elizabethan Settlement. I suppose one could argue that, in the Elizabethan Settlement, the Articles never had formulary status, but that claim is simply too counterfactual to seriously entertain.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Death Bredon:

It is simple really. The Affirmaiton of St. Louis affirms not merely the Book of Common Prayer, but two specific editions, both of which contain the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Therefore, they remain just as authoritative as they always had been. They have however, no "independent authority"-then again, they never did; they were never meant to be independent,even though some among the "Nouvea Reformed" treat them as some independent Confession (in the most Reformed sense). Furthermore, regarding the ACC, the Affirmation of St. Louis is the foundation of the Constitution and Canons. There it all is, fixed and remaining. So, when I insist on the Articles I have my argument ready, and our Chancellor agrees with me, and said so in a comment on some previous post.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this what I understood Archbishop Haverland to being saying--that the Articles are not an "independent" formulary but must read in subordination to the ACC Constitution and Canons.

But, this is precisely the counterfactual situation I cannot take seriously. Indeed, within the Anglican tradition, the Articles have traditionally been viewed as a full-fledged formulary which, though in need of being read in harmony with other formularies such as the BCP, as well as in accord with the "consistent mind and voice of the most ancient Fathers," were never thought to be subordinate to any positive legislation. To the contrary, traditionally, all canons are subordinate to the Articles because the Articles are of a constitutional nature for the Elizabethan Settlement. Thus, to treat the Articles differently is to demote them from the full, customary, formulary status and, therefore would constitute an attempt to reconstruct Anglicanism upon entirely ahistorical and theologically unAnglican grounds.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Death Bredon:

Something is either true or it is not; so, discussing relative degrees of authority is an interesting academic exercise, but has no practical meaning. The Thirty-Nine Articles remain a standard for determining true doctrine within the boundaries of Article VI itself (i.e. burden of proof would fall on anybody trying to refute anything in them, and then must be done only by Scripture). The fact is, they have not been denied, belittled, renounced or rescinded.

The ACC Canons have this provision:


Any matters not expressly legislated by or provided for by the Constitution and
Canons of this Church or the Constitution and Canons of any Province or Diocese or
other Jurisdiction thereof shall be referred to and be subject to the General Canon Law
and the Common Law of the Church as received by the Church of England in its estates
in convocation assembled as specified by the Acts of Parliament of 1534 and 1543, or
any and all other Anglican Laws Ecclesiastical in effect in part or parts of North America or elsewhere prior to 1967, all of which bodies of Anglican Canon Law not expressly altered or amended by any Synod or Synods of this Church or rendered inapplicable in
the particular circumstances thereof, are incorporated by reference and are to be of
continued force and effect.

What was the status of the Articles and of the whole Elizabethan Settlement before 1967?

All that was being stated was that we cannot begin there; we have to include the foundation rather than beginning above ground. We must go further back. Can you tell me that, e.g. Richard Hooker would disagree?

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart,

I support your position and hope and pray that it carries the day!

Alice C. Linsley said...

I have shared this article, Fr. Hart. It is helpful and deserves a wider reading. (I wish you would fix some of the typos, please.)