Friday, August 28, 2009

A Distinctive Anglicanism

The distinctive character of Classical Anglicanism was forged between 1559 and 1688. The Elizabethan Settlement had left the church with its old Catholic hierarchy intact, a moderate Reformed Confession of Faith, and a more or less Lutheran Liturgy. Anglicanism's distinctive flavour came from how this broad structure worked out in practice.

The first major controversy that shaped Anglicanism was the Vestarian Controversy of the 1560s and 70s. A considerable number of clergy had spent 1554-59 in exile in the various Protestant enclaves in Germany and Switzerland. Many of these churches had rebelled against vestments and a strict liturgy, as well as adopting Reformed theology. These men came home with a strong desire to "complete" the reformation by sweeping away whatever remained of the old ceremonial. The first serious outbreak of this radicalism came in London in 1560. The Queen saw the scruples of the newly returned exiles as simple disobedience and told Parker to sort it out. In the middle of all this, Parker and Elizabeth evidently must have decided that some sort of compromise was necessary. Parker therefore required the use of the surplice in parish churches, and the surplice and cope in cathedrals and collegiate churches. The vestments were those traditionally associated with the daily Office (the surplice) and processions (the cope) rather than the Mass. Resistence continued, but constant pressure from the civil and ecclesiastical authorities ensured a large measure of outward compliance.

The next phase centred on the Episcopate. Those who had been in Geneva and Strassburg during Mary's reign strongly favoured a more intensive form of church disciple, and the modification or abolition of the Episcopate in favour of a Presbyterian system of Church government. John Whitgift (1530-1604) was the strongest advocate of the Anglican position and wrote extensively in defense of Episcopal government, the liturgy, and the use of vestments. However, Whtgift shared the strongly Calvinist theology of his opponants. The conflict was really between High Church and Low Church Calvinists.

Whitgift's rather rough and ready defense of the Anglican position was later expanded by Richard Hooker (1554-1600) in his "Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity" which gave a theological rationale to compliment Whitgift's polemics. However, one has to be very careful to read Hooker on his own terms not through his nineteenth century High Church, or twentieth century Liberal editors. He was a man who believed passionately in the supremacy of Scripture, but saw reason and tradition as being the best keys to unlocking its meaning.

Whitgift's theological Calvinism led him to disciple Baro and Barrett, two Cambridge theologians who questioned the Calvinist orthodoxy of the Church of England in the 1580s and 90s. Whitgift sought to put an end to the controversyby issuing the unequivocably Calvinist "Lambeth Articles" (1595) but the Queen refused to give them Parliamentry Authority. Although Baro and Barrett quickly disappeared from the scene, they had influenced a generation of churchmen who were to become influential in the last years of Elizabeth's reign.

The oldest of them were Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) and Richard Neile (1562-1640). Although this group was often called "the (English) Arminians" they did not share the theology of the Dutch Arminians except in so far as they sat loosely on the doctrine of Predestination. More important to the English Arminians, formed an ecclesiastical "Court Party" that valued an orderly and beautiful liturgy, divine right Episcopacy, and a strong sacramentalism. This put them at odds with a strong "Parliamentry Party" of Puritans who valued preaching, a more democratic mode of Church government, and austerity.

As the differing values of Court and Parliament came increasing into conflict not just over religion, but over politics, taxation, foreign policy, and the role of parliament. Charles' religious and political traditionalism eventually precipitated the English Civil War, which Charles lost. However, the Parliamentarians were unable to "win the peace" by establishing a stable form of government to replace the old monarchy. As a result, Charles II was swept back into power by General Monck and a political elite weary with the experimentation of the Cromwellian interlude.

Inspite of the attempts of the "hot heads" in both Church and State to turn the clock back. The eventual shape of the Settlement in both religion and politics was essentially "business as usual." The King reconciled the middle classes by promising triennial Parliaments, and the Bishops tried to conciliate moderate Presbyterians by some minor adjustments to the Prayer Book. The old Calvinist fires were to a large extent banked though not extinguished, and the High Church bishops had their hands full repairing the physical damage caused by Civil War and the temporary proscription of Anglicanism under Cromwell.

The final convulsion that shaped Anglicanism was the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James II & VII had tried to extend civil rights to his Roman Catholic co-religionists by rewriting civic charters, hand picking the judiciary, and raising a standing army. These were all measures that alienated the ruling class with the result that they invited James' son-in-law - Wiliam of Orange - to invade Britain. The revolution turned out to be a bloodless one so far as England was concerned.; though Scotland and Ireland were not so fortunate. However, the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim settled the issue in favour of William III and Mary II. The Calvinist William replaced the Jacobite Episcopal, with the Williamite Presbyterian, as the Established Church in Scotland, but otherwise, it was business as usual.

In terms of the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, the 1688 Settlement led to the toleration of Protestant dissent, and another attempt to bring moderate dissenters back into the Established Church. The Non-Jurors, the High Church radicals, left, and there was a desire to follow a moderate "middle way" that an eighteenth century describe as "a benign and comfortable air of liberty and toleration." The combination of a tolerant Biblical orthodoxy, Episcopal Government, and Liturgical worship was now established as the Anglican Way, and it continued to be the mainstream of our Church until the 1970s.

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