Monday, June 29, 2009

"At the Reformation...

the Church of England became Protestant in order to become more catholic"
William Van Mildert, Bishop of Durham 1826-36

Van Mildert was a traditional High Churchman, steeped in the theology of the Early Fathers and the Caroline Divines. At first glance his statement looks paradoxical, but what he is getting at is the method of reform. That at the Reformation the Church of England used protestant ideas from the continent to slough off the accumulated abuses of the Middle Ages. Then, interpreting her new formularies in, as Archbishop Parker phrased it, "the most catholic sense" established a national Church which was reformed Catholic in character.

The Anglican Reformation was, in some ways, rather messy, and it owed rather a lot to some of the key players - Elizabeth I, Matthew Parker, and Lord Cecil. They crafted a broadly based Protestant Settlement of Religion that was governed by a conservative revision of the Book of Common Prayer, and from 1563 by the 39 Articles Although the Book of Common Prayer held up very well under pressure, apart from its provisions about vestments being ignored, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (hereafter XXXIX) were soon found to be capable of wide interpretation. The philosophy driving the Elizabethan Settlement was that of making a national Protestant and Episcopal Church. Doctrinally they had tried to comprehend both the Reformed (Calvinist) and Lutheran positions. The result was that the XXXIX largely reflected Lutheran theology except on the topic of Holy Communion where they veered towards the "spiritual presence' views of Cranmer's friend Martin Bucer (1491-1551).

For the first fifty years after 1559, most senior churchmen were High Church Calvinists, and interpreted the XXXIX in that way. They were basically Reformed in theology, but accepted the discipline and liturgy of the Church of England. However, after about 1585 there was a dissenting minority, who, once they became a discernable party, were called Arminians, and later High Churchmen, whose theology was more Patristic in inspiration. They gradually abandoned the Predestinarian theology of the Reformed party, and began preaching the doctrines of Free Wil, Baptismal Regeneration, the Centrality of Holy Communion, and the Divine origin of Episcopacy, all of which they found in the Fathers of the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries. In the later years of James I and in the reign of Charles I they gradually came to be the dominant party in the Church of England, and after the brief Puritan victory of Cromwell's Commonwealth (1644-1660) they were triumphant in the Restoration Church.

The Patristic influenced "Reformed Catholic" theology that they developed and propagated was a dominant school of Anglican thought from the 1660s to the 1840s. From the Caroline Divines, the torch passed to the Non-Jurors, to High Church Whigs like John Potter and Edmund Gibbon, then to the "Orthodox Party" under George III and the Regency, and to E. Harold Browne, and the Wordsworth brothers who were the last major exponants of the tradition. This tradition was absorbed and radicalized by the Tractarians and the Prayer Book Catholics. The older moderate tradition also continued, at least in the UK, and gradually came to be known as Central Churchmanship.

Tractarian Worship

I think a lot of folks confuse Tractarian with Anglo-Catholic. The two are certainly related but they are not identical, but Anglo-Catholicism represents a further radicalization of the High Church Tradition that the Tractarians had themselves tweeked.

In the UK, where I grew up, Tractarianism was generally regarded as having split into two schools in the mid-nineteenth century. These later gave rise to the two dominant twentieth century strains of High Churchmanship - Prayer Book Catholicism and Ritualism/Anglo-Catholicism. Around where I grew up there were far more parishes that took the Prayer Book Catholic approach than the Anglo-Catholic, and the parish that I grew up in was one of them.

The basic principle of Tractarian liturgical theology was that one "took the Book of Common Prayer seriously." This meant, among other things, that

1. Holy Communion should be celebrated every Sunday and Holyday
2. Morning and Evening Prayer should be said every day - publically in church if at all possible.
3. That opportunity for private/auricular confession should be given to those whose consciences demanded it
4. That the rubrics (instructions) in the Book of Common Prayer be followed.
5. That the occasional offices - baptism, marriage, etc. - be performed in a dignified manner and in accordance with Canon (Church) Law.

It does not sound a very ambitious programme, but for parish churches of the time it was almost revolutionary. Indeed, it would be a bit of a stretch for a lot of our parishes today - for example, how many have daily Mattins and Evensong? I know my parish does not manage it! This simple programme of reform soon produced its own worship schedule, as exemplified by my home parish. In 1890, the services were as follows:

Sundays -
8.00am Holy Communion
10.30am Morning Prayer, Litany and Sermon
12noon Holy Communion (1st and 3rd)
2.15pm Sunday School/Catechism
6.30pm Evensong

Weekdays:
8.00am Holy Communion (Holydays)
10.00am Morning Prayer
10.30am Holy Communion (Thursdays)
5.30pm Evening Prayer (6.30pm Evensong on Fridays)

Later (1925) this changed a little:

Sundays:
8.00am Holy Communion
10.30am Sung Holy Communion (1st and 3rd) 10.30am Morning Prayer (2nd, 4th and 5th)
2.15pm Sunday School/Catechism
6.30pm Evensong

Weekdays:
7.30am Morning Prayer
8.00am Holy Communion (Holydays)
10.30am Holy Communion (Thursdays)
5.30pm Evening Prayer
6.00pm Confessions (Saturdays Only)

You will notice from both schedules that the accustomed Morning Prayer and sermon was allowed to remain in place unchallenged as the main service, whilst the missing elements of the Prayer Book schedule were slowly introduced.

Finally when I was a kid, the parish briefly attained something close to the Tractarian ideal:

8.00am Holy Communion
9.30am Sung Communion
10.30am Mattins
6.30am Evensong

On weekdays MP was at 9.00am and EP at 5.30am. There were to additional Eucharists on Tuesdays at 7.30am and Wednesday 9.30am.

Strictly speaking, the Sung Communion should have followed Mattins, but MP had ben at 10.30am since the eighteeenth century, but otherwise all was as it should be.

The ceremonial was pretty simple. Eucharistic vestments were used for the Holy Communion, but there was no elevation or ringing of bells at the consecration, and reverences ere confined to bows. A couple of Readers assisted at the main Sunday Eucharist as Chalice Bearers, Epistoller, and server. Incense was reserved for the three great feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday. Mattins and Evensong saw the officiant in traditional Anglican choir dress - cassock, surplice, tippet and hood. Everything from "O Lord, open thou our lips" to the end of the third Collect except for the lessons was sung or chanted with the sermon rounding off the service before the blessing. Sometimes these services would be left to the Readers, with the priest giving just the absolution and the blessing.

Tractarian worship focussed on faithful adherence to the provisions of the BCP. Complicated ceremonial and sacristy histronics were not part of the tradition. However, no-one had any doubt about the fact that the Church exists first and foremost to worship God, celebrate the sacraments and preach the Gospel, and not as a source of entertainment.

Reformed Catholicism

There have been at least two attempts to rename a portion of the Protestant Episcopal Church as the Reformed Catholic Church. The first came in 1861 when the newly formed Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate States met to discuss its constitution. Bishop Green of Mississippi suggested the name, only to have to withdraw it when the strength of Virginia's opposition became known. The second came at the General Convention of 1889, and failed by only three votes!

Why the fascination with the name "Reformed Catholic?"

Anglicans - even the ones who if pushed would call themselves "protestant" - feel a certain discomfort with the term. The source of that discomfort is the fact that the word "Protestant" means not only someone who protests against the errors and innovations of Roman Catholicism, but it also covers a multitude of denominations that have chucked out any concept of being "Catholic" in favour of Radical Biblicism. However, inspite of being used with a capital-R to cover Calvinism, the term "reformed" better encapsulates what Anglican feel happened in their reformation. The Anglican Reformers took the existing Church and reformed it. As one Anglican apologist retorted to a Roman Catholic who asked "Where was your Church before the Reformation?" - "Where was your face before you washed it this morning?"

Anglicans understand their church to be Catholic because of its continuity. After all, almost all Anglican bishops have both William Wareham, the last but one RC, and Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury in their Apostolic succession. Anglicans also have the Bible, the Creeds, a reformed Liturgy, the Sacraments, as well as that threefold Apostolic ministry. Anglicans have also stated in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral that they believe the Scriptures, Creeds, Sacraments and Episcopal Ministry to be the marks of the Church.

So "reformed Catholic" reflects a great deal of the Anglican self-understanding as being in origin the Catholic Church of England reformed according to Scripture. Also, it isn't really a party label, the High Church Protestants of the eighteenth century used, as have some modern Anglo-Catholics, and in recent times, the Evangelical Scholar, Dr Peter Toon. The fact that it has been accepted as a describer for Anglicanism by men of various parties shows what a widespread appeal it has as a definer for Anglicanism.