Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Need for a Strong Centre

When I was a kid four out of five parishes were "Central Churchmanship." The acid test was to walk in and ask the retired military looking chap stood dishing out hymnals and prayer books whether the parish was High Church of Low; the more puzzled he looked, the more "Central" it was. Doubtless our puzzled friend knew perfectly well what High Church and Low Church meant, but he was having great difficulty seeing how they had anything at all to do with his parish.

So far as he was concerned the "C of E" took its theology from the Authorized Version, Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer in just the same way as he took his political cue from the Daily Telegraph. This dependence on the BCP was the essence of "mere Anglicanism" and when the Prayer Book began to be undermined by the various alternative liturgies the whole thing came unravelled. The Prayer Book had been a great bulwark against liberalism on the part of the laity because they absorbed its memorable prose from childhood and it had become engrafted into their souls.

The Church in the 1970s suffered from Revisionists to both right and left. The destruction wrought by those to the left-wing revisionists is pretty easy to see, but the damage done by those to the right is more difficult to assess. However, the consequences of "right-wing revisionism" are something that those of us in the Continuing Anglican Movement have to live with every day.

The major problem with right-wing revisionism is that it attempts the relocate the "centre" of Anglicanism much further on the Catholic side of things than any of our forefathers in the faith since the Elizabethan era would have found acceptable. Their vision of what they call "Anglicanism" is not the real thing that grew out of the 1559 Settlement, but a fanciful reconstruction of early Edwardian Anglicanism. The latter is basically Henrician Catholicism, plus the 1549 BCP and married clergy. It's major advantage for the catholic revisionists is that it avoids the whole issue of the Thirty-nine Articles of 1571 and their precursor, the Forty-two Articles of 1553.

Unfortunately, this church never existed in history. The Church of England of Edward VI's reign was an ideological battleground. The conservative, led by Stephen Gardiner, favoured the continuation of the national Catholic Church of Henry VIII's reign. The reformers wished to push forward with their plans to being England into line with the moderate reformed states of the Rhineland. Neither would have been satisfied with what eventually emerged under Elizabeth I; Gardiner would have found it too radical; Cranmer might well have found it too conservative.

The Church that emerged after 1559 was Reformed Catholic. Elizabeth's Archbishop (Parker) favoured a return to the 1552 BCP, but with the traditional vestments. The Articles, which emerged from the Archbishop's theological circle, committed the Church of England not to Calvinism or Lutheranism, or any other "ism" but to a Christian humanist reading of Scripture guided by the writings of the Early Fathers - especially the Four Latin Doctors. This, of course, placed the Church of England in the same family as the Lutherans and the Reformed, but it did not commitment them to any of their more extreme theological opinion.

Of course, being somewhat open ended theologically, the mainstream of Anglican thought has moved around a bit, depending on what was perceived as the most authentically Patristic theology. Naturally this led to the High Church Calvinism of the late Elizabethan and Jacobean bishops, the English Arminianism of Charles I; and the "beign and comfortable air of liberty and toleration" favoured by the High Churchmen of the Hanoverian Church.

In Victorian era, the mainstream of old High Churchmanship developed not into Tractarianism or Anglo-Catholicism, but into the old Central Churchmanship of the 1870s to the 1960s. Their respect for Scripture, the early Fathers and the Anglican Settlement made them the stabilizing influence within the Church of England. In some respects, the Central Churchmen held the Liberals, Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals in creative tension with each other. Now that the Central Churchmen have declined, the other parties have developed into separate, increasingly incompatible, traditions.

One major failure for the Continuum has been its failure to uphold this central tradition. Bishop Doren tried, in vain, to steer the infant ACC towards Central Churchmanship, but in the end, the Catholic Revisionist tendancy proved to be dominant, at least at that time, leading to the breech that led to the creation of the United Episcopal Church of North America. This failure to continue the Central Anglican tradition has limited the appeal of the Continuum - driving away middle-of-the-road and Low Church Anglicans and Episcopalians, and creating a Church, which is at least as Revisionist as TEC, albeit without the liberal revisionist heresy and goofiness.

In order to halt the revisionism, Continuing Anglicans need to return to our inherited tradition. Our central tradition is based on the Bible, the Early Fathers, the Articles of Religion and the Prayer Book. We need to be very careful about how much we borrow from other traditions. It is a little difficult to take seriously a parson who appeals to the uniqueness of Anglicanism whilst borrowing heavily from the ceremonial customs and theology of Rome or Geneva. It is time to stop being embarrassed about Classical Anglicanism, and return to our foundations.


  1. My Lord Bishop,

    It is very difficult for either priests or people to return to a tradition which they neither know nor understand. And the Anglo-papalist movement had done everything possible from the last quarter of the 19th century to create a false tradition so that even fairly low parishes, those with Morning Prayer and Sermon three Sundays out of four used the Roman colour sequence rather than the one proper to the English church and Anglicanism.

    In the diocese in which I found Anglicanism there were fortunately three parishes that properly Anglican. Their ceremonial was informed primarily by the publications of the Alcuin Club and to a lesser extent Percy Dearmer. And even the majority of the other clergy admitted rather sheepishly the rectors of those parishes were the most theologically astute in the diocese.

    Personally I have always thought of myself as "high church" meaning that I had a high view of the authority of the Church as expressed in (that order) Holy Scripture, the Book of Common Prayer and the Articles. Those who influenced me a young churchman were adamant that those who used the missals and imitated Rome were as low church as those who were Calvinists with a prayer book. In their view the most simple celebration of Holy Communion in accordance with the prayer book tradition was actually higher and more Catholic that a solemnly sung service in accordance with Ritual Notes.

    it is my belief, strongly held, that we do not need to reinvent Anglicanism, but merely return to being what we were and are supposed to be. You may think and call it Central Churchmanship while I think of it as being "high," but I believe that in spite of the difference of our terms we are embracing the same thing. Our hope is to make it known and followed.

  2. In all honesty, I would call the old Alcuin Club "Ceremonial Directory" type of churchmanship "High" too. Central Churchmanship was/is a couple of notches on the candle lower than the full-blown "English Use" approach. I hover somewhere High side of Central in Churchmanship. I tend to be more "central" when about the diocese, and more "high-side" in my own parish. If at all possible I do not like to upset the sensibilities of the parish I happen to be in.

  3. An observation I would like to make, is that in numerous of these postings there is the claim that Classical Anglicanism is "the catholic faith," or the inline with the early Fathers, yet "reformed," i.e. Calvinist theology is countenanced. Anglicans have every right to claim to be Protestant and "Reformed," but it is disingenuous at best to claim that Calvinist teaching is either the Catholic faith or the faith of the early Fathers. The Roman Church, the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, and the Church of the East, in other words, all the ancient Churches, are synergistic and patristic. There is not, and never was "reformed" teaching in the Catholic faith or the early Fathers, with the exception of Augustine. That's simply a fact. A Calvinist who thinks he is continuing the in the faith of the Fathers or the ancient Church is just deluding himself.