Sunday, February 23, 2014

Revisionists on Both Sides

One of the things that has become increasingly evident to me during my almost 20 years of ministry in the Continuing Church is that not all the Revisionists are liberal Episcopalians. One of the reasons why the Continuing Anglican Movement has preformed relatively weakly is that at least two of the major jurisdictions, the Anglican Catholic Church and the Traditional Anglican Communion have had a significant element within them who wished to reform, and not just continue Episcopalianism. They are hostile to the very notion of a broad Scriptural orthodoxy, under the traditional threefold male ministry, which would be inherently part of a simple continuation of the old PECUSA, and as a result they have tended to try and narrow the boundaries.

One major motivation behind this has been the desire to prevent Anglo-Catholics ever being a 'persecuted minority' within the Church. Now whilst I would freely admit that Anglo-Catholics occasionally got the dirty end of the stick, by-and-large they gave as good as they got. Certainly, much of the run-up to the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church was set against the background of activist High Church and Anglo-Catholic opposition to what they perceived as Evangelical irregularities, and they were not shy about using the ecclesiastical courts to enforce their point of view. Conversely, the Evangelicals had not been too "nice" about their methodology when they had gone after Henry Onderdonk, Bishop of Pennsylvania, and Benjamin Onderdonk, Bishop of New York in the 1840s. The charge against Henry of Philadelphia, one of intoxication, was particularly difficult to prove, especially as he had been prescribed laudanum following a painful, and his eventual conviction owed more to party-feeling and a well-orchestrated smear campaign, than the actual merit of the allegation. There seems to have been a little more substance to the allegations of improper conduct against his brother, but even then it seems that the fact that he was a High Churchmen, sympathetic to the Oxford Movement, seems to have been the actual crime. The sentences imposed on both men seem excessive. Henry U. was suspended for 11 years, and his brother until his death in 1861. Both the diocese of Pennsylvania, and that of New York suffered a serious setback because of the limbo into which the suspension of their respective bishops placed them.

Unfortunately, the party spirit that the trials of H.U. and B.T. Onderdonk, or for that matter the Rev. Mr Cheney in 1868, demonstrated has never wholly departed from the Anglican Tradition, and we can all point occasions when party spirit has got the better of common sense. Episcopal elections seem to be one of the most frequent manifestations of this tendency, and I do not think any of us can honestly say that it strengthens the Church - unless, of course, we believe that the survival of the Church depends on our party surviving.

The Rev. Sydney Smith (1773-1845) famously defined orthodoxy as "one's own doxy" and heterodoxy as "another man's doxy" - a verdict which earned him no friends among the more theologically rigid. However, there are times when one is tempted to take Prebendary Smith's words as having more than a grain of truth to them. Clergymen seem to be very good at this type of argument, even when the preponderance of the evidence is against them. I never cease to be amazed by the number of Anglican priests I encounter who hate the Reformation, reject the Thirty-nine Articles and will fight to the death to retain the 1928 BCP only if they never have to use it, not do I ever cease to be amazed by those who swear by the Articles, but have little use for the BCP or clerical dress. Neither side seems to appreciate the balance inherent in the Anglican position.

I took the time not so long ago to listen to the tape recording made in 1977 of the proceedings of the Congress of Concerned Churchmen held in St Louis in September 1977. Most of recording were as boring as only Church meetings are apt to be. There were a lot of expressions of hope about the new Anglican Church, and a great deal of distaste expressed for the direction the Episcopal Church had been going in since 1964, but there was no call for a complete overhaul of what it means to be Anglican. If anything, most of the speaker wanted the Affirmation of St Louis to serve as a minor corrective to the ambiguities that had crept into PECUSA in the years since 1945 by reiterating the Church's commitment to the Scriptures, the Fathers, the Early Councils, and the traditional understanding of Holy Orders. However, there was an opening in the Affirmation of St Louis for a form of Orthodox revisionism to take place, mainly through its provisions for alternative liturgies, and a thorough revision of the Constitution and Canons.

There is an old adage about 'give them an inch, and they'll take a mile' and the Revisionist element among the Continuers took their opportunity to do just that. Unfortunately, in doing so they fostered strife and division. The Constitution and Canons that emerged from the revision process proved unacceptable to three dioceses of the new Church for a variety of reasons. Some protested that the provisions on doctrine "undid the Reformation" others grumbled about over-elaboration, and centralization. However, their complaints came down to the same essential contention - that the new Church was not the old one without the heresy and goofiness, but something subtly, yet radically different. At that point, the Continuum entered its winter of discontent from which it is only slowly emerging. However, we need to be very careful about how this occurs.

At the Victoria Conference, at Brockton later in the same year, and in subsequent discussions, it became evident that the agenda for the 'united Continuum' is very largely being set by those who embrace the Anglo-Catholic Revisionism of the late 1970s. If their interpretation of Anglicanism prevails, what will emerge out of the reunion of the various Continuing Jurisdictions will not be recognizable as the old Episcopalianism, but will be an exotic hybrid of Old Catholic theology with Anglo-Catholic liturgics that rejects two-thirds of the Anglican inheritance. Anglican theological dialogue has rested since the time of Richard Hooker (1554-1600) on the notion that Scripture, tradition, and reason work together to maintain orthodoxy. However, it is very important to understand that Hooker has been glossed by the Tractarians as placing equal weight on each of the three-legs of the stool. This misreads Hooker in a significant way, because for Hooker Scripture was supremely important and eclipsed the other two. The analogy I often use is that of a child's tricycle, with Scripture being the big wheel at the front providing the power and direction, whilst tradition and reason are the small wheels providing stability.

Unfortunately much of modern Anglo-Catholicism has also absorbed an increasing amount of high mediaeval and modern RC thought, and along with it practices such as Marian devotions, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and the cultus of the saints, though at least, so far, they have stopped short of Purgatory and the Treasury of Merit, though a few rattle-on about "the intermediate state." Its theological tradition is not so much Anglican as Henrician. Now Martin Luther used to call Henry VIII Hanswürst, and poked fun at him for his matrimonial adventures, and making himself his own Pope. The worst sort of modern Anglo-Catholicism often resembles this "Hanswürst Catholicism." It is not the real thing, neither is it really Anglicanism, but a synthetic creation dependant on what certain folks choose to cherry pick from the history of the Anglican Church, its doctrinal statements, and liturgical traditions to create its own plastic Pope. The approach that it promotes is certainly is not the same as Matthew Parker (1504-1575) - Elizabeth I's first Archbishop of Canterbury's advice to the clergy to interpret the 39 Articles and the third Prayer Book in the most catholic sense according to the Scriptures, and the writings of the ancient Fathers.

Before you run away with the idea that I am hostile to Anglo-Catholicism I must point out that I grew up in a largely "modern Catholic environment" and was involved in the early days of the ACC in England. Later on I was a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St Martin, which was dedicated to upholding the English Catholic/Prayer Book catholic tradition in Anglicanism. However, the Catholic Movement within the Continuum needs to be very careful about guarding its Anglican identity, or it will end up going the same way as Hunswürst's bishops. Many, such as Cranmer and Latimer completed their journey into Protestantism becoming the fathers of the moderate Protestant Anglicanism of Queen Elizabeth I. The others - like Gardner, Bonner, Stanley, and Pursgrove returned to the old religion and died in communion with the Pope.

I would therefore make the plea, that as we seek a united future as traditional Anglicans we return to our roots, not engage in further revisionism. I would suggest that instead of committing ourselves to theologies that are partial, and Constitutions and Canons that have proved divisive we look once again at the old Anglican tradition. I have always been particularly impressed by the way in which both the Church of Ireland (1871,) the Free Church of England (1876,) and the Church of England in Canada (1892) dealt with the question of theological identity. That model, with a protest against modern innovations such as the ordination of women, and in favour of the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of human life, would prove far less divisive than adopting lock, stock, and barrel the programme of the revisionists to the right of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment