Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rabbit Tracks

One of the figures that I keep running across in my reading is Thomas Wilson, 1663-1755, Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man from 1697/8 to 1755. The eighteenth century was not an era of hard and fast party divisions, and there were some bishops of decidedly independent mind, such as Wilson slightly younger contemporary Thomas Potter, the High Church WHIG who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1737-47, or Edmund Gibson, the Canonist, who seems to have been independent of ecclesiastic affiliation. Wilson himself seems to have been exceedingly difficult to pigeon hole, being admired by early Evangelicals and Tractarians alike. Indeed, the Evangelical, Charles Simeon (1759-1836) learned the doctrine of substitutionary atonement from a short tract Wilson had written on Holy Communion, but the standard biography of Wilson appeared from the pen of no less a Tractarian than Keble himself almost a century after his death. Wilson also appears on a lot of the Rabbit Trails of eighteenth century Church history. He was a collaborator with Oglethorpe in the foundation of the colony of Georgia. Wesley respected him greatly, and there is some evidence that Law was also favourably disposed to the good bishop. His tracts were republished by SPCK long after his death, and word that one of his Sermons in Manx was to be read in one of the Island's parish churches was sure to draw a good congregation.

So what do we need to know about Thomas Wilson?

Firstly, it is important to remember that Wilson was a farmer's son, born at Burton on the Wirral Peninsular in 1663. He was educated by the local grammar school. His family could scrape together just enough money for young Thomas to attend Trinity College, Dublin, then much favoured by folks in the Northwest of England as a cheaper alternative to Oxford and Cambridge, and he graduate A.B. in 1683, and then studied medicine for a while before being ordained, with the express permission of the Archbishop of Dublin, to the diaconate at the age of 22 [1]. After a brief period in the ministry of the Church of Ireland, he returned to Lancashire as tutor to the sons of the Earl of Derby, who was also Lord (earlier, King) of Man [2]. He appears to have served as a tutor to the Derby family for some years, but was given the Vicarage of by them in 1694. He served there for a few years, but the death of the Baptist Levinz, the largely non-resident Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1694 changed the outlook.

The Earl of Derby was in no hurry to fill the post, but after an interval of eighteen months he offered it to Wilson, who promptly refused. He tried again a year later and received the same answer, and it was only when William III (Dutch Billy) became interested in the matter - telling Derby that if the Earl did not appoint a bishop he would - that Wilson finally accepted the offer of the Diocese of Sodor and Man. Wilson was consecrated as a Bishop in 1698 by the Archbishop of York, and set off to take possession of his diocese.

Sodor and Man was the smallest Diocese in the Church of England - just 17 parishes - and also the poorest - it brought in about three hundred and fifty pounds a year. Both the compactness of the diocese and its poverty was due to the northern end of the Diocese - the Western Isles of Scotland, Kintyre and various other odd bits of Argyll - having been spun off into the Diocese of the Isles in the 15th century by the King James II of Scotland. The transfer of the Western Isles to Scotland from Norwegian suzreignity also had the effect of removing the diocese of Sodor from the ecclesiastical Province of Nidaros (Trondheim) but like the Diocese of the Isles, which quickly became part of the Province of St Andrew's, Sodor remained without a Provincial affiliation until Henry VIII placed under Canterbury in 1534, then transferred it to York in 1543.

In the 150 years after the Reformation, Sodor had become something of an ecclesiastical backwater - not that it was ever really in the mainstream. The Bishops had even started to add 'and Man' to the title because they were now uncertain that the old term Sodor included the Isle of Man or not. This process was helped along by the fact that the Isle of Man was an independent Lordship for which homage was owed to the King of England, but was ruled by the Stanley Earls of Derby. Most of the population spoke Manx, not English, and most of the clergy were home-grown, and, if they received a university education at all, received it at Trinity College, Dublin, not Oxford or Cambridge. Wilson's installation as bishop was a typically Manx affair. Wilson had yet to acquire any Manx, the Archdeacon and most of the clergy were uncomfortable in English, so the service was conducted in Latin and the sermon preached in Manx. Wilson discovered that his cathedral lacked some essential amenities - like a roof; the Episcopal house - Bishopcourt - was showing signs of only irregular occupation; and to cap it all, the provision of churches on Man was inadequate and those there were needed repair.

Wilson set about his task as best he could. His first two problems to address were the state of the Bishop's residence, and the lack of church accommodation in Castletown and Douglas. Payment of the arrears of royal bounty owing to the diocese (about seven hundred pounds) allowed him to restore Bishopcourt, and also fund the construction of St Matthew's Church, Douglas, on a constricted sites by the Market Place to replace a small chapel built a generation or so earlier. Funds from friends in England, and some surplus episcopal revenues allowed him to construct a new church in Castletown - St Mary's - to save the residents the longish walk out to Malew Parish Church - which still stands in splendid isolation at a crossroads about midway between Castletown and Ballasalla. Wilson also set about learning Manx so he could read the service and preach in the language of the people. He seems to have acquired enough competency in the language that his Manx sermons were still popular a century later. An analysis of Wilson's style reveals a preacher who was keen to lay the basic truths of the Gospel before his hearers. He was not afraid to preach about original sin, man's true condition, our need for a Saviour, and the salvation offered to mankind through Jesus Christ. This was a contrast to the dull moralism that was so often characteristic of Anglican Preaching between the Glorious Revolution and the Evangelical Revival.

Wilson also took practical steps to reconcile Dissenters to the Church of England. There were very few Popish Recusants on the Island, but there were a number of Presbyterian. The Bishop's approach here was twofold. Firstly, he did not insist on small points of ceremonial. One or two clergy had scruples about the surplice, so he insisted only that it be worn by them some times. Some lay folks had scruples about kneeling, so the bishop did not insist upon it with the result that in time most conformed to the Church. Wilson also had the good sense to address a usual Presbyterian complaint about Anglicanism - its lack of discipline. In addition to the usual cases of bastardy, matrimonial cases, failure to receive the sacrament; non-payment of tithe, and so on and so forth, the Bishop was not shy to rebuke gossips, and those who circulated scandalous books, especially those that attacked Protestant orthodoxy. His outspokenness resulted in a stretch of imprisonment in Castle Rushen during a dispute over the conduct of the Governor's wife. The imprisonment was harsh enough to leave the Bishop with only restricted use of his right arm, suggesting that he may have had a minor stroke during his incarceration.

Wilson continued as Bishop until his death in 1755. He was revered by High Churchmen and Evangelicals alike, but in his later years he had to deal with some reversals. The Governor's Household and the garrison increasingly claimed exemption from ecclesiastical discipline, with the result that Wilson's careful maintained system of oversight of religion, morals, and manners began to break down. Church attendance remained high on the island, however, and there are signs that to some extent Church life was far more 'lively' than on the neighbouring islands of Britain and Ireland. It was not until long after Wilson's death that Methodism gained a foothold on the island, and Dissent did not find its way to the Isle of Man until around 1800. The Methodists themselves did not become dissenters until 1812, but the practice of dual affiliation - to the Parish Church and to the Wesleyan meeting continued for many years. In some respects, the Wilson combination of disciple and piety made it easy for Manxmen to transition to Methodist once dull orthodox descended on the Church during the reign of Bishop Cornelius Criggan, and the unpopular George Murray. It is perhaps fitting to record that when the Bishop died, he was buried outside Michael Church in a coffin made from an elm tree he had planted when he first came into the diocese in 1698. His funeral, it is said, was attended by every able bodied male on the island, it being the custom of the islanders that women did not attend funerals.

Wilson stands out for his combination of piety, discipline, and common sense in an era when all three were in short supply, and rationalism and formalism prevailed. He preached the Good News of Jesus Christ. He took advantage of the freedom allowed by the Isle of Man's status outside of the United Kingdom to make necessary reforms, and thus reconcile tender consciences to the Church. He was also strict, but loving disciplinarian, opposed to both error in religion and viciousness of manners in an era when Church discipline had all but broken down. He seems to have been in some measure sympathetic to the Wesleys and their efforts at methodical religion, seeing it, perhaps, as a mainland counterpart to is maintenance of the old ways in his island bishop. Perhaps it would have been good for the Church of the Augustan Age if there had been a few more like him. [1] Canonical age for ordination to the diaconate is 23 in Ireland. [2] The title King of Man, or King of Man and the Isles disappears around 1509 to avoid unpleasantness with Henry VIII.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Middle Way

One of the problems that Anglicanism faces today is that no-one is quite sure what it is. Even among those of us who self-describe as orthodox or conservative; some try to make it into Catholicism with married priests; others into 'Western Orthodoxy;' a few more into the English version of Calvinism; and so on and so forth. In many respects, it is almost easier to say what Anglicanism is NOT, but I suspect that might have to do with both the 16th century need for a broadly based, national, Protestant Church, and subsequent pressures towards an inclusive orthodoxy, rather than anything inherently vague about the formularies. Certainly in the initial phase after the Marian Reaction, Elizabeth and her counsellors could not afford to exclude anyone except the diehard Papists, and the initial settlement reflected this, with the Supremacy, and the BCP being restored in 1559, but the drawing up of a confession was postponed until 1562/3, and even then it was to be 1571 before the Settlement attained the shape it was to very largely retain until modern times.

However, in order to understand where "the Settlement" came from, one needs to take a quick look at the development of the three major formularies of the English Reformation - the Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Homilies. Not one of the three falls simply into a Lutheran or Reformed model, and the three of them track slightly different developmental paths, so naturally, we have to ask ourselves what was going on in each case.

I have long since come to the conclusion - after reading both Harold Browne and W H Griffith-Thomas' commentaries on the Articles - that, because of their ancestry in the Ten Articles of 1537, and the unpublished Thirteen Articles of 1539/40, the Articles of Religion are first and foremost a descendent of the Confession of Augsburg. However, whilst the Articles follow Augsburg closely in matters such as the authority of Scripture, Baptism, Predestination, Clerical Celibacy, and Church ceremonial, they can and do strike off on their own occasionally, such as in Articles 28 and 29 concerning the Eucharist, which are clearly Reformed. Much of this has to do with the fact that when the Forty-two Articles were being drafted in 1551-53, Philippism (which sought the middle ground between Luther and Calvin) was influential, as the Gneiso-Lutheran reaction had not yet set in, and the theological tide seemed to be set in favour of Geneva at least on the issue of the Lord's Supper; an area where Calvin was at his most positive and creative. When the Forty-two Articles were revisited in 1562/3, the Convocation text promoted a High Calvinist doctrine of the Eucharist within what is otherwise an Augsburg derived document. To complicate matters further, Elizabeth I, and some of her Bishops, particularly Ghest and Cheney, were not yet ready to go that far, so Article 29 was suppressed from 1563 to 1571 in order to accommodate the 'Lutheran Tendency.' Even after 1571, the Articles cut their own path between Wittenberg and Geneva being closer to the former on Baptism and Predestination, and the latter on the Lord's Supper. Later attempts by Archbishop Whitgift to move the position of the Church of England closer to that of mainstream Calvinism fell foul of, first, Queen Elizabeth I, and then after his death of James I's reluctance to accommodate the Puritans, and Charles I's Arminianism. This left the Church of England with a confession which is Lutheran in some respects and Reformed in others.

The Book of Common Prayer presents a slightly different picture. It is true to say that it draws heavily on mediaeval texts, but more often than not, there is a Lutheran model that assisted Cranmer and his assistants in perfecting the English form of the liturgy. Matins and Evensong have clear Lutheran precedents in the form of the Schleswig-Holstein order of 1535, and in germ, in Luther's comments about the usefulness of the daily Office for scholars and clergy made in the mid-1520s. The Communion Office also has a good deal of the Lutheran about it, with even the Decalogue having a precedent in the form of the Frankfurt order of 1537. Other elements, such as the thanksgiving after Communion, derive from the Nuremberg Order of the early 1530s behind which lay Luther's 'Formula Missae.' Another major influence on the 1549 and 1552 BCPs was Archbishop Herman's 'Cologne Church Order' of 1545 - which would have been pretty much hot off the press when Cranmer was working on the Order of Communion in early 1548. The Orders for Baptism and Confirmation also have unmistakeable signs of Lutheran influence. However, many of the alterations made in 1552 came at the suggestion of Peter Martyr and Martin Bucer, and have a more clearly Reformed pedigree. However, the 1559 revision tended to play up the moderate side of the settlement, with its requirement that traditional vestments and ornaments be retained, but this proved to be a passing phase as the returning exiles were in no mood to retain chasubles, and other such manifestations of traditional religion.

The Book of Homilies is a far more frustrating creation in that it has all the hallmarks of a collection of sermons that has not been edited to produce a uniform whole. Doctrinal inconsistency, within a basically Protestant framework is its hallmark. Just to give one examples. The Homily of Justification is clearly leans more to the Lutheran than the Reformed understanding of the doctrine, not that the space between them is that great. On the other hand, the homily on 'the Peril of Idolatry' seems to come from a hand that has accepted the Reformed, rather than the Lutheran understanding of that topic. This seems to be the character of the whole work, with each writer riding his hobby horses without regard to the opinions of his fellow homilists. On the whole it is a very uneven collection, which ends up having a slight predominance of Reformed over Lutheran voices. This is probably a very accurate reflection of where the intellectual life of the Church of England stood in 1548-50.

In the end one has to accept that the Church of England, and thus the churches of the Anglican tradition, if they are going to be true to the historic formularies of the Church, have to concede that the core doctrinal position of the Church is Augustinianism, and lies somewhere between confessional Lutheranism, and confessional Calvinism in its particulars. In many respects the Articles of Religion in particular lean towards the Lutheran position, but in respect to the Lord's Supper, the Articles avoid the sort of realistic understanding of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist which is characteristic of Old Lutheranism, and lean more on the 'non-realist' passages from St Augustine's writings. Modern attempts to reconstruct Anglican orthodoxy along other lines have to be understood as exercises in Revisionism, not the Revisionism of the Episcopal Liberals of the 1960s and 70s, but that of the nineteenth century 'Catholic Revival.' In one respect, the Catholic Revival was a blessing in it delivered the Church from the rather arid Pietism and Rationalism of the late 18th century, but ultimately it had little use for the Church's historic formularies hence the attempts to downgrade the Articles into an historic document, and revise the BCP to eliminate, or at least mute, its Reformed content.

Folks often lament the fact that there is not one 'Continuing Anglican Church' but the fact of the matter is that there cannot be one church when there are (at least) two theologies. The history of Churches that have a double standard, or fail to enforce their formularies - such as the Old Prussian Union, the Episcopal Church, the Church of England, ELCA, etc. - is that they end up being, at best, a group of theological parties in search of a Church, or they lapse into liberalism, and then material heresy. However, one has to set against that the fact that over much confessional rigour tends to result in churches where the overall atmosphere is 'you and I are the only true Anglicans - and I am not too sure about you!' The best chance for Anglican union is for the Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer to be used as focuses of unity, accepted because they reflect the doctrine of Scripture, not on their own merits. This is usually referred to as quia subscription. This makes a range of views possible, because Scripture is open to a certain amount of interpretation, but not to the extent that one has seen in modern times in the Episcopal Church, and other liberal provinces of the Anglican Communion. The general approach to theology suggested by the English Reformation is one based upon Scripture alone, but Scripture seen through the lens of the four Latin Doctors, the Early Fathers, and the first four Ecumenical Councils. The BCP and the Articles echo this position, which Bishop Andrewes summarized in his well-known definition of Anglicanism's rule of faith as One Revelation; Two Testaments; Three Creeds; Four Councils; Five centuries. Unfortunately, even among self-proclaimed traditionalists there is a move away from that theology today.