Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Affirmation of St Louis - Some Thoughts

The Anglican Catholic Church, the Province of Christ the King, and the UECNA all list the Affirmation of St Louis among their important founding documents. However, there have always been difficulties about how it should be used and interpreted. The major disagreement has been whether it is a prism for the understanding of the older formularies - the Articles, Homilies and the BCP - or their replacement. None of the three "St Louis Churches" has ever come down in favour of one view or other. In the absence of any official pronouncement, we must look at the Affirmation itself, and the Anglican theological tradition for guidance.

The Affirmation of St Louis came about in response to a theological emergency. The complete abandonment of the Apostolic Ministry and partial abandonment of the Christian morality by the Episcopal Church had left orthodox Episcopalians without a spiritual home. As a result the St Louis Congress of Concerned Churchmen was held, during which the Affirmation was accepted as a basis for a revived Anglican body in North America. The framers of the Affirmation of St Louis were also far sighted enough to see that the Episcopal Church's support for abortion "rights" and the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood would lead to a whole string of theological and moral innovations. These have led, in an absolutely logical progression, to the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of homosexual unions as revisionist notions of social justice has replace divine justice as the animating spirit of theological discourse in the Episcopal Church. In the face of this particular manifestation of zeitgeist, the framers of the Affirmation of St Louis wished to preserve the theological and moral integrity of the Anglican tradition. In order to do so they affirmed the Church's traditional theological understanding - the centrality of the Bible, the Creeds and Councils, and the Anglican tradition. They also affirmed traditional Christian moral values such as the sanctity of human life, and the sanctity of (hetrosexual) marriage. Read with unprejudiced eye, the intent was to maintain the Anglican Tradition whilst linking it unequivocably to the faith of the Church before the disunion of East and West.

In terms of 1970s Ecumenical thinking, that meant that the Thirty-nine Articles, Prayer Book, and Homilies had to be read within the context of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. However, it is possible to make far too much of this provision. This appeal to antiquity does not compromise the integrity of the Anglican theological tradition, even though Anglican theologians have often been uncomfortable with the Seventh Council. Archbishop Parker and other Anglican theologians from the 1550s onwards have always maintained that the Anglican Formularies be read "in the most catholic sense," an idea continued in the provisions of the Affirmation of St Louis. Jewel, Parker, Andrewes and Laud - like the framers of the Affirmation of St Louis - had appealled to the witness of the Ancient Church, of the Bible, Creeds, Early Fathers, and Councils against the innovations of the modern Church. This appeal to antiquity has been an abiding theme in Anglican theology since the beginning and it remains part of our inheritence as Continuing Anglicans

Sadly, the Affirmation of St Louis has been misused to attempt to re-engineer Anglicanism into a species of old Catholicism. This has always been a tendancy with some Anglo-Catholics, but in the cotext of post-1977 Anglicanism it has been even more decisive than it had been in the Episcopal Church. The three provisions that they have fastened on to most often have been the requrement that the Church adhere to the first seven Councils, the inclusion of the idea of the seven sacraments in the Affirmation, and the provision that the 39 Articles and the BCP be read in accordance with the provisions of the Affirmation of St Louis.

Of the three, most use has been made of the provision that the Articles of Religion, etc., be interpreted "according to this Affirmation" as a Trojan Horse for the re-engineering of Anglicanism within the Continuum. This is especially ironic given that it the provision itself reflected Caroline thinking on how the Articles and BCP should be read. Instead of continuing the old practice of reading the Articles within tradition, a concerted attempt has been made by some to interpret this as making the Articles, etc., redundant. This is a piece of wishful thinking, as any provision that requires one to interpret existing documents in accordance with it is acknowledging the continuing relevence and authority of those formularies. On the other hand, given the sort of logic chopping that the Articles have been subjected to, there was a need to establish a standard of interpretation in accordance with the traditional Anglican principles. The appeal made by the Affirmation is to the Catholic and Apostolic faith of the first eight centuries, which perfectly in accordance with the principles laid down by Bishop Jewel and Richard Hooker back in the sixteenth century.

This appeal to antiquity has always been a central plank of the Anglican repudiation of both Papalist additions and Puritan subtractions from the Faith. It now also serves as an essential defense against liberal revisionism. On the whole, the tone of the Affirmation of St Louis is that of continuity, not innovation. The main thrust of the Affirmation is to restore and maintain the connection between Anglicanism and the Catholic faith of the first centuries - a connection that had been continually made by the Reformers, the Caroline Divines and other mainstream Anglican theologians. To read the Affirmation of St Louis in any other manner is to do violence to, even betray, the whole idea of the Continuing Anglican Movement, but that has not stopped people from making the attempt. If the Continuing Anglican movement is to achieve lasting unity, it needs to get away from the desire to innovate, and place all its energy into maintaining and continuing the Anglican tradition that has its roots in the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church.


  1. Dear Bp. Robinson,

    I must admit. I am very much on a journey with harmonizing Articles to the Affirmation. You mention two of my biggest hurdles-- Affirmation's seven councils and subordination of "other formula". Interpreting Articles and BCP through the lens of the Affirmation becomes problematic when the Anglican Settlement is indeed critical of, say, the seventh council and the "objectivity" of lesser sacraments.

    Any outlying questions that the Affirmation raises seem to have been postponed until a "constitutional assembly". But after Denver, this assembly never happened? The three bishops went their own ways. Consequently, in their respective canons, you have interpretations of the Affirmation which posses some variance. In the ACC, for instance, 'continuing Anglicanism' is largely understood as continuity with the pre-reformation. In UEC it tended to be understood by continuuing from PEC.

    I can only swallow the seventh council in a very qualified way. The ACNA/REC/APA, for example, say this, "Concerning the seven Councils...the teaching of the first four Ecumenical Councils is affirmed and the Christological clarifications of the fifth, sixth and seventh Councils, in so far as they are agreeable to the Bible." My question, however, is what good is a highly nuanced, tongue-in-cheek statement?

    That leaves the so-called "objectivity" and "efficaciousness" of the lesser sacraments. This is a big one, and I don't know how to dance around the phrase without doing serious harm to Articles 25 and 20. The Settlement understanding was these rites stirred faith in a memorial-like fashion and were laudable ceremonies continued from ancient times. Also, these terms, "objective" and "efficacious", are theologically loaded, and they really back conforming churchmen into a corner? Also, settlement divines (even Henrician) distinguished two types of grace, just as they did two types of faith. If anything, the wording is hairy.

    In addition to the above, there is the challenge of ecumenical outreach per Section V. How to deal with today's every increasing number of flying bishops in both Lambeth (or not) who fully reject WO?

    OK. This is enough... I will try Fr. Hart's essays to help sort out the sacrament question. I've been trying to understand the lesser sacraments through the lens of Henry's catechisms and 1521 defense. The best I can do is distinguish between remission of sins (for greater) vs. receiving spiritual gifts (for lesser). Also, treating the lesser as derivative to the greater kind of helps. It's a process, and despite going in circles, I hope I'm getting closer. It's hard to make sacraments 'scientific', but the alleged hastiness of the Affirmation neither helps?

    BTW. Congratulations on your ministry at the Continuum blog!

  2. Theology is not a tidy discipline. The acceptence of the Seventh Ecumenical Council by the St Louis Congress represented some theological "tidying up" on the part of the participants. Way back in the 1560s, the Book of Homilies had committed the Church of England to the first six councils. The Seventh really contains nothing new, apart from the somewhat abstruse distinction, at least to my Anglo-Irish mind - between latria, hyperdulia and dulia. The real point of the seventh Council was a defense of the incarnation. Allowing images of Christ was an affirmation of the Incarnation as it stressed that Christ had a human nature that can be depicted, not just a divine nature that cannot be depicted without contravening the second commandment. It also represents a hard and fast ideological line between the cultural influence of Islam, and the older Judeo-Christian tradition embodied in the decrees of Nicea II.

    The seven sacraments provision I tend to regard as a teaching device when one takes it in the wider context of Anglican teaching. Basically, the two Dominical Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are unique, and even if one follows a strict reading of the articles one still has to conceed that the other five have a sacramental character (i.e. that they are outward signs of inward spiritual grace), even though they lack a divine institution.

    Personally I believe it would have been better if the seven sacrament provision had not been inserted into the Affirmation. At the very least it would have been historically consistent in that it would have left the Continuum committed to the Patristic Synthesis as it stood in the late eighth century. This would have been largely consistent with the Caroline tradition of Anglicanism, which is, de facto, the mainstream for Central and High Churchmen; though not for Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics.

  3. "Sadly, the Affirmation of St Louis has been misused to attempt to re-engineer Anglicanism into a species of [English] [O]ld Catholicism."

    My only quibble with this assessment is that it implies some indeterminacy about whether "attempt" has been successful. To my mind, this attempt is long established fact, at least in the Anglican Catholic Church and the Anglican Province of Christ the King. While both the ACC and APCK do tolerate some authentically Anglican parishes, the Anglican exceptions only serve to prove the Old-Catholic Rule in the Continuum. Indeed, the English Old Catholic position has dug in like granite in the ACC and is memorialized in its Constitution and Canons. In the APCK, the matter is more one of personalities and custom than legislation. But, in either case, the ascendant party in each is as far from Anglicanism as the historically ascendant Evangelical party in the Reformed Episcopal Church, which latterly is tolerating actual Anglicanism.

    I hope and pray that the United Episcopal Church can hold out against English Old Catholicism and be a beacon light in the dark, once and future Anglican constellation.

  4. This might be a curious note:

    the ACNA committee on liturgy, led by REC, is preparing a new prayer book for 79 usagers (the ex-episcopals). In it, they call Holy Matrimony, "the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony", in order to press the indulable character of marriage.

    I can swallow a lot of seven sacrament theology. My worry is when the church has the theological power to create "sacraments", the relation between tradition and scripture is overthrown, and pretty soon we have something like the East or Rome where everything becomes a 'sacrament'-- oil, salts, bells, palm branches, ashes, etc.. These too are outward signs of inward grace, and joined with the Word, do they become a visible logos like Baptism and the Supper-- "objective" in the sense of binding and loosening? For me this is a tough question, but if true we actually have infinite sacraments. This ends up making everything in Tradition itself sacramental-- pilgrimages, monastic cells, rosary beads, etc. I guess the difference is if it remits sin or stirs faith/prepares the heart. But I do sense a slippery slope.

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  6. anglican rose wrote:

    "... pretty soon we have something like the East or Rome where everything becomes a 'sacrament'-- oil, salts, bells, palm branches, ashes, etc....."

    I think there should be clarity in terms of discussing the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in terms of Sacramentals vs. Sacraments. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:

    1670 Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church's prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. "For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God."

    Sean W. Reed

  7. Hello Sean,

    It is beyond me to master the Roman Catholic Catechism. For the most part I would agree with the above article. However, the line drawn between sacraments and sacramentals is a thin one, and this is partly because Rome intentionally confuses merit with grace--creation with creator-- in the salvific economy. Notice in #1670 the phrase, "but by the Church's prayer". Compare this to #1127,

    "...the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. the Father always hears the prayer of his Son's Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power."

    This is quite an amazing article. First, notice how the terms "always" and "efficacious" are reasoned by an alleged 'real presence' in each sacrament. Rome has taken sacramental realism to an extreme, deifying not only people but 'things', "just as fire transforms into itself everything it touches". The instrument of this 'transformation' from material to sacred object, interestingly, is the epiclesis (or prayer) of the church. This is what I meant by 'eastern'. Don't forget, the epicletic prayer and elements of realism apply to both sacraments and sacramentals. An example is the holy oil in the unction which is theologically blurred to the bread/wine in the eucharist.

    In article #1189 epiklesis transforms every liturgical action into a bearer of grace, so you literally have hundreds, if not infinite, kinds of 'sacraments', "The liturgical celebration involves signs and symbols relating to creation (candles, water, fire), human life (washing, anointing, breaking bread) and the history of salvation (the rites of the Passover). Integrated into the world of faith and taken up by the power of the Holy Spirit, these cosmic elements, human rituals, and gestures of remembrance of God become bearers of the saving and sanctifying action of Christ."

  8. cont'd
    The Roman catechism revolves around the theme of liturgical blessing. But the difference between God's 'call' and man's 'response' is blurred. This is the result of Rome's merit theology where sanctification is equated to justification. What emerges is a deified church which 'inheres' (rather than imputes) righteousness, making and inventing the means of grace. I believe much of this arises from the exaggerations of monastic tradition(moral perfection in mortal life) and commitment to celibate ministry (proven exponent for papacy). This in turn distorts the church's relation to the Word, turning the BVM into a co-redemptrix, illustrated no better than the use of an illicit epiclesis (rather than constraints of Logos) to create 'grace' and change 'substance'. Notice the most natural epiclesis (which the Anglo-Scottish line adopts-- i.e., 1637, 1789, and 1928) says nothing about a 'change' but blessing upon worship/people.

    Perhaps I am trying to connect too many dots? I will admit it's hard to pin down Rome even in her lengthy catechism. To the credit of Anglicans, the Articles are very abbreviated, dealing with the fundamental problems of Rome and Radicals in an elegant, succinct, and scientific way.

  9. These quotes by Luther on Baptismal Regeneration from the Reformation Anglicanism blog help. The difference between Roman and Anglican consecration of sacrament is the efficient Logos vs. the prayer of the righteous. The 1928, 1549, and 1662 BCP's all agree on this, I believe. It also explains Article 25:

    "baptism is water and the word joined together. The addition of the word to the water is what makes baptism a sacrament. Without the word, the water “is not different from the water that the maid uses for cooking.”45 But with the word, the water becomes “divine, holy, heavenly, holy and blessed.”46 In answering his own question of what baptism is, Luther writes in The Large Catechism, “Namely, that it is not simply plain water, but water placed in the setting of God’s Word and commandment and made holy by them. It is nothing else than God’s water, not that the water itself is nobler than other water but that God’s Word and commandment are added to it.”47 Similarly, he writes in The Small Catechism, “Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead it is water enclosed in God’s command and connected with God’s Word...The presence of the word inseparably joined to the water is what makes baptism, according to Luther, efficacious. Both catechisms assert that water does not grant salvation. After stating, in The Large Catechism, what baptism accomplishes, Luther writes,

    Here again you see how baptism is to be regarded as precious and important, for in it we obtain such an inexpressible treasure. This indicates that it cannot be simple, ordinary water, for ordinary water could not have such an effect. But the Word does it, and this shows also, as we said above, that God’s name is in it. And where God’s name is, there must also be life and salvation. Thus it is well described as a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water, for it is through the Word that it receives the power to become the “washing of regeneration,” as St. Paul calls it in Titus 3[:5


  10. Why limit the number of sacraments to seven? Is not the Pedelavium (foot-washing) a sacrament ordained and instituted by Christ Himself? To be sure, it doesn't have a 'form'. Also, there's the Sacring of a Monarch, ordained by God the Father Himself. So, what is so special about the number 'seven' as applied to Sacraments and Councils? Some kind of numerological magic? Use the right number and Hey! Presto! one has defined Catholcism? We are better off sticking to the old criteria as expressed by the Elizabethan Act of Supremacy (Councils) and Sacraments as defined by the Article.
    As I repeatedly suggest, we need to clear our minds of cant---of pre-conceptions and mis-conceptions of what is trule Apostolic, truly Catholic, truly Anglican.

    Heaven guide and protect us all.

    In +,