Friday, February 5, 2010

Broad and Central

I often describe myself as "a Central Churchman," a term readily intelligable in the UK, but a bit out of the way for Americans, whose nearest equivelent is Broad Church. This, however, carries some connotations of Liberalism to my English ear, perhaps because in using the term "Broad" Americans are actually covering what the British would consider to be two distinct parties - the Liberals and the Central Churchmen.

In England, Broad Church, is now an out of date useage. It was applied in the mid-nineteenth century to English liberals, such as the Very Rev. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley and F. D. Maurice, who were both middle of the road in ceremonial, and liberal Protestants in theology. However, their liberal protestantism was nowhere near as "liberal" as that of mid-nineteenth century Germany, as it remained creedal, and rooted in traditional theological categories. However, it was not dismissive of either Biblical Scholarship, nor of Darwinianism and Social Reform in the Victorian Liberal's sense of those words. Broad Churchmanship as a distinct party was around from the 1850s through to the 1920s when it morphed into a more definite liberalism under the influence of R.C. modernism. They liked to think of themselves as the thinking man's party within the Church of England, but in fact, their influence was mainly among the clergy and educated laymen. Broad Churchmanship flourished to some extent due to the patronage of Queen Victoria, who tended to be a Bible-based, but distinctly liberal in her religious views due the liberal Lutheran influences of her governess and her husband. As a result, quite a few senior Victorian ecclesiastics came from the innocuous liberal tradition of Broad Churchmanship including A.P. Stanley, Valerian Wellesley, A.C. Tait, and Randall Davidson.

Central Churchmanship seems to have been more or less a self-renaming on the part of the younger generation of Old High Churchmen c. 1875 as the term "High Church" was increasingly applied to the Anglo-Catholics. When casting around for a representative name for the Central Churchmanship position in the late nineteenth century I am inclined to think of E. Harold Browne, Bishop of Ely, then of Winchester from 1873-1891. Browne would have considered himself a High Churchman, but his commentary on the Thirty-nine Articles was much favoured in Central Churchmen until the 1920s. What characterized Central Churchmanship was a fairly conservative view of Scripture, an adherence to the Book of Common Prayer, the Articles, the teachings of the Early Fathers; in short, what has come to be called in the last 30 years "classical Anglicanism." This placed them midway between the Evangelicals and the Anglo-Catholics theologically, and this tended to come out in their ceremonial too. Central Churchmanship was inclined to dignity and restraint in worship, and making innovations only when the broad spectrum of opinion was behind them. When thinking of Central Churchmanship, one name, that of the Most Rev. Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury 1945-61 almost automatically springs to mind. His emphasis on continuity, on making the Church of England work, and his avoidance of theological extremes was typically "Central." He also represents the fact that for much of the twentieth century Central Churchmanship was the dominant party in the Church of England because it was the default position for a broad segment of the Church.

Unfortunately, as the 1950s and 60s progressed, it was increasingly clear that the new liberalism was making some significant gains among the ranks of what had once been the Central Churchmen. There was a feeling abroad that the old theology of "Classical Anglicanism" was no longer equipped to deal with the challenges of the twentieth century. As a result, the teaching staffs of what had once been mainly Central Churchmanship theological colleges - for example, King's College London, Wells, Lincoln, and Salisbury - tended to embrace a more liberal theological position. This filtered through into a liberal drift on the part of the Church of England. That said, the vast majority of parishes would still describe themselves as Central Churchmanship, but their theology now has an element of liberalism to it that would have been absent fifty years ago.

So how do I cope with the American tendancy to lump everything middle-of-the-road under the "Broad" banner. Well, I cop out and describe them as Conservative Broad (the English "Central") and Liberal Broad (the English "Broad" or Liberal) and that seems to get the point across! However, there is another point that I need to get across, and that is the need for someone in the Continuum to stand unequivocably for the Central Churchmanship tradition. At the moment, the Anglican world is dividing into three noisy armed camps - one Revisionist, one Angl-Catholic, and the other Evangelical which neglect the essental balance and moderation of the Anglican tradition. I am not sure we can do much about the Revisionists as they seem to be passing out of Christianity altogether into some sort of new age mish-mash, but there is a need for the old Central Churchmanship with its belief in a reformed catholicism that encompasses both High Churchmen and Evangelicals to act as the glue to hold Anglicanism together. In order for Anglicanism to survive as a witness to the totality of the Gospel and the real fullness of the undistorted Anglican tradition there remains a need for that least fashionable of beasts - the Central Churchman.


  1. Thank you for a very interesting discussion. I am not sure of the best label for me (except for loving the BCP), but I would be happy to see more central churchmen among the continuing movements.

  2. It would be great to find some like-minded men as the good Bishop, and get a seminary started. Get some people writing, and transforming the Continuing Movement towards "Classical Anglicanism".

  3. Amen. Remain a lonely classical Anglican surrounded by well-meaning Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics who generally think I am in their camp when they should really understand "Central" (though I claim "Old High Church" without much true appreciation for the term among either group.)

    If only we could continue to build this identity by comparing figures of both sides of the Atlantic. Would there be an apt comparison of Abp Fisher to another North American cleric or theologian?

  4. Thank you, Bishop, for explaining my own position so well. While I am part of the AngloCatholic missionary diocese in AC-NA, I'm concerned with the dichotomized view of who the "real Anglicans" are. Via media!

  5. Great Article. It's good to clarifiy historic terminology which is often abused or misunderstood. We often let those outside Anglican tradition do it for us which can be very damaging. A reading list might further help explain this brand of churchmanship?

    I am inclined to think the old Alcuin Club tracts are representative of Central churchman ritual? Perhaps, as the Bp. Robinson mentioned, Browne's "An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles" sums the position theologically. Browne's exposition can be downloaded at google books, or a hard copy can be bought through the REC:

  6. Comparing figures is difficult. However, ++Fisher was good friends with +Henry Knox Sherrill who was Presiding Bishop of the PECUSA at the same time as Fisher was at Canterbury. However, +Sherrill was noticeably more liberal in his theology than his English counterpart. That said, their common purpose - making the machinery of the Church work - was what drew them together. They were also both men of deep, but relatively uncomplicated faith. Both were reared in moderately Evangelical homes, and although they both moved towards the centre, both continued to value the virues of simplicity and directness exemplified by traditional Evangelical Anglicanism/Episcopalianism.

  7. Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.............................................

  8. Talk about the difficulties of using the same words but actually speaking different languages, this is one of those cases. My my personal perspective, the words Central and Broad both imply a laditudinarian view of dogma and the reliability of Holy Scripture. But since I know the good bishop and his faith I would never have described him as either. Old High Church? Yes, certainly but I would never have thought of that in terms of Central Churchmanship.

    One of the great difficulties is that what I have along called the Anglo-papist or Anglo-papalist party has managed to steal the name Anglo-Catholic. That has left those of us to whom the terms Anglican and Catholic amount to if one, the other. So I, like others, have also used the term 'Prayer Book Catholic' meaning one who accepts and believes the faith of the English Church as set forth in the formularies and the classical prayer books and accepts that he must use the rite of my ordination in accordance with the fullness of the prayer book tradition. Since the rubrics of 1559 and 1662 both look to the practice of the English Church before the introduction of the first BCP, that is where I have to look as well. After all that is what the Preface of the first American prayer book points me to.