Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Reformed Face of Anglicanism

The English Reformation is often glossed over by modern Episcopalians, especially those of an Anglo-Catholic bent. Yet there is no denying that reformation of the Church of England fits in, doctrinally, with the moderate end of Reformed Christianity. Cranmer evolved theologically from a Roman Catholic interested in the new learning, firstly into a Lutheran, and then, because of the shift in his views on the Eucharist in 1547, into a moderate exponant of the Reformed Faith. Cranmer's personal journey of faith left its mark on the Church of England in the form of a Liturgy that remains to this day more closely allied to Lutheran practice, but that liturgy is couple to a doctrinal stance that is broadly, but decidedly Reformed. You could almost say that the Church of England reverses the the position of the Landeskirche of Saxe-Wurttenburg, which, like several other Lutheran churches in Southwestern Germany has a Reformed Liturgy coupled to a Lutheran Confession.

Although modern Anglicans try to ignore the fact, both the Edwardian and Elizabethan Settlements took a reformed stance. The creative phase of the English Reformation covers the period 1538 to 1565, which is precise the time frame in which the Reformed Faith, as exemplified by Geneva, takes over from the more moderate reform of Luther. However, the English Reformation was not quite as radical as that of Geneva in its final form, and this did much to set up the tension between Churchman and Puritan in the later years of Elizabeth I's reign. However, it has to be understood that the quarrel between Whitgift and Cartwright, and later generations of churchmen and puritans was not an argument between theological systems, but a disagreement (to use a mild word for it) within the Reformed Faith.

The 42 Articles of 1552 and the 39 Articles of 1563, both commit the Church of England to the fundamentals of the Reformed Faith. Both sets of Articles affirm the centrality of Scripture, and take a monergist position on Justification. Both sets of Articles affirm that the Church of England accepts the doctrine of predestination and election as a 'comfort to the faithful' but warn against over much speculation concerning that doctrine. Indeed a casual reading of the Wurttemburg Confession of 1551, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Scots Confession of 1560, and the XXXIX Articles of Religion reveal them to be cut from the same bolt of cloth. Although the Lambeth Articles of 1595 never received royal sanction, they do reflect the theological reality of the Church of England in the later years of Elizabeth I's reign. It was a Calvinist Church, but one with Bishops and a Liturgy. The double pre-destinarian theology of the Lambeth Articles may not have found favour with the Queen and with the moderates, but apart from a few eccentrics - whose opinions the Article were meant to refute - the English Church was commited to a reformed and predestinarian theology. This is a contrast to today where may Anglicans identify as Reformed Catholic, but their Reformed Catholicism is not that of the Articles, but a form of Old Catholicism. This is a direct consequence of the attempts made by Anglo-Papalists and Anglo-Catholics to Unreform the Church.

Now I have to conceed at this point that not all Anglo-Catholics reject the Reformation, and, as you will have noticed if you have read older posts on the Old High Churchman, some are indeed sympathetic to the positive principles of the Reformation, but there has always been what I call 'the Hurrell Froude' element who speak of the Reformation as a 'limb badly set.' I have to be very honest and say that I do not concur with their very negative view of the Refomation as I believe in taking our formularies of our Church at their face value. That is to say, in reading the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Homilies, and the BCP in their natural, grammatical sense. In doing that one comes to the unavoidable conclusion that Anglicanism is indeed a Via Media, but not between Catholicism and Protestantism, but between Lutheranism and Calvinism. It is also pointless to deny the evidence of a continuous series of prominent clergymen in the Anglican tradition who have been Reformed in their theology. Even after the Restoration, when Calvinism was clean out of fashion, Bishops like Edward Reynolds of Norwich and George Morley of Winchester held to their Predestinarian views and a basically Reformed theological framework. Therefore the Calvinism of early Evangelicals - like George Whitefield, Augustus Toplady, and Samuel Walker was not an innovation, but a manifestation of a reinvigorated, living, Calvinist tradition in the Church of England.

From the time of the great Revival of the mid-eighteenth century through to today there has been no lack of professors of the Reformed faith in the Anglican tradition. Folks like Henry Venn, Charles Simeon, C R Sumner, J C Ryle, Charles McIllvaine, William Meade and John Johns all identified with Calvinism, but were unstinting in their devotion to the Church of England or the Protestant Episcopal Church. Growing up in the Church of England I could rely on the fact that about 10% of the clergy, even in a relatively liberal diocese, would be Reformed in regard to their dogmatic theology. Given that pedigree it seems gratuitous to try and exclude those of us who hold to Reformed principles from the Anglican Continuum. However, there are those who have done their best to do so, and such unofficial doctrinal and liturgical 'tests' have done their share to promote schism in the Continuum. This seems a particular pity when one realises the power to convict and convert that has always been God's particular gift to the Evangelical and Reformed clergy of the Anglican Church.

I hope that you have gathered from the remarks I have made above that I regard the Reformed face of Anglicanism not as an anomoly, but as an essential element in our Anglican tradition. Anglicanism has Reformed roots, and when we deny those roots we are in a sense denying who we are. There is no doubt that God has not finished with the Anglican version of the Reformed tradition, but it needs a home. We also need to get back to the old Anglican Evangelicalism, an ordered, discipline, liturgical, but above all Biblical and Refomed tradition offering to men and women the gift of eternal salvation in Christ Jesus. I think it would be good for all of us if we sought out too books by J C Ryle which are intended to strengthen and inspire. The first is entitled 'Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century' which gives potted bios of such Anglican Evangelical luminaries as Henry Venn, William Grimshaw, and Daniel Rowlands. The other is 'Old Paths' a collection of essays about the Reformed faith which will do much to clear up any misconception one might have about the nature of the Reformed Faith.


  1. It seems to me that Elizabeth I's subtle, but substantively significant, changes to Cranmer's drafts of the Formularies pulled the Church of England back from Cranmer's Calvinism to a more broadly Lutheran position.

    But, having said that, the question still remains whether Sixteenth Century Lutheranism, especially as embodied in the Anglican
    Formularies, is meaningfully different from the "consensus patrum" of the ancient Church. I have in mind Osiander and the Finish View of Luther, whose emphasis on union with Christ is thoroughly patristic, synergistic, and which has an exemplary embodiment in our liturgy: "that we ... may ... be ... made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him ...."

    Thus, while I disagree strongly with that majority strain of Anglo-Catholicism, which quite ahistorically and unsuccessfully attempts to read Medieval Latin Scholasticism back into Anglicanism, I have great sympathy for that species of catholic Anglicanism that seeks to go behind the Great Schism and that reads our Formularies in the light of St. Vincent's Canon. In sum, I am inclined to agree with the Caroline Divines that Anglicanism qua Anglicanism is not what has become confessional Calvinism, Romanism, or Lutheranism.

  2. Great post. Thanks for sharing. I've been an Anglican for about 7 years and have just come recently to many of the same conclusions as you regarding the Reformed face of Anglicanism.


  3. Thanks for this! This is how my friend and I have been explaining Anglicanism to others for a while. "It's the Via Media between Calvinism and Lutheranism." That realization is what led me from the Lutherans (who I couldn't quite agree with on a few theological points) to Anglicanism. Those Lutheran things that I did agree with work quite well for me as an Anglican. And I recognize that some of the strong Calvinism that I see in some Anglicans is not the only position within Anglicanism, yet, like you just said, it is a part of it.

    My struggle in speaking about Anglicanism's Calvinistic aspect is that I have encountered a few too many Calvinist Anglicans who tend to act as though Anglicanism is simply Presbyterianism with bishops. This is, of course, what you are not saying, but that is what always comes to mind when I think about this...

    I think the huge key to the struggle is to realize that, for all of us, that the theology of the Articles feel more like boundaries in how they are written. They don't lay down a hard and fast rule with regard to precise points of theology in some places. For example, the article on predestination very much avoids even hinting at double predestination, while holding to single predestination (which is the Lutheran position and many Calvinists), but not denying that you can believe in the double version. I also found it historically interesting that there was the willingness at one point for Anglicans to drop the 29th article about the unfaithful not eating the body and blood of Jesus when there was still hope for a Lutheran/Anglican confederation in order to not offend the Lutherans. That spoke volumes to me about how the early Anglicans viewed the mode of Christ's presence (i.e. that there was room for a more Lutheran view of the Supper along side the more Calvinist view).

    Thanks for the good article!

    1. This is an excellent article, with which I am in perfect agreement. Thanks, dear bishop, for writing and sharing it.

  4. I'm afraid I'm one of those Anglicans who finds the reformation to have been an unnecessary unpleasantness best undone as soon as possible, a "reform of the reform" sort of bloke.

    As Vernon Staley states:

    _The Catholic Religion_

    11th Edition, A.D. 1900

    By The Reverend Vernon Staley

    Part Fourth


    The Thirty-nine Articles are not Articles of Faith like the Creeds, and they are not imposed on members of the Anglican Church as necessary terms of communion. The clergy only subscribe them, and the sense in which the subscription is understood, has been stated by Archbishop Bramhall as follows; “We do not hold our Thirty-nine Articles to be such necessary truths, ‘without which there is no salvation;’ nor enjoin ecclesiastic persons to swear unto them, but only to subscribe them, as theological truths, for the preservation of unity among us. Some of them are the very same that are contained in the Creed; some others of them are practical truths, which come not within the proper list of points or articles to be believed; lastly, some of them are pious opinions or inferior truths which are proposed by the Church of England as not to be opposed; not as essentials of Faith necessary to be believed.” (1) Bishop Bull wrote similarly, “The Church of England professeth not to deliver all her Articles as essentials of faith, without the belief whereof no man can be saved; but only propounds them as a body of safe and pious principles, for the preservation of peace to be subscribed, and not openly contradicted by her sons. And, therefore, she requires subscription to them only from the clergy, and not from the laity.” (2)

    “The Articles are to be subscribed to in the sense intended by those whose authority makes the subscription requisite.” (3) It must always be remembered that the same Convocation, in the same set of Canons which first required subscription to the Articles, in 1571, enjoined that preachers should only teach “that which is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, and that which the Catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected out of the same doctrine.” “It seems” says Mr. Keble, “no violent inference, that the appointed measure of doctrine preached, was also intended to be the measure of doctrine delivered in the way of explanation of doubtful passages in formularies.” (4)

    It is quite evident, therefore, that the Articles would be understood by the clergy who first subscribed them as Articles of Peace for the preservation of unity. They were not religious tests, or Articles of Faith; they were made as comprehensive as possible, and they were to be interpreted and understood in accordance with the general rule of Catholic tradition, i.e., in the Catholic sense. (5)

    (1) Works, vol. ii, pp.201, 476.
    (2) A Vindication of the Church of England, xxvii.
    (3) Keble’s Catholic Subscription to the xxxix. Articles, p. 13.
    (4) Ibid., p. 15.
    (5) “I understand by the Catholic sense, that sense which is most conformable to the ancient rule, ‘Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab amnibus.’” Ibid., p. 14.