Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Anglican Identity

One of the difficulties with being an Anglican in the first quarter of the twenty-first century is that of identity. I cannot help but feel that the last four decades have been somewhat of a wild ride during which a number of Anglican identities have evolved which bare some sort of resemblance to historic Anglicanism. However, it is arguable whether any of them actually is historically Anglican. One is reminded somewhat of the attempts of early mediaeval kings to attach something of the grandeur of Rome to their petty kingdoms.

On thing that is pretty clear is that fifty years ago, Anglicanism already had something of a problem. The Catholic, Evangelical, and Liberal streams had been interacting for over a century without things going critical, but with the development of both the 'God is Dead' theology of the likes of Don Cupitt, and the siren song of liturgical revision it was clear that something was going to happen, and it was not going to be good. By the 1960s Anglicanism increasingly identified itself not by the Book of Common Prayer, the Articles, and the Episcopate, but by the looser standard of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (CLQ) of 1884/88. The snag with this is that the CLQ was never intended to be an internal definition of what Anglicanism is, but a document governing Ecumencial encounters and inter-church relationships. The trouble with this looser formula - adopted to try and contain the pressures building between Catholics and Liberals - was that it was just too loose. It said something about what it meant to claim an heritage from the early church, but there was nothing specifically Anglican or Catholic about it, and herein lay the rub. Without a strong centre Anglicanism gradually devolved into a loose alliance of national, episcopally governed, Protestant Churches, several of the more influential of which had a pronounced liberal Revisionist bent.

The train wreck when it came was a double collision. From the point of view of the laity, the more frustrating angle was the liturgical fidgets that developed from the early 1960s onwards. The Church of England, which fully embraced the process, set forth new liturgies in three series starting in 1961, 1967, and 1972 respectively; and this was followed by the Alternative Service Book in 1980, which was supplemented by 'Patterns for Worship' about ten years later, and completely replaced by 'Common Worship' in 2000-2007. Ireland, which was relatively unenthusiastic about liturgical reform, produced an alternative Eucharistic liturgy in 1976; the Alternative Prayer Book in 1984; and a new "BCP" in 2004. ECUSA was initially rather keen on the idea of revision - with the Green Book appearing in 1967; the Zebra in 1973; and the first draft of the 1979 BCP in 1976 pending final approval three years later. This would have registered more as a nuisance than a disaster had it not been for the fact that the Ordination of Women debate was raging at the same time, and the ECUSA was revising its positions on abortion, contraception, divorce, and remarriage, and discover that in some case, like civil rights for homosexuals, that it actually had a position for the first time in its history. The result was considerable unsettlement, and it was inevitable that there would be protest movements both internal and external.

However, there has been a tendency for the cure to be almost as bad as the disease. The older Continuing Anglican groups tended to summarize their "grievances" in the form of a Solemn Declaration, and/or Declaration of Principles. The former had been pioneered by the Church of Ireland and the Church of Canada at the time of the dissolution of the union to the Church of England. The latter came from the Reformed Episcopal Church, which had draw its version up to protest Tractarianism in 1873. For the most part, these early efforts affirmed their believe in the authority of Scripture, the three ancient Creeds, the two Domincial Sacraments, and the Church in question's Anglican heritage whilst specifically repudiating modern errors concerning Holy Orders, and Morality. For the Broad Church majority of lay continuers this was sufficient, but there was a feeling - at least on the Catholic leaning wing - that something more systematic was needed, and that appeared in the form of the Affirmation of St Louis in 1977.

I have written about the Affirmation several times in this blog, so I am not going to bore you with a reiteration of my observations, except to say that it went somewhat beyond a restatement of the traditional Anglican position. Certainly many of its provisions have common sense on their side - such as the provision that a 'non-political' method of electing bishops be found. However, what seems to have slipped by, almost totally unobserved, was a small provision which if consistently followed would revolutionize the Church. It is the simple provision that all pre-existing formularies be interpreted in accordance with this Affirmation. On the face of it, this is a very simple and sensible declaration, but its implementation effectively side-lined the Reformation inheritance of Anglicanism by justifying and making normative the Anglo-Catholic rejection of the Articles and Homilies. It also created a second, Catholic, string of revisionism within the Anglican tradition, and led to enormous conflict within the new Continuing Church as it became clear that although diversity of liturgical practice would be tolerated - at least for the time being - the theology was going to be Anglo-Catholic, and those who held a differing point of view could put up or shut up.

For those whose roots were more in the "orthodox middle" of Episcopalianism the new situation was a difficult one, and it was clear that not all would remain within the new Anglican Catholic Church. The United Episcopal Church was the initial fruit of the post-1980 brake up of the St Louis Continuum, which in some respects is a heavy burden to bare. However, the UECNA hit upon a middle course - more by accident than design. A return was made to an only slightly modified version of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church as they had stood in 1958, the only significant change to which was a specific protest in favour of the Articles of Religion in declaration of Conformity, coupled with a tendency to accept the moral and polity provisions of the Affirmation of St Louis. This neatly side stepped the "Catholic Revisionist" element of the Affirmation, but also committed the UECNA to the broad framework erected at St Louis.

The legacy of the 1960s and 70s remains with us in form of a great deal of unclearness about what constitutes Anglicanism. The worst aspect of this is that in addition to Liberal and Catholic Revisionists; we know have three streams Anglicans; Confessional Anglicans, and a half dozen other variants. At the end of the day, what we need more than anything else is a return to "mere" Anglicanism, an awareness of where we came from historically that can inform where the church should be going in the future. One of the beauties of Anglicanism has always been how it manages to be simultaneously both Catholic and Evangelical, and I suspect many of us are acutely aware of just how close we have come over the last forty years to loosing that side of our inheritance. Anglicanism, even orthodox Anglicanism, is always going to be a little bit frustrating for "Pure Ponders" who cannot cope with mess and differing ways of doing things, but it is that very messiness that makes Anglicanism so appealing for so many. Even in the days of rigid orthodoxy, Anglicanism always allowed different schools of thought to survive, even thrive, and it is that acceptance of a broad orthodoxy that we need to recover once more in order to thrive.