Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Revolution Before Last

One of the persistent problems for the traditional Anglican Movement has been the cleavage between the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic understandings of the Church, and the fact that is rather difficult for the two sides to find a mutual accommodation, especially given the determination of some Anglo-Catholics to make sure they are never just a 'tolerated' opinion within the Church. The opposition between the two positions stems from the fact that Evangelicals focus on the Bible, the Creeds, the Articles of Religion, and the Homilies understood in their natural and grammatical sense as their sources of doctrinal authority, with the Early Fathers and Councls being understood through the prism of the Reformation. On the other hand, Anglo-Catholics tend to want to side-line, if not totally ignore the Reformation era, and use a new declaration strongly supporting the idea of the Seven Councils as the teaching standard after Scripture as a way of placing Anglicanism into the context of Catholic Ecumenicism. Being the product of catholic-leaning Broad Churchmen and Anglo-Catholics, the Affirmation of St Louis, declares the new Anglican Church to be one that accepts the Seven Ecumenical Councils as authoritative, proclaims the Mass to be a sacrifice, teaches that there are seven sacraments, and subordinates the Thirty-nine Articles to the Affirmation of St Louis. The present Forward-in-Faith, North America declaration also goes beyond what an Evangelical can sign in good conscience, not just in referencing the "Seven and Seven," but also in using the word 'substantial' to describe the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. That provision also locks out some old-fashioned Churchmen, such as myself, who firmly believe in the real presence, but do not accept that it needs to be based on Scholastic understanding of physics, which is why I had to disassociate myself from FiFNA in the summer of 2013 following their decision to alter their Declaration!

I suppose it is not surprising that the Continuum has taken this rather catholic turn, given that it seems to be increasingly defined by the Affirmation of St Louis, rather than the Articles of Religion, and the Book of Common Prayer. The basic difficulty of the Affirmation is that the two major influences behind it - conservative Broad Churchmanship, and Anglo-Catholicism - both had a large measure of influence from the Tractarian Movement which to a certain extent wished to suppress the Evangelical side of Anglicanism in favour of the Catholic. This particular version of Anglicanism got an awful lot of traction in the USA where the Episcopal Church was not just a minority Church, but in some senses a counter-cultural church - aristocratic in a populist society; formal in a society that favours spontaneity; surrounded by a mediaeval glow in a country which always espouses modernity more than tradition. This predisposed many American Churchmen, already influenced by the Romanticism of the early 19th century, to accept the Tractarians more readily than was the case among English Churchmen. As a result, apart from a few enclaves of (liberal) evangelicalism in places like Virginia, the Episcopal Church generally divided between those who were Liberal thinkers (both Low Church and Broad Church) and those who were Catholic minded (both Broad Church and High Church.) This had the inevitable result that when the Affirmation was framed it left no place for traditional Evangelicalism, which was, as I have noted, all but dead in ECUSA and in the Anglican Church of Canada.

This brings me to the title of my post 'the Revolution before Last.' There is a very real sense in which the St Louis Congress took the path of "canonizing" the revolution before last - the "Catholic Revival" - as being the norm for Anglicanism. The Affirmation of St Louis very much reflects the position adopted by the conservative wing of ECUSA in the 1950s and 60s, which was Reformed Catholicism with the accent on the Catholicism. This should have played out well in the USA and Canada had it not been for two factors which I mentioned above - the determination of the Anglo-Catholics to have some measure of control over the new body that went beyond a veto, and the fact that the orthodox Broad Church element recognized that Affirmation of St Louis had moved Anglican teaching a long way to the catholic side of things. The break up of the original version of the Anglican Catholic Church into three jurisdictions in 1981-84 is very much a product of this awaken to the implication of what had been done at St Louis coupled to a leadership which had only limited experience and some considerable internal animosities. Deeply regrettable though this is, it was pretty much inevitable given the circumstances of the time. Some Low Church and Broad Church types felt they had been hoodwinked, whilst some Anglo-Catholics felt that the Broad Churchmen were not being sincere in their support for the ACC, or were not "real" Anglicans. As a result, the Continuum persisted in having two streams which find unity difficult to achieve mainly because neither side really wants to capitulate, though I suspect a genuine compromise might work.

Although I am quick to point out the historical bloopers in the Affirmation of St Louis, and to express my irritation as to its subordination of previous Anglican formularies to the newer text, ninety percent of it really is very good, and addresses issues that were only just beginning to present themselves in the mid-1970s. This is especially true of the paragraphs on, for example, human responsibility, marriage, and the sanctity of human life. Quite frankly, out of forty plus paragraphs in the Affirmation only three or four of them are controversial, and I am not sure that clarifying them to give a higher status to the Articles of Religion, etc., would really require the Anglo-Catholics to give up anything of any real substance, whilst opening the doors to moderate Evangelicals. For example, would altering the provision 'all previous Anglican formularies to be interpreted in accordance with these principles' to 'all previous Anglican formularies to be interpreted in accordance with the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church' - wording which Matthew Parker would have approved, in my opinion - be too high a price to pay for unity? Only time will tell.

At the end of the day, there is a sort of regret on my part that the process of reform that began in 1977 got out of hand and led to schism. Certainly, the interim period spoken of in the Affirmation of St Louis should have been much longer. I think the United Episcopal Church took a wise course in taking the Affirmation of St Louis with a grain of salt, and not incorporating it into its Constitution and Canons. The Affirmation certain represents a value position paper when it comes to affirming the central tradition of Western theology, morality and ethics in an increasingly secular and hostile world, but I do not think we should revise, reinterpret or dispense with the Articles of Religion, or the Book of Common Prayer in order to satisfy the agenda of the St Louis Congress. Anglicanism has always had an Evangelical tradition, and any document with stifles that needs to be looked at carefully, especially at a time when we are clearly moving into a post-Christian age in both North America and Western Europe.