"One Canon reduced to writing by God Himself, two Testaments, three Creeds, four Councils, five centuries, and the succession of the Fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith." - Bp. Lancelot Andrewes, 1555-1626
"Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all." - St. Vincent of Lerins, d.455
Today we're going to start a new series on our humble little blog about what a back-to-the-basics, "classical" Anglicanism might look like. I subtitled it "Being 'Bible Catholics'" because "Bible Catholic" is my favorite shorthand for what Anglicanism ideally claims to be (a tip o' the hat to Archdeacon Michael McKenna for coining the phrase).
The seeds of this blog series began as some musings in my pocket Moleskine journal during a weekend seminar back when I was a deacon at Christ Our King Anglican Church in New Braunfels. I had been seeing unending arguments on social media between factions narrowly advocating their particular form of churchmanship or their particular "stream" within the Anglican tradition to the exclusion of any other. Sometimes these arguments got downright vitriolic and nasty! In most cases, folks would ultimately appeal to some aspect of our shared history that was supposed to trump some other aspect of our shared history. That got me thinking that there must be some sort of common ground we can reach by looking at the shared heritage we all agree is behind Anglicanism. While such a vision would not necessarily yield a monolithic churchmanship among Anglicans, it could provide enough commonality that the ridiculously wide variations in theology and practice among otherwise orthodox Anglicans could be somewhat reined in.
Perhaps the most important term to be defined in such an endeavor as ours is the word "classical" itself. The phrase "Classical Anglicanism" has unfortunately been used to justify all sorts of contradictory visions in recent years. To some, it only means the Reformed (or Calvinist) elements in the 16th and 17th Century. To others, it only means the customs of "traditional" Catholicism (which, despite claims to much greater antiquity, often also dates to the 16th and 17th Century). To others still, it only means the practices of the Undivided Church, ignoring the thousand or so years since the patriarchs of the Eastern and Western Churches mutually excommunicated each other.
With respect to our usage of the term in this series, Merriam-Webster defines "classical" as:
- authoritative, traditional
- of or relating to a form or system considered of first significance in earlier times
This definition can, of course, arguably apply to any of the above "contradictory visions." Is Classical Anglicanism rooted in the Reformation? In Medieval Scholasticism? In the Church Fathers? One could make a valid argument that any of these fits the definition of "classical." And herein lies the modern problem: by pitting these definitions against each other in a rather anachronistic way, proponents of particular visions tend to talk past each other.
I submit, however, that even a casual reading of the English Reformers shows that they did not see the Reformation, the Scholastics, or the Fathers as necessarily being in conflict. Rather, their goal was to purge the English Church of abuses from prior periods, while maintaining a healthy connection to the past, always rooted within the revealed Truth of the Holy Scriptures. That is, the English Reformers saw themselves as continuing the ancient Church in the British Isles that had been founded in the First Century and thrived ever since.
The Way Forward
With that in mind, I propose that Classical Anglicanism (or Bible Catholicism in the English tradition) needs to be rooted in the following elements, in descending order of importance:
- The Holy Scriptures
- The Classical Book(s) of Common Prayer
- The Ancient Creeds
- The Ancient Councils and Fathers
- The 39 Articles
- The Anglican Divines and Reformers
In subsequent posts in this blog series, I want to explore each of these foundational elements in order and look at how they can contribute to regaining a Classical Anglicanism in our day. After that, I want to explore what Classical Anglicanism might look like in the lives of individuals and families, in parish life, in a diocese, in a province, and ultimately in a renewed global Anglican Communion. While true revival can only happen as a move of the Holy Ghost, St. Paul admonished us to be "transformed by the renewing of [our] mind." By considering and talking about these things, it is my hope that we can be more open to the voice of God's Spirit and begin to see revival in our neck of the Church.