What´s Anglicanism?

Commentary on the ACC by The Right Reverend Mark Haverland, Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of the South. This article, which first appeared in St. Stephen's Witness, the newsletter of St. Stephen's Church, is reprinted from the October, 1995 edition of The Trinitarian, the newspaper of the Anglican Catholic Church. Bishop Haverland holds a doctorate in religious studies from Duke University.

    More and more I am convinced that defining the Anglicanism that should characterize our Church is one of the most important tasks before us. I am also convinced that this task is difficult and problematical. I think that our Church has in fact come up with a viable definition, but that it has done so almost accidentally and without sufficient reflection and self-consciousness.

    An English Roman Catholic Dominican, Aidan Nichols, has written a remarkable and very sympathetic study of Anglicanism called The Panther and the Hind: A Theological History of Anglicanism (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1993). Nichols' sympathy extends to saying something positive about almost every tendency within Anglicanism, but he notes that Anglicanism now is, and perhaps always was, less a Church than a collection of "constituent parties, Evangelical, Catholic, Phil-Orthodox, Liberal and so on" [p. xviii]. Nichols also notes the powerful forces pushing at the seams of Anglicanism. Nichols is a polite outsider, but an honest insider has to say that at present the official Anglican world, the world of the old Anglican Communion, is in terminal and irreversible collapse. One argument for this assessment is provided by the fact that the foreword to Nichols' study was written by the quondam Bishop of London, Graham Leonard, who since its publication has left the Church of England and become a Roman Catholic priest. Soon, I am willing to prophesy confidently, the official Anglican Communion will consist of nothing but a liberal Protestant rump. Those who do not want to be liberal Protestants will become Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, stop going to church entirely, or (probably what will prove to be the smallest group) join the ACC.

    What The Panther and the Hind shows is something well known to those who have studied Anglicanism closely. That is, Anglican history shows several broad strains of tradition, all of which can plausibly claim to be classically Anglican in that they have a long pedigree within the Church of England and her daughter Churches. Yet no one of these strands can claim to be Anglicanism in an exclusive sense if that claim means to imply that most Anglicans in fact historically held to that particular strand. Furthermore, these strands were and are often mutually contradictory and hostile. Nevertheless, classically the various parties within Anglicanism were united by at least two important factors. First, virtually all Anglicans recognized a common ministry under the authority of bishops who united Anglicanism "horizontally" by their fellowship with one another and "vertically" by their authority within their own dioceses. Secondly, most Anglicans were united by common prayer, by liturgical worship rooted in the Authorized Version of the Bible and in the Book of Common Prayer. While some Low Churchmen, for instance in the Diocese of Sydney, and some Anglo-Catholics, particularly in England, did not use the Prayer Book very much, it at any rate functioned at least as a kind of norm from which departures were made. It is now commonplace to note that radical liturgical revision in the 1960s destroyed any semblance of common prayer or of a liturgical norm and that the ordination of women since the 1970s has destroyed the former universal mutual recognition of ministries. With the glue of common ministry and common prayer dissolved, only inertia held the show together. And inertia is not enough.

    So how are we to define Anglicanism in this situation? It seems to me that there are two live possibilities before us. One possibility is that we define Anglicanism precisely by reference to its multiplicity of traditions and lack of uniformity, by its “comprehensiveness.” This definition, however, reduces Anglicanism to liberal Protestantism and to the current state of collapse. The irony of Anglicanism-as-comprehensiveness is that persons with theological integrity have no desire to be comprehended by such a communion.

    The other possible definition is in fact something of a redefinition: we may redefine Anglicanism by reference to one of its classical strands or parties and then assert that that single tradition should henceforth be normative to the exclusion of the other classical Anglican parties. If we take the first option, as the old Anglican Communion has done, we are doomed. The ACC, therefore, has adopted the second approach. This approach does not, of course, require us to reject everything ever thought or prayed or developed within the other classical Anglican traditions. However, it does establish a norm and it does reject the longstanding Anglican tendency towards “comprehensiveness” or, if you prefer, vagueness. We say, in effect, that what was once merely a minority party within Anglicanism is the sole legitimate form in which Anglicanism can continue.

    I have for a number of years stopped using the term “Continuing Anglicanism.” While what we are is a continuing of a form of classical Anglicanism, the term “Continuing Anglican” is apt to mislead. We are not attempting to revive the Episcopal Church of 1970 or 1960 or 1950 or whenever. That would simply be to revive the original flaws that gave rise to the collapse of the 1970s. While many of us were happy enough in the old Church in 1960 (or whenever), in retrospect we have to admit that the Church then was impossibly divided and confused. So the ACC has ditched theological vacuity and vagueness and established a clear identity.

    That identity is, to give it a simple label, Anglo-Catholic. However, “Anglo-Catholic,” like “Anglican,” has come to mean almost anything and, therefore, nothing. It helps me at least to define myself more precisely by specifying three beliefs to which the ACC has committed itself. all three of these were believe by many Anglicans before the ACC, but none was unambiguously taught by the whole.

    “A Church” essentially is a community of Christians gathered around a bishop in the Apostolic Succession in a given territory. “The Church” is the community of bishops, and of Christians in union with them, throughout the world. Since ancient times bishops and their dioceses have been grouped under the authority of metropolitans in provinces. Metropolitans and their provinces in turn have been grouped under primates (or patriarchs) I “Churches,” which often have had national or ethnic identities. While the patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople have ancient primacies of honor over other patriarchs, no primate has universal jurisdiction or infallible authority apart from the whole Church and the community of other bishops.

    There were seven Ecumenical Councils in the undivided, ancient Church whose doctrine, discipline and moral teachings bind us. There have been no Councils of similar authority since.

    There are seven sacraments, as both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches teach. Two of these sacraments are “generally necessary for salvation,” but the other five are no less sacraments.

    One could add to this list of beliefs, but these three are sufficient to explain why the ACC is Catholic, why we are not Roman Catholic, and why we find ourselves in substantial agreement already with Eastern Orthodoxy. We are “Anglicans,” and not Russian or Greek or “Eastern” Orthodox, because we are culturally Western, and because our worship and devotion are rooted in the Authorized Version of the Bible and in the Book of Common Prayer, and because we are heirs to the great English tradition of spirituality, literature, ecclesiastical arts and architecture, and music. People used to speak of Anglicanism as the “bridge Church.” Usually they meant that Anglicanism united Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Perhaps the ACC is a bridge Church, but if so we bridge East and West rather than Protestant and Catholic.

    The clarity and definition of the ACC strives for do not mean as a rule that we are going to enforce a monochromatic liturgical form. I say “as a rule” because in England liturgical chaos has reigned since the 1960s. The English diocese believes that it cannot grow without a stable, uniform rite throughout the country. Bishop Hamlett has had to decline to permit clergy to use the modern Roman Catholic rite, which is popular in some circles in the Church of England. By way of establishing a stable norm, England is using a liturgy drawn from the 1928 American Prayer Book, with additions to the Eucharistic rite taken from the Anglican Missal. In the United States, however, loyalty to the Prayer Book often went hand-in-hand with theological orthodoxy in the 1960s and 1970s. We have here, in consequence, loyal ACC members with a wide spectrum of liturgical preferences, though our average parish is probably somewhat “higher” than the average parish from whence we came. This variety will continue as long as many priests and laymen want it to. We have enough uniformity to hold us together liturgically, and enough variety in ceremonial and in essentials to satisfy a variety of tastes.

    I am not sure what Anglicanism used to be. The fact that no one could really say points to the heart of the problem. That we can say what the ACC is and believes, and that what she is and believes leads back to the central tradition of Christendom represented by the Eastern Orthodox and the ancient Councils, is our chief justification.