Friday, April 4, 2014

No confusion of tongues?

It is great to get robust responses to posts. So my excursion towards Anglican theological coherency has provoked various responses. Here are some reflections:

- 'catholic' seems to me to mean different things to different folks: some lean towards it as valuing 'tradition' with openness to development of the tradition rather than maintaining it in a foxed form; actually change 'some' to 'everyone' commenting here; it seems to be just me who thinks that 'catholic' is about the common life of the church and its value lies in commitment to securing that common life around any development of the tradition.

- a way forward, attractive to me, is for Anglicans to refind and recommit to classical Anglicanism, at least in the sense of renewing our understanding of Anglican coherency at the time of the English Reformation and its aftermath, the coherency which is reflected in the theology of the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty Nine Articles, embedded as they are in Scripture while yet valuing some rules of faith which shape our understanding of Scripture.

Meanwhile, I promised a post on liberalism as a possible way forward for a coherent Anglican theology. I think liberalism is a wonderful way of being coherent theologically. The essence of the liberal approach to theology is to take nothing received for granted and to be open to all new possibilities. That offers great possibilities for a consistent theology as well as all the coherency of liberalism in general, for instance, the coherency of placing humanity at the centre of God's purposes and understanding God as essentially committed to human flourishing.

There is just the slight problem of the word 'Anglican' in the phrase 'liberal Anglican theology' because 'Anglican' begs questions about whether the coherency of a genuine liberal theology fits with implied commitments on the part of Anglicans to taking some received things for granted (Scripture, creeds, liturgies) and to not being open to all new possibilities (as some are bound to clash with what is already agreed).

18 comments:

Kurt said...

I think, Peter, that a way forward is to re-commit to (as Father Ron constantly urges) semper reformanda. However, putting the Articles of Religion to the front of this project would be, I believe, counterproductive. To me, the Articles contain some very basic Catholic truths, some common-sense observations, and some objectionable Calvinist understandings. But they are in no way “essential” to Anglicanism.

In many provinces of the Anglican Communion, the Articles are viewed as interesting historical statements and valuable, perhaps, in understanding one period of English theological and political development, but they are also viewed as statements which have been subsequently transcended.

The Scottish Church, for example, never “subscribed” to the Articles until her “rehabilitation” and the congregational/parish mergers of the 1790s. To this day, most Scottish Episcopalians view the Articles as “foreign.”

The American Church, and those provinces and churches that were established or influenced by American Episcopalians, also have a rather low estimation of the usefulness of the Articles for contemporary Anglicans. After the US Episcopal Church became independent of the Church of England in 1783, our first Proposed Prayer Book of 1785 altered and cut down the Articles to 20. In the first standard Prayer Book of 1789, the Articles were completely expunged. Revised Articles of Religion were not adopted in the American Church until 1801—after much debate—and do not appear in Prayer Books until after 1808. In the 1789 BCP they were placed between the Psalter and the Ordinal; in the 1892 and 1928 Books they appeared at the very end of the Book. In the 1979 BCP they are relegated to the “Historical Documents” section. Also, American clergy and laity have never been obliged to “subscribe to” or “affirm” the Articles of Religion since we became independent of the Church of England.

Anyway, after the famous “Tract 90” one hundred and seventy-some years ago, the Articles of Religion can be interpreted in any manner one wants. Even if one were to say “We all agree with the truths of the Articles of Religion” what purpose do they serve in contemporary Anglicanism if High Churchmen like Fr. Ron and me interpret them one way, and Evangelicals, such as yourself, interpret them in an entirely different way, and Broad Churchmen (Latitudinarians) interpret them in still another way?

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt,
With respect to what you are saying about various Anglicans over the centuries not signing up to the 39A, avoiding or relegating them, or wilfully misinterpreting them (there is no other accurate appraisal of the Tractarians), I simply say in response, Do these Anglicans offer a coherent theology which is genuinely Anglican as a theology (which is not the same thing as a theology held by people who happen to also belong to the Anglican Church)?

Kurt said...

No, Peter, will all respect, “willfully misinterpreting” the Articles of Religion is not how I would describe the viewpoint of “Tract 90.” “Highly creative interpretation” would be my nomination for a designation.

I mentioned this 1841 essay to emphasize that the Articles can easily be subject to practically any interpretation—and who is to judge the “orthodoxy” of an interpretation of the Articles? Canterbury? Sydney? New York? High Churchmen have historically had our own ideas. Some Evangelicals might describe these viewpoints as “misinterpretation.” However, the same claim could be made by others for your Evangelical opinions, Reverend Sir. And, I’m sure that Anglicans who tend toward Latitudinarianism would agree (and disagree) with both schools.

However, do you really think that, in the twenty-first century, it is a profitable expenditure of time to debate “the original intent” of the authors of the Articles? How can such “intent” be demonstrated after 450 years? Did different authors have different “intents”? Are you a “strict constructionist” of the Articles, or a “broad constructionist”? Are you an “originalist” or a “textualist”? Who cares? Is this really what we want to spend our time on?

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Kurt said...

“Do these Anglicans offer a coherent theology which is genuinely Anglican as a theology (which is not the same thing as a theology held by people who happen to also belong to the Anglican Church)?”—Fr. Carrell

When I was a boy growing up in the 1950s and 1960s one of the first things I learned in Confirmation Class was that the Anglican/Episcopal Church was a branch of the Church Catholic. That she had her origins in the ancient British Church. And as a “branch” of the Universal Church, she had no “special”, denominational theology. You appear to be asking how we can develop one. We have Anglican traditions (which change and evolve), but should we even attempt to develop a special “Anglican theology”?

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt,
Newman had the decency and honesty to recognise that the 39A were not infinitely flexible re interpretation and gave up on the Tractarian project and swam the Tiber.

The 39A are to be read in conjunction with the BCP (1662) and the Ordinal in order to get a sense of the flow of English Reformational theological lines. From those lines one might judge whether one's own Anglican church (and prayer books, versions of articles and the like) are faithful to those lines or not.

To the extent that we understand the Anglican church(es) to form a branch of the catholic church [acknowledging that the branch theory itself is much argued], I suggest we do well to ask whether the development of Anglican theology is in keeping with being branch or represents (a) a return to the trunk (arguably the best case understanding of Anglo-Catholicism's attempt to change the course of Anglican theology), or (b) the planting of a new tree.

To the extent that some developments of theology in Anglican churches has represented a scornful dissociation with the 39A, I suggest the branch theory is not much use in attempting to explain where those versions of Anglicanism have gotten to today. The 39A were, after all, and notwithstanding your concerns about intent, a crystal clear intent to describe the catholic Church of England in reformed terms.

The branch theory proceeds precisely because the catholic aspect of Anglicanism was spelled out in the 39A (thus we can dare to think of ourselves as a branch of the trunk) as well as the reformed aspect of Anglicanism (thus we know are a branch which is neither Roman nor Eastern).

Bryden Black said...

Kurt/Peter,
I think a read of Oliver O’Donovan’s On the Thirty Nine Articles: A Conversation with Tudor Christanity might assist here.

Originally published in 1986 by Paternoster (the form I first sighted it in) and written for classes at Wycliffe, Toronto, it has now been republished with only a new Preface by SCM in 2011. Why go to this effort?! Because engaging with the Tudor foundations of Anglicanism has a considerable amount to tell us re how to go about our communal lives today. And this whether or not one agrees with his specific suggestions about how to live with women bishops (the new Preface). Caveat: he does not address specifically here ‘the question’ of same-sex marriage; this he feels he has already done elsewhere - A Conversation Waiting to Begin: The Churches and the Gay Controversy (SCM, 2009), originally posted on Fulcrum. Enjoy!

BC said...

Peter, I agree that the Articles do have a role to play in renewing a sense of Anglican coherence ... if, that is, we can approach them in a manner not determined by c19th ecclesial partisanship.

Perhaps if we were to first see the Articles as an attempt to retrieve an Augustinian catholicity in the face of both late medieval developments and some streams of Reformation thought we might be better placed.

There are obvious challenges for catholic Anglicans in the Articles, not least the tendency to deny any need for serious reform in the c16th and the willingness to accept Tridentine norms. (Although even a cursory read of Duffy's 'Stripping the Altars' is a powerful reminder of how patristic norms had been lost.)

On the other hand, there are also challenges for evangelical Anglicans. The understanding of baptism and eucharist in the Articles is profoundly Augustinian. That explicit reference to Augustine in Art. 29 is something of a hermeneutical key. (We might also note that it is taken from Augustine's homily on John 6 - so yes, contra Calvin and much evangelical commentary, that passage is about the eucharist.)

None of this is to say that the Articles alone can give Anglicanism coherence or that there must be an authentic openness to development (do really want to support capital punishment?).

It is, however, to suggest that the Articles have a contribution to make, a contribution defined and shaped by the c16th retrieval of Augustine.

Father Ron Smith said...

As is the inference here in some of the comments; there is some justification for my referring the the 39 Articles as (for the 21st century Anglicans) no more than 39 Artefacts - raised up in a time of crisis for the Church in England to express its current differences from the Church of Rome.

In a more ecumenical era, most Anglicans are more concerned with concentrating on our similarities in basic doctrine - than with our ancient enmities. This was a part of the impetus in forming the Oxford Movement's recovery of the sacramentalist understanding of the place of worship in the practice of our faith - consistent with the ethos of the historic credal statements.

When one considers that the majority of Christians in the world have no knowledge of the 39 Articles, our recognition of their comparitive unimportance for the practise of orthodox Christianity places us Anglicans as more in line with other modern Christians

In our quest for unity with other Catholic and Orthodox Christians, we need to de-emphasize this historical starting-point of our division, concentrating on what we hold in common as the essential doctrine of the Church.

This, for me, is one reason I call myself a catholic - though in the Anglican tradition - simply, because we subscribe to the basics of Faith as practised by most other Christians, but with our own, non-magisterial, ethos.

One of the advantages of this - being non-magisterial, or what might be called a 'confessional' Church - is that we are able to pursue those elements of justice and equity that are still too difficult for more conservative Churches to accede to. I believe, however, that things are changing on some of these issues that we are presently confronting, that may soon be adopted by others.

Mark said...

Hi again all.

I applaud your desire Peter to essentially define what it means to be "Anglican". The problem with trying to do that, as with any other church, is that the Anglican church has people in it. With that comes a great diversity of backgrounds, beliefs, viewpoints, knowledge and understanding, agendas and sometimes a chip or two on the shoulder. To get agreement from all those people on what being "Anglican" means, or any other denomination for that matter, will be near on impossible. How do you decide which group gets to be the Anglican "tree-trunk" and which group(s) are the "branches"? While my opinion on Anglicanism is reasonably worthless, I'd suggest that whatever the basis for the founding of the church is it that should be the "tree-trunk", if that makes sense. I presume in the Anglican context that means the 39 Articles, BCP and sacraments. If Anglicanism wants or needs to include all those who associate with being Anglican then perhaps there needs to be agreement on what ALL Anglicans can or do agree on and leave the rest to individual church's/Christian's conscience. Maybe thats a step too far for conservative/traditional Anglicans.

On another note, it's great to read Father Ron Smith's comments again - I thought he'd quit the blog. I have a question for Father Ron: You make reference to "the majority of Christians", "other modern Christians" and "most other Christians" - are you referring to Christians who do not associate with the Anglican church or have I missed something in what you've said?

Father Ron Smith said...

I don't think, Mark, that you've actually 'missed' something that has been already said - but that you may be deliberately avoiding it.

What I have said is that the over-whelming majority of Christians in the world know nothing of the Church of England's '39 articles". They have managed to survive and grown in the Faith of Christ Crucified, Risen and Glorified without having to subscribe to the post-Reformation articular faith.

On the contrary, what the majority of Christian in the world (Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) have been nurtured by, is the historic Creeds and Traditions that were part of the evolving of Christianity prior to the European Reformation.

That, together with our different understandings of the Scriptures, has been the basis of Faith - for the majority of Christians who make up the body of Christ, today.

Peter Carrell said...

Well and good, Ron, but that leaves an Anglican scratching my head and asking is there anything distinctive to being Anglican other than being brought up an Anglican. After all, the nurture you talk about is the same whether I am a Presbyterian or an Eastern Orthodox, a Roman Catholic or a Baptist.

It happens that I, and many other Anglicans, see the post-Reformation shape of the Church of England having a distinction or two, captured in the BCP and 39A. Thus we are grateful for that which reminds us why we are Anglicans rather than Romans/Baptists/etc.

Kurt said...


Sorry to bring the red ants to the picnic, but folks Down Under really should try to understand that for many Anglican provinces whose origins are not so English as yours, the Articles of Religion play a very small role in our self-definitions. In the case of Scotland and America, the Articles have been marginal in influence for centuries. These are simply facts—facts which were old long before any of the current theological and liturgical disagreements arose. When I discussed the Articles with folks at our coffee hour after last Sunday’s 11 am Mass, my fellow parishioners simply could not understand Peter’s “stubborn” defense of the Articles; one individual thought it “must be something peculiar to Australian and New Zealand Anglicanism.” For most American Episcopalians the Articles of Religion are simply not defining statements—at least they have not been defining statements since our separation from the Church of England over 230 years ago.

However, I’m going to try and follow Bryden’s advice and see if I can’t get a copy of Oliver O’Donovan’s On the Thirty Nine Articles: A Conversation with Tudor Christanity. Living in NYC I have access to some of the best bookstores in the world, so maybe I can find this in The Strand’s “18 miles of books”! I will make the attempt, Bryden, I promise!

“Well and good, Ron, but that leaves an Anglican scratching my head and asking is there anything distinctive to being Anglican other than being brought up an Anglican.”—Peter Carrell

Of course there is, Peter! Our liturgical tradition, though a part of that of the West in general, has its own unique features. Our prayers are the best in the English language, and are used as models –if not plagiarized outright—by many other denominations. Our choral tradition is famous throughout the world. Our view of the Sacraments is acknowledged as substantially different from that of most of the Protestant denominations. Our view of the ordained Ministry and the role of the Historic Episcopate sets us apart from most other denominations as well. Our Reformed Catholic ethos, as Fr. Ron rightly states, helps us “to pursue those elements of justice and equity that are still too difficult for more conservative [Eastern and Roman] Churches to accede to.” This, I think, is another distinguishing Anglican trait we all should value highly.

While we have a particular theological emphasis here and there, I don’t see us as having a “special Anglican theology” that is essentially different from the historic Catholic and Apostolic Faith. These are strong points, not weaknesses, Peter!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
With the exception of our choral tradition I see nothing in the Anglican distinctives you (rightly) value which is not anchored in either the 39A or the BCP.

We can diminish the value and influence of the great great grandad, whom great great grandma chucked out for being feckless, on the life of our family, but his DNA contribution is no more or less than the other great grandparents.

Even the dear Scottish Episcopalians are not Scottish Presbyterians and the reasons have their roots in that which, apparently, they do not value.

MichaelA said...

"What I have said is that the over-whelming majority of Christians in the world know nothing of the Church of England's '39 articles". They have managed to survive and grown in the Faith of Christ Crucified, Risen and Glorified without having to subscribe to the post-Reformation articular faith.
On the contrary, what the majority of Christian in the world (Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) have been nurtured by, is the historic Creeds and Traditions that were part of the evolving of Christianity prior to the European Reformation."

Fr Ron, you have tried this argument before, and I have pointed out its complete inaccuracy. But still, I am happy to go through it again:

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches are *more* "articular" than we Anglicans, not less.

Take for example, the Roman Catholic Catechism. I appreciate you may not have heard of this, but I can assure you that it does exist, and belief in it is required of Roman Catholics. I suggest reading it (or even a small portion of it, as it is far more vast in its extent than the Anglican Articles of Religion) before making further assertions about the Catholic Church.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, the DNA as you have called our Anglican genius, is indeed there, but we have matured since Great Grand-dad and Grand-ma died.

We did not simply cease to be, we followed our forbears in an evolving succession. Nothing lost in provenance - only in strict particularity.

Roman Catholics. also, have evolved, from the Sale of Indulgences to Nuns without veils.

That's called progression and progress!

MichaelA said...

"folks Down Under really should try to understand that for many Anglican provinces whose origins are not so English as yours, the Articles of Religion play a very small role in our self-definitions."

Hardly any, I would think. And those provinces are mostly quite small, and all are steadily shrinking.

"When I discussed the Articles with folks at our coffee hour after last Sunday’s 11 am Mass, my fellow parishioners simply could not understand Peter’s “stubborn” defense of the Articles; one individual thought it “must be something peculiar to Australian and New Zealand Anglicanism”."

You do realise this says far more about the state of knowledge of your parishioners than it says about Peter? The vast majority of Anglicans in the world subscribe to the Articles of Religion as an essential part of Anglican belief, so I wouldn't be too worried about what is thought in one corner of the Anglican movement in USA.

"Of course there is, Peter! Our liturgical tradition, though a part of that of the West in general, has its own unique features."

And of course most Anglicans see the Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal as the basis of that tradition. Hence why I am proud to be an Anglican.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Fr Ron, you have tried this argument before, and I have pointed out its complete inaccuracy. But still, I am happy to go through it again: The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches are *more* "articular" than we Anglicans, not less." - MicahelA -

I'll try to explain this to you in simpler terms, Michael:

The 39 Articles are/were distinctive to the Church of England, They have no identity shared with the R.C. Catechism.

Besides ACANZP is no longer called the Church of England. We are an independent Province of the Anglican Communion, with our own synods, polity and 3-Tikanga
structure.

We share commonality with the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (the majority of Christians) in the historic Creeds, the 3-fold Ministry and basic doctrine.

Each major Christian group has its own distinctives. The majority do not subscribe to the 39 Articles.

Our Head is Jesus Christ.

Kurt said...

“We share commonality with the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (the majority of Christians) in the historic Creeds, the 3-fold Ministry and basic doctrine.

“Each major Christian group has its own distinctives. The majority do not subscribe to the 39 Articles.

“Our Head is Jesus Christ.”—Fr. Ron

Well said, Father Ron! Those are 21st century Anglican sentiments I can agree with!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY