Mark Chapman is a leading Anglican historian (Cuddesdon, Oxford University) so when he writes I do not dismiss him. Indeed his article in a recent Church Times makes for disturbing reading, in the sense of disturbing sanguine thoughts about Anglican growth and development in its understanding of itself.
Entitled "Lambeth Conference: Early Steps on the Path to Unity", the article opens with this arresting thought for this evangelical-come-I-am-not-ashamed-to-call-myself-Protestant Anglican:
"THE 1920 Lambeth Conference’s “Appeal to All Christian People” is justly famous as a landmark in ecumenical history: it is a bold invitation by the “Bishops of the Holy Catholic Church in full communion with the Church of England” to other Churches to forget “the things which are behind and reaching out towards the goal of a reunited Catholic Church”. This would require them to absorb episcopacy into their systems.
The Appeal, which paved the way for the great United Churches of the Indian sub-continent, was also significant for another reason: it redefines Anglicanism as something that was at its heart both un-Protestant and un-English. The form of religious life which had emerged in England from the 16th century was fundamentally transformed by the Lambeth Appeal: Anglicanism was finally freed from the Protestant religion of the English State and had mutated into a form of non-Roman Catholicism detached from its Reformation roots.
In the whole 1920 Appeal, there is nothing at all about the Book of Common Prayer or the Thirty-Nine Articles. Instead, the Anglicanism expressed in the Appeal is a kind of inclusive Catholic Church without a pope, which seeks to expand its networks in the name of wider unity or Catholicity. This seemed particularly suited to the post-First World War world, which the Appeal called a “new age with a new outlook”. "
This raises the question how 16th century Protestant Anglicanism became early 20th century Catholic Anglicanism. Chapman poses and answers the question:
"SO, HOW is it that a clearly Protestant Church could mutate into something defined by the portentous Catholicity of the Lambeth Appeal? Crucial is the idea of the via media which became increasingly part of Anglican self-definition from the 17th century. Initially used to portray the English Church as filling “in the gapp against Puritanisme and Popery, the Scilla and Charybdis of antient piety”, as Richard Montago put it in 1624, a few centuries later the idea had mutated into a reconceiving of Anglicanism as something opposed to Protestantism altogether.
The leaders of the Oxford Movement agreed: their desire to return to the Early Church was part of a more general desire to rid the Church of England of Protestantism: a form of Anglicanism established on the Early Church, which was the central thrust of the Tracts for the Times, left little space for the Reformation or Protestantism."
Chapman then develops this explanation, bringing into the picture the history and development of the US Episcopal church's self-understanding as a form of Anglicanism, the shattering effects of Vatican 1 on Tractarian hopes of reunion with Rome and the reaction to Vatican 1 which steered some Anglican leaders to rapprochement with the Old Catholics, the shock of WW1 and, finally, openness to dialogue with Eastern Orthodox. Each of these topics is interesting in its own right but I am not worried about them here.
It is Chapman's concluding paragraphs which I want to reflect on this week on ADU:
"The Lambeth Appeal of 1920 was a response to another industrial war, and helped to reshape Anglicanism for the rest of the 20th century: Anglican identity no longer required adherence to anything English or to any Protestant formularies. Instead, it was defined in the most minimal way possible around scripture, creeds, the two dominical sacraments, and the “historic episcopate”. Lambeth 1920 marks the culmination of the “un-Protestantising” and “un-Englishing” of Anglicanism.
The Anglican Communion has lived with the consequences of such a minimal definition ever since. Whether an inclusive version of non-Roman and un-Protestant and un-English Catholicism has a future in today’s crises, only time will tell. What is clear is that many Anglicans have already given up on the idea and want something quite different."
I am unclear what his last sentence means. On the one hand there are certainly Anglicans in the world today (centred on movements such as GAFCON) which do not understand being Anglican as "an inclusive version of non-Roman and un-Protestant and un-English Catholicism" but many such Anglicans have never had that idea and thus are not "given up on the idea and want something different." On the other hand, where there are Anglicans in the world today who have given up on "an inclusive version of non-Roman and un-Protestant and un-English Catholicism", it is not at all clear to me what the "something quite different" is that they want.
That is, I wonder if Chapman's article would come to a clearer conclusion if it acknowledged along the way that strand of Anglicanism which never moved far away from its Protestant heritage from the 16th century - the Anglicanism which included in subsequent centuries the founding of CMS, the inspiring examples of Simeon, Newton and Henry Martyn, the founding of influential seminaries such as Wycliffe Hall and Ridley Hall, the development of "CMS dioceses" in Africa and the influence of the Diocese of Sydney on global Anglicanism?
But, be that criticism as it may, Chapman nevertheless raises the intriguing question whether much of current Anglicanism is well explained as:
"an inclusive version of non-Roman and un-Protestant and un-English Catholicism".
What do you think?
Of course there is a redundancy, actually two, in Chapman's description: to emphasise "Catholicism" is "un-Protestant" and we are talking about Catholic Anglicanism so it is likely to be "non-Roman".
Does his argument boil down to a loss of English character to Catholic Anglicanism?
Not quite, because we need to come back to the word "inclusive," but to the extent that he has brought in the history of the Episcopal church in America, I wonder if he has over cooked his argument re loss of "English" character. Down here in the ex colony of Aotearoa New Zealand, it seems like the Catholic influence on our Anglicanism is very English!
Perhaps the description should read "an inclusive version of a mixed English and American Anglican Catholicism"?
And, about "inclusive"? What does "inclusion" mean in a context of a specific Anglican "party" or "movement" which is advocating for a specific character to be the dominant if not comprehensive character of Anglicanism? Of course, "inclusion" means "all welcome" in Catholic Anglican churches as in people walking through the door but does it also mean "all Anglican styles of liturgical practice" welcome here? Of course not!
There is also, we should observe, an unfortunate description here of the positive force of Anglicanism in mostly negative terms: not Roman, not Protestant, not English!
Again, be that as such verbal particulars may be, Chapman's larger point across both concluding paragraphs is that 20th and 21st century Anglicanism has widest agreement on the minimalist of self-understandings at the expense of a loss of historical moorings into the 16th century - the critical turning point when a church in the Western tradition determined its identity would no longer be Roman in character. And the price being paid, I infer from Chapman's article, is that global Anglicanism is muddled about its future direction. And a final inference is that in that muddle space has been created for an Anglicanism which offers clarity about its self-understanding and continuity in its history with the 16th century: GAFCON and Global South.
If my final inference is correct then Chapman unaccountably leaves out of his account of post 1920 Anglicanism that the majority of global Anglicans are not at all described by "an inclusive version of non-Roman and un-Protestant and un-English Catholicism." At best this is a description of the majority of Anglicans in Western provinces such as those in the UK, North America and Down Under.
Conversely, my own plea through the years of blogging here at ADU is for an Anglicanism that is confident in its own life as a church of God, understanding what it affirms is more than what it negates, building on rather than embarrassingly denying its peculiar history, and constantly evaluating what it thinks is fixed and what is flexible in its ecclesiology.
Further, the Anglicanism I seek to influence - somewhat in line with 1920 currents Chapman highlights - is that which yearns for unity in Christ and consistently acknowledges its unique placement within diverse ecclesiologies to bridge Catholic and Protestant, and even East and West.
Dreams are free!
If you want something less challenging for the Anglican grey matter this week, then bask in the blessing of "The Blessing: Aotearoa"!