Skip to comments.Anglican Foundations – have we forgotten them?
Posted on 05/23/2005 5:47:57 PM PDT by sionnsar
A discussion Starter
Until fifty or so years ago, virtually all informed Anglican bishops or leaders, be they high or low church, would agree with the statement of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (d.1626) concerning the foundations of the Faith, Worship, Doctrine, Ministry and Discipline of the Church of England:
One Canon [Of Scripture], reduced to writing by God himself, two Testaments, Three Creeds [Apostles, Nicene & Athanasian], four General Councils [Nicea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431 & Chalcedon 451], five centuries and the series of Fathers [bishops and respected teachers] in the period the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and the two centuries after, determine the boundary of our [Anglican] Faith. (Opusc.Posthuma, p.91)
Here we have a commitment to 1) the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures, whose Canon was fixed by the Early Church; 2) this Canon contains Two Testaments; 3) the truths set forth in Three Creeds; 4) the authority of the first four Ecumenical Councils, which provided the Church with the dogma of the Trinity and the Person of Christ, and confirmed other doctrines such as the Threefold Ministry, Liturgical Worship and the principle of Canon Law; and 5) the providential way that Christ the Lord had guided his Church in space and time in its formative period of five centuries.
Of course, later councils, theologians and saints were not discounted, in terms of the input, example and experience, but the first centuries were seen as unique in that they were first, and thus unique, and they constituted the formative period for the Church. So while there is great respect for Anselm and Thomas Aquinas and for St. Francis and St. Elizabeth of Hungary shown by the Anglican Way, at the same time, there has not been acceptance of the claims of the See of Rome to universal rule, since this was clearly not the case in the first five centuries of the Early Church.
Bishop Andrewes, with other standard divines, saw the Church of England Formularies (the Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer & the Ordinal) as resting upon, and interpreting, this biblical and patristic foundation for the reformed catholic Church of England, and thus for the Anglican Way. Naturally, they accepted that, for each generation and in each culture, there had to be explanation and teaching not only of the contents of the Bible but also of the worship, doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Way. There also had to be application to changing circumstances and new challenges. Thus we may see the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral at the end of the nineteenth century as an application of the principles of the Anglican Way to ecumenical discussion and union. In this document the minimum required for unity with other Churches was stated in terms of four principles, Scripture, Creeds, Sacraments & Ministry.
What Anglicans/Episcopalians witnessed in the late 1960s and especially in the 1970s was a move away from the 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 explained above towards a fascination with and concentration upon the liturgies and statements of faith from the Church of the third century, especially from Hippolytus of Rome. That is, for the period before Constantine the Great and before the developments in dogma, liturgy and the Calendar that occurred during and after his reign. On the basis of this commitment to the liturgy and faith of the third century, liturgists created new services with a new shape and different content, claiming that their model was an authentic model, being nearer to apostolic times and before the secularization and hellenization of Christianity in the Roman Empire which begun with Constantine.
So it is obvious that the classic Formularies, wherein is a commitment to Scripture and to the clear guidance of the first five centuries are in tension with, even at war with, what one has in the new liturgies, which according to their creators, is commitment to the doctrine and liturgy of the third century (when, it is said, the church was pure and placed in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society, similar to our own). Massey H. Shepherd, the primary liturgist in the commission, which produced the 1979 Prayer Book for the ECUSA, was very clear that his/their primary motivation was this desire to create a contemporary, dynamic equivalent of the liturgy & doctrine of the third century (of which our knowledge is much more limited than for that of the fourth and fifth centuries). Did they not often claim that the law of praying is the law of believing?
Those traditionalists who in 1977 left the ECUSA, in part because of the new liturgies and in part because of the ordaining of women, and gathered in St Louis to form the Continuing Anglican Church, accepted the position of Lancelot Andrewes, but only as a starter. They expanded his position, and that of the standard divines of the Anglican Way, by making the summary to read: One Canon, Two Testaments, Two or Three Creeds [Athanasian optional], Seven Councils and at least Seven Centuries. That is, they made acceptance of the fifth, sixth and seventh councils part of their confession of faith, something that had never been done before by a province or synod of the Anglican Way. Certainly, individual divines had stated their acceptance of the dogma of one, two, or all three of these later Councils, but not so Anglican, provincial synods.
Now it may be reasonably claimed that the fifth and sixth simply expand what is taught by the fourth in terms of the Person of Jesus Christ, made known in two natures, human and divine. But the seventh, which authorizes the use of icons of Jesus, Mary and the saints has never gained general acceptance in the Anglican Way. It has however been accepted by anglo-catholic divines since the mid-19th century.
The point being made here is not that the seventh council is wrong in its teaching, but that it is NOT the Anglican method to make its dogma of reverencing of icons compulsory. It is best to leave it optional.
It would seem that on the right and on the left, as it were, Anglicans have forgotten exactly what are their foundations. Regrettably, also, the Network as the reforming movement within the ECUSA, seems not yet to have been able to express its doctrinal basis without wanting to place the 1979 Prayer Book (with its novel commitment to the 3rd century!) a part of that basis. This is hard to understand for the 1979 Book is after all only in reality a Book of Varied Services and not a genuine edition of the classic Book of Common Prayer. In contrast, the AMiA and the REC and some other small jurisdictions have a clearer sense of the historic and classic Anglican Foundations.
If I were asked for a biblical text to set forth what I desire to say, I would choose the word of the Lord through the prophet, Jeremiah. "Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (6:16). I invite my readers to choose the old way, not to bury their heads in the sands of the past, but with the intention of working to see its perfection for the Anglican Way for today and tomorrow.
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