The year that was and Anglican educationLooking back on 2008 at The Continuum, I would like to summarize the major thrust of my contributions with this simple line: We are Continuing Anglicans because Anglicanism is worth continuing. The opposite point of view was expressed by a significant bishop in one jurisdiction who made the very unfortunate remark that Anglicanism is a 450 year-old experiment, and that the case may be made that the experiment has failed. To this my answer is twofold: Anglicanism is not an experiment at all, and Anglicanism has not failed. The official Anglican Communion has failed in recent decades; mostly it has failed to continue Anglican practice and teaching. But, we are not of the Anglican Communion, since long ago they rejected our efforts to preserve sound teaching and to safeguard the sacraments.
The bishop's unfortunate remark tells me that even some Continuing Anglicans have fallen into a very dangerous trap, and that for different reasons that interact. First of all, we must confront the problem of ignorance. Obviously, many traditional or Catholic Anglicans have never read the works of the English churchmen of the formative period of the 16th and 17th centuries. As a result, they have swallowed a great deal of what our critics have to say, having nothing in their intellectual arsenal with which they may defend their patrimony. The bishop who made the unfortunate remark merely spoke for many such Anglicans who live in desperation because they believe that something extra is needed for sure and certain sacramental validity. They have no confidence in their own heritage, but nonetheless sweat it out the way conservative Episcopalians sweat out the problems of apostasy, heresy, and immorality. They await a day of some future liberation when they may become truly Catholic.
This is, however, a deception. The cause of this deception is that they have adopted medieval Roman definitions, which then develop endlessly into modern Roman definitions, as the standard of what it means to be "Catholic." But, Anglicans have always held the standard of Antiquity, the Tradition of the early centuries and above all Scripture, to provide the standard of Catholic Faith and practice. In line with what I have written several times, and with what Fr. Kirby has written, Roman definitions do not possess the necessary attributes of authenticity and authority to command either our allegiance or our obedience. The genuine meaning of "Protestantism" in the English tradition was not the same as it was on the European continent; it was not about rebuilding the Church as if it needed a foundation dug out and laid all over again. It was about restoring the true Catholic Faith and practice of the Church.
A line from the oft misunderstood Article XXV sums it up well: "Being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles." The subject of the Article was the sacraments, and it should be easy to follow what the English Churchmen were saying. For example, how Anointing for healing (a sacrament that is explained and described in the Epistle of James) became Extreme Unction for the dying involved a corrupting evolution and "doctrinal development" that strayed away from a genuine following of the Apostles. A sacrament for healing, and one that effectually signifies reconciliation to God and his Church, so that a Christian may be fully restored, was corrupted into a sacrament reserved for the deathbed only, and that carried weighty and Pharisaical requirements on anyone who survived and recovered, such as life-long celibacy, no matter what age the person was, or if he were married. A means of grace became a heavy burden of the Law, grievous to be borne. This was a corrupt following, in the same sense as a corrupt manuscript. The sacrament was preserved, but it required a purifying effort to return to the original meaning and purpose. This is what the thinking and theological stance of the English Reformation was about: Returning to what Christ and his Church taught and practiced "from the beginning."1
I have used this Article quite deliberately too, inasmuch as the average reader's ability to understand it perfectly exemplifies the need for education, which is my next, and obviously related point. In fact, it is almost redundant. But, whereas the problem of ignorance is a diagnosis, this is the prescription.
This education will not come from Roman polemicists, because they do not understand Anglicanism, anyway, and because their goal is to convert us to "the One True Church" that we may be saved (rather, the larger of the Two One True Churches). It will not come from modern Evangelicals or Reformed Protestants (i.e. Calvinists), even if they are living in the Doublethink world of confusing their theology with that of the Anglican tradition. The problem is complicated by the strong agreement between those on the right hand or the left as to the beliefs of our Fathers. They have agreed between themselves that the English Reformers were really Calvinists, and one of their number actually tried to argue that the Anglicans did not believe in Apostolic Succession. The absurdity of that claim should provoke laughter, inasmuch as the only arguments for the ecclesiology and sacraments of Continental Protestants ever made by English churchmen, in those centuries, were along the lines of a possible Divine economy, a theory that the sacraments of non-episcopal churches might be valid if the intention was to meet a true emergency. And this theory, which had existed before the Reformation as a matter of speculation among Catholic theologians, eventually died. And the theory had absolutely no effect on the practice and Canon Laws of the Church of England, in which it was never legal for any but those ordained by a bishop in Apostolic Succession, to act as priests.
What has amazed me is this: All of the evidence proves that the Church of England had always Intended to be remain Catholic in every proper sacramental sense, and no evidence exists that can, under scrutiny, contradict this simple fact. And, yet, because Anglicans are urged to turn to the right hand or to the left, and stray from the via media, many of them come to believe that the Roman and the Calvinist polemicists have to be right. This is the danger we have seen expressed in that one bishop's unfortunate remark. The poor man was sincere, and sincerely wrong. And, what is needed now is education.
Our archives (at the Continuum) are full of useful articles to that end, mostly during 2008. And, in the future it is my purpose to follow through on helping to meet the educational need. Anglicanism is worth Continuing, so it is worth learning properly.
1. I make here a deliberate allusion to Matt. 19:8, that demonstrates the same principle.