Anglican History: Anglicanism defended from Puritan Extremists
(In honor of the lesser feast of William Laud, Archbishop and Martyr)
While the forging of the Via Media of Anglicanism began with the liturgical work of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the apologetics of Archbishop Jewel, and the theological genius of Richard Hooker, it was a sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, that sought to put into practice the Reformed Catholicism of Protestant Anglicanism (Clark 1897, 248-300). It was under her reign that the major doctrinal and liturgical disputes in the Church of England were “officially” laid to rest. In keeping with the ideals of the Anglican Reformation, the canons of 1571 directed that all who preach in the name of the Church shall: “. . .see to it that they teach nothing in the way of a sermon, which they would have religiously held and believed by the people, save that what is agreeable to the teaching of the Old and New Testament, and what the catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected from this self-same doctrine.”
Under Elizabeth the liturgy, the Creeds, the historic ministerial Orders of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon would all be preserved in the Church of England. The liturgy of the Church would be simpler and in English (clearly the language of the people, following the ancient custom of national churches as expressions of the Church Catholic; see Article XXIV). In keeping with ancient practice, married clergy would be allowed, although Elizabeth personally disliked the notion (Hibbert 1991). The matter of the Eucharistic presence was not elaborated in the Articles of Religion any further than stating that the Body of Christ is given, taken, and received in the Supper by faith (Article XXVIII). Lutherans and Calvinists could find similarities and common ground with the bare bones theology of the Articles on most points within an ecclesiastical structure that preserved continuity with the pre-Reformation Church.
The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were affirmed (in keeping with the Anglican Reformers) to be effectual signs of grace (Article XXV), not bare tokens only (rejecting Zwingli’s teaching). While the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper was affirmed, transubstantiation was firmly and explicitly rejected (Article XXVIII). Contentious matters like predestination were pronounced upon using the austere language of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Clergy were to wear vestments, namely the surplice for parish churches, surplice and cope for collegiate churches and cathedrals, and use the Prayer Book exclusively, thus providing a common national Use. The first four great Councils of the Church would provide the doctrinal basis for Anglican teaching (Middleton 2001). Essentially, all the basics for a primitive and reformed Catholicism were laid down. It was a lofty ideal. The Church of England was to be a national Church that all Christian people could honestly belong to. It satisfied many, but caused dissent and anger among others.
Queen Elizabeth is purported to have commented that she knew how much the Romans would need to be pleased in the reformed English Church, but she thought that the Puritans would never be pleased—no matter how much she agreed to their demands (Hibbert 1991; Middleton 2001). If this was her mindset, in retrospect she could be pronounced essentially correct. The Puritan element in the Church of England saw the Prayer Book as being culled from the “dunghill of the Mass” and the reformed vestments as being “popish” garb (Bourne 1947). The Church of England, in the Puritan view, was far from being rightly reformed. Episcopacy was seen as a form of prelacy not far removed from Papacy , willfully ignoring that it was the form of church governance as far back as the first century. The Elizabethan appeal to the ancient Catholic past of the English Church, explicit in the use of a fixed liturgy, the maintenance of the Orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, as well as an appeal to patristic theology (the Homilies of the Church of England are punctuated with quotations from the Church Fathers) left many Puritans disquieted and desirous of further change and “reform.”
The English Civil War under the reign of King Charles the First and his Archbishop, William Laud, was a direct result of the goals and ideals of the Elizabethan Settlement and the Puritan resentment it caused. Laud defended the Episcopacy, sought to enforce the use of the Prayer Book, the wearing of vestments, the upkeep of churches, the formal training of ministers, and the use of the King James Bible (Bourne 1947; McGrath 2001). Many historians today see Laud as right in his aim, but heavy handed and errant in the method of his reach (Wedgwood 1958). He was beheaded by a Puritan Parliament for seeking to re-introduce “Popery” into England, and his King was later beheaded as well. Elizabethan Anglicanism, Episcopacy and Prayer Book, was outlawed under the Puritan Commonwealth, only to be brought back at the Restoration under Charles II in 1660. Anglicanism asserted itself again by law, but much less by force as in the days of Elizabeth and Charles. Anglicanism had grown weary of doctrinal disputes, and Puritan sympathies as well as Deist tendencies slowly crept into the Church.
Over the next century Latitudinarianism (an academic approach, at its best broadly orthodox but perhaps a little too philosophical, at its worst Deist and far removed from the relevant issues of Christian orthodoxy) became prevalent in the Church. Distinctly reformed Catholic theology, such as that taught by Cranmer, Jewel, Hooker, and Andrewes was slowly forgotten (although learned men like Bishop Berkeley and William Law resisted the darker aspects of Deism and the overemphasis of Reason in establishing “natural religion”). Anglicanism—broadly speaking—became apathetic concerning its past, in practice often forgetting its own rules and theology. The reformed Catholicism of the Elizabethan Settlement that seemed hard won at the Restoration, with its appeal to the ancient Church and her doctors and martyrs, slowly sunk below the horizon, to be replaced by a Church happy to be the “Established” Church of England. The foregoing might very well be a gross oversimplification of the matter—the essential unity of Anglicanism in England between the years of 1688 and 1832 is stressed—in some detail—by Gibson (2001). Moorman (1983) also attests to the vibrancy of the Church during the 18th century. However, the very existence of extremist Low Church elements within the Church of England that seemed to stand for the very things the Puritan movement stood for argues for a certain doctrinal incoherence within Anglicanism during this period. Teachings concerning the Eucharist, which the Prayer Book describes as the chief act of worship, although in some places it was celebrated only four or five time per year, ran the gamut from the heresy of Zwinglianism—in clear contradiction to the Articles—to the near orthodoxy of Calvin’s teaching (Hall 1993; I say this because most readers today would have difficulty distinguishing Calvin’s teaching on the Eucharist from most quotes from the Henrician Bishop Gardiner), notwithstanding Moorman’s (1983) attestation that there could be no doubt as to the straightforward Anglican teaching in the Prayer Book concerning the Lord’s Supper. The 19th century would see a re-emergence of distinctly “Anglican” theology (in a rediscovery of the works of Hooker, Herbert, Andrewes, etc.) in response to the Evangelical and Oxford Movements (each right in their essentials, but wrong in their extremes).