The Anglican Itch
The Church of England and the Anglican “communion” have always fascinated me. I received my M.Div. from an Episcopal Seminary, and wrote my dissertation and first book (I am working on several seconds) on bishop John Jewel, the leading theological light of Elizabeth I’s first decade, and the chief defender of the 1559 Elizabethan Settlement. My brother William is a rector of the Faith Reformed Episcopal church in Baltimore. I have loved reading Anglicans, from Cranmer to Mascall, from Ridley to Dix, they are all grand and often edifying reads (especially the second of each pair). I have a picture of Edward B. Pusey on my office door, right next to a picture of the grand library at Pusey House, in Oxford. But I should note, and it was purposeful, that I did not include Bishop Jewel among those that I liked to read.
You should also notice that neither Ridley nor Cranmer would have any truck for Mascall or Dix (nor the other way round). The reason for this is that both Mascall and Dix were Anglo-Catholics, men who saw the Reformation as a colossal monstrosity. They would not have disagreed that late medieval Catholicism needed reform, but they would have had a church more like Henry VIII’s than Edward VI’s or Elizabeth I’s. Mascall himself was ready to go to Rome had not death taken him first. As anyone who looks at Anglicanism knows, it is broad enough to take in anyone along the theological gamut from Cranmer to Mascall, and it seems wholly a broad church, liberal in the best sense. But Jewel ripped the mask off for me, for he, as well as Cranmer and Ridley would never have countenanced such as Mascall and Dix. In reading the Bishop of Salisbury I saw that what Jewel, Ridley, and Cranmer wanted, and what they got, were completely different things: Jewel wanted a church like Zurich’s, Reformed and well-ordered, and adhering to the standards of theology current there. Instead what he got was what he called a “leaden mediocrity.” Jewel nonetheless took up his pen in defense of this not-so-golden mean, and in so doing made an ecclesiastical wasteland which would eventually come to encompass anything: from believing that which was held by everyone, everywhere at every time, it has turned into that which can be believed by anyone, anywhere at any time. It was in the Church of England’s birth that this antinomy emerged, that is, in the 1559 Settlement. Though the term was unknown, raison d’etat governed what was birthed out of parliament. Elizabeth got exactly what she wanted (see Norm Jones wonderful text, Faith by Statute).
This brings me to a rather curious post at The Conciliar Anglican. Here we have a modern Anglican, clearly not an Anglo-Catholic in the mold of Mascall or Dix, who wishes to keep his flock from bolting Anglicanism for Orthodoxy, and holds forth on why they should stay. After reading his essay, and correcting his mistakes and misreadings of what Orthodoxy teaches and says, it seems more an apology of why one should leave Anglicanism as quickly as possible.
First, his take on what Orthodoxy teaches about Scripture is special pleading and begged questions, especially the rather poisonous assertion that “. . . the decisions of the Church through the ages, the icons, the canon laws, the architecture, and even the music are in some sense inspired and must be weighed against the biblical witness when establishing doctrine.” From what Orthodox writer he took this I know not, for none would have said such a thing. Scripture taken with these earlier items (though I don’t know what he means by “music” unless it is to say hymnody) form the basis of our life. He seems completely to have missed the quote he took from Fr. Hopko: Tradition is the life of the Church. If I can flesh this out, or better put it, Incarnationalize it, we would say that Tradition is the continuous presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in His Body, the Church.
Both Christ and His Church predate Holy Scripture, whether the Old or the New Testament. Let us confine ourselves here to the New Testament. I believe it was in dom Gregory Dix that I first every read that the Church came to see the expiatory nature of the crucifixion through the expiatory nature of the Eucharist. It was the rule of Faith as found in the Eucharistic Liturgy that informed the rule of faith about Christ’s death. But what came first, the Eucharist, or Holy Scripture? Obviously the Eucharist. Who gave us this first as an unwritten rule? It was Christ Himself who handed this over to us. Thus tradition (which literally means “that which is handed over”) exits first in Christ (who is handed over to us by the Father), and then in what He leaves as a deposit with the disciples, and then they to those who come after them: “O Timothy! Guard the deposit entrusted to you” (I Timothy 6:20).
The Fathers of the Church recognized that this deposit was more than Scripture, but certainly never “against the biblical witness.” You can find the term “rule of faith” meaning something other than Holy Writ in Ss. Irenaeus, Athanasius, Basil the Great, inter alios, and especially in Tertullian. How did the Church know what books to include in the ‘canon’? Because they already had a canon, the apostolic deposit. There is no conflict between the two unless you come at Scripture with assumptions wholly other than those found in the Apostolic Church, which sadly, is what so many in Protestantism do. They come about as a reaction to late Medieval Catholic abuses, take up what they believe is the raw data of Christianity, and then read into it their own assumptions, which brings me to my next point, but the articles fourth, namely justification by faith alone.
As most Orthodox I know could tell you, the Bible does talk about justification by faith alone, and the phrase is actually used in the New Testament, once (never in the Old). I have asked my students where it is and get the same litany of answers every time: Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, John, Hebrews. And then finally they look and ask “Where?” In James.
That we are not justified by the works of the law, that is by some covenant of “this do and live” is obvious, for works in that context bespeaks having some sort of claim or binding obligation against God. But as also any informed Orthodox will tell you, we cannot obligate God, for the problem is not a lack of merit or lack of doing good (though this is a problem and we do sin constantly in deed, word, and thought), but that we are cut off from Life. It wouldn’t matter if I never sin, I am still cut off from God and am in need of Life, meaning I need to be united to and with Christ, who is Life Himself.
When St. Paul puts works in opposition to faith, it is not to say works have no value, nor that we cannot please God, but that we cannot obtain God’s mercy through them. Justification by faith (which is the same as saying “being made righteous by faith”) is not the same as justification by faith alone, for even St. Paul admits that faith is in need of love, faith is less than love, and that faith to move mountains is inadequate without love. On top of that, as he says in Galatians, love completes faith’s imperfections. Thus Fr. Jonathan’s assertion in the last part of his essay is correct, the Orthodox have no doctrine of forensic justification; but I would have to say “So? We are being condemned for not holding to something the Scriptures don’t teach?” For the Orthodox the doctrine of forensic justification, that justification is an act of God whereby I am declared righteous based on the merits of Christ, is a sixteenth-century interpolation on the Gospel, based upon an epistemology completely foreign to the ancient world. Who prior to the Reformers taught this? Granted, justification by faith alone was taught before this: it was taught by the heretic Marcion who denounced the place of the sacraments in salvation, but I hardly call that a catholic pedigree.
Fr. Jonathan also goes on about the filioque (the phrase added to the Creed that the Spirit proceeds “from the Father and the Son”), but I find this also a bit perplexing (N.B., he links to another article he wrote in the matter). The only verse in the Bible that speaks of the Spirit’s procession (John 15:26) says only that he proceeds from the Father. There are any number of books on this matter, indeed legion, of Rome’s shifting on this, and its confrontations with the Orthodox Church. I will just note one thing. Since the Scripture speaks only passingly on this, but the Fathers of the Church sought to put this in the Creed as simply “proceeds from the Father” as the means thereby to establish that the Spirit draws His divinity as does the Son from the Father, why make the addition of the superfluous filioque to the Creed, when it is clear that this is not something “affirmed at all times, everywhere, and by everyone.”
Fr. Jonathan then goes on to say that since the offending term lacks conciliar authority it should be dropped, and indeed Anglicanism worldwide has moved in this direction. So what exactly is he arguing in saying that the filioque is a reason to stay Anglican? But even more perplexing is that he wishes to pontificate on this and is wholly ignorant of the Orthodox position. First, when he explains his take on the filioque it is nothing but an explanation along economic and immanent lines: that Christ sends the Spirit from the Father with respect to the economy of salvation. Every Orthodox affirms this, and our point has to do not with the sending of the Spirit in the work of salvation, but the eternal origins of the divinity of the Spirit.
His confusion seems heightened when he quotes William Sherlock on the matter that there should be a union of person as well as nature in the Trinity. Why? What he (Fr. Jonathan) fails to see is that the imposition of the filioque at the Council of Toledo in 589 (not 587) had a confusion of person and nature at its very root. To posit that generating divinity is a mark of divinity (what the council was doing), they first made the Spirit a lesser deity (what person of the godhead does the Spirit then generate so that He has authentic divinity bona fides?), but also they made generating a property of divinity and not the property of the Father. Fr. Jonathan fails to see that what is shared, what is common, is natural. Thus the Spirit, not sharing in this shared property, is naturally not God. What he doesn’t seem to get is that the Creed clearly is speaking about the procession from all eternity of the Spirit, that is, the source of His divinity is solely from the Father. Again, though, I am not always sure what he is arguing for in his post on the Creed he says “All churches in the west today, Catholic or Protestant, that continue to recognize the authority of the Nicene Creed also continue to recite it with the filioque clause included,” but by the end of the article he is asserting that Anglicans have agreed to delete it. I will pick this up at the end of the post.
Lastly, Fr. Jonathan talks about “the need for Reformation.” So, does everything the Church has affirmed stand subject to the dictum (the Protestant canon of truth and doctrinal authority) semper reformanda? He says as much, that “in every era there will be heresy in the Church that will need to be corrected through reform, through returning to first principles, through returning to the Scriptures and the mind of the early Church.” But the whole section is fraught with, again, special pleading (“Some Orthodox…”) He builds his case around what he thinks some Orthodox mean by schism, and then attacks his straw man, to assert what the Orthodox teach when he has no idea what it is the Orthodox do teach on this matter.
First, the link he cites never asserts what he says it does. Secondly, there is a great deal of difference between schism and defection from the faith. There have been Patriarchs (e.g., Nestorius and Pyrrhus) who have defected from the faith, but these men are not the Church, nor do they represent the Church which condemned them and their teachings. This is an aside to the larger point: reformation. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, the living body of the living Christ, vivified by Him through the Spirit. If Christ’s promise that the Spirit will lead us into all truth and that He will remain with us forever are to mean anything than we need to know who and what the Church is. By his own admission, Anglicanism ain’t it. Its needed reformation, that is, it needed to be reconstituted by severing itself from the Church itself (the Elizabethan Settlement made it a point of oath that no bishop’s authority anywhere but in England could be recognized). Further, as Chesterton said, Tradition is not the dead faith of the living, but the living faith of the dead. Why? Because Tradition is rooted in the Life of Christ, and it is this continued life that exists in the Orthodox Church, the Faith delivered once and for all to the saints.
Many Anglicans take such pains to keep themselves Anglicans. I know of one who now would rather keep the term Anglican than the term Catholic. But at bottom it comes down to whether you want to stand with the Church catholic, or with those who seek to define themselves in opposition to it: “Oh, we are just like the Orthodox, except we have freed ourselves from idolatry (i.e., we don’t worship icons).” Yet ultimately these are not rejecting idolatry, but the definition of idolatry that the Orthodox (and Catholic) Church has accepted down to this day that icons are not idols, i.e., they want to accept their own definition of idolatry so that they can justify their declension from the Orthodox faith (to be fair, Fr. Jonathan is not, as best I can tell, an iconoclast). This is nothing but Catholicism and Orthodoxy on Anglican terms, which isn’t Catholic or Orthodox at all. It’s kind of like the wife who says, “I will submit to my husband when he’s right.”
But the case of the Anglican church is indeed more dire than this. At the beginning of my essay I mentioned both Cranmer and Dix, who faithful Anglicans can look to both as teachers of the Anglican patrimony. But of course there are a great many others in Anglicanism who would see those who hold to them as nothing but reactionaries, conservatives who have been left behind by the Zeitgeist. If Anglicanism is anything, alas it is nothing, for what am I to believe about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements? If I am an Anglican I can believe anything I wish. What about apostolic succession? Anything I wish. What about baptismal regeneration? Again, anything. What about priestesses in the Church? Many faithful would denounce it, but the vast majority see nothing wrong with it. So what if it breaks catholic order? We can simply unilaterally decide, apart from the rest of the Church, that it’s OK. If Fr. Jonathan wants to say that this is not Anglicanism—well, based on what? Sadly, certainly not Anglicanism. For if the Eucharist and bishops and baptism are all optional with respect to their catholic meaning, how can holy orders not fall under that same rubric?
Again, I have a debt to Anglicans. I know that many are faithful who have suffered mentally and emotionally to try to keep their faith intact. My points here are not that good and faithful people are not to be found among the Anglicans, but that Anglicanism itself suffers from a lack of true catholicity. There are certainly catholic and orthodox people within it (I need only think of my brother), but is it where the Orthodox Catholic Church is to be found?
Dr. Cyril (Gary) Jenkins is John H. Van Gorden Professor in History and History Department Chair at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and a member of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.