Tag Archives: Anglican

Advantages of the English Reformation over Others?

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I am not sure a comparison between Cranmer and Hooker’s gradual approach and the Continental Reformers’ approach to the reformation of the Church is a fair one. The English Reformation already had the benefit of Reformers and Protestant states on the Continent with which to make alliances and unite as feasible in common cause. Whereas the Continent was rife with civil wars in both the Empire and France, England being peripheral to Europe could better afford to reform its part of the Church without being overrun by invaders. Thanks to English naval strength after the destruction of the Spanish Armada, even the existential threats faced by England for the next centuries seem more often to have been about the prospect than about the reality of being overrun by popish armies and (as ‘God Save the King’ originally said) popish tricks.

Nevertheless, the English Reformation does seem to have worked with the existing commonwealth in ways that the Continental Reformers seem not have done. The first vernacular piece of liturgy, the Litany, was introduced in 1544, and the Sarum Mass (in Latin) was retained until 1549, long after Protestant doctrine had begun to leaven English society in sermons and official statements of church doctrine. Even the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, though Reformed in its doctrinal basis, was so written that Bishop Gardiner was able to claim it plausibly for unreformed doctrine; and only upon that challenge, and with the advice of Bucer, Vermigli, and others for a clearer statement, did Cranmer put together the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. Even at this pace, the 1549 Book of Common Prayer sparked revolts in Devon and Cornwall; still less could a more sudden change have hoped to avoid convulsing the nation. Because of this politic pace and the place of the Prayer Book in reformation, Englishmen retained their old loyalty to the Church as such rather than to what appeared to be the doctrine of some particular men, which in my judgement remains a great asset today.

Indeed, a great deal of the Sarum mass and offices was not in itself unconscionable, but only relatively conducive to beliefs and practices that were unconscionable. These forms of services were, in other words, adiaphora: in themselves indifferent, though in need of alteration according to the freedom of the Church to frame services toward ædification according to the general teaching of Scripture. The concept of things indifferent in worship was recognized by the Continental Reformers, of course, since they were themselves able to accept local differences in worship and even to defend England’s forms as acceptable for a Reformed church. All the same, England’s emphasis on treating these adiaphora prudently has lent itself to an easily understood sense that no new church was forged in the Reformation, only a cleansing made of the extant Church. On the popular level, I think, such an understanding is necessary, especially in times when the world is changing fast; strangely, perhaps, this kind of careful conservatism helps the Church adapt to changes in the world because its members understand the organism as one that has survived through challenging times with its life and biblical witness intact.

Decrees of the Church to Be Kept as Wisdom

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A high churchman’s conviction that holds the old decrees and customs of the Church in high regard is not unreformed, nor among the Reformed churches is such a conviction unique to Anglicans. Thus says Girolamo Zanchi in De Religione Christiana Fides:

For I beleeve that the thinges which were decreed and received of the fathers, by common consent of them all gathered together in the name of the Lord, without anie contradiction of holie scriptures, that they also (though they bee not of equall authoritie with the scriptures) come from the Holie ghost.

He speaks similarly in his Operum Theologicorum, intended to be a Protestant ‘summa’ modelled after that of St Thomas Aquinas, in the section on the traditions of the church:

Thesis 3. Moreover, just as political laws have their origin in natural law, so, too, the traditions of the church have their origin both from the Holy Spirit (as in the case of the apostles) and from the written Word of God (as in the case of the holy bishops and synods).

[…]

Thesis 4. Therefore, as long as these traditions are either consistent with Scripture or at least not contradictory to it, they are truly the traditions of the Church and must be accepted. And we ought to obey and honor them.

Thus did the fathers of the Council of Jerusalem speak, as St Luke records by the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles:

Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us [emphasis mine], to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.

Therefore, such decrees received from the Holy Ghost, consonant with what he breathes out in the holy Scriptures, are also reverently to be kept until altered under the law of Scripture, and of nature, by duly appointed authority.

Decrees and recognition of adiaphora

Yet reverence for what we have received is not always simple. St Paul tells the Corinthians,

Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him. As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

If what St Paul teaches is as true as the words of the Apostolic Decree recorded by St Luke, then the matter seems less simple than that decrees of the Church should be obeyed religiously, as a matter of religion strictly. To acknowledge this complexity we are forced all the more if, as historians believe, 1 Corinthians was written a few years after the Apostolic Decree was sent out. Here, the Council of Jerusalem’s decree to abstain from meats (i.e., in today’s English, foods) offered to idols is not the basis of St Paul’s argument at all, though he should know of it. Instead, he treats an idol as nothing in itself: As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world. Thus, that some food has been sacrificed to idols is also nothing in itself: it is the weak conscience that is defiled by eating what has been offered to idols. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. The matter in itself St Paul as adiaphoron, a thing indifferent.

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But it makes little sense that a decree recorded many years after in Acts should be nothing to St Paul writing to the Corinthians. After all, the Council of Jerusalem was summoned in the first place because of his disputation against Judaizers in the Church, and at this council he and Barnabas declared what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. The letter promulgating the Apostolic Decree was sent with them at least ‘unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia’, and there is no reason to suppose that the decree’s compass would have excluded the Gentiles of Corinth. There is no room for doubt that St Paul knew of the decree and followed it in his ministry to the Gentiles.

St Paul’s way of arguing for adhærence to the Apostolic Decree, then, is instructive. Nowhere is his persuasion of this sort:

 The Church has ruled against eating what is offered to idols.
 What the Church has ruled, the Corinthians should obey.
 The Corinthians should not eat what is offered to idols.

Instead, he recognizes a basic Christian freedom but urges the Corinthians of ‘stronger’ consciences to take heed lest by any means their liberty become a stumbling-block to those of ‘weaker’ consciences. Otherwise, when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. How St Paul argues for the Apostolic Decree is how Richard Hooker, writing fifteen centuries later, argues for the reformed Church of England’s episcopacy, liturgy, and canons. On the Apostolic Decree, he can easily be read in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, particularly in book 4; on the settlement of the Church of England as it then stood, throughout the eight books. ‘The end which is aimed at in setting down the outward form of all religious actions’, Hooker says, ‘is the edification of the Church.’ It is not, then, a mere matter of obedience to divinely ordained authority, as if any arbitrary judgement can be taken for that of the Holy Ghost, but a matter of submitting to an intelligible wisdom.

Introduction to Family Devotions

Reproduced below is the introduction to Family Devotions, from the Book of Common Prayer: With prayers at the communion, from bishops Taylor, Ken, and Beveridge, compiled by Thomas Stephen in 1841. Since this Mr Stephen was also the author of The Confession of Faith of the Church of England in the Thirty-nine Articles, and in the piece below refers to the prayer of ‘the Reformed Catholic Church’, we can well be assured of his commitment to the scriptural piety that is the standard of the Church of England.

* * *

An established religion is as necessary and useful in a family, which is a little kingdom, as in the state. In both, the voluntary system is pernicious, and will not be found to work well; for what is left to the good pleasure of every man’s own discretion will perhaps be left entirely undone. The learned and pious Dr. Doddridge has very justly remarked – ‘that, if any had rather that a family should be prayerless than that a well chosen form should be gravely and solemnly read in it, I think he judges as absurdly as if he would rather see them starving to death, than fed out of a dish whose materials or shape are disagreeable to him.’ Many, from early prejudice, object to forms of prayer; and many, on the other hand, are incapable of conducting their family devotions without a form. Set forms of prayer have many advantages; but, of all forms, the Book of Common Prayer is incomparably the best. Eloquence is a gift of God which few men possess; neither is it necessary in divine worship. Aaron was a most eloquent man, and had the gift of a fine and ready utterance; yet Moses, who was ‘slow of speech and of a slow tongue’, was appointed to instruct him what to say. It is not, therefore, eloquence, but faith and repentance, with obedience and humility, that are necessary in our devotions. Continue reading

Anglican Devotion in the Family

This post is not an original, but a reproduction of a piece by the Rev. Canon Arthur Middleton, Emeritus Canon of Durham.

A bishop’s concern

In his biography, Robert Nelson recorded that before he died, Bishop George Bull (1634–1710) thought he might send his clergy a circular letter, to recommend to them some methods for promoting virtue and piety in his diocese. He died before it was sent. He wanted to promote the salvation of souls committed to his care by an increase of piety and virtue. ‘The first thing therefore that I would recommend to you, and which I do earnestly exhort you to, is to apply yourselves with great diligence to establish the practice of family devotion in all the families of your respective parishes. I need not prove to you … that nothing helpeth more to keep up a sense of religion in the minds of men, than a serious, reverent, and constant performance of this necessary duty; whereby both the glory of God is much advanced, and many blessings do also accrue to those who in this manner daily adore and praise their Creator, the lover of souls.’ He goes on to recommend some small and cheaply priced books, which explain and press this duty and include forms for the performance of it. The importance of family devotions cannot be over-estimated though what a momentous task this seems in the twenty-first century, yet fifty years ago the Roman Catholic Church in this country was engaged in a mission to their members which had the catchphrase, ‘The family that prays together stays together.’
Continue reading

PEARUSA Ending Membership in Anglican Church of Rwanda (PEAR)

Joel Martin has alerted me to PEARUSA churches’ ending formal ecclesiastical ties with the Province de l’Église Anglicane au Rwanda (PEAR) and becoming full members of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). This is good news, but it remains for the orthodox Anglican churches to speak out against PEAR bishops’ complicity in the high crimes of the Rwandan magistracy.

A Few Words on the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui

I am Erastian by Christian conviction. I also think screwing your courage to the sticking place is Christian. Too many clerics, Erastian or otherwise, have used the heavenly nature of the Kingdom of God as an excuse to avoid saying anything specific about politics – indeed, about real life after the harmonies of Tallis have resolved their final chords. It is not my place to tell them to support more democratic nominations in Hong Kong, but it is the preserve of the pusillanimous to say nothing that will offend anyone outside of the æthereal pieties of the liturgy. Perhaps the clergy will remember that abortion and racial segregation are also matters of politics, and that justification by faith alone is not licence to be silent about the way we are to order our societies according to the justice of God. When instead of debating matters vigorously in the Church we have an archbishop whose words and policies have chilled discussion, and left the work to the Romanists and the Baptists, I say, Ephphatha.