“Are they even Anglican?” “We aren’t Baptists, we’re Episcopalians.” “He’s just a Presbyterian with robes on.” As a Reformation Anglican, you would think I would get used to hearing these kinds of statements. I have to admit, even after over a decade of active leadership in Anglican and Episcopal ministries, it still surprises me when I hear people articulate a monolithic understanding of what Anglicanism is. For this reason, it’s important that we ask the question “What does it mean to be authentically Anglican?” While this question seems straightforward at first, through Anglicanism’s 450 plus years some very different answers have been offered. This series of posts will examine some of the main ways Anglicans have identified themselves through the years.
I must be honest, I am approaching this as a self-identified Reformation Anglican, and I do have a bias as to how Anglicanism should identify itself (not how it does, nor even how it must) and that bias rests on how I define what is meant by “One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” My case here is not to say, however, that Reformation Anglicanism (as we’ll define it in this post) is the only legitimate Anglican identity, but rather to simply make the case that Reformation Anglicanism is a legitimate Anglican identity, that we do have a seat in the boardroom.
It is also my hope that by more clearly lining out the differences with which Anglicans have approached their faith, we might more clearly think about some of the controversies we face. I have a friend who, due to a childhood illness, does not remember anything before her 7th or 8th birthday. She has built her recollection of her childhood largely off of what her family members have told her. There is a significant amount of institutional amnesia in American Anglicanism and it is my hope that we would build our memory not off of what we may have been taught in confirmation class, but on the facts of history itself. We will begin this series with where Anglicanism began
By Reformation Anglicanism, I mean Anglicanism as it developed during the time of the Reformation. Reformation Anglicanism was dominant in the Church of England from the reign of Edward VI through Elizabeth I (of course, with the exception of Mary Tudor’s reign). Reformation Anglicanism was largely formed under the leadership of Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. It claims such heroes as Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, John Jewell, and Richard Hooker to name a few. The doctrine of Reformation Anglicanism is contained mainly in the Edwardian prayer books (1549 and 1552), the Articles of Religion, and the Book of Homilies.
Careful and objective study of these documents seats Anglicanism at this time firmly within the trajectory of the Magisterial Reformation. Later historic revision recast this period as an attempt to pave a middle way (via media) between the church in Rome and the Reformed church in Geneva (led by John Calvin). I believe a careful study of the history and theology of the Anglican Reformers themselves (as opposed to their later historians) will show that if the Church in England were paving any middle way, it was more of a middle point between Calvin’s Geneva and Luther’s Wittenberg. I do not say this as a polemical statement, but rather to say that it is the best interpretation of historical facts. The Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Book of Homilies all clearly articulate a form of doctrine that is much more in line with Reformation doctrine than that of the Roman Catholic Church. (more…)