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The lost secret of Anglicanism

Be honest, when you hear the name John Jebb, you don’t immediately picture an early nineteenth-century Irish Anglican bishop. I picture a guest star from The Dukes of Hazard (“Well, it looks like the boys have gotten in some trouble now, but hopefully old John Jebb can get them out … ”). Even for Anglicans, Jebb is not a familiar name. His work does not garner a place on the curriculum in many seminaries, let alone inquirers’ classes in parishes. Yet his 1815 tract on the Peculiar Character of the Church of England gives arguably the most clear and succinct apologetic for Anglicanism ever written.

According to Jebb, what makes the Church of England different from all other Christian communions is her teaching that Christian doctrine is to be derived from Scripture first, but not alone:

The Church of England, in the first instance, and as her grand foundation, derives all obligatory matters of faith, that is, to use her own expression, all “that is to be believed for necessity of salvation,” from the scripture alone: and herein, she differs from the Church of Rome. But she systematically resorts to the concurrent sense of the Church Catholic, both for assistance in the interpretation of the sacred text, and for guidance in those matters of religion which the text has left at large: and herein, she differs from every other reformed communion.

Jebb says this “principle is our church’s special characteristic,” by which, unlike all other Christian churches, the Church of England has been able to inculcate in her members “discursiveness with consistency, freedom of inquiry with orthodoxy of belief, and vigorous good sense with primitive and elevated piety.” To be sure, much of this is hagiography mixed with an overly simplistic and unfairly polemical view of the teachings of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Nonetheless, Jebb goes on to illustrate — using primarily the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion — that the reformed Catholicism of the Church of England is something rare and precious, something that Anglicans ought to celebrate and fight to protect. Jebb’s perspective on this was not new, although in our own time it has become rare. Jebb was simply taking up the mantle of the 17th-century Anglican divines who were his chief influences and heroes.

Jebb’s understanding of the uniqueness of Anglican doctrine runs counter to the narrative popularized in the twentieth century that there is no such thing as Anglican doctrine. As Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher famously put it:

We have no doctrine of our own. We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and these creeds we hold without addition or diminution.

Jebb would have had no quarrel with the second part of Fisher’s statement. Jebb believed that Anglicanism teaches the Catholic faith, given in the Catholic Creeds, and held without extras. His argument was not that Anglicanism is novel in what it teaches, but that in the divided state of the Church since the Reformation, Anglicanism has been blessed with the charism of preserving a bedrock theological principle that has been obscured to one degree or another in other places.

Jebb’s view also runs contrary to that other great twentieth-century innovation in how we Anglicans understand ourselves, the notion of an ever expanding “comprehensiveness.” According to the comprehensiveness narrative, Anglicanism’s great purpose is to create a Church in which everyone has his or her own doctrine and none of it matters. As Bishop J.C. Wand put it in his 1962 book Anglicanism in History & Today:

It is surely a good, even a splendid, thing, to have groups of people so unwilling to surrender any particle of the truth as they see it, and yet maintaining their unity in one communion and fellowship.

While Anglo-Catholics continue to hold onto the Fisher model, Liberal Anglicans and many Evangelical Anglicans have embraced Wand’s perspective that unity is worth the price of theological incoherence. Neither Jebb nor his predecessors in the 17th century would have been able to understand this argument, let alone respond to it. It is ludicrous on its face and runs counter to what even the most extreme partisans of the prior century and a half would have said. Yet despite having no historical basis whatsoever, this idea has captured large swaths of the modern Anglican Churches and continues to hold them captive.

My own experience of both the Fisher and Wand approaches left me shipwrecked some years ago, unsure of my place as an Anglican Christian. Having been raised Roman Catholic, I had found in my entry into the Episcopal Church in college a whole tradition of Catholic faith and practice that looked nothing like the guitar Masses, boring homilies, and kitsch that had colored my childhood experience of church. Yet, as I began to see how radically different Anglicans of one stripe or another approached the faith, I began to wonder if I had not walked into a house of mirrors. What does it mean to be Anglican? Is there any real substance to it or is it all just a sham? My ruminations left me dangerously close to the edges of the Tiber and the Bosphorus, looking wistfully towards Rome and the East as places that seemed to have it all figured out, even if they had not yet figured out quite what to make of each other.

Then, on retreat at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in 2009, I stumbled upon a copy of More and Cross’s Anglicanism, a compendium of writings from the great Anglican thinkers of the seventeenth century on all manner of topics. I was surprised to learn that there had been anybody at all worth reading between Richard Hooker and the Fathers of the Oxford Movement. I read voraciously, following the citations back to their sources and reading the original writings of Jeremy Taylor, William Beveridge, Herbert Thorndike, John Cosin, and many others. I followed the thread of their thought backward and rediscovered Reformation figures like John Jewel and Nicholas Ridley. I also followed it forward and dove into Peter Gunning, Joseph Butler, and eventually John Jebb. In the writing of these figures, I found what I would call today classical Anglicanism. It is a well of almost inexhaustible depth.

In January of 2011, my exploration prompted me to create a blog to try to document what I was discovering. I figured no one would care much about such an obscure topic. I was wrong. Four years later, the Conciliar Anglican continues to get a large amount of daily traffic, even though my posting there has slowed down considerably. I also continue to get questions emailed to me from all over the world by young men and women who are hungry for what classical Anglicanism has to offer. All that interest just from me dusting off some old books and copying what they have to say.

Claiming that Anglicanism actually is something is not always popular. In fact, it seems often to confuse people. Evangelicals write me off as too Catholic, and Anglo-Catholics as too Evangelical. Yet the writing of the early Anglo-Catholic movement, particularly that of E.B. Pusey, is highly influenced by classical Anglicanism, including Jebb’s tract. Similar appeals to classical Anglicanism are found in early Anglican Evangelicals like Charles Simeon who saw in the prayer book the means for creating the very renewal in the life of the Church that they hoped to see come to light. It is only in the many years since the founding of these movements that they have become self-contained, drawing their theology from sources outside of Anglicanism first and looking towards Anglican history only as an afterthought.

Some people may question whether it is fair to identify any one stream of theology and practice in the history of the Anglican Churches as the classical Anglicanism. After all, there has never been just one Anglicanism, but multiple movements within the Anglican Churches competing for attention. There is some truth to this, yet I believe it is fair to say that the approach forwarded by men like Jebb actually is Anglicanism qua Anglicanism. Unlike all of the other movements that have wrestled for the heart of Anglicanism, only the Jebb school actually views Anglicanism as already being a complete and viable theology on its own. That is to say, while the Puritans thought that the Anglican Reformation did not go far enough and some schools of Anglo-Catholicism felt (and still feel) that it went too far, the Jebb approach joyfully proclaims that the Anglican Reformation did exactly what it should have done.

Thus, the Jebb school builds itself upon the Anglican formularies as they arose out of the Elizabethan Settlement: The Book of Common Prayer from 1559 onward, the Ordinal, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Catechism, and in a slightly different way the Books of Homilies. Classical Anglicanism does not look on any of these as perfect and therefore never in need of interpretation or reform. They are, of course, products of their time, and the idea that they would need to be revised on occasion was woven into them from the beginning. Nevertheless, they are our starting point for any serious reflection on what it means to be Anglican Christians. They are not merely relics of history to be tossed aside on a whim or blatantly contradicted. They are our shared inheritance as Anglicans. The prayer book in particular is our magisterium.

There is, understandably, some great hesitance among many contemporary Anglicans to admit that Anglicanism has something unique at its heart. For some, that hesitance comes from worrying that if Anglicanism is unique then it must be just another denomination built upon an idea that no one ever had prior to the sixteenth century. For others, the hesitance is that we will lose our party distinctiveness, as well as our individual freedom, if we must suffer the yoke of another layer of authority.

Both concerns are unfounded. The simple reality of holding a unique position does not reduce us to just another sect, particularly if Jebb’s claims about the Anglican principle hold true. What Anglicanism offers us is a place where a key element of the Catholic faith has been carried on and preserved. Other parts of the Body of Christ have their own gems to offer, but this is ours. Likewise, we need not fear that embracing classical Anglicanism means erasing the distinctiveness of Anglo-Catholicism or Evangelicalism. Rather, it means restoring them to what they were both meant to be in the first place: reform movements that were designed to bring Anglicanism back to its classical roots and recover something important which had become obscured.

We do not need to be ashamed of being Anglicans. Nor should we act as if Anglicanism is just some convenient perch for us to land on until something better comes along. It is so much more than that. It is beautiful and it is holy. It is a gift from God for the sake of the Church and the world.

Fr. Jonathan Mitchican is rector of Church of the Holy Comforter in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. His other Covenant posts are here


  1. Fr Jonathan,

    Thank you, as ever.

    I would agree with you that it’s lame and amnestic to hold (1) that Anglicans are merely popeless and (2) pan-theological: “lame,” i.e. indefensible/uninteresting, and amnestic, i.e. ignorant of our past (and present?) claims.

    But your constructive account needs some filling out and correcting. I would say, briefly:

    1. that the Jebb view seems so appealing is because it is simply true on generally Christian (and Catholic) grounds; and it in fact has achieved something like an ecumenical consensus since he was writing.

    2. Part of what happened here was a massive ecumenical influence of Anglicanism in the late-19th century, and then for most of the 20th.

    3. Add to that the reform of Rome herself along mostly Jebbian lines; or, more properly and precisely: Jebb’s view is something like a mainstream patristical view, even repeated and codified in the medieval period. We can say this as we–in seminary education in many places (like our own Yale Divinity School)–have read more widely in the earlier tradition, steeping ourselves in patristic thought, and no longer leaping over the medieval period in a fit of Protestant prejudice.

    4. Indeed, Jebb (unwittingly, I presume) repeats Aquinas’s view, in the opening quotation. We should revise it like so: “The Catholic Church, in the first instance, and as her grand foundation, derives all obligatory matter of faith, that is, to use her own expression, all “that is to be believed for necessity of salvation,” from the scripture alone: and herein, she differs from [no church, at Aquinas’s time]. But she systematically resorts to the concurrent sense of the Church Catholic, both for assistance in the interpretation of the sacred text, and for guidance in those matters of religion which the text has left at large: and herein, she differs from certain “post-Catholic” heirs of the Reformation, notwithstanding the good examples of Luther and especially Calvin, and the fact that all churches and communities in the west are evidently ever-reforming.

    In short, Jebb is right constructively/theologically, but he needs correction and filling out historically, in light of the intervening 200 years, not least in their careful rereading and re-appropriation of the first 1,500 years of Christian theology. So, e.g., the “ecumenical reception” of many medieval theologians in the late-20th century, which theologians would not have been part of the curriculum in most “Protestant” churches after the 16th century. And part of the work here has included re-readings of medievals by Roman Catholics in non-standard ways compared to 16th-century polemics. That Aquinas’s biblical commentaries were not translated into English till the last generation is telling: the scripturalist Thomas was little known or valorized in mainstream circles.

    In light of this point–that history carried on, and all of the churches continued to be arranged relative to one another under pressure of the ecumenical movement–your accounts of Wand and Fisher likewise need adjusting. Something like Fisher’s statement actually looks more true, e.g., if Jebb’s “constructive” account turns out mostly to be conservative of the foregoing tradition and not original or new.

    Bottom line: (1) The theology that you want to be “classically Anglican” is so, and deserves rereading, remembering, and valorizing. (2) But its own self-situation, esp. when it comes polemically packaged as in Jebb–contra Rome on the one hand, contra other reformed churches on the other–needs to be dropped, since it misses the mark both sociologically (as a description of these other churches 200 years on) and historically (as a would-be/putatively original Anglican contribution, given what we know of the foregoing 1,500 years).

  2. A couple of quick thoughts. First, why talk of ‘classical’ Anglican theology? This seems to try and freeze historical flux and/or doctrinal development at a particular point in time, in a particular place. Periodization is almost always artificial. What is more, it seems to overlook the fact that the ecclesiastical structure of the Church of England in the 16th c. was explicitly monarchical – but where is that to be found now? The descriptor of ‘classical’ strikes me as putting undue weight upon a given period; the same is true of descriptors such as ‘authentic’m ‘original’, and ‘earliest’.

    Second, in response to Christopher, I doubt that Anglicanism has historically suffered from any more amnesia than any other Christian church (I can’t quite tell if this is what you are arguing or not, but go with me here). Neither the Church of England nor the Council of Trent knew what to do with the legacy of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, although the Lutherans appealed to select facets of it in the Augsburg Confession and appeals to royal supremacy was not unheard of in the 15th c. Scholasticism and humanism both shaped the developing confessions of the 16th c., but neither now nor in the past has any church really held in view the fulness of its past. For example, historians have long recognized that medievalism was a mid-18th c. development, although the popular Anglican view – shared by most theologians and clergy, I reckon – is that no, it was a 19th c. development, and hence Anglo-Catholics see it as an expression of their purported revival, their opponents see it as a sign of decades, etc. (Without intending to plug the value of historical scholarship, allow to plug the value of historical scholarship, which is something that theologians simply cannot provide to the wider Church, as they don’t have the training.)

  3. Thanks, Ben. I am guessing near the end you meant to write “decadence,” not “decades.”

    Yes, historical scholarship: that was rather my own plug; in this case, historical theology, that is, both history and theology together. The Church needs both, precisely together, in its primary speech.

    No, I did not not mean to suggest that Anglicans are more amnestic than others. But, in the spirit of confessing one’s own sins, I started there.

    You write: “neither now nor in the past has any church really held in view the fulness of its past.” I quite agree; and, of course, I might note that “a church qua church” does not really remember, but rather individual teachers, bishops, etc. do. At the least we should hope that councils of the Church/churches will properly remember the basics, that is, defend them, and rearticulate them when necessary, even negatively (by guarding against heresies). Truth be told, that itself has been hard enough for most of us. Overall, we get maybe… a B-? And after the 16th century, something more like a C or a D. (And now, in these latter days, something more like failing grades in the mainline churches, excepting the Roman Catholic, which is mostly exemplary). This is the struggle for each generation to accomplish, and it is never simply given. There is no magical “depositum fidei” that appears generation over generation without a struggle to remember and receive it.

    My own historical-theological judgment is that someone like Aquinas marks a (the?) high point of gathering and trying to hold the fullness all together, which took a good bit of original historical scholarship of his own, across his career: turning up new texts that had been forgotten; reading many Greek fathers; correcting 12th-century errors. Of course, he was working one century before the late-medieval centuries you cite.

  4. Hi Christopher,

    I appreciate your desire to come at this with an ecumenical perspective. As I said in the piece, Jebb was being overly simplistic in his read of both Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism. The picture he drew was too narrow, even for the time in which it was drawn. One of the great fruits of our own time is that we as Christians of different jurisdictions are able to read each other’s documents and spend time with each other across denominational lines without concern that we are going to be strung up for it, which allows us to see each other more clearly and treat each other, hopefully, more charitably.

    I agree with you that any strong advocacy of classical Anglicanism today must not be stuck in the battles of the past but must take into consideration how things have changed, both for good and for ill. So, for example, the need for liturgy to be in the vernacular is no longer an issue that divides us from our Roman Catholic friends as it did in Jebb’s day. Yet, in the wake of the first Vatican Council, the infallibility of the pope when speaking ex cathedra, as well as the Marian dogmas, have become new dividing lines that were not there two hundred years ago (or, at least, that were not quite so set in stone then).

    A positive account of classical Anglicanism obviously needs more meat on its bones than what I have written here in just one blog post. It also needs to be more than just a rehashing of the past. It needs to acknowledge points of agreement and genuine unity that already exist between the various churches. No one, least of all me, is interested in making everyone become an Anglican if by that we mean becoming a member of a particular group that calls itself by that name. The content of being Anglican is far more important than the label. You are right that what Jebb is talking about, indeed what the whole of the classical Anglican tradition is talking about, is merely patristic Christianity. And, as you say, there has been a renewed interest in the last hundred years in patristic theology by Roman Catholics, as well as by various other Christian churches, even amongst Evangelicals. Praise be to God!

    But what you are failing to see is that we continue to diverge around a whole host of issues, not the least being the sufficiency of Scripture itself. I do not think that Jebb would have any problem granting the influence of Aquinas on the Anglican understanding of the primacy of Scripture, but I also do not think that makes the case for you that the Anglican principle is universally shared. The aforementioned Marian dogmas that are required to believed by Roman Catholics are, after all, extra-biblical, as even Rome admits, so clearly we are working from a different understanding at least at some level. My point, however, is not to beat up on Roman Catholicism or anybody else—after all, I’m a card carrying member of the Society of Mary. My point is rather that the specific claims of Anglicanism are rooted in this principle that Jebb outlines and they are testable by it. And those specific claims—such as justification by faith alone, baptismal regeneration, the apostolic origin of bishops, the doctrine of election, etc, etc—are not shared by all Christians, at least not in the kind of synthesis in which they appear in our formularies. It is not surprising to me that we have a great deal in common with Roman Catholics and Orthodox given that we all share a common love for the witness of the early Church. And yet, we do not have identical doctrine, identical positions, even on what the role of the early Church’s witness should be in relation to Scripture. That was Jebb’s point, and I think the last two hundred years have only served to prove him right.

    Of course, many Anglicans today get around this problem simply by saying that the formularies are not binding and largely do not matter. But at the point at which we deny that what the formularies give us actually is the Catholic faith, I fail to see what is left that holds us together at all, other than sheer inertia. Either Anglicanism is true, or we are gravely sinning by continuing to rend the Church for no compelling reason and we ought to submit to Rome or Geneva or Constantinople or wherever we think the truth is actually to be found.

  5. Ben,

    I do not mean to use the word “classical” to denote only one moment in time, or else I could not include something like Jebb’s writing in that category since whenever the “classical” period may be, it would not have been 1815! To be honest, I do not know exactly when I started to use that modifier, but I do not think I originated it. I would be perfectly happy to get rid of the modifier and just call it “Anglicanism,” or for that matter “Catholicism,” but both of those get confusing for obvious reasons. Like it or not, some sort of modifier is necessary.

  6. Jonathan,

    Thank you again.

    Few quick comments:

    1. Of course, as we continue to “read each other’s documents” (as you say) we find that we have shaped our documents together. To take an example ready to hand, the Anglican Covenant (particularly enshrined and respected here on the Covenant blog) both codifies and jumps off from ecumenical texts like ARCIC, taking them as read, as it were. Anglicanism here is always already ecumenical, if you like. But I think Rome would admit as much, too. Look again at the first paragraphs of Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism for proof of a readiness to learn and be supplemented by the virtues–of holiness, bible reading, and even true teachings–found in other churches and communities; and the sustained insistence in Lumen Gentium that the Catholic Church’s own unity, catholicity, and holiness are “imperfect” on account of division. We are literally all in this together–in one Body, members of the same Catholic body. Some providential account of our–all Christians and churches–being caught up together in the Lord is therefore needed; as is a spiritual account of how to understand our concomitant weakness, precisely as we remain divided. I believe that the RCC’s option for a rich grammar of *wound* (which has earlier ecumenical precedents) supplies just the scriptural account of factual unity that we need: we share together, already, the Lord’s one, wounded body.

    2. The infallibility of the pope and Marian dogmas–and esp. the way that these were articulated–are stumbling blocks/challenges (or we might call them gifts!) for Roman Catholic theology and ecclesiology itself; and are on the front end of all ecumenical engagement with the Orthodox as well as others. There is a rich historiography here that drops one right into current intra-RC debates about the relation of Vatican II to Vatican I; questions about what would be required for reunion (Kasper loves to invoke “the Ratzinger principle,” which says that nothing would be required that wasn’t required in the first millennium); and then of course there is the question of why the pope hasn’t spoken infallibly lately. Some RC ecclesiologists suggest that he won’t so speak again, in a bid for unity and unanimity/consensus. Do recall JP2’s (in the extraordinary and wonderful 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint) invitation to other Christians to advise the pope/Vatican on how properly to reform the papacy, so that it will no longer be a stumbling block but a genuine ministry of universal unity. In short, these are works in progress, and Rome’s teaching is never static or otherwise not in need of interpretation. Insert account of development of doctrine here.

    3. Add to these points the important one that Rome in fact does not explicitly encourage “conversion” to her precincts; rather the opposite, as far as I can tell: while individual “reconciliation to full communion” is never discouraged, such decisions are distinct from and not in competition with ecumenism, as the Decree on Ecumenism states clearly; and since the Council, many statements, not least from popes, have made it clear that the Vatican does not urge “an ecumenism of return.” Something more like reconciliation of communities is envisioned (as articulated in the bilateral dialogues, e.g.). And central to the spiritual curriculum for all of us is precisely conversion of all of our communities to the one crucified Lord. Cardinal Kasper said this again last weekend at a conference that I attended, but it is well-attested already in the Decree on Ecumenism, and is the main thesis of JP II’s Ut Unum Sint, as I read it. There is a lot less triumphalism here than most realize.

    4. Do we actually diverge around the sufficiency of Scripture, as you say? This also is a lively question in RC theology and teaching. Aquinas, incidentally, is not synonymous with Rome’s teaching–much of what is in Thomas is not repeated in every generation (would that it were so!); even Trent on justification, e.g., is arguably not quite Thomas’s teaching on grace. So when I invoke Aquinas, it is as common Christian property–several centuries before the Reformation. But then Rome goes on to say other things after Trent, etc. Have you worked carefully through Vatican II’s Dei Verbum lately, and associated texts from the magisterium on Scripture, and the ecumenical reception of these at and after the Council (and not only ecumenical reception, since the Protestant observers helped shape Dei Verbum itself)? I would be keen to know what you make of them. Add Ratzinger’s writings on Scripture to taste. I’d be surprised if we came away concluding that the view was much different, if at all, from what we would say is a commonly held and defended, traditional Anglican view (that’s my gloss on your “classical Anglicanism,” which is a bit too armored and constructive a phrase for my historical mind).

    5. Also, I’d like us to look at ARCIC 3’s reading of Marian piety as scriptural; are we open to constructive attempts to move the ball down the field, to a shared, “evangelical” Mariology? Are we open to the flexibility of our churches, in short, and to their continued ways of speaking differently than they did in the past; thus refusing a hypostasized “classical” period, that also includes hypostasized gotchas: “you once said x which was wrong, therefore you will always be wrong”? That we should be so open, because our churches are–again–always already long since intertwined, has rather been the point of my preceding notes, so I hope that the answer is yes.

    6. Your final para. reflects a self-regarding Anglican ecclesiology that, it will be clear, I do not share. I am not so much interested in “what holds us [Anglicans] together,” as if the Lord were interested in propping up our small contribution to the larger body as its own, self-subsistent, self-referring, or otherwise coherent thing. I don’t think this is how the one Church in fact is in history: see point 1, above. The Anglican vocation, so far as I can tell–articulated with quite brilliant clarity in the Anglican Covenant–is to seek and serve a wider unity in the one Body, because we are already tied to our brothers and sisters across the corpus of churches. “Anglican unity” is important in a missionary mode, looking out to this larger unity: we should love one another and be bound in a common “faith and order” as one church among the others, in some ways like a local church in the NT: Paul cares about the unity of Corinth qua Corinth as one note in the apostolic symphony of churches, ranging from Galatia to Thessolonika to Rome, etc. A Canterburyian unity is useful in this way, as one bid for unity among and alongside the others, with implications for their success; and indeed dependent on the others for its own health in the first place. In that sense, the “logic” of 1 Cor 12 (one body and many members) reaches out beyond the local church to the universal; it should be read, in other words, alongside Ephesians 2 and 4.

  7. Christopher,

    My apologies for a brief response as my time is limited today. Nevertheless…

    Yours points:

    1. I am not sure what the relevance of this is, but I will stipulate to it. Our ecumenical interactions over the last fifty years have been far more congenial and forgiving than anything that has ever come before. The beauty of the Anglican Covenant, in my opinion, is that it takes all this into account but still manages to build off of a foundation in the formularies, particularly in the earlier drafts. Of course, given the poor reception the Covenant has received, I am not sure how much ongoing weight we can assign to it, unless something drastically unexpected happens. Nonetheless, Vatican II did not erase the divisions that exist between the churches. A genuine ecumenism, if it is to be of any worth, must deal with that reality and not just attempt to wallpaper over it.

    2. That there are debates about how to understand things like papal infallibility and the marian dogmas within Roman Catholicism does not change the fact that they are marks of further division between us. But that’s neither here nor there, really. As I said before, there are ways in which we have grown closer together and ways in which we have grown farther apart in the last two hundred years since Jebb wrote. All of that surely has to be taken into account in ecumenical dialogue, but that was not the topic of my post.

    3. If Rome has changed its stand and is no longer interested in converting the rest of us, there are a lot of people who have not gotten the memo, such as:


    That’s just off the top of my head. Are you suggesting that those folks are wrong when they say that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true Church and that we are therefore not in communion with the one true Church?

    4. I am not an expert in Vatican II, but what I have read of Dei Verbum is remarkable and makes me hopeful. Nonetheless, there is still a gap between us on the question of sufficiency in that Rome has made dogmatic statements that are not grounded in Scripture, or at least not grounded in Scripture without the aid of extra-biblical traditions. That is not, however, to say that Rome does not consider Scripture to be important, even most important. Important and sufficient are two different things.

    5. Again, this is far afield of the point. Sure, I think it is wonderful that we have common engagement with Rome on the topic of mariology and that there is an effort to look to Scripture to discern the truth. Who would not be happy about that? It has little or no bearing at all, as far as I can tell, on whether or not classical Anglicanism is true. And that really is the issue. As I have already pointed out, repeatedly, the point of classical Anglicanism is not to, as you say, create a “hypostasized ‘classical’ period, that also includes hypostasized gotchas.” The point is that there is a coherent theology, probably best called Anglicanism, that is good, true in and of itself, and sufficient for bringing people to know Jesus Christ in the fulness of all that means.

    6. I have no idea what “a self-regarding Anglican ecclesiology” is. You said, “The Anglican vocation, so far as I can tell–articulated with quite brilliant clarity in the Anglican Covenant–is to seek and serve a wider unity in the one Body, because we are already tied to our brothers and sisters across the corpus of churches.” I agree with that completely. I am making no claims that the Anglican Churches somehow add up to the one true Church and that we therefore have no responsibility towards our fellow Christians in other bodies. What I am claiming is that the faith that we receive via the Anglican formularies is trustworthy and true. It ought, therefore, to form the basis for how we understand ourselves, as well as how we evolve and seek for unity in the Church.

    One final note: It is always puzzling to me how quickly so many modern Anglicans run from the idea that Anglicanism could be true. It is as if we pride ourselves on standing in the one place in all of the Christian landscape in which we have nothing to say. You have assumed, more than once now, that if we say that Anglicanism is right then we are at the same time saying that everyone else is completely wrong, through and through, to the point that we are not recognizable to each other as fellow Christians and fellow members of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Frankly, I just do not buy that false dichotomy. Yes, to embrace that what Anglicanism teaches is true is by necessity to say that what contradicts that teaching is false. But by no means do I believe, nor have I ever said, that everything taught by other churches, Rome included, is contradictory to Anglicanism.

  8. Dear Jonathan,

    Thank you. I view this as a productive, intra-family conversation, built on the basis of warmth, friendship, and trust. I also write as an ecclesiological geek and ecumenical nut (as is clear, I suppose). I offer the following in a spirit of common pursuit of the truth in love, pray God to help build up the one Body, including our part thereof.

    1. The Covenant was accepted by all four Anglican “instruments of communion” and is in effect for something like 10 or 12 churches of the Communion. Add to that that it was itself conservative of the foregoing, century-long ecclesial conversation among Anglicans and our ecumenical partners with respect to the nature of the Church, and that nothing else has been proposed in its place. Even before the Covenant appeared Anglican ecclesiologists and ecumenical geeks were arguing from ARCIC texts, and even teaching Anglican ecclesiology through them. All the more post-Covenant, it seems to me we have a pedagogical rationale here; and probably something like an ecclesiological mandate, in a bid for coherence.

    In re devisions: I am not trying to paper over them but rather face and explain them. The salient take away from Vatican II and ecumenical conversations is the both/and of “imperfect communion” (or Anglican analogues: impaired communion, etc.). This phrase both affirms real unity already *and* division. It is not the case that we are already simply one, in a “full communion” sense; nor is it the case that we are simply divided. We share a common, wounded communion. That is why I started there: it situates the conversation in a fundamental ecclesial reality that obtains, *in* Christ’s body. It changes the way we think of our otherwise seemingly discrete denominations/churches/traditions. They aren’t discrete.

    2. I took these examples up following you, and to unfold my own view.

    3. Yes, they have not gotten the memo. Rome said in Vatican II that the one Church “subsists” in the RCC, and that we others have–again–a real relation to that Church; a “true communion,” as JPII said. Every ecumenical statement from Rome over the last 50 years has started from the principle of this shared communion; a communion that, e.g., permits salvific baptism even via the “ecclesial communities” of the west. And one is only, ever, saved as a member of the one Church. This is why *return simpliciter* makes little sense… if one, and one’s church/community, is already *in* the one body/Church. There’s nothing to return to, exactly. (This is also why the RCIA rites carefully speak of reconciliation to full communion rather than entry into the Church for those previously baptized; the candidate is already a member.) Which is not the same as saying there isn’t work to do, or that everything is hunky dory. See wound: pain; blood; Hebrews 6:6.

    4. A comparative note: “Nonetheless, there is still a gap between us on the question of sufficiency in that [Anglicans have] made [doctrinal] statements that are not grounded in Scripture, or at least not grounded in Scripture without the aid of extra-biblical traditions. That is not, however, to say that [Anglicans do] not consider Scripture to be important, even most important.” That is, we all need to go to scriptural school; and reconciliation school; and, for that matter, “legitimate diversity” school. (I think the summer session may just beginning.)

    5. Yes, some–many even–have come and still come to know Jesus Christ through Anglican churches. That is all I would say. I do not think that “fullness” is a claim that we need to make; how to adjudicate it among the churches? I think it’s better to say that we successfully bring would-be Christians home to the Lord just insofar as some of our members live out the one gospel among us and persevere to the end, by God’s grace (and/or are inscrutably/invisibly elected by him–cf. Augustine).

    I here follow Michael Ramsey in Gospel and the Catholic Church, p. 220: the Anglican church “is sent not to commend itself as ‘the best type of Christianity,’ but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died.” Anglicans, partly because of our “clumsy untidiness, baffling neatness and logic,” as Ramsey says, have a particularly cruciform angle on the one Church. I wouldn’t say that’s fullness; not in a broken/divided Church. And I am not sure a full, proper fullness is available to any of us, as even Rome allows (e.g., at UR 4 §8). The cutting edge of catholic faithfulness, for all of us, it seems to me, will begin here. As the Council fathers wrote: “The divisions among Christians prevent the Church from realizing in practice the fullness of catholicity proper to her.” That’s exactly right.

    6. I brought up self-regarding ecclesiology in response to these clauses of yours: “I fail to see what is left that holds us [Anglicans] together at all, other than sheer inertia.” I was suggesting that holding Anglicans together ought not be our first item of business, nor should we think of ourselves as a body; rather, mapping something more like the territory of the one Church in which Anglicans and Anglican churches gratefully/miraculously participate (as we believe by faith, as we teach, and as our ecumenical friends also maintain) will be more fruitful.

    To your main point: Just because much (most? all?) that is in the Anglican formularies is true does not mean that those formularies “ought to form the basis for how we understand ourselves.” Part of the basis? A gift and touchstone? Yes. But we do better to start with the one Church and its true gospel, and hold the formularies accountable to that–formularies, let us recall, that were written not by our own Episcopal Church, nor by the Anglican Communion, but by the Church of England centuries ago; formularies that, to a significant extent, are not accepted now as “the basis,” as you say, of Anglican identity by even the C of E much less our own church. Why this is so needs to be engaged, namely, the intervening history and “invention”/creation of the Anglican Communion (hopefully in large measure by God), which has led by necessity to ecclesial reshaping and reconsidering. There is no leaping over this history; nor should we wish for primarily (as “the basis”) denominational articulations and measures of truth. Such an approach leads to denominational cul de sacs: “What you are saying does not fit with the Augsburg Confession, but the CA is true, ergo….” The Princeton Proposal on Christian Unity (published in 2004 by a group from the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology; q.v.) called this a kind of tribalization of truth. Instead of asking “Is this what Scripture says” or “Is this what Christians believe?” we ask only “Is this what the Catholic/Baptist/Methodist church teaches?” That kind of approach re-inscribes denominationalism for each generation: “I love those other Christians. Of course, we do have ‘the fullness’ here, as we have long held, since our founding.” In practice, that amounts to something like “I have no need of you” at worst, or “we’d be better if you joined; wanna become a member of my church?” at best.

    It should be clear from what I’ve written that I do not hold the false dichotomy that you rightly decry, nor do I think you do. But I am pressing for a *less full* account of Anglicanism, on pain of truth.

  9. Hi Christopher,

    As always, I appreciate friendly conversation on important issues. I am glad that you think what I have written is worthy of such dialogue. Discussion, debate, and even sometimes vigorous disagreement are all part and parcel of a healthy wrestling with the truth, so thank you for being willing to join me in that.

    As often is the case in online conversations of this nature, I think we are quickly approaching the point at which we are speaking past each other, with so many little pockets of secondary discussion that the main point gets lost. So let me restate the main point one more time, along with some abridged responses to a few of the things you said, and then I think I will call it a day. I imagine this conversation will continue, perhaps more fruitfully, in person at some point.

    The main point is this: Anglicanism is a coherent theology before it is anything else. That theology has roots that stretch back to the early Church, as well as flowering branches that continue into our own time. It finds its clearest and best expression in the Book of Common Prayer from 1559 onwards, along with the Ordinal, the Articles of Religion, the Catechism, and the Homilies. All of these formularies serve different functions and have to be approached on their own terms. There has certainly been robust debate over the centuries about how to understand what it is we have received in the formularies. But the key difference between classical Anglicanism and other theologies that have existed alongside it within the Anglican churches is that classical Anglicanism assumes this deposit of faith is present. It assumes, in other words, along with William Beveridge that “Whatsoever doctrine you find to be clearly propounded, asserted, or suggested, either in our Articles or Common-Prayer Book, you may and ought to rest fully satisfied in your minds that that is the true doctrine of the Apostles, which you ought to continue firm and steadfast in” because the prayer book and the articles are founded upon the Scripture, not just as one person or one group has read it, but as “the Church of Christ in all ages hath believed to be consonant with [the apostles’] writings.” Can we find points that may be problematic within them as rendered? Certainly. Do these documents need revision and fresh understanding from time to time? Undoubtedly. But they form a basis for us precisely because their basis is God’s Word.

    You have brought up a lot of material from twentieth century ecumenical conversations. There is a fair and interesting set of questions to be asked about how a revival of classical Anglicanism might contribute to a positive ecumenism in our time. That, however, was not the basis of my post, nor is it terribly relevant to the question of whether or not Anglicanism, as I have herein defined it, is true. And while I do believe that ecumenism and the effort to understand one another and to find Christian unity is a good thing, I also can see how the lack of clarity amongst Anglicans in our time about what it is we actually believe has injured those efforts and frustrated our ecumenical partners who wonder just who it is they might be talking to whenever they get any of us into a room. So one group of Anglicans has a mariology identical to Rome, while another decries even the conclusion of the Council of Ephesus that Mary is the Mother of God. Is it any wonder that we never get anywhere? Years ago, at a Mere Anglicanism conference, I heard Michael Nazir-Ali speak about his time with ARCIC. He said that the Roman Catholic participants came to the table ready and eager to talk about the doctrine of justification by faith, but many of the Anglican participants had no idea how to engage with that topic because they were not sure they believed in it. We cannot learn to have good conversations with others until we learn to have good conversations with ourselves, and I believe a big part of that will come from rediscovering who we are.

    That all stated, let me address briefly just a couple of things you said.

    You said, regarding the brief set of examples I cited (among hundreds that could be obtained), that “Yes, they have not gotten the memo” that Rome no longer believes herself to be the one true Church. I must say, I find this baffling. I am happy to grant that since Vatican II there has been a new understanding of how those of us who are amongst the “separated brethren” fit into the puzzle, but as far as I am aware, no part of the consistent teaching of Rome that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true Church has been rescinded. Write off the folks from Catholics Come Home and EWTN if you like (and perhaps we should), but the ordinariates for former Anglicans were begun by directive of the still living pope emeritus. Regarding the language of “subsistence,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in 2007 that this term “indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church also calls the Roman Catholic Church the “sole Church of Christ” (811). The issue is even more straightforwardly stated in the encyclical Mortalium Animos by Pope Pius XI who said “in this one Church of Christ no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors.” He also says, “the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it.” Again, this is not playing “gotcha.” This is dealing with the reality of what Rome actually teaches, rather than what we would like her to teach, or even what some of her members would like her to teach.

    You said:

    A comparative note: “Nonetheless, there is still a gap between us on the question of sufficiency in that [Anglicans have] made [doctrinal] statements that are not grounded in Scripture, or at least not grounded in Scripture without the aid of extra-biblical traditions. That is not, however, to say that [Anglicans do] not consider Scripture to be important, even most important.” That is, we all need to go to scriptural school; and reconciliation school; and, for that matter, “legitimate diversity” school. (I think the summer session may just beginning.)

    While that is amusing, it is also assigning to my words polemics that I did not intend. I do not think it is controversial to say that Rome teaches certain things as dogma that are not Scripturally defined. Rome teaches in general that the Scripture is to be held together with unwritten apostolic tradition and the teaching of the magisterium. So, to go back to an earlier example, there is no Scripture teaching that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, but Rome teaches that one must believe it as a dogma of the faith. By contrast, while Anglicanism would allow for people to believe in the bodily assumption of Mary, there is no compunction to do so because “whatsoever is not read [in Scripture], nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation” (Article VI). That is a different standard.

    Regarding the use of the word “fullness,” I had no intention of minimizing the way in which our separation as Christians injures us. That said, I do not think that there is anything essential lacking in the gifts that Christ gives to His Church even in its currently sinfully divided state. There is not a hierarchy of bits of Jesus to be obtained, but one Jesus who gives Himself for all. To say that Anglicanism offers the fullness of Christ is not to say anything about whether or not that same fullness can be found elsewhere within the Church.

    You said:

    I was suggesting that holding Anglicans together ought not be our first item of business, nor should we think of ourselves as a body; rather, mapping something more like the territory of the one Church in which Anglicans and Anglican churches gratefully/miraculously participate (as we believe by faith, as we teach, and as our ecumenical friends also maintain) will be more fruitful.

    I said above why I think coming back to a common understanding of Anglicanism ought to be a high priority, even and especially for ecumenical purposes. Nonetheless, I have not sketched out here a unique “ecclesiology” or indeed any ecclesiology at all, other than by implication since classical Anglicanism does offer us an ecclesiology with a high view of episcopacy, national sovereignty, and sacramental unity (see some of my posts on the same topic on the Conciliar Anglican, which provide lots of earlier material on the subject that can be sifted). Of course, we are already operating from an Anglican ecclesiological bias as soon as we affirm, along with the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, that bishops are necessary for a church to be a church, but that unity with the See of Rome or absolute unity in other areas is not necessary. Anglican ecclesiology affirms that Anglican churches are not the Church in total, that we are gratefully part of something larger than ourselves. But to say that, in and of itself, is to draw a line that not all of our ecumenical partners can walk with us and one which, in my experience, is usually dismissively labeled as “Protestant” by Roman Catholic and Orthodox interlocutors.

    Allow me to take your last paragraph in chunks because I think there are assumptions here that need to be carefully teased out. So, you said:

    Just because much (most? all?) that is in the Anglican formularies is true does not mean that those formularies “ought to form the basis for how we understand ourselves.”…

    They ought to form the basis for how we understand ourselves as Anglicans because the formularies are the deposit of faith that we have received. And yes, truth matters here, because if the faith taught by the formularies is not true than what we have received is deficient by design.

    Part of the basis? A gift and touchstone? Yes. But we do better to start with the one Church and its true gospel, and hold the formularies accountable to that…

    I would be curious to know what “a gift and a touchstone” mean. But the fact is, if the formularies are true, and moreover if what men like Beveridge and Jebb believed about them is true, then when we start our inquiries with them, we are starting with “the one Church and its true gospel.” You are saying we should hold the formularies accountable to the Gospel, but it is precisely the Gospel to which the formularies hold us accountable, not because they are magic or special in and of themselves, but because they are derived from the Word of God as the Church has received it and taught it since the beginning. Yes, we should read Chrysostom in order to better understand, but the average person in the pew does not have to read everything Chrysostom ever wrote in order to receive his living faith through the liturgy that has been handed down to us.

    …formularies, let us recall, that were written not by our own Episcopal Church, nor by the Anglican Communion, but by the Church of England centuries ago; formularies that, to a significant extent, are not accepted now as “the basis,” as you say, of Anglican identity by even the C of E much less our own church.

    Well, first of all, that is not exactly correct. The prayer book has been revised by the Episcopal Church more than once and the version of the Articles we have inherited is not entirely identical to the version given by the C of E either, even though the doctrine contained therein remains the same. But why would it matter anyway? So these things were collected by the Church of England at a particular moment in time. So what? Does that make them any less true? The point is, these things are not simply polemical or parochial documents, as you seem to be inferring. The BCP in particular was not so much written as it was choreographed. We do better to think of them not merely as sixteenth century inventions but as living tools for gathering, proclaiming, and forming people in the faith once delivered to the saints.

    As to the question of “identity,” I think you are ignoring a lot of ground there. Yes, there is an identity crisis for Anglicans today that has left us disconnected from a lot of our past, but the 1662 BCP or something like it is still in use by most Anglicans around the world. The 39 Articles are still greatly important to most Anglicans and the Catechism is still being used to prepare confirmands in many places. It is only in our small western enclave that we have seen fit to let these things go, and even here that letting go is limited. There are plenty of Anglican bodies in America, outside of TEC, that regard the formularies as a starting point. Likewise, they are important to the Anglican Covenant, as we already said, and they are given place of prominence in the Jerusalem Declaration, thereby showing that they have a place in the lives of divided Anglicans who are otherwise highly suspicious of one another. In short, they unify more than they divide. I daresay, next to the Nicene Creed, they are probably the most universally pan-Anglican acknowledged source of doctrine that we have, even if much of that acknowledgement is just lip service.

    Finally, you said:

    Instead of asking “Is this what Scripture says” or “Is this what Christians believe?” we ask only “Is this what the Catholic/Baptist/Methodist church teaches?”

    I think you are reducing the scope of what the formularies give us and far underselling previous generations in the process. Of course we should take each new question and ask, “Is this what Scripture says” and “is this what Christians believe.” But how do we answer those questions? What recourse do we have? Is it simply every man with his Bible, deciding on his own? I cannot imagine that is what you believe. No, rather, it is the continuous and unbroken witness of the Church that gives us the tools to understand and receive the Scripture’s teaching. That is not “tribalism.” Our seventeenth century forbears called themselves “reformed Catholics” for a reason. They were not interested in creating some new sect or ghettoizing the Church of England into some hermetically sealed space where it never would have to talk to the impure outsiders ever again. If anything, the opposite was true. Part of their fight with the Puritans was over this very notion, that we could simply go off with our Bibles and figure it all out for ourselves, without the Church to guide us and ground us. It is ludicrous and dangerous just to hand someone a Bible and ask them to start from scratch, as if that Bible itself fell from the sky, complete with all the answers carefully laid out in the concordance at the back. Rather, what we hand on is a faith which is rooted in the Scriptures as we have received them. We should have no fear of careful study of the Scriptures, so long as we recognize that it is in the life of the Church that those same Scriptures are brought to life, in the same way that it is in the production of the play on stage that Shakespeare is brought to life.

    The prayer book has always been, on purpose, a conservative document for this very reason. Cranmer and his friends certainly had axes to grind in how they arranged the text, and yet there was an amazing amount of restraint shown, precisely because they wanted to ensure that what was being given to us was not just the debates of a particular time but the timeless truths of a living faith. Yes, further inquiry can widen the field of that. So, for instance, the 1559 BCP has no prayers for the dead out of fear of invoking purgatory, while the 1662 BCP restores at least some prayers for the dead out of a realization that such prayers need not imply what the earlier generation was trying to avoid. Though it would not be persuasive to everyone, we could make a similar argument about things in the 1979 BCP today, such as the rite of Reconciliation which builds off of what was in 1662 while making provision for a new expression. Yet the core of what is in the BCP is none other than God’s Word set into prayer, forming us in both body and mind. Why wouldn’t we go there first when trying to discern how to face new questions while remaining grounded in the faith of the apostles?

  10. Dear Jonathan,

    Many thanks in turn! Lots of good stuff here.

    Sorry to be slow. I am coming up for air, after a long working weekend.

    1. Contra your main point, I do not think that Anglicanism is first of all “a theology.” That is too ahistorical and systematically constructed. We need to learn to think of our churches as *first of all* arranged relative to one another in time–as having been founded for various reasons (good and bad), and then dealing with subsequent history. I say this because “Anglicanism” is born amid dispute and is never able to refer to itself apart from other churches with whom it is always already in some degree of agonized relation. We need to be honest about it and grind it into the gospel, seeking the Lord’s blessing and our own holiness as a result.

    *Unless* you are basically positing “Anglicanism” as a theology, as distinct from *the Anglican church* (or more properly in this original instance, the Church of England)? If so, fair enough to a point. But I would wish, as I am sure you would, to land the Platonic plane in a field of more concrete ecclesial instances–actual churches, ordered in such and such a way, beset by sins x and y; etc.

    2. According to my way of thinking, I am happy to concede that Anglicanism is *secondarily* a theology. Your account of its merits, virtues, and attractions is a good one, with which I can get on board. I agree that there is a present deposit of faith; just not a specifically “Anglican one.” The latter witness/rendition is useful to the extent that it is identical with the deposit of faith simpliciter. Happily, it is a classically Anglican principle to make this point; so good for classical Anglicans for being more than Anglicans–though they weren’t less than Anglicans, qua members of the C of E, with its particular ecclesiological claims that may be more or less tenable or desirable. In other words, they were striving to be Catholics. Also happily, lots of other Christians are seeking to be Catholics, with about the same degree of success as we are having, as far as I can tell. They are our brothers and sisters and we are accountable to them.

    3. The reason that starting with what *Anglicans* believe isn’t something I can get on board with–though, to be sure, we do need to know what Anglicans believe and I am happy and committed to doing so–is that so often (see #1 above) that has been done, even “classically,” in a mode of differentiation and precisely self-identity: contra Rome on the one hand and other Protestants on the other. At just that moment, classical Anglicanism becomes one historically embedded ecclesial trajectory subject to further testing, trying, and judging–providentially and in any case ineluctably, as our Lord tarries. Like other would-be classical retrievals from the 16th century, anyone who starts there is vulnerable to, as I have noted, hypostasizing a moment in history from which we have moved on. This aspect of classical Anglicanism is quite limited and makes it less than ideal as a starting point. To be clear: I humbly accept the great riches of the 16th and 17th centuries, to which we can and should hasten. But, again per classical Anglicanism’s own terms and method, we need to start earlier: with Scripture and the Fathers, who articulated and codified *the* one deposit of faith.

    4. Against another assumption you make along the way, I do not think that contemp. bilateral dialogue “never gets anywhere.” It has gotten a long ways, and continues to make progress. As a member of the U.S. Anglican-RC dialogue, you might not be surprised that I say this. One needs to take up the texts and read them to so conclude.

    The Nazir-Ali example, which I have heard before, is interesting and tells me that we all need each other. To view the glass half full: how wonderful that RCs come ready to discuss justification by faith! As for the Anglicans… I am not surprised that they hadn’t fully done their homework on this count; it’s hard to do all of one’s homework. We know that Henry Chadwick came to the meetings with the Fathers and all of RC history in his back pocket, which was both handy and helpful. There’s something wonderful about the RC’s bringing Luther and the Anglicans bringing Trent to the table. We do our best, amid the weakness and debilitation of division. The one body of Christ extends to all the churches. Perhaps sometimes in those ARCIC dialogues the Anglicans were the weaker members, but who is to say? If so, they were all the more indispensable, acc. to Paul in I Cor 12. Augustine would say: this was to the good, for the divine purpose of humbling the Anglicans.

    5. To be clear, I do think that Rome still holds herself to be the one true Church (plus the East, as a second lung?); but she doesn’t situate that identity in opposition to the other churches/communities, such that they simply should be folded into her identity, or otherwise disappear, and that’s the shift. Rome now locates them, I think it’s clear, *within* herself and her own bounds: as already part of the body, therefore not in need of returning/converting. (On this count, I don’t think that the Pius XI quotation that you trot out would be defended anymore–indeed, it could not be.) There may be a little triumphalism here still on Rome’s part, but I find the solution creative, generous, and attractive as a way of taking on the ecumenical vocation. It’s better than the branch theory, to my mind, in terms of concrete ecumenical dividends–assuming, with Radner (and others), that we need *primarily* to be about the business of cultivating a proper penitence. Ephraim calls this “penitential activism.” In other words, we need to be about the cross. (I argued this in an article a few years ago; here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/75122148/Cross-as-Curriculum-for-Catholic-Unity) The cross will yield all the fruit of ecclesial renewal that we need; and, by the logic of the gospel, that fruit will come from no other place or source. Jesus alone and his passion are what “the Church and the churches” need, incl. our own corner thereof.

    6. I love and cherish the reformed aspect of Anglicanism that doesn’t demand us to hold anything that is not scriptural. Many of our RC brethren also love this about the reformed churches and have worked hard to incorporate this gift into their own church’s teaching, with some success. We are in this together, and–with the Lord–taking the long view, along the arduous road of conformity to the crucified body of his Son.

    7. I agree (as does Rome) that nothing “essential [is] lacking in the gifts that Christ gives to His Church even in its currently sinfully divided state.” I just think, with Rome–and the ecumenical movement–that we can’t fully access all of the gifts at the moment, given our divisions; our hearing is impaired; our arm is broken… choose your preferred bodily metaphor, to work out the fact that the one body is wounded. This has practical consequences for how the body functions. There is a gap between what we have been given and our ability to use it.

    8. Near the end (on my last para.) you write: “And yes, truth matters here, because if the faith taught by the formularies is not true then what we have received is deficient by design.” There is another option, namely, that the formularies are true so far as they go; that they are part of the truth, a helpful witness to it, but not the truth in its entirety (and, therefore, if taken as the whole when it is only a part, actually untrue).

    9. You say that the formularies hold us accountable to the gospel: good! I agree. I would only add, as I am saying, that (qua reformed Catholics), we shouldn’t and can’t start there, but need to start earlier. You later say that “it is the continuous and unbroken witness of the Church that gives us the tools to understand and receive the Scripture’s teaching.” Exactly so. Here we are in agreement. My point is simply to underscore that “the Church” means the *whole* Church, not simply our Anglican corner thereof. I am concerned, you see, with the depredations of denominationalism–with the sins of history (#1, above).

    10. You write: “Yet the core of what is in the BCP is none other than God’s Word set into prayer, forming us in both body and mind. Why wouldn’t we go there first when trying to discern how to face new questions while remaining grounded in the faith of the apostles?” As an Anglican, I generally do (though *which* BCP is a question that arises, and introduces grains of salt with respect to this and that emendation). My concern–from the start–has been to deflate Anglican self-regard. Let us gratefully use the tools at our disposal, pray God for our sanctification; but let us not do so in ignorance of the many similar means made available by God elsewhere in the Vineyard to similar effect. Is Anglicanism “unique,” e.g., in that we use a prayer book as our magisterium? I don’t think so. Anglican method looks a lot like Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas, in both of whom may be found a lex orandi lex credendi pattern and preference, indeed standard. Praise the Lord for the unoriginality of “Anglicanism”–as a proposal, more and less lived out, here and there; as a would-be primitive Catholicism; as a project that now occupies many of our co-religionists across the corpus Christianorum. May their ecumenical tribe increase.

  11. Hi Christopher,

    Tempted though I am to write another detailed response, I think I will leave it rest. What divides us ultimately, I think, is a fundamental disagreement about what we are talking about when we discuss Anglicanism. That is a bigger nut than further internet chatter can crack, so I look forward to the next time we get together when hopefully we will have the opportunity for a long and fruitful conversation. Many blessings to you.

  12. Fr J,

    Catching up… amid too much work to do. Many thanks indeed for this note. I look forward to that conversation in person.

    Meanwhile, thank you for your ministry among us, and for your friendship in the Lord. It’s an honor and delight to work with you.


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