The Covert Letter
jQuery Slider

You are here

THE OCTAVE OF CHRISTIAN UNITY AND THE FUTURE OF ORTHODOX ANGLICANISM (2)

THE OCTAVE OF CHRISTIAN UNITY AND THE FUTURE OF ORTHODOX ANGLICANISM (2)

by Fr. Victor E. Novak
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
January 25, 2013

The Octave of Christian Unity began with the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter on January 18th, and concludes today with the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. On the first day of the Octave I wrote an article titled, Anglicanism, the Universal Church, and the Octave of Christian Unity. That article has been widely read and well received. Anglican journalist David Virtue published it on his popular website Virtue Online, in the evening of January 18th. He then wrote me on the morning of January 19th, to say that the article had nearly five hundred hits overnight. Since then it has been linked on various on-line discussion groups and reprinted or discussed on numerous blogs. With the Octave of Christian Unity ending today, I am following up my first article with a second one, dealing with the future of orthodox Anglicanism.

From the feedback I have received from my first article, and from comments that I have read or heard about it, it seems that there still remains some confusion about what Anglicanism really is. Is it the English branch of the Catholic Church with no distinctive doctrine of its own, but only the Catholic Faith of the Catholic Church; or was essentially a new beginning made in the 16th century, with the Anglican Church being a Reformation era Confessional Protestant Church with its own Confessional statements? I think that it is important that we go to primary sources to find answers to these questions. Anglicanism has always appealed to history, and to history we must go.

THE ELIZABETHAN SETTLEMENT

Was the goal of the so-called "Elizabethan Settlement" to set up a Protestant Reformed (Calvinist) Church in England, or to continue the English Reformation with the goal of restoring the Church of England to the Faith of the undivided Church? Since this era is called "the Elizabethan Settlement," it is important know what Queen Elizabeth's understanding was.

In 1563, some fifteen years into her reign, and secure on her throne, she could say, "We and our people - thanks be to God - follow no novel and strange religions, but that very religion which was ordained by Christ, sanctioned by the primitive and Catholic Church and approved by the consentient mind and voice of the most early Fathers."

Were the Thirty-nine Articles intended to be a Reformed (Calvinist) Confession, or a guide to help clergy, who alone were required to subscribe to them, through the controversies of the Reformation/Counter Reformation debates and back to the Faith of the undivided Church?

In his classic work, An Exposition of The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, Historical and Doctrinal, Bishop Harold Browne writes, "In the year 1571 the Articles were... committed to the editorship of Bishop John Jewell. They were then put forth in their present form, both in Latin and English; and received, not only the sanction of Convocation, but also of Parliament" (An Exposition of The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, Historical and Doctrinal, Edward Harold Browne, D.D., Lord Bishop of Winchester, 1865, p. 15).

Bishop John Jewell was the editor of the Articles. What was his understanding of the goal of the English Reformation? Was it 16th century Calvinism or primitive Catholicism? Jewell writes, "We have returned to the Apostles and the old Catholic Fathers. We have planted no new religion, but only preserved the old that was undoubtedly founded and used by the Apostles of Christ and other holy Fathers of the Primitive Church" (Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae).

How should the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion be understood? The Church gives us an authoritative answer to this question. In 1571, the same year that the Articles were adopted by Convocation, Canon 5, "On Preachers," was also adopted. Canon 5 says, "But especially shall they see to it that they teach nothing in the way of a sermon which they would have religiously held and believed by the people save what is agreeable to the teaching of the Old and New Testament and what the Catholic Fathers and ancient bishops and doctors have collected from this selfsame doctrine." This canon is clearly grounded in the Commonitorium of St. Vincent of Lerins.

The Thirty-nine Articles are not, and were never intended to be, a Confession of Faith like the Continental Protestant Confessions. The Anglican Church is a creedal Church, not a confessional denomination. As Bishop John Pearson (1612-1686) said, the book of Articles "is not, nor is pretended to be, a complete body of divinity, or a comprehension and explication of all Christian doctrines necessary to be taught: but an enumeration of some truths, which upon and since the Reformation have been denied by some persons: who upon denial are thought unfit to have any cure of souls in this Church or realm; because they might by their opinions either infect their flock with error or else disturb the Church with schism or the realm with sedition" (cited in A Theological Introduction To The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, Longmans, Green and Co., 1936, E. J. Bicknell, p. 22).

Dr. E. J. Bicknell writes, "The significance of our Articles may be learnt by a comparison between them and Creeds. Both alike are theological statements of belief. Both alike have been employed as tests. Both are attempts to preserve the truth in all its fullness. But while Creeds are a necessity, [to quote Robert Moberly] 'in a world where all expression of spirit is through body,' Articles are a consequence 'not of the Church's existence but of the Church's failure.' 'The Church, without a Creed, would not in human life on earth, however ideally perfect, have been a Church at all. But if the Church on earth had been ideally perfect, or anything even remotely like it, there would never have been any 39 Articles. The one is a necessary feature of spiritual reality. The other is an unfortunate consequence of spiritual failure'" (A Theological Introduction To The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England,Longmans, Green and Co., 1936, p. 23).

Bicknell continues, "Creeds have behind them the authority of the universal and undivided Church. Articles have behind them at most the authority of particular national Churches. ... Hence Creeds have a permanent value, Articles only a temporary value. We do not condemn, say, the Churches of the East, because they do not possess the 39 Articles. We should condemn a Church that rejected the Apostles' or Nicene Creed. We may reasonably doubt if the Churches of the mission-field need become acquainted with the 39 Articles. But they certainly are bound to receive the Creeds. It is possible even to look forward to a day when the Church of England may exchange or discard our present Articles, though that day [in 1935] is not yet in sight. That would not involve any breach of continuity or catholicity. But to reject the Creeds would be to part company with the life of the Universal Church" (ibid, Bicknell, p. 24).

The Church in America did not adopt the Thirty-nine Articles until 1801, and after a lot of debate as to whether the Articles were even necessary for the newly autocephalous Church. And when the Articles were adopted, they were adopted in a revised form and are not identical with those adopted by the Church of England in 1571. One cannot imagine a national Church revising the Creeds, but the American Church saw no difficulty in revising the Articles of Religion.

THE ANGLICAN RELIGION?

Is there such a thing as the Anglican Religion? Are there distinctively "Anglican" doctrines? Does authentic Anglicanism have doctrines that set it apart from all other Christians; or does Anglicanism, when it is true to itself, merely profess the Catholic Faith of the undivided Church? The answer is not hard to find.

As we have already seen, Queen Elizabeth I, said, "We and our people - thanks be to God - follow no novel and strange religions, but that very religion which was ordained by Christ, sanctioned by the primitive and Catholic Church and approved by the consentient mind and voice of the most early Fathers."

Likewise, the editor of the Articles, Bishop John Jewel, said, "We have returned to the Apostles and the old Catholic Fathers. We have planted no new religion, but only preserved the old that was undoubtedly founded and used by the Apostles of Christ and other holy Fathers of the Primitive Church" (Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae).

Blessed Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), Bishop of Winchester, said, "Anglicanism has no specific teaching other than that of Scripture interpreted by the primitive Church with which it has continuity, historical and doctrinal."

Dr. E. B. Pusey (1800-1882) wrote, "The Church of England has, from the Reformation, held implicitly, in purpose of heart, all which the ancient Church ever held."

Bishop Frank Weston 1871-1924) of Zanzibar said, "We now stand for the Catholic Faith common to East and West... We are not a party... Our appeal is to the Catholic Creed, to Catholic worship and Catholic practice."

The delegates at the official Anglican-Eastern Orthodox Theological Conference in Bucharest, Romania in 1935, declared, "A solid basis has been prepared whereby full dogmatic agreement may be affirmed between the Orthodox and Anglican Communions."

Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher (1887-1972) of Canterbury said, "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. We stand firm on that rock."

Bishop Jack Iker of the Diocese of Ft. Worth, Anglican Church in North America, has said, "orthodox Anglicans uphold the historic faith and order of the undivided Church. We are nothing more nor less than Catholic Christians, seeking to be faithful to the teaching of the early Church Fathers and the great Ecumenical Councils of the first centuries of Christian witness. With St. Vincent of Lerins, we affirm that the Catholic Faith is that which has been believed 'everywhere, always, and by all.' Whenever you find departures from this given faith and received order, you will find sectarianism, heresy and error" (We Are Catholic Christians, by Bishop Jack Iker, January 11, 2011).

"Anglo-Catholicism" and "Anglo-Catholic" are terms that can be used to described all Anglicans, and should not be used to define a School of theology or church party. All Anglicans are Anglo-Catholics because the Anglican Church is the English (Anglo) Church, and Anglicans are Catholic Christians.

Anglicans are also thoroughly Evangelical because the Anglican Church is a Bible-believing, Gospel preaching Church, uniting Evangelical (Gospel) Truth and Catholic Order. Classical Anglicanism can de described as upholding Catholic Faith, Orthodox Worship and Evangelical Witness. As the September 7, 1987 edition of The Christian Challenge magazine reported, "Anglicanism, if it is true to its own positions, is Western Orthodoxy."

THE FUTURE OF THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION

When the Episcopal Church abandoned Catholic Order by embracing the "ordination" of women in 1976, and abandoned Orthodox Worship by replacing the historic Book of Common Prayer with a new liturgy of dubious orthodoxy, the Evangelical Witness of the Episcopal Church came to an end. Having rejected the authority of God's Word written, the Episcopal Church had no Gospel to proclaim, and no defense against the spirit of the age. Membership began to decline, until it finally became a hemorrhage in recent years.

In response to the Minneapolis General Convention of 1976, faithful Anglicans met in an historic Church Congress in St. Louis one year later, adopted an affirmation of the Faith, and laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Anglican Church in North America. The Affirmation of St. Louis declared, "We affirm our continued relations with the See of Canterbury and all faithful parts of the Anglican Communion. WHEREFORE, with a firm trust in Divine Providence, and before Almighty God and all the company of heaven, we solemnly affirm, covenant and declare that we, lawful and faithful members of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, shall now and hereafter continue and be the unified continuing Anglican Church in North America, in true and valid succession thereto."

Unfortunately, the Church of England did not distance itself from the Episcopal Church, and the See of Canterbury and faithful provinces of the Anglican Communion did not recognize or establish relations with the new Anglican Church in North America. This was the beginning of the end for the Church of England. By 1994, the Church of England was ordaining priestesses. It has been said that the normalization of homosexual behavior follows women's "ordination" like night follows day, and this was the case in England. Soon, the ordination of homosexuals living in civil partnerships was approved. Of course there were those who resisted these innovations, but with the abandonment of Catholic Order in 1994, the end was in sight.

In mid-2012, an attempt to authorize the "consecration" of female bishops was defeated in the Church of England. Another attempt was made in November of 2012, and that too was defeated. The votes in favor of women bishops at the November meeting was overwhelming, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed among the laity. The vote among the bishops was 44 for, and 3 against; the clergy was 148 for, and 45 against; and the laity was 132 for, and 74 against. A Church of England statement after the vote explained that the rejection closed the door to female bishops for the foreseeable future: "The consequence of the 'no' vote of terminating any further consideration of the draft legislation means that it will not be possible to introduce draft legislation in the same terms until a new General Synod comes into being in 2015."

The defeat of the draft legislation should have given the Church of England an opportunity to look over the abyss and step back; and would have given the orthodox minority and the GAFCON provinces of the Anglican Communion until 2015, to seek to reform the Church of England.

In the wake of the vote, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury appeared to go so far as to suggest that the vote might be overridden. Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament, "the time is right for women bishops... They need to get on with it, as it were, and get with the program." Get with the program? Bishop Justin Welby, a liberal who is generally described by the media as an "evangelical," who will be Rowan Williams successor as Archbishop of Canterbury said, "it is clear" that the Church of England will have female bishops. Even the "orthodox" minority, who one would think would be thankful and ready to get to work reforming the Church, only cowered and apologized for the defeat of the draft legislation, saying that they would support it if only the legislation would have a conscience clause protecting their "integrity." This lot were certainly no Athanasius's.

Not surprisingly, the rules of the Church have been overruled and a new vote on women bishops will be taken in mid-2013, at which time it will pass. As if to show that there is no turning back, the bishops of the Church of England approved in January of 2013, a new policy allowing open homosexuals in civil partnerships to be consecrated to the episcopate.

Although Anglicans in America and world-wide have great nostalgic attachment to the See of Canterbury and the Church of England, the truth must be faced that the Church of England is now no different from The Episcopal Church. If Anglicans continue to recognize Canterbury and be in even "impaired" communion with the Church of England, they might have just as well remained in the Episcopal Church. As G. K. Chesterton has said, "Unless we live as we believe, we'll end up believing as we live."

The truth is that the Church of England is as dead as the Episcopal Church. Although the Church of England claims twenty-six million members, only one in twenty-six bother to go to church. The churches are empty and closing, the cathedrals are little more than museums, the men are gone, and those few who remain in the pews are aging. The Religion News Service reports that the Church of England claims some 3,000 "actively serving women priests" and that more than 70% of the Church's membership is female.

Conservative MP, Sir Tony Baldry, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, who is responsible for taking questions in Parliament on Church matters and steering Church legislation through Parliament, responded to the vote on women bishops by saying, "If the Church of England wants to be a national church, then it has to reflect the values of the nation." Well they have gotten what they wanted, the Church of England now reflects the post-Christian secular values of the nation. Rather than seeking to transform the world, the Church has conformed itself to the world.

Where does this leave the Anglican Communion? The liberal provinces will applaud the direction that Canterbury has taken and remain united with it. Even otherwise orthodox provinces will remain attached to Canterbury out of nostalgia or inertia. Others may try to set up a rival center of orthodox Anglican unity in the Southern Hemisphere, perhaps in Alexandria, Egypt; but this would be creating a rival See to the ancient Patriarchate of Alexandria and would be setting up altar against altar. Another option would be to establish a rotating center of unity wherever the president of the GAFCON Primates Council resides, which currently is in Kenya. It is conceivable that scattering Anglicans could divide into separate groups, with some choosing each of these three alternatives, or even finding more options. Whatever happens, the Anglican Communion as we have known it, is finished.

Without connection to an ancient See, Anglicanism would lose a key element of its self-identity as a historic branch of the Catholic Church. When the historic See of Utrecht abandoned the faith some years ago and the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht broke up, the orthodox Polish National Catholic Church sought to continue on without being united to an historic See, but independent Catholicism has not worked for them. The Polish National Catholic Church which claimed more than 280,000 members in the 1970s reports only around 30,000 members today - a decline of almost 90%. Likewise, the St. Louis Continuum which started with such great hopes in 1977, divided in 1978. Since then there has been division after division, until the list of "continuing Anglican jurisdictions" reads like a bowl of alphabet soup. Without an historic See there has been no credible center of unity and these jurisdictions have divided like amoeba, until today the continuum is smaller than it was twenty-five years ago, is graying, and shows few signs of vibrant life.

Independent Catholicism does not work and cannot work. The Non-Jurors who are now no more than a footnote in Church history, the PNCC, the St. Louis Continuum, and all of the vagante Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic, Anglican and "traditional" Roman Catholic jurisdictions demonstrate that. A "Jurisdiction" with a free-church protestant ecclesiology doesn't qualify as "Catholic" simply because its clergy have an historic episcopal succession. Like a branch broken from a vine, without an attachment to an historic See, a Church will sicken, wither, and die.

THE FUTURE OF ORTHODOX ANGLICANISM

God has preserved orthodox Anglicanism, but He has not preserved the Anglican Communion. There are tens of millions of orthodox Anglicans today. Most are in the two-thirds world, but many are also found in Western nations. In the United States alone, there are hundreds of orthodox congregations in the Anglican Church in North America and its Ministry Partners, and in the St. Louis Continuum, led by Called, well equipped, dedicated, and faithful pastors.

There have been many signs of vibrant life since the gathering of the Anglican Church in North America and its Ministry Partners; but with the final apostasy of the Church of England and the end of the Anglican Communion as we have known it, the clock is ticking.

If Divine Providence has not preserved the Anglican Communion, should we try to reorganize it or build a new one? "But this time it will be an orthodox Communion," someone will say. But, did God prosper the "Traditional Anglican Communion" or the older "Orthodox Anglican Communion"?

An important part of the vocation of Anglicanism is to be a bridge Church, a healing balm in a divided Christendom. Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury taught that the Anglican Communion was only "provisional" in nature; and in a 1989 Conference of Cathedral Deans, the 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, said, "our vocation as Anglicans was to put ourselves out of business." This desire for Catholic unity is also expressed in the Affirmation of St. Louis. Anglicans have never claimed to be a denomination, or the one, true Church. We have only said that we are a branch of the Catholic Church. We are a part, seeking to be united with the whole.

Our vocation is to be a bridge, a healing balm, a repairer of the breach. We have always recognized this special calling, so why do we continue to look for ways to remain independent, to perpetuate needless division in the Body of Christ? I am not suggesting that we abandon who we are and become something that we are not. What I am suggesting is that we become fully what we have always claimed to be.

We are living in a unique time in history. In 2009, Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, came to the inaugural Assembly of the Anglican Church In North America and spoke. He did this again at the second Assembly of the ACNA in 2012. A former Episcopalian, Metropolitan Jonah loves and honors our heritage. He understands Anglicanism and has called us into full organic unity with the Eastern Orthodox Church. Unity would allow the Body of Christ to breathe again with both lungs, Eastern and Western. On both occasions he was frank about our problems in contemporary Anglicanism, and what reforms needed to be made; and on both occasions his remarks were met with standing ovations. Metropolitan Jonah has since stepped down from the primacy of the Orthodox Church in America, but he has been succeeded by another former Episcopalian, Metropolitan Tikhon, and the dialogue will continue.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest national Church in the 300 million-member Eastern Orthodox communion. More than one out of every three Eastern Orthodox Christians are Russian Orthodox. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is led by Metropolitan Hilarion who resides in New York. The Russian Orthodox Church has had Western Rite parishes and monasteries for more than a century now. The Pastoral Vicar for the Russian Orthodox Western Rite is Fr. Anthony Bondi, a Benedictine monk and a former Episcopal priest. The bishop who has oversight of the Western Rite work is Bishop Jerome, a former Episcopalian. The Western Rite Vicariate of the Russian Orthodox Church is set up like a diocese. The only reason that it is not a diocese is that it is not yet large enough. The bishop vests in Western vestments and celebrates according to Western rites when visiting Western parishes. These are in deed historic times when there are so many Eastern Orthodox leaders who have Anglican backgrounds, and when Eastern Orthodoxy is reaching out to us and calling us to Church unity. Can we not see the hand of the Holy Spirit in this?

The Eastern Orthodox are reaching out to orthodox Anglicans world wide. Are we justified in continuing to build a separate branch of the Church rather than joining hands with our Eastern Orthodox brethren? Is not division, when it is wholly unnecessary, schism, and grave sin against charity and the unity of the Body of Christ?

Metropolitan Jonah has told us what we must do. What they are concerned about is the Faith. As Metropolitan Hilarion of the Moscow Patriarchate has recently said, "Fidelity to the Christian Tradition is the proper means for the restoration of unity among Christ's disciples." Speaking of the Moscow Anglo-Russian Theological Conference of 1956, Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury related that the Eastern Orthodox said in effect, "The Tradition is a concrete fact. There it is in its totality. Do you Anglicans accept it, or do you reject it? The Tradition is for the Orthodox one indivisible whole: the entire life of the Church in its fullness of belief and custom down the ages..." Likewise, Anglican writer T. M. Parker wrote, "It has been said that the faith is like a network rather than an assemblage of discrete dogmas; cut one strand and the whole pattern loses its meaning."

Although the Faith must be kept in its fullness, there is plenty of room for Anglican culture, liturgy and spirituality. The Orthodox Church has long recognized the validity of Western expressions of the ancient faith. As long ago as the early 18th century the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs wrote to the "British Katholicks" (the Anglican Non-jurors) saying that in regard to "custom and ecclesiastical order, and for the form and discipline of administering the Sacraments, they will easily be settled when unity is effected. For it is evident from ecclesiastical history that there have been and now are different customs and regulations in different places and Churches, and yet the unity of the Faith and Doctrine is preserved the same." And the famous Orthodox archbishop, Metropolitan Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow, said that while Anglicans who embrace Orthodoxy must be in full accord with the rest of Orthodoxy in regard to doctrine, "every rite not implying a direct negation of dogma would be allowed."

The Eastern Orthodox have reached out to us and called us into full communion. My prayer is that the bishops, clergy, congregations and religious communities of the Anglican Church in North America, its Ministry Partners, and the St. Louis Continuum, will complete the work of the English Reformation by fully restoring the Faith and Order of the undivided Church, and will enter into corporate union with Eastern Christendom as quickly as possible. Orthodox Anglicans have nothing to lose, and the whole Church will have much to gain from a restoration of Anglican Orthodoxy. As Pope John Paul II has said, "If at the beginning of the third millennium we are to overcome the divisions of the second millennium we must return to the consensus of the first millennium." The twenty-first century may yet prove to be the beginning of a new Springtime for the Church.

C. 2013, Fr. Victor E. Novak

Fr. Victor E. Novak is a priest of the Diocese of Mid-America of the Reformed Episcopal Church/Anglican Church in North America, and the rector of Holy Cross Anglican Church in Omaha, Nebraska. His parish website is: www.holycrossomaha.net. Fr. Novak can be reach by phone at (402) 677-5501 or by e-mail at: venovak@hughes.net

comments powered by Disqus
Virtueonline

Subscribe to VOL's Weekly News Digest

www.virtueonline.org/listserv.html

Setup your own foundation

to support VOL and the

charitable efforts you believe in.

TrustCounselors.org
 

All Saints' parish seeks full-time parish priest.

APA Diocese of the West

Lead young families
Orthodox, 1928 BCP

Search Committee
P.O. Box 1545
Prescott, AZ 86302

Prescott
Anglicans.org

Suburban Philadelphia
On the Mainline

Worship with us:
Sundays at 4:00pm.

210 S. Wayne Ave, Wayne, PA

christ-church-anglican.org

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee

Drink Coffee

Do Good

Sustainable Ministry

Coffee, Community, Social Justice

DrinkCoffeeDoGood.com

St. Dunstan parish seeks full-time rector.

ACA Diocese of the Missouri Valley

Family-sized church
Orthodox, 1928 BCP
Anglican Missal

Tara Keehr
tekeehr@msn.com
StDunstanAnglican.org

Go To Top