Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Anglican Romanticism

This is the first in a series of posts based on my attending Epiphany West 2007: Re-Visioning Anglicanism at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.

Today, I attended a lecture, Schism, Conflict, and Reconciliation, by The Rev. Dr. John L. Kater, Lecturer in Anglican Studies and my former academic advisor and teacher in Anglican ethics.

Here I offer a blog reflection in response to what I heard and discussed with others.

A romantic notion floats around right now, particularly amongst those who articulate a desire to return to "true" Anglicanism, often as opposed to, say, the recent decisions of The Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada (particularly the Diocese of New Westminster). There is a resonant call for a return to Anglicanism of the past, as though it were more real, more true, and more faithful to our Christian heritage.

Name your time period and location.

In The Episcopal Church recently, appeals have been made to the era prior to the sixties when the "innovations" began. This is still an sentimental heartstring even for steadfastly loyal Episcopalians today who fondly remember the days (often located in the postwar boom of the 1950's) when the church was full, more than enough money was to be had, rectors were rectors, men were men, acolytes were boys, and women wore hats.

I'm being a bit silly, but you get the drift. All of us who count ourselves as Anglicans have romantic notions about a true and more noble past, whether in our own Provinces, or in the greater Anglican Communion.

The difficulty is that we are tempted to look at history through rose-tinted glasses and project our own ideals onto a past that is, at best, distorted, or, at worst, fictitious.

In Dr. John Kater's lecture today at CDSP, he outlined, as examples for comparison, three periods and locations in "Anglican" history that were schismatic, polarizing, and bound up in strong disagreements over theology and polity.

The first we explored was the development of the Scottish Episcopal Church -- a tangled story of court intrigues wrapped up in the rise of the United Kingdom, the transition from the Tudor to the Stuart dynasties, the rise of Presbyterianism, Oliver Cromwell, the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution, and the Non-Jurors. . .and that's just a thumbnail sketch!

Dr. Kater posed to us a question for discussion: "Was the Scottish Episcopal Church 'Anglican' in its beginnings?"

That begged the question, of course, in how we define "Anglicanism." Sola Scriptura? Reformed or Catholic or both? Bishops or no bishops? Monarch or no monarch? Synod, convention, or presbytery? Guards or no guards. . .I'll tear 'em apart.

So where does Anglicanism begin, and where do its true roots lie? Before or after the Glorious Revolution? With Cranmer? The Elizabethan Settlement? The Concordat between The Episcopal Church in this country and the Scottish Episcopal Church? Or as late as 1864, when full communion between TEC, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church of England was restored. . .or made for the first time?

History is a messy business, but from this little lesson about the Church that consecrated the first bishop in The Episcopal Church in the United States, we learn that Anglicanism's beginning cannot be so easily pinned down on a time line, nor can its root theology and polity.

* * *

The Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Anglican Church of Japan, offers a 20th-century example of schism in the context of wartime and, it can be argued, a possible example of a path towards reconciliation.

The pressure of the wartime imperial government of Japan in the 1930's and 1940's ultimately deported a number of Western missionary bishops and clergy from Japan, and the NSKK was forced to either join a state-licensed Christian denomination or lose all standing. Some bishops joined, others did not, the church was split and dioceses were dissolved.

At the conclusion of the War, the NSKK was faced with a difficult problem reminiscent of the Church struggling with the Diocletian persecutions in the fourth century and the corresponding Donatist controversy.

Who were the faithful bishops and clergy in the Japanese context of World War II? Those who capitulated to the will of the Imperial government, or those who stood against it and faced investigation and imprisonment? And what to do with bishops who were consecrated while not a part of the NSKK?

The problem was only resolved ultimately with an appeal to outside mediation and even the judgment of a Lambeth Conference.

But, like several other instances of schismatic events in Anglican Provinces, such as the brief break during the Civil War in this country, this schism was short (a few years), was generally brought on by external political pressures and state conflict, and was solved with a desire on both sides for reconciliation.

That said, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai may have something to teach us about how to move forward in our present crisis. Out of this common experience the NSKK has engaged in several more recent and salient efforts at reconciliation, such as with the Korean Church for the atrocities committed by the Imperial army in World War II. . .and continue to exhibit a remarkable commitment to reconciling peace in their current opposition to the rising political will in Japan to begin developing a national military with offensive capabilities.

It might behoove the Primates meeting in Tanzania next February to seek and listen to what the NSKK Primate has to offer in terms of historical experience, and to learn how reconciliation looks and behaves in an internal church conflict.

* * *

The third example we looked at today was the founding of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the latter part of the nineteenth century in the United States. And here are some notable parallels around theological disputes in the present conflict.

The Oxford Movement had taken unique hold in a large part of The Episcopal Church through and after the 1840's, much to the chagrin of many evangelicals who feared the movement of the Church towards "romanization." In the 1850's and 1860's, accusations were made about false doctrines in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Sound familiar?

There were puritanical overtones in some of the rhetoric of the time. Dr. Kater quoted to us today one evangelical voice of the period: "We need to purge the romanizing germs that are in the Prayer Book. . ." (emphasis added)

In 1868, some evangelicals were making appeals to General Convention to create special provision for those who dissented from particular language around baptismal and eucharistic rites and who wanted greater latitude around qualifications for ministerial authority. The appeals were rejected.

In 1871, a resolution was presented by these evangelical groups to restrict "extreme" Anglo-Catholic practices in The Episcopal Church. There was a strong sense that the Church had gone too far in its permissive attitude towards liturgical practice and Catholic sacramental theology.

This resolution too failed, and within just over two years Bishop George Cummins of Kentucky founded an alternative reformed church built, in large part, around the inerrancy of Scripture. Interestingly enough, the Reformed Episcopal Church believed it was returning to the "true Anglicanism" of Thomas Cranmer. The resulting Reformed Episcopal Church, with about 13,000 members in North America today, still believes itself to be part of this "true" Anglicanism. Take a look at their website if you haven't yet. You may find the claims there sound awfully familiar.

Another uncanny parallel, perhaps one worth noting at this point, is that Cranmer's legacy has figured into the current controversy, perhaps most notably in the blogosphere with the very recent scholarly exchange over Cranmer's understanding of scriptural authority between Ashley Null and Tobias Haller.

Of great interest to me is the notion around this schism in the history of The Episcopal Church that there was an evangelical outcry: certain contrasting theological perspectives and practices, particularly found in the Book of Common Prayer but also in the greater Church, were ultimately not acceptable. This puritanical approach to church polity, practice, and theological understanding is clearly echoed in Bishop Duncan's remarks in an NPR report from November 5th:

"There's no way for these two understandings to stay side by side. The best thing would be for us to let one another go."

History suggests that's the language of schism. It clearly worked in the past. Why wouldn't it work now?

Be assured, this is nothing new.

A few tentative conclusions:

It strikes me that we all suffer from our own forms of "Anglican Romanticism." Appeals to Hooker, Cranmer, or the missionaries who founded our particular Churches may, in the end, not help the present impasse or bring us towards reconciliation.

What the AAC, and, to some extent, the AMiA and CANA and other alphabet-soup networks are up to is really nothing new, but they are simply re-articulating an age-old position of puritanical theology and thought that can be traced back in the history of the Episcopal Church and even to the foundation of the Church of England in the sixteenth century. That's their "Anglicanism," and they have some justification from a particular reading of the historical record.

But they risk, like the Reformed Episcopal Church, becoming yet one more mere splinter in our common history. Their truly romantic and over-inflated notions, it seems to me, lies in their implicit and explicit desire to become some kind of new Province of the Communion or develop some polity that, despite contradicting over 1,400 years of jurisdictional tradition, will fly in the greater Anglican Communion. Or even to see The Episcopal Church "kicked out" of the Anglican Communion. Now I think that one's probably over the top, but it helps to explain the strong inclination to get close with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Primates in the hope that a divorce from The Episcopal Church will not set them adrift as far as the rest of the Communion goes. Romanticism par excellence, I'd say!

What is more or less new, it strikes me from my current understanding, is that we are no longer facing intra-provincial schism here, but also inter-provincial conflict. CANA is a case in point. How do we disentangle, say, the Church of Nigeria's disagreement with The Episcopal Church, and their clear interest in the schismatic actions of Truro, Falls Church, et. al.? But that might be the subject of a subsequent post.

We might all learn more from the example of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai and heed what is required when schism is threatened or actually comes to pass.

It's an age-old lesson in forgiveness: reconciliation must be sought by all sides, not just one, if it is to bear fruit.

One final thought before I post:

My heart is very much with ++Katharine Jefferts Schori's "we'll leave the light on" statements. But let's not hold our breath. That, too, may suffer a bit too much Anglican Romanticism. And while hope is part of our legacy, this particular hope may not bear the weight of history.

Your comments are more than welcome, and please note I claim to be no historian. I will gladly welcome factual correction.

Links to Wikipedia should be taken with appropriate caution, as the accuracy of the information there may be suspect at times. I link to them only to offer a starting point for further reading. Make note of the references in any of the articles, as they may provide more accurate information than the Wikipedia article itself.

Part II: A Mess of History
Part III: Claiming the Re-visionist Label
Part IV: Head, Heart, and Hope
Part V: Beyond Modern Anglicanism


Anonymous said...

Responding as an evangelical anglican I am pleased that you accord those of my viewpoint "some justification from a particular reading of the historical record" of Anglicanism. Thankyou.
Sadly some TECers I have dialogued with in the past have not seen this degree of complexity in anglican history.
It must have been a fascinating lecture and I look forward to your further refelctions.
can i suggest a couple of other anglican schisms to look at.
1) the Church of England in South Africa today is a group of evangelical churches. It dates back to the Colenso dispute which led to the first lambeth. Formed because a Liberal bishop proved too controversial for his peers in the Church of the Province of South Africa (which was subsequently accepted into the Communion) those left out moved towards conservative evangelicalism. Which goes to show that anglican History has its share of Irony.
2) The Methodists - an odd omission because it is arguably the most significant scism from anglicism. If REC is a sad lesson of a group which failed to thrive, and remained inwardlooking, methodism is an example of a group that reached out and at least in the US became rather larger than its parent church.
The key question for those leaving TEC is whether they will resemble Methodism or the REC.

R said...


Many thanks for another great comment, and I'm very glad you read the post the way you did. It certainly remains my belief that evangelicalism is a significant part of our shared heritage, and I, for one, remain committed to maintaining wide berth for a variety of theological perspectives, even when they disagree.

Thanks for the added examples. Methodism did come up yesterday in the discussion. It seems that Dr. Kater deliberately chose his examples because they were less well known and yet he found them particularly salient for a number of reasons to discussion around the present controversy.

My experience of Methodism (at least the United Methodists) in this country has been that many of their more moderate to liberal congregations have grown close to the Episcopal Church in ecumenical cooperation and mission. Along with Presbyterians, they also struggle to a greater or lesser extent with some of the same challenges we face, including internal disagreements over human sexuality and the wider "culture wars" that remain relevant in the Christian faith landscape of this country.

Thanks again for visiting.

Anonymous said...

First, I must be upfront. I am a Roman Catholic. However, I do have a romantic view of anglicanism...in the sense of liturgy. It has remained beautiful and it reaches out and inspires one. Whilst the Roman Mass in estetic terms is just awful. However, having said that I think Anglicanism suffers one gigantic problem. It's foundation is based on the dynastic and sexual needs of a horrible tyrant. How do you get over that? Talking about later events in the Church can not over come this historical reality.

R said...


Thanks for the visit. I won't defend Henry VIII's behavior, except to say he was trying to meet his, as you put it, dynastic needs (namely, for a male heir -- his sexual appetite, while distasteful and I think immoral, was no strange thing in the monarchies of Europe at the time or many other periods of history.)

He was also caught up in a broader movement of rising nationalism sweeping Europe at the time. As another example, Lutheranism, it seems to me, broke with Rome in part over nationalist desires amongst the Germanic states.

Another way of thinking about it is that Henry VIII's break with Rome did not happen in a vacuum, but only when the popular sentiment against Roman Catholicism was ripe for the change. In other words, Rome's denying him a divorce from Catherine was the final straw in a long-standing and growing desire of the English people for autonomy and a monarch's opportunistic (and, yes, tyrannical, though that was not all that unusual either) use of public sentiment to consolidate power and start building a unified nation.

Henry VIII's fun to talk about because the story is so seedy, but Anglicanism was founded and re-founded (remember Mary's bloody re-imposition of Catholic authority in England following her father's and half-brother's deaths?) by multiple folk: Thomas Cranmer, Elizabeth I, and the numerous reformers and bishops who weighed in, and that's just for starters.

Between Henry and me are all the events I mentioned in my post here, and a slew of other developments, breaks, revisions, and the rise of a whole new country (the United States) and church (the Episcopal Church.)

So I really don't feel the need to "get over it." And I would argue that the Anglican spirituality and faith I practice is about as far removed from Henry VIII as yours is from some Popes we could name that led, shall we say, colorful lives, and some of them every bit as tyrannical as Henry's! :)

June Butler said...

I'm no historian, but if my memory serves me well, Henry XIII considered himself a Catholic throughout his life. He had no intention of founding a new church, but wanted to establish the autonomy of the English Catholic church (admittedly, for his own convenience), vis-à-vis Rome. The English church, over the centuries, had retained, sometimes more, and sometimes less, autonomy. Henry made it more.

IMHO, it would be more accurate to place the establishment of a new church during the reign of Elizabeth I.

I'm open to correction on this.

janinsanfran said...

I just need to say, as someone raised in it, that the time when the church was full, more than enough money was to be had, rectors were rectors, men were men, acolytes were boys, and women wore hats was a repellent iteration of Church. In fact, the horror of it kept me away for about 30 intervening years. Good riddance to that particular period -- forward into wherever the Spirit leads.

Anonymous said...

Richard, I think you did a very credible job in responding to Daniel S.

I would just add, Daniel, that in obsessing re Henry VIII, you're in danger in engaging in (per Richard's essay) yet another form of romanticism (another form of Donatism).

Despite Henry's notorious sins, he was merely the catalyst, for the Larger Truth: Anglican Christian had developed unique charisms, which were right and proper to continue developing, and not be squelched under Roman uniformity (in the same way that, belatedly, recent Popes have recognized other unique charisms: e.g., the "two lungs to breathe" of East and West, notably)