Thursday, July 23, 2009

Defining or Dogmatising Anglican Identity

This seems to be a very well-asked question in the debates between Catholic jurisdictions and Sees. What is the Anglican Identity? Does it even exist? Should it even exist? Defining an identity is a terribly tricky – indeed it’s probably impossible. Definitions and Dogmata are intrinsically very different things and really inhabit different spheres of philosophical thought.

Definitions really belong to the mathematical sphere more than anywhere else. When a mathematician defines an object/set/operation/process/quality it has a very specific meaning upon which all can agree upon assumption of given axioms. Mathematically, some work has to go in to showing that two definitions of an object logically agree. Further, sometimes it is necessary for the definition to be checked as to make logical sense, yielding the mathematical notion of being well-defined.

The number two is defined to be the number which we get when we add one to one, i.e. the number of apples on the table when having one apple on the table, we proceed to put another apple on the table. Similarly, three and four and the rest just follow from the process of adding one. As a result, 2+2=4 is a logical deduction, a fundamental theorem that arises from the facts that 1+1=2, 1+2=3 and 1+3=4 – the definitions of 2, 3 and 4.

It’s all precise under the assumption that we follow the same rules of adding. Changing the rules of adding produces different theories of number, for example modular (or clock arithmetic) in which 12+1=1, or 23+1=0. Sounds daft, but we use such a strange arithmetic in real life. Think about it.

Mathematics is built on axioms and axioms are static assumptions. You don’t disagree with axioms. Change an axiom, then you change the theory; preserve the axiom and preserve the theory.

Dogmata just do not work like that. They come like individual suitcases that require to be unpacked.

“I believe in One God” is a wonderful suitcase containing ever more nested suitcases: “believe”, “God”, “One” and “One God”, and even “I”. It is in opening these suitcases that we find the richness of theology and philosophy. Does that make the Church a collection of baggage handlers?

No. In entering the Church, we are given one particular suitcase to open. It contains our way of identifying ourselves with the coherent structure of Christian belief in engaging with our earthly lives, helping us to make sense of who we are and how we are here and a way of communicating with the many wonderful and varied folk around us. This suitcase is the Truth, and it is in its ability to hand out this suitcase and pack and unpack it that the Church possesses the fullness of Truth.

So now it looks as if I have strayed from the point, but I haven’t.

Anglican identity is not something that can be defined to a precise degree. Even the theoretically narrower term of “Anglo-Catholic” takes in a broad sweep of conflicting views ranging from the Ultramontane to the Protestant. So what causes people to identify themselves with Anglicanism?

An individual’s identity, again, cannot be defined but can be experienced by interaction. We know who our family and friends are without knowing them in full, without being able to define their identity in terms of axiomatics and specific qualia. We also get some idea of our own identity through interacting with them.

If we say that we are Anglican then we are clearly stating that we share an aspect of our own identity with others, namely that of being Anglican. So what is it that we share?

Well, we could say “Anglican” means pertaining to and having continuity with the Church which lies within England. To be Anglican suggests that we have to hold in our own identity some continuity with what the English Church is. If we claim to be Anglican yet disassociate ourselves from every aspect of the English Church, then our Anglican identity is not shared with very many others and casts a large question over whether we are really Anglican at all.

Notice that I have failed to give a definition of “Anglican” but merely point to where it is. What on Earth do I mean by “the Church with lies within England”, especially since there are Anglicans all over the world? England became a unified state in 927 and there was really only one expression of Church until the Reformation. Prior to 927, England was separate kingdoms and before the Synod of Whitby in the 8th Century there was a dichotomy between Irish Christianity and Roman Christianity, the former largely succumbing to the latter which was carried principally by the Angles and the Saxons from Rome. Again, here we have problems because historical data is open to interpretation: History is written by the winners!

The Church of England claims to be Anglican stating that it has continuity with the historic Anglican Church. In what sense? How can this continuity occur? Listening to the people around me, I hear that one is Anglican

1) by continuing in the Apostolic Succession with Anglican Bishops.

2) by the continued use of Scripture, Tradition and Right Reason in continuity with the great Anglican Divines – Hooker, Andrewes et al;

3) by agreeing with the principles laid down at the Reformation;

4) by worshipping in the same places, in the same buildings as antiquity;

5) by being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury;

6) by being a Christian subject of Queen Elizabeth II and her successors

7) by adhering to traditional Anglican liturgies;

Have I left any out?

There are those who would define Anglicanism as being in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, in much the same way as some define Roman Catholicism as being in Communion with the Pope. Personally I find this definition as being somewhat insubstantial. The histories of the roles of Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury are very different. Either the Archbishop of Canterbury is a substitute for the Pope, which most Anglicans would object to, or he is a Primus inter Pares.

If he is the first among equals, then saying that Communion with him is definitive of Anglicanism is either a property which is peculiar to the Archbishop of Canterbury in which case he has a quality which other bishops do not possess which raises a question as to who his pares truly are, or it must be a property shared by every bishop ordained by the Church of England – this would delight St Iranaeus! If a Bishop ordained Anglican ceases to be in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, then the fact that his “bishopness” doesn’t sacramentally change suggests that to be in communion with any Bishop in the Anglican Succession must be fully Anglican.

Of course, I’m not entirely convinced that “not being in Communion” is well-defined in certain cases.
Are we Anglican because we use the Anglican Liturgies? Well, surely a liturgy becomes Anglican only if used by Anglicans. We may have lex orandi lex credendi, but does this mean that Anglicans who use the Missal are not Anglican if Anglicanism is defined by the liturgical use of the BCP? What about vice versa?
There is a decommissioned church building not far from me that was built in the 19th Century, was Anglican and was taken over by the Roman Catholics. I think this rather puts a darkener on the idea that it’s where you worship that makes you Anglican.

As for being sovereign subjects of Her Majesty the Queen (God bless her), many republican and papal and anti-papal minded folk would take issue with that. It certainly cannot be a necessary condition. As for its sufficiency – given that there are Priests who describe themselves as Anglicans yet reject (or redefine) Apostolicity and Catholicity of the Church (indeed who do not believe in God in an orthodox sense), no.

The other ideas are more substantial. I can accept adherents of the prayer book as being Anglican because they seek continuity with the Anglicanism that emerged with the Prayer-Book which Cranmer did largely put together from extant material. Also to be in communion with a Bishop from an Anglican Succession who holds to the Traditional Faith as received by the Church, this also has merit, though what if that Bishop were to secede to Roman Catholicism? For me, that’s not a problem. It is for other Anglicans.

These are just thoughts, and I refuse to say that they are in any way conclusive or terribly coherent. As I said, pinning down Anglican Identity is practically impossible. The only way that we can find out about our identities is to interact with others and see what we share and how we differ in our communication. It is in the interaction that Anglicanism exists, but by far the most important identity that we need to cultivate is our Christianity. That can only come about by interacting and responding with the One who made us, redeemed us and continues to walk alongside us. That is an identity for which it is worth losing whatever we presently consider to be our identities to be.

Friday, July 17, 2009

New blog

... to me at least. I introduce Fr Hunwicke an English Anglo-Catholic of the Papalist tradition of Frs Patten and Fynes-Clinton. His blog can be found here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pondering Polemics

There are times when I am glad not to be a gifted theologian. As soon as someone finds themselves thus branded, they also find themselves branded with a label and if this label is not popular, then the Polemicists come out and try to force that theologian into their way of thinking.

Being identified with the Papalist camp, I have my share of people trying to convince me that Rome is heretical and that I should not despise my Anglican identity, while others tell me that I am being chauvinist or homophobic or Mariolatrous or just plain nasty.

I perceive that the same Polemicists have descended upon the Continuum Blog in no small number. Unfortunately for me, they are Papal Polemicists and their bent seems to be to try and convince, nay forcibly convince, the learned members there that they are wrong. It seems that the Synod of Whitby is meeting again with even more snipery!

I disagree with the folk on the Continuum, but I have every respect and interest in what they are doing in presenting just how coherent Anglicanism really is. I don't regard the 39 Articles as defining Anglicanism, as far I understand them at the moment, though I do look through them to try and make sense of them in the same way as Blessed Father Newman did. I am still learning - it's not easy when you're doing this as an amateur. However, I do not see it as my job to tell people that they are wrong. I see it as my job to bear witness to the Truth as has been revealed to me by Our God through Holy Mother Church. Unless I've got the law courts completely wrong, witnesses don't get out of the witness box, grab the defendant by the throat and force their testimony down it.

To support what I'm saying here, I'd like to make an extended quote from the Sixth Discourse of Dorotheus of Gaza:

There are times when we not only condemn but also despise people; for it is one thing to condemn and quite another to despise. Contempt adds to condemnation the desire to set someone at nought - as if the neighbour were a bad smell which has got to be rid of as something disgusting, and this is worse than rash judgment and exceedingly destructive.

Those who want to be saved scrutinise not the shortcomings (as below) of their neighbour but always their own and they set about eliminating them. Such as the man who saw his brother doing wrong and groaned, "woe is me: him today - me tomorrow!" You see his caution? You see the preparedness of his mind? How he swiftly foresaw how to avoid judging his brother.? When he said "me tomorrow" he aroused his fear of sinning, and by this he increased his caution about avoiding those sins which he was likely to commit, and so he escaped judging his neighbour: and he did not stop at this, but put himself below his brother, saying, "He has repented for his sin but I do not always repent. I am never first to ask for forgiveness and I am never completely converted." Do you see the Divine Light in his soul? Not only was he able to escape making judgment but he humbled himself as well. And we miserable fellows judge rashly, we hate indiscriminately and set people at nought whether we see something, or hear something, or even only suspect something. And what is worse, we do not stop at harming ourselves, but we go and gossip and say, "Here, listen to what has just happened!" We harm our neighbour and put sin into his heart also.

How can we put up with this behaviour unless it is because we have no true love? If we have have true love, with sympathy and patient labour, we will not go about scrutinising our neighbour's shortcomings. As it is said, "Love covers up a multitude of sins." If we have true love, that very love should screen anything of this kind, as did the saints when they saw the shortcomings of others. Were they blind? Not at all. But they simply would not let their eyes dwell on sins. Who hated sin more than the Saints? But they did not hate the sinners or condemn them, nor turn away from them, but they suffered with them, admonished them, comforted them, gave them remedies as sickly members, and did all they could to heal them.

Let us acquire tenderness towards our neighbour so that we may guard ourselves from speaking evil of our neighbour, and from judging and despising them. Let us help one another, for we are indeed members of one another.

When I hear that phrase "One True Church" I worry about the context in which it is being used. If that word "True" is not supported by some commitment to love, then I wonder whether it really is true. Human beings are not entirely rational and there are things of the soul which defy the rational thought of others and the self to make coherent sense of. I am still trying to understand how to be an Anglican Papalist. By that I don't mean a Romaniser, but rather how to bring the integrity of Anglicanism - and boy does it have integrity - into union with the Holy See. The Holy See is the One True Church. I firmly believe that, but I also believe that the Orthodox Church of the East is the One True Church and that the Anglican Church is the One True Church, because, as Dorotheus reminds us, each Christian is a member of every other Christian.

If we are going to debate the nature of what it means to be Church, then we need to do so in recognition of this basic, yet transcendent property of the Church. For an Anglican Papalist to despise his Anglican heritage is to cease to be an Anglican, and to become a Romaniser. Fr Hope Patten in rebuilding the Shrine at Walsingham sought to reclaim some of the Anglican Heritage thrown out at the reformation. He was not out to Romanise. Indeed, this archetypal Anglican Papalist despised Latin and used the Book of Common Prayer with a Roman twist. Other Anglican Papalists make use of the Anglican Missal, and Anglican Breviary which seek to reclaim the liturgical richness of the pre-Reformation without jettisoning the BCP.

As I say, the BCP is an Anglican product, but does not, in my mind, define what Anglicanism is, though I do not despise its use, nor those who use it. Indeed, I rather pine for the days when I used to sing Choral Evensong in the Church Choir, before being kicked out for having the wrong voice.

To the disgust of many a Prayer-book Catholic, I proudly wear my biretta at Morning Prayer. The horns make it very easy for me to doff at the Holy Name. The thing is, until they got back into the practice of wearing mitres, Anglican Bishops wore mortar-boards. I daresay many a prayer-book Catholic has nothing against a mortar-board. However, a mortar-board is just a modified biretta which has been joined to the zucchetto, hence the distinctive shape. How much of Anglicanism is the same, I wonder?

We Anglicans need to come together under the Kingship of Christ. We need to recognise our need in one another so that we can present ourselves whole and humble to each other so that we can embrace each other. Having heard Metropolitan Jonah's speech at the inauguration of ACNA, if he is right then there are lots of welcoming arms outstretched for us. We need to be humble enough to allow ourselves to be embrace and even dare to embrace others. In doing so, our embrace of Christ will be tighter and more passionate.