Thursday, February 26, 2015

Anglo-Protestantism and me

Over the past few months, I have been trying to put to bed old controversies in which I have found myself constantly inveigled, and it is my intention to say my piece and move on to whatever faces me in the future without any further need to keep defending myself against those who "urge" me to accept their theology. I hope that the following explains my relationship with Protestantism: why I accept myself to be Protestant in one sense of the word, but not in another sense.
There are many who would say that the term Anglo-Protestantism is utterly tautological: to be an Anglican is to be a Protestant and that is that.

In an obvious sense this must be true. If, by "Protestant", one means "not Roman Catholic", then Anglicans are indeed Protestants and that is indeed that. However, does "Protestant" mean "not Roman Catholic"?

Rev Alister McGrath suggests from his article "Anglicanism and Protestantism" that this is precisely what "Protestant" means, and thus any attempt to paint Anglicanism as a non-Protestant movement is futile, unhistorical and just a little bit ridiculous.

As Fr. McGrath points out, Henry VIII did not want to identify the Church of England with the continental reformers - after all, he'd just got rid of one foreign potentate muscling in on his territory so there was no way he was going to give way to any other. Thus there was a political reason for distancing Anglicanism from the Continental Reform. In Edward VI, we see that, in order to strengthen the political situation, it becomes expedient for a closer identification of Anglicanism with the original German Protestants against Papal Supremacy. Archbishop Cranmer is clearly influenced by Melancthon and Bucer and this shows up most obviously in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer and in the subsequent Thirty-Nine Articles.

Fr. McGrath then demonstrates that, although there were members of the Anglican Church in the first three generations following the Reformation who emphasized the old Sacramental system of effective grace, they still regarded themselves as Protestant. Thus, argues Fr. McGrath, it is pure revisionism on the part of the Tractarians to suggest that the Church of England has never seen itself as anything other than Protestant.

That's fair if, by Protestant, we mean "not Roman Catholic". The question as to whether Anglicanism is doctrinally Protestant is another and much more difficult matter.

It is clear that belief that Roman Catholicism actually defines Catholicism is disputed in history and theologically. Popes did not always call Oecumenical Councils, but at least one was called by a Roman Emperor! The place of the Pope as Bishop of Bishops cannot be supported conclusively by the Vincentian Canon, nor by the Councils which do see the Bishop of Rome having a primacy, but not a supremacy. I have not yet seen a good argument based on patristic texts which states that the Pope rules the Church, defines doctrine, defines catholicity, or speaks infallibly. All seem to be based on eisegesis of Patristic texts and Holy Scripture. Thus, rejecting the political supremacy of one privileged Bishop is a perfectly Anglican and Catholic doctrine. Catholicism is not about politics, it is about Salvation. There is only one Monarch of the Church of Christ and it's blindingly obvious Who that is; any other political system is earthly and will vanish away.

In his book The Protestant's Dilemma, Devin Rose seems to see the umbrella of Protestantism as one doctrinal system and seems to believe that refuting one particular doctrine of Protestantism at a time will refute the lot. I found no trouble reading the book as an Anglican Catholic and found absolutely no refutation of Anglican Catholicism largely because Anglican Catholicism has its roots in the pre-schismatic Church on which Devin Rose's church also stands. You cannot refute Protestantism by saying, "because they are not all one, they must all be in error." Seeing that there seem to be two "One True Churches" which are not one, the same argument would show that both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches must also be in error! One cannot prove the error of other Churches by assuming the lack of error of one's own. It is, after all, in Christ that we are all truly united and indeed, when it comes down to it, there is always the possibility that we might ALL be in error - though I don't for one minute believe that this is true. The burden for the Roman Catholic is to show that EVERY member under the Protestant umbrella is in error.

One might say that the whole of Protestant doctrine is embodied in the Five Sola statements -  knock these down and you've killed all of Protestantism - and yet each of these Sola statements have nuances in each Protestant Church some of which can be justly held by Roman Catholics, so Roman Catholic apologists are going to have to do a LOT better than they have hitherto. I'm sure that sola scriptura can be interpreted in a Roman Catholic sense - indeed, I believe St Thomas Aquinas did before Luther was even a twinkle of a twinkle of a twinkle...

Thus, in that Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism are in schism and certainly in that sense of the word, Anglicanism is indeed Protestant and there needs to be no apology for that. In that sense of the word, I will admit to being a Protestant and quite content with that particular understanding. I feel confident that other members of the ACC will feel the same way.

However, there is a well-defined sense in which Anglicanism is not Protestant, and this is really why I dislike the term due to its ambiguity and that it leads people to the conclusion that because it is not Roman Catholic, it is an innovation rather than a continuation of Christ's doctrine. It is this sense of Protestantism that the Tractarians would properly be battling while still preserving their distance from Rome. The beliefs of the early, pre-schismatic Church are surely not Protestant because they predate the whole ideas of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. As I said earlier, the doctrine of the Early Church is held by Anglican Catholics. However, all Protestants would surely say that they do the same, after all the Holy Scripture is pre-schismatic par excellence. Yet, in Protestantism, we have that diversity of belief ranging from acceptance of Bishops to almost anarchic (in the literal sense) structures. As an Anglican Catholic, I do not identify with Protestants but with Catholics. I pray for the dead, and say my rosary, Angelus and Marian Antiphons; I believe in the sacramental priesthood, Transubstantiation, the visibility of the Church, the apostolic succession of Bishops, the primacy and patriarchy of the Pope, et c.

Yet, what people take to be most doctrinal of Protestantism are those famous Solas designed principally to provide discrimination between what is Roman and what is Protestant. I have reservations with the Five Sola statements. I believe that Holy Scripture is indeed the supreme revelation but only when it is interpreted correctly through the faith of the Christians living before the Biblical Canon, expanded through the Fathers seeking to preserve that teaching, and with the use of reasoning to draw the correct analogies and arrive at the correct conclusions to answer the questions being asked. I presume that many Protestants would agree with that. I also suspect that many do not.

I do believe that I am justified by faith as that is spelled out unequivocally in Holy Scripture, but I see nowhere in scripture or tradition where this justification occurs explicitly by faith alone. Indeed, from what I understand of I Cor xiii, faith is never alone! Some will throw biblical verses at me to show that sola fide is true, but yet there are biblical verses which show that it is not. One can also throw patristic texts at me to show that it is true, and yet there are patristic texts which counter that. Seeing that I am incompetent of myself to make the decision, I trust what the pre-schismatic Church taught and this seems very much not to be sola fide. Seeing that one can indeed argue both ways about the requirement of sola fide, it really cannot be a sound requirement for belief. One can indeed define it as an article for belief, but if Anglicanism does seek to be patristic and if patristic texts are at best inconclusive, then an article that specifically requires it acts against that patristic inconclusiveness. The same, of course, goes for articles that actively dismiss it. Here perhaps, we can begin to see truly Elizabethan Settlement in its generosity by allowing both understandings. Here also you might begin to appreciate why I do not subscribe to the XXXIX Articles - their patristic statements are disputed. Yet, perhaps you may also begin to see why I also identify with being Anglican. I have Anglican Orders, use an Anglican prayer book in public, a breviary which is conformed with that prayer book in private, the English Missal, and the English Ritual; I see my leadership under a synod of bishops each with Anglican Orders, and am guided by a constitution and canons which are derived from the Oecumenical Councils through those inherited from the Anglican Church when the latter could be said to be orthodox.

Perhaps, one might be appalled at my lack of conviction when it comes to the question of justification - it is an important issue. As I say, faith is never alone and any true faith coming from the heart needs to be expressed naturally by action and tried by how we endure the suffering which Our Lord warned would happen to us - that to me is obvious in real life and it is obvious to me in the Holy Scriptures. I am also convinced that justification itself is a process, not a once and for all event distinct from sanctification and glorification.

I am quite convinced that sola fide is wrong, but I don't require brother and sister Anglicans to repudiate it. I am Anglican and, like my erstwhile political monarch, I am not going to make windows on men's souls.  However, I am an Anglican Catholic and that means I look to the Early Church rather than to Articles for definition. Where they agree, there is no problem. Where they do not agree, I take the Early Church first. I do not identify with Calvinist, nor Lutheran, nor Roman, but I firmly believe myself to be Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican. As a priest, I am responsible primarily for dispensing the grace of God and any judgments that I may have to make, I am required to make them for the maximizing of that dispensing, not for the condemnation of people, but rather for the excision of sin and evil, and the assistance of every single person in their process of justification, sanctification and glorification. If other Christians wish to judge me on this, then let them do so. I know God will, and it is His judgment that matters to me and will have much more important ramifications. Should my Bishop tell me that I am wrong, it is my duty to listen and be taught. Those who believe that I'm preaching the wrong Gospel, I will gladly discuss it with them quietly, but I intend to leave the screaming bloggers to their own devices.

No comments: