Like many of my posts, this particular one is a work in progress. I hope to compile and update it as I collect quotes from notable Anglican divines.
In Keble’s, “Case of Catholic Subscription”, the question of how catholicity is found seems to diverge in sleight yet critical ways from earlier definitions of orthodoxy. While Anglican greats, alongside Keble, acknowledge the importance of Apostolic tradition in understanding Articles, Keble sounds generally more optimistic about the continuity of this tradition into the Eastern and perhaps even the Roman Catholic church, saying, “Again it seems catholic to interpret it [the 39 Articles] so as to cast the least unnecessary censure on other portions of the existing Church– more especially where they form the great majority of Christendom“. It is unclear if Keble means “Christendom” in the sense of contemporary sister churches (Trent, Lateran IV, etc.) or the ancient cloud of witnesses (first five centuries). Keble then goes on to quote St. Vincent of Lerins, “because, argumentatively, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, are presumptions in favour of quod semper, until the contrary has been proved”.
This is fine and good, but what if Anglican divines indeed disagree in points of doctrine against Rome and the East– be it of the 6th, 9th, or 12th centuries of Christendom? When Anglicans claim to have retrieved the doctrine and practice of the primitive church, it ought be assumed they captured this very catholicity by subscribing to classical standards. Keble appears to do such when he quotes the 1571 Canon to prove catholic subscription. But, below is the complete quote from Canon 6 . Note: the criteria is not merely the consensus fidelum but also the rule of scripture. There is no car blanche pass for medieval doctors but a cautious resourcement of primitivism, usually limited to very early centuries:
“… shall behave themselves modestly and soberly in every department of their life. 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 or New Testament, and what the Catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected from this selfsame doctrine“.
Although the 1571 Canon was not signed by Elizabeth, the precept already carried forward from the Crown and convocation under Henry. Yet where Keble departs from other declarations on primitive religion is unhinging Apostolic faith from the boundaries of early centuries. Outside this bracket, English Reformers were certainly less confident, qualifying the reception of doctrine in very careful terms (such as ‘agreeable with scripture’). How primitive faith might be identified beyond the first five centuries is given by Henry VIII’s criteria. In the 1536 preface to the Ten Articles, Henry provides four rules. The first being scripture; second, the creeds; third, the Articles established by Crown and Convocation; and fourth, antiquity. Regarding the last item:
” That they ought and must utterly refuse and condemn all those opinions contrary to the said articles, which were of long time past condemned in the four holy councils, that is to say, in the council of Nice, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedonense, and all other since that time in any point consonant to the same“.
The last council on Henry’s list, Chalcedon, was closed by 451 or 453 once Pope Leo received its canons. Though Leo was a great bishop and doctor of the church, he is not the last Father recognized by classical Anglicans. For example, Bp Gregory (d. 604), a later Pope, continues to shape Anglican identity through his great reforms in the Western Mass as well as the commission of Augustine of Canterbury to establish the British episcopate. Surely there are many other saints.
However, a boundary line for ‘sure orthodoxy’ (without dispute) apparently ends after the fourth universal council in the fifth century. What doctrine might be received afterwards depends on that peculiar clause, ‘consonant to the same’. Certainly there’s no absolute line. Classical Anglicans today repeat a similar refrain with statements like, “The later ecumenical councils (i.e., the fifth, sixth, and seventh) are affirmed as orthodox to the degree that they are consistent with, while adding nothing to, the substance of dogma defined by the first four.”
But this refrain is becoming rare among Anglican conservatives who are more optimistic about Orthodoxy. For example, Forward in Faith– an evangelical and catholic alliance– recently rejected Andrewes formula for a relatively open-ended Vincentian canon: switching the first five centuries for the first millennium of faith. This is a typical tactic among Anglo-Catholics, and while a tenacious middle position remains (i.e., “consonant with”), Forward in Faith, previously known as the Evangelical and Catholic Mission (ECM). Fr. Deacon Kidd explained FiFNA’s new direction, perhaps illustrating a trend:
‘To acknowledge Seven Councils, then, means we must at least agree with the Orthodox numbering as defining the classical period of the Undivided Church. (So instead of Lancelot Andrewes’ “four councils, five centuries,” we’re looking more in the neighborhood of Seven Councils and ten centuries.)…Most people who would affirm this probably fall somewhere in the middle: assuming the contents of the Councils to be Scriptural on the basis of their ecumenical status, but not necessarily having done all the work to connect the dots themselves.”
Nonetheless, the sobriety and caution of Anglican thought with respect to the past ought to be taken with more seriousness. Generally speaking, the first few centuries of the church are believed most reliable. Regarding these centuries, John Cosin says, “For the nearer they were to the Apostolic days, the better must they have understood the truth, and the more correctly, as we believe, have they explained it. This is especially the case where they are unanimous and consentient in matters of faith” (p. 20, The Religion, Discipline, and Rites of the CofE). In the Apology, John Jewel similarly says the same,
“We truly for our parts, as we have said, have done nothing in altering religion either upon rashness or arrogancy; nor nothing but with good leisure and great consideration. Neither had we ever intended to do it, except both the manifest and most assured will of God, opened to us in His Holy Scriptures, and the regard of our own salvation, had even constrained us thereunto. For though we have departed from that Church which these men call Catholic, and by that means gets us envy amongst them that want skill to judge, yet is this enough for us, and ought to be enough for every wise and good man, and one that maketh account of everlasting life, that we have gone from that Church which had power to err: which Christ, who cannot err, told so long before it should err; and which we ourselves did evidently see with our eyes to have gone both from the hly fathers; and from the Apostles, adn from Christ His own self, and from the primitive and Catholic Church; and we are come as near as we possibly could to the Church of the Apostles and of the old Catholic bishops and fathers; which Church we know hath hereunto been sound and perfect, and, as Tertullian termeth it, a pure virgin, spotted as yet with no idolatry, nor with any foul or shameful fault: and have directed, according to their customs and ordinances, not only our doctrine, but also the Sacraments and the form of common prayer.
And, as we know both Christ Himself and all good men heretofore have done, we have called home again to the original and first foundation that religion which hath been foully foreslowed, and utterly corrupted by these men. For we thought it meet thence to take the pattern of reforming religion from whence the ground of religion was first taken: because this one reason, as saith the most ancient father Tertullian, hath great force against all heresies, “look, whatsoever was first, that is true; and whatsoever is latter, that is corrupt.” Irenaeus oftentimes appealed to the oldest churches, which had been nearest to Christ’s time, and which it was hard to believe had erred. But why at this day is not the same respect and consideration had? Why return we not to the pattern of the old churches? Why may not we hear at this time amongst us the same saying, which was openly pronounced in times past in the council of Nice by so many bishops and Catholic fathers, and nobody once speaking against it: that is to say, “hold still the old customs!” (p. 69, The Apology of the CofE)
Below are noteworthy quotations by Anglican churchmen regarding the duration of sure consensus/witness of these centuries (more to be added):
“One Canon reduced to writing by God Himself, two Testaments, three Creeds, four Councils, five centuries, and the succession of the Fathers in that period– the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith”. –Lancelot Andrewes, Opusc. Posthuma, p. 91
“As for our doctrine which we may rightly call Christ’s catholic doctrine, it is so far off from new that God, who is above all most ancient, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, hath left the same unto us in the Gospel, in the Prophets’ and Apostles’ works, being monuments of the great age…And we are to come to that Church, wherein themselves [sic. Rome] cannot deny (if they will say truly, and as they think in their own conscience) but all things be governed purely and reverently, and as much as we possibly could, very near to the order used in the old times…Scripture and the Primitive Church are the criteria by which the authenticity of a Church and the truth of its teaching are thus assessed”– John Jewel, Apologia
“Hence we lay down as a second postulate, ‘That in things whose fitness is not of itself apparent, nor may be easily proved, the concurrent judgment of antiquity ought to prevail with those who cannot allege any weighty impropriety against them’”– Richard Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V
“Indeed, rites and customs instituted by the Apostles though not written, are still retained in our church; for it is not the mode of delivery but the author whence they proceed, that gives scriptures and the rites their force” — Richard Hooker, Ecclesiastical PolityBook II
“I am such a Catholic Christian as believeth the three Creeds, that of the Apostles, that of the Council of Nice, and that of Athanasius, the two latter being paraphrases to the former. And I believe them in that sense as the ancient Fathers and Councils that made them did understand them, to which three Creeds all the ministers of England do subscribe at their Ordination. And I also acknowledge for Orthodox all those other forms of Creeds that either were divised by Councils or particular Fathers, against such particular heresies as most reigned in their times…I reverence and admit the Four General Councils as Catholic and Orthodox. And the said Four General Councils are acknowledged by our Acts of Parliament, and received for orthodox by our Church…As for the Fathers, I reverence them as much and more than the Jesuits do, and as much as themselves ever craved. For whatever the Fathers for the first five hundred years did with an unanime consent agree upon, to be believed as a necessary point of salvation, I either will believe it also, or at least will be humbly silent, not taking upon me to condemn the same.” — King James I
“The two Testaments which, by God’s appointment, constitute the one Canon of Scripture, are our broken and unchanging rule of religion and faith in the English Church. For the plain words of Holy Scripture contain everything that appertains to faith and practice. After scripture we hold as authorities the Three Creeds, the first four Councils, the first five Centuries, and the consentient line of Catholic Fathers during that period. For the original faith once delivered to the Saints is set forth in them pure and undefiled without human corruptions or novelties. Finally, we acknowledge such of the theology of later times as is not inconsistent with this primitive doctrine.” — John Cosin (p. 15-16, The Religion, Discipline, and Rites of the CofE)
Anglicans who favored a more Arminian or synergestic view of grace often limited primitivism to four or less centuries.
“From a child I was taught to love and reverence the Scripture, the oracles of God; and, next to these, to esteem the primitive Fathers, the writers of the first three centuries. Next after the primitive church I esteemed our own, the Church of England, as the most Scriptural national church in the world.”– John Wesley
“THE Church of England doth very piously declare her consent with the ancient Catholic Church, in not admitting any thing to be delivered as the sense of Scripture, which is contrary to the consent of the Catholic Church in the four first ages.”–Edward Stillingfleet (1635-1699)
“That the best method for all churches and Christians to follow, is to lay aside all modern hypotheses, customs, and private opinions, and submit to all the doctrines, practices, worship, and discipline, not of any Particular, but of the Ancient and Universal church of Christ, from the beginning to the end of the fourth century —- Secondly, That the Liturgy in the Apostolical Constitutions is the most Ancient Christian Liturgy extant; that it is perfecdy pure and free from interpolation; and that the book itself, called the Apostolical Constitutions, contains at large the doctrines, laws, and settlements, which the first and purest ages of the gospel did with one consent believe, obey, and submit to. . . . That therefore the said book . . . ought to be received, submitted to, and allowed it’s [sic] due authority.”– Thomas Deacon
Finding formulas past five centuries is uncommon. The phrase ‘consonant with the same’ usually covers later doctrine. But, here is one from Joseph Hall (1574-1656), stretching our patristic period by another century as a time with no ‘heavy error’.
“IN truth he who heartily subscribes to the Word of God, consigned, as it is, to the everlasting record of letters, to all the primitive Creeds, to the four General Councils, to the concordant judgment of the Fathers for the first six hundred years from Christ, which we of the Reformed Church religiously profess to do, even though he be not exempt from error in minor points, yet he shall never be an heretic. Any particular Church may easily err, by affixing heresy to an opinion undeserving of it, whether a truth, or but a light error; but heavily neither soul nor Church can err, which walks needfully in the steps of the universal and ancient Church.”
However, the controversies between protestants was not so much over the resourcement of patristics. All parties did that, but the degree medieval ceremony and scholastic might be abolished. Percy Dearmer has a very fascinating quote regarding our orthodox retention of both, which I believe makes the CofE unique amongst reformation churches:
“The English Church happens to base herself in a special manner upon history–she appeals to the Scriptures and primitive antiquity for her theology, [* Articles VI., VIII., etc.] to the ancient Fathers for her ritual, [* The Preface Concerning the Service of the Church, Article XXIV., etc.] to Catholic tradition for her ceremonial; [* The Preface Of Ceremonies, Canon 30 (1603), Canon & (1640), etc.] she refers us to the second year of Edward VI for her ornaments, [* The Ornaments Rubric] and to the later middle ages for the arrangement of her chancels. [* “And the chancels shall remain as they have done in times past.” (First inserted in 1552.)] [24/25] Her formularies, therefore, cannot be understood without a good deal of historical knowledge. Some people may object to this, and may ask–Why should they be bound by documents that are two or three hundred years old? But the fact remains that they are so bound, whether they like it or not; and that the whole intention of the Reformers, as shown from end to end of the Prayer Book, Articles, and Canons, was to bind them to principles that are nearer two thousand than two hundred years of age. Nor will they be released from this bondage to historic continuity till the same authority that imposed it shall have removed it,–which will not be for a long time to come. The attempts that have been hitherto made at throwing off this light yoke have not been so conspicuously successful in their results as to encourage us to proceed. Therefore I ask Churchmen to renounce those futile experiments of private judgment, and to throw themselves into the task of realising in its entirety that sound Catholic ideal which the defenders of the English Church preserved for us through the most troublous period of her history. “– Dearmer, Loyalty to the Prayer Book
And, Cosin hints about a formula beyond five centuries. Thus far, Cosin seems to stretch the possibility of orthodoxy furthest among classical divines. This quote is from Cosin’s letter to the Countess of Peterborough, 1660 on the agreements and differences with Roman Catholics. Starting with the Creeds, Cosin says Anglicans agree with Romans in so far:
“All the decrees of faith and doctrine set forth, as well in the first four General Councils, as in all other Councils, which those first four approved and confirmed, and in the fifth and sixth General Councils besides (than which we find no more to be General), and in all the following councils that be thereunto agreeable, and in all the anathemas and condemnations given out by those Councils against heretics, for the defence of the Catholic Faith. The unanimous and general consent of the ancient Catholic Fathers and the universal Church of Chirst in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, and the collection of all necessary matters of Faith from them during the first six hundred years, and downwards to our own days.” — John Cosin
Any other varieties of Andrew Formula missed here, please share!