The other day I ran across the updated website of the ACC. I was very surprised, especially by FAQ links that staked out the ACC’s position on the English Reformation and therefore Anglican formularies. At first glance, it appeared to defend the Elizabethan Settlement, even calling the ACC a “reformed Catholic church”. Nonetheless, I kept myself fastened to the ground and asked if the new webpages represented a retraction of the ACC’s Athens Statement; in other words, was ACC finally approving the the basic theology of the Settlement period? What follows is a comparison of the content of the new website to the older Athens Statement, and maybe from there a sober evaluation can be had. Readers will find the ACC’s identity hinges upon a theory of doctrinal development between the Settlement and Tractarianism, ultimately justifying the ACC’s current theological position (which we will call ‘Stahlism’).
A brief review of the Athens Statement is due. According to Douglas Bess, the Athens Statement was largely of the authorship of canonist Andrew Stahl. It’s mostly a defense of the “Original Province” against Falk’s ACA and later Grundorf’s APA– but it also might apply to any continuing body that is not a the direct product of the St. Louis Congress. The Statement attacks such jurisdictions on two levels: first, by criticizing any identification of Anglicanism with historical standards (like the 39 articles); and, second, rejecting other claims of apostolic succession which are outside the Chamber’s line.
Returning to the earlier point, the Athen’s Statement says of the Elizabethan Settlement, “The fundamental cause has been a crisis of authority within Anglicanism, having its origins in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century and the tensions of the Elizabethan “Church Settlement.” Though the Settlement maintained essentials of ‘catholic faith and apostolic order’, the Statement concludes the historical formulae are untenable since they were founded upon democratic principles of “comprehension”, so to unite “all the Queen’s subjects within it, whether Catholic or Protestant, or both”. Thus, the Athens Statement reasons against Elizabethan standards, admitting at the end of the Statement’s historical summary, “the Church Settlement did not really work in England even under Elizabeth, and it certainly does not work in England or anywhere else today”. In other words, it was deficient until influenced by Newmanisque Tractarianism.
Doctrinal Development: If we compare quotations from Athens Statement to the ACC’s improved website (despite many laudable quotes borrowed from Bishops Bramhall, Hammond, Jewel, King James, et al.), the ACC has said nothing new. Under ‘strands of continuity’ (see Protestantism & Anglican Origins), a somewhat pyrrhic admission that Anglicanism under the Tudors preserved a minimum of doctrine to cut the mustard as a catholic church, saying, “the Church of England emerged from the Protestant Reformation as a “Continuing Catholic” Church, not as a Protestant sect.” Though the website doesn’t go so far as the Athen’s Statement, explicitly calling the alleged mixture of Protestant and Catholic belief as ‘untenable’, it still holds the catholicity of the Settlement was partial and incomplete– evidently, leaving the nuts and bolts of historical reform to Stahlist Anglo-Catholics.
“So, even if the Caroline Divines are seen as advancing beyond the Elizabethan Divines and the Anglo-Catholics beyond the Caroline Divines in certain areas, this is irrelevant if their position is a logical development of the basic Catholic principles of these earlier Anglicans. The fact that distance from the polemical (and emotionally and politically charged) atmosphere of immediate post-Reformation times may have led to more consistent and sometimes superior conclusions from these principles by the Anglo-Catholics should be seen as a matter for joy…”
This leads to an idea of doctrinal development, culminating in an anglo-catholicism that identifies with modern Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy. We can suppose “anglo-catholics” would include not only 19th century Tractarians but especially 20th century Papists like Andrew Stahl. The ACC’s apologetic is less an approval of the Elizabethan standards than it is a vindication of recusancy, making the Affirmation something of a confessional or eschatological end point.
While it’s true the CoE’s 17th century divinity re-appropriated certain catholic practice, Caroline divines nonetheless energetically upheld the ‘reformed’ faith of Tudor Protestantism. More particularly, Carolinian’s maintained Elizabethan sacramentology, keeping a division of greater from lesser sacraments by reason of their nature, in other words, what remits sin. This is a critical point which has been discussed earlier, especially in relation to the Affirmation’s speculative language regarding seven sacraments, specifically those of unction and marriage, as being “efficient and objective” means of conveying grace. Such a claim is enough to make oil and rings a theological gateway for church sacramentals (like beads and ashes) to acquire salvific qualities and thus dogmatic importance This tends to undermine Tudor divinity, and it’s not a development of doctrine so much as a break from Settlement theology.
It is well known (and admitted by the website) that Anglican formularies richly draw upon the most reliable centuries of antiquity, sometimes referred to as the Vincentian canon, and therefore have a strong patristic and concilar basis. However, what’s at stake is how far that canon of tradition deserves stretching. Under Prayer Book Liturgy, the website says, “The ACC does not believe in disparaging medieval things or in rejecting well-established traditions. ” While Anglican divinity might tolerate a limited restoration of medieval practice, it normally doesn’t start, as the ACC website does, with the presupposition that Settlement theology is lacking or anemic, “the theological meaning of the Prayer Books, which was in flux for earlier Anglicans, has been firmly settled by other ACC formularies, most notably, The Affirmation of St. Louis.” Referring back to the FAQ respecting Protestantism:
“We can happily admit that many of the early Reformers taught or held as individuals material heresy in various areas. But their errors never bound the Church of England as a whole. And, just as importantly, underlying their mixed success in understanding Holy Tradition there was at least a formal and official commitment to that Tradition”
What actually constitutes this ‘tradition’? The website is in general agreement about doctrinal reception and the authority ecumenical councils, but Anglicans have been hesitant about saying what parts of tradition are divinely inspired, “the Church of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem have erred, so hath the Church of Rome”. It would be kind to say ACC is far more optimistic, but this is probably where Anglican Catholics (Stahlists) and classical Anglicanism diverge. The next statement is axle upon which the wheel spins since it suggests any approval of antiquity hypothetically includes the breadth of modern opinion,
“the Anglican appeal to Tradition and Catholic consensus noted above are temporally unlimited in principle. That is, may refer to perpetual consent and…not to one particular age only”.
However, Rome and the East each have organized their own counter-reformation against magisterial Anglicanism, and this bedevils the ACC’s search for modern consensus. Any engagement with Rome without the benefit of a unified Protestant church would leave Anglicans in a lopsided position, pulling the carpet from the feet of their main moral and theological grounds behind the Reformation. Though the website falls short of granting doctrinal substance to such superstitions like the immaculate conception, invocation of saints, the bodily assumption, etc.., it nonetheless lays the methodology for such by extending reliable centuries or “tradition” into the modern era. The website calls these modern practices and belief, if not already ‘settled by the ACC’, as “eminently fitting and godly”. Elsewhere (see the epilogue below), it has been said the rejection of such doctrine (e.g., adoration, physical change of sacraments, bodily assumption, invocation of saints, etc..) is a rejection the methodology implicit in ACC standards, and therefore an obstacle to ACC membership.
Haverland’s Judgement: Recently, the Retro-Church blog posted an epistle by Archbishop Haverland, likely issued to alleviate fears that the ACC was formally endorsing “protestantism”. The letter reaffirms the basic positioned outlined in the Athens Statement as well as expounds certain points from the new website. Haverland says Anglican formula are insufficient for making doctrinal articles, and they must be read in the context of the St. Louis Affirmation. Allegedly, the crisis provoked by women’s ordination caused the making of the Affirmation, but if this is so then why not simply assert the divine institution of Holy Orders rather include provocative terminology for all seven sacraments?
But Haverland credits the seven/seven terminology for ‘clarifying’ Settlement doctrine. We might ask if Tract 90 succeeded making any clarification, especially when Newman himself ultimately rejected it (p.5 in link)? Haverland finally says the 39 articles and 1662 prayer book are no more than historical curiosities without the Affirmation. However, what’s fore with the Affirmation is the language of seven sacraments and decrees of the seventh ecumenical council, so Haverland concludes:
Well, it is impossible within the Anglican Catholic Church legitimately to deny the authority of the Seven Ecumenical Councils or to deny that there are seven Sacraments.
This corroborates with Haverland’s earlier case for seven sacraments in 20011:
“If asserting ‘seven and seven’ is in some sense an Anglican novelty, we are, again, not concerned”
Hence, the core-theology of the Reformation is tossed out. While Haverland says there is no explicit repudiation of the Reformation, the language of seven sacraments is essentially in implicit rejection. There is no honest way to harmonize the two sacramentologies existing between the Affirmation and classical standards unless one of the two ‘settlements’ are treated nominally. This self-evisceration has been the ACC’s unwavering position ever since the adoption of its 1978 canons, and it has not only generated relative isolation but repeated controversy against broad church overtures in the Continuum. I leave a quote by Dr. Toon on the Affirmation:
“Many of those who left The Episcopal Church in 1977 to form what it was hoped would be The [one and true] Continuing Anglican Church in North America met in St Louis in 1977 and eventually signed “The Affirmation of St Louis.” Those who drafted this (and they included the English priest Dr Truman) clearly intended that it be not a generally acceptable Anglican Statement which traditional evangelicals and traditional anglo-catholics with others could ALL sign. They intended that it be clearly only an anglo-catholic statement and at the same time prepare the way for possible union of this emerging Continuing Church with either Rome or Orthodoxy.”
Though the ACC has lambasted Protestantism on many occasion, it has yet to historically define the term. On a positive note, the new website does mention “catholic humanism”, but it gives no intelligence about humanism on the continent nor anything about the CoE’s greatest intercourse with Protestancy during the 1530-40’s. Ironically, this is something Tractarians documented (see Pusey’s _Real Presence). But, in this early period catholic humanism had direct impact upon the Henrician church, transmitted through early Lutheran exchange. It is also a time when Protestancy reached a relative consensus through confessions like the Wittenberg Concord and Altered Augsburg, potentially unifying Swiss and German churches. Cranmer and Parker both anticipated this Protestant unity, so by the same consensus the 39 articles were framed and understood. Both Browne and Harwick recommend this manner of historical interpretation to standards. Instead, the ACC’s website myopically limits catholic humanism to England, and probably ultimately identifies it with subterranean, old catholic elements like Tunstall or Gardiner.
While the ACC has not altered any of its material positions, a person might think a half-hearted attempt has been made to identify with part of the Reformation. That might be a start; however, clergy do not render solemn vows to websites. Clergy give vows to constitution and canons. With the ACC entering the gap left behind by ACA, the ACC presently enjoys the status of flagship for the continuum. As flagship, the ACC can influence the theological and ecumenical direction of other continuing churches, especially those attracted to anglo-catholicism. From the stand point of North American Anglicanism, this is unfortunate given the ACC’s push for staunch ecclesiastical isolation, leaving us to wonder why loyal Anglicans would create a continuing church that wants nothing to do with the larger Anglican universe?
Kirby’s Confessionalism: The primary author behind the content of the new website was Fr. Matthew Kirby. Kirby has recently been made Haverland’s Assistant for Ecumenical Relations, seen at the bottom of this page. Many of Fr. Kirby’s writings can be read here. Kirby has been quite honest where he stands with respect to the Settlement, saying (in a reply to Bp. Robinson’s post on Why was Cranmer Burnt?),
“ So, while non-Catholic theological positions may have been commonly held by Anglicans at various times, since these oppose the Catholic consensus, they have no authority whatever in Anglicanism, no matter who held them. In other words, finding examples of Anglican hierarchs who held certain positions does nothing whatever to prove that these positions can or should be held legitimately.“
Kirby then goes own to provide eight points where the Settlement rubs raw against modern EO and RC belief. Kirby gives special attention to four points especially common to ‘classical anglicans’ yet unacceptable to both Rome and the East. Points especially true of Protestant Anglicans were enboldened:
5. All prayer for the dead is pointless and based on theological error or ignorance.
6. All forms of the invocation of Saints are forbidden, heretical and sinful.
7. The Bread and Wine in the Eucharist do not become, according to a spiritual mode, the true (crucified and arisen) Body and Blood of Christ, but only symbols of them.
8. The Eucharist is not a sacrifice that can be offered as intercession for the benefit of the quick and the dead.
Kirby then says something amazing, saying if Anglicans believe or teach “any” or “all” of the above (5-8 points), they cannot nor should they become a member of the ACC! This is incredible since at no time in Anglican history have lay people been held to such opinion as a condition for altar-communion. From the mouth of the horse:
“what I am saying is that a person affirming any or all of propositions 5 to 8 in the list of 8 above, for example, is certainly within the range of what has been believed and taught by Anglicans outwardly in good standing, and may thus be termed a “classical Anglican”. At the same time, such a person is not a Catholic, has implicitly rejected a basic epistemological premise of Anglican doctrine and of the ACC’s Formularies, and so cannot and should not be a member of the ACC unless he or she rejects these doctrinal errors.”
This ought to be a sober reminder for clergy and/or postulants inside the ACC. Another ACC internet author, Fr. Chadwick, follows the same line of thought as Kirby, concluding, “we either have to discard Protestantism and base ourselves on a form of pre-Reformation Catholicism, or on post-Tridentine or post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism.” That pretty much sums the range of official comprehension in ACC. In the final analysis, the ACC thinks itself a ‘confessional church’– albeit anti-protestant– where “classical” or Settlement Anglicanism is objectively rejected in standards and especially methodology.
While the new ACC website appears to give room for Protestant opinion, it’s only by the degree protestants make-way for Holy Tradition as known through the modern East and Rome. This is not a new position for the ACC, and, if anything, it is a hardened version of Stahlism, especially since a number of Kirby’s points (#5-8) press beyond the St. Louis Affirmation’s plain language, and not even the Athens Statement requires double shunning.
More can be read about ACC standards here, and since this posting a study on “Continuing Futures” has been written at Anglican Rose called Post-Brockton. In particular, Post-Brockton urges the ACC-UEC accord to expire while a Federation based upon (a modified) APA-ACA solemn declaration be pursued.