"A fair question and one that in recent weeks has been much on my mind." (Monty Python's Flying Circus -- "Flying Sheep" skit)
In connection with recent posts here, here and here, which have largely to do with the vexing question of Anglican identity, I thought it would be helpful to note Archbishop Havlerland's take on it. This is an article of his that dates back to 1995 but was reposted at the Continuum blog in 2007 shortly before it became a copyrighted article on the ACC's old web site. (See the ACC's new and improved web site here.)
It is clear from Haverland's article that "Anglicanism" is pretty much whatever one says it is. Referring to Fr. Aidan Nichols' book The Panther and the Hind: A Theological History of Anglicanism (see my recent post on that book here), Haverland argues essentially that since Anglicanism has been long plagued by doctrinal chaos, it's better to jettison the Anglican ideal of "comprehensiveness" and pick one of the strains. As for him and his house, they will serve Anglo-Catholicism:
Soon, I am willing to prophesy confidently, the official Anglican Communion will consist of nothing but a liberal Protestant rump. Those who do not want to be liberal Protestants will become Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, stop going to church entirely, or (probably what will prove to be the smallest group) join the ACC (and similar bodies.)
Interesting that Haverland neglects to mention those Anglicans who are conservative Protestant Evangelical/Charismatics, arguably the fastest growing party in Anglicanism. But I digress for the moment:
What The Panther and the Hind shows is something well known to those who have studied Anglicanism closely. That is, Anglican history shows several broad strains of tradition, all of which can plausibly claim to be classically Anglican in that they have a long pedigree within the Church of England and her daughter Churches. Yet no one of these strands can claim to be Anglicanism in an exclusive sense if that claim means to imply that most Anglicans in fact historically held to that particular strand. Furthermore, these strands were and are often mutually contradictory and hostile. . . .
So how are we to define Anglicanism in this situation? It seems to me that there are two live possibilities before us. One possibility is that we define Anglicanism precisely by reference to its multiplicity of traditions and lack of uniformity, by its "comprehensiveness". This definition, however, reduces Anglicanism to liberal Protestantism and to the current state of collapse. The irony of Anglicanism-as-comprehensiveness is that persons with theological integrity have no desire to be comprehended by such a communion.
Persons with theological integrity have no desire to be comprehended by such a communion.
I have to say that I agree with that statement, and have quoted other notable Anglican writers here -- Packer, Pascoe, Mascall, Henson -- to the effect that Anglican comprehensiveness, which on the surface seem like such a broad-minded and intuitively unifying ideal, has turned out rather to lead only to shoddy theology and no true unity. It is truly either creed or chaos, "creed" meaning not just the Apostles', Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, but the confession on which the "reformed and established church in England" was established. It also means consistency in praxis, specifically in the area of holy orders. These dioceses and societies that practice an oxymoronic "dual integrity" need to repent, and stop ordaining women to the priesthood. Period.
The other possible definition is in fact something of a redefinition: we may redefine Anglicanism by reference to one of its classical strands or parties and then assert that that single tradition should henceforth be normative to the exclusion of the other classical Anglican parties. If we take the first option, as the old Anglican Communion has done, we are doomed. The ACC, therefore, has adopted the second approach. This approach does not, of course, require us to reject everything ever thought or prayed or developed within the other classical traditions. However, it does establish a norm and it does reject the longstanding Anglican tendency towards "comprehensiveness" or, if you prefer, vagueness. We say, in effect, that what was once merely a minority party within Anglicanism is the sole legitimate form in which Anglicanism can continue.
Here Archbishop Haverland attempts to co-opt the title "Anglicanism" for his church "and similar bodies." Not so fast, this Anglo-Protestant says.
Haverland may be correct in saying that the best way forward for Anglicans who desire theological integrity is to "redefine Anglicanism by reference to one of its classical strands or parties and then assert that that single tradition should henceforth be normative to the exclusion of the other classical Anglican parties", but it is by no means evident that the Anglican Catholic Church "and similar bodies" may lay claim to the term "Anglican", as the magisterial work of scholars such as Diarmaid MacCulloch and Peter Nockles shows. One of Haverland's priests, Fr. Jonathan Munn, has recently taken a more intellectually honest approach to that question, arguing that Anglican Catholics aren't truly Anglicans, but rather English Catholics, a position I have set forth for some time. A position I defend as a corollary to the former is that Anglicanism began with the English Reformation, and has a set of formularies established by Reformed divinity, monarchy and acts of Parliament. The subsequest "theological history of Anglicanism" was one in which several successive parties who eschewed the Reformed theology of the English Reformation and its Articles moved, in stages, away from it, branching into Arminian High Church, Tractarian/Ritual/Anglo-Catholic and Liberal parties.
As I said, Haverland is likely correct that the only way to obtain theological integrity is to choose a strand and go with it. If the ACC has determined that this is true for itself "and similar bodies", Evangelical Anglicans could theoretically come to the same decision, and it's not at all evident that even Evangelicals would hang together, divided as they are over the Articles, the charismata, and the ordination of women.
I'm not necessarily arguing against some kind of Anglican comprehensiveness, but I do believe that if it is to survive in the future it must be far less comprehensive than it has been in the past. And that whatever that may look like, our historic formularies and specifically the 39 Articles need to be at the heart of it. Bishop Henson was right:
The raison d’etre of subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles is the necessity, in a divided Christendom, of agreeing on a version of the Catholic Faith. In the Articles we have the Anglican version of the Catholic tradition of Faith and Discipline. It is not open to any loyal Anglican to form any other.
Alike for negotiations with other branches of the Church, and for the instruction of its own members, some authoritative statement of specifically Anglican teaching and practice is really indispensable. Such an authoritative statement is provided by the Thirty-nine Articles, and, if they were abandoned, it would be necessary to provide a substitute.
Which is to say that only confessional cats can be successfully herded.