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The move towards an Anglican Communion was a North American idea. It may be said that the popularization of the word “Anglican” was also American. While it appears in the works of Dr. Fell, the High Church Bishop of Oxford in the 17th Century, John Henry Hobart did much to expand the use of the term. The term “Anglican Communion” seems to have originated in the United States.

Between the establishment of PECUSA and the first Lambeth Conference, much was done to give some formality to the relationship which existed between the newly emerging Anglican churches around the world. The legal disabilities which impaired communion between the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal and American Episcopal Church were gradually dismantled. John Henry Hopkins, Bishop of Vermont advocated a pan-Anglican synod and his son became a vocal proponent. Canadian bishops joined in the chorus. Granted the move was furthered by the desire of High Church bishops to counter the new claims promulgated by the papacy about the Blessed Virgin Mary and later the infallibility of the Pope. It is also true that most American Evangelicals – and remember that they formed a substantial “party” in our church then –distrusted structural plans which might advance structure above the substance of Scripture.

In 1851 the great celebration of the Jubilee of the foundation of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in the United States and England thrust forward the notion of Anglican unity and mutual accountability. Alan Stephenson notes that those who advocated an Anglican Council saw as its purpose, other than anti Romanism, the following points:

“1 The formation of a new canon law for the whole communion
2 The settling of doctrinal disputes.
3 The easing of inter-communion between the various branches of the Anglican Communion.
4 The voicing of the Church’s conscience on social issues.
5 Co-operation in literary publication.”[1]

The steam went out of the movement in the 1860’s in the US, as the church grappled with its split during the Civil War but continued to vent in South Africa and Canada. A new Archbishop of Canterbury, Longley was much more sympathetic to the idea than his predecessor. Yet Longley had to keep an eye on his brother at York who wasn’t happy with Canterbury doing anything much without his consent.

Bishop Fulford of Montreal, preaching at an ordination at Oxford, who claimed to have founded the Anglican Communion, saw an Anglican Council as an instrument of union between Anglicans, “Nonconformists”, Orthodoxy, Scandinavian Lutheranism and even the Church of Rome. He argued that unless Anglicans achieved a substantial form of unity, it would have no influence on the other Christian Churches at all.

The matter was taken up officially in the Church of England. This time it was the Broad Church party which opposed the idea! Our liberals have their ancestors.

Finally despite the objections of many Northern bishops in the Church of England and the rather odd objections of Dean Stanley of Westminster Abbey, the first pan-Anglican meeting of bishops occurred in the library of Lambeth Palace in 1878. Its scope and authority was nowhere near the dreams of the Canadian and American bishops and yet it was a start and not a finish. It should be noted however that Lambeth 1 did adopt the following resolution proposed by Bishop Selwyn, who, fifty or so years after our creation of General Convention, founded the first Provincial Synod in New Zealand.

“That in the opinion of this conference unity of faith and discipline will be best maintained among the several branches of the Anglican Communion by due and canonical subordination of the synods of the several branches to the higher authority of a synod or synods above them.”

Nothing happened on that front. At the first Lambeth, John Henry Hopkins Jr, the American Presiding Bishop associated himself with those bishops, a majority, who supported the Bishop of Cape Town’s deposition of Colenso of Natal. Hopkins hadn’t forgotten his enthusiasm for a pan Anglican Synod, including laity, to which would be given extra Provincial authority.

As a footnote it should be noted that unhappiness on the part of the American and some of the Canadian bishops with Lambeth and its proceedings was noted after the 1930 Conference. Archbishop Lang was the culprit. A dour Scot, patriarchal and snobbish, he treated the Americans and Canadians with ill concealed contempt and excluding them from most of the important committees. It was not until after the war that those relations again improved. Archbishop Fisher became a close friend of the soon to be American Presiding Bishop, Henry Knox Sherrill. They were both Broad of Church and broad of mind managers. Fisher came to the American General Convention of 1946. He was the first Archbishop to attend General Convention since Davidson’s visit in 1904 Fisher’s chaplain wrote:

“This lengthy tour really broke the ice with the Americans. They had always had a great love and affection for the Mother Church, but somehow or other. I don’t think they thought that they really belonged, that they were an integral part of it. From that moment onwards, however, they knew they were, and his (Fisher’s) speeches and sermons were of first rate importance in preparing for the spirit of the Lambeth Conference of 1948.

What conclusions, gentle reader, you deduce from all this, I can’t determine. But I would remind the bishops that the Anglican Communion was in great measure a North American idea, and that many of the Covenant proposals now before us originate in the 1850s at a time when our church was walking back into a closer relationship with its roots and heritage. I doubt greatly whether Archbishop Williams can “do a Fisher” for us, particularly in the light of the rather churlishly worded invitation to him to meet with the House of Bishops including the rather gauche offer to pay the bill.

One can only wish that the House of Bishops had better script writers and had deferred saying No until a meeting with +Rowan and other primates could be arranged.

Didn’t anyone remember that the idea of an Episcopal Visitor was our Primates’ idea?

[1] Alan M.G. Stephenson, Anglicanism and the Lambeth Conference, SPCK

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