The term Anglican as a brand name is of Victorian vintage.  It perhaps summons up that feeling of English self-confidence which went along with the Empire and perhaps antimacassars. The British were not only in charge of vast areas of the world but were gifting to those populations Christianity clothed in the civil and moderate temperament of the Established Church.

It is true that there were battles about Churchmanship as bitter as those now fought over sex. The difference was that almost all the bishops who came to Lambeth in 1867 were British products of the better Public Schools and graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, sharing a common language, from the same “class” and all loyal to the British Throne.  Of course there were the Americans but they were busy emulating the culture and ethos of the Church of England in architecture, ceremonial and the method and content of theological education for the clergy despite their odd form of government.

A late Victorian would answer the question, “What is an Anglican?” easily. She would stutter something about membership of a Church in communion with the See of Canterbury, which used a recognizably common version of the Book of Common Prayer and for whom the Articles of Religion, parsed in either Catholic, Evangelical or Broad Church prose were “in use” (to quote the then wording of PECUSA’s Constitution.)

After the middle of the 19th Century there arose small groups who qualified in all aspects save that of being in Communion with Canterbury. They were located in South Africa, North America and England. Were these bodies Anglican?  Opinions varied but most suggested they were not. “Anglican” referred to a structural association, the leaders of which as individual bishops were recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury by beinging invited every ten years to the Lambeth Conference. The bishops of these Evangelical outposts were not invited to Lambeth! Enough said. It was much more “British” to express disapproval by ignoring such types than to issue statements denouncing them.

During the past year  two events challenge this traditional use of the term “Anglican”. The first was the creation of the Anglican Church in North America.  The second, this week was the announcement that the Roman Catholic Church is to create Anglican Ordinariates for those who in faith and conscience have either left Provinces or the Anglican Communion or contemplate so doing.

Involved in all this is a linguistic shift of some importance.  When I was exercising the episcopate in what is termed now a “continuing church”  it was often suggested to me that my ecclesial body could not use the term Anglican in self-description because it was not in communion with Canterbury. When I sought a ruling from +Robert Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury he replied that the relationship was “fluid”: a delightful and typically Anglican fudge.

Rome now seems to interpret the term to mean a tradition, an ethos, a way of doing liturgy and perhaps pastoral work, or a cultural-religious phenomenon.  In affirming such an interpretation in formal canonical language it does Anglicanism no favor.  While “Communion-Anglicans” are struggling with the matter of structural and ecclesial integrity, concerning the breadth and limits of autonomy, Rome issues a Constitution which logically suggests that Anglicanism has no ecclesial and structural integrity at its core, but is rather a “spiritual” and traditional phenomenon, the essence of which may be captured and preserved without reference to what it actually is.  Anglicans should be concerned that we are seen no longer as a Church of Churches, but rather a flavor!

One Response

  1. My girlfriend and I have spoken a fair bit about what to do in case it becomes absolutely untenable to continue on in the Episcopal Church. We spoke on Tuesday about this ruling, and I told her that it seems to me that what the pope has done is allowed the preservation of Anglican liturgy, but divorced it entirely from the Anglican tradition. Thus, the popular assumption that one can now be Anglican but merely under Rome is really rather incorrect. For me, therefore, there is little in this canonical provision that is of interest. What good is the Book of Common Prayer without Hooker, Divine Herbert, and all the rest? For Anglo-Papalists (what few are left), this might seem fine, but they are the odd ones – the Anglican tradition means little as such to them, although for whatever reason they retain the BCP in some fashion. I don’t know how many will go; I hope that few will – even better, I hope that none will. I will be greatly disappointed if many leave. However, that has happened before, and the Communion has only itself to blame. I will not be surprised, however, if only a few go. Anglicanism is not Roman Catholicism with a different liturgy. For some, that is attractive. It is not for me.

    I think the way that the Pope went about this was quite underhanded. Might we now refer to Benedict XVI as Pope Machiavelli?

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