A Brief Treatise on Unity

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity

With every new Prayer Book comes a new set of controversies. The Anglican Church in North America’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer has proven to be no exception to this rule. Amidst the arguments over rubrics and ceremonial, questions of affinity to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Evangelical Party lines, Anglo-Catholic sentiments, the place of the formularies, etc. ad nauseum, it is refreshing that there are some concerns of substance buried beneath the muddiness of ecclesiastical in-fighting. The truth of the matter is that there are doctrinal concerns to be found in the new book, just as there have been in every new Prayer Book since Cranmer’s first revisions replaced the Sarum Rite. What’s more, our new book makes assertions that lack considerable qualification. A disheartening example of this is the Preface to Confirmation. It reads: “those having made adult professions of faith in other Christian traditions…are received into the Anglican Church with prayer and the laying on of hands by a Bishop” (Page 174, Emphasis my own). This unqualified direction seems to fly in the face of Catholic Faith and Practice. We do not have the luxury of a new collection of Homilies to provide context and commentary as our Elizabethan predecessors did. Neither are we in possession of a “Black Rubric” or any other authoritative appendment to the volume that might put to rest any troubling rubric or turn of phrase found therein. Put simply, the book is just so new that its precise meaning has yet to be decided. Clergy and the Faithful alike are free to read into it whatever they please. At first glance this may be seen as a benefit. There can be no real disputes concerning worship as any particular doctrine of our Province is simply beholden to the reader. Therefore, what is there to fight about? Each any every worshipper may have their Eucharist and eat it too (or stare adoringly, in some instances). But is this really common prayer? How is one’s neighbor to say “amen” as St. Paul directs in 1 Corinthians 14:16? If we are to take the exhortations of The Homily on Common Prayer and Sacraments seriously, wherein we are told of the great benefit and necessity of common worship, we cannot be content with this relativist approach to the liturgy. If the classical Churchmen thought Newman’s Tract XC was problematic (to put things politely), I beg the reader to imagine a theological landscape wherein every parishioner’s mind possesses its own Tract XC, and unlike Mr. Newman’s, this tract is free from the rigidity of paper and the stifling language of the Articles. Each man becomes an Oxford Movement unto himself, and a Tractarian of significantly inferior learning than either the Blessed Dr. Pusey or John Keble. Such a thought is terrifying to say the least; this is not to say that the Oxford Movement was entirely nefarious, Lord knows, whether I admit it or not, that I am a son of that Revolution. We owe a great deal of consideration to such men, and perhaps (if the Old Highchurch Party will pardon me) even gratitude. This being said, the facts of history do not let us forget the havoc wrought by that movement. A havoc which has persisted even to our present day. I fear that our Prayer Book may be subjected to theological fantasies more at odds with our Reformed Catholic Tradition than could have ever been concocted by Cardinal Newman’s wildest imaginings. I dare say we are in need of remedy. We are in need of peace. But where is it to be found? I admire the perspective of Fr. Erlandson and his initial Tract I, but I do not think another Oxford Movement is the source of relief that our Province is in need of. By the look of things we are still recovering from the first one, and neither are we in a position to recreate it. You see, the Tractarians had something to work with. The Tractarians at their best were not innovators but republishers of the faith we have inherited from our Fathers. They had a unified tradition and a wealth of authoritative documents to draw from. We on the other hand have nothing save some canons that (as far as I can tell) no one has read and a Prayer Book that is more criticized than used. The Oxford Movement was a movement of meaning, sometimes even of sentimentalism. It provided depth for what was already present within the Church of England (nothing demonstrates this better than the plethora of Catenæ found within the Tracts themselves). It had something to romanticize. Quite simply: those authors were artists molding a ready-made clay and we are dirty settlers who have yet to till the soil. The Oxford lads woke a slumbering Church, one that could hardly keep Her eyes open long enough to be about her work. Ours is one in the midst of Childbirth, and once born, there is no fear of Her sleeping for some time. No, we are not in need of Tractarians, we are in need of Reformers. Before we can build we must sort out the pieces, and this is precisely what Reformers do. There is no greater example of this than the precious jewel of a Prayer Book we have inherited from our own Reformer. There will be a time for Puseys, but now is the time for Cranmers. And where do we begin? Ad fontes! Back to the sources!

But alas that once magnificent cry of the Humanists is of little use to us. What are these sources? This is the confusing estate of things. When it comes to matters of doctrine, there is not one source, or even collection of sources, for the American Churchman to appeal to. Rather, there is a plethora of traditions and each tradition draws from its own presupposed authorities. There are the Anglo-Catholics (whatever that means), the Anglo-Orthodox, the Reformed Anglicans, the Old High Churchmen, the Evangelicals, the Anglo-Baptists, the Charismatics, et al. What’s more is we have an infusion of traditions inherited from the Orders and Governance provided by the Provinces within the Global South. Alongside these are the old well-established, Former-Episcolapian Dioceses, the Former-Continuing Dioceses, and (such as The Diocese for the Sake of Others) entire Christian organizations which have rebranded as dioceses and joined our communion. Whatever little these groups or individuals may have in common, unsurprisingly they will hold considerably different emphasis and approaches. We have found ourselves once more in the days of Archbishop Cranmer. The only difference is there are more warring parties in play. Rather than Lutherans, Romans, Reformed, and the odd Anabaptist, we have the aforementioned and the many odd varieties and mixtures therein. And to make our lot even sorrier, we no longer have a monarch to which we can appeal. There is no hope of an Edward VI to rally behind nor an Elizabethan Settlement to look forward to. Instead we remain a vessel of fagiley assembled timber each taken from a different shipwreck. We share no common culture and our allegiance is to ourselves. We maintain unity so long as no other member violates our own understanding of any given topic. Such a structure cannot last for very long. And it is because of this that a simple assertion of the Historic Formularies is virtually useless. Even the now common insistence on maintaining the faith of the Seven Ecumenical Councils is not enough. What is required is a methodology of unity, better yet a common ethos, but the former will provide for the latter.

I, however, would be remiss if I did not note that I do, in fact, maintain that any Anglican, whatever his churchmanship, is obliged to take very seriously the Historic Formularies of our tradition. It is telling that St. Charles, King and Martyr, the only canonized Anglican Saint since the Reformation, is the one who prepared and prefixed the declaration requiring assent to the Articles of Religion. To lose them from our tradition ought to be just as grievous to the Catholic-Minded Churchman as to lose St. Charles himself. Now, beside the weight of history which presses down on any confessing Anglican, the necessity of the Formularies is especially prominent for those of us within the ACNA. Firstly, this is due to the emphasis placed upon them by our own Constitution and Canons (Fundamental Declaration 6 & 7). It is true that the language surrounding the formularies has been softened somewhat (no doubt to appease a certain churchmanship), but the point still stands. Their place within the canons ensures that they ought to be reckoned with. Secondly, because of the requirement to assent to said documents by the Jerusalem Statement (4th, 6th, & 7th Declarations) issued by GAFCON, of which the ACNA is a member, our own Primate serving as chairman. From the perspective of those of us within the Anglican Church in North America, the Historic Formularies are inescapable. However, to reiterate: this is simply not enough. As laudable as the Formularies are, without the proper approach, they are assuredly more divisive than unifying. We need a common demeanor first, one of unity. Only then may our Bishops, the successors to the Apostles, be at liberty to function as they ought without fear of schism from among the laity.

How then do we move forward? The first step is recognizing just what the Formularies are and how they came to be. It is remembering that they were forged in light of Reformation and the fires of heartache, a world where factions raged and the common parishioner simply wanted to worship his God in peace. A world bursting at the seams with many of the very same upheavals that our Church has found Herself in presently. Where cleric opposes cleric and parish against diocese, one often sighs: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest(s)?” and others insist “Peace! Peace!” but there is not peace. The shudders of inner turmoil can be felt even on the parochial level. Where is rest? Here then is the proper place for the framing of the Formularies, particularly the Articles of Religion. Here is the midst of strife, within a Church on the brink of one unhappy outcome or another. This is where we may begin our work as the Reformers did some five hundred years ago. In preparing the ground, we must acknowledge that the Formularies are a boundary. They encircle us to keep us drifting too far into one extreme or another. They, like St. James exhorts, are “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19). They do not go on and on in particular detail concerning matters of opinion. They go so far as is revealed in Scripture and do not take it upon themselves to theorize concerning the finer points of difficult doctrines. And it is precisely this that frames them as, according to Francis J. Hall, “Articles of Peace.” Behind their intention is the notion of commonality and inclusion, daring to say no more than is necessary and inviting all under their banner. Even their use is one of commonality and reserve. The Directions Concerning Preachers issued by King James I demonstrates this admirably. Anyone who presumes to preach from within the Anglican Tradition ought to take his words to heart. This is not to say that they may mean whatsoever the reader desires of them, once more returning to a kind of relativism. No, they have meaning and genuine authority, but up to a point: they speak only on behalf of what pertains to all. It is in no small part due to the fact that we have removed these ancient boundary marks made by our Fathers that such chaos has ensued within the American jurisdiction and the Communion as a whole. From within the boundary, disagreements were safe. Whether one is Lowchurch or Highchurch was a matter of emphasis, whilst both parties continued to participate within the same common faith, worship, and discipline. Now, it is difficult for said parties to even share communion with one another let alone a diocese. This is a travesty.

I am convinced that the necessary task of righting these wrongs is to be accomplished by taking the intent of the Articles upon ourselves. In laboring to discern what is absolutely necessary, and contending for that first. This isn’t a kind of utilitarianism, nor does it come at the cost of beauty. Neither is this an appeal to become complacent with the lowest common denominator of Anglican belief and praxis. Rather, a a mutual movement of inner-irenicism is called for. A recognition of commonality and the desire to strengthen it. To close the gap between faith, worship, and discipline of the differing factions within a given province. For the ACNA, I think that this can only be done through conversations centered around the Prayer Book. This is because only the 2019 Book of Common Prayer is really ours. It alone is a genuine reflection of our doctrine (or lack thereof). The Rev. Dr. Parker’s Calvinism and Eucharistic Sacrifice is a good example of what I mean. Generally speaking, the notion of Echaristic Sacrifice is often associated with a “spikier” Anglo-Catholicism, and yet, as Dr. Parker has shown, it is more than compatible with historic Protestantism. In this instance, a bridge of sorts has been built between the two parties. Two opposing Churchmen, if I may speak generously, may participate in the same liturgy emphasizing Eucharistic Sacrifice faithfully, and thus Common Prayer is restored. There may, of course, continue to be disputes over the precise nature and use of such a sacrifice, but the two parties are discussing the same valid doctrine from within a common tradition. The doctrine doesn’t belong to either parties, it is simply Anglican once more. The Opposite movement is likewise needed. In my piece Principles and Distinctives of Anglican Ceremonial I tried at various points to show that the historic Protestant position on a number of topics was well in line with the Catholic nature of our Church and held with such resolve precisely because of the Catholic convictions enjoined to them. What is not needed is what I have continued to find in the works of Lowchurch and Highchurch authors alike: a flippant rejection of whatever the opposite party holds dear. More often than not, the two parties are in agreement, and it is rather tertiary issues which have been given more significance than they ought that has caused division. This is not to say that there are aspects of any given tradition that ought to be trimmed and rejected, but we must be careful so that we do not find that we have rejected and demonized a significant portion of our own tradition in the process. This is the cost of being reactionary. Perhaps, as King James required, there are topics that the humble Parson does not bring to the pulpit for the sake of peace. Perhaps we should frame our services so that only that which is necessary and ought to be prayed by all, is present. Perhaps we ought to understand the other as a part of ourselves and begin every dispute with a desire to vindicate the other’s perspective. In doing so I am convinced that the end result will be a common ethos: a shared Anglican culture. Then we may begin to examine that culture and mine it for the richness of our Tractarian predecessors. In the meantime, we are in need of clever Cranmers who can live such ideas out on a parochial level.

Pactum serva,

Brandon LeTourneau

The Feast of St. Matthew, 2019


Brandon LeTourneau

Brandon is your typical pseudo-intellectual who knows more than he should and less than he thinks. An Anglican Seminarian, known for his assertions of the Catholicity of the Reformation and his abiding love for the oddest bits of Church History. He hopes to one day serve the ACNA in an ecumenical capacity. Pray for him, a sinner.


'A Brief Treatise on Unity' has 1 comment

  1. September 23, 2019 @ 10:41 pm Christian

    Perhaps one thing that can aid the ACNA is an acceptance and renewed commitment to Benedictine monasticism, both lay and formal religious.

    The Rule of Saint Benedict is a place where liturgical Christians of all stripes can rally around. Monks devote their lives to constant prayer, and that can only help the ACNA.

    Commitment to and involvement in organizations like the Anselm Society can help as well. Support of the artists in the church can lead to unity around beauty. “If there be any virtue or any praise, think on these things.”

    Reply


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