A friend once said to me that “all theological debates go back to Prolegomena.” Namely, what is our justification for what we believe? What is our measure of truth in matters of faith? How can we know what God has revealed?
These Questions are vital for those in the Anglican Communion. We have “Anglo-Catholics,” “Anglo-Orthodox,” “Anglo-Lutherans,” “Reformational Anglicans,” and “Evangelical Anglicans.” These groups disagree on almost every aspect of both Doctrine and Liturgy. Who are the “real” Anglicans among these various groups? How are we to judge between them?
This article seeks to answer this question of our Regula Fidei. First, it will analyze various contemporary answers to this question, critiquing various solutions presented in contemporary Anglican discussion. Then, I will give a positive statement of the Catholic Anglican regula fidei. The solution to this question will give surprising results about Catholic Anglican’s relationship to earlier Divines and will show a greater continuity with the Reformed than the “Reformational Anglican” crowd. The Catholic Anglican system is truly the principles of the Reformation consistently applied.
Solution #1: The Reformed Option
First, the Reformed option. The Reformed Regula Fidei is fundamentally confessional. The formularies have the final interpretive say on what is the true faith. They truly interpret the Apostolic deposit. To be Anglican is to assent to the Elizabethan settlement.
There are multiple issues with this. The central error is that it puts “Anglican” over “Catholic.” By this standard, we are no longer Catholics, for the interpretation of our local church are assented to over and beyond the Catholic church of which we are a part. The Reformers believed that they were preaching the true, ancient, and Catholic faith. If this is found to be untrue then Reformation is needed. This was the Oxford movement, i.e., a more consistent application of the hermeneutic of Reformed Catholicism. We are not to preach our church’s tradition, we are to preach the Church’s Tradition.
As the Rt. Rev. John Jewel writes, “Further, if we do show it plainly that God’s holy Gospel, the ancient bishops, and the primitive Church do make on our side, and that we have not without just cause left these men, and rather have returned to the Apostles and old Catholic fathers; and if we shall be found to do the same not colourably or craftily, but in good faith before God, truly, honestly, clearly, and plainly; and if they themselves which fly our doctrine, and would be called Catholics, shall manifestly see how all these titles of antiquity, whereof they boast so much, are quite shaken out of their hands; and that there is more pith in this our cause than they thought for; we then hope and trust that none of them will be so negligent and careless of his own salvation, but he will at length study and bethink himself to whether part he were best to join him. Undoubtedly, except one will altogether harden his heart and refuse to hear, he shall not repent him to give good heed to this our Defence, and to mark well what we say, and how truly and justly it agreeth with Christian religion.” 1
To place the decisions of the Reformers over the Catholic faith is to corrupt their vision, not complete it. Even the Homily against the Peril of Idolatry states that doctrine “shall be declared both by God’s word and the sentences of the ancient doctors and judgment of the primitive Church.” The Reformational Anglican may retain the letter of the Reformers but certainly cannot claim their spirit.
Further, it places local authority over Catholic authority. The Anglican Church has no authority to rule against the larger Catholic Church. To place the lesser over the greater is nonsensical as a rule of faith. The Rev. Francis J. Hall comments, “What has been said as to the presumptive authority of General Councils, and as to the non-competence of private judgment to reject them, holds good in relation to Provincial Councils, with a difference. Unless a Provincial Council is made Ecumenical through its ratification by the Church at large, its formal authority in doctrine is confined to the local Churches actually represented. It should be added that no provincial decision can continue to bind the consciences of Christian believers anywhere when it is shown to be in real conflict with ecumenical dogma or with the known mind of the Catholic Church. Subject to these limitations, the authority of duly constituted ecclesiastical Councils is paramount within the local Churches represented.” 2
Contrary to what the “Reformational Anglicans” teach, there is a “double principle” that Anglicans hold to. 3 First, we are members of the Church Catholic. In this, we are bound to believe everything that the Church Catholic teaches implicitly. Second, we are members of the ecclesia Anglicana, and in this, we are bound to believe what our local Church teaches (as expressed in our formularies) insofar as it does not cause us to forsake the faith of the Catholic Church.
There are two forms to which we are to conform. The first primary, i.e., as Catholics, and the second secondary and derivative from the first, i.e., Anglican. The second form is a mirroring of the first, while also being more exhaustive in “filling in the gaps.” It would not be un-Anglican, as the Reformational Anglican crowd professes, to conform to the first in spite of the outward form of the latter. Rather, it would make us more apt to mirror the glories of the Anglican church in the primary form of Catholicity.
The authority of the ecclesia Anglicana is not unlimited, as this party feigns, but, in the words of the Rev. Darwell Stone, “It is the strength of the Church of England that she has been content to recognize the limitations of her work…the Church of England made her appeal to the Bible and the undivided Church. Amid whatever imperfections, she has never abandoned that appeal. Taking their stand on the belief and practice of the Universal Church, her children are upheld by the Catholic faith and, at the same time, possess a freedom which, if sometimes unwisely used, has often enabled them to be faithful to demands of truth which a narrower view might have excluded.” 4
Solution #2: The Evangelical Option
Next, the Evangelical option. The evangelical option appropriates a modern, low-church protestant approach to tradition, authority, and Scripture. This regula fidei is merely a perversion of the principle of sola scriptura, removing all interpretive authority. This approach of continuously “reinventing the wheel” is neither Anglican nor Catholic nor reasonable. This principle is foreign to even the Reformers. The Lutheran Divine, Martin Chemnitz, condemns this perversion, commenting, “This is also certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages…We also gratefully and reverently use the labors of the fathers who by their commentaries have profitably clarified many passages of the Scripture. And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient Church in the true and sound understanding of the Scripture. Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the Church.” 5
The Rev. John Mason Neale comments on how this way of going about doctrine, as is seen from our very Liturgical life, is impossible to live by, “So much for the right of private judgment, which forms the positive belief of Protestants. I am not going to waste words in showing you that the Church of England openly and palpably rejects it. Why, the very fact of her having Creeds and Articles shows that she does. What business has she, or any one else, to say, ‘This is the Catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved’ if she allows it not only the right, but if the right, then the duty, of every man, to interpret Scripture according to the light of his own reason? What business has she to say of one thing that it is a blasphemous fable and a dangerous deceit, and to stigmatise another set of men as deserving, for their opinions, to be held accursed ; if she does not hold that there is a pillar and ground of the truth, differing very far indeed from every man’s own private interpretation? The thing is really not worth dwelling upon. It is too plain. All this, mark you, does not in the least prove that the Church of England is right in holding this opinion; that is quite a different question, and one with which we are not at all concerned now: it only proves that, as a fact, she does hold it.” 6
The Catholic Anglican Option
The Catholic Anglican option of the regula fidei is the most reasonable and historically satisfying option. It begins with the “Apostolic deposit.” The Apostolic deposit is the historic teaching of the Apostles. This Apostolic deposit is passed down by tradition and interpreted by ecclesiastical authority. The supreme expression of tradition and ecclesiastical authority is found in Sacred Scripture. Sacred Scripture is authoritatively interpreted by the ecclesiastical authority and is explained by tradition.
To put it succinctly, our regula fidei is Sacred Scripture, as interpreted by the Catholic Church, in the light of Tradition. We affirm nothing more than St. Vincent of Lerins, “Then shall he diligently take heed that he prefer the universal decrees and determinations of an ancient General Council, if such there be, before the temerity or folly of a few. What if some such case happen where no such thing can be found? Then shall he labour, by conferring and laying them together amongst themselves, to refer to and consult the Ancient Fathers’ opinions, not of all, but of those only which living at divers times, and sundry places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, were approved masters and guides to be followed; and whatsoever he perceiveth, not one or two, but all jointly with one consent, plainly, usually, constantly, to have holden, written, and taught; let him know that this without scruple or doubt he ought to believe.” 7
The Apostolic Deposit
First, we begin with the “Apostolic deposit.” The “Apostolic deposit” is a historical category. It refers to that body of teaching that the Apostles promulgated. It is the “body of the Christian Faith, committed to the Church.” 8 It is given to the Church to guard and keep in perpetuity. It is not to be changed or tampered with in any way but is to exist as it was given. As St. Vincent writes, “that which is committed to thee, not that which is invented of thee: that which thou hast received, not that which thou hast devised; a thing not of wit, but of learning; not of private assumption, but of public tradition; a thing brought to thee, not brought forth of thee; wherein thou must not be an author, but a keeper; not a master, but a disciple; not a leader, but a follower. Keep the deposit. Preserve the talent of the Catholic Faith safe and undiminished; that which is com- mitted to thee, let that remain with thee, and that deliver.” 9
This deposit of faith is witnessed to in the scriptures. As St. Paul charges St. Timothy, “Keep the good thing committed to thy trust by the Holy Ghost, who dwelleth in us.” (2 Tim. 1:14) Further, St. Jude writes, “Dearly beloved, taking all care to write unto you concerning your common salvation, I was under a necessity to write unto you: to beseech you to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) While the scriptures witness to this Apostolic deposit, the scriptures themselves are not the Apostolic deposit, as Bl. Pusey writes, “That ‘deposit’ of faith, thus witnessed to by the Scriptures, was not the Scriptures themselves.” 10 Rather, this deposit is the historical teaching of the Apostles, witnessed to by the scriptures and passed down in tradition.
Sacred Scripture is a species of the larger genus of the Apostolic deposit. It is the unique collection of letters that perfectly preserve the Apostles’ teaching and thus reflects the Apostolic deposit as first-hand witnesses, preserved by the Holy Spirit. It is in its own category among authorities. It has the fullness of the Apostolic deposit sufficiently declared. As Bl. Pusey writes, “We acknowledge that Holy Scripture is the source of all saving truth.” 11
Given these attributes, our articles declare that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” 12 When we speak of Scripture containing “all things necessary to salvation” we do not mean that Scripture contains all things formally and explicitly but after a material and implicit sense. As Hall writes, “The Scriptures do not set forth in formal definitions or systematic order the faith which they contain; but none the less they bear witness to its contents in manifold ways, and are exceedingly ‘profitable for teaching.’” 13
This is something universally agreed upon by everyone but liberals (who deny the authority of Scripture). The question becomes “How are we to make the implicit, explicit?” and “how do we make the material, formal?” This is the question of interpretation. We all believe that what Scripture says is authoritative; we disagree on what exactly Scripture is trying to say. This is where the categories of tradition and ecclesiastical authority come in.
Tradition is an alternative expression of the Apostolic deposit. It is as a secondary source to a certain event. It is the witness of the faith in the Church at various times. This has different attributes than sacred Scripture. “Tradition” is a difficult thing to discern. There are various documents left behind that witness to the teaching of a church that they have received. It is incomplete and imperfect when discerned in its specific manifestations, yet it is complete and perfect per se.
When we speak of “tradition,” we often use the word in the sense of those imperfect manifestations of what was handed down by the Apostles and not tradition per se. These sources are numerous and are used by the Catholic Anglican to discern the tradition of the Church Catholic. Bishop Grafton lists four sources, “It is contained in the Holy books of the Old and New Testaments. It is contained in the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. It is contained in the common consent of the Catholic Church. It is contained in the Apostolic Traditions preserved by the Fathers.” 14 In another way, it is contained in the theological writers of the early Church, the liturgy of the Church, and the councils of the Church, both local and ecumenical. The Tradition is summarized in the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds.
Tradition is discerned after the natural, historical method. We must ask ourselves, “what most likely derived from the Apostles?” There are two standards by which we judge these traditions, antiquity and catholicity. How old are these witnesses, and how wide is this witnessed to geographically? A doctrine, such as our Lord’s bodily resurrection or the Episcopacy found around the entire Christian world and in documents from the first century is a more robust tradition than a doctrine such as Iconodulism that has a more “messy” history behind it. Another important consideration is the weight of the source. A solemn declaration by the Patriarch of an important diocese is much more likely to represent an Apostolic tradition than a newly baptized layman from a newly formed missionary church.
To understand why tradition is of any value, we must consider its relation to the Apostolic deposit. Tradition expresses the Apostolic deposit in certain words. It explains the Apostolic deposit. For example, Scripture states the Apostolic deposit regarding the Blessed Trinity in that Baptism is “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” This can be interpreted after a number of senses. For example, this can be interpreted in the sense of three Gods. Tradition expresses this same doctrine, yet in different words, “We believe in one God….” Tradition here is not replacing Scripture but helps us discern the meaning behind its words by phrasing the Apostolic deposit differently.
Another aspect to consider is the interpretive power of tradition. It not only acts as a secondary source to the Apostolic deposit, but it also passes down certain explanations of Scripture important to the exegete and dogmatician alike. This avoids the simplistic “scripture vs. tradition” model so prevalent in anti-Latin apologetics from Protestants. There is no either/or; instead, it is sourcing the interpretation of Scripture from those with connections to the authors of Scripture. Two examples suffice. First, the interpretation of Malachi 1:11 in Traditional exegesis (found both in the fathers and in the liturgy of the Church) refers to the offering of the Eucharist. For example, St. Justin Martyr writes, “He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to Him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist.” 15 Second, the much-debated phrase “born of the water” in the Third chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. Traditional exegesis (both in the writings of the Fathers and the liturgy, namely the baptismal rite) teaches that this phrase refers to the “washing of regeneration,” that is, Baptism. St. Justin Martyr interprets this as referring to Baptism (as the rest of the Catholic tradition does).16
Bl. Pusey explains this relationship between tradition and Scripture, “But for the most part, the tradition of which so much is said in the Fathers, is not a supplementary, not an independent source of truth, but a concurrent, interpretative, definitive, and harmonizing witness of one and the same truth. They are not separate truths, apart from Holy Scripture, but the same body of truth which is in it; not to supply any thing wanting to Holy Scripture, but to explain what is in it; not to add to our knowledge, but to prevent our misunderstanding it, or failing to understand the depth of the words which God the Holy Ghost spake. One true sum of teaching of Holy Scripture alone there can be. Discordant voices, as far as they are discordant, cannot be the one voice of truth. One body of truth, and faith, and morals there can alone be, in which every declaration of Holy Scripture would meet, and be combined and fulfilled” 17
Further, this is nothing more than the teaching of St. Vincent of Lerin, “Let us believe according to the tradition of the Apostles…since the Scripture being of itself so deep and profound, all men do not understand it in one and the same sense, but divers men, diversely, this man and that man, this way and that way, expound and interpret the sayings thereof, so that to one’s thinking, so many men, so many opinions almost may be gathered out of them…for the avoiding of error, the Prophets and Apostles must be expounded according to the rule of the Ecclesiastical and Catholic sense…we hold that which hath been believed every where, always, and of all men: for that is truly and properly Catholic (as the very force and nature of the word doth declare) which comprehendeth all things in general after an universal manner, and that shall we do if we follow universality, antiquity, consent.” 18
The Authority of the Church
This seems to place the issue one step further. Tradition helps in the explication of the Apostolic Deposit in its infallible and sufficient witness of Scripture, but how can we know Tradition authoritatively? There are multiple layers involved in understanding and discerning true tradition and then applying this to the work of hermeneutics, and then another layer involved before we take this and apply it to the larger discipline of Dogmatic theology. For example, a certain Baptist theologian I read on church history proposed that the Fathers taught a symbolic view of Eucharistic presence, is he correct? If not, how can we know? Is his interpretation of the fathers any less valid than our own?
The answer is that the Church Catholic and Local Churches interpret Scripture and tradition authoritatively. As Bl. Pusey wrote, “We acknowledge that Holy Scripture is the source of all saving truth ; but it does not therefore follow that every one, unguided, is to draw for him self the truth out of that living well. The Sixth Article lays down the duty of the Church, as the groundwork of every subsequent statement of doctrine. It says nothing of any right or duty of every or any individual to satisfy himself that every article of the Creed can be so proved, much less of any liberty of any one to reject what he cannot so prove.” 19
It is hard not to think in terms of private judgment in a modern context, but Catholic theology speaks against this tendency. For, “what is matter of faith must be capable of being proved out of Holy Scripture; yet that, not according to the private sense of individuals, but ac- cording to the uniform teaching of the Church.” 20
This authority is not placed on the Church of any place or time alone; “the faith comes to us not on the authority of the present Church, but of the whole Church from Christ until now.” 21 It is in the hands of the entire Church to preserve and pass down what was handed to her from Christ to the Apostles to the Fathers, down to their day.
The Church is, in a word, infallible. This is liable to many misunderstandings. What exactly do I mean that the Church is infallible? Hall defines it thus, “that no truly ecumenical teaching of the Catholic Church as to what is necessary to be believed, or essential to be practised, can be erroneous.” 22 In summary, “this infallibility is not intrinsic but derivative, not formal but practical, and to be defined in terms of a divinely promised and providentially secured result, rather than in those of a mechanical system. It does not extend to every subject-matter of teaching, or beyond the limits of the saving truths once for all revealed. It is possessed by the corporate ecclesia as a whole, not by any particular agents or machinery that may be employed in teaching.” 23
Excursus: The Teaching of the Catholic Church
“This is great, but where can we find this Catholic teaching?” This charism of infallibility is not found in any one man or group of men per se but is in the corporate ecclesia. This office is expressed either after an organic manner or an official manner. After an organic manner, it is found in the sensus fidelium, that is, the Catholic consent of the faithful on matters of faith. This is appealed to by St. John when he writes, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” (1 John 2:20) As St. John Henry Newman writes, “not by the unswerving firmness of the Holy See, Councils or Bishops, but … by the consensus fidelium. On the one hand, I say, there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the Ecclesia docens. The body of the Bishops failed in their confession of the faith. … There were untrustworthy Councils, unfaithful Bishops; there was weakness, fear of consequences, misguidance, delusion, hallucination, endless, hopeless, extending itself into nearly every corner of the Catholic Church.” 24
Further, the corporate ecclesia is represented in an official manner by their Bishops in council. Each Bishop stands in persona ecclesia, summing up in his person the diocese in which he is the head. As Hall writes, “the bishops do not constitute an independent body, but are organs of a Catholic Church.” 25 When the Bishops of the world come together and decide on a certain issue (which is received by the corporate ecclesia), it is the voice of the Catholic Church and therefore infallible.
The qualifying phrase “which is received by the corporate ecclesia” is vital. Certain General councils have erred. As Hall accounts, “That of Ariminum, a.d. 359, committed itself in effect to Arianism; and that of Ephesus, a.d. 449, called the Latrocinium, approved of the Eutychian heresy. These were General Councils, and practically all parts of the Church were represented at them.” 26 The charism of infallibility is only present in those general councils that the corporate ecclesia has received, those commonly called “ecumenical” to which there are seven that summarize the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Excurses: An Application of this Principle to the Ecclesia Anglicana
The charism of infallibility, however, is not one of anyone local Church, for they “may err, and sometimes have erred.” (Article XXI) As Anglicans, we are bound to the teaching of the ecclesia Anglicana. We ought to submit ourselves to our local Church in the form of our formularies. However, as was stated above, the local Church is not the final ecclesiastical authority. The Catholic Church alone has been promised indefectibility; it alone has been promised the Holy Spirit to be lead into all truth; it alone is called the pillar and foundation of truth. Yes, local churches participate in this function, but “as the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred, so also” may any local church err. (Article XIX) Therefore, if the formularies of the Church contradict Catholic Truth, as Catholics, we must reject the formularies. On the other hand, where the Catholic Church speaks in accord with the formularies, or where the formularies speak, and the Catholic Church does not, we are bound to render due obedience.27
In conclusion, Prolegomena is central. Any doctrinal debate within Anglicanism is going to go back to first principles. By what standard are we asserting this or that claim? The Catholic Anglican account is most satisfying. It is able to deal with the difficult questions proposed by both the Evangelical and the Roman Catholic. Are our doctrines from Scripture? Yes, Scripture alone is the material cause of our doctrinal system. Tradition and Ecclesiastical authority only explain Scripture. Do we follow the tradition and decrees of the Catholic Church? Yes, we do; they are rightly submitted to as authoritative. This also ought to quell the minds of the “Reformational Anglican.” Are the formularies given a due place of honor? Yes, they are binding on all Anglicans insofar as they do not contradict Catholic truth. In fact, a generous reading of the Reformers and Reformed will find our regula fidei to be in greater conformity to their vision than your own. In sum, Catholic doctrine is not enough; we must also have a Catholic hermeneutic.
1. John Jewel, The Apology of the Church of England, (London, Paris, New York and Melbourne: Cassell, 1888), Pt. 1.
2. Francis J. Hall, Authority, Ecclesiastical and Biblical, Dogmatic Theology (London; New York; Bombay; Calcutta: Longmans, Green & Co., 1908), 139–140.
3. From Ibid., 149, “Anglicans are bound in two directions. As baptized members of the Catholic Church they should accept implicitly the faith of the Church universal. As Anglicans, providential circumstances require them to assume that whatever their own portion of the Church imposes by way of doctrine is Catholic doctrine, until it is clearly demonstrated to be otherwise. This double principle binds the clergy as well as the laity. ‘The Church hath … authority in Controversies of Faith,’ and the Church exercises its authority over us through the Anglican body. The teaching authority of a provincial Church over its members is indisputable, until the Church in question has forfeited its claim to be a true portion of the Catholic Church; that is, until it has demonstrably forsaken the faith or has lost the apostolic ministry and sacraments.
4. Darwell Stone, Outlines of Christian Dogma, (London, New York, Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1903), 147.
5. Martin Chemnitz, Examinis Concilii Tridentini.
6. John Mason Neale, The Bible, and the Bible Only, the Religion of Protestants, a Lecture, (London: Joseph Masters, 1852), 15.
7. St. Vincent of Lerins, For the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies, Chapter 3, 8.
8. E.B. Pusey, The Rule of Faith, as Maintained by the Fathers and the Church of England, (Oxford, UK: John Henry Parker, 1851), 7.
9. St. Vincent of Lerins, For the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies, Chapter 22, 53.
10. Pusey, The Rule of Faith, 10.
11. Pusey, The Rule of Fatih, 4.
12. Article VI
13. Hall, Authority, 67.
14. Bishop Grafton’s Introduction to Theology: Faith and Reason, on Apologia Anglicana
15. St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 41. Another interesting source is the Didache, “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. […] For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice.” (14)
16. St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 61.
17. Pusey, The Rule of Faith, 15
18. St. Vincent of Lerins, For the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies, Chapter 2
19. Pusey, Rule of Faith, 4-5
20. Ibid., 40.
21. Ibid., 41.
22. Hall, Authority, 83.
24. St. John Henry Newman, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine.
25. Hall, Authority, 111.
26. Ibid., 133, footnote 1
27. As a clarification, this is not to say that this is a situation that has happened. This is a mere hypothetical; my private opinion on whether the formularies have erred will remain private.