Book Review: “Anglicanism”

Anglicanism: The Thought and Practice of the Church of England, Illustrated from the Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century. Edited by Paul Elmer More and Frank Leslie Cross. Cambridge, UK: James Clarke & Co., 2009. 610 pp. $49.13 (paper).

In a video titled “Why I Am Not Anglican,” Lutheran pastor and author Dr. Jordan B. Cooper says his primary reason for not being Anglican is that “Anglicans don’t have doctrinal unity, and that’s really something I just can’t get behind” (3:35). Regrettably, theological diversity within Anglicanism has indeed transgressed acceptable limits, to the point that self-identified Anglicans differ even on fundamental tenets of the faith, to say nothing of second- or third-order concerns. Hence the protracted dispute in recent decades over what it means to be “Anglican.”

Yet despite the ever-growing longevity of this dispute, it is still meaningful to speak of a coherent Anglican tradition. Anglicanism: The Thought and Practice of the Church of England, Illustrated from the Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century is proof of that.

As the title suggests, this book is an anthology of excerpts taken from the writings of various seventeenth-century Anglican thinkers and divines. Altogether they are meant to illustrate what Paul Elmer More—one of the editors of the volume—describes as “the specific genius of Anglicanism” (xxvii). Originally published in 1935, this collection has been reprinted multiple times, with the current edition first appearing in 2009. W. Brown Patterson writes in the foreword, “The current controversies over doctrinal and other issues in the worldwide Anglican Communion ‒ threatening its unity and effectiveness ‒ make a reprint edition of the book extremely welcome” (xvii).

While I have introduced this book as an answer to the charge that Anglicanism has no doctrinal center, it does contain “a considerable diversity of opinion” (xxvii). Indeed, Frank Leslie Cross—the volume’s other editor—observes that there are “side by side passages which give expression to opposing attitudes or beliefs” (lxvi). But as More points out, “An attentive student of the whole movement will be more impressed by the unity within the variety” (xxviii). This is especially evident in the book’s treatment of the fundamentals of Christianity, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and so on.

Still, it is probably a stretch to say, as Patterson does, that the book “resembles a summa theologica or systematic theology of the English Church” (xxiii). Rather, it is better considered as a general reference guide and introduction to many great Anglican thinkers and divines who have fallen into obscurity in our time. In addition to the standard subjects of theology (the Bible, the Church, the Sacraments, etc.), the book also addresses multiple topics that pertain specifically to Anglican thought and self-understanding. These include the nature and significance of episcopacy and apostolic succession, how the sacraments should be numbered, the practice of reserving the Eucharist, the value of auricular confession, and many others besides.

The fact that this book is an anthology, composed of myriad contributors who do not always agree, makes it difficult to give a detailed assessment of its substance. Nevertheless, I can safely say that its impressive scope and depth make it a fantastic resource. Every page will draw readers in, not just for the ideas themselves, but for the artful prose (and sometimes poetry) in which they are expressed. Not for nothing did T. S. Eliot write, “The publication of this book is an important event as much for literature as it is for theology.”

That said, I have two major criticisms, one mechanical and one substantive. The mechanical criticism is that the book’s Table of Contents is almost entirely inaccurate. To be precise, out of 368 total items, the page numbers listed in the Table of Contents for 296 of them (approximately 80%) are anywhere from 1‒5 pages off. This would be a serious oversight for any book, but for what is essentially a reference work it is an egregious failing, one that I earnestly hope the publisher will rectify in a future edition. In the meantime, interested readers should not allow this issue to deter them from making a purchase, as I have ascertained the actual page numbers for all of the incorrect Table of Contents entries—in the book every excerpt is listed in the Table of Contents as a numbered item, for example, “No. 2”—and have provided them below:

No. 2: 5

No. 4: 6

No. 6: 8

No. 8: 9

No. 9: 10

No. 25: 37

No. 32: 46

No. 33: 48

No. 35: 49

No. 44: 57

No. 46: 58

No. 53: 64

No. 55: 69

No. 56: 77

No. 59: 80

No. 67: 89

No. 69: 93

No. 72: 96

No. 84: 125

No. 85: 126

No. 87: 127

No. 89: 134

No. 90: 144

No. 91: 145

No. 92: 147

No. 93: 149

No. 94: 149

No. 95: 150

No. 96: 151

No. 97: 152

No. 98: 153

No. 99: 154

No. 100: 155

No. 101: 158

No. 102: 158

No. 103: 159

No. 104: 160

No. 105: 161

No. 106: 163

No. 107: 164

No. 108: 165

No. 109: 165

No. 110: 168

No. 111: 172

No. 112: 173

No. 113: 176

No. 114: 177

No. 115: 177

No. 116: 179

No. 117: 179

No. 118: 180

No. 119: 182

No. 120: 183

No. 121: 183

No. 122: 185

No. 123: 185

No. 124: 186

No. 125: 188

No. 126: 190

No. 127: 192

No. 128: 195

No. 129: 197

No. 130: 201

No. 131: 201

No. 132: 203

No. 133: 204

No. 134: 208

No. 135: 209

No. 136: 210

No. 137: 211

No. 138: 212

No. 139: 214

No. 140: 215

No. 141: 216

No. 142: 222

No. 143: 223

No. 144: 224

No. 145: 225

No. 146: 225

No. 147: 226

No. 148: 229

No. 149: 231

No. 150: 232

No. 151: 236

No. 152: 237

No. 153: 240

No. 154: 243

No. 155: 245

No. 156: 246

No. 157: 247

No. 158: 247

No. 159: 248

No. 160: 250

No. 161: 251

No. 162: 252

No. 163: 253

No. 164: 261

No. 165: 265

No. 166: 266

No. 167: 267

No. 168: 270

No. 169: 271

No. 170: 273

No. 171: 274

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No. 173: 276

No. 174: 276

No. 175: 276

No. 176: 277

No. 177: 280

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No. 182: 285

No. 183: 287

No. 184: 290

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No. 194: 300

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No. 198: 305

No. 199: 306

No. 200: 307

No. 201: 308

No. 202: 309

No. 203: 310

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No. 205: 312

No. 206: 314

No. 207: 315

No. 208: 323

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No. 210: 323

No. 211: 324

No. 212: 329

No. 213: 330

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No. 215: 331

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No. 221: 334

No. 222: 335

No. 223: 336

No. 224: 337

No. 225: 338

No. 226: 338

No. 227: 340
No. 228: 341

No. 229: 342

No. 230: 342

No. 231: 343

No. 232: 344

No. 233: 345

No. 234: 346

No. 235: 347

No. 236: 348

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No. 239: 352

No. 240: 353

No. 241: 354

No. 242: 358

No. 243: 358

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No. 245: 360

No. 246: 362

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No. 250: 364

No. 251: 365

No. 252: 366

No. 253: 367

No. 254: 367

No. 255: 370

No. 256: 371

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No. 260: 374

No. 261: 377

No. 262: 380

No. 263: 381

No. 264: 381

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No. 266: 383

No. 267: 384

No. 268: 385

No. 269: 389

No. 270: 400

No. 271: 402

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No. 308: 436

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No. 313: 442

No. 314: 443

No. 315: 445

No. 316: 445

No. 317: 446

No. 318: 447

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No. 323: 454

No. 324: 457

No. 325: 459

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No. 327: 461

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No. 333: 466

No. 334: 466

No. 335: 477

No. 336: 482

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No. 340: 489

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No. 344: 494

No. 345: 506

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No. 354: 515

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No. 356: 516

No. 357: 516

No. 358: 518

No. 359: 519

No. 360: 519

No. 361: 521

No. 362: 522

Biographies in Outline: 524

The substantive criticism has to do with this anthology’s larger answer to the question, “What is Anglicanism?” On this score, the included excerpts speak for themselves, and—with a few minor exceptions—I have nothing to say against them. Unfortunately, one of the volume’s editors, Paul Elmer More, felt the need to inject his own thoughts on what these collected writings tell us about the essence of Anglicanism. His assessment, quite unlike the collected writings themselves, would be better left buried and forgotten.

According to More, one of the defining characteristics of Anglicanism is “the axiomatic rejection of infallibility” (xxxi). In the book’s excerpts, this rejection is directed toward individual churches, councils, and methods or institutions of biblical interpretation. More, however—taking for granted “the results of modern Biblical scholarship” (xxxiv)—raises the question of whether the seventeenth-century divines, if confronted with the “evidence of critical examination” (xxxv), would have been willing to apply their rejection of infallibility even to the Bible itself. The answer, says More, determines “whether the Church can be said to have moved in a straight direction, whether, in a word, it is proper to speak of any such thing as Anglicanism” (xxxv).

That is to say, in More’s view, the ongoing continuity of Anglicanism hinges on our ability to take up the seventeenth-century divines’ rejection of infallibility as applied to any “created power” (xxxv) and recognize that such created powers include the Bible itself. More notes that the Oxford Movement, inheritor of this “liberal spirit of the seventeenth century” (xxxvi), was able to do so, as exemplified by the landmark collection of essays titled Lux Mundi.[1] Accordingly, More continues, the “ultimate law of Anglicanism” is “pragmatism” (xxxvii). On this account, when considering the truth of doctrines such as the Incarnation we should ask ourselves “the consequences of believing or not believing. How does acceptance of the dogma of the Incarnation work out in practice? Does faith bring with it any proof of its objective validity?” (xxxvii) In this way, “The experiment of believing may pass into experience,” and experience in turn will give rise to “conviction,” all “without leaning for support on the theory of an oracular infallibility committed to any visible organ of speech” (xxxviii). More hopes that a “liberal ethos of Christianity” much like this will “more and more prevail in the Holy Catholic Church [i.e., all of Christendom]” (xlii, italics original).

Such a “liberal ethos” certainly has prevailed in much of Christianity today, especially in the West. But we can only hope that More—had he enjoyed the opportunity to observe the development of Anglicanism in the century since his death in 1937—would have reconsidered his confidence that this liberal spirit would spare Anglicanism from the fate of “radical Protestants,” who “have seen their faith in the fundamentals of religion go down to ruins along with their anti-catholic bibliolatry” (xxxvi). For by this criterion we see that, pragmatically speaking, More’s vision of Anglicanism is as “hopelessly out of court” as he judged the “radical Protestants” to be for clinging to “an impossible theory of Scriptural inerrancy” (xxxvi).

To reiterate, though, the authors collected in this volume speak for themselves. Readers who pick it up will hear a strong and clear voice answering the question of “What is Anglicanism?” That voice speaks of a faith that is at once catholic and reformed—in the words of King James I, catholic in its acceptance of “the Scriptures, the three Creeds, and…the four first General Councils,” yet reformed in its rejection of “novelties” (4). As a collection of seventeenth-century primary sources, the book does not address that account of Anglicanism propagated by the Tractarians and their heirs. But to the extent that it represents what proponents have called classical Anglicanism, it remains an important resource in this ongoing definitional endeavor.

Notes

  1. Amusingly, More singles out John Henry Newman as a retrograde influence on the Oxford Movement who, for all his “genius,” was “not without danger of leading the Church away from the line of its normal development” as a result of his biblical “fundamentalism” (xxxvi).

 


James Clark

James Clark is the Book Review Editor at The North American Anglican. His writing has appeared in Cranmer Theological Journal, Journal of Classical Theology, and American Reformer, as well as other publications.


'Book Review: “Anglicanism”' has 1 comment

  1. May 20, 2022 @ 11:55 am Isaac Rehberg

    IIRC Moore\’s statement are part of his \”Spirit of Anglicanism\” essay in the introduction. That was the first piece we looked at on the Miserable Offenders Podcast (and indeed, I think the only one we did in its intirety). I remember getting increasingly annoyed with that kind of thing as we went through the essay!

    Reply


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