Tract VII: What is Anglican Spirituality?

This entry is part 11 of 16 in the series Erlandson: Tracts for the Times 2.0

Today, after taking an excursus into the ideals of Anglican parochial and higher education, I want to return in the months ahead to laying out a comprehensive vision of Anglican spirituality. In Tract 4, I defined and discussed Christian spirituality in general, and now I want to extend that definition in a more specifically Anglican direction.

In Tract 4, I defined Christian spirituality as “the life of Jesus Christ communicated to the Body of Christ by the Spirit of Christ.” This biblically-based definition of spirituality means that Christian spirituality is necessarily an ecclesial spirituality. It is primarily the corporate spirituality of the church since the church is the Body of Christ into which we are baptized.[1] Spirituality in this sense is not just another flavor, preference, or option for individual Christians but is the totality of life in Christ as incarnated into our actual lives.

Just as Anglicanism is a species of Christianity, so Anglican spirituality is a species of Christian spirituality, which is necessarily ecclesial in nature. Defining anything Anglican today is hazardous because of the confused and contentious nature of Anglicanism today, but attempting a definition is a necessary act of courage.

The most important thing to remember about Anglican spirituality is this: “Anglican spirituality is Prayer Book spirituality.”

While this definition may seem to demote the place of the Holy Scriptures and to exalt a man-made book, as well as ignore other aspects of authentic Anglican spirituality, I don’t believe this to be the case.

A Rule of Life

Let me briefly explain my claim that Anglican spirituality is Prayer Book spirituality by first exploring rules of life.

A rule of life is a devotional discipline in which we order our worship, work, and leisure as a pleasing sacrifice to God. Every Christian tradition and Christian individual needs and has a rule of life, even if it’s only implicit. A rule of life is essential for Christian spirituality because by it, we make sense of our lives and articulate a vision for the good life. We need a rule of life because our fallen nature is disordered, distracted, and self-centered, and we need to establish godly habits that form a Christ-like character.

A pious answer would mandate that we should employ the Bible alone as the Christian rule of life. Certainly, no rule of life has the inspired, authoritative nature of the Holy Scriptures. But there’s a very real and practical problem with conceiving of the Bible as the Christian rule of life. Let me virtually pass out a fully inspired Bible to every Christian on the face of the earth – all 2.5 billion of them. Now, let me ask them all, on cue, to live out a holy and ordered Christian life using only their Bible reading as their rule of life. Chaos, confusion, and a Babel of disordered lives would ensue. The most immediate problem we would all face is that you can’t live out the truths of the Bible apart from a life embodied and incarnated in the local church. But once you’ve done this and acknowledged the corporate nature of our life in Christ, you are immediately faced with the need for a common Rule of Life.

The typical Evangelical rule of life consists largely of a personal devotional time of Bible and prayer, supplemented by worship once a week and occasional church activities. For Anglicans, the Prayer Book is not a collection of disconnected religious services but instead serves as our rule of life, binding together all of the disparate elements of our life in Christ into one common life.

When reading Martin Thornton’s English Spirituality, I had the epiphany that the Prayer Book was the Anglican rule of life and that its literary genre was regula. The Book of Common Prayer is the rule of life that binds Anglicans together in a common life of prayer and vocation, much the way that the Rule of Benedict binds together all monks in a Benedictine monastery.

The Prayer Book as a Rule of Life

For Anglicans, the Book of Common Prayer is an integrating force for the total life of Christians in Christ. It is a common rule for clergy and laity, church and home. As the Anglican rule of life, the Prayer Book is essential to Anglican identity in three ways.

First, the Prayer Book acts as a specifically Anglican formulary which preserves the forms and formulas of the doctrine, discipline, and worship that the Church of England received in and from the undivided Church. It is a repository of Anglican doctrine and manifests a Reformed Catholicism in its doctrines, which negatively proscribes certain doctrinal beliefs and positively prescribes others.

The Prayer Book historically has been the context within which Anglicans have read the Bible, and so even the most authoritative standard for orthodox Anglicanism, the Bible, is colored by the doctrinal standards and expressions contained in the Prayer Book. Because Anglicans generally believe the adage lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of praying is the law of believing”), what is continually experienced in worship shapes the way that the worshiper believes. In this way, the Prayer Book is a uniting force in Anglican theology.

Second, the Prayer Book is the source for a distinctively Anglican spirituality or way of life. The way that Anglicans live out the Christian faith, in community, is by living out the Prayer Book rule of life. I’ll discuss this in more detail at the end of this Tract.

The third and perhaps greatest reason why the Prayer Book has been the essence of Anglican spirituality is that it is the Prayer Book that especially creates a common life and a living tradition in continuity with the apostolic tradition. The Prayer Book is our primary connection to the ancient Church with its three-fold order, apostolic succession, creeds and theology, liturgy and lex orandi, and view of Scripture in the Church. This continuity with the catholic church of all ages is essential to Christian spirituality.

Characteristics of Anglican Spirituality

This Anglican spirituality, which I’ve identified with Prayer Book spirituality, is a comprehensive spirituality for the entire Body of Christ. While it’s impossible to account for the full spectrum of colors and flavors that comprise Anglican spirituality, I’ve compiled what I hope is a useful list of some characteristics of Anglican spirituality.

1. Anglican spirituality is an ecclesial spirituality because Christian spirituality is all about life in Christ, which necessarily means life in His Body. The church and her sacramental system are essential to the Christian life of grace

2. It is a comprehensive rule of life for the whole church and all her members. It assumes that all of our life is a life in Christ and His church.

3. It is deeply connected to the catholic church of all ages and in all places, in terms of worship, church order, theology, the church year, and many other things.

4. It is the living out of a Reformed Catholicism and can, therefore, accommodate aspects of both Catholic and Protestant worship and spirituality. (See #12 below.)

5. Worship is at the center of Anglican spirituality, as evidenced by the fact that the Anglican rule of life is the Book of Common Prayer. We believe man is not so much homo sapiens (“thinking man”) as he is homo adorans (“worshiping man”).

6. Worship is also at the center of Anglican theology. Anglicans often employ the Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of praying is the law of believing”) to explain the essential unity of Anglican worship and theology. Prayer and theology always go together and affect each other, and so Anglican theology is incarnated in the Prayer Book and not just in the Articles of Religion. The Prayer Book has a more comprehensive and practical theology than the Articles, although also more implicit.

7. The Anglican life of prayer is essentially the 3-Fold Rule articulated most compellingly by Martin Thornton: weekly Communion, Daily Office, and private devotions.

8. Scripture is embedded in the life of the church and her worship. The Book of Common Prayer is the Holy Scriptures transformed into a Rule of Life. The liturgy is the Scriptures transformed into corporate worship.

9. The liturgy is the primary catechesis of the church because it is a proclamation of and participation in the saving life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It is an entering into sacred history and the worship of heaven, which is easily memorized, multisensory, and the seed from which all other catechesis and worship takes place.

10. Anglican spirituality is formational: it builds us up in the image of Christ until, proceeding from glory to glory, we reach the full stature of Christ.

11. Although the liturgy is the primary Anglican catechesis, the goal of Anglican catechesis and 3-Fold Rule of Prayer is habitual recollection, which I take to be equivalent to “praying without ceasing” and “practicing the presence of God.” For this reason, Anglican spirituality is “homely” (to use Martin Thornton’s favorite word) and is found in “the trivial round” and “the common task” of John Keble. This habitual recollection, I believe, is a temporal way of participating in the Beatific Vision that is the end of the life to come.

12. Anglican spirituality is catholic and ecumenical. We affirm our Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ, in a way no other tradition does. We are Catholics with our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters, and we are Protestant with our Protestant brothers and sisters. We read theology from writers in all three of these traditions, as well as worshiping and theologizing with all Christians from every Christian era.

13. Anglican spirituality emphasizes not only intellectual integrity and excellent scholarship but also artistic beauty, poetic truth, and moral and cultural concerns.

14. Anglican spirituality is modest, restrained, and dignified, but it is this spiritual foundation that allows for Anglican spirituality also to be truly exuberant as the passions are spiritually directed toward God.

In the months ahead, I hope to unfold in greater depth the various facets of that jewel which we call Anglican spirituality.

    1. For more on the necessity of Christians being part of the local church, see my recently published Love Me, Love My Wife: Ten Reasons Every Christian Must be a Member of a Local Church.
Series Navigation<< Tract VI – The Idea of the Anglican UniversityTract VIII: Anglican Spirituality Diagram >>

Charles Erlandson

Fr. Charles Erlandson served as rector of St. Chrysostom’s Reformed Episcopal Church in Hot Spring, Arkansas. In 2009, God called him back home to Tyler and Good Shepherd Church and School, to teach high school and serve as assistant rector. He teaches at Cranmer Theological House and is the Church History Department Head. Fr. Erlandson also writes a daily Bible devotional, available online or through e-mail subscription, called Give Us This Day. He has written several recent books: Orthodox Anglican Identity, Love Me, Love My Wife, and Take This Cup.

'Tract VII: What is Anglican Spirituality?' have 3 comments

  1. June 20, 2020 @ 3:00 pm Stacy

    Wow, this is one of the best articles I have ever read! Such a beautiful explanation of Anglican spirituality. As a new Anglican, I am seeing more and more the fullness of the ancient faith expressed in the Anglican church. This article will prove helpful in trying to pass along an appreciation and love for the Prayer Book to my daughters. Thank you.


  2. June 23, 2020 @ 10:26 am Benjamin Jefferies

    An excellent presentation, and a solid distillation of Thornton. I also am especially grateful to see #11 — I was an Anglican for many years before I encountered the teaching on “recollection”, which is indeed the watchword of Anglican spiritual maturity, and the goal for which I am not striving. Thanks, Fr. Erlandson, for this excellent series. I am sharing with my parish.


  3. February 25, 2023 @ 4:28 am Billy Sunday

    Reading through this piece has enhanced my participation and strengthen my faith in the Anglican mode of communicating the Christian faith. Worship, using the Book of Common, makes more meaning and therefore deepens my commitment and participation. Thank you, Father Erlandson, for the simplicity in the writing you have presented this message. Indeed, I cannot agree more that lex orandi, lex credendi. May God water you more and make you a greater blessing to many more generations.


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