On Friday, the Anglican Church announced that the next Archbishop of Canterbury would be the current Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby. This appointment is important, since the Archbishop of Canterbury is the highest-ranking bishop within the Anglican Communion. Archbishop-elect Welby is a complex man: he’s an Evangelical with an admiration for Catholicism, and a traditional-minded bishop who supports women’s ordination.
In a way, he reflects the complex situation that the Anglican Communion finds itself in. The Communion has two major factions. The liberal wing is pushing for women’s ordination, church blessings of same-sex relationships, the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and in some cases a rejection of the inspiration of Scripture and the historicity of the physical Resurrection. Meanwhile, there’s a conservative Anglican wing that’s fighting against all of these things, and trying to preserve what remains of Anglican tradition.
Unfortunately (and genuinely, I say this with regret), I believe that the conservative wing is doomed for failure. Conservative Anglicanism will either cease to be Anglican, cease to be conservative, or simply cease to be. As a movement, it is unsustainable, for the following reasons:
|Frank O. Salisbury, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon
before Papal Legates at Blackfriars, 1529 (1910)
This point was put quite cleverly in a recent letter to the editor of a Washington state newspaper:
In its ads in the Herald, the local congregation of the Anglican Church in North America, which split from the Episcopalians in 2008, claims that it represents the “historic, traditional Anglican Church.” The ads affirm a belief in “faithful, monogamous marriage between one man and one woman.”I imagine that the church’s founder, King Henry VIII, is turning over in his grave as a result of the 21st-century “assault” on traditional marriage — along with his wife, Catherine of Aragon; his wife, Anne Boleyn, his wife, Jane Seymour; his wife, Anne of Cleves; his wife, Kathryn Howard and his wife, Katherine Parr.A couple of them lost their heads over Henry’s devotion to “faithful, monogamous marriage.”
Most likely, the author of this letter is on the wrong side of the gay marriage debate, but he raises a salient point: conservative Anglicanism lacks credibility to defend traditional marriage on “traditional Anglican” grounds, because of King Henry VIII’s serial divorces.
Obviously, every church, coffee shop, and cubicle in the world is occupied by sinners. But this is different. It’s not simply that King Henry VIII was a sinner who was married six times, and killed two of his wives. It’s that Henry founded Anglicanism specifically so he could do this.
When the Catholic Church stood Her ground on marriage being a faithful, monogamous marriage between one man and one woman, and refused to permit Henry to divorce and remarry, Henry declared himself the head of the Church in England, and Anglicanism was born.
The “traditional Anglican” position on marriage, then, is hardly a ringing endorsement of “faithful, monogamous marriage,” which is precisely why the Anglican Communion has offered relatively little in the way of principled resistance to “gay marriage.”
…But Considers the Queen of England the Head of the Church
|Queen Elizabeth II|
The original schism within the Anglican Communion was tied to the question of women’s ordination. Long story short, liberal Anglican churches began ordaining women, and a number of traditionalists broke off from the Anglican Communion over it, in what’s called the Continuing Anglican Movement.
Some of the traditional Anglicans are part of the Anglican Communion, some are not; some accept women’s ordination, some don’t. Some, like the Anglican Church of North America, permit women’s ordination to the priesthood, but reject women’s ordination to the episcopacy. But there is a certain disharmony in conservative Anglicanism’s rejection of female priests and bishops, while accepting the Queen of England as the “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England” who continues to play a significant role in the structure of the Anglican Church:
Archbishops and bishops are appointed by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, who considers the names selected by a Church Commission. They take an oath of allegiance to The Queen on appointment and may not resign without Royal authority.
To say the least, rejecting female Church leadership while acknowledging a woman as the head of the Church is something less than coherent as an ecclesiology.
As far as I can tell, there’s no such thing as a “good Anglican.” What I mean is that we can speak of someone being a “good Catholic,” if he holds to the Tradition of the Catholic Church: he believes what the Church believes, and what the Church has always believed. But there doesn’t seem to be any sort of equivalent in the Anglican Communion, because her history is full of contradictions and complete reversals on core doctrines.
|Gerlach Flicke, Thomas Cranmer (1545)|
For example, the ACNA holds to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571 “as expressing the fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.” I appreciate what they’re trying to do: maintain a connection to historic Anglicanism, from 1571 forward. But there’s a glaring flaw there: the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571 directly contradict prior Anglican dogmas, as well as the teachings of the Catholic Church.
For example, the previous articles of belief, the Six Articles of 1539, affirmed the Anglican Church’s belief in transubstantiation:
First, that in the most blessed Sacrament of the Altar, by the strength and efficacy of Christ’s mighty word, it being spoken by the priest, is present really, under the form of bread and wine, the natural body and blood of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, conceived of the Virgin Mary, and that after the consecration there remaineth no substance of bread and wine, nor any other substance but the substance of Christ, God and man;
But the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571 deny transubstantiation. Specifically, the 28th Article says:
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
These are 180 degrees opposed from one another, and can’t both be right. Either Anglicans were heretics in 1571, or they were heretics in 1539, or both. So all of modern Anglicanism is built on the idea that the Anglican Communion was (or is) heretical.
Given this, the one thing that all Anglicans appear to agree upon is that the Anglican Church is untrustworthy on doctrinal issues. If that is so, what merit is there in pledging allegiance to “Anglican tradition”? Put another way, the Anglican “traditionalists” today are simply the ones who accept the radical liberals of 1571 over the radical liberals of 1971, and neither one has any particular basis to call themselves “traditionalists.”
Note that in each of the instances mentioned above, the problem isn’t that conservative Anglican’s positions are wrong. In fact, from a Catholic perspective, we would say that they’re right about the definition of marriage; right about the male-only nature of the priesthood; and, while wrong to hold to the Thirty-Nine Articles, right to seek out an ancient and stable ground of traditional Christianity.
The problem is that these positions are virtually impossible to hold in a principled manner while remaining Anglican. At some point, the would-be traditional Anglicans need to decide where Christian Tradition or Anglicanism is more important, because they can’t perpetually coexist.