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Anglican Catholic Protestant Orthodox?

Archbishop Justin Pope Francis

Is the Anglican Church “catholic”, “protestant”, or both? How does it describe itself, and does that matter?

Regulars will know, I am always particularly wary of uses of the categories: catholic, orthodox, charismatic, protestant, evangelical. Often what one person says, using one of these terms, is quite different to what another person hears – sometimes the exact opposite. And individuals (and tribes) claim these words for themselves and for their tribe in an attempt to prevent others from using them. Even the word “Anglican”, not yet appearing in this paragraph, is now also subject to debate – with new tribes using it for themselves, and others (who are certainly rightly holding the title) asserting these have no right to use this term.

I have recently been involved in a somewhat lighthearted thread which developed from someone’s surprise at a listing of “Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Anglicans”. Anglicans, this person presumed, were included in “Protestants” and so, for this person, the listing must have sounded something akin to, “dogs, cats, and poodles”.

In the banter that followed, I pointed out that the word “protestant” does not appear (as far as I know?) in any of the formularies (the official, agreed beliefs, teachings, and practices) of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. The word “catholic”, of course, occurs regularly.

There are some serious points under the repartee. There is an important model in what I realised in the previous paragraph. At its core “catholic” refers to positive concepts – what we are for. And “protestant” refers to what we are against. The Anglican Church, in its formal self-understanding, works from what we are for (“catholic”), and makes no reference to what we are against (“protestant”).

The irony, for me, is that Christians appear to be better known, beyond the church, for what we appear to be against rather than what we are for. [Recent TV programme I watched: Christianity portrayed as anti-marriage-equality, anti-evolution, anti-science; recent conversations: one young person who would not be able to name the four gospels lectured me that the Bible says homosexuality is unnatural; another person, in his sixties, had never even heard of John 3:16, the only Bible quote he could recite and reference was Leviticus 18:22].

Protestantism is understood as “continuing our protest against the Roman version of Western Catholicism”. One problem with that, of course, is that in most of those protests, Anglicanism has capitulated or positively acknowledged that “the Roman version of Western Catholicism” (can) be followed. The nineteenth century battles against vestments, elevation of the eucharistic elements, incense, candles, wafers, making the sign of the cross, adding water to the wine, processions, statues, icons, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, all feel precisely that – so nineteenth century! Other issues, significant at the time of the Reformation, also feel just that – so sixteenth century! [Spoiler alert: I am working on a blog post looking at the conceding to Roman understanding over Reformation issues]. The lectionary we follow is essential the Vatican one, the liturgies we use are generally distinguishable only by people obsessive about subtleties. Those who persist in earlier energies that Roman Catholics are not Christian, or that the Pope is the Antichrist, appear more and more as minority fringe nutters. The protestantism of Anglicanism as a “continuing protest against the Roman version of Western Catholicism” can be seen to be a protestantism of the gaps, and they are rapidly shrinking gaps.

“Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Anglicans” is not akin to “dogs, cats, and poodles”. It is closer to “mammals, birds, and platypuses”.

I conclude by stressing my primary point: It is time for us to be known more for what we are for than what we are against. Official Anglican teaching presents the model – now we have to live it.

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24 Responses to Anglican Catholic Protestant Orthodox?

  1. Hi Bosco
    Thank you for clear thinking about a (potentially) murky issue.

    I take issue with you at the point where you place ‘Protestant’ in the ‘against’ category. Yes, it can be placed in that category but its continuing relevance as a descriptive term for Anglican character is that it continues to reflect the category of ‘difference’. If we ask the question (and picking up the direction of your post), given the shrinking differences, why is the Anglican church not reunited with Rome? The answer is twofold:

    (a) historically, the current form of Anglicanism, notwithstanding the closing of the gaps, is distinct from Roman Western catholicism, because of the Protestant Reformation, and despite changes associated with the Anglo-Catholic movement (and noted by you above), the Anglican Communion has not agreed as a matter of common policy to jettison that history. For instance, evangelicals not inclined to wear chasubles, use incense, cross themselves, etc, remain a dynamic, large presence within the Communion. Many Anglicans not inclined to call themselves evangelicals remain wary of trends in ARCIC dialogues to reunite with Rome. The historical Protestant character of Anglicanism remains alive and well, notwithstanding some closing of gaps, as noted by you.

    (b) contemporaneously the current form of Anglicanism, notwithstanding the closing of the gaps, is distinct from Roman Western catholicism, because significant differences remain which do not appear likely to have imminent resolution. These differences constitute, I suggest, a continuing ‘protest’ against the Roman version of Western Catholicism. In part they are about Anglicans being ‘against’ Roman teachings; but in part they are also about Anglicans being ‘for’ scriptural teachings rather than Roman teachings.

    What are such differences? Here are a few:
    (1) Roman teachings lacking scriptural basis which (notwithstanding some things noted above) remain ‘on the books’: indulgences, immaculate conception, assumption of Mary, prayer to the saints, purgatory. [The fact that some Anglicans are comfortable with such teachings does not change the fact that many Anglicans continue to protest against such teachings AND continue to teach for the better alternatives such as praying to the Father through Jesus Christ, respect for Mary but not undeserved veneration, etc).
    (2) Roman methods of doing things: what has been one of the harshest criticisms of the proposed Anglican Covenant? That it would effectively create an Anglican Magisterium. Anathema! What style of episcopal leadership do many Anglicans abhor? That which smacks of ‘papistry’! Would Anglicans, handling the pastoral sensitivities of remarriage and divorce embrace the Roman method of ‘annulment’? No!!! Are those of us used to synodical government in which laity play a full part in wielding power give way to papal government via consultations with bishops? No, thrice no.
    (3) Roman legalism: to give but one example, twice recently I have been in communion services in which Roman priests were present but did not take communion. In one instance the priest specifically confirmed to me ‘because it is against the rules.’ I cannot see any Anglican I know, not even your own good self, about to embrace a way of being Catholic/catholic which has so many rules.

    I remain a Protestant and pleased on any and every occasion to explain what I am for, what I am reasonably different on, and even what I am against!

    • Thanks, Peter. I am particularly taken with your point (2) which can express what we are for: a church which understands the Spirit to be leading us through the whole people of God (not merely the bishops – or solely the pope) expressed in synodical processes and more local adaptability. Blessings.

  2. It’s worth noting that, even while Anglicanism has capitulated to Roman Catholicism on the points you mention, Roman Catholicism has capitulated to the Reformation on many important points, e.g., the selling of indulgences, the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, the centrality of the Bible, the role of the laity, etc. It’s not a one-way street by any means.

    • Absolutely, Greg. I often understand Vatican II, and what is following, as the reformation happening to Roman Catholicism four centuries later (or the BCP etc. as being Vatican II four hundred years earlier). Blessings.

  3. In my opinion; the term ‘Protestant’, as a description of doctrinal or spiritual protest, can be confusing as a label for neophyte Anglicans – signifying what not to believe, rather than the more positive evengelisitc tool of offering positive Christian values.

    However, if you happen to be a prelate (or even a disciple) of the GAFCON school of religion, this has emerged over the last 2 decades as a newly-formed ‘protest movement’ against Anglicans who, for instance, do not place absolute trust in the 39 Article of Religion. or who do not interpret or read the Bible with the the very same literal emphasis as they do – especially on matters of gender and sexuality.

    My point here is that, the real ‘Protestants’ in world-wide Anglicanism at this moment are those who profess to be more ‘orthodox’ in their understanding of the Gospel than the rest of us.

  4. Personally, although I’m entirely happy to be called an evangelical, I find myself more and more resistant (protesting???) toward people who continue to argue theological categories created in the 16th century. We live in a different world today, and as C.S. Lewis once observe, what strikes us most about those old controversies is not what they disagreed about, but the entirely repugnant things they were agreed on! To take just one example, the fact that all Christians (with the honourable exception of Anabaptists) felt that it was entirely appropriate to burn fellow-Christians at the stake for the good of their souls! Today if I met an Anglican theologian who expressed considered agreement with this, I’d be inclined to ignore everything else he (or she) said!

    Nowadays I think we need to be continually rethink what it means for us to be followers of Jesus, refusing to be constrained by narrow categories invented to differentiate Christians from each other. As we have already seen on this thread, Protestants and Catholics alike have been happily learning from each other, and have even been known to borrow a thing or two from the Anabaptists (who I think were truly neither Catholic nor Protestant). Personally, I’m glad that it should be so!

  5. From the Anglican version in the USA, Episcopal, the term protestant did not refer to being protestant as it was still considered the reformed catholic church, the Roman rite being part of that…I do consider myself anglo-catholic as an episcopalian..the protest form of the term came on board when the American Revolution occurred to make mention of protest against england at that time…the anglican church had a strong foothold in the colonies and the bishops were recalled to england after the war…the Bishop of Scotland, Seabury, consecrated bishops to maintain the connection of the lineage ….

  6. “…what we are for…” could be the type of Christianity of Saint Alban and many others (that tended to be humble, and bishops roamed wherever they could do some good) before the very hierarchical style took over. At every point in its history it can be looked at in different ways… was the original C of E mainly an exercise in choosing a narrow strip of ground in no-man’s land between the emerging European Protestant groupings and the RC Church, or was it trying to straddle both with at least part of a foot in each? (To be simply the “Church IN England”)

    Given that you can find Anglicans that look to all the world like Salvation Army officers (but with different coloured clothes), and others with bells and smells that could easily be mistaken for Roman Catholics, I think the safest statement is to say that: Anglicans are a microcosm of all Christiantity, and that Anglicans could be described as “for” taking on any element that seems to be working in any other denomination, knowing full well that it will mean endless meetings and red-tape and arguments further down the track but that doesn’t stop us (because there are already so many of those annoyances a few more won’t matter) – whereas any other Christian group that is more sensitive about how they are defined might shy away from adopting such changes!

  7. That’s a very good point, Fr Bosco!

    Some remarks, nevertheless:

    1. Terms like “protestant”, “evangelical, “catholic, “orthodox” mean different things in different languages, in their common sense, and in the countries those languages are used. Let me give you some examples. In English-speaking countries, the word «Evangelical» and «évangélique» in the French-speaking countries is really not the same thing as in Scandinavian languages & countries, where the national Churches (which are Lutheran and Episcopal) use the term for themselves.

    Likewise, the words «protestant» and «catholic» have different secular meanings, or common understandings.

    2. Now, if we wish to see how much the Anglicans are akin, let’s see who are those wherewith they are in full communion:
    – the Old Catholic Churches (Utrechter Union);
    – the Aglipayan Church;
    – the MarThoma Church (Oriental);
    – the Scandinavian Churches (Lutheran Episcopal);
    – the ELCA (Lutheran Episcopal).

    Probably, the deer allegory should then stand as such: placentals, marsupials, platypuses, hippogriffs, and birds.

    3. In the absolute:

    The Church herself is catholic, «according to the whole»: each local Church (diocese) should contain the wholeness of the Church. In reality, few dioceses of any denomination do have a wholeness, the life abundantly. Where the is discrimination of either type, there’s no wholeness, no catholicity. Nevertheless, the Eucharist is the constitution of the Church, therefore: no Eucharist, no catholicity. On the other hand, sundry practices (vestments, wafers) and dogmas (immaculate conception, transubstantiation) may have much, little, or nothing Catholic therein. The Early Church had no Xmas, no Mary-prayer, no romantic weddings, no wafers, but lots of candles (no electric power), lots of albs and chasubles (fashion for everyone); yet she was catholic.

    «Orthodox» is not about belief itself, but about worshipping (δόξα). A local Church is orthodox, when she worships rightly. Many congregations claim to be so-called “orthodox”, while: some just deem people (thing which has nothing to do with worship); and some other still hold services in ununderstandable languages, hidden behind an altar-screen, with people acting like mere onlookers (and, in that case, the worship is totally wrong, not right).

    «Protestant» is a pretended umbrella. For some Romish point of view, the protestantism is the bag wherein one drops everything, from high-church Anglicans to Mormons.

  8. On the Ave in the “metropolitan” part of our town lies the most modern version of the oldest church built. The Methodist Episcopalian Congregation. As conservative as they may have once been they are now the only religious group that outreaches to the gay community. Though this is a small city the county we lie encompasses a large area which includes a large joint military base that supports many families of all kinds. I believe that is why they are so outwardly bold in creating an environment of acceptance. They also provide a service to the poor, disabled and single parent populations which includes myself and my son. Their approach to the issues of the world are similar to the Pope’s and Catholic socialism in general. And the contributions they have made keep them from failing in the eyes of God. As expressing love and compassion for all is what we are called to do with the time we have left.

  9. Actually, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, “protestant” is also defined as “one who makes a declaration or avowal.” “Here I stand, God being my helper. I can do none other.”

  10. You conclude Bosco with: “Official Anglican teaching presents the model – now we have to live it.”

    Mmmm. And where might that “official teaching” be deposited?! And please don’t reply: “The Prayer Book”! For with the revisions of the sundry books of prayer around the AC these past decades, the old tag, “lex orandi, lex credendi”, just no longer works. Furthermore, sundry “templates” just make it all the ‘worser’! And once we’ve ditched any idea of an Anglican Covenant, that option too is out. Nor will the (in)famous mantra of “Scripture, Tradition, and Reason” – with “experience” added by some – as some kind of so-called definition of Anglicanism work. Rowan Greer, in his [i]Anglican Approaches to Scripture: From the Reformation to the Present[/i] (Crossroad, 2006), has given the lie to that notion. One could continue …

    CS Lewis famously tried to proffer “mere Christianity”. I’d be fascinated to see whether he could make of today’s contemporary global Anglican scene anything particularly ‘specifiable’ and where he would locate such (a) specific thing(s). Alister McGrath’s two most recent volumes notwithstanding …

    QED: while I certainly laud the second half sentence, about “living it”, it’s far from clear what exactly we are to so live … Nor is it therefore clear that we’ve escaped that reductionist tendency of reducing theology to mere ethics – which is a particularly Anglican trait in some circles.

    • Perhaps you are reading in haste, Bryden. The official teachings are clear in my fourth paragraph, and the conclusion refers back to that. Missing that makes little sense of the rest. Blessings.

      • Thanks Bosco for reinforcing again that point – BUT … That rather proves my point: many of our present day colleagues follow unofficial teachings … of the sort I tried thereafter to bracket off. Which was my real innuendo … especially when they try to claim ‘we are not a confessional Church’.

      • I’ll give this another go Bosco, with less indirect innuendo.

        A direct question: do you consider Anglicanism to be a confessional religion?

        While you reference the “formularies” (as per the Blue Book; no Homilies BTW!), which therefore display some sort of ‘public depository’, such is the culture of Anglicanism that we also hold in high regard ‘private judgment’ and ‘individual interpretation’. Indeed, when push comes to shove – and there’s quite a bit of pushing and shoving going on these days among the AC, you’ll agree – such is our default attitude, or should that be ‘one’s default attitude’, to these “formularies” that Anglicanism is utterly Protestant after all, with each being their own ‘private pope’. And to fancy otherwise is naive! And to prove my point, one of the real problems with ARCIC is the question of reception. For the Agreements are really only specifiable as “agreements” among the individuals that make up each gathering – or so an old hand has informed me. A clear example would be the attempt in our own local diocese to ‘receive’ The Gift of Authority (1998) a few years back; I know, as I was part of +DC’s group that prepared the synod motion! In other words, Rome, which has a clear body of Teaching – it’s called the Catechism – simply does not know who exactly it’s dealing with when the RCC engages with ‘Anglicanism’.

        So; I’ll repeat my first question as well: where might “official teaching” be actually deposited?!

        • Thanks, Bryden. I think I have sufficiently answered your repeating question. And there are several points where I approach things quite differently. I do not, for example, think of Anglicanism as a religion. I think “confessional” can become as slippery as I warn these other words in my post are. So your combining of those two words is fraught with muddled understanding. And I’m not as convinced as you are that RC Teaching can be simply equated directly with the Catechism. Blessings.

  11. OK Bosco; from your replies I have to conclude Chloe’s household message is alive and well – with consequent obfuscation all round! Perhaps the antidote is a renewed search for the 17/18 th C’s search for the primal language of Adam. At least worth a try, I fancy …!

    • I think if there is any obfuscation, Bryden, the source is yours, not my replies. Even this present comment of yours is worded in such an enigmatic manner. You appear to struggle to understand what our formularies are; make reference to “the Blue Book” (which most readers here would have no idea about); make a point “no Homilies BTW” complete with exclamation mark, while no one has mentioned the Homilies; leave some people to think that “the Blue Book” might actually be the formularies (it plainly isn’t); and bring in “sundry ‘templates'” (without specifying which sundry you could possibly be referring to – if you are meaning the Worship Template, it clearly is not one of our formularies). You are welcome to participate here, but if you want to engage in discussion and seek responses to your points, you will need to do so in a manner that is clear rather than cryptic followed by firing off obscure accusations. Blessings.

  12. Let me ponder what nerve, or series of nerves, I have tweeked – or tweaked – to possibly justify such a weird response. For knowing something of what does and does not in fact make you ‘tick’ as a religious person, I remain of the clear view any mention of the Formularies (which are a stock convention in most Anglican Church Consitutions, including our own contained in its Blue Book) by you is not only ‘intriguing’ but just prompts the sort of thing I raise about “private judgments” and “individual interpretations” of any of the component parts of the Anglican Formularies. BTW: there was a time when the Homilies were de rigeur as a means of Anglican interpretation which was why their mention is relevant in any such thread as this.

    • I think your pondering, Bryden, should have preceded not followed your publicly calling my response “weird” without any clarification of what you think is weird about it. Ad hominems are not acceptable on this site, so I caution anyone making comments about their opinion about what does and does not in fact make another person ‘tick’. Please just stick to the points being discussed, Bryden. In this case the thread focused on the formularies using the word “catholic” but not using the word “protestant”. And to be clear: the Homilies have never been part of the formularies of our church. Blessings.

      • Fact 1: “And to be clear: the Homilies have never been part of the formularies of our church.” Correct Bosco; we are in “heated agreement”.

        Facts 2 & 3: I have not tried to claim this as a fact, while it IS nonetheless a fact the Homilies WERE of their very nature formally offered as THE Anglican means of interpretation (although they passed into history for some/many as just these means – for the worse, in my view, since their continuing use might have avoided my entire comment, that a mere mention of the Formularies on their own does little to decide the real thrust of your post about the real nature of Anglicanism, Prot, catholic, or whatever).

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