Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Anglican Catechism in Outline: The Not-So-Good (Part 2)

Concluding my comments on "Anglican Catechism in Outline (ACIO): The Interim Report of the Global South Theological Formation and Education Task Force," I continue with my comments on the Commentaries:

I find equal reason for concern in Dr. Toon's discussion of historic Anglican formularies. These are, of course, the Articles of Religion (the 39 Articles), the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal (the orders for ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons, first published in 1550). He begins with a review of the place of the Anglican Formularies in the history of the Anglican tradition. However, he emphasizes the Evangelical aspect of Anglicanism, as if the Catholic aspect of Anglicanism were beneath mention. In addition, he assumes the beliefs and practices of the Church of England to be normative for all of the Communion. So, he does not show any awareness of those provinces that were not part of the Empire or the Commonwealth, and so have a relationship with the Formularies that may be somewhat different.

Dr. Toon's discussion of the Articles of Religion certainly emphasizes its reflection of the Reformation tradition. He makes some reference to the 42 Articles as predecessor to the 39 Articles. In emphasizing the Reformation heritage, however, he makes no reference to earlier formulations written during Henry's reign. His description of the Articles and Cranmer's authorship makes no mention of the various sources on which Cranmer drew. Arguably, there are Articles reflecting Lutheran, Reformed (Genevan), or Roman traditions, and some that are distinctively Anglican. In appreciating the richness of our tradition and our place as neither Puritan (per Hooker) nor Roman (per Jewell), these various sources have emphasized our connections with other Christians across a broad spectrum.

Dr. Toon makes this comment on the place of the Articles in the Anglican tradition.

The Church of England and other Anglican churches are not confessional churches in the same sense that Lutheran and reformed churches claim to be; yet dogma and doctrine are important. Thus the Articles are best seen not merely as a sixteenth-century signpost pointing in which direction the church ought doctrinally to go, but also as a lens in the telescope (along with the lenses of the earlier catholic creeds) by which members receive or see the Christian doctrinal tradition in which they are placed. In this sense the Articles can never be revised.

This certainly interesting in suggesting, first, that there is some sense in which the Anglican churches are "confessional," and, second that the Articles are in some sense on par with the historic Creeds. It is also interesting in expressing the opinion that “the Articles can never be revised.” In fact the Articles have been revised regarding the Athanasian Creed (Article VIII), the “will of princes” to call “General Councils” (Article XXI), sufficiency of the 1550 Ordinal (Article XXXVI, at least in the Episcopal Church), and “the King’s Majesty” (Article XXXVII).

Dr. Toon's discussion of the Book of Common Prayer is equally focused on the practice of the Church of England. The section is essentially regretful and at times polemic in tone. He begins,

Not long ago, Anglicans around the world all knew what was The Book of Common Prayer.... It was a specific prayer book in which were a collection of services of worship and it took one of three possible forms: (i) The English Book of Common Prayer dated 1662; (ii) a local edited form of this for use in a particular Province such as Canada or the United States of America or Ireland or Scotland; and (iii) a translation of all or part of the English edition of 1662 for use by non-English speaking Anglican Churches.

Dr. Toon’s appreciation of the 1662 Prayer Book is well known. He has recently drafted a contemporary-language version of the Rite of Holy Communion based on the 1662 Book. At the same time, his distaste for the recent developments is clear.

In the twenty-first century, the situation is far less clear; in fact, it is very confused. Regrettably, since the late 1970’s the title, “The Book of Common Prayer,” has been used for another type of Anglican Prayer Book developed in the West after the 1960s in light of “liturgical renewal,” and the general desire for variety and choice.

Thus, “An Alternative Service Book... was intended not to replace but to provide alternative forms of service to The Book of Common Prayer (1662).” This was apparently unfortunate, but only preceded something even worse:

However, The Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. set a new trend for Anglicans by calling its own new 1979 prayer book of varied services not by the title of “An Alternative Service Book” but by the ancient title of “The Book of Common Prayer”. Some other Anglican provinces follow this unfortunate lead. Thus the title “Book of Common Prayer” no longer has a “common” meaning and there is no one “common” Formulary or standard of doctrine any more by this title! Thousands have been confused by this development.

In making clear his revulsion at revision, Dr. Toon overlooks several important facts. The first is that American Books of Common Prayer from the beginning have owed as much or more to pre-1662 rites of the Scottish Episcopal Church as to the English 1662 Book, consistencies of language notwithstanding. This would then also be true of those Anglican provinces evangelized primarily by the Episcopal Church (for example, in Central America and in the Philippines). In addition, he implicitly rejects the value of common English texts in pursuing ecumenical efforts, and so unity of worship, if not of institution, beyond the Anglican Communion through the Body of Christ. Ultimately, in rejecting the product, he rejects the method of liturgical renewal, despite its consistency with Cranmer’s own process: to understand Christian worship in the earliest available sources, and so better reflect the faith and practice of the Early and Patristic Church.

Dr. Toon completes his discussion of Anglican Formularies with a discussion of the Ordinal, or “The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining and Consecrating Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.” Dr. Toon says almost as much of consequence about the Ordinal in his opening review as he does in this specific question. He notes the retention of the “traditional episcopate and ministry,” without any reference to that as evidence of maintaining Catholic heritage. Nor does he make any comments on the theology and role of the three orders of ministry. The distinctions noted in the full title of the Ordinal of “Making, Ordaining and Consecrating” would seem an opportunity to do so. He does spend a significant effort on noting that “Deacons, priests and bishops are called to set godly and holy examples of the dedicated, consecrated and sanctified life.” The example he chooses is to quote at length the relevant canon of the Church of England.

In many ways, Dr. Toon’s paper seems at odds with the Task Force's decision for the catechetical framework to “[hold] back from addressing the issues that immediately challenge the Communion at present” so that the Anglican Catechism in Outline might be “for the Communion and [looking] towards its future.” Dr. Toon’s rejection of liturgical traditions within Anglicanism other than the 1662 Prayer Book (especially with specific rejection of the liturgies of the Episcopal Church) and his focus in discussing the Ordinal not for the faith it proclaims but with concern for the moral life of the ordained seems pointedly to address current issues within the Communion. Indeed, while interpretation of Scripture is an issue in the Communion, Professor O’Donovan’s contribution is still not nearly so pointed. Dr. Toon has presented information less on the Anglican Formularies per se and why they might be considered authoritative, and more on those aspects of living with the Formularies in which Dr. Toon believes some, and especially the Episcopal Church, have failed. He limits his perspective to the experiences of Anglicans within the Empire and subsequent Commonwealth, and so to a large extent to the experience of the Church of England. Indeed, the image he uses in his Conclusion only cements this impression.

Perhaps the illustration of the old fashioned wheel with its hub at the centre, its spokes going out from the centre and ending at the circular rim will help. Commitment to the formularies is to be fastened securely tot he hub and not to go past the rim in order to preserve unity in comprehensiveness. Too often Anglicans take their spokes as it were through the rim and out into no-man’s land when they major on secondary matters, of matters which belong to other traditions.

Dr. Toon’s image seems to reflect a rigidity within the tradition that is more Roman than Anglican. I appreciate that this clearly speaks of limits. However, I fear that it doesn’t represent the breadth and variety within the tradition, not only at present, but in its history.

Perhaps there is not as great a need to think through the Commentaries in the Interim Report as to think through the Anglican Catechism in Outline. After all, they are attachments and not part of the catechetical framework itself. At the same time, inclusion of the Commentaries speaks of the interests and concerns of the Committee. I have said that the catechetical framework could indeed by useful across the Communion, as the Committee has suggested. If these Commentaries were incorporated, or included as interpretive of the catechetical framework, that usefulness would be significantly hindered. These Commentaries over all do not reflect the breadth and the blessed diversity within the Communion. As a result, they undermine the catechetical process they presumably hope to support; and that is very sad indeed.

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