Barkley Thompson: Anglican Essentials from the Reformation

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As the Anglican Communion navigates the current presenting issues that affect all Anglican provinces, The Episcopal Church should undoubtedly take counsel with other Anglicans, and very often we would do well to heed their advice. Indeed, it has been largely due to the pressure brought to bear upon us by our Anglican brothers and sisters that we have begun to tend more responsibly to the concerns of those within The Episcopal Church whose theological convictions have led them to dissent from the consent for Bishop V. Gene Robinson and other recent actions of the General Convention.

However, taking counsel differs immensely from establishing new legal arrangements within the Anglican Communion that would serve to undo the principle of autonomy and independence expressed in the Act in Restraint of Appeals. I would argue that this principle could legitimately be called the “First Principle of Anglicanism.” (The detailed discussion of autonomy in Section B of The Windsor Report arguably does not fully appreciate the intention and subsequent ramifications of autonomy as embodied in the act.)

As the Executive Council, the House of Bishops, and the General Convention consider various communiqués, potential plans of action, and ultimately the Anglican Covenant, we would do well to remember this first principle of Anglicanism that initiated our distinctive way of being church and heed the wisdom of our English reforming forbears.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)* Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History

9 Comments
Posted August 31, 2007 at 8:32 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Karen B. wrote:

Indeed, it has been largely due to the pressure brought to bear upon us by our Anglican brothers and sisters that we have begun to tend more responsibly to the concerns of those within The Episcopal Church whose theological convictions have led them to dissent from the consent for Bishop V. Gene Robinson and other recent actions of the General Convention.

Oh really?  I hadn’t noticed.  Please refresh my memory.  What does that “tending more responsibly” to our concerns look like in practice exactly?  I must have missed something!

Please forgive my sarcasm, but with a few notable exceptions which I can count on the fingers of one hand (amicable arrangements in Rhode Island under Geralyn Wolf, and in Olympia under Vince Werner), I don’t think we’ve seen any more responsible treatment of or increased respect for the concerns of us dissenters.  Quite the opposite actually!

So, given such a misguided statement, it’s very hard to take any of this op-ed seriously.

August 31, 9:25 am | [comment link]
2. Sarah1 wrote:

RE: “. . . that we have begun to tend more responsibly to the concerns of those within The Episcopal Church whose theological convictions have led them to dissent from the consent for Bishop V. Gene Robinson and other recent actions of the General Convention.”

When did we do that?  I missed it.

August 31, 9:28 am | [comment link]
3. Sarah1 wrote:

RE: “As a caveat, this author is a moderate. . . “

LOL.  Of course he is.  ; > )  Anyone orthodox from the Diocese of West Tennessee who has an opinion on “this author” and his theology?

Note that a “moderate” in this author’s opinion is one who believes that the presenting issue of defying the authority of scripture to elevate a man who is in scandalous and public sin to leadership is all a matter of “things indifferent” and that therefore we can all continue to be “in communion” despite the fact that 22 Provinces have stated differently.

But—as a moderate again—there are SOME IMPORTANT AND VITAL THINGS that we cannot give up—“reformation principles” and the “first principle of Anglicanism” which is [drum roll] autonomy.

Now autonomy—that is NOT a “thing indifferent” according to this “moderate.”  That is Really Really Really Important.

Sexual relationships between same genders. Pshaw! 

Violating New Testament proscriptions on moral standards.  A Trifle! 

Elevating to leadership somebody living in sin.  Not A Problem! 

Toying with the sacraments. Who Cares!

Tossing aside 2000 years of church tradition.  A Mere Bagatelle!

But autonomy . . . why now you’re talking Something Of Deadly Serious and Import.  ; > )

August 31, 9:36 am | [comment link]
4. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

Do we, in heaven, get the opportunity to hear the responses of Cranmer and Latimer and the other English Reformers to what the ECUSA/TEC has done rather than the attribution of approval voiced by this author and others?  IT should be most entertaining, I wot!

August 31, 9:38 am | [comment link]
5. pendennis88 wrote:

These are the usual inconsistent arguments set out in defense of the persecution of the orthodox in the US.  If the first principal is autonomy, though (and any time when a priest tells you his first principle is a political one, look out), why would it be any problem that global south primates set up another jurisdiction in the US?  They are autonomous, are they not?  TEC can have no say in anything they do.  Oh, but then the argument is that they are violating 2000 years of tradition.  Leaving aside that it is not so clear a tradition and riddled with exceptions, and that TEC is no respecter of traditions that it does not like, that argument is the opposite of the argument of autonomy.  At heart, TEC wants to do what it wants to do, and to make the rest of the world do it, too.

August 31, 10:14 am | [comment link]
6. William Tighe wrote:

“... the principle of autonomy and independence expressed in the Act in Restraint of Appeals. I would argue that this principle could legitimately be called the ‘First Principle of Anglicanism’ ...”

I cannot recall how many times I have seen in print or heard verbally expressions of indignation from Anglicans when reference has been made to “the founder of your church, Henry VIII” (or, sometimes, “Queen Elizabeth”) by papists like myself.  And now what do we see but indeed that “time hath his revolutions” and here we have an appeal to a piece of Henrician legislation as “the first principle of Anglicanism.”  Never mind that this Act of Parliament was repealed in 1554 and never reenacted (the Elizabethan “Act of Supremacy” of 1559 achieved the same goal, but bt different means and different wording); never mind that it only got through the House of Commons (where the majority of members blocked its passage) by Henry VIII coming in person to the House of Commons and demand that the members “divide” in his presence as he looked on, glowering, and even then it only squeaked by; never mind any of this, as it all pales in comparison to the recognition of OUR FOUNDER HENRY and of the essentially ERASTIAN NATURE of Anglicanism.  For that unexpected emergence of a bright point of truth in the midst of reappraiser dissimulation.

Someone wrote above, quite rightly, “Tossing aside 2000 years of church tradition.  A Mere Bagatelle!” A “mere bagatelle” it is, just as the Act in Restraint of Appeals “tossed aside” 1500 years of church tradition, as well as 936 years of English tradition.  “In my end is my beginning” and “Veritas temporis filia” are adages seldom confronted with so suitable an exemplification of their accuracy.

August 31, 11:34 am | [comment link]
7. William Tighe wrote:

“For that unexpected emergence of a bright point of truth in the midst of reappraiser dissimulation ...”

we may be duly grateful.  There are diamonds to be found in dunghills, after all.

August 31, 11:36 am | [comment link]
8. Freddy Richardson+ wrote:

Don’t you just love the rewriting of history!

The founders of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America first sent Samuel Seabury to England in 1783 to seek ordination to the episcopate by the Bishops of the Church of England - establishing a desire to continue ties with the Church of England, despite the separation of the colonies from British control. Seabury was a staunch Loyalist throughout the Revolution.  He only went to Scotland in February 1784 to be ordained the first American bishop, of Connecticut, because England refused him at first.  The next American bishops to be consecrated, William White of Pennsylvania & Samuel of Provoost of New York, were consecrated in England by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1787.

The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America further showed a commitment to remain tied to the Church of England in the language of the Preface to the first Prayer Book of PECUSA - p. 11 in our Prayer Book today - “...this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require.”

August 31, 3:18 pm | [comment link]
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