Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Marks of an Anglican Centrist

I published this piece on another blog about a year ago, borrowing from Fr. Greg Jones of "The Anglican Centrist." In order to give more descriptive content to the term "Anglican Centrism," Fr. Jones hones in on Anglican theologian Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901), who served in the post of Regius Professorship of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and later was consecrated as Bishop of Durham, serving from 1890 until his death.

Before sharing Fr. Jones' thoughts, here's an excerpt from Westcott's 1883 book entitled The Epistles of St. John: The Greek Text with Notes and Essays:

The thought that the Incarnation, the union of man with God, and of creation in man, was part of the Divine purpose in Creation, opens unto us, as I believe, wider views of the wisdom of God than we commonly embrace, which must react upon life.

It presents to us the highest manifestation of Divine love as answering to the idea of man, and not as dependent upon that which lay outside the Father's Will.

It reveals to us how the Divine purpose is fulfilled in unexpected and unimaginable ways in spite of man's selfishness and sin.

It indicates, at least, how the unity to which many physical and historical researches point is not to be found in a dispersive connexion of multitudinous parts, but is summed up finally in one life.

It helps us to feel a little more, and this is the sum of all, what the Incarnation is, what it involves, what it promises, what it enforces, what it inspires; that Fact which we strive to believe, and which is ever escaping from us; that Fact which sets before us with invincible majesty Christ's 'power to subdue all things to Himself' [Phil. 3:21].

Quoted in Love's Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 457.

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A True Mark of Anglicanism

by Fr. Greg Jones

In Rowan Williams' discussion of B.F. Westcott (1825-1901) in Williams' Anglican Identities -- he identifies two strands of thinking within Anglicanism which are prevalent today.

Williams says that there are two kinds of skepticism among modern Anglicans. The two skepticisms are fundamentally different -- though they are often confused as the same.

Both skepticisms are for forms and formulas.

One kind of skepticism is the "Enlightenment suspicion of authority." This sort doubts and even deplores all structures/formulas/doctrines themselves and the processes by which they were shaped. The issue here is about power. The key question is always, "Who was in power how did they influence the structure/formulas/teaching such as to preserve or establish a status quo favorable to their interests?" We see here a penchant for the kinds of analysis offered by Marx, etc. This kind of skepticism continues and expands in a certain branch of nihilistic post-modernism.

Another kind of scepticism, says Rowan Williams, is fundamentally a scepticism "about the capacities of the human mind. It assumes that we are liable to self-deceit, that our knowledge is affected by our moral and spiritual lack." In the case of B. F. Westcott, says Williams, his passion for Scripture was deep, and like Origen, he believed very much in the Scriptures' divinity. But, he also strongly resisted the notion that anyone could ever say, "The Bible says and means this, and this only."

Whereas the former kind of skeptic insists that the Bible, and the structure and teachings of the church are merely power plays which have accrued over time by powerful self-interests -- the latter kind says, "the Bible, the church, the teachings of the church, are primarily good things limited by the same limitations which all human beings have."

B.F. Westcott, as the representative of this latter kind of skeptical Anglican, accepts, loves and indeed cherishes the 'received' elements of the Church -- Bible, Creeds, Sacraments, Orders, etc. -- not as finalized 'solutions' with fixed and exclusive values -- but as the boundaries of a roomy and sacred land in which the life of relationship to Christ is to be move and have its being.

I think along these lines when I think of Hans Frei's phrase -- 'generous orthodoxy.'

This attitude is based on the 'blessed givenness of Scripture and tradition,' but also the assumption that the process of living with and cherishing Scripture and tradition is an 'interpretive conversation which no one has the right to terminate.' With Origen, and Westcott, as Rowan Williams observes, this Christ-centered interpretive conversation with Scripture and the tradition of the Church -- in eucharistic community -- is the very definition of 'holy living.'

I agree.

This is the kind of thing I mean when I use the term -- 'Anglican Centrism.'

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