Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Sufficiency of Anglicanism

Some thoughts from the 17th Century bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613 - August 13, 1667), in which he gives what I think are excellent reasons for regarding what would eventually come to be called "Anglicanism" as a more than sufficient way to live the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith.

A reading from a Letter to a Gentlewoman Seduced to the Church of Rome, written by Jeremy Taylor in 1657.

For its Doctrine, [the Church of England] is certain it professes the belief of all that is written in the Old and New Testament, all that which is in the three creeds, the Apostolical, the Nicene, and that of Athanasius, and whatsoever was decreed in the four general councils or in any other truly such; and whatsoever was condemned in these our church hath legally declared to be heresy. And upon these accounts above four whole ages of the church went to heaven; they baptized all their catechumens into this faith, their hopes of heaven were upon this and a good life, their saints and martyrs lived and died in this alone, they denied communion to none that professed this faith. “This is the catholic faith,” so saith the creed of Athanasius; and unless a company of men have power to alter the faith of God, whosoever live and die in this faith are entirely catholic and Christian. So the Church of England hath the same faith without dispute that the church had for four or five hundred years, and therefore there could be nothing wanting here to saving faith if we live according to our belief.

And after this, what can be supposed wanting [in the Church of England] in order to salvation? We have the Word of God, the faith of the apostles, the creeds of the primitive church, the articles of the four first general councils, a holy liturgy, excellent prayers, perfect sacraments, faith and repentance, the ten commandments, and the sermons of Christ, and all the precepts and counsels of the Gospel. We teach the necessity of good works, and require and strictly exact the severity of a holy life. We live in obedience to God, and are ready to die for him, and do so when he requires us so to do. We speak honourably of his most Holy Name. We worship him at the mention of his Name. We confess his attributes. We love his servants. We pray for all men. We love all Christians, and even our most erring brethren. We confess our sins to God and to our brethren whom we have offended, and to God’s ministers in cases of scandal or of a troubled conscience. We communicate often. We are enjoined to receive the Holy Sacrament thrice every year at least. Our priests absolve the penitent. Our Bishops ordain priests, and confirm baptized persons, and bless their people and intercede for them. And what could here be wanting to salvation?

Quoted in They Still Speak: Readings for the Lesser Feasts, edited by J. Robert Wright (Church Hymnal Corporation, 1993), pp. 149-150.


BillyD said...

I'm repeating myself (having already commented on this at the Anglican Centrist) but this is wonderful. Thank you for posting it.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks, BillyD!

BillyD said...

Query: Taylor writes "We are enjoined to receive the Holy Sacrament thrice every year at least."

On what occasions? I always thought that the absolute minimum was once a year, during Easter.

Bryan Owen said...

Good question, BillyD.

I'm not 100% sure about the norms in Taylor's time, but here's how our Constitution and Canons define a communicant in the Episcipal Church: "All members of this Church who have received Holy Communion in this Church at least three times during the preceding year are to be considered communicants of this Church" [Title I, Canon 17, section 2(a)].

Although the canon does not say this, tradition holds that two of these times should be Christmas and Easter. My guess is that the same expectation would have been in place in Taylor's day.

Peter Carey+ said...

Fascinating, I do wonder when the third time would be...Pentecost, ... Ash Wednesday ... your choice?


Thanks for this post!

Peter M. Carey+

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for chiming in, Peter.

My sense is that any other time would count as the third time, but I could be wrong about that.

Anonymous said...


Nice website -- I read it w/interest. As someone who is interested in Anglicanism, I wonder why (as expressed in this article), the Anglican Church accepts only the first four Councils, and not the entire seven accepted by Orthodox Christianity? I understand how Anglicanism may be sufficient, but why was the decision made to "axe" the last three councils accepted by the entire Christian Church? I ask this with all goodwill.


Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for checking out my blog and for your comment, Eugene. You ask a most interesting question for which I have not been able to find a definitive answer.

I note the following, for instance, in The Study of Anglicanism from the chapter written by Frederick H. Shriver entitled, "Councils, Conferences and Synods":

"The first four ecumenical Councils, of Nicaea (AD 325), Constantinople (AD 381), Ephesus (AD 431), and Chalcedon (AD 451), have a special place in Anglican theology, secondary to the Scriptures themselves, but the way in which their authority is acknowledged is complex and very important in its expression of classical Anglican theological method.

"In 1559 Parliament, with the assent of Elizabeth I, passed the Act of Supremacy, restoring the sovereign authority of the English Crown over the Church of England. In this Act, the 'first four General Councils' were the authority by which heresy was to be defined in the newly reformed church. ... Putting this in positive terms, the dogmatic canons of the first four councils gave, and may still be presumed to give, the Church of England and the other churches of the Anglican Communion the basic doctrine concerning the person of Christ and the relationships of the persons of the Trinity" (pp. 203-204).

Shriver does not, however, address your question as to why the remaining three ecumenical councils do not carry the same authoritative weight as the first four.

My sense is that, consistent with other expressions of diversity within Anglican theology and practice, you will encounter Anglicans who do, in fact, embrace the theology of all seven ecumenical councils. But for the mainstream of the Anglican tradition, the theology of the first four is non-negotiable and essential for what it means to talk about the dogmatic core of the Christian faith.