faith of our fathers

Arthur Middleton on the need for a new Oxford Movement

Michael Ramsey saw the need for a new Oxford Movement. In North America, Anglicans have responded to the more recent challenge of Cardinal Kasper’s call in England for a new Oxford Movement. It is a challenge to work for and elucidate the principles of the first Oxford Movement and Anglican patrimony that in England has not been taken seriously enough. In America some Anglicans are beginning to appreciate the importance of the classical Anglican tradition. This serious concern for the Anglican patrimony is encouraging because for many years my own work has been concerned with restoring the lost Anglican mind, my latest book being Restoring the Anglican Mind, which the Anglican Association in this country promoted. What do I mean by the Anglican mind?

The lost Anglican mind

The word ‘mind’, or in Greek phronema, is used in the way in which the early Christian Fathers used it in their theology, to refer to the mindset or outlook, the orthodox mind of the Church. The attaining of this mind is a matter of practising the correct faith (orthodoxia) in the correct manner (orthopraxia). This mind refers to the completely self-sacrificial trust and faith in religious and moral truths, an unshakeable certainty about the truth of the faith for all time and the practice of orthodox Anglican worship, piety and behaviour.

The Anglican mind is vested in the Anglican understanding of Scripture, tradition and reason, against all heresies and schisms of all times. Also, this mind is termed the ‘mind of the Church’ and thus ‘the mind of Christ’.

Today, the loss of this mind underlies the general ignorance of and antipathy towards the true spirit and practice of Classical Anglicanism and the widespread success of the revisionist and politically correct ideologies and agendas in the Anglican Communion. The hysteria surrounding Gareth Bennett’s Crockford’s Preface in 1987 missed its most important point. In a section entitled ‘A Theology in Retreat’, he pinpointed the crisis within Anglicanism as being fundamentally theological and stemming from a deliberate rejection of this balanced synthesis, the Anglican mind, which is a distinctive Anglican theological method. He pointed out that such a distancing of the modern Church from its prescriptive sources has serious consequences for Anglican ecclesiology and the rejection of ‘living in a tradition’ would not be readily acceptable by most modern Anglicans.

Ecclesiastical history

Yet the movement in theology which it represented has not been set aside. English faculties of theology are now part of an international scholarly enterprise which has moved steadily apart from the churches. Even where theological scholars are priests or ministers there is a tendency to bridge the gap between their work on early Christianity and their participation in the present life of the Church by a downgrading of the value of Christian tradition.

The most notable casualty has been the study of ecclesiastical history. If Anglicans once did their theology through a study of the historical experience of the Christian community, that seems no longer to be the case and the notion is in eclipse that the spirituality or the teaching of the era from the Fathers to the Reforma­tion has anything to offer the modern Church. What is most definitely discouraged is any form of denomina­tional history. While such a tendency is understandable in theological faculties in modern universities, its effect is most notable in Anglican theological colleges which have now trained a whole generation of priests with a minimal knowledge of classical Anglican divinity or its methods.

Living in a tradition

The development of an orthodox Anglican mind is so essential today when few propagate it, or even recognize the biblical-patristic foundation of the Anglican mind. It cannot take place apart from orthodox Anglican worship, piety and behaviour. Michael Ramsey would say that we do our theology to the sound of church bells, or in other words from inside an ecclesial context. Acquiring an Anglican mind does not mean collecting a head full of Anglican quotes. Rather it refers to the transformation of the whole person, resulting in one’s gradual participation in the heavenly vision. ND

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