Letter from Australia
Five years ago I went to the launch of From Oxford to the Bush, a collection of essays exploring aspects of Catholic Anglicanism in Australia. The editor, Dr John Moses, a professional historian who is also a priest, surprised a number of us when in his speech he accused former Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher of ‘intellectual laziness’. The reason for this accusation was Fisher’s oft quoted remark that as Anglicans ‘We have no doctrine of our own. We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church …’ Moses, a noted expert in modern German history, compared Anglicans unfavourably with Lutherans in terms of the ‘completion of their theological enterprise.’ He argued for a more deeply ‘confessional’ approach to the Anglican position. Indeed, Moses’ own essays and notes in the collection sometimes read like a liberal Lutheran critique of Anglican Catholicism – although he is just as tough on Anglican Evangelicals.
Drawing heavily on the work of Paul Avis, Moses pleads for a reassertion (and obvious theological systematization) of what he calls the ‘Anglican principle’ among Anglicans. This principle involves being ecumenical while at the same time holding on to our own ‘religious culture’, evincing an ‘inner security’ and not hankering ‘either to "Romanise" or "Protestantise" the Church’. Moses perceives this ‘Anglican principle’ to have ‘reconciling potential’ ecumenically (p209). Dr Moses regards as fundamentally disloyal those Anglicans who believe that our historic formularies commit us to look beyond ‘Anglican consensus’ for that to which our first loyalty should be given. He would undoubtedly join in the criticism of Archbishop Peter Jensen who, although expressing his debt to the Anglican way, declared in London recently: ‘For myself and for many others, I am an Evangelical first, and an Anglican second.’ Moses would have just as roundly condemned Fr David Moyer who reminded the North American Forward in faith National Assembly last year that he was ‘A Christian first, a Catholic second, and an Anglican third’. The real problem for people like Dr Moses is that from the Reformation period to the present day there have been Anglicans with the convictions of both Peter Jensen and David Moyer. In the ebb and flow of history the fortunes of these two groups have been mixed, and they have frequently been enemies of each other. But they have been there all along, comprehended by (originally) the Church of England and in due course by the Anglican Communion.
Evangelicals have their historiography of the Reformation and subsequent Anglicanism; so do Anglo-Catholics. Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics often read only caricatures of each other’s interpretation of events. The problem is that liberal scholars such as Dr Moses fail to see that their own historiography of Anglicanism is just as self-serving. It is also anachronistic, for if there is one thing that was demonstrably not intended by our historic formularies it is the development of local synods of clergy and lay-people to determine matters of Faith, in other words, encouraging the local to vaunt itself against the universal, thereby further impairing communion within the Church. The triumph of the theological liberals over the ordination of women in 1992 produced a crisis of conscience for Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics who, while being deeply grateful for our Anglican heritage, believe that Anglican formularies require us to give our first loyalty elsewhere. If the liberals had understood this, they would have seen long ago the futility of appealing to us on the basis that ‘our part of the Church’ had made a valid and binding decision.
Touching on these matters in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Caroline Miley delivered the latest attack on the Diocese of Sydney. She writes as if the purpose of the English reformation was to create late twentieth-century Anglicanism:
‘The Anglican Church since the Reformation has purposely placed its doctrines and practices in the "middle way" between Catholicism and outright Continental Protestantism. Its statements of doctrine and its liturgies contain, and have always deliberately contained, elements of both. The practice of the Church has always been diverse, within the approved formulas. This means that while there has always been an Evangelical strand, there has also always been an Anglo-Catholic strand, while the vast majority of Anglicans are somewhere in between. This diversity has been and is still one of the great strengths of Anglicanism.’ ‘…in its statements of doctrine the Anglican Church has never at any time believed in the literal truth and freedom from error of the Bible.’ ‘…the governing bodies (the general synods) of the Church of England and the Anglican Church in Australia have determined that the ordination of women is legal within the church.’ ‘…the Archbishop of Canterbury is the head of the whole Anglican Communion of churches worldwide. The fact that he has no legal power to compel the various churches in the provinces to obey him is irrelevant. His is a moral and spiritual leadership.’ ‘…Jensen and his English colleagues … hold views that are not consistent with Anglican beliefs, and they set themselves against the head of their church and its governing bodies. They want bishops whose views they agree with to have oversight of them, because they do not like those appointed by their church. They do not just conflict with the views of Williams and the church government, they set themselves up to oppose them. They clearly wish to form a separate faction, with their own rules and government. This is schism pure and simple.’ ‘…The work of the church is to proclaim the good news of God's love in Christ, not to fight over power … Jensen and his colleagues should take courage and declare themselves as a new church, and march away from the one they clearly no longer subscribe to.’
The obvious deficiencies of Miley’s historical analysis are disturbing enough. But her final bold paragraph reads astonishingly like the kind of admonition orthodox Christians (Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic alike) might expect to read in Ad Clerum of liberal archbishops such as Peter Carnley (Perth) or Ian George (Adelaide). She has done us a great service in demonstrating how illiberal those who claim to be liberal Anglicans usually are! Orthodox Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics began to network together in the 1980s when the debate on women’s ordination was developing. At least some on each ‘extreme’ of the Anglican spectrum have come to recognize one another as brothers and sisters. Indeed, the irony is that those who are Evangelicals first, then Anglicans, and those who are Catholics first, then Anglicans, are discovering that they have far more in common than either group has with the liberals who would be so un-Anglican as to make Anglican loyalty the measure of all things.
David Chislett is Rector of All Saint’s Brisbane.
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