Comprehensively beautiful, not tightly consistent, Part I

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By W. Christopher Evans

An Icon

Our own?

each piece

breaks open

upon another…

Derek Olsen has brought us again to an ongoing and necessary conversation about what makes us Anglican Christians. Questions of particular identity have been at the heart of our current controversies and conversations with mutual distance taken if not anathema issued. It is often implied that the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral functions or should function among our Anglican Churches and Provinces in precisely the same way as it functions between Anglican Christianity and other Christian traditions. Hence, we get bent out of joint about the American Episcopal Church being the focus of ire among some fellow Anglican Churches and Provinces while the Lutheran Church of Sweden and other Churches of the Porvoo Agreement or the Old Catholics are not also questioned with the same vigor for similar stances made and actions taken.

Can the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral adequately account for what it means to be an Anglican Christian or Anglican Church? Yes, and… I agree with Derek on this. I would suggest that the Quadrilateral does not function among Anglican Churches and Provinces in precisely the same way as it functions between Anglican Christianity and other Christian traditions with whom we are in or are seeking full communion. The Quadrilateral, in short, is not enough to adequately identify Anglican Christianity and our particular, peculiar catholicity. But there is a caveat to my words that otherwise sound like a singular self-understanding, an understanding to which I as a Prayer Book Christian cannot admit simply because the history of our praying alone is multi-informed and controverted and particular.

Many of my favorite past and present Anglican theologians and commentators state that we are simply the Church in a given place, unmarked, if you will. Everything we are and have we expect to find in other catholic expressions of Christ’s One Body: Old and New Testaments of the Scriptures, Baptism and Eucharist, Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, Bishops locally adapted.

What these theologians and commentators fail to address is “place.” “In this place” necessarily is to recognize markéd-ness without claiming singular uniqueness. The placéd-ness given by the history of the Church of England as well as Anglican expression in Scotland and indeed the history of Anglican expression in each location profoundly marks a given Church or Province by environment, culture, and history. We may not be unique, but we are particular—and often peculiar. Our markéd-ness is not so much found in those things we expect to find in catholic marks of Christ’s One Body, they are found in our practices and interpretations of those markers in a given context. To say all of this is to recognize how much history and changing ideas of many eras and culture, and hence, flesh shapes us as Churches and Provinces. To say all of this is to own that the Body of Christ is larger than our own present and more many-member-ed than “Anglican” might imply.

For example, our own American Episcopal Church is profoundly marked not only by our ties with the Church of England and the Episcopal Church of Scotland, but by our own peculiar history of Ritualism and its controversies, chattel slavery, etc. We are marked by deepened understandings of Jesus Christ in Incarnation and Creation and Eschatology as these take more prominence in theological thinking in James DeKoven, William Porcher DuBose, F. D. Maurice, the Lux Mundi schools, and more, and then that thinking finds its way into our most recent Prayer Book, moving us beyond a more pronounced Reformation emphasis on Cross and Redemption so central in Rite 1. We have had our own American Reformations, Reformations that have in turn touched even England.

Unlike either the Roman Catholic tradition or our Reformation kin, we Anglicans do not have a central teaching authority or confession respectively. Just as we have dispersed authority through councils (parochial, diocesan, provincial, communion) and orders among others, we also have many authorities, by which I mean multiple sources of theological guidance, reference, lenses with differing weight and rank about which we may and do disagree among ourselves. Among those authorities, we have been very careful to maintain sufficiency, that is enough-ness, knowing that the Gospel expressed in the language of any age will break open upon the Mystery of a Person, Jesus Christ Who cannot be expressed in anything less than our creedal confession and its central concerns, but Who is always more than they express without being inconsistent as if the hiddenness or infinity of God were of a different character than God revealed in Jesus Chrsist. No language can capture God in Christ, but because God in Christ has identified once-for-all with us in the Incarnation, language must do—sufficiently. So we do have our authorities:

Unmarked authorities are those marks we expect of any expression of one, holy, catholic and apostolic Christianity as together capable of handing over a sufficient proclamation and presentation of Christian faith. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral falls in this category. Without necessarily unchurching a tradition that does not have all of these marks, for sake of visible, organic full communion (note here that I am avoiding the Borging tendency of “union” in much ecumenical conversation by using “communion” or koinonia or fellowship), these are those unmarked markers Anglicans expect to be present or to be reincorporated in some form as we seek and live into full communion with other Christian bodies. To some degree these interpret one another, for example, the creeds interpret Who is the One whom we trust and why so as (because of what has been done for us) found in Scripture. This avoids a split between fides qua and fides quae. But they do not interpret themselves wholly or insularly. Just as we shall see “rule and ultimate standard of faith” and “sufficient statement of the Christian faith” in the Quadrilateral languaged as a whole in relation to Hooker (among others) with whom there is interpretive resonance, the Creeds themselves require we enter into the resonance of Patristics and debates about Who it is Jesus Christ is in light of what he has done for us and for our salvation—that is, the Incarnation with all of its to the end, that is, death, death on a cross and He is Risen! And within Patristics, we find a multiplicity of expressions, even within a given cultural, philosophical context. Patristics are not a singular gift. After all, on sin alone, the Fathers disagree, as do they, on the how of our salvation, that is, atonement.

Practiced authorities are those ways in which unmarked markers are given particular shape and bodied in a given place, that is, a Church or Province. While the Quadrilateral largely expresses William Reed Huntington’s understanding of what is required for full communion among Anglican Churches and other Christian traditions alike, Frederick Denison Maurice also offered from his point of view an additional unmarked marker: Set liturgical prayer. I would prefer to name this a practiced authority. We may think set liturgical prayer the common sharing among Christians, but we have not made it wholly non-negotiable and certainly not so even among ourselves after the 1960s. For ourselves, however, we Anglicans expect some or another form of shared prayer patterns in a Church or Province that have some relation though reformed and reforming to what was handed to us and then gifted to us to take shape in this place, soil, Church. Our prayer together in a place, our praise becomes the rule or framework by which we actually body the Body. Our prayer together is grounds for our own responses to God in daily life, that is, ascetical/pastoral/moral theology. The Book of Common Prayer as received and revised in a given Church or Province is particular (and peculiar) to us, however, even if displaying shared shapings with other Provinces. That is to be expected in a tradition that takes very seriously our own body-member-ed-ness in and dare I say as representing Christ without reductivity within a an always hybridizing fellowship (not new, mind you, as the writings of the nun Egeria attest).

(In)Formative/Interpretive authorities are those means that inform and even reform our practiced authorities and reinterpret our unmarked and practiced authorities, providing means for placed-ness. A similar or parallel way of saying this in terms of our praying is that lex orandi, lex credendi has always carried at least a two-way directionality, with prayer being reformed over the long-term as theological conversations (often controversies in their own time) come to new insights in a broader sense within a time, place, and people. We forget, for example, that Cranmer was a theologian influenced by Renaissance Humanism and Reformation return to the sources among others. His theology changed Isles praying, and praying changed theology, and so forth, as placed-ness became more Isles and less Roman. And particularly more English—for I can already hear objections of the Welsh and Scottish, and more so, the Irish and Cornish.

The central issues facing us are hermeneutical or (in)formative/interpretive as Derek espies. And this is not unrelated to cultures and contexts, indeed, cannot be disentangled from these wholly. The gift is that our Anglican hermeneutical landscape has been and remains complex because always in conversation among multiple participants and schools and peoples, participants and schools and peoples who as long as they remain within the framework of our unmarked authorities and participants in our practiced authorities cannot be thought necessarily non-Anglican. And even here, latitude is such that when someone has fallen outside these bounds, we have learned to listen and even sometimes learn, have learned through some rather painful proceedings that it is often better to continue the controversy-conversation-contention rather than inhibit or expel if those involved are willing to stay and pray. I am reminded of the way Anglo-Catholics were once prosecuted only to find in time that their contributions to Anglican tradition as a whole are a necessary portion or even the gentle and controverted and even reviled way with which was dealt Bp. Pike. Truth and error, we trust, will be sorted out and best done so by controversy-conversation-contention rather than expulsion. But this requires holding lovingly yet openly our own placed-ness and trusting that God will turn even our errors to a deepened encounter with Jesus Christ.

Dr. Christopher Evans recently completed a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies and Church History at the Graduate Theological Union. He offers occasional musings on the Rule of St. Benedict, liturgical questions, and life as a Benedictine oblate at Contemplative Vernacular

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