What I would describe as an absolute tour de force by The Right Reverend Mark David Haverland, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Anglican Catholic Church (a Continuing Anglican jurisdiction with which the UECNA is in communion). He writes, inter alia,
“Anglicanism is not a distinctive and finished system, but an approach, a method, and a temper. Anglicanism is not doctrines that distinguish it from those of other Churches, because Anglicans assert that what they believe is plainly founded in the Scriptures believed by those other Churches and in the first millennium of those Churches. That same faith of the first millennium is or should be decisive in all Churches for interpreting the Scriptural deposit.
“That which distinguishes Anglicans in doctrinal terms, then, is a kind of restraint concerning doctrinal commitment flowing from an unwillingness to innovate or even to receive older teachings that go far beyond Scripture and the consensus of the Churches. It is precisely this self-limitation which makes possible an openness to the great Churches of the East and the West. We assert and press nothing as essential, so far as we can see, that they do not themselves affirm, only questioning their differences from each other which seem to have no strong foundation in the Fathers or in the consensus of the first millennium.”
If that doesn’t hit the nail on the head, I don’t know what does. He also seems to take a bow to what I describe – approvingly, I might add! – as cultural Anglicanism, an approach which is characterized by defining “Anglican”
“rather non-theologically by emphasizing its cultural or civilizational characteristics, products, and influences. I have myself used this approach on occasions. On this view… Anglicanism is Anglican chant, Vaughan Williams hymns, the King’s College service of Lessons and Carols, and the English musical and choral tradition; the sermons of John Donne and Lancelot Andrewes; the poems of George Herbert, John Keble, W.H. Auden, and T.S. Eliot; the Barsetshire novels and Swift’s satires and Robertson Davies’s Salterton trilogy and the writings of C.S. Lewis; the sons and daughters of Anglican rectories; the prose of Hooker’s Laws and the Authorized Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer; a deeply felt but undemonstrative and unsentimental piety; Wren churches and English country parishes; the moral seriousness that outlawed the slave trade and stopped suttee and beat the Nazis; Evensong of a summer’s afternoon; the Queen’s Christmas address with its consistent, gentle emphasis on our Saviour’s birth.
“This approach might look at first like the ‘kitchen sink’, as it accumulates the stuff of centuries in an apparent gatherum omnium. In fact, however, there is a good deal of definition and coherence to the list. There’s no modernism or neo-Pentecostalism in it, for one thing. For another thing, while a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox Christian might think some important things are missing from it, there’s little or nothing positively in it that he would find objectionable.”
Let me be clear: I love this tradition, deeply and passionately. It is a good bit of what brought me into Anglicanism in the first place, and I would hate to lose it. But – and this is the point I think Archbishop Haverland was getting at – this approach is, by itself, merely (or mainly) cultural, and, I must reluctantly admit, a bit hazy and nostalgic: unless stiffened and given spiritual and theological substance by the first and more rigorous set of criteria Archbishop Haverland delineates above.
There is, in my view, nothing wrong with cultural Anglicanism, if it flows out of and serves as a very fitting and proper cultural expression of theological Anglicanism. If it does not, if it’s expected to stand on its own without the theological and doctrinal substance of the Holy Scriptures, the Patristic Creeds and Councils, and the overall witness of the ancient and undivided Church of the first millennium of the Christian era, it can be a bit of a house built upon sand.
There are plenty of people out there, in the Episcopal Church, the Church of England, and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, who love these things, too; but who also embrace all manner of theological and moral innovation and relativism. Glorious choral music, fine poetry and literature, and pastoral country scenes (as per the picture with which I opened this post), while highly admirable in themselves, are not sufficient.
At any rate: click through the link to Archbishop Haverland’s essay, and “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” it. Spiritual nourishment to start your Lenten observance! And may God indeed bless you with a holy Lent.