Recently I’ve been reflecting on an awareness in myself to chafe at the idea of considering myself an Anglican. It’s been an uncomfortable feeling but I’ve noticed it has start to colour my interactions with others. On reflection I can’t help but describe it as a side effect of this extended period of cognitive dissonance I find myself experiencing: reading the formularies, patristic literature, scripture, and then looking at the Church I see around me. I can’t help but associate or link this in some degree to the clergy I know and interact with.

I say this in the immediate context of attending my local parish church currently going through a period of interregnum. Every two weeks we have a new member of clergy come and celebrate communion with us and its been insightful to see how different members of the clergy approach the service in their own way. The most difficult aspect is that the next immediately available member of the clergy available is a woman, who is a genuinely nice person, but I am not convinced by the rationale for women’s ordination and this doesn’t help the ongoing sense of dissonance I find myself feeling. I mentioned in the conclusion of a previous piece I wrote on this:

I say all this from within a tradition that has come to different conclusions than my own. The default mode of the church accepts the ordination of women. Exceptions are made but how long do optional orthodoxies remain optional? People complain of a NHS postcode lottery but now the Church of England suffers from a parish lottery. Is your parish orthodox or heterodox? If you travel where does one go to church? As a parishioner who are you to take exception where your priest and bishop do not? How does one live with that sort of cognitive dissonance? If one really believes this is a question of orthodoxy how can one accept, take seriously, or submit to clergy in error on this? Orthodoxy cannot be optional – this isn’t an extremist position but a tenant shared even by those who introduced this practice and willfully departed from the universally accepted practice of the church prior to this point.

The change to allow the ordination of women I think has fundamentally altered the Church of England. In a way it is a new creation. Yet what do you do if one still feels their experience and understanding of Anglicanism, or something like it, still rings true? I didn’t leave the Church of England but I think it left those who believe as I do on this. Yet where else is there to go as a layman trapped by time and increasingly by geography?

Egalitarianism and the Church of England

As a layman I find myself at the mercy of the clergy made available to us and belong to parish that isn’t of one mind on the issue. This issue brings up experiences from growing up where the church I attended changed radically depending on the latest vicar to come in and their own beliefs on a subject or practice, sometimes with radical consequences. As an Anglican one can interact with clergy who manage to manifest pretty much every expression of the Christian tradition with any number of modifiers and caveats attached. Each one will tell you a slightly different tale when you ask them to define Anglicanism with a certainty I increasingly struggle to find convincing.

I was involved in one exchange recently, with an American priest, who was denouncing Baptist ecclesiology for essentially adopting an ‘every man for himself’ attitude when it came to understanding the faith and essentially reiterating the Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox polemic that the Reformation exchanged 1 Pope for millions. This is in contrast to the reformed and catholic view of establishing oneself under authority.

I do not mean to dwell on the exchange but, to me, it became clear as we went back and forth that the individual in question could have easily been a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox individual and the argumentation would not substantially change. Moreso, it would have been stronger if the individual had done so not least due to historical precedent. It is a position that believes as another commentator wrote of the ‘High’ churches of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy on the subject of history: “History and antiquity are not the basis of the Church, the Church is the basis of history.” according to this view, and the same can be said for theology. This is the influence of Cardinal Newman and Manning on Mainline Christianity. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder: Do Anglicans, do our clergy put themselves under authority? Is it one once and for all delivered to the saints? Because in my own experience as a layman that phrase ‘puts oneself under authority’ is used with some elasticity. As the aforementioned commentator later adds, this is not just a problem in Anglicanism but Roman Catholicism, and we might add equally Eastern Orthodoxy. He writes:

All these considerations do not “disprove” Roman Catholicism, if such a thing is even possible. What it does demonstrate is that its apologetic rhetoric of being able to provide “certainty” on the faith is highly problematic. It has no real criteria, practical or theoretical, for identifying what exactly belongs to the Deposit of Faith. What we do have are many particular decrees and ecclesiastical documents, how they are applicable today or related to the deposit of faith is a lot less certain, and we have no real way of determining on way or another, either at a theoretical or practical level, which ones are binding or not.

This is why every apologetic attempt is necessarily accompanied by a reconstruction of the faith. No apologist would simply end one’s defence of the church with a simple “visit your nearest Roman Catholic parish” for they do not know what they would find there. The Roman Catholic apologist necessarily feels the burden of reconstructing the entirety of the Roman Catholic Church on his or her own. The “certainty” of the Roman Catholic faith is a function of one’s ability to grasp a very complex and cumbersome narrative from which they can interpret the often disparate to the point of contradictory elements of their church. The irony is that the locus of certainty or confidence is not the Church itself, the locus of certainty is on this highly idealised narrative of the Church. What is supposed to provide a “clear” and “certain” interpretation of the faith becomes rapidly lost into very complex and often difficult to understand theories and narratives of ecclesiastical realities. What happens in reality is a plurality within the Roman Catholic Church as “chaotic” as that of Protestant denominations.

We could have grasped this point a lot sooner if we had noted a simple entailment from the “necessary interpreter” logic. All documents, whether biblical, ecclesiastical or patristic, would need interpreting. The sceptical strategy of denying our ability to interpret the bible in favour of infallible interpreters would simply lead to an infinite regress of interpreters, e.g. now we need to be able to interpret the meaning of those infallible interpretative documents, etc. This insight is not a new one by the way. The Protestant apologists during the Reformation were already confronted by Roman Catholic apologists employing pyrrhonistic sceptic arguments against the Protestant claim to be able to understand the Bible with their reason. They argued that we could not be certain about whether a book was a part of a bible, what a sentence means in the bible, etc, etc, and we would therefore need the Pope to save us from total epistemic nihilism. The Protestants instantly counter-attacked by arguing that we have no way of knowing what tradition is, how to read church documents or the Fathers or even who the Pope was. (One Protestant polemicist argued that in the Roman Catholic Church only one person could be sure of the faith, the Pope himself.)

Do High Churches Provide Doctrinal Clarity? An Unclear Claim

This point is best illustrated if you ask a randomised sample of clergy on what is the place of the prayerbook, the articles, and formularies. More-so with something more radical like images in a Church. What is the methodological lens we appraise them with? I am not a betting man but I would make an exception given the certainty that the answers you would get back would differ at times in quite drastic ways. In my mind at least Baptists are honest in their attempts to engage with the faith and have not historically sought to enforce their ruminations to the same degree as others. We can disagree with them but let our yes be yes and our no be no. What so many Anglicans do in my experience is to talk of placing themselves under authority but, for the reasons outlined in the quote above, subsequently interpret the tenants and institutions in question to their own ends and beliefs. They do the same as the Baptists just with more degrees of separation and are either willfully or unwittingly being obtuse about this fact. The wild divergence within the worldwide communion is cause alone to stress the fact that this is what is occurring in the absence of Church discipline being applied to those who go astray. Yet the lived reality is ultimately subservient to the narrative being employed by such institutions.

I say all this because as I’ve indicated elsewhere I myself have struggled with aspects of Anglican theology. Even if I disagree with aspects of it I try to do so honestly rather than dressing up or reinterpret the areas I object to fully cognisant that it might rule me out of it in the process. I have done so in the context of becoming a Father and even considering ordination both within the Church of England and even the Free Church of England. When discussing the latter with a minister who had recently left the CoE for the FCE he pointedly offered “it sounds like you haven’t settled yet on your views in some areas” and the honest answer was “no, but how can anyone?” I admire anyone who can confidently state their view is settled finally on a matter like soteriology or baptism but I can see arguments for and against respective positions. So in that sense I can’t help but find sympathy for those who believe otherwise than me. I find it better, in any case, to emphasis the points one can agree on.

The other thing I find with a good many Anglicans is a love for ‘religion’ in general. I mean this in the sense in which CS Lewis uses it in the passage below. Religion is not bad but it is the all-encompassing nature of a claim that one cannot draw close to God unless one is standing in the right position, or wearing the right vestment, that I find makes the whole thing rather feel more like magic. What feels like magic begins to feel absurd when you ask: what is the right position to celebrate communion? What is the right vestment, and its colour, to wear at different times? What is our position on the place and frequency of fasting? etc. Can well differ from one member of the clergy to the next and can occur entirely detached from more fundamental questions, in my mind, related to divorce, remarriage, church and state relations and a whole host of other topics. This isn’t a problem limited to Anglicans, all High Churches struggle with it but I can’t help but resonate with CS Lewis’s reflections on the topic of religion and the character of Cardinal Newman on this issue:

He has substituted religion for God—as if navigation were substituted for arrival, or battle for victory, or wooing for marriage, or in general the means for the end. But even in this present life, there is danger in the very concept of religion. It carries the suggestion that this is one more department of life, an extra department added to the economic, the social, the intellectual, the recreational, and all the rest. But that whose claims are infinite can have no standing as a department. Either it is an illusion or else our whole life falls under it. We have no non-religious activities; only religious and irreligious.

Religion, nevertheless, appears to exist as a department, and, in some ages, to thrive as such. It thrives partly because there exists in many people a “love of religious observances”, which I think Simone Weil is quite right in regarding as a merely natural taste. There exists also—Vidler is rather good on this—the delight in religious (as in any other) organisation. Then all sorts of aesthetic, sentimental, historical, political interests are drawn in. Finally sales of work, the parish magazine, and bell-ringing, and Santa Claus.

None of them bad things. But none of them is necessarily of more spiritual value than the activities we call secular. And they are infinitely dangerous when this is not understood. This department of life, labelled “sacred”, can become an end in itself; an idol that hides both God and my neighbours. (“When the means are autonomous they are deadly”.) It may even come about that a man’s most genuinely Christian actions fall entirely outside that part of his life which he calls religious.

I read in a religious paper, “Nothing is more important than to teach children to use the sign of the cross.” Nothing? Not compassion, nor veracity, nor justice? Voilà l’ennemi.

CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

What Lewis touches on when he says “that whose claims are infinite can have no standing as a department” is what I understand as Neuhaus’s Law, that is that orthodoxy cannot be optional. If I genuinely believed, and was ordained, that I should take the view that one must celebrate communion standing at the north, west, east, side of the table, whether I should instead stand at an altar, I would not be content to let other views prevail – otherwise I would not sincerely believe it. Indeed, to object to these things is frequently considered ‘simple-minded‘ by those who do take militant positions on the topic. This isn’t to say my own position is that of latitudinarian but rather to echo Martin Bucer’s statement about Luthers position vis a vis Zwingli:

If you immediately condemn anyone who doesn’t quite believe the same as you do as forsaken by Christ’s Spirit, and consider anyone to be the enemy of truth who holds something false to be true, who, pray tell, can you still consider a brother? I for one have never met two people who believed exactly the same thing. This holds true in theology as well.

Martin Bucer: A Reformer and His Times, P93-94, Martin Greschat

Yet within Anglicanism you do have people holding each of these positions, and more extreme degrees of difference who functionally don’t engage with one another as a result. The institutional union papers over the divisions within the body and yet even this is becoming ever more disparate over time. To reframe the words of one earlier quoted commentator what has emerged in reality is a plurality within the Anglican Church as “chaotic” as that of Congregationalist traditions. This forces on laity the aforementioned issue of requiring an infinite regress of interpreters to understand which is the correct understanding of the Anglican tradition? The ultimate interpreter for the layman, when confronted with the plethora of traditions clergy occupy and advocate, is themselves.

Layman, are functionally in a position not radically different from congregationalists (or indeed any believer even the Roman Catholic – they just become more aware of this fact). We could perhaps argue in favour of an institutional appeal, ala Cardinal Newman, yet we possess no living voice in the person of a pope that can change with the times. To make this argument in the absence of a Pope would require us to invent one, it is also an argument against the Reformation itself and I believe it is at odds with the epistemological grounds by which the Church of the earliest centuries mades its claims. To be honest I find this appeal to institutional authority deeply dishonest, namely because my lived experiences have eroded any trust in those making the claims. As someone who is a Reformed and Evangelical Anglican I find talking to someone at the opposite end of the spectrum, a liberal Anglo-Catholic, about the role and prominence of the formularies and how they are to be understood, under the influence of text’s like Newman’s Tract 90, akin to discussions with Mormons about Christology and the Trinity. We use the same vocabulary but the meaning behind the words are at real odds with one another. I cannot help but link the rise in Anglo-Catholicism, its historical revisionism and deliberate reinterpretation of the formularies, to the decline in the church and the proliferation of heterodoxy and heresy within it. That where in the world we see its appearance increase so do we see a broader movement follow in the cause of contemporary progressivism and the decline of the church.

Why I still consider myself an Anglican

With all the above mentioned I think its fair to ask “Why do you still consider yourself an Anglican?”. I’ll briefly run through the reasons at the forefront of my mind:

The Formularies and Identity

I’ve mentioned the fact that I struggle with some doctrinal aspects of the 39 Articles, based on my reading of patristic sources, but these are minimal compared to the broad agreement I otherwise find with them over the alternatives available. Notably its doctrine of the sacraments, and its Reformed and Episcopal nature. More than all of that though is the legacy of the Church, and its Martyrs, I think Peter Hitchens sums up my own thinking, and remembering of the Reformation when he wrote:

For about four hundred years, the memory of this era [the Reformation] made Englishness and Protestantism almost synonymous. Right down to my father’s Edwardian generation, only recently extinct, many English people equated popery with tyranny and foreign autocracy. Still in my childhood Queen Mary was referred to as “Bloody Mary” in the presence of children—a shocking thing, since “bloody” was also in those days a swear word of some power, taboo in polite society. We were taught to remember Latimer’s last words to his fellow victim: “Play the man, Master Ridley, and by God’s good grace we shall this day light such a candle in England as may never be put out.” I have written that from memory, and if it varies from the Dictionary of Quotations version, I don’t care. The point is, it is lodged in my memory, sixty years after I learned it. See how it embodies the central English Protestant virtues of stoical courage and manly virtue, with a flicker of grim humor at the heart of it. A candle, indeed. These religious barbecues roared fifty feet into the sky, presumably punctuated by screams, and they scorched the woodwork of neighboring buildings. At Balliol College in Oxford, they still keep their old front gate with the burn marks on it from that unforgotten day.

Latimer and Ridley Are Forgotten, Peter Hitchens

I grew up hearing of the same things mentioned by Hitchens here, I know the quote too. Whilst Anglicanism is predominantly theological rather than sociological but that doesn’t mean that it is devoid of the latter. Whilst doctrine is important I think Hitchens, in the quote above, touches on what Yoram Hazony describes as the empiricism of the English mind. It is a rejection of the idea that if one thinks hard enough one can divine abstract truth, rather that truth that we access is grounded and incarnate. The message at the heart of Anglicanism, as best as I can tell, is the Gospel. That doesn’t mean it’s spotless, it is and has been comprised of those ‘some of them more and some of them less sound’ and in the words of Bradford Littlejohn:

The fact is that even if the one, holy, catholic church transcends both time and space, the churches within which we are formed, within which our identities and our experience of the faith take shape, do not.

Reformed and Catholic? Searching for Identity in a Rootless Church, Bradford Littlejohn

Littlejohn I think really touches on something when he then speaks of the wisdom of the Reformers on not just revolting against the Roman church but in seeking to Reform it:

As Augustine famously observed in the City of God, communities must be defined around a common object of love; without such, they are not communities at all, but merely a chaotic herd of individuals who have congregated together for safety. Often, however, a community can substitute a common object of fear or hatred for a common object of love. Such a community is defined less by what they all value and hope to accomplish (although they may indeed share positive values) and more by their fear of outsiders or desire to be as unlike them as possible. To be sure, in the sixteenth century, there were many good reasons for Protestants to be afraid of Catholics and want to distance themselves from them, but such fear could never be a sustainable basis for a vibrant church, much less a system of government, as the Presbyterians hoped to create. (The unsustainability of such an ethos of paranoia was quickly proved in the tumultuous years of the English Civil War, when the Puritans finally got their turn to try and govern.)

Reformed and Catholic? Searching for Identity in a Rootless Church, Bradford Littlejohn

The Reformers of the Church of England ensured a continuity, cleansed and sanctified, with the past over and against the rationale of more radical Reformers. The attitude was arguably Burkean in nature, before Burke. The Anglican Divine, Richard Hooker, wrote:

[I]f it is a law which the custom and continual practice of many ages or years has confirmed in the minds of men, to change it will necessarily cause trouble and offense. When the people see things suddenly discarded, annulled, and rejected that long custom had made into matters of second nature, they are bewildered, and begin to doubt whether anything is in itself naturally good or evil, rather than being simply whatever men choose to call it at any given moment. How can we induce men to willingly obey and observe laws, if not by appealing to the weight of many men’s judgment who agreed to such laws after thoughtful deliberation, and the weight of that long experience which the world has had with these laws, consenting to and approving them? Thus, whenever we change any law, in the eyes of the people it cannot help but impair and weaken the force that makes all laws effectual.

Laws in Modern English, 276 [IV.14.1], Richard Hooker

I can relate so much to what Hooker says in this passage when I think of the changes witnessed in my own lifetime within the Church of England. How does any Bishop maintain authority when they put themselves at odds with their predecessors? Yet this isn’t an argument for the Calcification over Radicalism but for Reform to prevail over both. Hooker adds:

As they reformed the English church, our reformers nevertheless concluded that change was necessary, because of the great harm caused by some of the former practices. Thus they removed from the church many things that had been in use. But since there are various ways of abrogating established laws and customs, they saw that it was best to immediately do away with things that might be abolished without harm, leaving others to disappear over time through gradual disuse. …Thus they resolved to remove only those kinds of things that the church could do well enough without, retaining the rest.

Laws in Modern English, 277 [IV.14.3], Richard Hooker

This isn’t theological whiggery but reform and I think it is the only manageable path to be charted between the two rocky shores of the revisionism of Tractarians or the radicalism of Puritans. One that in an English context has provided a unique and lasting impact on our collective psyche that endures in pervasive ways in the form of the English Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and, with the blessing of God, the world it subsequently helped shape. Hooker’s argument, that the Church of England works because it is both universal in its practice and reformed in its confession is the strongest I know of to date. Couple this with the cultural influence of the Church on the nation, and in my mind, it will mean that being an Anglican isn’t so much a choice but an inescapable facet of who I am.

The Established Church

I also believe the best evangelistic opportunity in the UK is still within the architecture, however dilapidated, of the Church of England. TS Eliot said in his lectures:

As we have the Establishment, we must take the situation as we find it, and consider for a moment the merits of the problem of Disestablishment. The advocates of this course, within the Church, have many cogent reasons to expose: the abuses and scandals which such a change might remedy, the inconsistencies which might be removed, and the advantages which might accrue, are too patent to require mention. That abuses and defects of another kind might make their appearance in a disestablished Church, is a possibility which has not perhaps received enough attention. But what is much more to my point is the gravity of the abdication which the Church — whether voluntarily or under pressure — would be making. Setting aside the anomalies which might be corrected without going to that length, I will admit that an Established Church is exposed to peculiar temptations and compulsions: it has greater advantages and greater difficulties. But we must pause to reflect that a Church, once disestablished, cannot easily be re-established, and that the very act of disestablishment separates it more definitely and irrevocably from the life of the nation than if it had never been established. The effect on the mind of the people of the visible and dramatic withdrawal of the Church from the affairs of the nation, of the deliberate recognition of two standards and ways of life, of the Church’s abandonment of all those who are not by their wholehearted profession within the fold — this is incalculable; the risks are so great that such an act can be nothing but a desperate measure.

The Idea Of A Christian Society, Lecture Three (Emphasis Mine)

Whilst I disagree with Eliot’s own Anglo-Catholicism I think he is perfectly correct here. Indeed these words, and my realisation of their truth, have done more to change my attitudes around the Church of England and the Crown than anything else. Previously I argued for disestablishment but I cannot now imagine the nation returning, or being converted to the faith, without it.

This talk by James Smith I think perfectly illustrates how even the political architecture of our nation, even now, is predicated on the gospel – even nominally.

TS Eliot also wrote that “We are living at present in a kind of doldrums between opposing winds of doctrine” and I think that is also definitely true. Yet the question is do we work to restore what is broken? or we ride out the transition to build an alternative? Yet currently I do not see a way for the transition to result in a new form of Christian society for the reasons previously outlined by Eliot (“The very act of disestablishment separates it more definitely and irrevocably from the life of the nation than if it had never been established”). We should either work to the restoration of the Church of England or bed down and work towards the realisation of some sort of ‘Benedict Option‘ approach to ride out the rise of what Eliot called the ‘pagan’ society that was on the horizon of his own day. After all, when Eliot wrote the statement:

The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.

TS Eliot, Thoughts After Lambeth

People do not realise the ‘Lambeth’ in question was the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion in 1930. In which the communion agreed to devolve the question of contraception to the laity, so Eliot connected this attempt at forming a ‘civilized but non-Christian mentality’ with changes evident in the specific context of Church of England itself. Yet the desire to reform, no matter how desperate, is to adopt what James Smith dubbed his ‘Augustinian Option‘ in response to Dreher’s Benedict Option which is “the hope for faithful agents of the coming kingdom who answer the call to public life and administer the common good in this saeculum of our waiting”.

With this said, we do not know what the future holds and I do not feel one must fully commit to the path of either ‘Augustine’ or ‘Benedict’ in this, nor should a ‘Augustine’ judge a ‘Benedict’ for their actions. Indeed, where possible they should work together. One cannot gloss over the fact that the biggest enemy of the Church of England is frequently itself. Yet I think it is much easier for Nehemiah to repair the existing walls of Jerusalem, with a sword in one hand, than to join with its rivals (without and within) in demolishing them in the hopes that they could subsequently be rebuilt again. If the wall falls no one will be spared and I do not wish to disappoint Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer by seeing the candle of their martyrdom go out. It is clear that the odds do not look good, and it is much harder to live for a cause. I can’t help but feel many orthodox and godly clergy are marginalised, frozen-out, and left exposed by the institution. The Church frequently comes across as out-of-touch, navel gazing, socially tone deaf, grossly latitudinarian, and classist. Let us not beat around the bush, the first step to dealing with a problem is to admit we have one. Yet I believe it can be fixed, or at the very least have its worst elements curbed.


I am fully open to the fact that I might be wrong, I might be too idealistic or pessimistic depending on a persons reading. I find a strong appeal in the Reformed Church of England and it’s history yet I find myself utterly appalled and repelled by aspects of its current state. Still, this was where I born, where I was baptised, and where I remain even if I find myself at odds with it at times. The Lutheran Martyr, Bonhoeffer, said:

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. 

Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. 

It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it’s pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough … Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts

So pray for the Church of England. Its faults will not disappear overnight. I think a watershed moment for me will be the crowning of the next Monarch, because then I think we will see how deep some of the latest revisions have taken root and whether it’s established nature and its episcopal integrity endures. I believe if the Church has finally fallen England will be in for potentially centuries of trouble.

7 thoughts on “The Many Rooms of the Anglican House: The Problem of the Infallible Interpreter and Why I Am Still An Anglican

  1. I sympathize with your plight, and I wanted to share some aggregated thoughts after reading:
    1) The irony with the High Church position as you laid out, is that it distinctly depends on a fantasy that, generally, doesn’t actually play out in any tradition. Rome is, in reality, a bureaucratic pseudo-state, and various national churches basically reflect on the ground reality, with a relative connectivity to the nerve center (something begun post-Reformation (just see how belligerent the most Catholic Phillip II was to the pope) and really took off post-Napoleonic period).
    But even more importantly, I think, is the example from Orthodoxy, esp. Russian Orthodoxy. Many understood, especially during the Soviet period, that the parish system is simply an organizational method, not something real or always effective. Thus, it was far more important to flock to a faithful bishop, or at least a faithful priest, to continue to gather. There’s even a story I heard where 3 Russian priests gathered around the grave of a recently deceased bishop to receive his consecration, calling on his blessing and the will of God. Jurisdiction is a mess, and while Rome is baffled, it reflects, I think, the messy reality on the ground.
    Orthodoxy doesn’t fit the mythology of High Church proponents. But that’s because High Church-ism is itself a product of fringe elements who conjure a romantic vision. The craziest claims about Rome (or the East) come from the Anglo-American world. Nothing compares to a Manning or a Newman, or even further back to someone like Dryden, to the fantasy vision of a world lost and a blessed empire somewhere across the channel. It’s theological Jacobitism.
    2) The above matches, I think, well with the converse. From so-called “low church” traditions or groups, I’ve seen and heard some rather pungent discussion about things like how someone prayer ex tempore, sermon methods, carpets/drape, music styles. I’ve even seen discomfort about showing scripture passages, over a projector, in bilingual English and Spanish (I live in US). I think it’s basically the same thing as which color vestment or which way to face when you do liturgical action x.
    So while High Churchist interlocutor is confused about the situation, I think he puts his finger on something. The problem with the Baptist mentality, if we can term it that, is that the struggle ends on the level of the individual conscience. The locus of the debate is whether an individual should believe x, not the fate of a/the church in the balance. It’s not simply that, at the end of the day, we use our own individual judgement to decide (which I think is pretty obvious), but that’s all that’s at stake. The “Baptist” can simply walk out of a congregation, and go on his own if he wishes, without losing much. The alternative (and I think correct, and properly Christian, view) is instead a level of grief, the need to find *somewhere*. One can’t go it alone, and if one’s stuck in a position, it’s the existential agony of being on an island alone. It’s not simply about oneself, but something bigger.
    3) While I could agree to a certain materiality of presence as a remainder of Christian presence in a certain geographic environment, I think you’re wrong about establishment. Rather, I think it’s caused endless grief and has put the COE in the predicament of female shamannesses that it currently is in. The desire to remain contemporary and relevant, means the church is always trying to justify itself. I think Figgis understood this point, at the turn of the 20th century.


    1. Hi Cal, thanks for your comment. Good thoughts! Regarding your first point: I think your totally right and your examples illustrate it really well. I’m reminded of a quote by Orthodox Priest and Theologian George Florovsky on this:

      “Charismatic tradition is truly universal; in its fulness it embraces every kind of semper and ubique and unites all. But empirically it may not be accepted by all. At any rate we are not to prove the truth of Christianity by means of “universal consent,” per consensum omnium. In general, no consensus can prove truth. This would be a case of acute psychologism, and in theology there is even less place for it than in philosophy. On the contrary, truth is the measure by which we can evaluate the worth of “general opinion.” Catholic experience can be expressed even by the few, even by single confessors of faith; and this is quite sufficient. Strictly speaking, to be able to recognize and express catholic truth we need no ecumenical, universal assembly and vote; we even need no “Ecumenical Council.” The sacred dignity of the Council lies not in the number of members representing their Churches. A large “general” council may prove itself to be a “council of robbers” (latrocinium), or even of apostates. And the ecclesia sparsa often convicts it of its nullity by silent opposition. Numerus episcoporum does not solve the question. The historical and practical methods of recognizing sacred and catholic tradition can be many; that of assembling Ecumenical Councils is but one of them, and not the only one. This does not mean that it is unnecessary to convoke councils and conferences. But it may so happen that during the council the truth will be expressed by the minority. And what is still more important, the truth may be revealed even without a council. The opinions of the Fathers and of the ecumenical Doctors of the Church frequently have greater spiritual value and finality than the definitions of certain councils. And these opinions do not need to be verified and accepted by “universal consent.” On the contrary, it is they themselves who are the criterion and they who can prove. It is of this that the Church testifies in silent receptio. Decisive value resides in inner catholicity, not in empirical universality.”

      This idea of the institution of the Church being subject to the truth, rather than it being vice versa flies in the face of both Newman and Manning’s line of thinking and variations of their apologia one can encounter.

      Regarding your second point: I think that’s very perceptive and broadly I agree. I can relate to the existential anxiety you describe. At the same time the recent changes in the Anglican church I think validate Hooker’s argument that:

      “When the people see things suddenly discarded, annulled, and rejected that long custom had made into matters of second nature, they are bewildered, and begin to doubt whether anything is in itself naturally good or evil, rather than being simply whatever men choose to call it at any given moment. ”

      Such that a sizeable number of the laity I know, and I know this is anecdotal, are now functionally congregationalists (or ‘Baptists’ ecclesiologically) at least in the UK. They invest in their local church but take little to no participation in the diocesan or synodal structures because they find them alienating. Which is partly why they can be captured by motivated minority groups. The rapid change is doctrinal and social norms in the church result in people disengaging, partly as a defence mechanism. I imagine the UK situation might differ from the US given, and forgive if this is wrong, the more voluntaristic approach and broader scope to religion across the Atlantic. If I wasn’t Anglican my choice is effectively: ‘Baptist’, Pentecostal, or Roman Catholic.

      Regarding your final point, I think that’s a fair point: the echo of the debates between John Stott and Martin Lloyd-Jones resound loudly and I think if the debate were to happen today Stott would likely concede the argument. I do not disagree with your point but my question is, what is the alternative? And is it any better? If TS Eliot is right that the act of disestablishment will sever Christianity from the nation such that it had never been joined that doesn’t mean the UK will become like the US but something altogether more disassociated from the faith. I also do not see a viable alternative body that isn’t defined by an object of ‘shared love’ but ‘shared rejection’ eg of something like the CoE which one could argue is a form of neo-puritanism, to exchange the magisterial reformation for the radical one. I guess if we wish to see the UK turn to Christ once more what body is both theologically and sociologically fit for that purpose? I believe if it isn’t the Church of England one will need to be created. Is that fair? I’m not familiar with Figgis can you point me to something of his? Also can I ask what is your own background? I checked out your blog and thought your entry on masculine and feminine anthropology and the Priesthood was really insightful.


      1. I think Florovsky was one of the most intelligent and perceptive Russian Orthodox thinkers of the 20th c.

        Yes, Hooker certainly grasped a dynamic, and I appreciate the “conformist” Reformation hesitance when confronted with a radicalized push to make everything a hill to die on. Or in more contemporary parlance, everything is a “gospel issue”. But the problem here is criteria, and that’s something that has become increasingly difficult to ascertain. Florovsky says, correctly, that the truth should judge majorities, councils, “common-sense”, etc. and that truth is most fundamentally catholic, age-abiding, and ubiquitous. Great, what does that mean? Florovsky is somewhat mystical and obscurantist when it comes to talking about “the mind of the Fathers”. This most probably ought to refer to a mystical claim Christian ought to adhere to, in that the Holy Spirit opens our eyes, allows us to perceive and understand. But that’s not in a vacuum, but always tested by scripture, as understood (in the earliest church) by some rule of faith or apostolic kanon. And while all epistemology rests upon some fiduciary claim, and depends upon some presuppositional circle, we have to agree on what that basic format is to have any useful discussion. Obscurity, juridical bureaucracy, or watered-down lowest-common-denominator fundamentals only lead to confusion and agony.

        I’m not sure what to call myself. I attend a conservative(-ish) evangelical presbyterian congregation, which is functionally congregationalist and baptist in many ways, but I don’t fit in. I’m loosely Reformed, though I don’t care about that label. I have sympathy for the Anabaptists, though I’m not one of them, and certainly see them more favorably than most of the Magisterial Reformers. I think bishops should be normative, and eucharistic real presence important, but I’m averse to the idea of Christian nations or the Constantinian rejiggering of the state into the life of the church. I’m simultaneously sympathetic to currents of free-church Evangelicalism as well as Anglo-Catholicism (though by that, I don’t mean Rome, which I abhor, but more about theological patterns and methods preserved in Orthodoxy).

        J.N. Figgis was a COE priest in late 19th and early 20th centuries. He belonged to the Anglo-Catholic wing (he was part of a monastic community), but he was also a student of Acton. He wanted the COE to embrace being a sect, and stop being relevant as the national church, so as to preserve its Christian specificity and its witness within a plural society. One of his more interesting works is “Churches in a Plural Society”, which you can find online. Also, the late priest/historian David Nicholls wrote about him, and was clearly influenced by him.


      2. I would be predisposed to the point you say Figgis makes. I had a similar discussion with my old vicar, who came from a Brethern background, about the need to maintain doctrinal purity and James Smith makes a similar point in the article I link where he engages with the Benedict Option and its claims. My vicar argued that purity, in the case of a group like the Brethern, comes at the cost of marginalising themselves. I value purity but the question that hangs over this is to what degree can it be maintained and belong to a body that is publically minded? This then touches on the incompatibility of Church and State in Anabaptist arguments, that the church isn’t to be publically minded. Truth be told some days I wake up one side of this argument and on the next the other. I agree with the argument for a magisterial church in principal I find what is before me in practice decidedly underwhelming.

        I think the argument Florovsky makes is interesting, and I agree with your point but the tragedy is that what so often we associate with the apostolic rule of faith, or the vincentian canon, might not have actually been part of it. John of Damascus makes an appeal in his defence of the worship of images, that they have always been in use, but I am not convinced by this judging by the writing of his predecessors. Yet the narrative is one that has sustained the Eastern Orthodox Christians for well over a millenia now since. Yet that methodology itself is far removed the likes of Newman who in a way dispense with apostolic witness in favour of the living witness of the institution. So whilst I disagree with JoD I agree with his methodology in making his arguments.

        That sounds like an interesting combination you have going on there. I can relate to a lot of that although as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to embrace the magisterial reformation in the face of putting myself in the position of those caught up in the recent violence in the Middle East. I can’t say I’ve ever been drawn to the Anglo-Catholic Church, I think if I did accept the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the oikonomia I would of joined the Latin or Eastern Roman Churches. I think to witness the damage its done has permanently coloured my view of the movement. I’ll be sure to seek out the Figgis work you mention!


      3. Correction: it’s “Churches in the Modern State”; the other title, I think, belongs to Nicholls’ book on Figgis and other British political philosophers who advocated some form of pluralism.


  2. That’s precisely the same place I land when it comes to Damascene. I think Newman is not only a bane, but basically invites liberal theology under a very baroque facade of tradition and antiquity. And, interestingly enough, David Nicholls (who I mentioned) wrote articles about him, and his ilk, as crypto-totalitarians. That might be too extreme, but it was the Anglo-Catholic and Roman English Roman Catholic (i.e. Belloc: “Europe is the faith”) who thought Franco a good thing for Spain, and while found Mussolini and Hitler crowd-pandering and frothing at the mouth, they weren’t terribly averse.

    As a contrast to Magisterial Reformation, I think the long witness of the Persian Church of the East bears out that Christians don’t have to be socially isolated in a ghetto (though that’s not always the worse thing) to be disestablished and bearing witness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting, I mean Newman has a lot of fans amongst integralists who strike me as stridently authoritarian at times. Is there anywhere I can see that argument fleshed out more?

      I think that’s fair. Although I do not think the Persians weren’t disestablished out of choice but rather lack of opportunity given they seemed a minority in many places they appeared. I need to read more on the Persian/Oriental Church.


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