Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Historical Problems with the Anglican Covenant

The brief note below is from the Revd. Dr. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Kt. MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church, and Fellow of St. Cross College, in the University of Oxford, as well as a Patron of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. The article referred to is “The Anglican Covenant and the Experience of The Scottish Episcopal Church: Rewriting History for Expediency’s Sake.” Professor MacCulloch’s summary of this paper communicates the Ven. M. Edward Simonton’s essential points for those who may not have time to read the full paper.

I would like to recommend most highly this historical article by the Ven. Edward Simonton, Archdeacon of Saint Andrews in the Diocese of Montreal. It is a marvelously clear, learned and well-informed introduction to the history and significance of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, which reveals just how shoddy and ill-informed are the historical arguments which have been used to promote the introduction of a so-called ‘Anglican Covenant’. Simonton guides his reader through the history of a Church in Scotland which is a complete contrast to that of the Church of England, yet which is just as ancient in its episcopate. This is particularly important because one of the planks of the ‘Covenant’ is that the Anglican identity, on which its attempt at universal discipline is based, looks to the Thirty-Nine Articles and the 1662 Prayer Book. This is simply not so in the case of the Scottish Episcopal Church, which one has to remember was up to 1707 a Church in an independent kingdom, Scotland.

The Scottish story starts with a completely different Reformation to that of England, although it was also a Reformation which preserved bishops. They were ejected from church government in 1638 as the result of – guess what – a Covenant. They were brought back in 1661, but the established status of their Church was removed in 1689 because they were too loyal to the Stuart dynasty to swear an oath of loyalty to the King and Queen of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, William and Mary. Henceforth, the Episcopal Church faithful to its bishops was to fight against government repression, a repression frequently tacitly abetted by the bishops of the Church of England. New bishops were at first consecrated with the consent of the exiled Stuarts and with the help of bishops who had similarly left the Church of England on grounds of conscience, the ‘Non-Jurors’. Gradually some very dark years of repression lifted as the Stuart cause died, but part of the end of repression was the compulsion to subscribe to the English 39 Articles in 1792, the first time that the Scottish Episcopalians had had anything to do with the Articles. The 39 Articles were imposed by a foreign conqueror as a way of subjecting an independent Church body which was then helpless and had no choice but to accept. This requirement for subscription was only abolished in 1977, by then a historic relic. Scottish Episcopal clergy were not allowed to serve in the Church of England until 1864. Meanwhile, in 1784, it was to the Episcopal Church of Scotland that the loyal Episcopalians in the new United States turned for consecration of bishops, because the Church of England bishops refused to help them.

Likewise the use of the 1662 Prayer Book or its Ordinal historically did not apply in Scotland; the Episcopal Church had and has its own Prayer Book, first created by Scottish bishops in 1637 with an eye to the very first English Prayer Book of 1549, and it has to be said that its creation was a major reason why many Scots decided that bishops must go in 1638. The 1662 BCP was imposed on Scottish Episcopalians in the years of repression in the eighteenth century, simply because in their poverty and suspect political state, they were not able to get their 1637 book printed in large numbers.

It is therefore historically dishonest to claim that the 39 Articles, the 1662 Prayer Book and its Ordinal are the basis of Anglican unity. I could say more about the Church of Ireland and its unique historical inheritance, but Archdeacon Simonton’s splendid article is enough to prove that our Anglican historical formularies are much more splendidly varied in their origins than the proponents of the proposed ‘Covenant’ would like to pretend. Perhaps they just don’t know enough Church History.

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Blogger Thomas Renz said...

Simonton demonstrates admirably the lack of historic ties between the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of England. His fascination historical review fails, however, to discuss at what point the Scottish Episcopal Church became “Anglican” and what made it so.

Accepting that “the Articles of the Church of England were used by law to subjugate a suspect party and force submission to accepting an Anglicised political point of view and not a theological one”, it may be harder to argue that the proposed Anglican Covenant is without precedent and unAnglican, which is of course not to claim that history recommends going down this route.

The essay reminds us that it is possible to be “Anglican” without direct reference to the Thirty-Nine Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and its Ordinal but their place in the Church of England, even if diminished today, arguably brings all Churches in the Anglican Communion into an indirect relationship with them.

Unlike similar Communions, such as the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), the Anglican Communion has a centre and the role of the See of Canterbury for defining the Anglican Communion must be addressed somehow.

(NB: Both of the two aforementioned Communions may be said to prize cultural diversity and Provincial autonomy and neither are defined by a doctrinal statement. In fact, the WCRC is exploring “whether churches can have great differences in doctrine and still be part of the same communion” -- )

March 7, 2012 at 5:49 PM  
Blogger Edw: vic. gen. et archid. Quebec said...

Renz raises an interesting point.

My initial reaction would be to say that the Scottish Episcopal Church became 'Anglican (read – in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury)' for two primary reasons. The first is that all other natural expressions of its innate catholic desire for connection to a wider church outside of national borders (not to mention its desperate need for aid and support) were cut off by the English Church. The initial instinct of the Scottish Church was to try and find communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church (through the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow) and this came to naught because of diplomatic protest by the Church of England via the British Government. The second reason is sociological. As there was no chance of reunification with the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the largest church in proximity to it and the one with the most historical dealings with it was the Church of England. Over time the Church of England’s size and strength exerted a force of gravity on the tiny and weakened Scottish Episcopal Church. A similar sociological analogy can be seen in the process by which English became the dominant language of the Kingdom of Scotland.

As to when it became Anglican, I believe I answered this in the paper by establishing 1864, the date the Second Repeal of Clerical Disabilities Act was passed. This Act recognised the Holy Orders of the Scottish Episcopal Church and allowed priests ordained in it to apply for and hold benefices in the Church of England. This amounts to entering the 'Communion'.

I must admit that it is a very odd way for two 'sister' churches to come together - by the stronger one that lives in a grand house finally recognising the other, with which she had once had a dispute, has been standing out in the cold yard for ages. Then after even more time and indecision finally unlocking the door and opening it a crack. It is even odder to non-UK ears to realise that 'Communion' (one of the holiest of our concepts) came about by a legal act that abolished another legal act.

I believe this answers the question as to when the Scottish Episcopal Church went into Communion with the Church of England and thus became part of what would be the Anglican Communion. However, this does not mean that Episcopalians ARE Anglican. It means that Episcopalians are in communion with Anglicans. My entire argument is based upon the assumption that Episcopalianism is a valid historical form of reformed Catholicism, as is Anglicanism. I am an Episcopalian. I currently serve in a Province of the Communion that is Anglican by history and polity. As an Episcopalian I am allowed to do so. This, however, does not mean I am no longer an Episcopalian. But this, I am afraid, is another argument and a much more subjective one that cannot be resolved by ecclesiastical history.

March 8, 2012 at 8:00 AM  
Blogger Edw: vic. gen. et archid. Quebec said...

However, I hope you will forgive me, if I stress that herein lies one of my major personal problems with the Anglican Covenant. As it is worded now, the Covenant glosses over the history of the Episcopal Church and her distinct strengths and weaknesses and pretends that she is somehow the same as the dominant model formed by Anglicanism polity. I do not trust any document, power or movement that downplays diversity and the voice of the smaller or weaker partners in order to put on a 'united front' for the dominant player. I would even go so far as to say that this is precisely what the life and ministry of Our Lord teaches us. I will say it is unchristian.

Although I cannot prove it, as those who have informed me have done so second hand, I understand that the issue of the historical inaccuracy (as far as Episcopalians are concerned) of the first part of the Draft Covenant was flagged to the writers (I certainly know that I raised the issue many times during the initial provincial consultation process) and that they choose to ignore it (or at least not address it). If this is the case then, although almost many will tell you it is a minor issue, I contend that it is an essential moral issue about the use of power to colonise smaller bodies whether it be by indifference, laziness, ignorance or design (it is hard to think it is because of design). Still, indifference, laziness and ignorance are not top of the list of traits that fill me with confidence.

Thank you for the helpful comments that allowed me to address these issues.

March 8, 2012 at 8:00 AM  
Blogger Thomas Renz said...

And thank you for taking the time to respond. It is very important to recognise that "Episcopalianism is a valid historical form of reformed Catholicism, as is Anglicanism." The same applies for the Church of Sweden and, arguably, even for the Lutheran Churches whose Bishops do not claim to be in apostolic succession, as well as, more controversially, maybe even for some non-Episcopal Churches, although I am not inclined to make that case.

March 8, 2012 at 10:39 AM  

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