Saturday, December 12, 2015

Is classic American Anglo-Catholicism Episcopalianism?

I wrote: Episcopalianism and American Anglo-Catholicism gave me the very basics (the Bible, the creeds, and the concepts of bishops, a liturgy, and sacraments). Isn't that like saying, "I was at Oxford. And in England!"? I meant that classic (pre-Sixties) American A-Cism was part of Episcopalianism, but that got me thinking. Was it really?

Anglicanism is really a version of the Reformed faith but with the office of bishops (rare but an option in Reformed theology), but the old high churchmen a century after its founding claimed the new church was not just the restoration of pure Christianity as all Protestants believed, but patristic, a kind of Catholicism. At least implicitly the true Catholic Church, better than Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy (likewise with real bishops) because it was Reformed too. ("The concepts of bishops, a liturgy, and sacraments" being the Catholic part of "Catholic and Reformed." We Roman Catholics are Catholic too but in grave error.)

I'll say that strictly speaking, Episcopalianism is classic American Anglo-Catholicism's high-church ecclesiology ("high church" originally meant a high view of authority, not ceremonial), so in theory classic American A-Cism is Episcopalianism, but in practice Episcopalianism's very much a Protestant denomination; its members meant that word in their name (the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.) literally, not with the high-church spin of "non-papal." In the 1940s they almost merged with the Presbyterians (low Episcopal and high Presbyterian are very similar and socially the same; one's English, the other Scottish). Today they're basically merged with the ELCA Lutherans and intercommune with the Methodists. (Classic Lutheranism, such as our close cousins in the Missouri Synod, likewise has an implicit true-church claim.)

Much like Catholicism is clear about not being a denomination: the church can't have sisters any more than God can have brothers; multiple gods! (But dioceses, for example, have sisters: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the local Greek Orthodox metropolis, estranged from us, for example.) But since Vatican II, many American Catholics have taught and acted as if we were a denomination. (Which of course the council doesn't say.)

So in practice, classic American Anglo-Catholicism wasn't Episcopalianism. Much of the time it was an alterna-Catholicism (considered the true alternative to us) continuing the old high churchmen's true-church claim at least implicitly (even while adopting our ceremonial); rarely it was exactly what its detractors feared, would-be Roman Catholicism. (Another conversation: was Anglo-Papalism A-Cism or its opposite, wanting to get rid of Anglicanism rather than defending it?)

Peter Robinson writes: One unfortunate tendancy of the liturgical revival in Anglicanism was that it tended to import all sorts of stuff from 19th-century Romanism. Kept it warm for me and pointed the way for me into the Roman Catholic Church, for which I thank it, but of course I realize that's not what Anglicanism is for.

1 comment:

  1. "Anglicanism is really a version of the Reformed faith but with the office of bishops (rare but an option in Reformed theology)..."

    The Hungarian Reformed Church, which goes back to the 1560s, has officials, clerical supervisors/administrators, whom they have always entitled "bishops." In general, those Reformed churches which tended to look, or look back, to Geneva (the French Huguenots, the Scottish Kirk, the Dutch Reformed) have tended to be antipathetic to the word "bishop," while those who looked more to Zurich (the Hungarian Reformed, the Polish Reformed, and some Germans) have tended to regard church polity and terminology as a matter of indifference - even if they did not use the word "bishop" (which, IIRC, was used only in Hungary and neighbouring Transylvania; and in T'sylvania even the Unitarians have their own "bishop").

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