The Anglican Spiritby Michael Ramsey
Archbishop Michael Ramsey was one of the church's most remarkable twentieth-century saintswise and humble, humorous and compassionate. These introductory lectures on Anglicanism reveal the breadth of Ramsey's theological understanding, his ecumenism, and his vision of the church and the Christian life. Informal and conversational in style, the lectures offer… See more details below
Archbishop Michael Ramsey was one of the church's most remarkable twentieth-century saintswise and humble, humorous and compassionate. These introductory lectures on Anglicanism reveal the breadth of Ramsey's theological understanding, his ecumenism, and his vision of the church and the Christian life. Informal and conversational in style, the lectures offer an overview of Anglican theology, spirituality, and history.
Ramsey begins with Anglicanism's enduring characteristics, including its dependence on Scripture, traditionthe ancient writers of the church who guide us in interpreting the Bibleand reason, our God-given capacity for divine revelation. Next Ramsey explores its teachings on theology and the sacraments, Tractarianism and the Oxford Movement, the renaissance of Anglican religious communities, and the evolving doctrines of creation, incarnation, and the Holy Spirit. The final section presents Ramsey's theology of the church and Anglicanism's relationship to Rome and the Orthodox churches.
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THE ANGLICAN SPIRIT
By MICHAEL RAMSEY, Dale D. Coleman
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2004 Estate of Michael Ramsey
All rights reserved.
THE ANGLICAN SPIRIT
My purpose in this book is to discuss the historical origin of Anglicanism, not doing over again what has been covered so well by so many others, but rather reminding ourselves of that historical setting in which it all began. Then I want to talk about some of the main enduring characteristics of Anglican tradition, the way in which the Anglican Church has in its life and teaching, theology and sacraments, given over that divine paradosis—which is the Greek word for something that has been "handed over" or "passed on." For when we Christians speak of tradition, we mean the experience of the Christian community lying authentically within that which God through Christ has handed over for the revelation of himself and the salvation of men and women everywhere. Then I shall talk about certain select doctrines and certain select great Anglican personalities, and finish by mentioning my own hopes for the future of the Anglican way of life and faith.
But first let us have a reminder of our historical setting. King Henry VIII had six wives. Not every English schoolchild could recite the names of the six correctly, but nearly every English schoolchild will know the rhyme about their fate: "Divorced, beheaded, died, / Divorced, beheaded, survived." One might wonder already what on earth that has got to do with our present church! The answer is, it has got everything to do with who we are. Because again and again, it is through apparently chance events that divine providence works in order to bring about great religious situations and subsequent great religious manifestations. And so it is in this case. Indeed, those six wives are well worth commemorating.
What in fact happened? King Henry VIII was dissatisfied with the first of those wives because she was not successful in producing a male heir for him. There had been some possible irregularity about the marriage, so that fair-minded people thought the marriage could be annulled. Henry assumed the Pope would annul his marriage, but in order to accomplish his purpose, he had eventually to break with the papacy and substitute himself as the head—or supreme governor—of the English church. Simply put, that was the beginning of the Church of England as a national phenomenon dissociated from the papacy; it was the beginning of the royal supremacy which for some time, in practice and in theory, has remained part of the Anglican Church in the country from which I come.
Now we have to warn ourselves at this point against what used to be an Anglo-Catholic oversimplification. People who should know better say that this meant no change in religion, for religion went on just as it was—the Catholic faith minus the Pope. In a sense that was true because King Henry, apart from abolishing the monasteries (which had become very corrupt institutions) was staunchly conservative in relation to Catholic faith. Please recall that the Pope had even given him the title of "Defender of the Faith." But it was not as simple as all that, for this reason: the difference between a Christianity that can make do without the papacy is already a Christianity in which changes of belief and sentiment are taking place.
So I think it is true to say that in Henry's reign, while there was officially no radical change in doctrine or in the sentiments of the people or in the feeling of the country, the Lutheran reformation was already having its impact. We can see this in two ways. First, the English Bible was not issued to merely a few fanatics, but rather commended officially to be read to the people and made available in the churches. That development is inconceivable apart from a strong Lutheran influence in the country.
In the second place, there was a considerable change in the concept of the royal supremacy itself. Royal supremacy was indeed a doctrine, a powerful Reformation doctrine derived from Martin Luther. It did not mean that the monarch was a source of revelation, nor that the monarch was a doctrinal authority. It did mean, however, that it was for the monarch to say what sort of church, and what style of authority and doctrine, was desirable for the people to accept.
Now we must press on rapidly because we are only reminding ourselves of certain facts and background details. Henry VIII was followed by King Edward VI, in whose reign further steps toward reformation took place with the guidance of Archbishop Cranmer. The first Prayer Book of Archbishop Cranmer in 1549 produced a liturgy quite remarkably like the one we pray even today. And in that reformed liturgy, while he was deliberately steering away from what was understood at the time to be Catholic notions of sacrifice, Cranmer deliberately conserved the doctrine of the presence and gift of the Lord himself in the sacrament through the words, "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life." The 1549 Prayer Book spoke of ministering the cup to the people. Moreover, in Cranmer's hands, the liturgy became something in which the people participate—as distinct from a ritual that the priest carried on while the people watched.
But the trend of Reformation doctrine and study on the Continent had moved on considerably, and so there were now a large number of Calvinists and Zwinglian scholars in the country holding posts in the English universities. Therefore it came about that three years later Cranmer's second Prayer Book, the 1552 Prayer Book, was considerably more Protestant—in fact, Calvinistic-Zwinglian—in tone. The eucharistic canon was broken up into two parts, while the words, "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ ... preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life," were dropped and replaced by the memorialist formula, "Take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee," which was indeed the doctrine that caused Martin Luther to bang the table in protest when he was arguing with Zwingli about those matters.
A strong reaction came about under Queen Mary, who married King Philip of Spain. There was a return to full-bodied Roman Catholicism and the ghastly martyrdom by burning of Archbishop Cranmer and a number of those who had left the Roman Catholic Church under King Henry and King Edward. I think it is fair to say that the Marian Roman Catholic interlude, while it checked for a time the advance of continental Protestant divinity in the English schools, had the effect of evoking feelings of intense nationalism in England, along with no less passionate feelings of anti-popery.
I really want to start in 1558 with Queen Elizabeth and the Elizabethan Settlement, and I have sketched in the background very rapidly in this early history just to indicate that there was something for Queen Elizabeth to settle. You only settle things if there is something to settle, namely, what sort of Christianity was the country going to have? What sort of church was the country going to have? It was for Queen Elizabeth herself to initiate policy because both she and her Parliament believed strongly in the royal supremacy. What sort of church was it to be? Not a church invented by her, because royal supremacy did not mean that. Not a church with doctrines invented by her, or revealed through her, because royal supremacy did not mean that.
No, it was the Christian church as it had always been despite these changes, still possessing the Holy Scriptures, the creeds, the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, and the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons. Because Queen Elizabeth took good care that those appointed bishops were consecrated by those who were bishops already, maintaining a succession that had run right through all the troubles I have been describing—it was the same Christian church. The language of its worship was still about the One, Holy Catholic Church in this land, represented by a body of bishops and clergy at their head, possessing a real continuity that had prevailed through all these ups and downs.
But it was necessary for someone to give theological interpretation and shape and content to this fact of the Settlement, to this fact of the Elizabethan church. At this point, in 1559, there comes onto the scene the figure of Matthew Parker, the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the Elizabethan reign.
Matthew Parker was youngish, an academic who had been master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He was a man devoted to great learning. Before I mention some of the practical things he did, let me tell you about the way he used his learning, because he used it in a way that might have seemed highly irrelevant in those times, but in fact proved to be gloriously relevant. Parker collected Anglo-Saxon manuscripts about the life of the country and the life of the church in the centuries between Augustine of Canterbury and the Norman Conquest. He amassed this collection, classified and edited it, and had it copied. Finally, just before he died, Parker saw to it that the collection was kept not in his home at Lambeth, but handed over to his college, Corpus Christi at Cambridge, a very fortunate thing, because the former was bombed in the last war and the latter was not, (Here is one of these little pieces of perhaps providential guidance.)
Why this interest in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts? Parker wanted to show that a number of features of the Elizabethan church were not new inventions, but familiar to the Catholic church in England in its earlier centuries. Public worship in the vernacular, allowing clergymen to marry, detachment from obedience to the Pope, believing that the Lord was present in the Holy Communion while steering away from the development toward transubstantiation of the early Middle Ages—all these developments were revealed by Parker's manuscripts. In fact, this collection was designed to show that the Church of England was not de novo. Some of its forms and some of its relationships to other bodies had to be newly described and defined, but at the heart of the matter—its gospel, its creeds, its sacraments, its ministry, and a good deal of its customs—it was essentially the same church. And that is what is sometimes called the Anglican appeal to antiquity.
Now Parker did even more than that. Documents and formularies were needed to define the church in its contemporary state. Through the Act of Uniformity, royal supremacy already required the restored Prayer Book to be in use. While this restored Prayer Book dated from 1552 rather than 1549, it restored Cranmer's original words of administration: "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ ... preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life." Queen Elizabeth herself was something of a theologian, and to her are attributed some verses about the Eucharist that certainly express the intention of the church of her time:
Christ was the Word who spake it,
Christ took the bread and brake it,
And what his word doth make it,
That I believe and take it.
Trusting that because Christ says so, Christ truly is present, and Christ gives his own self to us as his gift. That was Queen Elizabeth, and that was the Prayer Book she used.
When it came to orders, it was undoubtedly the wish of the Queen and of Archbishop Parker that the church adhere to the basic Christian tradition, the primitive Christian paradosis interpreted as widely as possible to include everyone except definite Romanists, Calvinists, and Anabaptists. The Calvinists, of course, were now not only divines on the Continent, but also Puritans growing up on English soil.
Now for those documents that would define the contemporary church—the 1571 Thirty-Nine Articles, The Second Book of Homilies, and the "Canon of Preaching." The Thirty-Nine Articles indeed owe something to Luther in their strong emphasis on justification by faith, but reject what came to be called "solifidianism"—the belief that works have no value in the Christian life. It is also equally clear that much importance is attached to election or predestination, but the Articles definitely avoid Calvin's unattractive doctrine of double predestination to salvation or damnation.
It is important to notice that while other churches on the Continent with Reformation roots also had their sets of articles, the Anglican Settlement as now defined had not only a confession, a set of articles, but also a Prayer Book. It is this foundation that was, and remains, so very characteristic of the Anglican paradosis. And it is true to say that while there are churches in Christendom where, when you ask, "Now, tell us what you stand for?" they will say, "Well, here are our articles, that is what we stand for," it has always been characteristic of Anglicans to reply, "Yes, here are our articles, but here is our Prayer Book as well—come and pray with us, come and worship with us, and that is how you will understand what we stand for." That is something that we are going to find recurring again and again in all the ups and downs of the Anglican paradosis.
Up to this point, there could not be a distinctive and articulate Anglican theology. When people are wrestling hard with the kinds of practical questions the Elizabethan Settlement raised, they have not the leisure for a great deal of profound reflection. So I think it is more true to say that the Elizabethan Settlement was not the product of theology, but of a desire to cling to the primitive church and to define certain limits. That being so, there still remained something to theologize about. Anglican theology followed the Elizabethan Settlement, rather than the other way around. Distinctive Anglican theology began within the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, and has continued ever since. To see it emerging, I think we have to look not only at Hooker and the Elizabethan divines, but also at the Caroline divines of the next century, and to go on looking at every subsequent century after that.
Richard Hooker lived in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign, and he spent most of his ministry as a parish priest. He held for some years the post of Master of the Temple— the church in London where lawyers, judges, and so on worship—but his greater role was as a parish priest, and he died the rector of the parish of Bishopsbourne near Canterbury.
Characteristically, Hooker's work was not a treatise on theology simply for its own sake, but rather a polemical discussion of the controversies between the Anglican Church and the Puritans. Its title, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, shows that. But in this writing of Hooker we find emerging certain powerful Anglican characteristics. So rather than describe Hooker's teaching as a whole, I am just going to pick from it certain things already characteristic of the Anglican mode of paradosis that continues through the centuries.
First of all, the close connection between theology, doctrine, and Christian worship is very powerful in Hooker. He describes what we believe very much in terms of how we worship. That has remained a characteristic of Anglican theology right into the present century, and German theologians, very rigorous in their academic method, have sometimes laughed at Anglican theologians for doing their theology to the sound of church bells. Well, continue to do theology to the sound of church bells, for that is what Christian theology really is all about—worshiping God the Savior through Jesus Christ in the theology of the apostolic age.
A second characteristic of Hooker is a belief in authority mingled with a great distrust of infallibility. He is ready to believe, certainly, in what God has shown and done, but equally ready to shrink from claims for the infallibility of the language in which God's revelation is at any time expressed. A sentence of Hooker expresses this: "Two things there are that trouble these latter times: one is that the Church of Rome cannot, another is that Geneva will not, err." This remains an honest Anglican characteristic, and if we want to unravel it, I think we need to probe into religious language and the extent to which its use is inevitable in expressing divine relationship, although not in making a mathematical statement.
A sense of mystery and of the mysteriousness of divine truth is something Hooker felt very strongly indeed. Again and again we find him pausing and saying, "Do not ask me to define it, do not define it yourself, it really is truly mysterious." And he combined that sense of mystery with a real certainty about what God has given through Christ and in the church. Here again, unraveling the implications of Hooker's sense of mystery still leaves a lot of probing to be done.
Excerpted from THE ANGLICAN SPIRIT by MICHAEL RAMSEY. Copyright © 2004 by Estate of Michael Ramsey. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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