Within Limits, Defining Anglicans

Interesting talk on the thread below in which I criticized the not-so-closed cafeteria on the matter of defining Anglicans as Protestants. It’s always a danger to allude to one’s own experience, but since the rest of St Blog’s doesn’t appear to be bothered by it, I’ll offer it with a caveat.

Except for my older brother who used to consider himself a Lutheran, almost all of my experiences with Anglicans or Episcopalians have been through liturgy or graduate school. None would have considered themselves Protestants. My brother, who has been a lifelong Protestant, considers the sacramental experience as part of the core of his belief system, especially in his involvement first with liturgical Lutheran churches in California, and now with an Episcopal church in Iowa (having been unable to find a Lutheran parish to his sacramental liking).

FrMichael quoted Unitatis Redintegratio 13 defining the Anglican Communion as possessing a special place, but Protestant nonetheless. What it actually says mentions nothing of Protestantism:

Other divisions arose more than four centuries later in the West, stemming from the events which are usually referred to as “The Reformation.” As a result, many Communions, national or confessional, were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place.

I don’t recall the document actually mentioning “Protestantism,” which might be indicative that by association Anglicans are lumped in with it. More telling would be what Anglicans and Episcopalians in church circles today say about themselves.

I would tend to dismiss as ignorance a self-styled internet theologian pronouncing judgment on the Vatican’s ecumenical efforts and designating Anglicans as Protestants when the Church clearly demurs from using that term.

Liam brought up the issue of self-referral in politics, and I’d tend to dismiss that as well. While the Church of England historically was very close to the political sphere, that no longer seems to be the case. Formulations about religion made by non-church people in non-church settings may not have a theological accuracy.

Darwin brought up the point that, “However, from a Catholic point of view (and a historical one) the Anglicans/Episcopalians are unquestionably Protestant. Gerald is thinking with the Church on this one.”

And I’d say, “Not so fast.”

If the Catholic view is to define all non-Catholic, non-Orthodox Christians as “Protestant,” then sure, for the sake of inaccuracy I’d say the term stands. Clearly Gerald is not with Cardinal Kasper or the Magisterium as expressed in Unitatis Redintegratio, so I think it’s safe to say he’s spouting, not thinking. When his commentariat starts calling Kasper a heretic, I think we have the measure of both intellectualism and charity on that blog. And it most certainly is not “with the Church on this one.”

Ultimately, it boils down to how Anglicans view themselves. Neil and I must not have any Anglican readership, given that no voice has yet come to speak from within the Anglican Communion on the matter. Most casual internet references I’ve read over the past day or two suggest the point is in dispute within Anglicanism. And given that the Roman Church itself is careful in its language, I have to stand by my criticism of Gerald as more spout than substance.

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Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to Within Limits, Defining Anglicans

  1. Deacon Eric says:

    I’d go with identifying Anglicans as a separate tradition.

    First of all, Anglicans in the US used to be called “The Protestant Episcopal Church.” They went through great effort to drop the word “Protestant” from their title. A big contributing factor to this was probably the increased role of bishops in the Episcopal Church and the re-introduction of the cathedral system during the 19th Century.

    In other countries, this differs. We recall that the conflict between “Protestants and Catholics” in Northern Ireland was between Roman Catholics and Anglicans (members of the Church of Ireland). So there may be Anglican self-identification as Protestant there. But in the rest of the UK, Anglicanism was greatly influenced by the Oxford Movement, and generally Anglicans there consider themselves not to be Protestant. At any rate, it is clear that Rome singles out the Anglican tradition for special treatment; John Paul opened the Holy Year in 200 with the Ecumenical Patriarch on one side and the Archbishop of Canterbury on the other. No Protestant tradition is accorded such primary respect in Rome.

    My own extensive personal experience with Episcopal clergy here is that they never identify as Protestant — in fact, usually say they are catholic (small-c). They talk about the “via media” between Rome and Protestantism. So in my parish, I am always careful to refer to “Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants” when I talk about Christians in general.

    Interesting you mention Lutherans. My Lutheran pastor friend considers himself catholic and refers to his Sunday Eucharist as “Mass.” Once we were invited to attend an ordination at a local Congregational church. He leaned over to me during the ceremony and whispered with a tinge of condescension, “How Protestant!”

  2. Darwin says:

    First off, and I mean this in a friendly rather than accusatory spirit, since you’ve rightly called people on using nicknames like “Troutperson”, it might be best to take the high-road on nicknaming bloggers that you disagree with.

    I would agree with you that, however appropriate it may be to question Cardinal Kasper’s judgement and wisdom in this case, it is certainly uncalled for and offensive to call him a “heretic” and demand to know why the pope does not fire him immediately, as some of those on the linked post were doing.

    On whether Anglicans/Episcopalians should be considered/called “Protestant” it is unquestionably a sticky problem. The answer probably varies as to whether one is asking:

    a) Do they consider themselves Protestant.
    b) Does the Church consider them Protestant.
    c) Does the Church consider it appropriate to explicitly call them Protestant.

    In regards to a), it varries. Certainly, England was considered a “Protestant Nation” under Edward VI and under Elizabeth I and from there on out. However, it kept a heirarchy structure (though it was repeatedly interrupted) that was in some ways Catholic in appearance down to the present day. I believe it has been pretty clearly established, however, that they do not have (by Catholic standards) apostolic succession. A few Orthodox recognize their orders, but I believe that most do not. To this day, there are both evangelical and “anglo-catholic” wings of the Anglican churches, though generally the anglo-catholic elements only go back to the 1800s, there was a very Protestant period during the 1600s and 1700s.

    In regards to b), it seems to me that looking at the sum of what the Church has said about them over the last 500 years, we consider them to be Protestant.

    However, in regards to c), it seems that in the last 50 years or so it has often been seen appropriate not to stress the Church’s judgement that they are a Protestant community rather than a true church. There was, in the early heady days of such things, a great deal of hope that they would be reunited with the Church. At this point, however, there seems to be a pretty clear understanding that they have over the last 50 years strayed much to far to be reunited en masse. If we are reunited with any of them, it will probably be with this conservative splinter wing which has at least kept a fairly catholic understanding of the priesthood, and has in many ways (over the last 150 years) returned to a catholic understanding of the sacraments.

  3. Rick Lugari says:

    I’m not so sure we can necessarily go by how certain people view themselves. I was going to mention as Deacon Eric did, that some Lutherans consider themselves [c]atholic. That they maintain certain Catholic notions of piety and choose to identify themselves as such doesn’t necessarily make it so – objectively speaking.

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Oxford Movement had a great effect in moving the Anglican communion back toward a Catholic sensibility (heh), but I’m not sure we can say that it resulted in the Anglican communion becoming Catholic. I say that because one of the remarkable things about the Oxford Movement was that it resulted in a fair number of notable conversions such as Cardinal Newman. It would seem the very proponents of the OM became convinced that the Church of England was not indeed Catholic.

    While I understand that the Church considers the AC differently than lets say the Lutherans, She still considers it different than the Orthodox. If the AC were catholic and merely lacking communion with the Holy See, it would be considered schismatic and perhaps “a Church” (properly understood). The AC does not have valid orders (without having to get into the women priest thing). It would seem to me that the Protestant moniker, if not perfectly precise these days, is understandable based on the history of Church of England, i.e. Cranmer and Cromwell’s influence and how they were tainted by the “Reformers” on the mainland, centuries of self-identification as Protestant (further on that note – it wasn’t always fashionable to consider oneself “catholic”, in England or the colonies – Catholics were routinely persecuted or discriminated against).

    All that said, and I hope it was fair and valid, I feel for the High Church Anglicans/Anglo-Caths. They’re close in spirit, and in some cases seem more Catholic than some of us, and they seem to be on the losing side of the doctrinal and ecclesial turmoil within the AC. God works in mysterious ways and it seems that He might be using that turmoil as a means of blessing them and bringing them into the fullness of Faith – which is not just a personal blessing for them, but for the whole Church.

  4. Rob F. says:

    Last time I checked most Anglican churches here on the US identified themselves as “Protestant Episcopal”. When I was growing up we used to call Anglicans “Episcopalians”. In those days they were definitely protestants; they believed in the 39 articles and everything. Of course, a lot has changed recently, and it has resulted in the big crack-up. Catholics have been saying for over a century that the Protestant Episcopals have not really been episcopal. It hardly would surprise me if they have not really been so protestant, either.

  5. Bosco Peters says:

    Is part of the issue here a USA-centred viewpoint?
    In the NZ Anglican church – be it canons, liturgy, or other formularies – there is no mention of “protestant” anywhere.

    Advent blessings


  6. David S says:

    In the Aug/Sept 2007 issue of First Things, there was an article by a Ugandan Anglican bishop entitled “What Is Anglicanism?” Surprisingly to me at least, there is no mention of sacraments in this article.

    The bishop summarizes: “In the Church of Uganda, Anglicanism has been built on three pillars: martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate. Yet each of these refers back to the Word of God, the ground on which all is built…”

    I found the article here: http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=6002&var_recherche=African+Anglican+Bishop

  7. Liam says:

    Nice try, but zilch cigar.

    What you are trying to do is equate “Protestant” with “Reformed”. That latter phrase – which goes back to the problems non-Lutherans (Calvinists especially, but likewise a host of non-Lutheran Protestants) who were not Catholic had in being locked out of the German religious settlement.

    So, I will accept not calling Anglicanism/Episcopalianism as “Reformed” denominations. But they are unqualifiedly
    “Protestant” denominations, however much individual congregants and congregations add Catholic or Unitarian (which latter denomination is not Protestant but post-Protestant) flavorings atop their Protestant foundation. Arguments to the contrary are unpersuasive from a factual perspective.

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