Thursday, October 02, 2008

Introduction to Anglican Christianity 1.2

Part II: Anglican History, the Reformation, and the Struggle for Anglican Identity

I am occasionally asked how (in the hell) Anglicans can think of themselves as Catholics, rather than another stream (or splinter!) of protestantism. Here's a basic outline (yes, it's way simplistic):

Once upon a time, Christianity came to England. The Celtic church flourished.

Rome's claims for the supremacy of the papacy grew in scope, and over time the English church submitted to the secular power of the Bishop of Rome. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, English bishops started doing their homework and took a good dose of courage from a certain Father Martin Luther. And decided to mark a big "return to sender" on the papal supremacy package.

Make no mistake, the "Reformation" wasn't an organized, monolithic event. The rebellion against a corrupted papacy went to different extremes in different places, and reform in the teaching and practices of the Church went in very different directions, too. The English Reformation was heavily influenced by both Luther and Calvin, and Cranmer especially was sympathetic toward Luther.

(Don't forget the one thing they all managed to agree on was the necessity of executing Baptists. Ugh. I'm not saying it's right; I'm just saying y'all shouldn't kid yourselves about how awesome either the Romans or the Reformers were or were not.)

Anglican reformers had a lot of discussion about what God thinks monarchs are for, compared to what popes are for, that I find frankly embarrassing and very wrong. It happens.

Anyway, what you have at the end of the day is meant to be a Reformed Catholicism. The Church of England didn't throw out the apostolic succession and its order of ministry, nor run head-long into the rationalism that Geneva represented. It worked out a political compromise in support of an essentially conservative version of the Reformation. The nature of this political compromise sets us up even today for the problem of how the Anglican Church can accommodate people who see themselves as essentially Protestant, as well as those who understand themselves as Catholics (although it becomes harder for the latter group by the day).

And yes, I'm still calling for the reform of the institution of the papacy, along with a few hundred million other Christians. Remember that the Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian communion, but the the second and third largest, the Orthodox and the Anglicans, still think we have a bone to pick over that whole thing.

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