The Secker Society



By The Rev’d Adam Young

What is Anglicanism? When a person tells you that they are Anglican you have no idea what they mean, until they add another load of jargon onto ‘Anglican’ to clarify: ‘Anglo-Catholic’, ‘Liberal-Catholic’, ‘Evangelical’, ‘Conservative Evangelical’, ‘High-Church’ ‘Low-Church’, and on and on and on. There have always been camps within the Anglican Church and this is in part due to the unique nature of the English Reformation—the ‘top down’ approach coming down from the monarchs’ leanings which ranged from Reformed to Counter-reformational. This does not, however, change the nature of Classical Anglicanism itself.

But what is ‘Classical Anglicanism’?—it would be my contention that true ‘Classical Anglicanism’ is the Anglicanism that is evidenced in the Historic Formularies and the broad consensus of the Church of England from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, or more particularly, from the events of the Reformation to the Civil Wars. This needs some clarification because one of the Historic Formularies in fact comes from after the reign of Charles I—the 1662 Book of Common Prayer affirmed under Charles II. The doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 is, in reality, the same as the previous Prayer Books—and does not reflect an overturning of the basic Classical Anglican nature of the text.

The Anglicanism of this age of the Historic Formularies, Classical Anglicanism, can be seen to have five central points. In these points, each flowing out of the first, is found a definable, true Anglicanism.

Classical Anglicanism is Confessional

Canon A5 of the Church of England states: “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.”1

The doctrine of the Church of England is the doctrine of Scripture rightly interpreted. This interpretation, the authoritative interpretation, is found in the Historic Formularies: The Thirty-nine Articles, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal. Canon A2 tells us clearly that the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles is “agreeable to the Word of God” and all members of the Church of England may assent to their teaching with a good conscience. Canon A3 likewise affirms that the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England is “agreeable to the Word of God” and that it can be used in “good conscience”. Canon A4 completes the set by declaring the Ordinal is “not repugnant to the Word of God”. All of this makes pretty clear that the official doctrine of the Church of England is to be found in its formularies. Further, Canon C7 states that no-one should be allowed into the ministry without having been found to have sufficient knowledge not only of the Scriptures but “of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church of England as set forth in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal”.

Canon C15 relates the oath, the declaration of assent, made by people to enter into ministry in the Church of England. The preface that explains the declaration states that the Church of England professes the true faith of Christianity which must be proclaimed to every generation, the faith uniquely revealed in Holy Scripture and set forth in the catholic creeds. But more is said about this faith that the church professes; “Led by the Holy Spirit, [the Church of England] has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.” It is this ‘Christian truth’, witnessed to by the leading of the Holy Spirit, that all ministers are told to “affirm your loyalty to… as your inspiration and guidance under God...”. In response to this preface every minister declares that they affirm and believe in the faith of the Anglican Church—grounded in Scripture, set forth in the creeds, and borne witness to in the Historic Formularies.

But more needs to be said in way of clarification. There is a reason why the Thirty-nine Articles always precede the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal: strictly speaking they are the ‘confession’ of the Anglican Church. The Lutherans have their Book of Concord and Augsburg Confession, the Presbyterians their Westminster Confession of Faith, the Dutch their Canons of Dort and Heidelberg Catechism, and the Anglicans have the Thirty-nine Articles. The Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal are not confessional doctrinal documents but rather they (along with the Book of Homilies which is sanctioned as containing “godly and wholesome doctrine” in Article 35 and is pointed to in Article 11 as further elucidating the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles2) are texts which show forth the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles and have in this sense derivative authority. The Prayer Book may be the most beloved, and the greatest liturgy ever written, but it is not in itself confessional. As Bishop J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) said:

“[the Book of Common Prayer] is a manual of public devotion: it is not a confession of faith. Let us love it, honour it, prize it, reverence it, admire it, use it. But let us not exalt it to the place which the Thirty-nine Articles alone can fill, and which common sense, statute law, and the express opinions of eminent divines unanimously agree in assigning to them. The Articles, far more than the Prayer Book, are the Church’s standard of sound doctrine, and the real test of true Churchmanship.”3

That the Thirty-nine Articles are the true confession is seen clearly in how it is they that interpret the Book of Common Prayer and not the other way around. The Gorham Trial affirmed in law that the Thirty-nine Articles give the correct reading of the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer and not vice-versa.

The Thirty-nine Articles according to their subtitle were written and made legally binding for the “avoiding of diversities of opinion and for the establishing of consent touching true religion”,4 that is to say, they are a confession of faith which on matters of dispute rule which side is Anglican (and which is not) and in so doing establish the contents of ‘true religion’—that is Anglicanism. The declaration of Charles II which is prefaced to the Articles shows their confessional nature in crystal clear language in that it requires all ‘loving Subjects’ of the King to “continue in the uniform Profession thereof, and prohibiting the least difference from the said Articles”.5 This is undoubtedly an example of confessionalism in its fullest form.

Classical Anglicanism is Confessional Anglicanism—it affirms and declares proudly the faith as set forth in the Thirty-nine Articles and witnessed to in the correct reading of the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal. To disagree with the Thirty-nine Articles is to disagree with Anglicanism. One truly can measure how ‘Anglican’ a given view or practice is by how faithful it is to the inheritance of faith laid out in the Historic Formularies. As Thomas Rogers (c. 1553-1616), who within forty years of the Thirty-nine Articles being written wrote the first commentary upon them, said:

“The purpose of our Church is best known by the doctrine which she does profess: the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles establish by Act of Parliament; the Articles by the words whereby they are expressed: and other doctrine than in the said Articles is contained, our Church neither hath nor holdeth, and other sense they cannot yield than their words do impart.”6

Classical Anglicanism is Universal

Having established that Classical Anglicanism is confessional and its beliefs, doctrines, and practices can be found in the Historic Formularies we can move on to the defining features of the confessional faith of Classical Anglicanism. Firstly, we find that Classical Anglicanism is ‘universal’. Commonly this is phrased as the Church being ‘catholic’ as in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”. Often the phrase “reformed and catholic” or “catholic and reformed” is heard. Indeed, Cranmer, Calvin, Luther and even the Puritans were happy to declare that they believed the ‘catholic’ faith and that their churches though rejecting Romanism were ‘catholic’. The word ‘catholic’ strictly speaking means nothing more and nothing less than ‘universal’—the universal church following the universal faith.

The problem is that in the twenty-first century ninety-nine percent of the time the word ‘catholic’ is used it does not refer to its technical theological meaning. Usually, today, if a person says that they are ‘catholic’ they mean that they are ‘Roman Catholic’. This misunderstanding, and indeed abuse of the word ‘catholic’, has spread into modern Anglicanism. Thus a person who claims to be an ‘evangelical catholic’ often means in reality that they believe in the Bible and think preaching is important but they also dress in Roman vestments, hold to Roman views of the sacraments (likely counting their number as seven), glories in Roman ritualism and endorses Roman spirituality. Indeed, when one speaks of ‘Anglo-Catholics’ it commonly indicates not ‘Anglicans who hold the Universal faith’ but ‘Anglicans who are Roman Catholic in just about everything but name’. When the Reformers called themselves ‘catholic’ it was not because they accepted the trappings and doctrine of Rome but, in part, because they rejected them. For the Reformers the ‘catholic faith’ is the true, biblical, pure faith and the ‘catholic church’ is any church which holds unashamedly to this faith and doesn’t taint and compromise the apostolic deposit. As we will look at in the next section the Thirty-nine Articles’ constant rejection of the errors of Rome rules out the validity of an Anglicanism that harpers after Rome as the ‘Catholic Church’ we should be in conformity with.

Rather, the catholicity or universality of Classical Anglicanism is found primarily in its profession of the one true faith as witnessed in the Creeds. The Book of Common Prayer endorses and requires the use of the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.7 That this is how the ‘catholicity’ of the church is to be understood is clear from the language of the Creeds themselves, which declare that “This is the Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved”.8 Classical Anglicanism is catholic because, above all else, it holds to the catholic faith, the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

The ‘universal’ aspect of Classical Anglicanism can also be seen in its emphasis and concern to be found in line with the Church Fathers in as far as they are biblical. Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) was one of the greatest scholars of the Fathers in the West during the sixteenth century, he was one of the very few people who could claim to personally have copies of all the known Fathers and one of the fewer who could honestly claim to have read them all making notes along the way. The Thirty-nine Articles mention both Jerome and Augustine by name and the prefaces to the Book of Common Prayer reinforces the fact that tradition was not to be jettisoned unless it contradicts true, biblical, religion—as Article 21 makes clear. Whilst some have attempted to make this aspect of Anglicanism allow patristic or mediaeval practices and theology to overrule the clear teaching of the Articles of Religion and have used it as an excuse to interpret the Book of Common Prayer in ways it was never intended to be, this effort is clearly spurious in terms of historicity. The use of the Church Fathers by the early Anglicans extended to confirming what they believed by proof-texting, not to changing their Reformation beliefs to be more in line with the Fathers than the Bible.

This concern to be seen in line with the historical church can be seen in the fact that, unlike its Reformed brethren on the continent, the Church of England kept bishops, priests–presbyters, and deacons and thus some form of ‘apostolic succession’. Second century Christian Fathers, fighting the heresy of Gnosticism, began to use the word ‘catholic’ to describe the church—the church as ‘universal’ rather than ‘hidden’. For these Fathers the catholicity of the Church could be seen in four areas—accepting Scripture, sticking to the ‘rule of faith’ or ‘apostolic deposit’ of teaching (such as that on the Trinity, for example), worship in word and sacrament, and apostolic succession—a direct link to this deposit and teaching leading back to the apostles themselves. The Church of England maintained all four of these faithfully. Bishops in the early church were those who defended and promoted the true apostolic deposit, the faith of the Scriptures rightly interpreted—much as Timothy was called to do. If bishops depart from this apostolic deposit their ‘apostolic succession’ is meaningless and void: true apostolic succession is not about a magic-like ontological change occurring when someone becomes a bishop but rightly handling Scripture and truth.

Whilst from the seventeenth century the Church of England required all ministers who joined the church to be episcopally ordained, this was widely flouted as it was out of step with the early theology of the Anglican Church. As Diarmaid MacCulloch makes clear, the keeping of the three-fold ministry by the Anglican Church bore very little “ideological freight,” indeed it is “difficult to discern in Cranmer any sense of apostolic succession of the ministry or any idea that ministers of God’s word and sacraments differ materially from other servants of the Tudor monarchy” and “The notion of apostolic succession dependent on a line of bishops was not something that appealed to early Elizabethan bishops, although by the early seventeenth century, the situation was changing. …”9

This shift, increasingly more apparent towards and into the Caroline stage of Anglicanism, should not be taken as an affirmation of Roman ideas of apostolic succession and an ontological change caused by the ‘sacrament’ of ordination—such a position, while having a history in the Church of England, is nonetheless alien to the Classical Period and cannot be seen to constitute a part of the Anglican Church’s identity.

Classical Anglicanism is Protestant

Classical Anglicanism is not only Universal it is also Protestant. Anglicanism is no ‘via media’ between Rome and Protestantism, it is completely Protestant. This can be seen in how the Historic Formularies hold to what would later be called the ‘five solae’ which later defined reformation teaching. These are Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Through Christ Alone, by Grace Alone, to the Glory of God Alone. They are here examined in turn.

The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is often misrepresented. Sola Scriptura is different from Solo Scriptura. Generally speaking Sola Scriptura teaches that everything we need to know about God, faith, salvation, and right living can be known through reading the Bible correctly. Solo Scriptura teaches that anything outside the Scriptures cannot be held as truth. This is patently false and is what leads many free churches to reject the historic Creeds.

Article 6 teaches that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”10 This is a bold proclamation and a rejection of any ‘tradition’ which teaches against Scripture or is held as a dogma but is not found in the Bible. This idea of things that are necessary to salvation having to be in Scripture is played out across the Thirty-nine Articles. Article 8 on the historic Creeds says that they “ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.”11 Why are the Creeds accepted? They agree with Scripture. That they are not to be accepted simply because of their historicity and wide acceptance by the Patristic Church is clear in Articles 20 and 21 which deal with the authority of the Church and Church Councils. Article 20 tells us that “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation”,12 and Article 21 affirms this in saying that things ordained and proposed by Church Councils as being necessary to salvation “have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture”.13 The condemnation of various erroneous practices are denounced in the Articles by the phrase “repugnant to the Word of God” (Articles 22, 24, cf. 34) whilst Article 28 attacks transubstantiation as being something which “cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture”.14 Finally, Article 17 reminds us that “we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture”.15

The Thirty-nine Articles also proclaim boldly not only justification by faith but importantly justification by faith alone. Article 11 is entirely clear that “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.”16 Articles 12–14 make clear that our works have no part in our salvation.

And in whom must the faith be put? In Christ alone. Or as Article 18 puts it “They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”17

This faith in Christ and our whole salvation is likewise, in Classical Anglicanism, seen as being by the grace of God alone. Article 10 argues that because we are all born by nature sinners prone to reject God at every stage it is only by His grace and mercy that we would ever come to faith in Him in the first place—“The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.”18 Article 17 confirms this in saying that the elect only obey the calling of God on their lives “through Grace”.19

And what of everything being to the glory of God alone? Article 14 claims that all our good works no matter how many in number make us nothing worth but are only our bounden duty as unprofitable servants to the Holy God. The best place to witness this doctrine is of course in the faith of the Thirty-nine Articles lived out as seen in the Book of Common Prayer. Here we see frequently the refrains at the end of prayers such as “To the glory of thy Holy Name”,20 “that we may … give thee praise and glory”,21 “May use the same to thy glory”,22 or even in the Prayer for the High Court Parliament, “direct and prosper all their consultations to the advancement of thy glory”23—and there are many more in addition to these.

Beside the affirming of the Five Solae there is another clear area in which the Historic Formularies, and the Thirty-nine Articles in particular, are profoundly Protestant to the complete exclusion of Papism: The confession of faith of the Church of England is simply and plainly, opposed to ‘Catholicism’ as defined by the Roman Church. This truth is unequivocal, even Newman in the end saw that his arguments were hopelessly pointless and a mere railing against the truth. Time and again the Articles denounce the teachings of Rome—it is worth taking the time to examine how and to what extent.

Firstly, there is the bold assertion of Article 19 that “the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith” (the start of the Article extends its condemnation to the Eastern Orthodox Churches also). Here we see two important things, firstly Rome is wrong and in error concerning their ceremonies and how they call their flock to live out their faith. Secondly, and more importantly, Rome is quite simply wrong and in error in matters of the faith itself. That is a strong condemnation; the faith held by the Roman Catholic Church is erroneous. How these two errors (life–ceremonies and Faith itself) are seen in Rome is spelled out across the other Articles.

Article 22 states uncompromisingly that “The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.”24 Purgatory, pardons, invoking the prayers of saints are all fond and dangerous fantasies. Likewise the worshipping or adoration of images and relics is likewise wrong—the use of both ‘worship’ and ‘adoration’ here shows a clear knowledge of the alleged difference between latria (worship due to God alone) and dulia (reverence which is claimed can be given to saints, icons, and so on) and any such arguments are smashed apart in the “godly and wholesome teaching” (Article 35) of the Homily Against Peril of Idolatry25 which is decidedly iconoclastic. This iconoclastic tendency was evident in all stages of Classical Anglicanism with all altars, relics, rood screens, crosses, statues, banners, icons, and religious imagery being utterly destroyed under Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth. How the teaching of Article 22 was backed up by state law and canon law makes clear that the rejection of such things was total.

Tied in with this iconoclastic belief is the rejection by Classical Anglicanism of anything the Church Councils taught which did not match Scripture—including the clear rejection of the so-called Seventh Ecumenical Council entailed in the above point and spelt out in the Homily Against Peril of Idolatry. The idea that the Church either individually or ecumenically can impose as dogma something not found in Scripture is condemned in Articles 20-21 which rather throws out the window the additional modern Roman dogmas of Papal Infallibility, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the bodily Assumption of Mary.

Article 24 rejects the old (and now recurring) error of Rome (and in our modern context, the Orthodox Churches) of having prayers in services in a language “not understanded of the people.”26 Arguably this rejection extends to singing hymns in Latin in churches such as the Gloria, Agnus Dei, and so forth.

Article 25 (and the Homily on Common Prayer27) rejects the Roman conception of Sacraments and limits their number to two—namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Article 25 continues on the subject of the Sacraments to say “The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.”28 Classical Anglicanism rejects elevating the ‘host’ and the practice of Eucharistic Adoration. It also out of hand rejects the Roman idea of ex opere operato concerning the Sacraments—unless you worthily and with faith receive the Lord’s Supper it does you no good, confers on you no grace, and rather brings condemnation upon you (Article 29). Likewise Classical Anglicanism generally taught that baptism does not confer automatic faith or grace but rather only does so for the elect for whom it is most certainly an “effectual sign of grace” (Article 25) which confirms and strengthens nascent faith.

The teaching of the Roman Church concerning ‘the Mass’ is likewise condemned with Article 31 saying that the “sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits”,29 and Article 28 plainly condemns transubstantiation: “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions” whilst going on to likewise damn Eucharist Adoration by saying “The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.”30

The old Roman Catholic stance of withholding the wine during the Lord’s Supper is rejected in Article 30 whilst the still contemporary Roman Catholic practise of enforcing celibacy on the clergy is rejected in Article 31. For all these reasons, and many besides, Article 37 adamantly states that “the Bishop of Rome [the Pope] hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.31

Classical Anglicanism is Reformed

If Classical Anglicanism is universal, confessional, and Protestant, it might further be asked what kind of Protestant is it? As MacCulloch states, the Church of England even under Elizabeth was largely:

“Reformed Protestant in sympathy. If it was Catholic, it was Catholic in the same sense that John Calvin was Catholic, and up to the mid-seventeenth century it thought of itself as a part (although a slightly peculiar part) of the international Reformed Protestant family of churches, alongside the Netherlands, Geneva, the Rhineland, Scotland or Transylvania. It had long left Lutheranism behind.”32

That Classical Anglicanism is ‘Reformed’ is seen in two areas in particular—The Lord’s Supper and what would later be called ‘Calvinism’.

The Thirty-nine Articles not only rejected transubstantiation but they also reject the ‘Real Presence’ in the sense that the Lutheran churches understood it. Quite simply the Classical Anglican teaching on the Lord’s Supper is that Christ is not ‘in’ ‘under’ ‘around’ ‘on’ ‘behind’ (or any other preposition) the bread and wine either physically or spiritually. The rejection of the theology of the Real Presence is spelled out in Article 29 the inclusion of which under Elizabeth I finally scuppered any chance of reconciling and allying with the Lutherans; it reads “The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing”33—basically unless the person receiving it has faith the person does not receive Christ. Instead Article 28 tells us plainly that “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.”34 Likewise the third exhortation for the Lord’s Supper in the Book of Common Prayer asserts that those with lively faith and repentance who receive the bread and wine feed on Christ ‘spiritually’ so those who don’t have that faith are in great danger.35

In his definitive work on the Lord’s Supper (which all Anglicans should take the time to read) Archbishop Cranmer takes a line that is largely indistinguishable from that of John Calvin (1509-1564). Those who have faith and receive the bread and wine do truly feed on and receive Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit unites them to Him through their faith. The presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper is not around or in the bread and wine but rather in the heart of the believer by a mystery of the Holy Spirit. Like Calvin, Cranmer rejected a mere memorialism, but he, in the Articles and Liturgy he wrote, supported a form of ‘receptionism’.

The official reason for rejecting transubstantiation as given in the Black Rubric is likewise the Reformed argument about Christ’s body being in heaven and it being against His human nature to thus be present in more places than one.36

But what of so-called ‘Calvinism’? Is Classical Anglicanism ‘Calvinist’? That would be anachronistic and enforce upon the Anglican Church debates of a later time. Yet, technicalities aside, it is broadly speaking true that Classical Anglicanism is ‘moderately Calvinist’—if by ‘Calvinist’ one is speaking of salvation and not of government. That the Church of England was seen as a full part of the Reformed community can be seen in the voting and speaking role given to it at the Synod of Dort—and indeed the way in which the arguments of the British delegation were crucial in forming the final choice of words and thus in delineating the borders of Reformed Protestantism. The teaching of the Synod of Dort is commonly remembered by the mnemonic ‘TULIP’ which stands for: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited (Definite) Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. To a large extent these ideas all flow from each other starting with Total Depravity, and many of them are affirmed in the Thirty-nine Articles.

Total Depravity is the concept that by nature, from birth, we are so depraved that we would never choose to turn to God and all of our good deeds are in fact tainted with sin and not pleasing to God. This doctrine is uncompromisingly affirmed in Articles 9, 10, and 13 where we learn that “Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation...”,37 “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will”,38 and “Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin”.39

If we are totally depraved then there is nothing ‘good’ or deserving in us, and thus our election to salvation must be unconditional. If our election is unconditional then it follows that we cannot do anything to undo it—especially if it was already decided upon before the foundations of the world—which means that true saints 'persevere'. Likewise, if we by nature only ever reject God it follows that if we are ever to accept and obey Him then He must do something to change us and make us do so—that is His grace and choice wins out, it is ‘irresistible’. All of these ideas are affirmed, at least broadly, in Article 17 which is what many would call ‘Calvinist’ in so much as it patently excludes the teachings later promulgated by Jacob Arminius (1560-1609):

“Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.”40

The matter of whether the Atonement was of a ‘limited’ that is definite nature, or whether it was of an indefinite nature was not in debate when the Articles and Prayer Book were written. The language of the Historic Formularies merely repeat that of Scripture and are thus open to a range of reading. The phrase ‘sufficient for all, efficient for some’ seems to be the stance that was taken by many Anglicans such as those at Dort and Archbishop Ussher (1581-1656). Nonetheless, many Classical Anglicans did hold to a doctrine of Definite Atonement and such can certainly be held within the scope of the Historic Formularies. Ultimately, the teaching of Classical Anglicanism can be affirmed to be within the bounds of Reformed faith as laid out at Dort and is not ‘Arminian’.41

Additionally, Classical Anglicanism is institutionally ‘Erastian’—that is that the State is supreme in Church matters (and as in the other Reformed churches, there is no separation of Church and State). Hence we have all the prayers for the Monarch in our Prayer Book services and Article 37 is distinctly Erastian in tone:

“The King's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, ... we attribute to the King's Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not our Princes the ministering either of God's Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.”42

This Erastianism fulfilled the dream of John Wycliffe (c. 1331-1384) who many years before the Reformation sought to take power from the Pope and place it in the hands of the King. Indeed, it is worth taking note that whilst far from being a wholly ‘home grown Reformation’ it is apparent to astute students of history that Wycliffe and the Lollard movement had a powerful effect on the course of the English Reformation on a popular level—the ‘Erastianism’, the iconoclanism, the strong rejection of transubstantiation, clerical celibacy, monasteries, and pilgrimages whilst maintaining an emphasis on Biblical Law especially as seen in the Ten Commandments which during the Reformation were by law erected in every church in the land and became one of the hallmarks of the Lord's Supper service of the Book of Common Prayer. In this we see that the roots of Classical Anglicanism run deeper than the Classical Period that immediately followed the Reformation.

This nature of Classical Anglicanism as confessionally Reformed Protestant remains ever visible at a coronation of the British Monarch who promises “to the utmost of Your power Maintain the Laws of God the true Profession of the Gospel and the Protestant Reformed Religion Established by Law”.43

Classical Anglicanism is Normative

Whilst Classical Anglicanism is most certainly Reformed, it differs from its continental brethren in one particularly important way—it rejects the Regulative Principle in its reading of Scriptural standards. This is why any onlooker at the Synod of Dort would have found every delegate sat in their identical chairs and benches except for the Anglican bishop who had a special chair with a canopy: why? Because unlike the continental Presbyterians the Anglican Church remained episcopal. Presbyterians rejected the three-fold ministry because in Scripture they saw only two (deacon and presbyter) and thus felt that because a three-fold ministry was not actually sanctioned—plainly—in Scripture it must be rejected. This principle of applying the example of Scripture has come to be known as the ‘Regulative Principle’, and following it many further would only sing Psalms and biblical songs—in fact their whole life and church was regulated by, as far as possible, only what the Bible explicitly confirmed as allowed.

The Anglican Church from the start rejected this approach, instead applying the example of Scripture in a different way: so long as a thing was not condemned in Scripture it might be allowed use in the church—this is called the Normative Principle, and it is expressed in Article 20 (cf. Article 34), “The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written”.44 In this respect Anglicanism is more akin to Lutheranism and thus can be seen to form a sort of via media between Wittenberg and Geneva though with the emphasis on the Geneva. Because of holding to the Normative Principle Classical Anglicanism kept certain robes, kept cathedrals, kept non-biblical hymns, kept bishops, and kept a significant place for formal liturgy—all things which by their nature could not be regarded as condemned in Scripture, even if no certain precedent or example for them might be found within it.

It is at this last point, that of liturgy, that Anglicans have differed largely from Presbyterians in that where the latter merely gave advice on how to lead services, the Church of England was at pains to create a largely binding liturgy that should be kept. It is appropriate to say ‘largely’, because Cranmer himself and many other bishops in the Classical Period were happy so long as what was said was broadly what was written down and if the sermon went on too long they didn’t mind too much if a bit was cut off here or there. The reason for this liturgicalism is mostly to do with the nature of the Reformation in England, it was enforced mainly from the top down and so the teaching of the Reformers had to be reliably disseminated across the church to teach both clergy and congregation the glorious truths of the Gospel. The Prayer Book liturgy is a genius piece of catechism, it is unsurpassed in its didactic presentation of central Christian beliefs. Whilst the Book of Common Prayer as a liturgy is a vital part of Anglican identity and should be retained, its chief purpose was always above all else to teach Reformation, Gospel truths—where these are understood by the congregation and minister and the service profoundly publishes there teachings as found in the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer, in this sense it is not fair to say it is ‘un-Anglican’ to depart from it. Classical Anglicanism is a theological system which can be seen played out in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, but the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer is not itself ‘Classical Anglicanism’.


So what is Classical Anglicanism? Classical Anglicanism is the faith held in the Church of England in pre-Caroline times—as found in the Historic Formularies—it is the faith which is in step with the original Reformers, the faith held down the centuries by the likes of Parker, Grindal, Ussher, Trapp, Whitfield, Toplady, and Ryle. It is a faith which is universal, it confesses the one true faith revealed in the Scriptures and witnessed in the Universal Creeds, but further it is confessional, as it receives this faith as it is explained in a formal confession of faith, the Thirty-nine Articles, it is Protestant in its declaration of the ‘five solae’, Reformed in its understanding of the Church and its Sacraments, and it is largely unique in its combining of these with being Normative in its application of Scriptural example. Together, these five points provide a definition for Anglicanism, the historic faith, and accompanying consistent practice, of the Church of England, that is distinct from other Christian expressions—this Anglicanism is ‘classical’ in the sense that it really has no need of added jargon to explain how it is not what is found in the Historic Formularies of the Anglican Church but is instead really something else.

1 Canons of the Church of England, London, Church House Publishing, 7th edn., 2015.
2 The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 626, 616.
3 John Charles Ryle, Principles for Churchmen: A Manuel of Positive Statements on Doubtful or Disputed Points, William Hunt and Company, London, 1884, p. 8.
4 The Book of Common Prayer, p. 607.
5 Ibid., p. 608.
6 Thomas Rogers, The Catholic Doctrine of the Church of England: An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1854, p. 29.
7 Also Article 8, The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 614–615.
8 The Athanasian Creed, ibid., p. 30.
9 Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‘Putting the English Reformation on the Map: The Prothero Lecture’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 15, 2005, pp. 75–95.
10 The Book of Common Prayer, p. 613.
11 Ibid., pp. 614–615.
12 Ibid., pp. 619–620.
13 Ibid., p. 620.
14 Ibid., p. 623.
15 Ibid., p. 619.
16 Ibid., p. 616.
17 Ibid., p. 619.
18 Ibid., p. 615.
19 Ibid., p. 618.
20 Confession in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, ibid., pp. 3, 18.
21 Prayer for fair Weather, ibid., p. 38.
22 Second prayer for times of Dearth and Famine, ibid., p. 39.
23 Ibid., p. 41.
24 Ibid., p. 620.
25 The Second Tome of Homilees: of Such Matters as Were Promised and Intituled in the Former Part of Homilies, London, Richard Jugge and John Cawood, 1571.
26 The Book of Common Prayer, p. 621.
27 The Second Tome of Homilees.
28 The Book of Common Prayer, p. 621–622.
29 Ibid., p. 624.
30 Ibid., p. 623.
31 Ibid., p. 628.
32 MacCulloch, ‘Putting the English Reformation on the Map: The Prothero Lecture’.
33 The Book of Common Prayer, p. 624.
34 Ibid., p. 623.
35 Ibid., p. 249–250.
36 The current form of which may be found on page 262 of The Book of Common Prayer.
37 Ibid., p. 615.
38 Ibid.
39 Ibid., p. 616.
40 Ibid., pp. 618–619.
41 An in-depth discussion of Definite Atonement may be found in Lee Gatiss, For Us and For Our Salvation, London, The Latimer Trust, 2012.
42 The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 627–628.
43 An Act for Establishing the Coronation Oath, 1 Will & Mary c 6.
44 The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 619–620.

Originally published in Anglican Tradition, Vol. 1, No. 7, 2015. © The Secker Society, 2015.

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