I have to begin with an apology to my patient readers. I have given the impression, because I believed it to be the case, that it was the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism which alone embraced the doctrinal definitions and decrees of the Second Council of Nicea (787). Today I learned that the Anglican Mission in America also requires all its Ministers to be committed to these doctrines and this teaching.
I must confess that this has come as major shock to me. I find it hard to believe and still think that I must be misreading its documents or else reading ones that were drafts and have been superseded. I ask myself, How could I have been in ignorance of this when I count some AMiA folks as good friends? The answer is that I have interpreted the annual subscription made by AMiA Ministers wrongly. Here it is (and I heard some sixty or more of them publicly subscribe to it in January 2006 in Birmingham, Alabama).
“I DO BELIEVE THE HOLY SCRIPTURES OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS TO BE THE WORD OF GOD AND TO CONTAIN ALL THINGS NECESSARY TO SALVATION. I FURTHER AFFIRM THE CATHOLIC CREEDS, THE DOGMATIC DEFINITIONS OF THE GENERAL COUNCILS OF THE UNDIVIDED CHURCH, THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER AND THE ORDINAL, 1662, THE 39 ARTICLES OF RELIGION OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND IN THEIR LITERAL AND GRAMMATICAL SENSE, AND THE LAMBETH QUADRILATERAL OF 1888, SINCE THE SAME ARE CONFORMABLE TO THE SCRIPTURES, AND I CONSEQUENTLY HOLD MYSELF BOUND TO TEACH NOTHING CONTRARY THERE TO, THEREFORE I DO SOLEMNLY ENGAGE TO CONFORM TO THE DOCTRINES, DISCIPLINE AND WORSHIP OF THE ANGLICAN MISSION IN AMERICA.”In my ignorance I took – in traditional Anglican style – “the dogmatic definitions” of the Church to refer to the dogmas of the Trinity and the Person of Christ set forth in the first four Ecumenical Councils, with some further expansion of the latter in the fifth and sixth Councils. It never entered my head that this group of evangelical, mission-minded Anglicans intended also the seventh council. Indeed the commitment to the Thirty-Nine Articles and the BCP of 1662 seemed a sure and clear reason that only the first four Councils were really intended and so it never occurred to me that what was intended were the Seven Councils, including, amazingly, the Second of Nicea in 787. As many have shown, to be committed to the Articles means that one cannot receive the doctrine definitions of this Council and the reverse it also true – which is why some Anglo-Catholics reject The Articles.
Today I managed to get a copy of The Solemn Declaration of Principles of the AMiA (previously I could not download it) and it was in reading this that I came to see – may the Lord have mercy upon me for my foolishness in to seeing earlier -- that “the dogmatic definitions of the General Councils of the Undivided Church” meant those of the Seven Councils, and, thus included, amazingly, those of Nicea II.
In its Solemn Declaration of Principles the AMiA has the following:
Article III. Further Doctrinal Norms and Formularies
Section 1- The Undivided Church
With the ancient Church we affirm the three Ecumenical Creeds: the Nicene Creed, the Apostles Creed and Athanasius' Creed, and the dogmatic definitions of the first seven general councils (the last three being seen as the workings-out of the first four).
Section 2- The Formularies of the Church of England
a. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal
The theology set forth in the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal shall be the theology to which alternative liturgical texts and forms will conform.
b. The 39 Articles of the Church of England
This Church subscribes to the teaching of the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England. These are to be interpreted, as ordered in the Declaration which prefaces them in the English Book of Common Prayer, "in the full and plain meaning thereof" and "in the literal and grammatical sense." Further, it is understood that there are places in the Articles (i.e. Art. 37) that assume past and present political structures in England which do not directly apply to this Church located as it is in North America.
Section 3- The Lambeth Quadrilateral
In consort with the Anglican Communion we affirm the 1886/1888 Quadrilateral as giving guidance for ecumenical dialogue, discussion and cooperation. The Quadrilateral is not in and of itself a sufficient statement of the teaching of this Church
It is of interest to note that it is claimed that the last Three of the Seven do in their doctrinal definitions simply develop or make clearer the content of the first Four. As a popular statement this is generally true. In the fifth and sixth Christology is the subject and the meaning of Christ Jesus as One Person made known in Two Natures is further clarified from the Definition supplied by the Fourth Council in 451 at Chalcedon.
However, there is what seems to be a massive leap from the first four Councils to the Seventh, for in the Seventh we are into the justification of the veneration of icons and the cult of the BVM and the Saints. The connection is that part of the dogma of the Person of Christ which insists that he truly has a full and complete human nature. As far as I know no Anglican Province in the Anglican Communion has embraced the doctrinal definitions of the Seventh Council as official doctrine, and for obvious reasons. I cannot see how you can be a Reformed Catholic receiving The Anglican Formularies in their natural sense and meaning and also in the same breath as it were also embrace the doctrinal definitions of the Second Council of Nicea in their natural sense and meeting. One through Six with the Formularies Yes, but not Number Seven! (For a description of the Councils and their dogma see my book: Yesterday, Today and Forever. Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, Preservation Press, 1996 (which is dedicated to Bishop Ackerman).
I do not know what to say! I can only assume in good faith that the AMiA Bishops and clergy have found a way to reconcile two positions that seem to me -- and to not a few others in the history of the Anglican Way -- to be non-reconcilable.
www.pbsusa.org Dr Peter Toon