A discussion starter
With the attempts by the Anglican Communion Network (at the request of the concerned Anglican Primates) to unify the Anglican witness and jurisdictions in the USA, the question of basic commitments of the presently divided groups is raised. And, it appears, the leadership of The Network is prepared to move towards embracing those Continuing Anglicans who hold to The Affirmation of St Louis by adjusting its own doctrinal basis to accommodate this 1977 statement and thus embrace these good people.
Let us then examine this statement and its origins in relation to the historic Anglican Formularies.
Those Episcopalians from the USA and Anglicans from Canada, who met in St Louis in 1977 and signed The Affirmation, appear to have believed that the Episcopal Church of the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada had ceased to be orthodox Christian Churches; and thus secession from them was a duty before God. The immediate reason for the departure to form the Continuing Anglican Church was the adoption by both Churches of women as presbyters (priests); but, the bigger issues in the background concerned faith and morality as well.
The signers state their commitment of seeking to maintain unity with the See of Canterbury (if Canterbury remains orthodox?), and, doctrinally, to the authoritative Scriptures, to the three Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian), to the dogma of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and to the doctrine and use of the Seven Sacraments. In terms of liturgy they express commitment to the 1928 edition of the BCP in the USA and to the 1962 edition in Canada. There is no mention of The Anglican Missal.
When you compare this Statement with the Constitutions and Canon Law of virtually all of the Provinces of the Anglican Communion you notice that in The Affirmation there is no specific mention of The Ordinal and The Thirty-Nine Articles (which are separate books to the BCP but are normally bound with it, so that all three Anglican Formularies are within the same cover).
The pew editions of the 1928 and 1962 editions, as they were in print in 1977, contained The Ordinal and The Articles. However, The Affirmation refers to neither and so it is not clear whether either or both were accepted.
Common sense would normally cause one to suppose that these two historic and classic Formularies of the Anglican Way would be taken for granted. However, other clear statements in The Affirmation tend to cast doubt on the matter, especially with reference to The Articles of Religion.
First of all, we have noted that there is a commitment to the doctrine of all the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Such a position has been held as a private opinion by some anglo-catholics and high churchmen since the seventeenth century; but it has never been officially part of any Anglican confession of faith or constitution. The problem is obviously with the Seventh Council where the topic is no longer The Trinity or The Person of Christ but icons and images; the veneration of icons was approved and given a theological foundation. A similar doctrine was set forth eight or so centuries later by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. If The Articles are authoritative then the doctrine of the Seventh Council and the Council of Trent on icons and images cannot be regarded as part of the Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Way (see Article XXII and the Homily “On the Peril of Idolatry”, Article XXXV).
Secondly, there is commitment in The Affirmation to seven sacraments as in the teaching of the Council of Trent. This is specifically rejected by The Articles (see XXV), which teach that there are two real, dominical Sacraments and five commonly called sacraments (in the medieval Church and into the 16th century). It is also rejected by the content of The Book of Common Prayer in any of its authorized editions, for here again there are only two Sacraments together with other rites that were previously in Roman Catholic dress called sacraments (e.g. Confirmation and Holy Matrimony).
It is difficult to come to clarity on the question of whether the Affirmers in 1977 saw themselves as Anglo-Catholics committed to historic Anglicanism (as set forth for example in The Solemn Declaration of 1893 and printed in the 1962 Canadian BCP), who allowed their private and cherished opinions to influence their description of the Anglican Way, OR that leaving the two mainline Churches provided them with the opportunity to reform Anglicanism in a Rome-ward direction and they took this opportunity to do so, believing they were forging a new and better path for others to walk in.
Certainly The Affirmation of St Louis goes beyond the normal statement of The Anglican Way and thus probably cannot be signed or accepted by those who are committed to the classic Anglican Formularies as they are stated, for example, in The Solemn Declaration of 1893 and in the Constitution of The Anglican Church of Nigeria, and presented in many editions of The Prayer Book.
The Network, it seems, faces a dilemma. If it embraces the Seventh Council then it steps ahead of most of world Anglicanism and away from the historic Formularies of the Anglican Way. If it does not, then it will not win the hearts of the Continuers.
(I deal with the 7th council and its dogma on icons in my book on The Seven Councils , entitled: YESTERDAY, TODAY AND FOREVER. JESUS CHRIST AND THE HOLY TRINITY IN THE TEACHING OF THE SEVEN ECUMENICAL COUNCILS, Preservation Press, 1996.)
The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon Ash Wednesday, 2006.