A discussion starter
Not since 1977-8 has there been such interest in the Affirmation of St Louis and its developed and expanded definition of the Anglican Way in terms of emphatic Anglo-Catholicism.
With the attempts by the Anglican Communion Network (at the request of the concerned Anglican Primates) in 2006 to unify the Anglican witness and jurisdictions in the USA, the question of basic commitments of the presently divided groups is acutely raised. And, it appears, that some of 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 (provocative) 1977 statement of advanced “catholic” opinion.
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, including the rejection of the received Book of Common Prayer (USA edition of 1928) in The Episcopal Church.
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 specific mention of The Anglican Missal or other Missals; but, it is generally assumed that they are allowed through the words: “service books incorporating The Book of Common Prayer” in the paragraph on permitted variances.
When you compare the St Louis 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 usually 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 absolutely 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. It is however possible/probable that The Articles are dealt with in the paragraph called "The Use of Other Formulae", where can be read: "In affirming these [doctrinal] principles, we recognize that all Anglican statements of faith and liturgical formulae must be interpreted in accordance with them." And this means that for all practical purposes The Articles have lost their authority as a Formulary for they are read in the light of the seventh council.
A commitment to the doctrine of all the Seven Ecumenical Councils 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 itself 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 and prayers to the saints cannot in any way at all 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). At best the doctrinal decrees of this Council can be held as private judgment by Anglicans.
Further, commitment in The Affirmation to seven sacraments as in the teaching of the Council of Trent is specifically rejected by The Articles (see XXV), which teach that there are two real, dominical Sacraments and five commonly called sacraments which are not true sacraments. 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).
To accept The Affirmation is to deny that the Anglican Way is the way of Reformed Catholicism, and thus to deny the testimony of all its standard divines, low and high church included.
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 Canadian 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 in a kind of reactionary pendulum flow, OR that leaving the two mainline Churches provided the Anglo-Catholic participants with the opportunity to reform Anglicanism in a Rome-ward or perhaps Orthodox-ward direction and they took this opportunity to do so, believing they were forging a new and better path for others after them to walk in. If the latter then, it would appear, they are making their impact in ways never envisaged in 2006 through the Common Cause partners of The Network!
Apparently for some Continuers today in the ACC, ACA, APA and APCK neither the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent nor the doctrine of The Articles should be considered confessional documents, but rather the doctrinal decrees of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils that are commonly recognized by Rome and the East, should be so regarded. This view allows Continuing Anglicanism to be both informed by the historical importance of the Articles and open to Roman Catholic (Tridentine) doctrine and liturgy as pious opinions, but not dogmas. The peculiarly English traditions of worship created in 1549 are central to this position in the Continuum, though some borrowing from Latin and Greek traditions is allowed when judged to be edifying to the English mind and spirit. This viewpoint is also said to be the reasonable trajectory of the "Caroline Divines." (The problem with this approach is that it is imaginary and it tends to create a form of religion which is that of a tiny minority alongside but not in with the fellowship of 80 millions of the Anglican Way in the Anglican Communion of Churches, and also not in with or part of historic Catholicism of East or West.)
Certainly all reasonable people accept that The Affirmation of St Louis goes beyond the normal statement of The Anglican Way and thus cannot be signed or accepted by those who are committed to the classic Anglican Formularies as they are presented, for example, in The Solemn Declaration of 1893 of Canada and in the Constitution of The Church of England, the Anglican Church of Nigeria, and in virtually all other Anglican provincial constitutions and presented in many editions of The Prayer Book of 1662 around the world.
The Network, it seems, faces a dilemma. If it embraces the Seventh Council and Seven Sacraments then it steps ahead of world Anglicanism and away from the historic Formularies of the Anglican Way. If it does not, then it will not apparently win the hearts of a very small group of Continuers for whom, it appears, the “extras” of the Affirmation count more than the solid center where they agree with the historic Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Way.
A suggestion --- Let those of The Network, who actually hold to the historic Formularies, seek to persuade the Continuers to hold their cherished views as private opinion not required church doctrine; and then there can be real progress towards common witness and aims on the basis of unity on Scripture and classic Formularies.
The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon Trinity VI 2006