21 March 2016

Anglican Studies (2015-2016) 10.1: Is there an Anglican
culture? Anthony Trollope and the ‘Barchester’ novels

For many people their first introduction to Anglican culture is through the Barchester novels of Anthony Trollope

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

TH 8825:
Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Mondays: 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m., The Hartin Room.

Monday, 21 March 2016, 1 p.m.:

11.1: Is there an Anglican culture? Anthony Trollope and the Barchester novels


On Monday week [4 April 2016], we are asking whether there is such a thing as an “Anglican culture,” and shall be looking at the poetry of TS Eliot and the novels of Rose Macaulay, for example.

But for many people their first introduction to Anglican culture may come in the Barchester novels of Anthony Trollope (1815–1882).

Trollope, who lived in Ireland from 1841 to 1851, including some years as town postmaster of Clonmel, Co Tipperary, was one of the most successful, prolific and respected Victorian novelists. His best-loved works, collectively known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, revolve around cathedral and church life in the imaginary county of Barsetshire.

Although Trollope also wrote perceptive novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters, his novels about Church life are among the important accounts of Anglican spirituality and culture in the Victorian era.

1, The Warden

The Warden is the first novel in Anthony Trollope’s series, the Chronicles of Barsetshire. Trollope said his first vision for The Warden came to him while walking in the cathedral close of Salisbury Cathedral. It was his fourth novel and was published in 1855.

The Warden concerns Canon Septimus Harding, the elderly warden of Hiram’s Hospital and Precentor of Barchester Cathedral.

Hiram’s Hospital is an almshouse supported by the income from a mediaeval charitable bequest to the Diocese of Barchester. The income maintains the almshouse itself, supports its twelve bedesmen, and, in addition, provides a comfortable abode and living for its warden. Canon Harding has been appointed to this position through the patronage of his old friend, the Bishop Grantly of Barchester, who is also the father of Archdeacon Grantly to whom Harding’s older daughter, Susan, is married.

The warden, who lives with his remaining child, an unmarried younger daughter, Eleanor, performs his duties conscientiously.

The story concerns the impact upon Harding and his circle when a zealous young reformer, John Bold, launches a campaign to expose the disparity in the apportionment of the charity’s income between its object, the bedesmen, and its officer, Canon Harding.

John Bold embarks on this campaign out of a spirit of public duty, despite his romantic involvement with Eleanor and previously cordial relations with Canon Harding.

Bold attempts to enlist the support of the press and engages the interest of The Jupiter (a newspaper representing The Times), whose editor, Tom Towers, pens editorials supporting reform of the charity, and presenting a portrait of Canon Harding as selfish and derelict in his conduct of his office.

This image is taken up by the commentators, Dr Pessimist Anticant and Mr Popular Sentiment, who have been seen as caricatures of Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens respectively.

Ultimately, despite much brow-beating by his son-in-law, the Archdeacon, and the legal opinion solicited from the barrister, Sir Abraham Haphazard, Mr Harding concludes that he cannot in good conscience continue to accept such generous remuneration and resigns the office.

John Bold, who has appealed in vain to Tom Towers to redress the injury to Mr Harding, returns to Barchester, where he marries Eleanor.

Those of the bedesmen of the hospital who have allowed their appetite for greater income to estrange them from the warden are reproved by their senior member, Bunce, who has been constantly loyal to Harding whose good care and understanding heart are now lost to them.

2, Barchester Towers

The second novel, Barchester Towers (1857), is possibly Trollope’s best known work. Among other things, it satirises the then raging antipathy in the Church of England between High Church and Evangelical adherents.

Barchester Towers concerns the leading citizens of the imaginary cathedral city of Barchester. The much loved bishop having died, all expectations are that his son, Archdeacon Grantly, will gain the office in his place.

Instead, owing to the passage of the power of patronage to a new Prime Minister, a newcomer, the far more Evangelical Bishop Proudie, gains the see. His wife, Mrs Proudie, exercises an undue influence over the new bishop, making herself unpopular with right-thinking members of the clergy and their families. Her interference in the reappointment of the universally popular Canon Septimus Harding (hero of The Warden) as warden of the hospital is not well received, although she gives the position to a needy clergyman with a large family to support.

Even less popular than Mrs Proudie is the bishop’s newly appointed chaplain, the hypocritical Revd Obadiah Slope, who takes a fancy to Harding’s wealthy widowed daughter, Eleanor Bold, and hopes to win her favour by interfering in the controversy over the wardenship.

The bishop, or rather Mr Slope under the orders of Mrs Proudie, also orders the return of the Revd Dr Vesey Stanhope from Italy. Dr Stanhope has been there, recovering from a sore throat, for 12 years and has spent his time catching butterflies. With him to the Cathedral Close comes his wife, and his three children.

The younger of Dr Stanhope’s two daughters causes consternation in the Palace and threatens the plans of Mr Slope. Signora Madelina Vesey Neroni is a crippled serial flirt with a young daughter and a mysterious husband whom she has left. Mrs Proudie is appalled by her and considers her an unsafe influence on her daughters, her servants and Mr Slope. Mr Slope is drawn like a moth to a flame and cannot keep away. Bertie Stanhope is a man skilled at spending money but not at making it; his two sisters think a marriage to rich Eleanor Bold will suit, and they pay off his debts.

Summoned by the local clergy to assist in the war against the Proudies and Mr Slope is another clergyman, the brilliant Revd Francis Arabin. Mr Arabin is a considerable scholar, a fellow of Lazarus College, Oxford, and almost followed his mentor, John Henry Newman, into the Church of Rome. He is genuinely attracted to Eleanor, but the efforts of Archdeacon Grantly and his wife to stop her marrying Slope also interfere with any relationship that might develop.

Finally, at the Ullathorne garden party, matters come to a head. Mr Slope proposes and is slapped for his presumption, Bertie proposes and is refused with good grace and the Signora has a chat with Mr Arabin. Mr Slope’s double-dealings are now revealed and he is dismissed by Mrs Proudie, and the Signora. The Signora drops a delicate word in several ears and Mr Arabin and Eleanor become engaged.

The old dean of the cathedral having died it seems obvious that Mr Arabin should become the new dean, with a beautiful house in the Close, 15 acres of garden and an income even greater than that of his wife.

With the Stanhopes’ return to Italy, life in the Cathedral Close returns to its previous quiet and settled ways and Mr Harding continues his life of gentleness and music.

3, Doctor Thorne

The third Barchester novel, Doctor Thorne (1858), is mainly concerned with the romantic problems of Mary Thorne, niece of Doctor Thomas Thorne (a member of a junior branch of the family of Mr Wilfred Thorne, who appeared in Barchester Towers), and Frank Gresham, the only son of the local squire, although Trollope as the omniscient narrator assures the reader at the beginning that the hero is really the doctor.

The major themes in this book are the social pain and exclusion caused by illegitimacy, the nefarious effects of the demon drink, and the difficulties of romantic attachments outside one’s social class. The novel also gives a vivid picture of electioneering and all the just-legal shenanigans that accompany the event. Most of the action takes place in a village of Barsetshire and a country house not far off.

The idea of the plot was suggested to Trollope by his brother Thomas.

When their father dies, Doctor Thomas Thorne and his younger, ne’er-do-well brother Henry are left to fend for themselves. Dr Thorne begins to establish a medical practice, while Henry seduces Mary Scatcherd, the sister of stonemason Roger Scatcherd. When Scatcherd finds out that Mary has become pregnant, he seeks out Henry and, in the ensuing fight, kills him.

While her brother is in prison, Mary gives birth to a girl. A former suitor offers to marry her and emigrate to start a new life, but refuses to take the baby. Dr Thorne persuades her to accept the generous offer, promising to raise his niece. He names her Mary Thorne but, wishing neither to have her illegitimacy made public nor to have her associate with the uncouth Roger Scatcherd, he keeps her birth secret. He tells Scatcherd that the baby had died.

After his release from prison, Scatcherd rises quickly in the world. In time, his skills make him extremely rich. When he completes a seemingly-impossible important project on time, he is created a baronet for his efforts. Throughout his career, he entrusts his financial affairs to Dr Thorne. When Thorne becomes the family doctor to the Greshams, he persuades Scatcherd to loan ever growing sums to the head of the family, the local squire. Eventually, much of the Gresham estate is put up as collateral.

Meanwhile, Mary grows up with the Gresham children and becomes a great favourite with the whole family. As a result, Thorne feels obliged to tell his friend the squire her secret.

Mary falls in love with Frank Gresham, the son and heir of the squire of Greshamsbury and nephew of the Earl and Countess De Courcy, and he with her. However, his parents desperately need him to marry wealth, in order to rescue them from the financial distress resulting from the squire’s expensive and fruitless campaigns for a seat in Parliament.

His snobbish mother and aunt wish him to marry an eccentric, if kind-hearted, older heiress, Martha Dunstable. He reluctantly visits her at Courcy Castle and they become friends. But foolishly and playfully he proposes. She demurs, knowing that he does not love her, and he tells her about his love for Mary.

Sir Roger is a drunkard, and Dr Thorne tries in vain to get him to curtail his drinking. In his will, he stipulates that bulk of his estate should go to his odious, dissolute only son Louis Philippe, but leaves Dr Thorne in control of the inheritance until the heir reaches the age of 25. Should Louis die before then, Scatcherd stipulates that the estate must go to the eldest child of his sister Mary. Dr Thorne is forced to divulge Mary’s history, but Scatcherd leaves the will unchanged.

Sir Roger eventually dies of his excesses, and Sir Louis inherits his vast wealth. The son proves just as much an alcoholic as the father, and his weaker constitution quickly brings him to the same end. After consulting with many lawyers, Dr Thorne confirms that his Mary is the heiress, richer than even Miss Dunstable.

Unaware of these proceedings, the more-resolute Frank finally persuades his doting father to consent to his marriage to Mary. When all is revealed, everyone is elated, even Frank’s mother and Countess De Courcy.

4, Framley Parsonage

The fourth novel, Framley Parsonage, was first published in serial form in the Cornhill Magazine in 1860.

The hero of Framley Parsonage, the Revd Mark Robarts, is a young vicar, newly arrived in the village of Framley in Barsetshire. The living has come into his hands through Lady Lufton, the mother of his childhood friend Ludovic, Lord Lufton.

Mark Robarts has ambitions to further his career and begins to seek connections in the county’s high society. He is soon preyed upon by local MP, Mr Sowerby, to guarantee a substantial loan, which Mark in a moment of weakness agrees to, even though he does not have the means and knows Sowerby to be a notorious debtor.

The consequences of this blunder play a major role in the plot, with Mark eventually being publicly humiliated when bailiffs begin to confiscate the Robarts’s furniture. At the last moment, Lord Lufton forces a loan on the reluctant Mark.

Another plot line deals with the romance between Mark’s sister Lucy and Lord Lufton. The couple are deeply in love and the young man proposes, but Lady Lufton is against the marriage. She would prefer that her son instead choose the coldly beautiful Griselda Grantly, daughter of Archdeacon Grantly, and fears that Lucy is too “insignificant” for such a high honour.

Lucy herself recognises the great gulf between their social positions and declines. When Lord Lufton persists, she agrees only on condition that Lady Lufton asks her to accept her son. Lucy’s conduct and charity (especially towards the family of the poor curate, the Revd Josiah Crawley) weaken Lady Lufton’s resolve. In addition, Griselda becomes engaged to Lord Dumbello. But it is the determination of Lord Lufton that in the end vanquishes the doting mother.

The book ends with Lucy and Ludovic’s marriage as well as three other marriages of minor characters. Two of these involve the daughters of Bishop Proudie and Archdeacon Grantly. The rivalry between Mrs Proudie and Mrs Grantly over their matrimonial ambitions forms a significant comic subplot, with the latter triumphant. The other marriage is that of the outspoken heiress, Martha Dunstable, to Dr Throne, the eponymous hero of the third novel in the series.

5, The Small House at Allington

The Small House at Allington, the fifth Barchester novel, was published in 1864. The novel concerns the Dale family, who live in the “Small House,” a dower house intended for the widowed mother (Dowager) of the owner of the estate. The landowner, in this instance, is the bachelor Squire of Allington, Christopher Dale. Dale’s mother having died, he has allocated the Small House, rent free, to his widowed sister-in-law and her daughters Isabella (“Bell”) and Lilian (“Lily”).

Lily has for a long time been secretly loved by John Eames, a junior clerk at the Income Tax Office, while Bell is in love with the local doctor, James Crofts. The handsome and personable, but somewhat mercenary Adolphus Crosbie is introduced into the circle by the squire’s nephew, Bernard Dale. Adolphus rashly proposes marriage to the portionless Lily, who accepts him, to the dismay of John Eames.

Crosbie soon jilts her in favour of Lady Alexandrina de Courcy, whose family is in a position to further his career. Lily meets her misfortune with patience, and remains single, continuing to reject Eames, though retaining his faithful friendship. Bell marries Dr Crofts, after refusing an offer of marriage from her cousin Bernard.

As with all of Trollope's novels, this one contains many sub-plots and numerous minor characters. Plantagenet Palliser (of the Pallisers series) makes his first appearance, as he contemplates a dalliance with Griselda Grantly, the now-married Lady Dumbello, daughter of the archdeacon introduced earlier in the Chronicles of Barsetshire.

6, The Last Chronicle of Barset

The final Barchester novel, The Last Chronicle of Barset, was first published in 1867. This novel concerns an indigent but learned clergyman, the Revd Josiah Crawley, the curate of Hogglestock, as he stands accused of stealing a cheque.

The novel is notable for the non-resolution of a plot continued from the previous novel in the series, The Small House at Allington, involving Lily Dale and Johnny Eames. Its main storyline features the courtship of Crawley’s daughter, Grace, and Major Henry Grantly, son of the wealthy Archdeacon Grantly.

The archdeacon, although allowing that Grace is a lady, does not think her of high enough rank or wealth for his widowed son; his position is strengthened by Crawley’s apparent crime.

Almost broken by poverty and trouble, Crawley hardly knows himself if he is guilty or not; fortunately, the mystery is resolved just as Major Grantly’s determination and Grace Crawley’s own merit force the archdeacon to overcome his prejudice against her as a daughter-in-law.

As with Lucy Robarts in Framley Parsonage, the objecting parent finally invites the young lady into the family; this new connection also inspires the dean and archdeacon to find a new, more prosperous, post for Grace’s impoverished father.

Through death or marriage, this final volume manages to tie up more than one thread from the beginning of the series. One subplot deals with the death of Mrs Proudie, the virago wife of the Bishop of Barchester, and his subsequent grief and collapse. Mrs Proudie, upon her arrival in Barchester in Barchester Towers, had increased the tribulations of the gentle Canon Harding, the title character of The Warden. He dies of a peaceful old age, mourned by his family and the old men he loved and looked after as Warden.

Barchester on television

The Barchester Chronicles is a 1982 BBC television serial adaptation of the first two Barchester novels, The Warden and Barchester Towers. The series, directed by David Giles, was largely filmed in and around Peterborough Cathedral, where the locations included the Deanery and Laurel Court.

The series starred Donald Pleasence as Mr Harding, Nigel Hawthorne as Archdeacon Grantly, Angela Pleasence as Mrs Grantly, Cyril Luckham as Bishop Grantly, David Gwillim as John Bold, George Costigan as Tom Towers, John Ringham as Finney,Barbara Flynn as Mary Bold, Janet Maw as Eleanor Harding, Clive Swift as Bishop Proudie, Geraldine McEwan as Mrs Proudie, Alan Rickman as Obadiah Slope, Susan Hampshire as Signora Madeline Neroni, and Ursula Howells as Miss Thorne.

Last night [20 March 2016], ITV completed a three-episode adaptation of Doctor Thorne, telling the story of penniless Mary Thorne, who grows up with her rich aunt and cousins at Greshamsbury Park estate. The executive producer and writer of the screenplay is Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, and the cast included Tom Hollander (Dr Thorne), known to many of us for his part in the series Rev, and Stefanie Martini (Mary Thorne).


Monday, 4 April 2016:

11.2: Is there an Anglican culture? The poetry of TS Eliot.

11.3: Is there an Anglican culture? Rose Macaulay and The Towers of Trebizond


1, Essays;

2, Evaluations;

3, Dissertation proposals.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were published online on Monday 21 March 2016 as an introduction to a seminar on ‘Anglican Culture’ on the MTh Year II course, TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Monday 4 April 2016.

Anglican Studies (2015-2016) 9.2: Is there an
appropriate ecclesiology for the Church of Ireland?

The Primates of the Anglican Communion at their meeting in Swords, Co Dublin, in 2011. Seated on each side of Archbishop Rowan Williams are Archbishop Alan Harper of Armagh and Canon Kenneth Kearon of the ACO, now Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe; in the back row (second from left) is the Irish-born Scottish Primus, Bishop David Chillingworth

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m., The Hartin Room.

Monday, 21 March 2016:

9.1, Is it possible to speak of an Anglican ecclesiology?

9.2, Is there an appropriate ecclesiology for the Church of Ireland?


There is a Hymn that we have sung at time at our Community Eucharist [for example, 18 March 2015] and that reminds us constantly:

We are your Church.
We need your power in us …

We are your Church.
We pray revive this earth …

We are your Church.
We are the hope of on earth.

But what do we mean in the Church of Ireland when we speak of the Church?

And how do we understand the Church of Ireland as being Church?

We have discussed Scripture and the Creeds; we have looked at Patristic understandings of the Church; we have considered at the 39 Articles; we have been reminded of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

And we have looked at some particularly unique Anglican understandings of the Church and Anglican ecclesiological self-understanding.

But does the Church of Ireland have a particular and unique ecclesiological self-understand?

So let us turn to the Preamble and Declaration, which is constitutionally self-defining for the Church of Ireland (see The Book of Common Prayer, pp 776-779).

There, we see a number of ecclesiological definitions of the Church of Ireland:

● It is self-regulating.
● It is governed synodically by bishops and the representatives of the clergy and laity.
● It is the “Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland”.
● It accepts and believes the Scriptures.
● It confesses the faith of the Primitive Church.
● It ministers the doctrine, sacraments and discipline of Christ.
● It maintains inviolate the orders of bishops, priests and deacons.
● It is Reformed and Protestant.
● It sees the Reformation as an important landmark.
● It receives the 39 Articles, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal, subject to lawful changes.
● It will maintain communion with the Church of England and other (unnamed) Anglican) churches.
● It seeks peace with all Christians.
● The General Synod shall legislate for the Church of Ireland … when it is consistent with its episcopal constitution.

We could ask whether these principles have been adhered to with some development over the last two or three decades.

How did the decision to ordain women as priests and bishops help or hinder communion with the Church of England?

How was the decision on the inter-changeability of ministry with the Methodist Church consistent with the promise to “maintain inviolate the three orders of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons in the sacred ministry”?

Could the Episcopal Lutheran Churches in the Porvoo Communion challenge whether the Church of Ireland has managed to maintain inviolate the order of deacons?

How do these ecclesiological statements of self-understanding relate to some present-day expressions of ecclesiology?

Modern expressions of ecclesiology

Behind every architectural or musical revision, behind every new programme and every new survey, there is a new ecclesiological agenda and idea. And that agenda and proposal always has built-in strengths and built-in weaknesses.

If the rector moves the altar out into the middle of the church and replaces the pews with a circle of chairs, he is making a statement about the doctrine of the church as the “Whole People of God.”

When a new Canadian Anglican Hymn Book was proposed, it articulated a vision of the Church the voice of social justice, particularly from the standpoint of radical feminism.

Each proposal, therefore, has its own ecclesiological emphasis, its own emphasis on a particular model of the Church.

Avery Dulles offers some models of Church:

1, Church as institution.

2, Church as Community or the Body of Christ.

3, Church as Sacrament.

4, Church as Herald.

5, Church as Servant.

6, Church as School of Discipleship.

So, let us look at some contemporary understandings of Church as we reflect on an appropriate ecclesiology for the Church of Ireland.

1, The Church as Missional Community:

The Coliseum in Rome … Romans 16 offers an image of the embryonic Church in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In Romans 16, we have an image of the embryonic Church in Rome. There, the people are gathered as a society of friends and their leadership serves the community, not the other way round. In gender terms, its sociological set-up reflects the reality of the community served, with women among the prime apostles. But this appears to be a non-institutionalised understanding of Church.

But do we – indeed, should we, go back to being an embryo? On the other hand, we need to be aware that all our set-ups are provisional. The visible Church in every age is a delivery system for the kingdom, not an end in itself.

The institutional structure is a transmission system. But for what?

Yet, if we cast off our history, the Church becomes merely a present-tense existential experience, a concept but not a community.

We may want to get the top down/bottom up balance right. But what is at the top and what is at the bottom?

2, The Church as Catholic whole:

Saint Augustine uses the term ‘Securus judicat orbis terrarium’

Saint Augustine uses the term: Securus judicat orbis terrarium – the whole world of Christians is the safest judge. The Creeds define the core, but the details have to be worked out in real time.

If all the Christian expressions in the world agreed on something, that would be fine. They never have agreed; indeed, are they ever likely to?

How do we define or delineate the whole orbis terrarium? Can no one Church encompasses the whole?

How does this make us accountable to other Christians, especially those outside Anglicanism?

There are dangers of developing too narrow and too institutional a definition of orbis terrarium, particularly when we go beyond the Creeds, and raise current issues on which the Creeds have nothing to say.

We can be in danger of becoming self-absorbed and obsessed, wanting the Church to reflect our own agenda.

3, The Church as social and human reality:

Saint Maximus the Confessor and His Miracles … a 17th-century icon from Solvychegodsk

Saint Maximus the Confessor speaks of the Church as “enfleshed incarnation.” We are responsible to proclaim afresh the works of God in every culture and generation. This means being open to culture, as Saint Paul was at the Areopagus, but radically grounded in Christ and the resurrection. Some might argue, for example, that the Early Church accepted the culture of slavery, for example, in order ultimately to subvert it from within. The missional principle was that being a good slave would win the slave owner for Christ.

How does the Church behave as salt and light?

There is always a danger of Christianity being interpreted as an absolute ideology; that refuses to engage with life and society around it, being in judgmental and living in a realm of fantasy. On the other hand, there is a danger of being so accepting of prevailing norms that we accept everything. So the salt that loses its capacity to flavour and the light fails to shine in the darkness.

Seeing the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, the Sacrament of Christ, or as an extension of the Incarnation deploys vocabulary and terms that are familiar to Anglicans. That view received some official recognition in papal encyclicals, and in-Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.

4, The Church as structured society, shared institutional reality

Villa Park, the home of Aston Villa … even in sport, there is a boundary around the pitch that makes interaction possible

You have all had lectures on Canon Law. It may seem difficult and rule bound, but we have to be accountable, we need frameworks that facilitate growth, that respect others, that facilitate the transmission of the faith in ways that are authentic across the whole community, and we need to build on and learn from past experience.

Even in football, like every sport, there is a boundary around the pitch that makes interaction possible. The rules of the game are not an end in themselves, but they facilitate the game.

But there is always the danger of legalism that creates an obsession with structures. It allows a lack of self-awareness and discourages versatility. On the other hand, if anything goes, we can descend into individualism, egotism and anarchism. We stop become a Church and start being individual congregations, or merely bundles of people gathered around one despot.

How do we maintain a viable working structure to support a community that prioritises grace not law, that is founded on faith not works.

For many people, “the Church” in common conversation means “the Clergy.” Family members and parishioners have already talked about you “going into” or “joining the Church” when they mean going for ordination. William Stringfellow says our view of priesthood.

is so radically misconceived that the clergy have become a substitute laity whose function is to represent publicly – in place of the laity – the presence of the Church in the world... a superficial, symbolic, ceremonial laity. (William Stringfellow, A Public and Private Faith, p 38).

We could say that do not make the Church the Church by whom you ordain, or do not ordain, but by the quality and depth of faith, hope and love in the whole Christian community.

5, The Church as Pilgrim People

Monk’s Gate, the West Sussex hamlet near Horsham where Vaughan Williams first heard the tune he used for Percy Dearmer’s rewriting of John Bunyan’s pilgrim hymn … Do we know where we are going as the Pilgrim People?

Much ecclesiology is based on how the organisation is functioning, how we are managing to stand still when all else seems to be collapsing around us.

But the real question might be where we are going.

Are we like hamsters going around on a treadmill, or on a wheel in a cage?

The Christian story presents history as a journey which begins in the garden and ends in the city. As the Church, we travel together on this journey, even if we often walk close to the edges, looking forwards to transformation and fulfilment. It is a journey marked by experiment and learning, and sometimes even by division.

But in the end, we believe, the Kingdom emerges from the Church which is less than the Kingdom, and all will be revealed.

There is always the danger of becoming entrapped or paralysed in existing structures, living in a Church that is driven by fear and compulsion, rather than inspired by passion and hope. We can take the past too seriously … and the future not seriously enough.

On the other hand, there is the danger of turning hope into a political programme and absolutising it, while losing our grip on the historical roots of faith. This is the danger of under-estimating the value of the deposit of faith, and over-valuing our own ideals, so that we take the future too seriously and the past not seriously enough.

6, The Church as The People of God:

The whole people of God symbolised in the figures on the West Front of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today, we may think, of the church as a community of inter-personal relationships, democratic, egalitarian and intimate, summed up in the phrase, “The People of God.” I was reminded in a conversation earlier this week on Saint Patrick’s Day that one description of the Church in the Irish language is “Pobal Dé,” the “People of God.” It is a phrase that is Biblical in its origins, if not in its current meaning.

But the concept of the Church as “People of God” can also be objected to as being exclusivist, quasi-racist and self-serving. Is the Church, as the herald of divine justice, not the servant of the oppressed and disadvantaged?

7, The Church of the Baptised:

The whole world is invited to be part of this great assembly ... both to watch and take delight in the world but also to take part in his work

There is also a baptismal ecclesiology, that Baptism is really the critical sacrament. “The Baptised,” therefore, are the only real ministers in this view. However, the Eucharist is the central act of the worshipping church. “Baptism is Eucharist begun; Eucharist is Baptism completed,” in George Worgul’s succinct formula. (George Worgul, From Magic to Metaphor: A Validation of Christian Sacraments, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985, p. 188).

The president of the Eucharist is the Bishop, or the Priest serving as the Bishop’s delegate.

The laos, the People of God, is the critical element, without the people there are no clergy.

However, what would it be to have the Baptised without bishops, priests and deacons are what, exactly?

The Orthodox ecclesiologist Metropolitan John Zizioulas, in particular, points out in his Being as Communion that a careful study of I Corinthians 12 shows that for the Apostle Paul the Body of Christ is composed of the charismata of the Spirit, which pertain to the charisma or membership of the body.

Drawing on Scriptural and Patristic studies, he speaks of the People of God as an order of the Church that is constituted by virtue of the rite of initiation (Baptism-Chrismation).

The People of God is an order of the Church, gathered with the bishop, priests and deacons, and the sine qua non condition for the Eucharistic community to exist and to express the unity of the Church.

The Eucharist is offered to God in the name of the Church, and brings the whole Body of Christ up to the throne of God. There is no ministry in the Church other than Christ’s ministry.

Laos means the whole people of God, the word liturgy means essentially the work of the people, and so all our liturgical language is phrased in terms of the worship and work of the whole People of God:

We being many are one body,
for we all share in the one bread.

– (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 218).

The central act of the Church gathered is the Eucharist, to which Baptism is the admission. Austin Farrer, the great 20th-century English theologian, even claimed that to miss Divine Service voluntarily was to “maim” the Body of Christ.

The distinctive Anglican ecclesiology that must become clearer in the years to come will therefore affirm and subsume features of various baptismal and eucharistic theologies of the Church.

The debate today

Any discussion of an ecclesiology of the Anglican Communion or Anglicanism is limited because of the degree of theological independence enjoyed by individual Anglican provinces. The dispersed nature of authority with its correlative acceptance of the integrity of national churches and provinces to make theological decisions based on their own processes of discernment renders a definition of a pan-Anglican solution to any theological problem almost impossible.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said that “the use of the word Anglicanism can be very misleading’ as ‘the Anglican will not suppose that he has a system or a confession that can be defined … side by side with those of others.”

Anglicanism is not a confession or a system of belief but rather exists as a distinctively theological ethos; a method.

The very existence of the Anglican Communion as a family of churches that share a common or related origins, albeit with divergent theological perspectives, gives rise to a challenge to the notion that Anglicanism possesses no special doctrines of its own.

The special doctrine of Anglicanism is its ecclesiology, and this is, in esse, an ecclesiology of communion.

Foundational to each of the local churches that comprise the Anglican Communion is the diocese, overseen by a bishop. Each local worshipping community gathers to celebrate the Eucharist, which is an anticipation of the Universal Church. As John Henry Newman put it: “Each diocese is a perfect independent Church, sufficient for itself; and the communion of Christians one with another, and the unity of them all together lie…in what they are and what they have in common.”

The Anglican Communion, however, does not regard itself as the universal church, but always as a provisional manifestation. Anglican ecclesiology does not make exclusive claims for itself. It recognises that union with Christ is the true sign of ecclesiality and that, consequently, all faithful constitute the church empirically.

The provisional or penultimate character of Anglicanism

The Adoration of the Lamb on the Throne ... the main panel in the Ghent Altarpiece. Stephen Bayne says Anglicanism is forever restless until it finds its place in the one Body

Anglican ecclesiology sees itself, and all churches, as provisional in light of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. This self-understanding gives Anglican ecclesiology its distinctive character, and it is for this reason that Anglicanism does not need much specific doctrine, since it is comfortable drawing upon the common inheritance of Christian tradition, supplemented with contemporary experience.

Stephen Bayne says “the vocation of Anglicanism is to disappear because Anglicanism does not believe in itself but believes only in the Catholic Church of Christ; therefore it is forever restless until it finds its place in that one Body.”

Robert Runcie emphasised that the provisional nature of Anglicanism: “We must never make the survival of the Anglican Communion an end in itself. The Churches of the Anglican Communion have never claimed to be more than a part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Anglicanism has a radically provisional character which we must never allow to be obscured.”

Michael Ramsey observed that Anglicanism’s credentials become “its incompleteness … [therefore] it is clumsy and untidy, it baffles neatness and logic … by its very brokenness [it is] to point to the universal Church wherein all have died.”

Classical Anglican ecclesiology is rooted in an idea of communion, that is mutual inter-dependence. Through its provisional character Anglicanism is profoundly uncomfortable with ecclesiological disunity, and so it hold within it divergent opinions in creative tension as an attempt to maintain unity and communion.

The 1888 Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral affirmed that the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, the historic creeds, the two dominical sacraments and the historic episcopate were the four fundamental non-negotiables for communion. It specified what bishops thought was a helpful account of the unity that Anglicans sought with one another and also with other non-Anglican Christians.

Although more recently additional qualifications have been articulated, the Quadrilateral constitutes the basis of the common witness of Anglicanism as a communion of local churches, aspiring to unity with the church universal.

Stanley Spencer, The Resurrection, Cookham (1923-1927) ... are all doctrines of the Church unsatisfactory until the Kingdom comes?

The ecclesiological question then is what is the Anglican Communion?

Is it a church?

Is it a federation of churches with shared theological convictions?

Is it a particular expression of the mystical church bound together in grace?

The Anglican Communion possess certain ecclesial qualities such as professing the creeds and the interchangeability of ministry, but it is not a church, for it lacks a central authority, and common canon law, liturgy and uniformity of doctrine.

Neither is the Anglican Communion simply a federation of like-minded churches, its numerous doctrinal disagreements prevent this.

Instead it is a fellowship of particular churches bound together in ecclesial communion, that is recognition of common ecclesiality, sharing an ecclesial commitment and a mutuality of participation in the sacraments.

As a mutually interdependent koinonia it prefigures the purpose of the ecumenical movement, being in itself a particular expression of the mystical church yet recognising that it is not an end in itself.

Anglicans are clear about the relationship between local and universal. Each local Anglican Church is mystically part of the Catholic Church, while each local church strives to model its idea of fellowship through participating in the mutual life of the Anglican Communion.

In other words, the relationship between local and universal is one of communion, interdependence.

Paul Avis summarises it this way: “Communion — whether between individual Christians in the Body of Christ, or between particular churches within the universal Church — is something given in the realm of grace. It is intimately connected to the sacraments. In baptism we are brought into communion with the Triune God and one another; in the Eucharist — Holy Communion — we are sustained and strengthened in that communion. Communion is God’s greatest gift to us in this life and it will be completed and fulfilled in the next.”

A shared Anglican ecclesiology?

Paul Avis, in his book The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2007, pp 160-162), lists the principal sources (indicative rather than definitive texts) that are relevant to Anglican ecclesiology as:

● The historic formularies (i.e., the 39 Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 1550/1662 Ordinal).
● The ecclesiological teachings of the Lambeth Conferences since 1867.
● The report of the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission, Doctrine in the Church of England (1938).
● Recent ecclesiological statements from the House of Bishops of the Church of England.
● The ARCIC Agreed Statements.
● The Dublin Agreed Statement (1984) of the international Anglican-Orthodox dialogue.
● The WCC Lima Statement, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982).
● The WCC Faith and Order Commission statements on unity, including New Delhi (1961) and Canberra (1991).
● The Porvoo Communion Statement (1996).
● The writings of Richard Hooker summarised by PE More and FL Cross in their 1935 anthology Anglicanism (London: SPCK, 1935).
● The corpus of Anglican spiritual and theological writing anthologised in Love’s Redeeming Work edited by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson and Rowan Williams (Oxford: OUP, 2004).

Paul Avis concludes his chapter on ‘Anglican Ecclesiology in the Twenty-first Century’ with this assessment of the state of Anglicanism today:

“Anglicanism does indeed attempt to hold together elements that are opposed in other traditions – though not without strains. It defines itself as catholic and reformed; orthodox in doctrine yet open to change in its application. Its polity is both episcopal (and its bishops have real authority) and synodical – an unusual combination in a church that has maintained the historic episcopate. It acknowledges an ecumenical council as the highest authority in the Church, but is not opposed in principle to a universal primacy and virtually never has been. It confesses the paramount authority of Scripture, but reveres tradition and harkens to the voice of culture and science. It tries to be neither centralized nor fragmented, neither authoritarian nor anarchic. It is comprehensive without being relativistic. This interesting experiment has endured and evolved for nearly five centuries; in spite of the present difficulties, I believe it is worth persevering with.” [Paul Avis, The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (London: T&T Clark, 2007), pp 168-169.]

But given the present difficulties, can Anglicanism persevere?

Indeed, we might ask, can it survive?

And what is holding Anglicanism together at this present moment?

Unity agreements and the future of Anglicanism

The future of Anglicanism was never seen in isolation from the future of the rest of the church. From the beginning, the Lambeth Conferences looked at both the future of Anglicanism, and the ecumenical future. But today question marks hang over the future of the Anglican Communion, and these include the following issues:

● Whether the Anglican Covenant is still on the agenda for the Anglican Communion.
● Whether the Anglican Covenant is in danger of creating a two-tier Anglican Communion.
● Whether the Anglican Covenant is in danger of creating an Anglican ‘Curia’.
● The role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the focus of unity for the Anglican Communion.
● The future of the Lambeth Conference as a purely Episcopal gathering.
● The status, role or authority of Lambeth Conference resolutions.
● The tension between maintaining theological diversity and unity in communion.
● The possibility of a future Anglican Congress that is representative of the laity.

Although the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States (TEC) continue, in many ways, to dominate the agenda, the budgets and the ethos of the Anglican Communion. As Professor Alister McGrath pointed out at a conference in Oxford on the “Future of Anglicanism”: “On any given Sunday there are more Anglicans attending church in the west African state of Nigeria than in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia, taken together.”

Anglican Churches are thriving and growing in many parts of Africa and Asia. But Anglicans appear to be in decline, numerically, in the traditional Anglican heartlands such as England, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In America, the decline of Anglicanism or Episcopalianism is in sharp contrast to the rise in membership of pentecostal and evangelical churches. Alister McGrath claims: “The implications for the future direction of Anglicanism are momentous.”

The future of Anglicanism and other communions of churches

But of course, the Anglican Communion is not the only communion or grouping of churches of which the Church of Ireland and other Anglican Churches are now a part. In terms of looser alliances and federations we are part of the Irish Council of Churches (1922), the Conference of European Churches (1957), the World Council of Churches (1948) and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (1990).

From the very beginning, the Lambeth Conferences were concerned not only with the unity of the churches that now form the Anglican Communion, but were anxious to pursue unity with other Churches, including the Old Catholics and the Scandinavian Lutherans.

The Anglican Churches and the Old Catholics have been in communion since the Bonn Agreement (1931), recognising each other’s orders, episcopate, ministry, &c, so forming effectively an overlapping communion – at least on continental Europe.

But the Church of Ireland is also part of a closer communion of churches, which is emerging in Northern Europe and which is being referred to increasingly as the Porvoo Communion – a grouping of more than a dozen Anglican and Lutheran churches in these islands, Scandinavia and the Baltic states. The contact group met here in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute three years ago [April 2013].

Update on the Anglican Covenant

The Anglican Covenant was sent to the provinces for their adoption, and the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, when it met in Armagh five years ago (May 2011), agreed to “subscribe” to the Covenant.

In the Church of England, the Act of Synod adopting the Covenant has been sent to the diocesan synods. The General Synod voted on 24 November 2010 to send the Covenant to diocesan synods. However, a majority of diocesan synods (26-18) voted against adopting the Covenant, blocking the question being brought back to General Synod for a final vote.

The question now is whether the Anglican Covenant is still on the agenda for the Anglican Communion as a whole, and whether it can ever come back on the agenda for the Church of England.


The Anglican experiment shows that in a divided Christian Church there cannot be any church that is not provisional. All churches are provisional in light of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church that Christians aspire to be, yet constantly fall short of being.

Next week (28 March 2016), Easter Monday (public holiday).

Final week (4 April 2016):

10.1, Is there an Anglican culture? Anthony Trollope and the ‘Barchester’ novels (Handout this morning).

10.2, Is there An Anglican culture? The poetry of TS Eliot.

10.3, Is there an Anglican culture? Rose Macaulay and The Towers of Trebizond.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This is an extended version of notes prepared for a lecture on the MTh Year II course, TH8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Monday 21 March 2016.

Anglican Studies (2015-2016) 9.1: Is it possible
to speak of an Anglican ecclesiology?

Christ Church Cathedral Dublin … what are the structures of the Church and how do we speak of an Anglican ecclesiology? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

TH 8825:
Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Mondays: 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m., The Hartin Room.

Monday, 21 March 2016, 10.30 a.m.:

9.1, Is it possible to speak of an Anglican ecclesiology?

9.2, Is there an appropriate ecclesiology for the Church of Ireland?

What is ecclesiology?

Ecclesiology is the theological study of the Church. The word dates from the late 1830s, when it was first used for the study of church buildings and their decoration.

The Ecclesiologist, first published in October 1841, was the journal of the Ecclesiological Society. It was founded in Cambridge as the Cambridge Camden Society. The society was founded at Cambridge in 1839, and renamed itself as the Ecclesiological Society in 1845. The society was re-established as the St Paul’s Ecclesiological Society in 1879. The society reverted to the old name of the Ecclesiological Society in 1937.

The Ecclesiologist claimed in January 1845 that the society had invented the word ecclesiology:

...as a general organ of Ecclesiology; that peculiar branch of science to which it seems scarcely too much to say, that this very magazine gave first its being and its name.

The Ecclesiologist published papers on church architecture and decoration, and particularly encouraged the restoration of Gothic architecture in Anglican church buildings.

However, in the theological sense today, ecclesiology deals with the origins of the Church, its relationship to Christ, its role in salvation, its polity, discipline, self-definition, structures and leadership.

Different ecclesiologies shape different Churches, so the word also refers to a particular church and its character and self-description. In this way we talk about Roman Catholic ecclesiology, Orthodox ecclesiology, Anglican ecclesiology, Lutheran ecclesiology, ecumenical ecclesiology, and so on.

The roots of the word ecclesiology come from the Greek words ἐκκλησίᾱ (ekklēsiā), the ‘congregation’ or ‘assembly’ that has been ‘called out’ and –λογία (-logia), meaning ‘words,’ ‘knowledge,’ or ‘logic’ – a common designation for any body or field of science or knowledge.

Alister McGrath points out:

‘Ecclesiology’ is a term that has changed its meaning in recent theology. Formerly the science of the building and decoration of churches, promoted by the Cambridge Camden Society, the Ecclesiological Society and the journal The Ecclesiologist, ecclesiology now stands for the study of the nature of the Christian church.


Some questions:

When we say the Church of Ireland is part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” what does this really mean?

What or who is the Church?

Is it a visible or earthly corporation or a unified, visible society – a “church” in the sense of a specific denomination or institution, for instance?

Is it the body of all believing Christians, regardless of their denominational differences and disunity?

What is the relationship between living Christians and departed Christians (the “cloud of witnesses”)?

Do those on Earth and those in Heaven together constitute the Church?

What is the relationship between the believer and the Church?

What is the role of corporate worship in the spiritual lives of believers?

Is it necessary?

Can salvation be found outside formal membership in a given faith community?

What constitutes membership of the Church?

Is it Baptism?

Is it formal acceptance of a creed? Does it depend on regular participation?

What is the authority of the Church?

Who interprets the doctrines of the Church?

Is the organisational structure itself, either in a single corporate body, or generally within the range of formal church structures, an independent vehicle of revelation or of God’s grace?

Does the authority of the Church depend on or derive from a separate and prior divine revelation external to the organisation, with individual institutions being “the Church” only to the extent that they teach this message?

Is the Bible entrusted to the Church as the faith community, and therefore to be interpreted within that context?

Or is the Bible the revelation itself, and is the Church to be defined as a group of people who claim adherence to it?

What does the Church do?

What are the sacraments, divine ordinances, and liturgies, in the context of the Church?

Are they part of the Church’s mission to preach the Gospel?

What is the comparative emphasis and relationship between liturgy, spiritual formation, and mission?

Is the role of the Church’s to create disciples of Christ or some other function?

Does the Eucharist define the rest of the sacramental system and the Church itself, or is it secondary to the act of preaching?

Is the Church the vehicle for salvation, or the salvific presence in the world, or as a community of those already “saved”?

How should the Church be governed?

What was the mission and authority of the Apostles?

Is this handed down through the sacraments today?

What are the proper methods of choosing clergy such as bishops, priests and deacons?

What is their role within the context of the Church?

Is an ordained clergy necessary?

Who are the leaders of a Church?

Must there be a policy-making group of leaders within a Church?

What are the qualifications for these positions?

By what process do these members become official or ordained leaders?

Must leaders and clergy be ordained?

Is this possible only by those who have been ordained by others?

What is the ultimate destiny of the Church in Christian eschatology?

The Church in the New Testament and in the Creeds:

Pentecost (El Greco) … ‘the same Spirit … allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses’

How is the Church described in the New Testament?

Is the Church founded by Christ?

Does the Day of Pentecost mark the beginning of the Church?

For example, the Church is, like all of God’s works, a mystery (see Ephesians 5: 32). Of the four “notes” of the Church, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic,” unity is first. “Is Christ divided?” Paul asks the Corinthians (I Corinthians 1:13).

How are divisions dealt with in the Pauline and the Johannine letters?


An icon of the Council of Nicaea, with the Emperor Constantine and the bishops holding a scroll with the words of the Nicene Creed

We might begin by reminding ourselves that the Nicene Creed refers to our belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” (see The Book of Common Prayer, p 205; in Holy Communion 1, it refers to “one Catholic and Apostolic Church”, see p. 183).

The Apostles’ Creed expresses belief in “the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints …” (see The Book of Common Prayer, p 95).

What ecclesiology do you find in the Athanasian Creed? (see pp 771-773).

Patristic comparisons

A colonnade of 14 Corinthian columns on the west side of the Stoa of Smyrna, the only surviving classical site in Izmir. Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote four of his letters, including one to the Church in Smyrna, while he was a prisoner in Smyrna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In a traditional Anglican manner, the late Archbishop Michael Ramsey, in a book on ecclesiology, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (London, 1936), began his history of the doctrine of the Church with a chapter on ‘The Church of the Fathers.’

However, he said the importance of the Patristic age must not be misunderstood. It is important, not as a golden age, nor as a model for the imitation of Christians, but as an age when the whole Gospel found expression in the life and Liturgy of the one Body, with a balanced use of all the Church’s structure and with a depth and breadth and unity that contrast strikingly with every subsequent epoch.

But can the Fathers provide us with any useful guidance in this matter?

Are any of the real dilemmas of ecclesiology resolved with Patristic studies?

Adolf von Harnack, the historian of early Christianity, saw Patristic ecclesiology as a direct line of development, involving increasing corruption of the original idea:

Originally the Church was the heavenly bride of Christ, the abiding-place of the Holy Spirit; and its Christian claims rested upon its possession of the Spirit, upon its faith in God, its hope and its well-ordered life. He who belongs to the Church is sure of blessedness... Then the Church became the visible establishment of this confession of faith... it is the legacy of the apostles, and its Christian character rests upon its possession of the true apostolic teaching ... Only then was the Church idea radically and totally changed. The church includes the pure and the impure (like Noah’s ark)... it is an indispensable salvation institute, so that no one will be blessed who remains without; it is also societas fidei, but not fidelium, rather it is a training-school and cultus institute for salvation.

The fact is there are many Patristic ecclesiologies, and not simply one.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch ... referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” which realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist

Saint Ignatius of Antioch (ca 35-110) is said to have directly known Saint John the Evangelist. On his way to martyrdom in Rome, he wrote a series of letters that provide an example of the theology of the early Christians. In his letters, he discusses ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the role and authority of bishops.

He writes that the Church is the bishop celebrating the Eucharist in the midst of the people. The development of the Scriptures, the sacramental life of the church, and the episcopate are therefore parallel.

He identifies a local church structure of bishops, priest and deacons, with the bishop in the place of God, the priests in the place of Apostles, and the deacons serving as Christ served: “Let the bishop preside in the place of God, and his clergy in the place of the Apostolic conclave, and let my special friends the deacons be entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from all eternity and in these last days has been made manifest” – To the Magnesians, 6 (Andrew Louth).

Hear how Saint Ignatius weaves together, in one of his letters, his Trinitarian faith, his understanding of the threefold order of bishop, priest and deacon, and how he links his Christology with his Ecclesiology:

Do your utmost to stand firm in the precepts of the Lord and the Apostles, so that everything you do, worldly or spiritual, may go prosperously from beginning to end in faith and love, in the Son and the Father and the Spirit, together with your most reverend bishop and that beautifully woven spiritual chaplet, your clergy and godly minded deacons. Be as submissive to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ was to his Father, and as the Apostles were to Christ and the Father; so that there may be complete unity, in the flesh as well as the spirit.To the Magnesians, 13 (Andrew Louth)

Saint Ignatius is also responsible for the first known use of the Greek word καθολικός (katholikos), meaning “universal,” “complete” and “whole” to describe the Church. He writes:

Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the catholic Church. Nor is it permissible to conduct baptisms or love-feasts [the Eucharist] without the bishop. On the other hand, whatever does have his sanction can be sure of God’s approval too.To the Smyrnaeans 8 (Andrew Louth).

Saint Ignatius thinks of the Church as a Eucharistic society which only realised its true nature when it celebrated “the Supper of the Lord, receiving His Body and Blood in the Sacrament.” [Saint Ignatius, quoted in Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, The Orthodox Church, p 242.]

For Saint Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Saint Polycarp, the Church is primarily the magisterium, the authoritative witness to saving truth, in the face of gnostic error. Saint Irenaeus wrote that the only way for Christians to retain unity is to humbly accept one doctrinal authority – episcopal councils.

For Tertullian, the Church is the closely disciplined community governed immediately by the inspiration of the Spirit.

For early Christian rigorists, in general, the Church is the community of the perfect, while for those who are more relaxed, it is a means of healing imperfections. For Eusebius of Caesarea, the Church is the redeemed empire, under the monarchy of the sacred emperor.

For the monks in the deserts of Egypt, the true Church is to be found only in contemptus mundi, the rejection of the world.

Harnack’s account of patristic ecclesiology assumes that development was always from the simple to the complex, and generally from a primitive purity to later corruptions. The main difficulty with this approach is that positions are seen as succeeding one another when they are often contemporaneous at every stage. Indeed, all of those positions are already present in the New Testament, where the Church is both visible institution and inner spiritual life, is both the company of the faithful and a training-school for salvation, is both the abiding-place of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and the possessor of the sure word of truth.

The problem with the Patristic ecclesiology is not one of choosing between different ecclesiologies. It is, instead, a problem of how we can see them in complementary relations to each another.

Donatism and Augustine

Saint Augustine envisages the City of God

It is a common Patristic saying that of the two, schism is worse than heresy. Behind this thinking is the presumption that a heretic is sincere in his belief — however erroneous — and so it could be that God may at least judge him on the basis of his sincerity, his personal integrity, and his consistency of action in regard to his principles. The schismatic, on the other hand, has willfully separated himself from others who share the same beliefs, thus denying the truth that unity and communion exist in the very confession of the same truth. Heresy might be seen as a sin of error, while schism is a sin against truth itself.

In the fifth century, the struggle with Donatism focussed attention on the problems of ecclesiology. For more than a century, the Donatist schism divided the Church in North Africa.

Donatism was the first ecclesiological heresy, and arose out of a suspicion that one of the episcopal consecrators of Caecilian of Carthage in 311 had been a traditor – someone who had handed over the Scriptures during the Diocletian persecution in 303.

The Donatists regarded the consecration as invalid. Rather than accept Caecilian’s ministry, they established a separate church that continued to exist until the Islamic conquest of North Africa.

Their fundamental argument was that the unworthiness of the minister would invalidate the sacrament. That position was condemned in 314 at the Council of Arles, but the Donatists continued to flourish, and they continued to see the Church as a society that is de facto holy, consisting exclusively of actually good men and women.

After he became Bishop of Hippo in 395 or 396, Saint Augustine devoted his attention for more than a decade to the problem of Donatism, in numerous sermons, letters, and other treatises on the nature of the Church and the sacraments. So, we find a fully developed patristic ecclesiology in these writings of Saint Augustine.

He draws a fundamental distinction between the present and the future church, not as two churches, but as two moments on one and the same church. The pure Church, the Church “without spot or wrinkle,” is not the present Church but the future Church.

On earth the Church is holy, but not all its members are holy. It is the Body of Christ, but it is a mixed body, composed of the good and the wicked. It is the field in which the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest, visibly united, but spiritually distinct. In this field, the wicked are tolerated for the sake of the good.

The Church is Christ’s Mystical Body: unus homo caput et corpus, unus homo Christus et Ecclesia. Just as our bodies are animated by our souls, so is the church vivified by the Holy Spirit.

For Saint Augustine, the Church is the transcendent society of the angels and the elect, essentially the City of God. But here and now it is that “same church which has mali and ficti in her midst, is also the Civitas Dei peregrinans, whose citizens must again and again be corrected and reformed by the grace of God, if they are to persevere, if they are to remain a part of that Church, of that Civitas which is holy and eternal.

Needless to say, Saint Augustine failed to heal the schism. In the face of really serious violence on the part of the Donatists, he agreed at the Council of Carthage in 404 that the Emperor Honorius should be urged to revive the Theodosian laws against the heretics.

Ecclesiology in Classical Anglicanism:

Richard Hooker ... gave Anglican theology the foundations of Scripture, Tradition and Reason and developed the concept of the Via Media

The ultimate task of Anglican ecclesiology is to identify what is catholic, and indeed at the point where Anglicanism first becomes aware of its distinction from the Churches of Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch (Article 19), it does so on the understanding that in everything that is necessary to salvation it does and teaches nothing that should not be done and taught everywhere by everyone.

On the other hand, it understands that other Churches outside Anglicanism may do things differently and yet remain recognisable as Church. In the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), the preface ‘Of Ceremonies, why Some be Abolished, and Some be Retained’ declares: ‘And in these our doings we condemn no other Nations, nor prescribe any thing but to our own people only.’ (see The Book of Common Prayer, p. 17).

Article 34 makes this abundantly clear:

It is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. (see The Book of Common Prayer, pp 786-787).

So where is the Church to be found?

Article 19 states:

The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men [sic], in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. (see The Book of Common Prayer, p 783).

The congregation in this sense is interpreted in classical Anglican theology as the Church gathered around the bishop – in other words, the diocese – rather the church in a town or village, the parish church.

Article 23, ‘Of Ministering in the Congregation,’ says that the right of admission to the ministry of preaching and sacraments belongs to “men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.” (see The Book of Common Prayer, p 783).

This of course is referring to bishops, which supports the interpretation that the congregation as understood in Article 19 is the diocese.

Richard Hooker, who expresses classical Anglicanism in his Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, writes:

The Church of Christ which was from the beginning is, and continueth unto the end: of which Church all parts have not always been equally sincere and sound. For lack of diligent observing the difference, first between the Church of God mystical and visible, then between the visible sound and corrupted, sometimes more, sometimes less, the oversights are neither few nor light that have been committed.

(Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, III, 1.9 and 1.10, in John Keble (ed), The Works of Richard Hooker, Oxford, 6th ed., 1861, vol. 1, pp 343-346).

Hooker was caught between the Puritans on one side and Roman Catholics on the other. He turned to a consideration of the nature of the Church as a basis for understanding the principles which must inform its constitution, government and practice.

In those Post-Reformation conflicts, the Anglican position especially demanded an ecclesiological justification, inasmuch as it could not stand upon the simplicities of either positivistic biblicism, as with the Puritans, or papal absolution.

Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, was therefore a central concern of Anglican theologians and apologists in the classical period, and they found the chief nutriment of their position, as Hooker had done, in the teachings of the Church Fathers.

So, the first Anglicans reasoned, the Church of England is a part of the Catholic Church. As such it is the visible society, membership in which effects salvation in Christ through participation in the supernatural society of the Communion of Saints. Its pedigree from antiquity is secure. Its bishops and priests are legitimate heirs of the apostles, preaching from the Scriptures, praying the Creeds, and faithfully administering the sacraments.

But Anglicans adopted a number of structural changes inspired by notions from the continental Reformation. The most important point about this process is that it arose to face the question of how to be Catholic Christians in a peculiar national and ecclesiastical situation. This process has some permanent features that all Anglican churches around the world replicate in one form or another.

The most basic feature is that Anglicans feel very deeply the absurdity of being a fragment of the whole Church, one shard of the mirror, as it were, shattered by Christian disunity.

Anglicans as Catholics blame the papacy for the shattering of Christian unity. Thus, with the exception of the Tractarians and their successors, Anglican sympathy has been with other non-Roman Christians.

For all churches who have had “no choice” but to go their own way, Anglicans feel some sense of kinship. This goes a long way towards explaining why the oldest formal ecumenical relationship is between Anglicans and the Orthodox Churches.

Anglican ecclesiology in the 19th century

The University Church of Saint Mary, Oxford, where John Keble preached his Assize Sermon in 1833 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thinking about Anglican ecclesiology received renewed impetus in the 19th century. Growing government intervention or interference in the affairs of the Church, especially legislation to reform the Church of Ireland, was seen by many as increasingly “apostate,” as described by John Keble, and inspired the Tractarian Movement.

The Tractarian leaders sought to affirm the spiritual independence of the church as a divinely established institution.

The branch theory developed a theological hypothesis within Anglicanism, holding that the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion or Anglican family of churches are the three principal branches of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

William Palmer (1803-1885), an Oxford theologian, was the principal originator of the Branch Theory, which he formulated in his two-volume Treatise on the Church of Christ (1838). The theory was popularised by the Oxford Movement and through the work of the Tractarians.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines the branch theory as:

…the theory that, though the Church may have fallen into schism within itself and its several provinces or groups of provinces be out of communion with each other, each may yet be a branch of the one Church of Christ, provided that it continues to hold the faith of the original undivided Church and to maintain the Apostolic Succession of its bishops. Such, it is contended by many Anglican theologians, is the condition of the Church at the present time, there being now three main branches…

Some Anglican theologians also include the Oriental Orthodox churches, the Church of the East, the Old Catholic Church, and the Lutheran Church of Sweden.

However, the Branch Theory has found no support outside Anglicanism, and has received mixed reception even within the Anglican Communion.

For the successors of the Tractarians in the Oxford Movement, the doctrine of the Church continued to be a primary concern. They appealed to Patristic authorities, both Greek and Latin, and they developed images of the Church as Mystical Body of Christ, as an extension of the Incarnation, as a supernatural and sacramental body.

Anglican ecclesiology today:

Stephen Sykes, in The Integrity of Anglicanism (1978), complains that Anglican concerns with ecclesiology have gone into serious decline. He suggests that traditional ways of thinking about the doctrine of the Church are no longer emphasised by Anglican theologians.

In a speech to the third National Evangelical Anglican Congress, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, criticised Evangelical Anglicans for not having a doctrine of the Church.

In a letter in the Church of England Newspaper some years ago [23 November 2001], David Runcorn, then the Director of Pastoral Training at Trinity Theological College, Bristol, complained that ordinands’ “faith and sense of call to ministry have all too often been nurtured in Churches that never seem to discuss what it means to be recognizably and doctrinally committed to the Anglican Church.”

In a follow-up letter, Colin Craston, who served for 15 years on the Anglican Consultative Council, six of them as Chair, claimed that since the 19th century “Evangelicals have struggled with the doctrines of the Church, the ordained ministry and the Sacraments.” He asserted that the “basic unit” of the Church “is not an independent local Church, but a fellowship of local Churches in an area in communion with their bishop.” He concluded:

The idea that if a local Church cannot agree with aspects of a bishop’s stance on some controversial matter it can pick and choose a bishop from elsewhere is but a recent indication of the need for a study of ecclesiology, called for by Robert Runcie at NEAC 3.

On the other hand, members of Forward in Faith, who might be expected to have a highly developed ecclesiology, have also shown an apparent failure to develop a sufficiently Anglican ecclesiology with their rejection not only of women in ordained ministry but those ordain them.

An Anglican ecclesiology for today:

In The Identity of Anglicanism, Paul Avis argues for an Anglicanism that is both catholic and reformed and open to fresh insight. On this interpretation, what is distinctive about Anglicanism is its understanding of the Church and of authority. These issues are addressed in relation to the origins of Anglican ecclesiology, the diversity and coherence of the worldwide Anglican Communion, its understanding of baptism and the Eucharist, the question of women priests and bishops, its ecumenical engagement and the internal conflicts of the early twenty-first century. This is an authoritative and passionate vindication of classical Anglicanism, evolving to respond to contemporary challenges.

[Some questions:]

The proposal for an Anglican Covenant divides people of equal integrity and comparable wisdom throughout the Anglican Communion. Have we have correctly understood both the ecclesiology of the Anglican Communion and the terms of the Covenant?

What is implied in being a Communion of Churches, where the churches are the subjects of the relationship of communion (koinonia)?

What does the Covenant commit its signatories to and, in particular, what does it say about doctrinal and ethical criteria for communion?

Is it legitimate to apply biblical covenant language, in which the covenant relationship is between God and Israel, to relations between churches?

What does the future look like?

The presenting issues seem to be sexuality and territorial invasions creating new non-geographical jurisdictions like the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, but the real issue may be ecclesiology.

The broader challenge facing Anglicans around the world may be to re-commit to and to live out in new ways the distinctive Anglican ecclesiology, what makes us Church.

How can we be One Church when unity is no longer available?

How to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic when unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity are not immediately evident is the problem that all Christian communions must solve with their ecclesiology.

A theology of koinonia (“communion, common life”) has developed within many strands of Anglicanism. The central point of this koinonia ecclesiology is that the relationships among Christians in a given church as well as the Church reflect the relations of the Three Persons of the Trinity. The Eucharist is the sign of koinonia and the oversight of the clergy is in its service.

A second enduring feature of the Anglican ecclesiological process is comprehensiveness, a willingness to accept some variation of doctrine. While this may have been at times merely tolerance for the sake of a false peace, at heart it is a true recognition of the appropriate epistemology for a fragment of the Catholic Church, indeed, for any church that sees itself as a pilgrim band on the move. The 1948 Lambeth Report on Authority, with its assertion that authority in Anglicanism is dispersed among several sources, is a recent attempt to explain and defend this aspect of Anglicanism.

Article 6 draws a hermeneutical circle around the Scriptures, saying that they “contain all things necessary to salvation” without spelling out what, in fact, those “things” are. Furthermore, this Article draws another circle around each individual Christian, that no ecclesiastical power can force anyone to believe what Scripture does not contain or what can be clearly and convincingly proven therein.

As this Article forms the basis for the Oath of Conformity at ordination, its relevance to contemporary Anglicans, as opposed to other Articles, is clear.

1, One example of how this works is in Richard Hooker’s discussion how the Eucharistic bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. He clearly accepts that people have different theories about it. But their arguments about it pre-empt the faithful reception of the Eucharist, and have no priority over fulfilling Christ’s command to “take and eat.”

2, Another critically important aspect of this comprehensiveness is that faith seeking understanding relies not on certainty, but on probability. Faith, after all, is confidence in God, not certainty about God. This has become a permanent undercurrent in Anglican thought. Therefore the Church is not infallible. But because the truth of its doctrine points, however dimly, to Christ, God will not let the Church fall into fatal error. This so-called “indefectibility” gives theological grounds for confidence in the ideal of comprehensiveness.

3, A third perennial feature is to locate the doctrine to which all must subscribe in the way the church worships, rather than in strictly confessional documents such as the Westminster Confession. This principle, lex orandi lex credendi, preserves both the Church’s formal need for foundational doctrine and the freedom of individuals to interpret it.

4, A fourth permanent feature is to appeal at the same time to the example of the Early Church and to current scholarship.

5, A fifth perennial feature of Anglicanism is its view of itself as the Church of the nation. While the Church of England is still the established church, that sentiment has carried over into younger Anglican Provinces. What other Church in the US would make a gift to its nation of a “house of prayer for all people” like the Washington National Cathedral?

Shortly before his martyrdom at the hands of Idi Amin in 1977, Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda expressed his conviction that were he to be martyred, it would be for Uganda as well as for Jesus. Anglicans consider not only the Scriptures, the tradition of the early church, and current scholarship, but also the pastoral needs of their particular nations and cultures. The Lambeth 1988 Resolution 26 to allow African polygamists to keep, as a matter of justice, their several wives after conversion to Christianity is an example of this.


9.2, Is there an appropriate ecclesiology for the Church of Ireland?

Next week: (28 March 2016), Easter Monday (public holiday).

Final week (4 April 2016):

10.1, Is there an Anglican culture? Anthony Trollope and the ‘Barchester’ novels (Handout this morning).

10.2, Is there An Anglican culture? The poetry of TS Eliot.

10.3, Is there an Anglican culture? Rose Macaulay and The Towers of Trebizond.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This is an extended version of notes prepared for a lecture on the MTh Year II course, TH8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Monday 21 March 2016.

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (41)

A sign marking the house in Lichfield where Samuel Johnson was born in 1709 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

In an essay in The Adventurer, No 24 (25 August 1753), Samuel Johnson questions the view commonly held at the time “that England affords a greater variety of characters than the rest of the world. This is ascribed to the liberty prevailing amongst us, which gives every man the privilege of being wise or foolish his own way, and preserves him from the necessity of hypocrisy or the servility of imitation.”

He describes taking a stagecoach journey across England, when was confined to a small space with strangers who did not know one another and who were reluctant to engage freely in conversation with each another. He observes:

How readily the predominant passion snatches an interval of liberty, and how fast it expands itself when the weight of restraint is taken away, I had lately the opportunity to discover, as I took a journey into the country …

It is always observable that silence propagates itself, and that the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find anything to say.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

Is silence induced by travel in a confined space? The train from Wexford to Rosslare Harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)