23 March 2017

Anglican Studies (2016-2017) 9.1: Is it possible
to speak of an Anglican ecclesiology?

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick Dublin … what are the structures of the Church and how do we speak of an Anglican ecclesiology? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

TH 8825:
Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Thursdays: 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 23 March 2017, 9.30 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 wilfully 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, 30 March 2017:

10.1, Anglicanism, ecumenical engagement and inter-religious dialogue.

10.2, The Church of Ireland, ecumenical engagement and inter-religious dialogue.

(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 Thursday 23 March 2017.

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