Anglicanism: A Reformed and Catholic Tradition
By Gerald Bray
Lexham Press, pp. 128. $23.99
Review by George Sumner
To the considerable corpus of works proposing definitions of Anglicanism, Gerald Bray has added his Anglicanism: A Reformed and Catholic Tradition. His particular slant on the question is to emphasize its reformed dimension, in contrast to those who would today give it short shrift. Here Bray is in line with much recent research, and performs a needed service. The means by which he does so is to retrieve the importance of the Thirty-Nine Articles as a doctrinal confession. Newman notwithstanding, the point of controversy is not so much their perspective as the degree of their enduring relevance (witness their relegations to the back pages of “Historical Documents” in the American prayer book, for example). Here Bray shows appropriate nuance: “the sum total of Anglican theology may be more than the Articles, but it is no less” (pg. 16). Furthermore, he places his exegesis of the Articles amidst the typical qualifications about Anglicanism: its need to be narrated to be understood, its pursuit of moderation in the Reformed ambit, its formative role in the prayer book (to be sure, for Bray, showing the “pattern” of life based on doctrine), the subsequent contested nature of the tradition, and Anglicanism’s reticence to claim anything more than “mere Christianity.” In short, Bray qualifies his robust Reformed claim, which is an Anglican thing to do.
The most theologically interesting part of the book is what Bray has to say about the questions at issue in the Articles themselves. Here one can compare O’Donovan’s On the Thirty-Nine Articles, which is a book about doctrine itself in dialogue with Cranmer. Bray doesn’t put it this way, but is at his best when this is in fact what he does. Bray notes, albeit briefly, that issues like patripassianism and the filioque have been of interest in modern theology, and the relevant Articles can inform our thinking. The point, after all, is not this confession or that church party, but our reception of the classical credal doctrines of the Trinity and Christology and of the Pauline/Augustinian doctrine of grace. Though not peculiar to our tradition, these in large measure constitute Catholic and Reformed tradition.
What questions might one ask of Bray on his account of Anglicanism? First, while one should sympathize with his resort to the doctrinal inheritance, Catholic and Reformed, he does not give an account of why Anglicanism has proved so vulnerable to modernism. Second, one wonders how well Bray’s contrast between a moderate reformed Anglicanism with Lutheranism really holds up. Doesn’t listing toward Calvinism or Lutheranism in part depend on which Article one looks at (since Lutheran views of free will, justification, adiaphora, single predestination, and a satis est definition of the Church itself may be found in them)? Later Bray contrasts the words of eucharistic reception in the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer, but fails to note that 1662 yoked the two. Would he not do better to see Anglicanism as the heir of the magisterial Reformation tradition as a whole? Thirdly, it would be interesting to hear professor Bray wrestle with the question of theological ecumenism in the modern era, all of which is not just “blurring of distinctives” (pg. 41). Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians finding remarkable common ground on justification, for example, ought to have some impact on their Anglican colleagues. Fourth and finally, it is not enough to describe the vast preponderance of contemporary Anglicans (who happen to reside in the evangelical tradition) as the formerly “colonial churches” (pg. 163). They have their own expressions of Anglicanism, and their emergence is itself part of our identity.
But let us end where we began, underscoring what matters most. There is a great need in contemporary Anglicanism to overcome our amnesia with respect to our Reformation inheritance, and this book serves admirably in the service of redressing this problem.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. George Sumner is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas.
The 1549 Words of Administration and the 1552 Words of Administration were combined in the Elizabethan Prayer Book of 1559, not in the Restoration Prayer Book of 1662.
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“…it is not enough to describe the vast preponderance of contemporary Anglicans (who happen to reside in the evangelical tradition) as the formerly “colonial churches” (pg. 163). They have their own expressions of Anglicanism, and their emergence is itself part of our identity.” I think this touches on a neuralgic point in the present Anglican situation, as a global reality. Many in the CofE reflexively think of the AC, rightly or wrongly, in terms of a colonial past. There is still a Commonwealth. And to the degree that past is not one that has endured on prior terms, and may… Read more »