September 20, 2015

What is an Anglican?

It strikes me that there are two meanings of Anglican, as it is commonly used. It can be understood as a tradition with certain characteristics derived from a historical reality (I assayed an essay on what I think the central characteristics are a decade ago in The Anglican Triad), or more formally as the fellowship of churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, members of the Anglican Consultative Council -- there is a list of membership one can look up. By analogy, one could say that some of the "independent" catholic churches are "catholic" but not officially so from the perspective of Rome, which does recognize a number of non-Latin churches as directly relating to it, but not these "independent" bodies. In the looser sense of heritage, one could say that the Methodists are part of the Anglican tradition, and but for some accidents of history, might still be so formally, and yet may!

The problem with ACNA, as I see it, is that they violate one of the key principles that are a part of that Anglican (and indeed catholic) heritage that I laid out in the essay linked above -- the geographical and canonical notion that there should only be one Anglican jurisdiction in any one place. But neither is ACNA an official member of the Communion (in spite of their recognition by some member churches who say they are in communion with them; but the same can be said of, say the ELCA: with whom TEC is in communion, but that communion with them renders them neither Anglican nor members of the Anglican Communion. The same is true of Porvoo churches in relation to England.)

On the one-church-in-a-location issue, I think that, for a time, the "state" was a good balance point for Anglicanism, reflecting as well the settlement in Europe of cuius regio eius religio -- but that this worked best in an established church, which was the case at the time. The lack of establishment across most of the Anglican Communion today, and the increase in means of communication, have made the "national" ideal much more difficult to maintain, as people have less sense of a legal restriction (though it is still an active canonical principle) and the concept of a network is replacing that of either a pyramid or a hub-and-spoke. That doesn't mean I don't still think the nation or region to be an ideal in Anglicanism, but it may be one whose time has passed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

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