Monday, May 30, 2016

Is Anglicanism defined by the Reformation or by catholicity?

"One fact that certainly emerges from recent discussions is that the one thing which it was impossible for anyone to achieve, except by a sheer miracle, in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries [in the West] was a balanced or primitive view of any theological question.  Passions were too high and the legacy of the Middle Ages was too oppressive for that.  The suggestion which has been made in some circles recently that the Church of England, by its 'appeal to history', is committed without question to the ecclesiology and sacramental theology of the classical post-Reformation Anglican divines, and indeed even to their ecclesiastical polity, amounts to little more than a demand that it shall be permanently wrong.  That the divines in question were right in in appealing to Scripture and the Fathers, we may gladly admit.  That they always made that appeal correctly we may surely be allowed to doubt.  As a recent writer has remarked, the 'Anglican appeal to history' is one thing; the 'appeal to Anglican history' is another."
—Fr. Eric Mascall in The Recovery of Unity (Longmans, 1958; p. 122–123)

As Fr. Mascall makes clear, the important thing about the post-Reformation divines was their methodology, namely the appeal to Scripture as the deposit of faith, and to the early Fathers as sure interpreters of it.  It is their methodology, and not their conclusions which are important, and they themselves would fault us for forsaking the former for the sake of some of the latter.

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