Monday, October 22, 2007

The Guiding Principle of the English Reformation

I'm back. I needed a blogging break. I've had the break and now I return to more theological ruminations for your reading pleasure.

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The Church of England and its daughter Churches are rooted in the English Reformation. The English Reformation was part of the larger reality called the Protestant Reformation. However, it is probably better to think in terms of Protestant ReformationS in the plural. All the reformations held in common a breaking of communion with the Bishop of Rome (the pope) but then subsequently reformed using different guiding principles.

In England the reformation was understood and carried out as a reforming of the existing Catholic Church in England. Keep this in mind. On the day before the English Church broke with Rome there was a particular set of clergy, parishes church buildings, etc. On the day after the break with Rome all of those things were still in place. The English Reformation was not an attempt to start over with a blank slate using only the Bible as the blueprint for the life of the Church. The English viewed the Church in England as one, continuous, historic body that was in existence from possibly as early as the late first Century. From the first century until the Council of Whitby in the 7th Century it was not in communion in Rome. From the 7th to the 16th century it was in communion with Rome. From the 16th century onward it his not been in communion with Rome. It was the same church before, during and after its communion with Rome.

The outcome of the English Reformation was what many call Reformed Catholicism. When the English Church reformed it did not disband the Catholic Church in England and start over from scratch. Instead, the English Reformers used the Bible to cleanse the Church of the corrupting accretions that collected on the Church over the centuries. The English Reformers began with the assumption that the Church in England -- even while in union with Pope -- was truly Christ's Church. What needed to happen was that all the things that had developed over time which contradicted the gospel of Jesus as revealed in Holy Scripture needed to be removed from the Church. For the English reformers the Bible was not a blueprint for starting over, instead, the Bible was a touchstone for clearing out any thing that contradicted the gospel.

This is why the Anglican Church is essentially a Church of the Protestant reformation, but why it also looks so catholic. For example, when the English Church reformed it didn't say, "It doesn't say in the Bible that a written liturgy was used, therefore we cannot use a written liturgy." Instead, the English reformers said, "We have received the liturgy of Christ's Church. How do we make sure it is in congruity with the gospel of Jesus as revealed in the sacred scriptures?"

I like to think of it like clearing a slow working and corrupted PC. If my PC is not working right, I could scrap it and buy a new one. However, what one usually does is run a virus check, de-frag, get rid of corrupted and unused files, etc. One does not erase the hard drive. There are many good programs that have been added to the computer over time that work well and which function in sync with the computer's intended use -- even though they were not originally part of the computer.

The English reformers did not scrap the Church and start over. The English reformers did not erase the hard drive of the Church and start over. What the English reformers did was use the Bible and the insights of the early church Fathers to de-frag, de-virus and de-corrupt the existing Catholic Church in England. The result was the Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Way.

5 comments:

Bryan said...

Good stuff Peter. I like it when you blog!

Brandon F said...

Was wondering when you'd post again Fr. Peter. I had a long and interesting talk with the minister at my church about parts of the topic of this post.

Welcome back to the blogosphere!

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