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  • Writer's pictureBishop Peter F. Hansen

We Are Anglicans - Part One

St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church

Bishop Peter F. Hansen

Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Trinity, August 16, 2020

“Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation.”

FROM THIS PULPIT I regularly preach the Gospel, real life, Christian virtues, and the triple threats of the world, the flesh and the devil. Our form of worship and the theological well from which I draw these teachings is an especially rich heritage and discipline known as Anglicanism. There is an Anglican Mind, and it’s the Catholic Mind, and because of its historic path, it is today unique among Christian bodies and expressions within the realms of Christian schools of thought.

Today, the fourth Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Christ the King leads us from his parish, St. George’s, in Raleigh, North Carolina, since his ascension last January 1st. The Most Rev. John Upham is head of our national church. And in light of that, we may ask who we are and what all this means? St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church in Chico is certainly not my creation, and it does not stand alone. Who are we and what does all this mean?

We are not Anglicans first, but Catholic Christians. Our unity with the rest of the Body of Christ, be it Roman, Eastern Orthodox or Protestant, is affirmed in the love that Christ commanded. My comments today won’t rise from an elitist attitude, but out of appreciation for what God has given us in the richness of the Anglican Mind.

Anglicanism is a path of tradition within Christianity that rises from the historic Church of England, and is a word derived from Ecclesia Anglicana, Latin for English Church. The term predates the Reformation. The English Church was a member of the Catholic or Universal Church from its inception. American Bishop Charles Grafton wrote 100 years ago:

“The Church was planted in Britain in very early times. It met with reverses and almost destruction at the hands of the Saxons and Danes; was strengthened by the coming of the Monk Augustine in 596; was brought in looser connection with the Roman See at the time of the Norman Conquest; came fully under the dominion of the Papacy as its power culminated under Hildebrand and Innocent III; was aroused by the voice of Wyckliffe to the struggle for its ancient rights; passed through its struggle with the Papacy in the sixteenth century, maintaining the continuity of its organization, its holy orders, and its inherited Catholic Faith; emerged from the contest with Puritanism in the seventeenth century; and then, fortifying its Prayer Book with more emphatic statements of Catholic doctrine in 1662, completed the work of the Reformation.”

What that summarizes is how Christians on the English Isles existed as Catholics always, and at times as constituent members of the Roman rule, but only by their choice. An Imperial Rome was never insisted upon until after the 11th century Great Schism that separated Rome from Constantinople, the Western from the Eastern Church. All the while, the English peoples loved and celebrated the ancient truths of Christian Church, the universal faith, Christ’s sacraments, the three-fold ministry and the revealed Word of God in Scripture. England didn’t require instruction from Italians any more than it received the wisdom of the French, the Irish and its own indigenous saints, at such times that they were of more powerful influence.

Something essential in the early Celtic culture ran opposed to the Roman ethos and set up a dynamic tension within the British Church, with a healthy suspicion of papal decrees. Nature is, to Roman thought, an evil mess that must be suppressed by man’s superior reason and law. In Celtic thought, amply illustrated in the Book of Kells, Nature is revered as the irrepressible gift of God abundantly, outside as well as inside our religious buildings. Great Britain, when the 5th century Roman world had fallen to ruin for two centuries, until Augustine’s band of monks arrived, still had the primitive Christian Church in those Isles growing and feeling its identity apart. Britain never truly lost that independence.

Faithful to the Creeds, the Bible record, the seven Sacraments of Christian life in faith, producing many notable saints, and reformers, the English Church thrived throughout the Middle Ages, a faithful Catholic body. Only when the power of an imperial Roman Church was spliced with the worldly exploration and acquisition of the Spanish Emperor did England see its peril and feel its need to express its independence again.

Henry VIII is always cited as founding the Church of England, for that is what our detractors have stated against us. It’s not true. The Church of England has existed since the 1st or 2nd century, and always as part of the Great Church of all time. Henry, for reasons of his own, defied the Pope’s refusal to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and in 1533 Henry appointed his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who declared the former marriage null. There were grounds for that, but our church is not founded on that political departure from Rome’s political authority.

Suddenly, the Catholic Church of England was without foreign ties. In light of the shifting and quaking on the continent in the emergence of the Lutheran and Calvinist Reformation, every question needed to be asked again. But the English loved their church. Different from Luther, Cranmer didn’t have to leave the Catholic Church to found a new Church outside and apart. The Catholic Church of England, the faith of an island kingdom, was intact. It’s ministry, sacraments, way of worship and authorities were firm, answering now to a council of bishops and an English king, not an Italian prince-primate. Life went on.

Since the days of John Wycliffe, an earlier reformer, English-speaking people wished the language of their religious lives to be English. Thomas Cranmer took the language of Catholic worship from Latin into English, creating the glorious worship of the Book of Common Prayer and setting the stage for the 17th century King James Version of the Holy Bible. The Prayer Book and the KJV are the most influential volumes in creating our modern English language.

But why English? Why Anglican, vs. some other ethnic or language group to make our church identity? Fair questions. Well, we are not South Americans, but North Americans. Our culture is English, and that says more than a language. The English culture, like the Hispanic culture, is worldwide. When you say “English Church,” you are not speaking of one ethnicity. There are more black faces in Anglicanism today by far than fair-skinned Anglos, yet we speak one language and love One God. English was only the transmitter of one expression of faith throughout the world, an alternative to the Latin-Spanish language and philosophy whose Crusades and Inquisition suppressed the human quest for God and established an imperial Catholic world.

So, are we Protestants? It’s been said so, and our forebears in the Episcopal Church sensed the need to use that word in their early name, now dropped. Protestant was a word for German princes who protested a punitive tax against them because they were not Roman Catholics but Lutherans. It’s come to mean Western Christians who oppose Roman Catholicism in their worship and faith, but it means too much for us to embrace. Divided, even by that description, are so many denominations and sects, that it’s hard to describe them all: but in short, they hold that faith and salvation come by individual conversion and that the sacraments of the church are mere signs to recognize the spiritual exchange already complete in the spirit. There is no Apostolic Succession, no ordained priesthood, no sacramental spiritual grace or assurance, no sacrifice to participate in.

That isn’t us. We Anglicans are Catholic, not Protestant.

But the English Church lost sight of that fact in the 17th and 18th centuries. It took an awakening in the middle 19th century in Oxford to rediscover and reinvest the true Catholic nature of our Anglican heritage and it re-enlivened the Anglican world. Its authors – Pusey, Keble and Newman – wrote volumes of scholarly and inspiring books and tracts that identified again, in this government-established English Church, true Catholicity dating back to the days of the Apostles, and rooted in the Scriptures.

One American bishop, Charles Grafton, who I quoted before, visited Oxford and was taught by them, and established his own school of Oxford Tractarianism in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The cathedral he built, St. Paul’s, was the site of the ordination of my family’s first priest, Fr. Harley Wright Smith, who studied under Grafton, and who mentored both me and Canon Boardman Reed before me. This thread of Anglican Catholic Christianity has its lineage a long way back, and finds its way into Chico, California, and into you.

We take a high view of the Church. That does not mean we are High Churchmen, per se. Our worship is holy, we make an altar the center of our time with God, I face toward the altar to denote that our prayers go to One who is high and beyond our control, and not toward an audience as though I’m entertaining someone. The language of our worship is the best English ever crafted for the purpose, and need not change for relevancy sake. We only need to train people to understand it and take time with it. Ours is a high view of the Church, and it confounds the Protestant mind that places the Bible above the Church, an historical impossibility.

Let me explain. Put 100 Bibles in the hands of 100 innocent unbelievers and leave them in a room for a year. Protestant scholars insist that from that room will come a number of Christians, fully converted, and fully believing the true faith. The Bible makes a Christian. That can happen, I guess, but the Bible is not the source of the spiritual work. If it were, all 100 would be Christians, and all would hold the same ideas of the faith and doctrine. It’s a misunderstanding of the book, which is the product of the Spirit of God and holy people, by and for people who were already within the compass of the Church. The Bible didn’t write the Church. The Church wrote the Bible.

Bishop Grafton wrote, “The Church is the end of God’s original design in creating. God designed the Universe that now is, as a preliminary to creating the Church. He created the material Universe and man, that He might eventually develop out of the existing order of things, a new organism. The Church is this new organism. It is the primary purpose and the ultimate object of the creative activity.”

Now, this would sound like a bombastic assertion if we think of the Church as something man-made, a human response and construct after a number of personal conversions, as in the room full of Bibles. But the Church is that Holy Ark that comes out of heaven for us, of God’s design and building, made from living stones, which we are, and His Holy Spirit, who indwells all its members. The Church is an extension of the Incarnation of Christ, God’s beginning act in the final redemption of mankind. Christ is God’s Word being made flesh, God taking human nature on Himself so that the divide between man and God is erased in Him, the firmament that once divided the waters above and waters below is now removed. The way to heaven is found in Him. And by extension, as the Body of Christ on earth, that way is found in His Church. He built His Church on the Rock of Christ and the stones like Peter who believed in Him.

And so we are: Anglicans. Not superior to other Christians, but fully Christian. We like our position on things, love our worship, adore our God, and answer the altar call to the Communion rail—when possible—every Sunday because it is the act our Lord commanded of us.

St. Paul met a contrary force that set itself against the Church he’d established in Galatia, teachers who attempted to lead his former pagan converts back into Judaism, lest they fail to achieve some needed legal pedigree. The Church is not Judaism plus Jesus. The New Covenant replaces the Old. Our adherence to Catholic forms is, however, not an attempt to validate ourselves by use of someone else’s image: this is our tradition, it is our faith.

The Roman church of the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment added doctrines to our Creed, setting them apart from their and our history. We differ with the Roman insistence on Transubstantiation, Purgatory, the Infallibility of Papal decrees, and the Immaculate Conception of Mary. While we love and respect them, we want to be more connected to the Universal Church from which we sprang than to add new chapters to the faith once given.

The Anglican way has been described as a Via Media, a middle way. That’s an awkward term, easily mistaken for compromise. I rather see it like a large pipeline stretching from the 1st century to this and containing a great many paths and curves in its length and diameter. We try very hard to stay in its center as the pipe is bent by historic worldly and political pressures. I want to be able, from our position at this late date, to sight straight down the pipeline and our Anglican path, and see the other end with our Lord and His Apostles, assuring us that we are consistent with their initiating power and genius.

Many years have brought us to this day. The English language, as we have it today, never existed for 15 centuries after Christ’s birth. The Church Age brought many changes, but there are still things unchanged, and God forbid we should change them, any of them.

Let us, therefore, as Anglicans, created from Above and not below, seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness. Let us worship God in a way that respects Him and brings us into a holy fear. Let us celebrate a new American Archbishop, who takes the role of father to the fathers of our church, guardian of the faith, and overseer of the miracles of our sacramental verities.

A fond legend of Anglican lore is that St. Joseph of Arimathea landed on the shores of England at Glastonbury, bearing in his hands the chalice from Christ’s Last Supper, known as the Holy Grail. Physically possible, but likely to be spurious, the English have always accepted the quest for a hidden treasure within their own geographical boundaries.

I believe that treasure is in themselves. And whatever great saint first brought the truth of Jesus Christ to those shores, and to these, we bear a great legacy into the future. We are Anglicans, and as Anglicans we are Catholic to the backbone, Christians over all, a part of Christ’s Body giving to our world a sure and trusted way to heaven.


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Sennen Makokha
Sennen Makokha
5 days ago

A disingenuous, perversion of facts presented as history. You learn nothing from this article. You will "learn" only that which you wish to believe. False!

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