The Spirit of Anglicanism

By the Rev. Mark W. Speeks, Chaplain 2002-03

In an essay, Anglicanism and Its Spirit, William Wolf seeks to describe today’s Anglicanism as a church that seeks to be comprehensive, which, he writes, is “not a sophisticated word for syncretism. Rather it implies that the apprehension of truth is a growing thing.” Wolf’s contention is that the inclusion of both Protestant and Catholic elements, mediated through reason and experience, have not simply been placed side-by-side in Anglicanism but have acted on each other to enable “authentic complementarity” within an agreed basic theological framework of creeds, episcopacy and liturgy. As such, Wolf finds that Anglicanism manages to fit all five of Richard Niebuhr’s typologies in Christ and Culture, and apparently makes it “an ecumenical prototype of the coming great church.”

Similarly, in an article in which he discussed his assertion of the primacy of lex orandi, lex credendi within Anglicanism, W. Taylor Stevenson identified an Anglican ethos, which he defined as the “underlying assumptions and feelings”. He wrote that there is “an assumption that consensus, comprehensiveness and contract is the normative mode for establishing and maintaining the order of society”. Furthermore, he identified “a certain pragmatism and a lack of speculative interest.”

Not surprisingly given Anglican theological method, therefore, at the beginning of his essay Anglican Morality, Paul Elmen writes that “there is no uniform Anglican morality in theory, much less in practice.” Later, he concedes that there are “a few common threads.” He notes that “the hallmark of Anglican morality has been the aurea mediocritas, the Golden Mean, the measure of nothing too much.” In a middle ground between authority and individual liberty, there has been an Anglican insistence on the priority of praxis.

For his part, H.R. McAdoo concurs and writes that “Anglicanism is not a theological system ... but a method.”

What we do, therefore, is seek to always ask questions without expecting answers. The Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner described God as “the primordial ground and abyss of all reality” and as “ineffable darkness.” He concluded that with the insight that “revelation [..] is really the presence of God as question, not as answer.”

Anglicanism concerns itself with the presence of God as a question.