I have seen and heard you make reference to the classical Anglican divines. Who are the Anglican divines? Who were they, what was their place in Anglican history, what contributions did they make to the church, what are some of their best writings I could explore, and what kind of authority do they have in Anglican belief and practice with respect to Scripture, tradition, the Formularies, etc.?… [Also,] who were the English Reformers?…
The above is my primary question, but I also have others that I would be interested in hearing you address…
There were three waves of sixteenth century reformers who had a deep impact on the development of Anglicanism. The first were the continental reformers, men like Martin Luther and John Calvin. They never set foot in England, but their work was read with great interest by theologians in England and thus their influence upon the Anglican Reformation is undeniable.
The second group of reformers are those who were actually responsible for instigating and shaping the Reformation in England. Chief among them was Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who was largely responsible for the compiling of the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer is a figure of immense importance. There would be no Anglican Communion today if it wasn’t for him. Nevertheless, there is a reason why we are called Anglicans and not Cranmerians. The reformers in Cranmer’s generation knew that the Church of England needed to be reformed and they were united in opposing Romanism, but there was not theological unanimity amongst them otherwise. Some of these reformers, like Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr Vermigli, were not even English but spent some time in England trying to encourage the fledgling Reformation to take hold there. These early reformers must be taken seriously for the contributions which they made to the development of Anglicanism, particularly Cranmer, but they have to be understood as forming what might be called a kind of pre Anglicanism. Their major work was in liturgical revision and in working to free the Church of England from the tyranny of the papacy. They were playing with big ideas, but there was not yet consensus as to how those ideas ought to come together. In addition to Cranmer, this set of reformers includes figures like Nicholas Ridley and Robert Barnes.
The third set of reformers are those who played a part in the Elizabethan Settlement. In the preceding two decades, the Church of England had swung violently back and forth between extremes as monarchs lived and died. Under Queen Elizabeth I and largely at her behest, the Church of England came to an official theological consensus about the heart of the faith. This is not to say that every question that could ever be dreamed up was decided, nor that every Christian in England was happy with the results. Nonetheless, through painstaking effort, the Elizabethan Settlement produced a coherent, cogent, and even elegant articulation of the Christian faith that we call Anglicanism today. The reformers of this period include men like Bishop John Jewel who wrote An Apology for the Church of England and Archbishop Matthew Parker who presided over the Convocation of 1563 which produced the 39 Articles (revised from an earlier set of 42 by Cranmer). It’s a bit of an historical stretch, but I also tend to include in this period slightly later figures like Richard Hooker and Richard Field whose theological work defending the Elizabethan Settlement has been highly influential.
The Anglican Reformers did a great job of whittling down to the basics of the Christian faith and lifting up the heart of the Gospel that had been so long obscured. But the Anglican theologians of the seventeenth century took that same Gospel and made it sing. The seventeenth century was a golden era in Anglican theology, despite the fact that Puritans nearly destroyed the Church during that time. Sometimes called the Caroline Divines, the majority of these great theologians lived during the reign of King Charles I and, after the Restoration, King Charles II, but there were great divines throughout the seventeenth century who were deeply committed to the faith articulated by the Elizabethan Settlement. These divines filled in the gaps left by the reformers and created detailed pictures of what it meant to be a Reformed Catholic. They were committed to holy living, to prayer, to the careful explication of Scripture, to the sacraments, to the continuation of the sacred ministry, and to the monarchy. They included men like Lancelot Andrewes, William Laud, Jeremy Taylor, William Beveridge, Thomas Ken, and many, many more.
No individual reformer or divine is infallible. Their authority is always subordinate to the formularies, as well as to the writings of the Fathers and the Scriptures. Yet by reading them, we get a much fuller, richer picture of what it means to be Anglican. Many of them were imprisoned or killed for holding to the Anglican faith. Their example is inspiring and their writing is illuminating. And because they pre-date the modern Anglican idea of “church parties,” their work helps to clarify what it actually means to be Anglican and what essentials need to be held in common by all who would call themselves Anglican.
But you said you had a couple more quick questions…
What place do the Puritans have in classical Anglicanism, if any? Are any of the Puritan divines given any kind of consideration in terms of Anglican thought, belief, and practice? I realize the Puritans were at odds with the via media mentality, but I wonder if they still hold any kind of significance for Anglicans?
Nope, not really. Well, that’s being a bit cheeky. There were certainly Puritans who wrote good and interesting things that hold appeal across the theological spectrum. The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter, for instance, is a masterpiece of pastoral theology. And certainly there were Anglican figures who had the occasional Puritan leaning that comes out in their writing. The line between Puritanism and Anglicanism was always very solid on paper but not always so solid in practice. By and large though the Puritans were set on a different trajectory than the Anglicans were, one which ultimately led them away from the Catholic faith. There is no reason to follow them down that same path unless we want to find ourselves similarly bereft.
Where does John Wesley and Methodism fit into classical Anglicanism?
It is my understanding that Wesley never separated from the Church of England and never intended Methodism to become a church separate from the Church of England. So where does he and his movement factor in, if at all?
It’s true that neither John Wesley nor his brother Charles ever officially left the Church of England, although John did sanction the formation of an American Methodist church without apostolic orders. Many of Charles Wesley’s hymns are in Anglican hymnals. Other than that though there is no ongoing connection between Methodism and Anglicanism. The Methodist movement coincides with the development of the Evangelical movement in Anglicanism and thus there are some shared features, particularly surrounding the topic of personal conversion. But the reformers and divines would likely have been quite puzzled by Methodism and its emphasis on the personal and subjective experience of God in conversion over the concrete and objective reality of God in Word and Sacrament (not that Methodism necessarily lacks the latter, but it does seem that all the weight is placed on the former).
Fourth is a question completely unrelated to the others; what is the Anglican position on clergy celibacy? Do any of the priests or bishops have to be celibate to hold their office?
With the exception of monks and nuns who take vows of celibacy, all Anglican clergy are free to marry. Article XXXII says, “Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God’s Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.”