So often in much contemporary Anglican disagreement, one hears that one or another position or action is “not Anglican;” as if there is a predetermined and widely understood notion of what is Anglican and what is not. More often than not these Anglican ‘identities’ are warmed over secondary reflection on how Anglicanism is ‘inclusive – “We don’t have a confession” – or ‘Protestant’ – “remember the Articles of Religion?” or whatever. Rarely have I found such cheap appeals convincing, and drawing from historical wells for invective has always produced less-than-complete pictures of our Christian past.
In his helpful little book, The Anglican Spirit, Michael Ramsey explains that there has seemed to be a general inability for Anglicanism to maintain anything like a coherent identity since WWII. He points to several different reasons, among them the rise of optimistic ecumenism and the ‘Biblical Theology’ movement. We see that this has carried on and accelerated up to the present debates surrounding authority, autonomy and theological revision.
On the one hand, it can become quite (for lack of a better word) ‘idolatrous’ to put an abstract ‘Anglican’ identity before the Gospel, yet so long as an appropriate perspective is kept, just as it makes perfect sense to talk about ‘Ignation spirituality’ within the Catholic Church as a distinctive vein, it makes sense to speak of Anglicanism as a worthy part of the larger Tradition and as something valuable enough to retain.
But ‘identity’ is always something being constructed from memory, reflection and imagination. It arises organically from going over the sources that feed us. To figure out what such an identity might look like, it is better to go back and read the Tractarians, Hooker, Herbert rather than latch on to something like ‘comprehensiveness’ and try to fill it with meaning.
‘Identity making’ is in the end worthless since as the Church we receive our identity always from God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and not from the efforts of our own devising. Nevertheless God has so made it that our lives are mediated by the stuff of this world, and so distinctive ‘cultures’ are not perversions of a transcendent universal standing over and above our existence, as if transfiguration had nothing to do with the ‘stuff’ of the world, but parts of a whole.
So we are going to offer a meager addition to this reflection. Each of us is going to compose a short post about an Anglican thinker who has affected us significantly in hopes of renewing interest in our primary sources. And soon we are going to add a new page, open to constant expansion, where we hope to list contemporary Anglican thinkers; where they teach and maybe some of what they’ve written; all in hopes that in attention to the particular we might understand more of the universal, and might get a better feel for how God is working among us today.