Null on the Laudian Reforms

In his 2014 Assumptiontide lecture for Forward in Faith, Colin Podmore said of the English reformation:

If we date the English Reformation as beginning with the summoning of the Reformation Parliament in 1529, then it took over 130 years to get to the definitive settlement of 1662, marked by the introduction of the Prayer Book that is still in use and the expulsion of clergy who refused to be ordained by a bishop or to use the new book. When we consider the Reformation, we need to think of that whole period, what one might call ‘the long Reformation’. We speak of the ‘Elizabethan settlement’, but in 1650, during the Interregnum, when there were no bishops and no Prayer Book, that ‘settlement’ would not have seemed definitive. Only in 1662, at the end of those 130 years, did the pendulum finally stop swinging so violently; only then did things settle into a form that – as it turned out – lasted into the nineteenth century and beyond. So my first methodological point is that in looking at Anglican identity we need to look at the whole of this formative period and not pick out one particular year, decade or reign. The authoritative texts are the historic formularies mentioned in the Declaration of Assent (the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the 1662 Ordinal, and the Thirty-Nine Articles, finalized in 1571). When we try to interpret those texts in the light of what people believed, the views of bishops and theologians in the 1630s are at least as worthy of consideration as the views of bishops and theologians in the 1550s.

I posted this to a Anglican discussion group on Facebook, and Archbishop Peter Robinson of the United Episcopal Church added a few clarifying points:

I tend to refer to both a “Long Reformation” 1529-1662, and the “Short Reformation 1533-1563/71.” The former is from the first shot to the fat lady singing, and the latter is the period of time it took to put the basic theological and legal framework in place. . . Trouble is there are Laudians, and Laudians. Cosin certinly had a significant input into the final shape of the 1662 BCP, but it was only minor reforms that were accepted such as the rubrics in the Prayer of Consecration, and concerning the Offertory and the disposal of the consecrated elements. A reordering of the service along the lines of the 1637 Scottish BCP was definitely rejected mainly at the behest of Juxon and Sheldon. OTOH, I think these changes were mainly house keeping changes not theological ones, so from my point of view the theological/liturgical Reformation is basically 1533-1571, with the remain 90 years being a painful process of everything bedding down. 1662 is NOT a victory for the Laudians, but for the Elizabethan Settlement as being the best hope for long term religious stability in England.

Ashley Null was also kind enough to reply, with a few very excellent points worth consideration:

If the 1662 BCP in many ways rejected the the theology of the 1630s, refusing to incorporate the major liturgical changes sought by the Laudian divines (there is a reason why the American church follows the prayer book tradition of the Non-jurors and NOT the 1662!), even to the point of reinserting the Black Rubric, why should we not return to the sixteenth-century formularies for guidance like the 1662 prayer book did on such an essential point as the nature of the Eucharist? Moreover, the 1662 settlement didn’t itself hold. Its failure at creating a broad-based consensus resulted in the 1689 Act of Toleration for dissenters, the Non-Jurors (i.e, the high church Laudians) leaving the C of E leadership and the “long-eighteenth-century” of latitudinarian bishops as their replacements. Why then should we privilege the theology of the 1630s as the prism through which to read Anglicanism when the 1662 BCP failed to do so, and then within a generation the leaders of the Laudian party were no longer even in the Church of England, since their theology of divine right of kings was officially rejected? After all, if we do not seek to understand the founding formularies in the light of their original intent, why should we not admit a Deist interpretation as being as valid as a Laudian or as an Elizabethan or as Tract 90? Wouldn’t it be more academically honest to describe the Tudor church as the Protestant Reformation established by law, the early Stuart church as an English counter-Reformation re-interpretation of that clearly Protestant legacy, the 1662 BCP as a failed attempt at moderation by broadening the liturgy somewhat but maintaining the essentials of the Protestant doctrine of the 16th century, and the subsequent history of Anglicanism as resulting from the failure of church policy under Charles II to unify the country, leading to a fundamental division even within the Church of England as to where to look as the final determiner of how to interpret the formularies, with the low church party looking to Scripture (based on the 16th), the high church party looking to patristic tradition (based on the 17th) or reason (based on the 18th)? While Reformation (i.e., sixteenth-century) Anglicanism cannot claim the mantle of being the only official interpretation of Anglicanism during the history of the Church of England, surely it is unhelpful to rewrite our story and describe the Laudians as part of the English Reformation. Laudianism has an honored place in the history of Anglicanism without blurring unnecessarily the course of the church’s theological development.

. . . perhaps the fundamental disagreement we may have is your seeming assumption that there is a “Classical Anglican Identity.” I know that is the common approach throughout Anglicanism, but because the fundamental theological assumptions of the Edwardian/Elizabethan versus the Caroline divines are so significant, one or the other theological stream must be significantly relativized in such an approach. For much of the last 150 years, the Oxford Movement’s rewriting of the Elizabethan Church’s theology significantly misrepresented its clearly moderate Protestant theology as a via media between Rome and Geneva when in fact it was a via media between Wittenberg and Geneva. (All one has to do is read the Second Book of Homilies, required reading every Sunday along side the prayer book in most of England’s parishes for much of Elizabeth’s reign, to realize that the official Elizabethan settlement did all it could to reject the fundamental tenets of Tridentine Catholicism.) In short this Anglo-Catholic narrative did its best to relativize the Protestant nature of the religion established by law in England. For the current scholarly consensus of the Elizabethan Settlement, see Dewey D. Wallace, Jr., “Via Media? A Paradigm Shift,” Anglican and Episcopal History 72 (2003), 2-21. Now that the scholarly consensus has rejected the Anglo-Catholic historical narrative of the Elizabethan settlement as untenable, no doubt some feel then that the opposite must happen, that Reformation Anglicanism must now wear crown of “classical Anglican identity,” and relativize Caroline theology as fundamentally a historical abberration. Even those who argue for a “three-streams” approach to true Anglicanism inevitably chose either the Caroline or Elizabethan theological presuppositions as the basis for their Anglican narrative, to the marginalizing of the other stream. Isn’t it once again just academically honest to say that because of erastian nature of the Church of England, succeeding generations of Anglicanism developed at least two (three, if you include the “long-eighteenth-century church”) competing ways of understanding how to do church based on the formularies and just leave each way to its own integrity without declaring one stream the winner? In my view, there is no such thing as an Anglican way of theology, only Anglican ways.”

A very interesting discussion indeed!

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