The Church of England and the other national Churches descended from her is a Reformed Catholic Church. From the English Reformation on Anglicans have disagreed among themselves as to which word should be stressed. High Churchmen stress the Catholic, Low Churchmen stress the Reformed. I am a High Churchman and stress the Catholicity of the Anglican Church. By this I do not mean that I stress what the Anglican Church has in common with the Roman Church, but what the Anglican Church shares with all the Churches organically descended from the first Church in Jerusalem - the Catholic faith confessed in the ancient Creeds especially the Nicene-Constantinopolitan, the Apostolic government and priesthood, the Gospel Sacraments, liturgical worship, and the doctrines, practices, customs and traditions that are the heritage of all Christians in all Churches. Now Anglican High Churchmanship underwent a change in the nineteenth century due to the Oxford or Tractarian Movement of the 1830s. The pre-Tractarian High Churchmen generally called themselves “Orthodox”, did not regard the English Reformation as a regrettable mistake, had no problem identifying as Protestant as well as Catholic, and had little to no interest in reintroducing practices jettisoned in the English Reformation, let alone new ones that Rome had introduced in the Council of Trent. After the Oxford Movement many High Churchmen preferred the term "Anglo-Catholic", saw the English Reformation as something to be regretted, avoided the term Protestant, and introduced liturgical reforms based on Rome’s Tridentine model. Although my own High Churchmanship is far closer to that of the older pre-Tractarian model, I don’t agree with the judgement that a certain school of Low Churchmen have been making as of late that the Oxford Movement was a disastrous betrayal of Anglicanism. I think that despite a tendency among some of the Tractarians to embrace as Catholic what was merely Roman, the reverse error of the Hyper-Protestants who reject as Roman what is truly Catholic, the Oxford Movement was overall more for the good than otherwise.
In saying that the Anglican Church is Reformed Catholic I do not mean that it is a compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism, a middle ground that is neither the one nor the other, which is the image that the familiar expression via media unfortunately tends to conjure up. The Anglican tradition is both fully Protestant and fully Catholic. It is however a via media within both Protestantism and Catholicism. The Anglican expression of Catholicism is not entirely that of the Roman Church nor that of the Eastern Orthodox but is somewhere between the two. Our Episcopal hierarchical structure is closer to that of the Eastern Orthodox, for example, but we confess the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed with the filioque clause. As a via media within Protestantism, it is often said that Anglicanism is a via media between Wittenberg and Geneva, meaning between the Lutheran and Calvinist expressions of Protestantism. I don’t think anybody would be foolish enough to think us closer to Zurich.
That brings me to the topic of this essay, which is another claim made by the same school of Low Churchmen referred to in the first paragraph. In my last essay which was on the topic of Hyper-Protestantism I addressed certain similarities between this school and the Hyper-Protestants. Here I wish to address their claim that true Anglicanism is not just Protestant generally, but Reformed in the sense of the specific form of Protestant theology that the word Reformed denotes in denominational titles such as Dutch Reformed or Reformed Baptist. That type of theology is often called Calvinist, although this is misleading, and it is usually contrasted with Arminianism, which is even more misleading, and most misleading of all it is claimed that Arminianism is a close relative of Romanism. Why these things are misleading will become clear when I give some background history to Reformed theology. First, however, I clarify that what I will be arguing against is the claim that the Articles of Religion, which in their final form were adopted by the Church of England in 1571 as part of the Elizabethan Settlement, are distinctly Calvinist, not as opposed to Arminianism which did not exist in 1571, but as opposed to Lutheranism. While this claim has some validity when it comes to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, it is completely false when it comes to soteriology which is where our focus will be, and is utterly laughable when it comes to any other topic.
Thomas Cranmer, who was consecrated and installed as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533 during the reign of Henry VIII was the principal leader of the English Reformation until the reign of Mary in which he was removed from office and executed. An even more conservative Reformer than Dr. Luther, at the beginning of the English Reformation he was a Christian humanist of the same type as Erasmus and his reforms took the Patristic period rather than what was going on in continental Protestantism as their model. Over the course of his career he became more influenced by the continental Protestants, at first the German Lutherans, then towards the end of his life, the Calvinists. When, after the brief interruption of the English Reformation during the reign of Mary, Elizabeth I acceded the throne, the English Reformation took an even more conservative turn. In 1559 she ordered the Black Rubric excised from the Book of Common Prayer. This had been inserted into the Order for Holy Communion in the second Edwardian Prayer Book (1552) as an attempt at compromise between Scottish Calvinist Reformer John Knox’s argument that Communion should be received sitting and Cranmer’s conservative defence of kneeling, but it ended up more radical than either Cranmer or Knox, by asserting the Zwinglian view of the Sacrament (mere memorialism). When it was eventually re-inserted into the Prayer Book it was in the Restoration edition (1662) and with the Zwinglian language excised. In 1563, Archbishop Matthew Parker led Convocation in revising the Forty-Two Articles of Religion that Cranmer had drafted towards the end of Edward’s reign. After a few more tweaks they become the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571. The Article on the Lord’s Supper excludes both the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation and Zwinglian memorialism. While what it affirms sounds closer to Calvin’s view than any other continental Reformer, it needs to be compared with how the same Article read in the Forty-Two Articles. Language that specifically excluded the Lutheran view was omitted from the final version. That language reads:
Forasmuch as the truth of man’s nature requires that the body of one and the self-same man cannot be at one time in diverse places, but must needs be in some one certain place, the body of Christ cannot be present at one time in many and diverse places. Because (as Holy Scripture does teach) Christ was taken up into heaven, and there shall continue unto the end of the world, a faithful man ought not, either to believe or openly to confess the real and bodily presence (as they term it) of Christ’s flesh and blood in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
These words explicitly state the Calvinist position and include the reasoning that is the basis of the Lutheran accusation that Calvinists are crypto-Nestorians. They were excised from the final version that became cemented as the official Anglican doctrine in the Elizabethan Settlement. In their place was put the following:
The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.
The result was that in the Thirty-Nine Articles, Article XXVIII (it was Article XXIX in the Forty-Two Articles) either a) affirmed a milder, more watered down, version of the Calvinist doctrine or b) was deliberately made ambiguous enough to allow for both Lutheran and Calvinist interpretations and exclude only the Roman and Zwinglian. The overall tenour of the Elizabethan Settlement, which was to minimize divisive stances so as to maintain peace in the realm and Church, and the fact that if Parker et al. wished the Article to endorse the Calvinist position over the Lutheran they could have left it unedited, suggests that b) is the correct understanding here.
It was during the reign of Elizabeth that a decidedly Calvinist element arose in the English Church that called for reforms that greatly exceeded those of the Settlement. These are historically remembered as the Puritans and towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign Richard Hooker provided an Anglican answer to their arguments, especially as expressed by Thomas Cartwright, in his Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie. In the Jacobean and Carolinian reigns, the next generation of Puritans became more extreme both in their Calvinism and their demands. They accused Orthodox Churchmen like Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, who oversaw the translation of the Authorized Bible in King James I’s reign, and Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, of Arminianism for opposing their excessive preaching of predestination although it is highly unlikely that either man, both of whom tended to ignore contemporary theologians of narrow schools in favour of the Church fathers, was influenced much or at all by Jacob Arminius and his followers. They also accused the same of being closet papists. Here we see the first instance of this Calvinist linking of Arminianism with Romanism that has resurfaced in the contemporary school that I am addressing. The second accusation was also ludicrous. Andrewes, in his responses to Cardinal Bellarmine, and Laud in his published Conversation with the Jesuit Fischer, were the closest thing the Church of England had to the scholastics who had arisen in the Lutheran and Reformed Churches (think Johann Gerhard and Martin Chemnitz for the Lutherans, Zacharias Ursinus and Francis Turretin for the Reformed) to answer the new arguments from a new generation of Roman apologists such as said Cardinal Bellarmine who were armed with the re-articulation of Roman doctrine that had come out of the Council of Trent. At any rate, the Puritans became so extreme that they, having taken control of Parliament, fought a civil war against King Charles I, captured, illegally tried, and murdered him, then established an interregnum under the protectorate of the tyrannical Oliver Cromwell who in his quest to rob the English people of all joy cancelled Christmas and Easter, shut down the theatres, outlawed games, sports, and other amusements outside of religious services on Sundays (the only day of the week people weren’t working), stripped the Churches of artwork and organs, imposed a legalism that out-Phariseed the Pharisees, and basically did everything in his power to prove H. L. Mencken right when he defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”. Their revolt against their king would become the inspiration towards the end of the next century of the French Revolution which in turn became the model for all subsequent Communist revolutions. Since the Puritanical party in Parliament became the Whigs after the Restoration and Puritanism in North America developed into the Yankee culture of New England, Puritanism can be said to be the source of the major evils of the Modern Age – liberalism, Americanism, and Communism. Whether consciously or not, the Puritan revolt against King Charles I was itself modelled after an earlier such revolt. As Dr. Johnson put it “the first Whig was the devil”.
After the Restoration, which was when the British, sick to death of Puritanism, restored Charles II to his rightful throne, and restored the Church of England to the pre-Puritan status quo, the Puritan Calvinists divided among themselves into the Nonconformists, those unwilling to accept the restored Church of England who left and formed schismatic sects, and those for whom the restored Church of England was acceptable, who became the first Low Churchmen or as they were called at the time, Evangelicals (this was one of the first, if not the first, use of this term with a narrower sense than “Protestant”). In the eighteenth century, Arminian Low Churchmen first began to appear due to the influence of John Wesley, and these introduced a new emphasis on experience into Evangelicalism. The embrace of strict, academic, Reformed theology by many evangelicals in the Twentieth Century is, perhaps, a reaction to what became an over-emphasis on experience in the revivalist heritage of evangelicalism, and what we are seeing in this new school of Low Church Calvinism may be the Anglican expression of this phenomenon.
Their claim that Anglicanism in her Articles of Religion is specifically Reformed in the sense of Calvinist is not born out by an examination of the Articles. It is also rather anachronistic because what they mean by Reformed theology or Calvinism had not yet been formulated in the way we know it today at the time the Articles received royal assent. This may seem a strange thing to say, since John Calvin died in 1564, but what is called Calvinism today was formulated over sixty years after his death in response to a dissenting movement that had arisen within the Reformed tradition. Theodore Beza, Calvin’s prize pupil and his successor in Geneva, had articulated a version of the doctrine of predestination that anyone with an ounce of humanity had to reject. Impiously inquiring into the secret counsels of God, which is arrogant and forbidden to humanity, he had come up with the doctrine of supralapsarianism. That is a big word that basically means that God first chose people to damn to hell, then decided to let them fall into sin so He would have grounds to damn them. In 1582 – eleven years after the Articles of Religion – a Dutch Reformed student by the name of Jakob Hermanszoon, better known by the Latin version of his name Jacob Arminius, came to Geneva to study under Beza. Later that decade he was ordained a pastor in Amsterdam and was asked by the Ecclesiastical Council there to defend Beza’s doctrine of supralapsarianism against Dirck Coornhert who had rejected it. Arminius attempted to do this but found that he could not honestly do so and began to develop a modified form of Reformed theology that emphasized free will rather than predestination. He died in 1609 and the following year, the year before the Authorized Bible was published in England, his followers published The Five Articles of Remonstrance, stating their views on election, predestination, and free will. In 1618, the Dutch Reformed Church convened the Synod of Dort to answer this document and the following year published its Canons, of which there were five, one for each Article of Remonstrance. These have ever since been called the Five Points of Calvinism and are usually placed in a slightly different order than they appear in the Canons of Dort so as to make the acronym TULIP – Total Depravity (or Inability), Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.
Just in case you failed to pick up on that, the five points regarded as definitive of Calvinism today, were formulated in 1618-1619 in response to Arminianism, itself a response to supralapsarianism, a doctrine first taught by Calvin’s successor rather than Calvin himself. Arminianism, therefore, rather than being a “sister of Romanism”, is most closely related within the various schools of Christian theology, to Calvinism itself. Calvinism versus Arminianism, is an in-the-family dispute within the Reformed branch of Protestantism. Calvinism and Arminianism disagree on all five points – that is kind of the point – although in other areas, they are closer to each other, than to any other form of Christianity, including the other Protestant traditions. The five points also separate Calvinism from the other Protestant traditions.
Before looking at our Anglican Articles note how Lutheranism and Calvinism, agree and disagree on these matters. Lutheranism and Calvinism are both monergistic (salvation is entirely the work of God not a cooperative effort between God and the one being saved) and Augustinian, and so both can affirm the first point of Calvinism at least if it is understood as the Augustinian concept of Original Sin, that the Fall so affected human nature as to make man utterly helpless in the matter of his own salvation and dependent utterly on the Grace of God. Calvinists sometimes elaborate this in ways other Christians cannot affirm, such as claiming that the Image of God was wiped out by Original Sin. Lutherans can also affirm unconditional election, but they reject double predestination which includes the concept of reprobation (predestination to hell) which Calvinism affirms. So there is agreement between Lutheranism and Calvinism on one and a half points of Calvinism. On the other points there is disagreement. Lutherans most definitely do not believe in Limited Atonement – it conflicts with their understanding of the Gospel as a proclamation of Objective Justification accomplished for all human beings in Christ, that each human being must receive by faith for it to be validated as his own Subjective Justification. Nor do they believe in Irresistible Grace. God’s will, when worked through His Own power directly, is irresistible, but when God works through intermediate means, other wills can resist His own. In the case of salvation, the salvation God accomplished for the world in Jesus Christ is brought to individuals through the intermediate means of the Gospel, which in both forms, Word and Sacrament, has in itself sufficient Grace to produce faith in the human heart, but because that Grace is conveyed through intermediate means, it is resistible rather than irresistible. If someone believes it is entirely due to the Grace in the Gospel, he adds nothing of his own to it, if someone remains in unbelief, this is entirely due to his own resistance, and there is no answer, no simple one at any rate, to the question of cur alii, alii non (why some, not others). On Perseverance both Lutherans and Calvinists affirm that the elect will persevere to the end and receive final salvation, but Calvinists combine this with the concept of perpetual justification – that after one is initially justified, this justification persists and is not lost through subsequent sin, a doctrine that among Baptists and Plymouth Brethren is often affirmed without Perseverance – and Lutherans do not, teaching that someone who commits Mortal Sin after initial justification loses it until he repents and is forgiven.
So where do our Articles stand on all of this?
Well, unsurprisingly the only points directly addressed are the first two, on which Lutherans and Calvinists mostly agree. Articles IX and X, “Of Original or Birth Sin” and “Of Free-Will” respectively, affirm the Augustinian view of these things against the Pelagian. Article XVII is entitled “Of Predestination and Election”. Here it is in its entirety:
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.
As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.
Furthermore, we must receive God’ s promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.
Note there is no affirmation of Reprobation in this Article. Lutherans as well as Calvinists can confess it. Indeed, the second paragraph can almost be taken as an affirmation of the Lutheran understanding of the doctrine against the Calvinist. Compare what it says about the doctrine being a comfort for the godly and not something to be excessively and indiscriminately preached because it can have a deleterious effect on the ungodly with Article XI of the Formula of Concord. Paragraph 89 of the Solid Declaration of that Article reads:
Moreover, this doctrine gives no one a cause either for despondency or for a shameless, dissolute life, namely, when men are taught that they must seek eternal election in Christ and His holy Gospel, as in the Book of Life, which excludes no penitent sinner, but beckons and calls all the poor, heavy-laden, and troubled sinners [who are disturbed by the sense of God’s wrath], to repentance and the knowledge of their sins and to faith in Christ, and promises the Holy Ghost for purification and renewal, 90 and thus gives the most enduring consolation to all troubled, afflicted men, that they know that their salvation is not placed in their own hands,-for otherwise they would lose it much more easily than was the case with Adam and Eve in paradise, yea, every hour and moment,-but in the gracious election of God, which He has revealed to us in Christ, out of whose hand no man shall pluck us, John 10:28; 2 Tim. 2:19.
Limited Atonement (or Particular Redemption), the idea that Jesus died only for the elect is not affirmed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, and indeed, Limited Atonement contradicts both Articles II and XXXI. Article II, which is about the “Word or Son of God, which was made very Man” ends with the affirmation that He “truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men” and Article XXXI, “Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross” reads:
The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.
There is no affirmation of Irresistible Grace (or Effectual Calling for Calvinists who are allergic to TULIPs) in the Articles and it is not consistent with the language used of the Sacraments in Article XXV:
Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.
Remember, Grace that is conveyed through intermediate means is Grace that can be resisted. Now, for the final petal in the TULIP, let us turn to Article XVI “Of Sin After Baptism”. This Article reads:
Not every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again, and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say, they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.
The language here strongly suggests the Lutheran position without explicitly affirming it against the Calvinist. Note the words “deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism”. This is the concept of Mortal Sin as it is understood in Lutheran theology. Calvinist theology does not allow for a concept of Mortal Sin which is probably why the expression is avoided. The possibility of departing from grace is affirmed, although in such a way that it is only the heresy of those who say that once you become a Christian you cannot sin again that can be definitely said to be denied here rather than the Calvinist doctrine of perpetual justification. What is most strongly affirmed, that repentance and forgiveness are available to those who sin after Baptism, is believed by all orthodox Christians, and what is condemned, earthly sinless perfectionism and the unavailability of forgiveness, are ideas asserted only by the looniest of wing-nuts. Overall, the Article reads as a statement of the Lutheran view, worded carefully so as not to offend Calvinists.
From what we have just seen, those who would say that the Articles of Religion are Reformed in the sense of Calvinist as opposed to Lutheran, are clearly in the wrong when it comes to soteriology. The Articles lean Lutheran, but in such a way as to not exclude Calvinists. On the Lord’s Supper, they lean Calvinist, but in such a way as to not exclude Lutherans. On Church government they are clearly not Calvinist – they affirm the Episcopal government shared by every Church everywhere before the sixteenth century, retained by the Anglican Church and by some Lutherans. On the very matter of deciding what from the pre-Reformation tradition can be retained and what must be jettisoned they affirm in Article XX the normative principle which they share with the Lutheran Augsburg Confession rather than the regulative principle of the Calvinists and Anabaptists.
Those Low Churchmen who think the only true Anglicans are Five Point Calvinists clearly haven’t got a clue what they are talking about.