Thursday, September 26, 2013

TEC: The formless and void

Of Forms and the Anglican Way
Louis R. Tarsitano

I. In the Beginning

Mere existence is not the only element of God’s creation of the world from nothingness (ex nihilo). If we re-read the record of creation, we will find:

     In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:1-2).

In the first sentence, God calls creation into being. The remainder of the creation account is God’s purposeful transformation, through his Word and Holy Spirit, of what exists but is “formless and void” (tohuw bohuw) into the variety of subordinate “shapes” or “forms” that he wills for it, so that it is made a coherent whole. This “whole,” which is creation taken altogether, also possesses a summary, governing shape or form, which St. John describes in these terms:

     Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Revelation 4:11).

While the mind of man cannot exhaustively describe the purposes of God, divine revelation in Scripture allows us to summarize the overall shape of creation as the expression of God’s glory in living and in order, as the Blessed Trinity lives in an undivided order of divinity, meaning, purpose, and love. Within that order of God’s good pleasure in living and creating is the creation of man, who is made in God’s image and likeness to have dominion over the earth in subordination only to God himself (Gen. 1:26-28).

Man’s being cannot properly be separated from God’s image and likeness, or from an absolute subordination to God, without the result of death (Gen. 2:16-17). Nor may this image and likeness be understood as merely spiritual, so that the physical details of man’s life and living are rendered a matter of indifference. The form of man’s body, and thus of his bodily life, are explicitly part of God’s creative purposes: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).

The life of the human race possesses a God-given form in every detail, physical and spiritual. Nothing about man, or about anything else in creation, is excluded from God’s purpose and sovereignty. Even the differentiation of man into male and female forms of humanity is a deliberate act of God. Both male and female are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27), and share a common human vocation to a life of eternal fellowship with God. But God creates Adam, the man, first; and from Adam God creates the woman Eve:

     And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man (Genesis 2:21-23).

The woman is “made” (“formed” or “built”: banah) from Adam’s bones and flesh into her own proper form of humanity, which is complementary to that of Adam. Adam does not do this, since he is asleep. It is God alone who made the woman and gave her a particular form, and it is God who presents the woman to Adam for naming, signifying Adam’s authority over her under God. God shapes not only their bodies, but also their proper relation to himself and to one another.

To summarize, thus far we have seen that everything that exists, except for God himself, is his creation from nothing, which he has given a shape or form according to his purposes, including the human race. These forms are dynamic, rather than static (as in Platonic “ideas” or Aristotelian “forms”), in that they follow from God’s own knowledge of himself and from the undivided life of the Blessed Trinity. The forms cannot be static because they cannot stand alone apart from God. They must be dynamic forever, literally an expression of God’s infinite power, because these forms are an expression of God's active and living will, so that their perfection can only be accomplished in a right relation with him. Thus, the forms of creation are spiritual, physical, and moral.

II. In Salvation

The devil is not a god who can create or destroy. For the sake of God’s gift of a free will, however, within his wider plan to create moral beings for communion with himself, the devil has been permitted to rebel against God Almighty. This rebellion is distinguished by the devil’s assault on the creative forms of God. The devil rebels, first, against the proper form of angels, seeking to be other than what God has created him to be. Second, the devil rebels against the God-given forms of the physical universe, whether natural or supernatural, and in particular against the created form of mankind.

Since annihilation is beyond the limits of devil’s creaturely power, he directs his efforts at returning all things, even himself, to the state of being “formless and void”: tohuw bohuw. He tempts Christ in the wilderness with the goal of deforming the Godhead through an act of disobedience by the Son against the Father, even though he knows that a victory on his part must necessarily erase even his own form of life by its deformation of the forms of creation, all of which depend upon the order of the Godhead (Matt. 4:1-11).

The Son of God is made man in the world, however, because of the devil’s first and successful assault on the form of mankind, and through mankind on the form of the universe. By his successful temptation of Eve, the devil separated her from her husband, and then with her husband he separated mankind from God in disobedience (Gen. 3:1-6; 2 Cor. 11:2; 1 Tim. 2:12-14). The form of human life, intended for communion in and with God, was instantly distorted. The man was set against the woman, and they were set against God and the rest of creation (Gen. 3:7-13). A free mankind, subordinate by creation to God alone, surrendered itself to the bondage of sin, Satan, and death.

Further, because man fell into sin, the entire creation over which he had been given dominion under God also fell into bondage: “For the creature [creation] was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope…” (Romans 8:20). The “hope” is the hope of the salvation of mankind, but the bondage is to “vanity,” to emptiness and formlessness in alienation from God, under the dominion which mankind has transferred from itself to Satan.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, is that living hope of man’s salvation, and through man’s salvation in him he is the liberation of creation from vanity. The Eternal Son of God becomes man to restore mankind to that created form which glorifies the Father:

     Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus Christ is True God of True God. He possesses a perfect divine nature by right as the only-begotten Son of God, so that he has no need to cling to that divine nature as if he had stolen it. There never was a time when the eternal Son was not God, or not with the Father and the Holy Ghost in the Godhead. He is “in the form of God” because he is God as the One God knows himself in the eternal life of the Blessed Trinity. He does not cease to be God when he becomes incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary. Rather, he becomes perfect man, with a perfect human nature as well, while remaining one Person in whom the divine and human natures are united forever without change, confusion, division, or separation (see the Chalcedonian Definition).

He is in the form of man, the rebellious servant of God, without participating in that rebellion or sinning. In the proper form of man, he is obedient to God, his Father in heaven, in all things, even to his death on the cross as the perfect willing sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. Because he becomes incarnate, he demonstrates by his human physical nature that the physical nature of mankind may bear the image and likeness of God. He takes his resurrected human body to the right hand of the Father at the Ascension. If the physical form of man in Christ is not to be separated from the spiritual, then neither is the physical to be separated from the spiritual in the redeemed, who will be restored absolutely on the Last Day to the form of man in God’s good creation.

Jesus Christ is the Second Adam, the new Adam who takes the place of the old as the model or form of a redeemed humanity: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Where the first Adam sinned, condemning all that God had placed under his authority, Jesus Christ the Second Adam is entirely and redeemingly obedient to his Father in heaven. Just as the account of creation given in Genesis begins with God’s calling the heaven and earth into being, but focuses primarily on God’s giving of form to what he creates, the account of redemption that makes up the rest of the Scriptures, following the record of man’s fall, focuses on Jesus Christ who reforms a fallen creation to restore it to the perfection of his Father’s will. While salvation is an accomplished work of Christ and of his one Sacrifice once offered, the restoration of the created form of man and of the world will not be complete until the Last Day and the general resurrection of the dead. On that day, man, heaven, earth, the totality of God’s creation, will be perfectly reformed.

In the meantime, the Church exists in the world to be a mediating form between the Personal perfection of Jesus Christ and the final perfection of the entire created order in him. The descent of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost transforms the body of believers into the Body of Christ, a Body of God’s promise of complete redemption in the perfecting of the forms he has created:

     That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:12-14).

The proper form of the Church is the beloved Bride called to be one flesh with Jesus Christ the Bridegroom, who has purchased her and cleansed her with his own Blood (Eph. 5:25-28; Rev. 19:6-9; 21:2; 21:9). Within this great and definitive form of the unity of the Bridegroom with his Bride, just as there were in the first creation of man, there are given subordinate forms, for the reconstruction of the humanity of the members of the Church:

     And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Salvation and the form of the Church cannot be separated, without separating the Church from Christ. In creation, the details of the God-given forms of human life and of the world under man’s dominion could only be separated from mankind’s particular, personal existence by sin. It was the devil who persuaded man to depart from the created forms, and it is Christ who died to return mankind and the rest of creation to the originally righteous forms of God. Therefore, arguments that the “idea,” the “effect”, or the “benefit” of salvation can be separated from the form of life that Christ has given in the Church can only proceed from the warped logic of the Fall, or from the devil himself.

To be redeemed in Christ is to be re-conformed to the Father’s good pleasure, in the unity of the Body of our Savior, who is the summary or “recapitulation” (Greek anakephalaiosis) of the perfect forms that express the Father’s will in creation:

Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one [anakephalaiosasthai] all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: (Ephesians 1:9-11).

The “dispensation” is the “economy” (Greek oikonomia), the order or arrangement of the laws that govern a household, in this case the household of God, ruled by the decrees of his will. It is the final putting into order, since it is the order of the “fullness of times.” It is achieved by the Father’s gathering together (his “recapitulation”) of the forms and reality of all creation, both in heaven and earth, in Jesus Christ. Thus, to suggest that there can be a “church” without forms is as foolish as insisting that there can be a creation or a redemption of creation without forms. To be outside of the forms of the household of God is not to find “another order,” but to join the devil in rebellion against God’s order.

III. Forms and Formularies

The word “form” derives from the Latin forma, which means “form, figure, or shape.” “Shape” is the native English equivalent. The Latin verb formo, -are, means “to form, shape, fashion,” and by extension “to arrange, order, regulate, dispose.” In “formare personam novam” (“to form a new person,” Horace), the verb formare means “to represent” (Cassell’s New Latin Dictionary, 1959).

The oldest recorded uses of the word “form” in English occur around 1300 (see the OED for this and the following information). In these earliest uses, “form” can mean “shape, arrangement of parts”; “an image, representation, or likeness (of a body)”; or “a body considered in respect to its outward shape and appearance; especially that of a living being, person.” “Form” can also mean “the particular character, nature, structure, or constitution of a thing; the particular mode in which a thing exists or manifests itself”; the “manner, method, way, fashion (of doing anything)”; and “a formal agreement, settlement, or arrangement between parties; also a formal commission of authority.”

In later theological use, “a sacrament is said to consist of matter (as the water in baptism, the bread and wine in the Eucharist) and form, which is furnished by certain essential formulary words.” The OED goes on to quote Hooker, in 1597, as follows: “To make complete the outward substance of a sacrament, there is required an outward form, which form sacramental elements receive from sacramental words” (Eccl. Pol. V.lviii.2).

Here, Hooker takes “form” beyond a mere representation in appearance to expressing the particular nature of a thing, consistent with St. Augustine’s definition of a sacrament as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. It is, of course, the form of the invisible grace that gives visible form to the sacrament, just as the good pleasure of God gives form to all of material creation. This means, then, that the form of sacramental words that provide the sacramental elements with their proper form in this world are neither arbitrary nor indifferent. An understanding of “form” in this way will explain why Hooker and the divines of his era were so insistent on differentiating between the Dominical Sacraments (Baptism and the Holy Communion) and other sacramental administrations. The form of words for the Dominical Sacraments had come from the mouth of Christ himself, as divine revelation. The forms of the other administrations may have Apostolic authority, but the forms of Baptism and Holy Communion had been spoken by God Incarnate.

The “sacramental principle,” however, governs every element in creation, in redemption, and in the ongoing life of the Church as the Body of Christ, even when the divine pleasure, mandated in forms, is mediated by the Incarnate Son or by his mediatorial Church. To perceive the forms is to sacramentalize all of earthly reality, and to discover that reality has no existence apart from God, who creates and shapes all things whatsoever, according to his providential will.

Further, those who declare that their faith or practice is “beyond formulas” are wittingly or not resisting God by denying God’s use of forms. A “formula,” after all, is the Latin diminutive of forma, because a formula is the “set form,” “the form of an alliance,” the “rule or principle” by which the form of a thing is maintained, applied, restored, or made visible (Cassell’s).

In English, the oldest use of “formula,” dating to the 16th century, is to describe “a set form of words in which something is defined, stated, or declared, or which is prescribed by authority or custom to be used on some ceremonial occasion” (OED). By the 18th century, the common meaning was extended to include “a prescription or detailed statement of ingredients,” a “recipe” (as a “received form,” from Latin recipere), as in “the formula for a medicine.” By the end of the 18th century, a “formula” in mathematics means “a principle expressed in algebraic symbols.” And by the 19th century, “formula” had taken on the meaning in chemistry that, perhaps, most people associate with it today: “an expression of the constituents of a compound by means of figures and symbols.”

The word “formula” retains a generally positive and constructive meaning today in mathematics and the sciences. People want their bridges built according to the correct mathematical formulae, and sue for damages the moment they learn that some drug they are taking does not conform to the proper formula. Nevertheless, “formula” is a disparaging term in religion, philosophy, and the arts. Why?

The simplest explanation is that many people no longer believe that the things of the spirit, whether human or divine, have a form. They treat the physical and the spiritual as entirely separate, if not opposed, divisions of reality. This rejection of spiritual or spiritually related forms is traceable to the ancient gnostics, but it was revived and popularized in the English speaking world through the influence of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881).

Carlyle was a philosophical idealist who believed that the “idea” of a thing like a chair is realer than any particular, material chair can be. Thus, he rejected creeds, churches, and theologies as material impositions on “the Religious Principle [that] lies unseen in the hearts of all good men” (see The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church). Ironically, his rejection of “organized Christianity” and all of its forms brought him thousands of followers as a religious teacher, making his writings the forms of an alternative system of belief. He also, no doubt, would have been very irate if his publishers had taken him at his word that the “spiritual” has no fixed material form and changed what he had written in any way.

While Carlyle would be appalled at what has become of music, art, literature, and religion today, their debased condition was inevitable once his rejection of forms mediating the material and the spiritual was applied to these disciplines. In effect, they ceased to be disciplines at all. Rather, composers, artists, writers, and theologians tend to behave as if all is tohuw bohuw (formless and void) until they impose upon it their own arbitrary equivalent of forms in a parody of the one creation by the one God who made the true forms.

Since these “artists and scholars” are creatures and cannot escape either the need or the making of forms (any more than Carlyle could), in practice they act like petty pagan gods. They either deny all created forms, or after admitting them, set out to destroy them. This rebellion against forms has intentionally left our culture in a functional chaos. The model for such an enterprise is not God, but the devil.

The rejection of formulas as the prescribed means of defining, maintaining, and manifesting forms is especially dangerous in theology and religion, upon which all other human activities depend for the maintenance of their forms according to God’s good pleasure. The new life given in Christ Jesus is governed by divine forms, just as much as the originally righteous life of man that redemption restores was formed in every particular by God.

As we saw earlier, the forms of creation and redemption are a matter of moral order, just as much as they are of spiritual and physical order, because true form depends on a right relation with God. It is critical, then, not to separate the spiritual, the physical, and the moral from one another. Although it is possible, perhaps necessary at times, given the limits of the fallen human intellect, to contemplate the spiritual, the physical, and the moral separately, they must be reunited to possess an adequate and realistic picture of God’s good will expressed in the forms of creation and in the incarnation of his Son Jesus Christ to redeem those forms.

What Jesus Christ said and did cannot be separated from who and what Jesus Christ is both spiritually and physically. The great Christological heresies were attempts to divide the spiritual, the physical, and the moral unity of the Person of Jesus Christ. The great heresies against Christ’s Body the Church fall into the same pattern of error. A Church that is only spiritual is inhuman. A Church that is only material is not divine. A Church that behaves as she wishes, and not as the Father in heaven commands, is immoral and not of Jesus Christ, who lived to make the Father’s good pleasure in creation and redemption visible and concrete.

To live a Christian life is to live the pattern of Christ, spiritually, physically, and morally. It is to live according to the forms the Church has received from her Master and established in obedience to him, to the glory of the Father and the conversion of the nations of the world. Thus, St. Paul summarizes his instructions about the life and worship of the Church by saying, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40 KJV).

St. Paul’s “in order” is kata taxin, which also means “according to the accustomed or given form.” We retain the Greek word taxis in English, as the first element of the word taxidermy, which means the arrangement of an animal skin over a form. The sense of what St. Paul wrote, then, is not “according to some form,” but “according to a particular, proper form.” Just as a taxidermist is expected to arrange the skin of a bird in the form of a bird, and not in the form of something else, the Church is expected to arrange her life in the form that Christ has given his Church, through his Apostles. Any other form would be, at best, a misunderstanding of the form and nature of the Church, as if a taxidermist did not recognize that he had been given the skin of a bird and tried to mount it on the form of a rabbit. At worst, a knowing effort to substitute a different form for that given by Christ through the Apostles would be a denial of Christ himself.

Thus, the formulas of Christianity do matter, because they are the means of maintaining and living the forms given by Jesus Christ to his Church. And it was the practical necessity of preserving the formulas that maintain the forms of Christian life that gave rise to written records of the formulas, call formularies. A formulary is “a collection or system of formulas; a statement drawn up in formulas; a document containing the set form or forms according to which something is to be done (especially one that contains prescribed forms of religious belief or ritual)” (OED).

In Latin, a “formulary” was originally a person, a lawyer (formularius) skilled in the formulas that expressed and maintained the law. When St. Paul and later St. Clement of Rome intervened in the Church of Corinth, they called on the Corinthians to maintain their Christian belief and practice according to the forms and formulas that the Church had received from Christ. The Apostle and the Apostolic Father did the duty of a formularius, but Apostles and Church Fathers are not immortal.

More was needed than their personal gifts and prestige to maintain the proper form of the Church. It was necessary to write down the Apostles’ and Fathers’ teaching as “formularies,” just as it had been necessary to write down the Apostolic preaching of the Gospel from which the formulas of the Christian Faith are derived. The Gospel, along with the rest of Scripture, is primary, of course. What is derived can never be of precisely the same authority as that from which it is derived. Nevertheless, the written formularies of the Church are authoritative and binding since they are the product of the apostolic ministers to whom Jesus Christ entrusted his Church and upon whom the Holy Ghost descended for their guidance in all truth.

The ecumenical Creeds are examples of formularies, since they maintain the formulas in words for summarizing and expressing the Truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures. The codes of canon law are formularies, preserving the formulas that maintain the Christian forms of thought, word, and deed in the life of the Church. The ancient liturgies are formularies, giving shape to the universal worship of the Christian Church and demonstrating the permissible limits of local embellishments and emphases within a single, permanent order of divine worship.

No ecclesiastical body on earth has the authority to change these formularies as they have been received by the undivided Church without demonstrating first to a similarly undivided Church that some error, demonstrable from Holy Scripture, has been made in them. Local and regional churches do retain the authority to adopt subordinate formularies of their own, but only if their local formularies are in agreement with the formularies of the undivided Church.

IV. The Forms of the Anglican Way

At the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, the Church of England produced certain formularies. These are the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, supplemented in 1603 by a revised code of local canon law. She took this action on the basis of her status as a national church, in two provinces, in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.

It is usual to refer to the religion of the Church of England, and of the national churches derived from her as “Anglican,” from the Latin title Ecclesia Anglicana (or “English Church)” used in medieval documents. It is important to recognize, however, that her life in the one Church of Jesus Christ began when Britain was a province of the Roman Empire and centuries before the Angles and Saxons arrived to call their new home “Angleland.” Thus, it is a simple error of fact to claim that the Anglican Church “began” in the Reformation, or even with the late 6th century mission of St. Augustine to evangelize the newly arrived Anglo-Saxon pagans.The bishops of a five-centuries-old Christian Church met Augustine on the beach.

The existence of the Church of England at the time of the Reformation cannot be in doubt, so the purpose of the Anglican formularies of that period cannot have been to call her into being. Rather, the Anglican formularies were devised to preserve the forms and formulas of the doctrine, discipline, and worship that the Church of England had received in and from the undivided Church. To the extent that they were controversial, they were so because they addressed the controversies of that period over innovations introduced into the Western Church during the Middle Ages and the constantly expanding claims of the Bishop of Rome to universal ordinary authority over every Christian church in the world.

Widespread calls for a “reformation” of the Church, as a return to Scriptural, apostolic, and patristic norms within Christianity, had issued from virtually every national church in the West for centuries before the actual English Reformation. In the event, the English reformers proceeded on the basis of the Scriptures themselves, understood according to the faith and practice of the undivided Church as recorded in the ancient formularies. The formularies of the English Reformation, therefore, were aimed precisely against innovation. They are merely reassertions and reiterations of the formulas and forms that had constituted the order of the undivided Church.

The Thirty-Nine Articles, for example, are neither a new creed nor a new confession of faith. The ecumenical Creeds are still the creeds and confessions of the Anglican churches. The Anglican Way of following Jesus Christ does not depart from or add to the Creeds of the universal Church. The Articles are merely an instrument for ending controversies about the changeless Faith of the Church in favor of the settled teaching of the Apostles and Fathers, to be found in the Church’s universal formularies. There is nothing in the Articles than cannot be corroborated from the Scriptures and the Fathers.

Similarly, the Book of Common Prayer is not a “new liturgy.” It is simply the recovery of the ancient forms and formulas of worship and sacramental administration in vernacular English, making them available to every member of an English speaking Church. The discipline of the Book of Common Prayer is the order of the undivided and universal Church, which fact explains why it has been possible to translate it into some 150 other vernacular languages without a loss of its ability to guide the people of the Church into the form of life that Jesus Christ has given to his Church.

The Ordinal, likewise, as a formulary subordinate to the ancient formularies of the Church, provides for the lawful and sure transmission of apostolic authority to the bishops, priests, and deacons of the Anglican churches, without addition to or subtraction from the ancient order of the Church. The English code of canon law, and those similar codes derived from it in other Anglican national churches, is a local addendum to the canon law of the whole Church of Christ. Its central principle is that no local church may legislate contrary to either the Holy Scriptures or to the received practice and discipline of the undivided Church.

One need not, of course, be an Anglican for the sake of salvation. The churches of the Anglican Way do not claim to be the one Church of Jesus Christ, but only a communion of national churches obedient to Jesus Christ in accordance with the forms and formulas of the Apostolic and Patristic Church. The Anglican Way does hold, however, that a body of Christians must conform to the formularies of the undivided Church in order to claim to be a true local church within the one Body of Christ. The Anglican Way further asserts that it is not fidelity to the formularies of the universal Church that has caused division among Christian churches. Rather, division has followed from unwarranted departures from the forms supported by the ancient formularies and additions made to them without the consent of the entire Church that they are consistent with the faith once delivered to the saints.

The formulas that govern these matters are simple. To be a true local church is to obey the formularies of the undivided Church. To be a true Anglican church is to obey the Anglican formularies produced to maintain the ancient order within the Anglican Way.

V. The Present Agony of the Anglican Way

The Preface of the American Book of Common Prayer, adopted in Philadelphia, in 1789, contains the following paragraph:

     It seems unnecessary to enumerate all the different alterations and amendments [in this book]. They will appear, and it is to be hoped, the reasons of them also, upon a comparison of this with the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. In which it will also appear that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, and worship; or further than local circumstances require.

The “local circumstances” referred to are explained earlier in the Preface as “in consequence of the Revolution.” The result of the American Revolution and the adoption of the United States Constitution was to produce a civil state unlike that of any other in which the Christian Church had lived and evangelized. Although the American Prayer Book was adopted before the Bill of Rights, it was clear even then that the Church would not be established or headed by a monarch as the chief layman, as had been true in England. Apart from adjustments to this change in civil polity, however, the Preface is clear that no departure from the ancient formularies, or from the particular formularies of the Anglican Way, was intended by the newly independent American Church. Furthermore, the bishops of the Church of England had refused to consecrate bishops for the American Church until the chief American formulary, the Book of Common Prayer, was in agreement with their own Prayer Book.

The American Book of Common Prayer (which includes the Ordinal, as well as the Articles of Religion as specifically adopted by the American Church in 1801) was revised twice, in 1892 and 1928, consistent with the principles of its first adoption. In the years following 1928, the American Church, along with many other national churches in the industrialized world, began to retreat from the authority of the Anglican formularies.

In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church made two fatal departures from the faith embraced in 1789. The first was the claim to legalize the “ordination” of women, contrary to the Scriptures and nineteen centuries of Christian formularies. The second was to introduce a replacement for the Book of Common Prayer, which it illegitimately called by that name, to be finally adopted in 1979. In hearings at the General Convention of 1997, in Philadelphia, Frank Griswold, then chairman of the Standing Liturgical Committee and soon to be elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, freely admitted that the AmericanChurch had replaced the traditional Prayer Book and that it was the only Anglican church in the world to have done so.

While this admission surprised some people, it should not have. As early as 1976, in a review article in The Anglican Theological Review, Aidan Kavanagh, a Roman Catholic scholar, had noted:

First, the Book as a whole is clearly not a mere updated revision of its predecessors since 1549 [the date of the first English Prayer Book]. It is nothing if not a new formulary that contains some structural and phraseological traces of what has gone before but which goes quite beyond it (LVIII, No. 3, 362).

For this new formulary to be Anglican, it must be consistent with other Anglican formularies. It contains, however, merely “traces of what has gone before.” For this new formulary to serve as an adequate basis for the Episcopal Church in the United States to claim that it remains a true local church within the one Church of Jesus Christ, it must be consistent with the forms and formulas of the undivided Church. It fails in this regard as well, since its Trinitarian language, liturgical formulas, mistranslation of the Scriptures (especially in the “Psalter”), confused or false teaching (especially in the “An Outline of the Faith”), and unisex “Ordinal” all fall short of the requirements of the formularies of the undivided Church.

Furthermore, the adoption of this book and the approval of the “ordination” of women are clearly outside the authority of any national church to legislate for its people or to impose its will on the rest of the Church of Christ. These actions are null and void, and they cannot bind the conscience of any Christian. The real effect of these actions was to render the Episcopal Church, stripped of its proper formularies, tohuw bohuw (formless and void) as a national church of any description.

While Anglican churches in other industrialized nations have not yet gone quite as far, their continuing gradual abandonment of the Anglican formularies or their denial of their binding authority places them in similar jeopardy of self-destruction as true churches. Not to be something in particular, a living exhibit of a living tradition rooted in the ancient Church, is to be nothing at all. And it is a lie to call oneself an Anglican apart from the Anglican formularies.

VI. Conclusion

What has been observed in the case of the churches of the Anglican Way is equally true of all other local or national churches, and of all other communions within the one Church of Jesus Christ. All are obligated to conform themselves to the forms, formulas, and formularies of the undivided Church. All find their Christian identity in maintaining the particular subordinate formularies that define and give shape to their households within Christ’s Church.

The formulas of the Christian religion are just as objective and unchanging as the chemical formula for water. Changes in the Christian formulas do not produce “a different kind of Christianity” anymore than a change in the chemical composition of water can produce “a different kind of water.” God’s creation is fixed, whether in the creation of water or in the creation of his Church.

The Body of Christ will find her peace and unity, not in experimentation, but in obedience to the forms that God has given. Obedient Christians have everything in common with the saints of the undivided Church. Those who disobey and deny the forms that God given has given, and who abandon the formulas and formularies that maintain them, will have nothing in common but their desolation.

Related reading: Impressions of the New American Anglicanism; Anglicanism on the Doctrine of Creation; TEC Clergy Hit List Grows Daily; Rowan Williams' Confusion; The Tragedy of James Pike; Gene Robinson on the Bible


Fr David Chislett said...
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Alice Linsley said...

He and Dr. Peter Toon were gifts to Anglicanism and sorely missed.

Fr David Chislett said...

I had not previously read this article of the late Fr Tarsitano. It is characteristically profound and beautiful. Thank you.