The latest bought of meaningless oecumenicism between the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow got me thinking about what it means to be an Old High Churchman. At the end of the day I believe it comes down to the following priorities, some of which are theological, and others ecclesiastical, and may explain to those who are not familiar with the old High Church position why at some points it sounds Evangelical, and at others Anglo-Catholic.
I. The Scriptures
Of necessity, the first priority for the Old High Churchman is the Bible. It is God's revelation of Himself to humanity, recorded by human authors for the permanent edification of God's people. The Articles of Religion give quite a bit of attention to the importance and nature of Scripture starting with Article VI, which affirms its sufficiency as the source of dogma, then going on in Article VII to affirm the unity of Scripture maintaining, as the ancient Fathers did, that Christ is preached both in the Old Testament and in the New. The old High Church view of Scripture is a High one. We believe the Bible to be God's Word written, and any attempts to undermine the authority of Scripture needs to be examined critically. This was not even a topic for discussion for our 18th and 19th century High Church forefathers, but in the modern context we need to give some thought to Higher Criticism of the Bible. It almost seems to be the liberal orthodoxy in the USA to proclaim that the New Testament is both late and heavily Hellenized, but neither of these claims really stand up to scrutiny at the bar of history. Certainly, there is an Hellenizing element as there was in all Judaism in the first century AD, but this is neither as extensive as some claim, nor as influential as we are sometimes led to believe. It was as much as result of intellectual convergence as the clash of cultures. The dating issue is also a less serious matter than it might seem. An extremely good - I would say compelling - case, largely reassembled by liberal scholar J A T Robinson, for re-examining the dating of the New Testament. J A T Robinson did this most noticeably in 'Redating the New Testament' (1981) and the 'Priority of John' (1984) which argue for dates between 45 and 70AD for the bulk of the New Testament - i.e. between 15 and 40 years after the Resurrection.
This acceptance of an early dating for the New Testament has consequence for our understanding of Christ. If the NT was written within a generation or so of the crucifixion, then the portrait of Jesus given in there has to be accepted as being authentic. Leaving aside William Paley's argument that the Apostles would not have faced dungeon, fire, and sword for a lie, one has to accept that much of the New Testament is not a Hellenized secondary account, but the writings of a group of men, who were contemporaries of Jesus, and in many cases eye-witnesses to the events described in the New Testament. Accepting the Bible as God's Word written has some consequences for the way in which we do theology. If the Bible is the reliable, authentic record of God's dealings with man, then our dogmatic theology must necessarily be based on those same Scriptures. This in turn commits us to Biblical theology, which, not only commits us to be Biblical picture of Christ, but also, if we take St Paul seriously, means we also need to accept the five 'Solas' of the Reformation as an essential part of our theological framework.
II. The Fathers, the Creeds, and Councils
Scripture alone, does not mean Scripture only. In fact those who preach Scripture only are a bit of a menace because they exclude the witness of the Early Church, especially the Sub-Apostolic Fathers - i.e. those who had known the Apostles personally, the Apologists, the remaining Ante-Nicene Fathers, and the Doctors of the Church - as to what was taught in the first three centuries. They are essentially left with what is in the Bible, and that which is under their hat, which is necessarily of variable quality. However, we need to be a little bit cautious not to set up the Fathers as a rival to Scripture, but rather we need to use them as witness to the content of Christian teaching in the first centuries. On the whole, the old High Church scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth century attached the most importance to the Ante-Nicene Father, and particularly to the Sub-Apostolic Fathers. For example, John Kaye, Bishop of Lincoln 1827-53, was chiefly noted for his edition of Justin Martyr, the second century Father of the Church, whilst Dr. Martin Routh (1755-1854) worked on the writings of a series of minor second and third century Bishops and theologians. The emphasis on this period came about because the old High Churchmen believed that these writers gave them access to the best witnesses to the preaching and teaching of Primitive Church.
The Creeds were also an important element in the Old High Church position. Archbishops Moore and Markham rebelled at the Latitudinarian exclusion of Nicene Creed from the 1786 draft American BCP, and sent it back for further revision. A similar refusal to compromise on the Creeds led to the old High Churchmen taking the lead in the fight to retain the use of the Athanasian Creed in 19th century Ireland and England. For the OHCs the Creeds were very much as declaration of belief, and a test of orthodoxy. Bull's defense of the Nicene Creed, and the works of Waterland defending Nicene orthodoxy against the Arians of early eighteen century Oxford and Cambridge were touchstones of the old Protestant Orthodoxy. This high regard for the Creeds was further reinforced by their Biblical basis, and their Patristic composition and approval.
The Ecumenical Councils of the Church also figure largely in the thinking of the old High Churchmen, with the first four being the usual benchmark of orthodoxy. However, we need to be a little cautious in assuming that they did not attach weight to later councils such as the second and third Councils of Constantinople, the Council of Orange, and so forth, down to about 1000AD. However, it has to be stated that the most importance was attached to the witness of the first five centuries, and so the first Four Councils were the most extensively quoted and referenced.
The old High Churchmen were strong, if not very demonstrative, sacramentalists. Baptismal regeneration, often understood in a covenantal sense, was a key plank of their platform. They understood Baptism as firstly regenerating the individual by means of water and the Holy Spirit; and secondly, as incorporating that person into Christ. The relationship was also seen as being covenantal with the faithful individual receiving the assurance of sin forgiven, grace bestowed, and eternal life vouchsafed. To my mind, the OHC position is not dissimilar to that of Orthodox Lutheranism, but this particular 'kite' needs to be investigated further.
The OHCs also took a High view of Holy Communion requiring proper preparation for worthy reception of the Lord's Supper, as per the first Exhortation in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This exhortation, slightly modified, is to be found on page 86 of the 1928 BCP and requires of the intending communion serious self-examination; repentance; and the assurance of forgiveness of those who come to the Lord's Supper, and also provides for those who cannot quite their consciences by the usual means, the ministry of penance, though confession to, and spiritual counsel from, a priest. As a result of their rigor, celebrations of Holy Communion tended to be somewhat infrequent in traditional High Church circles with four or five times a year being the norm in rural parishes, and monthly in market towns.
In terms of their understanding of the sacrament, old High Church thought divided between those, the majority. who accepted that Christ was present in the celebration of the Eucharist, but not specifically in the elements, and was received by faith by the worthy Communicant; whilst a small minority accepted that the consecrated elements were 'in virtue, power, and effect' the Body and Blood of Christ. In so much as there was a sacrificial element to OHC Eucharistic doctrine it revolved around the offering of alms, the offering of ourselves to Christ's service, and a commemoration of Christ's saving work, especially His one sacrifice of Himself once offered upon the cross. The setting for Eucharistic worship was very simple. The communion table would be set with the necessary vessels; leavened bread and undiluted port would be the elements, and celebrant would very generally conduct the service from the north end of the Table in surplice, tippet, and hood. However simple it may have been, the Lord's Supper was a source of awe to the Old High Churchmen, and the covenant of Grace renewed.
There is no shying away from the fact that the old High Churchmen believed firmly in the Apostolic, if not Divine origins of the threefold Ministry, and especially of Episcopacy. Start from Cranmer's statement that the Church has had bishops, priests, and deacons since the Apostles' time, they thoroughly investigated the origins of the threefold ministry connecting it to the Old Testament priesthood, the Syngogue, Our Lord's commission to His Apostles, and the evidence contained in the New Testament. In short, for the Old High Churchman, the Episcopal form of Ministry was the only Biblical form, though they were not as quick as the Tractarians and the Anglo-Catholics to pronounce judgement on the ministries of those National Churches which had lost the historic Episcopate. That said, they were usually dead set against any sort of English Dissenters.
V. The Prayer Book
The Old High Churchmen were also warm supporters of the Book of Common Prayer, often referring to it as "our incomparable liturgy." This tribal adherence to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was very largely a product of two things. Firstly, the old High Churchmen were formed by the Book of Common Prayer. Daily Morning and Evening Prayer at college, and in the cathedrals; the weekly canter through Matins, Litany and Ante-Communion, and Evensong in the parish church; Bishop Gibson's family devotions were their devotion guides and produced a piety which was reasonable, but did not minimize the seriousness of man's sin, nor the abundance of God's Grace. Secondly, the BCP was revered as a product of both the Reformation and the Restoration, both of which were seen as providential events for the restoration and preservation of true religion. The odd OHC might have had the warm fuzzies for the 1549 BCP, but in the main the English branch of the movement supported the 1662 BCP; whilst their Scottish and American cousins liked to point to the influence of ancient liturgies upon their Eucharistic rites. It is also noticeable that in both Scotland and the United States, the adoption of the Articles of Religion as a confessional stand (in 1804 and 1801 respectively) was led by the anti-Latitudinarian High Churchmen.
Strange as it might seem, the four principal areas with which the Old High Churchmen were concerned find their way into the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (CLQ) which defines the Catholic and Apostolic Church by the Scriptures, the Creeds, the Dominical Sacraments, and the Episcopate. However, it is often forgotten that whilst the CLQ is a statement of what Anglicans believe the Church to be, it is not an adequate statement of the beliefs of the Anglican branch of that Church. For that one must look further - to the Early Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils, the Articles, the Homilies, and the BCP.
There is a sense in which the Old High Church appeal to the Bible, the Primitive Church, and the Reformation is both as relevant today and also deeply obsolete. In a Twenty-first century seems irrevocably committed to sound bite theology, theological shortcuts, ignorance of history; and intellectual laziness, Classical Anglicanism, of which the Old High Churchmen are the chief representative, provides an intelligent approach to Christianity which is neither liberal, nor in thrall to the traditions of men. It seems to me that Classical Anglicanism, which respects the Bible, the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church, and the intellect is perhaps more necessary today than ever. The propaganda from our deeply old-fashioned Progressives is that faith is not intellectually respectable, and Fundamentalism relegates itself to irrelevance by both failing to engage rationalism, and by embracing its literalism. In a sense we need a Christianity which teaches both culture and Christ. Folks have fled the mainstream churches, very often for Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox (which have other problems) very largely because we have stopped teaching. We need to reverse that trend, and also do something very uncharacteristic for High Church Anglicans, and reach out to those who are seeking after Truth. To echo Bishop Andrewes:
One revelation in two Testament; three Creeds; Four Councils; and five centuries; that is our rule of faith