My goal today is to say something about how Anglican have taught the faith – catechesis. I also want to say something about how the faith is thought of, given the way Anglicans have taught it. And finally, I want to suggest that knowing something about this is a challenge to all of us today. We are divided in many sad ways in our society and in our churches. Part of that has to do with how and what we teach. Many of us are somewhat confused about the question of teaching the faith, and there are good reasons for that, which are no one’s “fault”. Still, maybe we have something learn from the past. And, as I will point out, even from the present of Anglican life elsewhere.
I’m going to move in this talk in a somewhat topsy-turvy format. I’m going to talk about bishops and their social formation – that’s to make a special point about coherence in the past; then I’m going to talk about catechists and mission, something I think is key to the present; then, third, I’m going to dig around some Anglican roots, with Cranmer. That’s so we can think about foundations, that go both to the past and to the present. And finally, I will talk about seminaries, rather negatively, which in fact loops us back to the initial question about bishops; and with that leave us with a few big questions, since, while I’m good a raising questions, I can’t seem to answer anything very clearly any more.
I. Bishops and their Social Formation
So, we can start with a quiz about bishops.
What do these four men have in common? Thomas Wilson, Selwyn, Foss Westcott, , Leslie Vinnig.
They were all educated in almost exactly the same way. And their theological visions, despite having different “churchmanship” in some key ways, was solidly similar in many fundamental aspects.
This is one of the key elements of Anglican history, and the history of the expansion of Anglicanism, that is, of the Anglican Communion: until the early to middle part of the 20th century, the majority of Anglican bishops in the world – we must leave the US out of the equation here, and herein lies a tale itself --- shared basic beliefs because they had been educated together, and according to what, to us, seems a strange background. People have often asked, “why did the Anglican Communion exist without horrendous rifts until the end of the 20th c.?”. And this is one fundamental reason: the sociological cohesion of the episcopate, including its educational vision, overshadowed, but also encouraged, possibilities of fruitful “nationalisms”.
And here is the fact: until the mid 20th-century (and almost exclusively through the beginning of the century) all non-American Anglican bishops, including missionary bishops, attended British public schools at the secondary level, and Oxbridge. There, they generally followed a classical degree, reading theology only peripherally. They learned no more theology than any other undergraduate. Thus, they were trained in major texts of Greek and Latin authors, which they also used for their philosophy, logic, history, a literature studies. When it came to the theological portions of their exams, important for those leading to ordination, the curriculum was meagre: before 1837, only the formularies, including the 39 Articles, some biblical “History”, and the Greek NT. Even after the university reforms of 1854 and ‘56, which permitted specialization in other fields besides classics – chemistry and so on, and that included then Theology, this did not change the theology foundations significantly. What they did, mostly, was learn with their fellows, and go to Chapel (compulsory mostly until the end of 19th century).
With the rise of separate “seminaries” in the latter 19th century especially – something I will address later -- which provided extended theological studies leading to ordination for young men, some of whom now came from universities other than Oxbridge, this changed little when it came to bishops, who were chosen from the ranks of Cambridge and Oxford graduates almost exclusively. Indeed, until the First World War, the majority of clergy and all bishops were Oxbridge graduates – a group that the War’s massacre of the officer class depleted significantly. Whether in India or Africa, whether Evangelical, High Church, or Broad, missionary bishops around the world came from the same backgrounds, studied at the same institutions, and had little foundational theology apart from the Bible and formularies. That, of course, has all changed. Bishops now come from all kinds of schooling background, tend to be much older, and often have a very diverse set of church experiences.
Two things can be said from this. First, that the theological “default” (although substantive) for the Anglican Communion, apart from the US and Scotland (and even there, once there was common engagement) was the BCP, and its presentation of Scripture. And the second is that, the self-conscious ecclesiological engine informing the Communion’s life was not derived from theological conceptions of this or that school, but from a general evangelistic outlook. “Zeal for souls.” That is not something I will pursue here, but it is important, and it flows from the simple scriptural catechetical model of most of Anglicanism until recently.
So note what I am pointing to: moral-political elements – and diversities or differences -- were functionally epiphenomenal to these commonalities of classical education, BCP religion, and Scriptural/evangelistic impetus. To be sure, sometimes moral-political differences acted as major prods, often obstacles and scandals, but they were almost always secondary. As I noted earlier, one often hears today the question “how did the Communion manage so well without new structures before 2000?”. The answer is that it had at its helm socially homogeneous leaders and, in a rudimentary way, common theological and missionary commitments. They were all bound by an ethos of “formulaic” religion – i.e. the BCP and the Formularies of Ordinal, Articles and Catechism.
Indeed, the missionary thrust of the Anglican Communion’s origins and expansion, followed the general default “formulaic” religion of its bishops.
So, for instance, we can observe one of the key training institutions for clerical and lay missionaries, many of whom may not have gone to university: St. Augustine’s College. Founded in 1848, for almost a century it formed not only missionaries, but foreign nationals from colonial churches – Indians, some Africans, and so on. The curriculum here was not complex either. It included “oriental languages” where relevant, tropical medicine, and so on. But its theological basis was resoundingly formulaic: BCP and its services, including the Catechism, along with basic Scripture and scripture history. It’s first long-term Warden, Henry Bailey, argued that the most important education for the missionary was the reading of Scripture and frequent Holy Communion. From several decades at its height of flourishing, it was led by George Frederick Maclear, one of the foremost popularizers of BCP-related handbooks and textbooks. A glance at some of his textbooks – originally aimed at bright secondary school boys – shows the focus on fundamentals that he then applied to the missionary setting.
We see this outlook transferred, in its own way, to the colonial or missionary churches outside of Britain. In fact, by 1860’s colonial churches had started their own theological schools for training local clergy, not only among colonists, but more importantly, among indigenous members of the Church. These struggled, as in many cases they still do. Initially, they were places of basic training in the rudiments of Bible and Prayer Book. In this, they were merely more organized versions of what had been the ongoing form of training, bound up with evangelism, that had characterized Anglican mission from the very beginning of English missionary outreach in the 17th and 18th centuries: Bible and BCP, including the catechism, no more and no less. These were the first and often only elements translated into indigenous tongues, and were the basis for all engagements and the resources of societies like the SPCK and other groups who funded translation and printing.
Does all this sound frighteningly limited? What about “adaptation”? Indigenization? Creativity? New media for teaching? None of this was actually precluded by the narrow focus of Anglican catechesis, as it turns out. But focus need never pinch creativity – something we forget. In fact, focus in this case was at the root of Anglican missionary drive. Let me explain.
- Catechists and Mission
The 16th century English Reformation took place within a much broader European “catechizing culture”. The century gave us, within almost all Christian traditions, the foundational catechisms of modern churches: those by the catholic Peter Canisius, The Council of Trent, of Luther, Heidleberg, and others. Interest in catechesis was already rising in the 15th century, but the widespread Christian divisions of the next century fanned the catechetical flame significantly, as different groups sought to solidify the teaching of their particular party over and against the errors of other Christians. All Christians of the era tended to see the truth as being intellectually grounded, and therefore saw the Gospel’s substance as best communicated through formal teaching. The invention of state schooling in Europe at this time is tied to these dynamics. The churches in both Protestant and Catholic regions took charge of education, supported by the civil authorities, with religious teaching at the center.
The reformed Church of England followed a special route in these broader developments. Unlike many of their continental neighbors, the English did not institute public schooling, but instead literacy was tied directly to church catechesis, usually by the parish priest or curate. In this, England continued to follow a medieval model. But with the reformations beginning in the 1530’s, this model was now governed by explicitly Protestant values of Scriptural knowledge and godly learning, as can be seen in Cranmer’s “Preface” to the English Bible of Henry VIII. Hence, although Cranmer would later maintain a very medieval (and short) catechism in his reformed Book of Common Prayer, the assumptions regarding its use were very Protestant: that is, in teaching the catechism (usually prior to confirmation), Cranmer and his successors understood that the catechism itself would be only the basis for a much broader Scriptural elaboration done by the local priest, in a way that would suit different audiences. The great Anglican poet-priest George Herbert testifies to this, when he describes how a priest’s theological literacy is based on parish catechesis:
The country parson hath read the Fathers also, and the schoolmen, and the later writers, or a good proportion of them, out of all which he hath compiled a book and body of divinity which is the storehouse of his sermons ..... This body he made by way of expounding the Church Catechisme, to which all divinity may easily be reduced ..... Yet hath the parson, besides this laborious work, a slighter form of catechising, fitter for country people; according as his audience is, so he useth one or other, or sometimes both, if his audience be intermixed."' (from Priest to the Tempel (1632), chap. v)
By 1570, Alexander Nowell’s semi-official Catechism, based on the BCP kernal, ran to several hundred pages, and England had already seen a proliferation of other printed catechisms. In all cases, these diverse catechetical elaborations shared two central features: they were Scripturally embedded and tied to the vernacular bible, and they maintained the ancient catechetical structure of Creed, Commandments, Lord’s prayer (sacraments). The use of this form was mandated by the BCP’s own rubric until the revision of 1662: "The curate of every parish, or some other of his appointment, shall diligently, upon Sundays and holydays, half an hour before evensong, openly in the church instruct and examine so many children of the parish sent unto him, as the time will serve, and, as he shall think convenient, in some part of this Catechism."
Over 800 different English catechisms have been identified from the 16th and 17th centuries. Millions of copies, literally, were published and distributed during this time, all witnessing to England’s “unspectacular orthodoxy” and “undogmatic Protestantism”, as one scholar has put it (Ian Green). They were used in parishes, homes, and more formal private schools, and their successful dissemination and use contributed to England becoming, by the mid-17th century, the most highly literate and, especially, biblically literate nation in world.
But the Church of England’s catechetical success, which propagated a widespread general Christian literacy, also led to the weakening of more particular and personal notions of faith. Already by the mid-17th century, we hear of Anglican pastors decrying the way that Puritan “preaching hath preached away catechising” (Robert Shelford, Five Discourses, p. 75). Puritan homiletic focus was meant to teach, of course; but to do so according to very specific theological outlooks and more importantly with a view of conversionary renewal. After the Civil Wars of the mid-17th century and the decade-long prohibition of Prayer Book Anglicanism, Puritan conversionism was largely discredited as a church-wide program. The restoration of episcopal and Prayer Book Anglicanism in the 1660’s, however, also unleashed new energies around mission: first, in terms of renewing local parish life, and then, in the 18th century, in terms of non-English Christian outreach itself. In both cases, aspects of Puritanism found their way back into the formational life of the Church of England.
The most important development of the late 17th century was the invention and establishment of “religious societies” around England. This major movement owes its origin to a Lutheran transplant, Anthony Horneck. The idea was to have local parish groups regularly meet, under the supervision of the priest, for prayer, bible study, instruction, and charitable works. The idea caught on, and the societies proliferated around London and then in the country as a whole, influencing in turn Pietist groups back in Germany. More specifically “missionary societies” emerged from this movement, but usually with the formational aspect or prayer and Scriptural learning intact.
Amongst the leaders of this missionary outlook was Thomas Bray, a parish priest of enormous energy and vision for extending catechesis to parishes in Britain and in North America through resourcing local teachers, using the standard equipment of the Church: Bible, catechism, hymnal, and other books (including his own multivolume catechism). Bray first founded the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in 1698, that sought to provide parishes and clergy with printed teaching material; and in 1701 he helped found the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), the Church of England first explicit missionary group. Bray was instrumental in the support of clergy in the colony of Maryland, which he visited, and promoted what was to become a key element in Anglican mission, that is, the lay catechist. Because of the dearth of clergy in the colonies, lay leadership inevitably became important. Bray encouraged the use of catechetcial “conferences” in the colonies, much like English religious societies; and these finally gave way to a more open movement of lay catechesis within the overseas churches.
Bray shared his theological focus with most other renewing Anglicans of his era: he was a “primitivist” in that he saw the early apostolic church as the model for a fulfilled Christian life, and he was firm believer that the basis for the Christian life itself was the “covenant of grace” that the individual entered into in baptism. The two areas of fervent visible witness, as well as of activist engagement followed from this focus: Christians were called to provide a vital corporate witness within their society, and they were to engage the moral demands of God’s covenant with energy. Teaching, formation, and discipleship followed from this focus. Two particular elements develop and join this “religious society mission” in the 18th century, sharpening the theological focus itself: first, John Wesley’s Methodist societies, deriving from the same sources as Bray’s, added revivalist and organizational depth; second was the flourishing of child-centered catechesis (e.g. by Isaac Watts).
As Anglican mission evolved, the key formational instrument of its extension emerged from this: the individual lay catechist, who becomes the driving medium of teaching and renewal both. Indeed, the missionary and discipling work of the catechist becomes world-wide Anglicanism’s most enduring and influential element. The SPG and later the Church Missionary Society (CMS, 1799) both deployed the catechist as their chief means of mission. It is worth quoting Henry Venn, leader of the CMS in the mid-19th century, on this issue, given that his understanding of the catechist’s role was something he inherited: the local catechist, raised up from within the indigenous church community, often through the church school first established by the missionaries, would become the means by which traditional Anglican teaching would be disseminated across cultures and into unevangelized areas. Venn describes this in general:
But in respect of an organised native community, the missionary should no longer take the lead, but exercise his influence ab extra, prompting and guiding the native pastors to lead their flocks, and making provision for the supply for the native church of men suited for the office of the ministry, whether catechists, pastors, or evangelists this position, which will be readily ceded to him, of a counsellor of the native church, to strive to elevate its Christian life and its aggressive energy upon surrounding heathenism (Memoirs, pp. 169-70)
Venn emphasizes he apostolic character of the catechist’s work, as an image of St. Paul’s tent-making witness. And then locates the catechist’s own training within the ordering of the church’s theological education:
The native teacher, who approves himself ' apt to teach’ is appointed to the office of a Catechist. The office of a catechist has been always recognised in the Church of Christ for evangelistic work, his function being to preach to the heathen, and to minister in congregations of converts until they are provided with a native pastor (p. 412)
We should note this formational order clearly: the “missionary” brings up the “catechist” (usually through the local church school), who then may become the local “pastor”, thus putting the missionary out of business in that place. In fact, from the early 19th century on, in India, Africa, and then later in the East and in the Americas, formal “theological education” was really focused on the catechist, who was trained locally, or then in emerging bible training centers. Preparation for ordination was reserved only for a few, and in fact had few schools devoted to it. Although later in the 19th and early 20th centuries, schools for missionary catechists were founded in Britain, most catechist training was indigenous, and supported by local diocesan funds or those from missionary societies themselves.
What did local catechists learn and what and how did they teach? Mostly, they first learned to read, then they mastered the traditional elements of the Anglican catechetical program: Bible, Creed, Commandments, and Lord’s Prayer and sacraments. These elements were taught in basic ways, using key translated texts almost exclusively (since more elaborated books could only be had in English). This Scriptural and BCP-related material was digested usually in an often unconsciously adapted fashion for the local culture, and taken by the catechist to the rural areas and villages where they lived and worked. Each catechist would share these elements with their compatriots differently. Acting as primary evangelists, they also then became congregational leaders and more formal teachers for new Christians and children preparing for baptism. As revival-based conversion emerged in, for example parts of Eastern African in the 1920’s, catechists often took on the role of leaders for the Methodist-styled religious societies that structured the revival: leading prayers and hymns, confessional testimony, and bible study.
The catechist movement was the backbone of almost all Anglican mission from the 19th-century on, in Africa, India, North America including the Arctic, Australia and more. (The exception was the United States, where official formation remained mostly priest-centered, except in cases of church schools.) It even involved Anglican mission to the Jews. Bible, Book of Common Prayer, hymnals, and sometimes unusual books like Watts’ catechisms, all translated into the vernacular, became the means for discipleship formation, adapted to use in the hands of the individual local catechist.
In Africa, it was hardly different, well over 150 years later. IN the famous events of the Uganda mission, which led to the celebrated “martyrdom” of young Ugandan Christian youths and some of their elders at the hands of the king Mwanga, in 1886, at the center of this movement, that has proven an ongoing spur to Christian witness in that country, was the work of indigenous catechists (both Anglican and Catholic). And their own work lay in propagating the basic forms of Anglican teaching given in the Scriptures and BCP. An article in the The Methodist Review of 1888, for instance, describes Alexander Mackey’s work there (Mackay was, though a Presbyterian, worked for the Anglican CMS): The king had made possession of any book a crime. Why? Because what books there were portions of the Bible – Matthew, Acts, Daniel, Paul – or the Prayer Book – e.g. the Litany and some hymns – translated into Lugando. Hundreds of copies were distributed and more were rapidly printed and transported. Young men would meet with Mackay, read and discuss Paul, and then pray BCP prayers. Indigenous catechists took over these elements, and made them the consistent basis for their preaching and teaching among their own people.
As John Pobee writes:
… the catechist […] is the unsung hero of African church history. He was often a teacher or a lesser mortal who prepared the ground for the missionary of priest, nursed the congregation, won the souls for the church, and stayed with the poor at the grassroots. He was the holy one on whom the Christian community was focused…. Perhaps the record of Joseph Quashie (1900-1983), father of the Rt. Rev. Kobina Quashie, retired bishop of Cape Coast is the most profound [example…]. Though equipped with only elementary education, and after working as a clerk at Aboso Gold Mines, in 1936 he did a one-year catechist training at St. Augustine’s Theological College, Kumasi. After that Quashie nurtured a congregation at Bogoso in Western Region. In 1952 he was with the training of Catechists at Mampong, Ashanti. After that he continued to nurture congregations in Central, Western and Eastern Regions of Ghana. After retirement in 1972, he took residence at Madina, near Legon and the Anglican Church of Madina was the fruit of his evangelistic zeal”. (John s. Pobee, The Anglican Story in Ghana: From Mission Beginnings to Province of Ghana, African Books Collective, Amanza Ltd., Kaneshie-Accra: 2009, pp. 224-230)
But one important aspect of this, of course, was that they did so “indigenously”, locally. There is debate over what this implied and implies today. One view is that catechists, often distant from the main parish – the priest, the bishop, the “chief” or whoever – was also thereby “independent” in a way, and free to adapt and engage the local populace on their own terms. (Cf. Melanesia, and “distance from chiefs” – Pentecost Island). Others have worried that, just for this reason, the catechist movement, both rigid and local both, has often simply given way to the pressures of local politics and conflict. As Roger Bowen, a colleague of mine in Burundi in the 1980’s and later head of the CMS’s Rwanda-Burundi area, noted in a discussion about the Rwandan genocide in 1994: “ A Roman Catholic bishop said recently: "The Christian message is not being heard. We have to begin again, because our best catechists, those who filled our churches, were the first to go out with machetes in their hands." The Catechists had a thin faith, based on a thin version of it; and they were wholly beholden to local cultures of hatred. Do they not need more supple, more attuned, more critical training, politically aware and so on, and, in their turn, such a critically supple teaching of others? (Cf. Attoe-Baffoe.)
I am less certain myself. Imperfections abound, no matter what one does. By the 1980’s, my experience of the catechists of the Anglican Church of Burundi was one in which the kinds of worries Bowen expressed seemed obvious. But what was the cause of this? WE had begun to teach caetechists on on seminary model, one in which they would come for a year of residential study, following courses on ethics and pastoralia and so on. After that, they would go back to minister in their villages, returning two times, over the course of the next few decades, for another year’s worth of study. I’m not sure, however, that this made much positive difference. What it did was inform, rather than replace, their catechetical framework, adapted locally. And that was the point: the framework remained solid, and indeed deepened in this method.
To what end? By 1990’s, after I had left, Burundi fell into an extended civil war, that dragged out far longer than the Rwandan conflagration to the north; although in the end comparable numbers of lives were lost and damaged. In 2006, I returned to Burundi, Africa, where I had worked for the church 20 years earlier. They had just come out of 13 years of their own civil war, far bloodier than anything in England in the 17th century, with hundreds of thousands of persons killed. At one point, I had a conversation with a group of Christians: “what was the safest church to be a member of during the civil war,” I asked them. “The Anglican Church”, they replied. That’s where you had the greatest chance of survival. And why was that? Their answers were complicated. Still, one of the central reasons, they all agreed, was the BCP: their literally translated Kirundi version of the 1662 English prayerbook. “We all prayed together”, they said. WE all learned together the same things, somehow. Across the country, across regions and ethnic groups and hillsides and political affiliations: we all heard the same things, received the same things, prayed the same things. Killing each other didn’t fit the way we prayed, as it did in other churches.
III. Foundations: Cranmer, the BCP, and Scriptural Catechesis
To me, this is a key claim and one that convinces me. One reason is simply that it is congruent with, or at least parallel, the explicit vision of earliest Anglicanism, in 16th c. England. For the hope of the great Reform movement led by people like Thomas Cranmer was precisely that the Church might apply to diverse localities, a common order and core of Christian belief that would mold a people in a network of common life, a “commonwealth”, literally. And so, moving backwards to “origins”, I want to outline something about the foundation of Anglican teaching as itself the character of our particular communion.
After Ref., the English needed to be unified in one national church, so it was thought – keeping the English people together was viewed as paramount. One key theological conviction here was that the church of Christ is indeed a "mixed" body -- not just Prots and Caths, but more importantly (vs. popular historians) sinners and righteous, the interested and uninterested (Augustine vs. the "Puritans"). National church vs. "sect", and vs. sectarian option (cf. Amish) of homogeneity. The key word was "conformity" -- according to a common form, not within a common essence.
How to do this? In France after the Revolution, and later in America, it was the "common school"; in English church, it was the common "worship": if everyone subjected to same surrounding influences, then everyone will grow in connection with each other: they will have a common culture. What culture in particular? The content of the culture was to be undebatable: Scripture, without complicated doctrinal overlay. The place to do this was church. Therefore the way to have people shaped by Scripture was to make church a Scripture-imbuing environment. All the people, all the time, to the Whole Scripture
- That’s the origin of BCP: a way of ordering common worship according to Scripture. Not a new idea really (cf. whole history of Catholicism), but had been increasingly isolated in religious communities: now to be opened up to whole people, with one form of worship that would be filled as much as possible with the very words of Scripture.
This idea was already in the minds of many church leaders by the end of the reign of Henry the VIII. Thomas Cranmer was his Archbishop of Canterbury, and was thinking this through, although Henry himself had become very conservative on these matters by the end of his life. But with the young king Edward VI’s accession to the throne in 1547, Cranmer and the king’s advisors set about the full, but graduated reform, they had long desired.
The thing to remember is the Bible in English comes before the Prayer Book and is its foundation. Already, the reformers had persuaded Henry to allow for a vernacular translation of the Bible (The Great Bible) in 1539, to which Cranmer wrote an important Preface. Then, in 1547 came the first book of Homilies, several penned by Cranmer himself that sought to order the popular teaching going on in parishes. In 1549 came the first Book of Common Prayer (revised again in 1552 and again under Elizabeth in 1559). These included Morning and Evening Prayer services, and the Holy Communion. In 1550 came the new Ordinal (ordination rites), and in 1553 the 42 Articles, that formed the major basis for the later 39 Articles of Religion of 1570. When Catholic Mary follows young Edward on the throne, Cranmer is replaced, and arrested for treason in 1553, given his opposition to the restored Catholic Mass. Convicted on this charge, and a later one of heresy, he recants in 1556, yet is condemned to death with Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. Restating his reformed convictions, he is burnt with them in Oxford, on March 21sth, 1556.
How shall we describe Cranmer’s substantive contribution? Basically, it lies in the elevating and deploying the Scriptures as the great “organizer of common life”, through its formative and comprehensive repetition among the people. And common life was part of the order of Church and State together. Scripture is tied to this – its truth as it is appropriated by the people, holds them together in peace and justice; hence it is the king’s duty to promote its reading and formative power. From the Church’s side, the important thing is simply that she “present whole the Scriptures”; she need not press this or that doctrinal teaching in all its particulars. Just the Scriptures whole.
And everything comes from that: the Creeds, the Catechism, the Articles of Religion and so on, all ordered by and aimed at laying out the grand Scriptural narrative.
And, so you see, this is what the BCP is about, and what its great innovation – a popular and well-ordered Lectionary – was meant to do, by simplifying monastic practice and applying it to all the people of the commonwealth as a whole. When Cranmer speaks about the BCP’s purpose, in his Preface to the BCP and in another essay (‘On Ceremonies”), he makes it clear that the BCP is a reflection of this larger Scriptural point regarding the Church of England:
- Scripture is heard whole, over time, in the vernacular, via the Lectionary, simply. It is a completely non-theological understanding of the Liturgy: “edification” is the goal (i.e. “formation), for the whole of life, in an ordered national unity – a “commonwealth” – by reading not reasoning.
To give an example: even though Cranmer himself held some arguably extreme Protestant (Zwinglian) views of the Eucharist as “memorial” or “symbol”, he allowed himself to be bound by the Scriptural words of Jesus’ Last Supper: – “this is my Body”; “the body of Christ” -- despite their corporeal sense, as in the Prayer of Humble Access:
We doe not presume to come to this thy table (O mercyfull Lorde) trustinge in our owne righteousnesse, but in thy manifolde and greate mercies: we bee not worthye, so much as to gather up the crommes under thy table: but thou art the same Lorde whose propertie is alwayes to have mercye: graunt us therfore (gracious lord) so to eate the fleshe of thy dere sonne Jesus Christe, and to drinke his bloud, that our synfulle bodyes maye be made cleane by his body, and our soules wasched through his most precious bloud, and that we may evermore dwel in him, and he in us. Amen.
So, the BCP is all about letting the words of Scripture “stand” before us, on our lips, in our ears, in our hearts. Cf. Offices, and the way structured: sentences, invitatory, psalms, lessons, canticles, Lord's Prayer, suffrages, and collects. Maybe a homily on Scripture. The Eucharist is not much different, with its canticles, readings, sermon, prayers, confession, and even Eucharistic prayer in its phrases.
- Ideal: Offices and Eucharist daily, or weekly. Surrounding one with Scripture. This is further deepened by structure of worship services according to Lectionary -- whole Scripture in 2-3years -- organized according to Liturgical Calendar, which is shaped by the Life of Christ, in the context of the history of Israel. Along with this, there are the Creeds -- Apostle's and Nicene – which represent only doctrinal articulation beyond SS -- and even here they are meant to be summaries of the shape of Scripture teaching .
Not "doctrine", per se, but "regula fidei", a "rule of faith" that was simply to contain the shape of Scripture, to guide the reading of it.
How do people learn the faith? By being immersed, regularly and over time, within the ordered common life of Scripture provided by the BCP’s worship and practices. And this “immersion” was deliberated, not simply accidental. Not only were people expected to attend church, but they were taught about its life, they were guided into it and through it, and thus into and through its offering of the Scriptures. That was the place of catechesis.
England had already, in the Middle Ages, adopted the more or less eccentric habit of tying Confirmation to the bishop’s visitation and laying on of hands. (Other European Catholic regions did not do this.) But this special episcopal character of confirmation was inherited by the reformed CoE and became a focus for catechesis especially – something that followed the outline of the BCP’s office if instruction, but that lay in the hands of local clergy more than anything. Like African catechists after them, they adapted locally, tethered to the BCP’s forms and Scriptural concerns.
If one looks at the Catechism of the CoE – which, apart from an added supplement, remains basically the same in the Canadian BCP to this day – one finds a simple outline of questions regarding the Creed, Ten Commandments, and Lord’s Prayer, along with a brief discussion fo the sacraments. 8 short pages. But the purpose of the simple outline is to allow the catechist to draw the student into a range of elements that are, as it were, already in place within the Scriptures as presented in the BCP life. From the beginning of the Reformation, then, we find local versions of teaching that “fill out” the Catechism, according to various outlooks. These were published and used by priests and families as they chose, as I mentioned earlier. This led, as we saw, to a proliferation of catechisms, that reached the millions on published copies, and to England’s “unspectacular orthodoxy” and “undogmatic Protestantism”, as one scholar as put it (Ian Green).
The result in England, as elsewhere, was the erection of a kind of popular and civil discourse and understanding of the Christian faith that was widespread across all classes of society, such that, even as plural choices were being offered more and more to individuals, a common thread of Christian vision was inculcated and carried about by this rapidly diversifying population. There has probably been no period or place where the Christian vision was so thoroughly disseminated with such a degree of detail, albeit general, within a given population.
And that was just Cranmer’s vision; and, despite rather large bumps in the road – like a Civil War! – it was a vision that was fulfilled for a good 350 years and perhaps more. People heard the Scriptures together, prayed through them in a common fashion, and were instructed about their order according to a basic framework, whose BCP lineaments were not without theological orientation, but were nevertheless open. If individuals sought more or less of this or that, they had the freedom to do so. For the catechesis of the BCP’s culture was, paradoxically, in its “formalities”, enormously roomy, and… and this is an important point – relentlessly egalitarian.
- So, back to where we began: bishops and their clergy:
Clergy from Oxbridge and the bishops that came from their ranks read their Latin and Greek, something few others did outside their guild. That was rather “elitist”, we might think. Some of them delved into arcane concerns with classical and patristic texts; others joined in arguments and debates over the historical origins of this or that liturgical practice. And, to be sure, some of the religious debates spilled into finally conflicted struggles that rent the fabric of society. But by and large, Anglican religion, was devoid of theological polychromaticism. It stuck to the same issues and texts over and over. Indeed, the rise of the Puritan movement, among more popular groups, lay precisely in the lack of power held by a religious elite within Anglicanism. When it came to reading the Scriptures, to worship and the BCP, clergy and bishops were no smarter than anyone, and were indeed constrained by the same practices and BCP culture as everyone else.
This is where my opening remarks come back in: to teach the faith, in Anglicanism, within the BCP’s Scriptural format, was basically “to get out of the way” of the Scriptures laid out before the people according to a broad creedal form. It was never perfectly done, but it was done nonetheless. For all the class distinctions of British society, the Anglican Church was something that, theologically at least, resisted the imposition of class upon ways of thinking and praying, hearing the Scriptures and having them speak.
Not all clergy, of course, were educated in Oxbridge. Those who could not afford the university or receive scholarships – though many did, and the notion that Oxbridge was solely the preserve of the upper classes, especially among the clergy, is mistaken – were often taught privately. But by the 19th century, more organized local theological education was deemed important for non-university ordinands and teachers. Similarly, in the colonies and overseas, the need for local education grew up.
On the latter front, the first Anglican institution outside of Britain is often reckoned to be Codrington College, on Barbados, formed from a plantation willed to the SPG. It began teaching general courses for the children of colonists, and then later for indigenous Anglicans in 1748/1759 (first graduate ordained)/1830. This was a form of “general education,” that mirrored the British secondary school and university, later transferred to training clergy. Bishop’s College, in Calcutta, began in 1820, and founded by the first Anglican bishop there, Thomas Middleton, a graduate of Cambridge. A few decades later, its educational mission, aimed at indigenous Anglicans and those aiming to be ordained, was described thus: “to remain some five years in the College, during which they were to lay the foundation of a good education as it was then understood in England--Greek and Latin classics and mathematics, with some divinity and general knowledge, and perhaps a little Hebrew--together with the study of Indian languages.” (Gibbs).
Fourah Bay College, in Sierra Leone, was founded in 1927 by the CMS especially as a training center for teachers and catechists. It later grew into a university.
In Canada, we know of King’s College in Nova Scotia (1790), which was a transplantation of the same institution in New York after the Revolution. It was Anglican, and meant to follow the English university model, requiring subscription to the 39 Articles well into the 19th century, and for some, the course of studies led to ordination. King’s College in Toronto (1827) did the same thing, at least until 1849m, when it severed its relationship to the church of England, at which point Bp. Strachan founded Trinity College (1851).
In the young United States, there was a series of seminary establishments: General, 1817; Virginia 1823; Nashotah House, 1842; Philadelphia, 1857; ETS 1867 and so on.
In England, we see a parallel movement. St. Bees Theological College (Cumbria), becomes the first CoE seminary in 1816, aimed at non Oxbridge ordination candidates. The curriculum, over two years, comprised: History, Scriptural and ecclesiastical; NT exposition; Creeds and Articles; Evidences; Theology; Latin and English composition
St. David’s College, in Lampeter, Wales opened in 1828 (but aimed at a kind of “university” setting, on analogy with Oxbridge. WE might mention as well King’s College, London, an establishment Anglican non-Oxbridge university, modeled on the latter, 1831.
After this, we find a slew of more “party-oriented” schools opening – High Church or Tractarian, and then Evangelical, often associated with particular dioceses and cathedrals. In addition, Oxbridge saw party “study houses” – Pusey, St. Stephens, etc. – erected to supplement undergraduate reading.
First, Chichester Theological College, 1838; then Wells (1840), whose curriculum was devoted to: Holy Scriptures, Book of Common Prayer, the Articles; Ecclesiastical History: Hooker, Pearson, Butler; Hebrew (for which a prize is given annually by the Bishop) ; and some of the Greek and Latin Church writers form the subject of private lectures. Adding some of the material that wasin the Oxbridge syllabus anyway. Similar to the US. Cuddesdon/Oxford Diocesan Seminary (Oxford Movement), 1854. In Cambridge, there was Westcott House/Cambridge Clergy Training School, 1894.
Amongst the Evangelicals, the following schools quickly followed, worried by the ascendency of the Anglo-Catholics: St. Aidan’s, Birkenhead (Liverpool), 1847; St. John’s Highbury, 1863; Wycliffe Hall/College, 1877, Ridley Hall, 1881 – Evangelical. What was their focus? Articles of Religion!! And bible. But pronounced anti-Catholic principles and practices, which now began to cull the works of the Reformers, Puritans and others.
The “rise of the seminaries” is of fundamental importance to the evolving shape of Anglican teaching. It all sounds good: diversity, choice, competition, more engagement with local and pastoral needs. And it was good and certainly inevitable. And, in some instances, simply necessary, from a moral and missionary point of view. So, for instance, the need for indigenous theological schools in places like South Africa, was absolutely critical to the ability of the church there to be faithful to its mission, and struggles at establishing these schools in the face of colonial resistance only underscores the distorted formation of these contexts.
But inevitably, the spread of local theological schools – seminaries and the like -- also led to the the empowerment of a new elite culture, as much among indigenous clergy etc. as among Anglo-Americans. “Which” seminary one went to branded one according to certain ecclesiastical party membership – Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic, for instance. And, as an outgrowth of this in the 20th century, “particular” theologies and then ethical and political programs began to be associated with particular schools: ETS became a “liberationist” school, Cuddesdon a “gay-friendly” school, St. Paul’s Limuru a ‘political” school; Moore College in Sydney, a “reformed” school and so on. The parallel rise of “elite” lay training programs, that have local branding – EFM, the “via media” series, and so on. All of this tracks with analogous developments in the theological sphere at the university level: Barthian, Tillichian, von Balthasar, Thomistic, Radical Orthodoxy, Hauerwasian, and the rest.
Already back in 1909, Henley Henson, the provocative Bishop of Durham, had noted what was happening, and how specialized seminary training was robbing clergy of their integration within the faith of the larger church. In the words of J. S. MacArthur:
“Theological colleges tend also to belong definitely to one school of thought or another, and to teach particular ecclesiastical views rather than theology, thus following the path of least resistance. This is what prompted the Bp. Of Durham (Liberty of Prophesying, 231) to make the somewhat acid observation that seminary-bred preachers carry into the pulpit the bold dogmatism in which they have been trained, and which reflects the calculated ignorance in which they have been kept. The last, he thinks, secures the sincerity of the first, but cannot lessen its potency of mischief, the extreme injustice which it may inflict on individuals, or the discredit which it must bring on the Church”. (J. S. Macarthur, Expository Times, 1933, 44(12), pp. 539-42, p. 539.)
On the one hand, then, the rise of seminaries in Anglicanism led to the empowerment of a new elite culture, among indigenous clergy etc. as among Anglo-Americans. One in which, however, individual or certainly much more constrained concerns predominated and then ranged themselves over and against alternatives from elsewhere. On a Communion level, this has led to an elaboration of “institutions” with “curricula” of varied courses aimed at a range of perceived special needs: contextualization, local religions, Islam, political and ethical challenges, missionary methodologies. Etc.. Oppositions and polarizations abound: which one sees both more broadly, but also within dioceses, as diversification is routinized at subsidiary levels.
Obviously, this plays into other cultural dynamics – choice, consumerism, commodification of Christian and intellectual values. And, of course, there is no way “back” from where we are. And I would not suggest that there is or should be. Seminary teaching pays my rent! What I simply want to stress is how the “formulaic” teaching of Anglicanism, which is still in place practically in many parts of the world, has also withered under the realities of educational fragmentation that besets our church just as it does our global culture. Scripture, BCP, Formularies: it is not simply a question of whether these hold us “together” – they do not any longer – but whether they are worth engaging in a primary way so as to reclaim in some new fashion.
It should be said that I am hardly the only person to ask this. Five years ago, in the midst of the crisis that still grips the Anglican Communion, leaders and teachers in the Global South, who had been working together on this project, came out with something they called “Anglican Catechism in Outline: A Common Home Between Us” (2008). It was offered to the whole Communion, under the leadership of the Chinese-Canadian Michael Poon (and including Oliver O’Donovan). Some of its concerns and focus track with things I have said. But its instigation derives from the context of churches more embroiled in the very act of coming-to-be than perhaps we are used here in N. America. They write, for instance:
“It is essential that what is transmitted to the baptized should be the
teaching of Jesus Christ, not the religious opinions of individual ministers. If
this cannot be ensured, new Christians will be left without the resources of
Christian understanding to guide their thought and action.
This urgency is underlined by the common challenges facing the churches
in Communion. Anglicans often remain biblically illiterate and uninformed
about their particular faith traditions. At the same time, radical reinterpretation
of the Christian faith and morals are taking place both in the Southern
Hemisphere and in the Northern Hemisphere where Christianity has
historically been a dominant presence. Today we live in a world that often
regards Christian faith as damaging to social and national life, and even as a
threat to human survival. In contrast, other religions experience a fresh
resurgence in the Southern Hemisphere and beyond. Christians often live as
tiny minorities in hostile surroundings that try to marginalize and redefine both
the Christian faith and the Christian church. They are often not sufficiently
confident of their faith identity to engage positively with opportunities for
loving witness offered by inter-faith dialogue, into which they may be pushed
by secular forces rather than by an authentic conviction of their mission. (ACIO, pp. 12-13)
The ACIO offers a framework, one that is simple, straightforward and important: under the aegis of the three Pauline virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love, Anglican teaching is commended that will follow the traditional catechetical structure of Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and 10 Commandments, all bound especially to their Scriptural moorings. What is remarkable about this, obviously, is not the framework, which is utterly traditional, not only according to BCP practices but, to the Christian Church since at least the 8th century. Rather, what is striking is the way that this framework is discussed and lifted up by those most attuned and also vulnerable to the cultural changes that have been swirling about human life over the past 50 years.
How does one put this into effect? That’s for each Anglican Church to decide. One might note that ACNA in one of its more creative, initial ministries, put together an extensive catechism. In good Anglican fashion, why should they be the only ones? ACIO talks about the necessary leadership of bishops, intentional programming, Church-wide training centres for this purpose, and the focus upon two places of teaching, Sunday at church and families at home, in the context Scripture reading. Myself, I think this all makes sense. Except that the ACIO has had little traction in the discussion of Anglicans, for reasons about which we can speculate.
But I am not without hope, nor certainly without energy around this. There are many – perhaps not exactly “numerous” – Anglican and Episcopal churches that have flourished precisely in their teaching ministry, and this is significant and inspiring. These are not simply local matters, however. But we need a new movement, and one that can learn from the flourishing of Anglican mission in the past and today, including especially the catechist movement and its forms and fruits. We are, in many ways, back, to square one of 1540, although with a long journey having been traversed, picaresque in many ways – adventures, lost goods, imprisonments, escapes, wild delights and profound abandonments. Along the way, and most impressively, the church has become something that now touches so many people and histories and cultures and needs that we are being forced to return to the starting place to revisit the origins and substance of our hopes, lest we lose ourselves in the vast memories of our travels. I continue to believe that Anglicans have a special contribution to make to this Christian renewal, in part for the breadth of what we have embraced, and in part for the intractability of what we cannot leave behind.
 On ordinand examinations – these were not introduced until the 1840’s (cf,. David Dowland, p. 183): “ In 1842 Cambridge introduced a Voluntary Theological Examination for postgraduate candidates for Holy Orders. The ‘Voluntary’ which bishops soon made obligatory, comprised tests in the Greek Testament, assigned portions of the Church Fathers, Ecclesiastical History, Articles of Religion and the Liturgy of the Church of England. There was also an optional examination in Hebrew.11 A similar course, brought into Oxford in 1842 (Greek Testament, Church Fathers, Ecclesiastical History, Liturgy and the Thirty-nine Articles) was not compulsory. The only other formal episcopal requirement for ordinands at this time was a course of reading set and tested by bishops’ individual examining chaplains.” In1838, Pusey noted that England had 6 theological professors, vs. 125 in Germany (p. 185) On the 1873/4 Cambridge Theology Tripos, see pp. 192-93.