There is a problem with starting with the Articles or the Elizabethan Formularies in attempting to explicate Anglican Catholic faith. In fact the authorities actually and explicitly advanced in the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Catholic Church are not the Elizabethan Prayer Books, or the Tudor Homilies, or the Elizabethan Articles of Religion. The Constitution and Canons are silent about all of these: which does not amount to repudiation, but also is not irrelevant.
The Constitution and Canons do explicitly mention the Henrician Statutes that rejected the Papacy and suppressed some late medieval abuses, but largely preserved the doctrinal position of the medieval Western Church. The Constitution and Canons also incorporate the Affirmation of Saint Louis and liturgical authorities on both sides of the Elizabethan Settlement: the 1549 Prayer Book, 20th century Prayer Books, including the Indian Prayer Book’s official Supplement (with Benediction and other devotions that would have greatly displeased the Edwardine and Elizabethan bishops), as well as the Anglican, English, and American Missals.
Again, there is no repudiation of intermediate authorities. The combination, however, of explicit authorization of some authorities and of eloquent silence concerning others is significant. It is not merely that the Anglican Catholic Church wished to authorize the liturgies actually in use at the time of a local Church’s accession to or formation within the ACC. If that practical principle had been determinative, the 1549 Book would not have been authorized. Clearly explicit mention and authorization of 1549 and silence concerning 1552, 1559, and 1662 has some normative weight and significance.
The Affirmation of Saint Louis explicitly asserts that its principles are to be determinative in interpreting all Anglican formularies. The Affirmation therefore is not open to the use of Anglican formularies as a limiting principle in its own interpretation. This fact reinforces strongly the previous point concerning the Constitution and Canons. The Affirmation itself gives explicit approval to some Anglican formularies, namely the three Creeds and the Prayer Books. Therefore, our general assumption should be that there is no contradiction or significant tension between the Affirmation and its principles, on the one hand, and the Anglican formularies explicitly mentioned by the Affirmation, on the other hand. The Affirmation’s assertion of its own authority remains, however, and it too is significant.
In the case of the Anglican Catholic Church the Affirmation is explicitly enshrined in the Constitution and Canons and so is given the highest authority. It seems, then, that for the Anglican Catholic Church our starting point for interpreting Scripture and the deposit of the faith is our own Constitution and Canons, with its Solemn Declaration and with its incorporation of the Affirmation.
Now apart from the authorized Prayer Books proper (to which the Articles of Religion are an appendix, a separate ‘book’ in the Tudor sense) and the Creeds, there are a number of historical Anglican formularies with some claim to our attention. We have mentioned already the Tudor Homilies and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, to which we might add the Solemn Declaration of the Canadian Church and the canon law of the old Anglican Churches, such as that of the Episcopal Church prior to 1967.
There is a problem with taking any of these secondary Anglican authorities as a starting point for anything other than an historical study of their authorizing Churches. The problem is the Affirmation’s assertion of its own priority. Where these other authorities are often silent or vague or not systematic or clear, the Affirmation usually is clear. Where these other authorities are earlier and less developed or more subject to partisan debate, the Affirmation is determinative, developed, and united – and also in harmony on many points with the consensus of the faithful through time and space, East and West.
Consider, for instance, the Canadian Solemn Declaration. This declaration, printed in the Canadian Prayer Book, is an estimable and venerable statement, which fixes the teaching of the Canadian Church as a classically Anglican Church. The Declaration makes clear various points which served to distinguish the old Anglican Church of Canada from, for instance, the Roman Catholic Church and from non-episcopal Protestant bodies. The Canadian Solemn Declaration, however, is silent concerning a number of important points which are explicitly and directly addressed in the Solemn Declaration of the Anglican Catholic Church and in the Affirmation. While there is no need to repudiate the Canadian Solemn Declaration at all, it is inferior in authority and in substance to the Solemn Declaration of the Anglican Catholic Church and the Affirmation. Clarity, definition, explicit rejection of new errors, and subjection of Anglican authorities to more universal authority all help make the ACC’s formularies superior. While the Canadian document might be usefully studied for historical purposes, it is not the best place to begin a study of the faith of the Anglican Catholic Church.
In this regard we might consider an analogy with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed: the later document is superior to the earlier in that it is more detailed and more aware of potential misunderstandings and of errors that arose after the Apostles’ Creed. The two documents are not inconsistent or contradictory, but an effort to understand the fulness of the Church’s Trinitarian faith will more naturally concentrate on the Nicene Creed than on the earlier creed, unless the approach taken is purely historical or developmental. Something similar might be argued in regard to the Canadian Declaration in relation to ACC Solemn Declaration or in regard to the Articles of Religion in relation to the Affirmation.
Within the Anglican Catholic Church Anglican authorities must be understood in the light of the Affirmation and of the Constitution and Canons. The 1552 and 1559 Prayer Books are not authorized in this Church and whatever authority the 1662 Book has is only mediated through other editions that are explicitly authorized. Furthermore, the authorized Missals are authorized explicitly in the Constitution and Canons as being consistent with the Prayer Books and are fully authorized for use. This authorization of the Missals does not mean, of course, that there is nothing in them that is not patient of misunderstanding or legitimate objection. All liturgies contain material which can be improved upon or misunderstood. Nonetheless, the authority of any authorized liturgical book of this Church is greater than that of any individual using them: they are not authorized as sources for privately-selected interpolations, but rather are Missals publicly authorized as suitable for the Eucharistic worship of this Church. Our Church rightly gives great latitude to local congregations and celebrants. No parish or priest needs to add a syllable to the Prayer Book rite. And, again, it is perfectly legitimate to note potential areas of misunderstanding in any authorized texts. Nonetheless, the authority of authorized texts remains and is superior to the opinions of any individual precisely because the whole Church has authorized them.
In short, the Affirmation, the Constitution and Canons, and the authorized Missals all form an interpretative lens through which older formularies must be seen – and in the case of the Affirmation this priority and authority are directly and explicitly asserted.
What are some of the practical theological effects of this Anglican Catholic settlement? Well, it is impossible within the Anglican Catholic Church legitimately to deny the authority of the Seven Ecumenical Councils or to deny that there are seven Sacraments. The Elizabethan and 1662 Prayer Books know nothing of Unction of the Sick (except in an Article): that silence has no theological significance for an Affirmation Church. Again, the liturgies of our Church and the consensus principle both mean that it is legitimate to invoke the prayers of the Saints, that it is pious and proper to pray for the departed, and to celebrate the Eucharist for the benefit of the souls of the departed as well as for the living, though the intermediate Prayer Books and many Tudor theologians might object to such things. Invocation of saints and Requiem Mass do not concern central dogmas of the faith, which must normally be believed for salvation; however, they do concern settled teachings of the Anglican Catholic Church which loyal churchmen are not at liberty to reject. Again, it is not legitimate within our Church to deny that our Lord is Really Present in the Eucharist or that Holy Orders are male in character or that abortion is wrong. These issues are settled for us and cannot legitimately be denied.
Now one might read the Prayer Book and the Articles and the Canadian Solemn Declaration and the Homilies with understanding and still not be clear about many of these points just mentioned. That does not render these classical Anglican statements false. It does suggest that we should self-consciously adopt an ecclesial theological method that views older Anglican formularies in the light of the clarity of the Affirmation and of the ACC’s own laws.
Teaching that begins with the Elizabethan Settlement and Tudor formularies, and uses these authorities as a filter through which the Affirmation is received and interpreted may well fail to grasp the ways in which the Anglican Catholic Church differs from the Church of Elizabeth or the Episcopal Church of 1967 or any other day. But teaching that begins with the Affirmation and the actual formularies explicitly mentioned in our Constitution and Canons will understand our Anglican patrimony correctly.