Our Chapel’s Hermeneutic

de Bibliotheca de Annapolis

Perhaps it’s well-known that Anglicans suffer an acute identity crisis. Once modern higher criticism– with its advanced social agenda– is questioned, we’re often left to ponder the war-weary and topsy-turvy landscape left behind by Victorian Party strife. However inimical to one another these factions might have been, they seem to often mutual in their abuse or dismissal of the Georgian Church. Such joint-criticism usually amounts to the 18th-century Era being characteristically sluggish, superficial, worldly, and excessively whiggish. However, the 18th-century– called by some historians the peak of the Church of England’s “Long Reformation”– was likely ‘torpid’ for very good reasons; namely, it was a relatively stable and triumphant period for the Established Church. And, if the stagnant nature of the Georgian Church is true, why not ground one’s hermeneutic upon the Divinity which advanced this relative dominance? This post will briefly discuss something of the historical framework our blog, Anglican Rose, has been slowly moving toward as well as our other related projects.   

Marginalization: While the Church enjoyed many privileges and strengths from the Restoration to the Regency, it’s positive influence has since been wholly stigmatized. In the anthology for The Church of England, c. 1689-1833, not only does editor Dr. John Walsh describe the major problem besetting 18th-century historiography regarding the Church, but he credits the Rev. Dr. Norman Sykes for inaugurating the intial push-back against widespread prejudices in scholarship against this Era. In his Introduction, Walsh admits,

“It was not until the appearance of Norman Syke’s Church and State in England in the Eighteenth Century in 1934– a landmark in Anglican historiography– that the reputation of the eighteenth-century church began to be seriously rehabilitated. Sykes’s tone was one of qualified approval. He insisted that the Georgian Church should not be judged by anachronistic nineteenth-century standards. Many of the alleged abuses were age-old problems.” p. 2

It seems the projection of 19th-century Party conflict upon the Georgian Church has metasized itself within academia despite the Rev. Dr. Norman Sykes’s efforts. Yet, according to Sykes, both Evangelical and Anglo-catholic factions contributed to this mutual ‘poisoning of the well’. Dr. Sykes explains something of the problem’s dimensions,

“Unhappily the eighteenth-century Church has won no greater measure of approval in its more specifically religious character, largely in consequence of the spell cast upon different minds by the two secessions of its epoch, the Non-juror and the Methodist. To admirers of the Caroline school of high-church divines the departure of the non-juring clergy at the outset of the century marked the removal of the candlestick of the apostate Church whose communion they forsook; and to disciples of the later Methodist revival the success of John Wesley and his associates compromised fatally the reputation of the contemporary episcopate which rejected his apostolate. Situate in a strait betwixt two such contradictory currents of depreciation, the character and achievement of the conformist remnant of Latitudininarian bishops and clergy who clung to the fleshpots of the establishment have received double for their sins from critics and historians.” p. 3 Sykes, Church and State in England in the Eighteenth-Century

However, Sykes tended to lay the onus on Anglo-Catholicism, likely because Ritualists eventually gained an upperhand in the Church following the departure or shutting out of Evangelicals. Of course, Sykes is writing during the 1930’s and Anglo-catholics, for example, in Dioceses like California, anyhow tended to be the dominant church party.

Today, Anglo-Catholics also enjoy a similar prevalence, if not complete hegemony in, say, the North American continuing church, won by their peculiar understanding of Holy Orders as well as certain stances on serious ‘cultural issues’ (say, marriage, abortion, etc.). So, Sykes’s criticism has prescience even now, especially for continuing churchmen who tend to identify Latitude with neo-marxism. Here Sykes appears to place a special blame upon anglo-catholics:

“Accordingly, the history of the Hanoverian Church has suffered especial severity at the hands of disciples of the High Church revival, whose zeal (though not according to knowledge) has led ‘under the influence of inferior spirits’ (to quote the piquant phrase of Dr Brilioth) to the production of ‘a Vulgate in High Anglican writing of history as regards the representation of the time before 1833’. ‘ p. 5 Church and State.

However, the breach with the Georgian Church could possibly be healed if  present-day ecclesiastical parties could admit their common relations the Latitudinarians who were the episcopal ruling-party while their faction was forming. “Latitudinarianism” is largely a term of derision, indicating a tendency within the Church to comprehend moderate non-Anglican Protestants into the Establishment. Curiously, the Latitudinarians could be said to be very ‘high compares to these other parties since they tended to be against the independence of Convocation, siding with Royal Supremacy instead. Also, the effort to incorporate all Protestants into a single national church rather than allow Toleration might be considered even Laudian.1  The origin of the term goes back to the Savoy Conferences and occasional Stuart willingness to give non-conformists either Indulgences or reconsider minor points of difference. 

The blindness to Latitudinarianism’s continuity with Laudianism on the part of present-day High Churchmen are likely inherited from polemics of Francis Atterbury who represented the English non-juroring section of Tories against William III’s prorogation of Convocation. Part-and-parcel of Atterbury’s spurious campaign against so-called Erastians was constantly accusing the Williamite Bishops, like the Rt. Revs. Burnet and Stillingfleet, of ‘Deism’ and ‘Arianism’. A hundred-years later when Parliament finally relegated the Irish Church to disestablishment, Victorian Anglo-catholics quickly resuscitated Atterbury’s unfortunate accusation, and the suspicion toward old-Erastianism appears to have stuck, mostly due to fears of liberalism or neo-Marxism. Yet, keep in mind, “Latitudinarians” authored effective polemical works against higher biblical criticism, free thinkers, and ungodly rationalism in their day which pestered otherwise firmly rooted church.

Evangelical opposition is a bit different from High Church counterparts, but it largely revolved around the obstacles Hanoveran Bishops faced as they sought to meet the parochial needs of a burgeoning laboring population. However, the very impetus of Evangelicalism stems from the same pastoral charges presented by so-called Latitudinarian Bishops at their diocesan conferences, urging disciplinary and catechetical solutions for poorer parishes and chapels. Among other concerns, the Georgian Bishops believed if Anglican discipline could be as primitive as its Reformed doctrine, then Dissenting scruple would simply evaporate, leaving no good excuse for ongoing separation.

So, the latitudinarians did much to spearhead a reformed pastoralia that Evangelicals would later use as a springboard. However, when reforms were indeed stymied, the “Latitudinarians” were also ready to redirected energy toward voluntary associations; hence, SPCK and Woodwardian Religious Societies were created. As Evangelicalism grew out of these older forms, apparently they forgot their connection to the earlier Latitudinarian episcopate, even the carry-over from older Laudian projects.

Overall, the Hanoveran Bishops and their clergy mostly agreed upon the problem-at-hand, though their solutions were generally more conservative, cautious, and sometimes too limited in scope for irregular pastors. But it’s also possible Evangelicals drew a logical conclusion from the premises provided by certain Diocesan authorities.

Resolving Antagonisms:  Since the SPCK has already been mentioned, it’s worth digging into this venerable institution’s history. The SPCK is important because it crossed a number of early Parties within the church, with a substantial contribution from traditional High Churchmen, even some non-jurors like Robert Nelson. The designs for SPCK began with the oversea Commissary work of the Reverend Thomas Bray. Returning from colonial Maryland, Dr. Bray began plans in England for supplying pastoral literature to unendowed parishes, especially Abroad. SPCK published and distributed large amounts of theological works, including a surprisingly good proportion of non-jurorng and high church texts. These ‘good books’ were then sent to ministers in the colonies who often lacked funds to supply their own theological material. Many recipients, even corresponding members, of SPCK were early Evangelicals. In fact, the Mssr. John Wesley and George Whitefield (along with other colleagues from the Oxford Holy Club) first  arrived in Georgia on SPG/SPCK stipends– giving some credit to SPCK even to Revivalism in America if not transatlantic.

The SPCK is likely the skeleton key by which scholars can enter the mind of the Established church upon its highest maturity or, daresay, its ‘golden age’ during the 18th-century. The Rev. William K. Clarke’s estimation of the Georgian Church is also contemporary to Sykes. Clarke’s essay on Eighteenth-Century Piety even contains much the same misgivings regarding current-day historiography, saying,

“The conventional verdict on the Church of England of the eighteenth century is still so widely accepted that another attempt at reconsideration is justified…

What’s fascinating about Clarke’s essay is, rather than wallow in disappointment with other historians, Clarke expresses a complete awareness that the 18th-century Church can essentially be summed by the activities of SPCK. He admits SPCK’s linchpin quality here:

I do not want to dispute these judgments, for which abundant evidence can be produced. Nor do I aim at a balanced appraisement of the facts. All I propose to do is to pursue one line of inquiry, into the contents of the books published by the SPCK. Anticipating my results, I can say with certainty that there is evidence leading to different conclusions and that the one thing we shall not find is any spirit of complacency.

I propose, then, to describe English Church life in the eighteenth century as it appears to one who reads the books and pamphlets put out by the SPCK. Although so much as been written on the subject, this source has never been used, so far as I know. It is of peculiar importance. The Society was under episcopal patronage, and through its correspondents in touch with priests and laymen all over the country. As a Church Publishing Society it stood alone. Its usual method was to make a selection fo what had been already published, and to buy large quantities for distribution to members and for sale to the public. Only rarely did it accept manuscripts offered in the ordinary way. Once a book was on the list it stayed there for many years, even for generations, sometimes revised at its successive editions, more often remaining unchanged. For example, Bishop Beveridge’s Sermon on the Common Prayer, first published in 1681, was reprinted in 1799 in a thirty-eighth edition. The Rev. Francis Fox, Vicar of St. Mary’s, Reading, joined the SPCK at the beginning of the eighteenth century. His Duty of Public Worship Proved reached its ninth edition in 1771. A Funeral Sermon on the death of the Earl of Rochester in 1680 was still being reprinted as late as 1798, to give away at funerals. We may admit an excess of conservatism in the Committee, but may none the less conclude that throughout the century there was general agreement as to the literature needs of the Church. Society was static through out the period, at least in comparison with our standards of rapid change. Also we may fairly suppose that the books selected for such long-continued and widespread use were typical, and that from their statements and implications we may draw valid conclusions as to actual conditions as well as ideals”. p. 1-2.

If SPCK was the watershed Clarke claimed, then the SPCK catalogues stemming from this period were more so. Obviously, SPCK books represented the prevailing or salient theology of the Church, and many titles had very long-printing runs, sometimes consisting of thirty or more editions, measuring their degree or impression upon the Church. The original catalogs were compiled by Thomas Bray (like his Bibliotheca catechetica), but they also were enlarged and circulated by Bishops at diocesan Conference, such as Edmund Gibson’s 1740 Letter to his Clergy [An extensive online sample is here]. But, for Thomas Bray and members of the Society, the catalogs served a grander purpose than merely meeting mass consumption. Rather, they were part of Bray’s scheme for making the salutary theological Works of the Church widely available to the public, especially in the plantations where both civility and piety lacked.

“And, alas, where Ignorance and Darkness Universally Reign in any part of the World, and the People are destitute of Divine Knowledge, innumerable are the Miseries, and dreadful are the Sins, which reign in such places; Between Superstition and Atheism, such People are equally divided; Fornications, and Adulteries are scarcely accounted Infirmities by their great Ones, and Perjuries in the Courts of Judicature are part of the services they exact of their Inferirors, And to be Sons of Violence, is common to all. For as was seen in our former ages of Ignorance in this Nation, and is still the Constitution of Barbarous countries elsewhere, the Great Ones with their Followers, are no better than public Robbers, ever and anon making Ravages upon some Neighboring Petty Lord, and his Vassals, and all of them a sort of tollerated Banditry; continually preaying, adn being prey’d upon by each other. Such, and many others are the violations of Just and Right, of God’s Laws, yea and of the very Laws of Nature, which arise from this bitter Fountain of Ignorance of the true Nature of God, and of Religion, whereas on the other side, unspeakable are the Benefits consisting in Justice, Mercy, and Peace; in Piety towards God, and well-ordered Affections as to ourselves, where, by means of an Intelligent, Pious, and Industrious clergy, (those great Benefactors to mankind) the People are thoroughly enlightened with the Knowledge of God, and the true Nature of Pure and Undefiled Religion” (p. 6-7, Bibliotheca Catechetica)

Bray’s plea for improvement in morals and manners echoes Cranmer’s Preface to the Great Bible. Fidelity to true Religion secures important benefits in the Civil realm, namely, good subjects.2 However, rather than making a case for vernacular scriptures, Dr. Bray’s vision is mainly catechetical, seeking educative resources for destitute ministers enabling them to render proper instruction to their flocks. Here, Bray asks a good question:

“in the case of the Church in this nation be really so, I conjure all those who love to see the Image of God Imprinted upon the Souls of Men, to furnish such our poor Cures at home, with what may enable us to erase that Ignorance and Barbarity, those Brutish Manners, and Pagan Vices and Customs, which do to this day so hideously deform the greatest part of Mankind. We cannot now work Miracles, nor is Inspiration any part of our Talent; but we are left to the ordinary Means to fit ourselves for this great Work of Converting the World; namely, the common measures of God’s Holy Spirit, accompanying our hard Study. But how can They study, who have not Books to read? Those who were never pinch’d with narrow Preferments, many be sensible of this want, because they have been able to furnish themselves sufficiently with Books. But those who incomes from the Church never enabl’d them to purchase the fourth part of the Writings they have occasion to pursue, in order to discharge the ordinary duties of their Ministry, can speak feelingly in this matter.” p. 4-5, ditto

For Bray, regular and proper catechizing was the primary answer for saving the Church as well as the Realm, and it’s surprising how strong this argument is made by even the Bishops of Bray’s day. 3  Bray goes on to recall the role of catechism in the owning the Baptismal Covenant:

“Now the  whole complex of Saving Truths is contained within the Doctrine of the Covenant of Grace, and all that pertains to the Nature, Terms, and Conditions of the said Covenant, and also to the means of performing the same, is compris’d in the catechism of the Church of England. It is therefore universally acknowledged, that the Teaching of that Catechism is a Fundamental Article of the Pastoral Care, in our Church; And this it must be confessed, has been of late much inculcated in many Visitation Charges upon the Inferior Clergy. But this is not enough to get the Work forwarded, by a very great part of our Parochial Ministers; who, as all other inferior Agents, must work by Means, and to whom therefore it is necessary  to have proper Books in their Custody, to enable them to compose Catechetical Discourses, and to explained prove the principles of Religion plainly, and practically to the People.” (ditto, p. iv)

Bray solved the expense or “means” of such literature by advocating the making of parochial libraries. His overall plan was donating Religious literature to churches that were mainly rural, impoverished, or otherwise without endowment. Bray certainly had colonies like Maryland and Virginia in mind. But, closer to home there was the lamentable circumstances of the Isle of Man and Wales (ditto, p.9). Books sent by SPCK were to remain a semi-public nature, maintained within the local parish building, and open to loan to any inferior minister wanting study. Where parishes had closer proximity to each other, a decanal (or deanery) library occurred, permitting larger collections as well as loans to the worthy public. To prevent embezzlement, Bray advised local officials– e.g., wardens or archdeacons– to supervise the collections.4 Anyway, Bray’s parochial library scheme obviously did much to reinforce and broadcast the views of the Hanoveran era, and we see their “Latitude” basically synthesized high and low church views through books of piety but also by apologetic which often took a surprisingly higher tone.

An Example: Among SPCK books perhaps with the longest running time, was the Church Catechism Explained by the Rev. John Lewis (1700). Lewis’ catechism enjoyed more than forty-eight editions. It was not only well-represented in parishes throughout England, especially London, but the Explanation was also widely used in American school houses until the mid-19th century. Some Prayer Books were even bound together with Lewis’s Catechism. Mrs. Monaghan gives an account of the Lewis Catechism’s success in England:

“By far the most popular in Kent was The Church Catechism Explained, By Way of Question and Answer and Confirmed by Scripture Proofs, written by John Lewis. Lewis was an active parish priest, receiving support from both Tenison and Wake. He was vicar of St. John’s, Margate, (1706-46) as well as being incumbent of the neighboring parish of Minster in Thanet (1708-46). His exposition was warmly welcomed by Thomas Bray who had it printed under tthe auspices of the SPCK in 1700. Lewis Catechism was popular not only in Kent but also in the rest of England. By 1714 it had run through seven English editions and by 1812 it had reached forty-two editions. In 1738 it was the most popular catechism in the diocese of Oxford and in Bristol in the 1760’s. In 1713 it was translated into Welsh. Lewis compiled it specifically for the poor and uneducated and had consulted neighboring clergy whilst writing it, an indication of the attempt by some clergy to get to grips with the problems of their pastoral experience. ” (p. 72-3, Learning to Read & Write in Colonial America)

Lewis’s Catechism stands out as a very rare book uniquely dedicated and propagated by SPCK, making it very representative of the theology which drove the Society’s mission. It’s astonishing that Lewis’s Explanation hasn’t been republished given recent attempts to produce a new catechism for North American Anglicans. This complaint is even more true if the best Anglican pastorlia has already been written, leaving modern persons little to improve upon? Why other Anglicans might use catechisms not immediate to the domestic history of their Episcopal Church is beyond the understanding of this writer. Though there may be an affinity, catechisms like the Westminster, Lutheran, or Hiedelberg are really unnecessary, especially considering the dozens of other Anglican catechetical writings projected by SPCK. Here’s a sample: 

At our own chapel (in-formation) within the UECNA, rather than pretend to improve upon a past work (and likely doing a lousier job of it), we merely reprint Lewis’s Explanation, sharing it with others. Upon Sundays, when we catechize according to the rubric, we use the Lewis Catechism with its proofs. Given the forty-eight (or more) editions produced, the Lewis Catechism was basically unaltered over time. As editions increased, at the end of the catechism a chapter on Confirmation was added. In other versions, varieties of prayers and hymns are appended, but these are the only discrepancies to the original. Even adults wanting to reconfirm their baptismal vows (and therefore their Covenant) may likewise study it. An upcoming project for our fellowship in 2019 will be republishing the Lewis Catechism with relevant hymns, only adding a modern preface or advertisement alongside the older ones. That addition will probably consist of a brief history, but the main objective will be enhancing the legibility of the Explanation against existing facsimiles.5

But the SPCK catalogues are also a thoroughfare by which we may genuinely travel into Georgian Era with great insight regarding our own American revisions, c. 1785 & 1789 as well as numerous devotional practices, thus, understanding and better cherishing our foundation. If there is a single word of advice from our UE missionary Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Peter Robinson, it’s his thought respecting Love Feasts and Class Meetings at the General Convention 2014, “whatever you do, so long as you can point to a historical example practiced by Anglicans, we should generally be ‘ok'”.



1 We might say the 1636 Scottish Episcopal Book as well as the articles of Perth were attempts to comprehend the Kirk. Though such monstrously failed, the point is they are examples of comprehension on the part of unquestionable Laudian divines.
2 Does “British” indeed mean Covenant-Man?!
3 Edmund Gibson said regarding the value of ‘good books’, mainly catechetical sorts, “One of these Expedients is, the putting into their Hands, as occasion shall be found, some short and plain tracts upon Religious subjects; such as being short, they are like to read, or may easily procure to be read to them; and being also plain, they cannot fail of understanding, and moreover, they will naturally make a deeper impression upon their minds, than Instructing and Admonitions either form the Pulpit, or by word of Mouth”
4 In the American colonies, the state capital house in Annapolis, Maryland boasted the single largest volume of public Religious books prior to the reign of King George I. It’s an amazing fact SPCK may be credited for both public libraries and school houses given the early promotion of such parochial libraries as well as charity schools. This shows the close and overlapping relation the church and state had in England and the colonies, more or less spilling over with westward emigration in America. Keep in mind, it also honors Latitudinarian bishops like Burnet and Tillotson who patronized and anticipated Bray’s project.
5. The objective will not be, as too often the case, modernization of language. It may also be the start to a micro-venture., New Albion Publishing Co.


2 responses to “Our Chapel’s Hermeneutic

  1. I’m thrilled that New Albion Publishing is becoming a reality and would love to purchase a copy of the republished Lewis Catechism!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Making an American Settlement | Anglican Rose

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