Arthur Middleton on Crisis of Identity


A creeping Anglican identity crisis has been evident in various ways. In 1949 Henry McAdoo claimed that among theologians in the Church of England, there is something strangely unreal in the prevalent neglect of the heritage of Anglicanism. While ‘Barthianism, Thomism and even Counter-reformation thought possesses a following in the English Church ‘… the study of the fathers of Anglicanism receives but a fraction of its rightful need of attention.’ He cites C. W. Dugmore’s Eucharistic Doctrine in England from Hooker to Waterland (1942), as an exception. His intention is not to depreciate a wide acquaintance in theology, ranging from Patristics to the modern exponents of Continental Confessional theology, but the danger of making such study the background to Anglican theology. It results in a loss of root and idiom, and by neglecting those specifically Anglican presuppositions latent or expressed in classical Anglican thought and writings, we risk becoming mere theological vagantes. Our Caroline forbears read and used Aquinas and Calvin and studied the spiritual descendants of both, but refused to forget that they were Anglicans, claiming that by their Protestant reforms they had saved and restored the true and primitive Catholic Faith. 

This loss of root and idiom is further complicated by some accounts by some, but not every contemporary writer on Anglicanism, in the filtering of it through a Liberal Protestant Scholasticism that reduces it to the conceptual so that in doctrine and morality it can be manipulated, controlled and ‘genetically’ modified to harmonize it with politically correct ideology. Anglicanism is reduced to a nominalism, producing deadness in the theology that emerges because it has been conceived outside of the ecclesiological experience, the sui generis experience of the Church. This cerebral approach is incapable of handling mystical theology and the eschatological dimension of the Church’s experience, the life of the world to come, which always should be a coefficient of the theological enterprise. It is her knowledge and constant partaking of the life of the world to come that relates the Church to the world, creating a correlation between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ which is the essence of her message and is the only ‘victory’ that overcomes the world. Without this dimension theology is dead rather than living and Sacraments are reduced to a utilitarian function as ‘means of grace’ and emptied of any significance in themselves as having a heavenly and earthly component as hypostases of divine life. It results in a failure to reveal the true meaning, the saving and transforming power of the genuine Christian tradition within the context of our present situation, that it may be a consistent critique of, but also an answer to, the values, world-view and way of life that stem from today’s intellectual and spiritual crisis. The style of this theological approach is the product of a culture deeply marked by spiritual crisis in which the spiritual nature and vocation of man is attacked by an extreme secularism and whose way of life is no longer shaped and nurtured by the Church. The culture is trying consciously or unconsciously to reduce the Church to values, philosophies and world-views profoundly different from and often totally opposed to, her vision and experience of God, man and life, through the filter of politically correct ideology. It is a culture estranged more and more from its Christian roots that is tempting her to renounce her approach to faith and liturgy, priesthood and parish administration, pastoral ministry, education and mission. This culture seeks development from pure reason as a substitute for the Gospel, so that ‘prayer, evangelical virtues, supra rational truths, sense of sin and of grace and of the Gospel beatitudes, the necessity for self-sacrifice and ascetic discipline, for contemplation, for the means of the Cross are ignored or denied’ When governments embody these secular values in law and tell the Church what to believe and how to behave we are at the mercy of an insidious Erastianism.

The Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history. There is no longer a Christian mind.  Furthermore, there is a gulf between academic theology and the pastoral and evangelistic work of the Church. Hence the word ‘crisis’ is used here in its original Christian sense of judgement making the situation of Anglicanism critical, calling for a responsible discernment of the will of God and a courageous response to it.