The Protestant Face of Anglicanism

By Spellman, W. M. | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2000 | Go to article overview

The Protestant Face of Anglicanism


Spellman, W. M., Anglican and Episcopal History


PAUL F.M. ZAHL. The Protestant Face of Anglicanism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1998. Pp. viii + 112, appendices. $19.00.

Readers who find much that is appealing in Anglican inclusiveness, diversity, and a rich historical tradition will be disappointed with this very brief work. Indeed it is surprising to find that this partisan essay is a selection of the Episcopal Book Club, for the author repeatedly combines historical distortion and factual inaccuracy with a distasteful sense of hostility towards alternative understandings of the Anglican experience. The Prolestant Face of Anglicanism is a troubling illustration of bad history informing special pleading.

The first half of the book provides a severe outline of Church of England history from the Henrican Reformation to the present. The author then turns to a consideration of developments in the Episcopal Church in the United States since the seventeenth century, before concluding with a call for a return to an authentic Protestant emphasis on the historic centrality of grace and atonement. The poorly documented treatment of the Tudor and Stuart centuries is particularly tendentious. The writings of Catholic scholars on the Henrican period are mentioned but never taken seriously, and the important recent work of Eamon Duffy (The Stripping of the Alters), which provides strong evidence for the strength of the Roman Catholic faith during the sixteenth century, is omitted entirely. Thus the reader is offered an account of the Tudor age which is little more than a gloss on Foxe and a later nineteenth-century historiographical tradition forwarded by Froude. Mary I, for example, is portrayed as a bloodthirsty and unbending fanatic (the recent balanced assessment by David Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life, is "not in the bibliography), while Elizabeth I's Protestant convictions, the details of which, the author admits, "were left somewhat sketchy" and "vague on some of the fine points" (p. 21), nevertheless stood the test against the assaults of Rome.

The chronological and interpretive mistakes in the 89 pages of narrative should have been caught at the copy-editing stage: in the space of six pages, for example (p. 22-27), we read that the Thirty Years War began in 1620; that William Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1625; that the Civil War began in 1641; that Charles I died in 1688; and that the "face of Anglicanism" was restored at the 1668 Glorious Revolution. These small errors might be excused were it not for the constant labor to associate Anglican churchmen who emphasized aspects of Catholic tradition with the worst form of insincerity. …

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