Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Anglican Exemplary Tradition

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Anglican Exemplary Tradition

Article excerpt

A distinctive strand of Anglican thought addressing Christian faith and Christian life may be described as the exemplary tradition, represented by Jeremy Taylor, Thomas Traherne, Joseph Butler, F. D. Maurice, and Kenneth Kirk. This virtue tradition within Anglicanism seeks to bring persons more fully into relationship with God as a matter of practices that shape fundamental intentions. This strand is informed by contemporary ethical theory while offering claims and raising questions beyond what theory provides in order to form a unified account of the Christian moral life. This constructive archeology of tradition is what is needed in order to insure theory and the lived traditions of Christian faith inform one another.

"Christianity is all for practice," says seventeenth-century Anglican divine Jeremy Taylor.1 Similarly, in The Ruh and Exercises of Holy Living, he speaks of Christianity as a matter of piety - piety in the traditional sense of the word, not overly wrought religious practices but a way of life. Through reading Scripture, prayer, baptism, and eucharist, persons enter and form a community of faith marked in the great commandment given in the Old and New Testaments that summarizes this life as a matter of love of God and love of neighbor. Certainly belief informs practice, but religious knowledge is given in the practice of faith which in turn informs belief. This is expressed in the hturgical principle lex orandi lex credendi: the order of prayer is the order of belief.2 The Anglican thinkers who understand Christian faith as a matter of practical piety constitute a distinct strand of Anglican thought. This strand or tradition within Anglicanism constitutes a virtue ethic. As a virtue ethic, the Christian life is understood in the Aristotelian language of form and matter. An account of Christian faith must identify the end (or form) of the Christian fife in terms of the intentions that form human action. In turn, the matter or content of this life must be described in terms of the actions tied to the ends intended. This account of virtue was, at least since Augustine, developed as a matter of the classical cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice in relationship to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.3 The actions that realize these virtues may be called practices, such as prayer and eucharistie worship, forgiveness, and love of neighbor or what we now describe more specifically as hospitality to the stranger. In this tradition, worship expresses and shapes the character of the Christian life as a matter of the love of God as given in Jesus Christ. As such, the Anglican virtue ethic is an exemplary ethic in which Christ reveals the shape or form of what it is to be human and specifically that fife as given in relationship to God. In this sense, Christ is the archetype, the exemplar, the model of what it is to be human. Christ is the second Adam, human life as redeemed.

It may be helpful to place the exemplary tradition within Anglicanism within the larger context of moral traditioning. By moral traditioning I mean the passing down of moral reflections on the Christian life. As different questions are raised within the community of faith, reflections are varied in purpose and style. Often writings serve a variety of purposes, for example, to convert, to understand, to form, to counsel, and to exhort. Such reflections are not "siloed off" from one another but inform each other. A tradition of thought is then only identified retrospectively, looking back at writings and drawing them together in terms of some common features.

The development of theories of ethics - since Aristotle's reflections on the good, on virtues, and on principles - has shaped moral reflection and moral theology or ethics as a discipline of study.

Sharpness of focus, however, at times obscures broader questions and wisdom within a tradition. In other words, the moral tradition may be construed too narrowly in accord with a theory of ethics as opposed to the range of reflections that constitute a tradition. …

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