Anglicanism and the Christian Church

By Scott, David A. | Anglican and Episcopal History, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Anglicanism and the Christian Church


Scott, David A., Anglican and Episcopal History


PAUL AVIS. Anglicanism and the Christian Church. Revised and expanded edition. London, England: T&T Clark (a Continuum imprint), 2002. Pp. xxii +393, bibliography, indices. $29.95 (paper).

Paul Avis, Director of the Centre for the Study of the Christian Church, says in his preface that his goal is to "offer an interpretation of the Anglican understanding of the Christian Church." He sets out "to present the theological resources of Anglican ecclesiology in historical perspective..." His ultimate goal is to "bring out clearly the fact of a coherent Anglican position, or consensus, on the nature of the Church." Avis does not intend here to write a history of Anglicanism or of the Church of England. Rather, he wants to provide a "study of Anglican ecclesial identity, self-definition and apologetic. It provides some of the resources or raw material for an Anglican doctrine of the Church."

Avis divides his study into three parts. In the first he focuses on the Anglican Reformers, Hooker and Field, and their distinctive Anglican ecclesiology. Avis names this the "Erastian paradigm," because it involved an identity of church and society in a single Christian commonwealth.

In Part Two, Avis traces the consolidation of Anglican ecclesiology in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This consolidated ecclesiology Avis calls "the apostolic paradigm." Avis holds that during this time, despite the emergence of distinct traditions within the Church of England, a consensus prevailed that Anglicanism was both Catholic and Reformed. This Apostolic paradigm assumes that the church is a society with its own integrity, having an essential ministry of word and sacrament derived not from the state but from the apostles through their successors, the bishops.

In Part Three, Avis examines the demise of the Erastian paradigm and the development of the Apostolic paradigm by the Tractarians. Avis thinks this group is often misleadingly described as unified. In fact, Avis insists, it is vital to an accurate understanding of the history of Anglican self-understanding to distinguish among the conservative old high churchmen and the innovative positions of the radical Tractarians. Once this distinction is made, one should distinguish between those Tractarians who stayed in the Church of England and those who became Roman Catholics. Avis can then demonstrate that the radical Tractarians, in trying to "unprotestantise" the Church of England, actually challenged and tried to subvert the prevailing consensus that the Anglican church was both Protestant and Catholic. Against this subversive effort very different kinds of Anglicans-evangelicals, liberal Anglicans, and the old high churchmen-often joined forces. …

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