"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bishop Ackerman's Call for a "New Oxford Movement"

Bishop Keith Ackerman, retired bishop of Quincy and a leader of Forward in Faith, North America, recently called for a "new Oxford Movement" in a talk presented to that august body. Since a couple of commenters on my post below about St. Mike's asked for my opinion of this talk (or that of others inside this diocese--which sadly I cannot speak to as I have not heard another clergyman or layman in the diocese mention this talk yet) I thought I would post a link to the bishop's talk here and offer a few remarks.

This talk is more than half-an-hour long, but readers of this blog who are pressed for time can probably skip to 29:00 and get the gist of what the bishop is calling for here. And frankly, for most of my readers I doubt that the renewal of the Oxford Movement (and especially its ecclesiology) that Bishop Ackerman is calling for will
come as a shock.

The bishop, for instance, calls for a "recovery of an identity that reaches back to the apostles." He emphasizes that it is the
substance of the apostolic Faith that must be re-emphasized, not merely the "tactile apostolic succession" stretching back to antiquity through the laying on of hands.

In the last few minutes of his talk Bishop Ackerman makes reference to a "return to the doctrine of the early Church--to the Patristic age." He also emphasizes the significance of the Caroline divines to this undertaking and speaks of the "unique" English Catholic expression represented by the spirituality of the English Church "pre-Whitby" (i.e., a reference to the time before the Synod of Whitby in 664 A.D.).

What I take Bishop Ackerman to be calling for here is a renewed commitment to the Faith of the undivided Church in antiquity--the Faith of the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church, the Faith shared by the universal Church before schism sundered her East and West. This is precisely what I personally have always understood as "the Catholic Faith." So I can lift my own voice in full-throated ascent to this call for a "new Oxford Movement."

But to me this does not mean rejecting the heritage bequeathed to us from the Reformation era via the Elizabethan Settlement. It means a re-emphasis of what the proposed canon of Elizabeth I quoted at the top of this blog calls
"the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." It is the Faith that Bishop John Jewel called in his Apology for the Church of England "the faith which they shall see confirmed by the words of Christ, by the writings of the Apostles, by the testimonies of the Catholic fathers."

These comments will, of course, be disturbing to that small minority of orthodox Anglicans that see Anglicanism as nothing more than one expression of Reformed Protestantism out of many equally valid expressions. But I am sure the overwhelming majority of folks in this diocese, and I suspect a great many within ACNA more generally, will welcome Bishop Ackerman's call whole-heartedly.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps +Ackerman and +Jefferts Schori can find some common ground re: their recent fascination with the Synod of Whitby and concelebrate an Easter service coinciding with Passover, instead of the Sunday after (like those heretical Romans).

8:07 AM  
Blogger Robin G. Jordan said...


I have been studying the canons of the Church of England from the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. What is interesting is that the poposed canons of 1571 contain no other reference to the early Church fathers beside this one. But they repeatedly emphasize the importance of studying the Bible and adhering to the doctrine of the Thirty-Nine Articles which they also repeatedly emphasize is agreeable to Scripture. Preachers who do not preach the doctrine of the Articles in their sermons but preach doctrines that strange, erroneous or "disagreeable to Scripture" are to be reported to the Bishop. Those desiring to obtain a preaching license are directed to study the Scriptures and the proposed canons contain a number of provisions for ensuring that clergy are studying the Scriptures especially those who do not have a master of arts degree. They make no mention of studying the early Church Fathers. Archbishop Bishop Parker also required those desiring a preaching license to study the Decades of the Swedish Reformer Henry Bullinger, a collection of sermons that served the Elizabethan Church as its divinity textbook. Bullinger replaced Zwingli at Zurich, and he had a tremendous influence upon the Elizaethan divines including Bishop John Jewel.

I have studied Jewel's use of the early Church Fathers in his major works, Apology for the Church of England and Defense.The English Reformers, which include Jewel, referred to the early Church Fathers when their opinions supported their views. However, they based their own teachng primarily on the teaching of the Bible and submitted the opinions of the early Church Fathers to the teaching of the Bible. They preferred to let the Bible speak for itself rather than letting the early Church Fathers speak for the Bible. Although Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was intimately acquainted with the early Church Fathers, he preferred to defend his views with Scripture, which he regarded as the final and supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice.

Among the principles that Jewel used in citing the opinions of the early Church Fathers in his works were the following.

1. He cited only the earliest Church Fathers, those who lived the first five centuries of Christian Church.

2. He cited only opinions upon which several early Church Fathers agreed.

3.He never cited the isolated opinion of an early Church Father.

4. He never cited an early Church Father's interpretation or restatement of the opinion of an earlier Church Father.

5. He submitted to the teaching of Scripture all the opinions of the early Church Fathers that he was considering using. He only used those opinions that he was convinced were agreeable with Scripture.

6. In interpreting Scripture, he used Scripture and reason.

Jewel did not defer to the early Church Fathers' interpretation of Scripture simply because they were early Church Fathers. Like the other English Reformers, he used them like we might a Bible commentary in preparing a sermon. We compare the opinion of the author of the commentary with our own conclusions drawn from Scripture, from what we have read out of Scripture,being careful not to read into Scripture any presuppositions about what it means.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Texanglican (R.W. Foster+) said...

Indeed, Robin, I fully endorse the list of six principle you have culled from Jewel. Sound policy. Scripture first!

I'm a Patristics scholar, but a Bible man to the core! I usually would like to know what the consensus of the Fathers was on a Bible passage, since they were much closer in culture to the world of the NT than I am and have certain advantages over me in interpreting the Biblical text because of that temporal proximity (and were in some cases native speakers of the NT's language). But the crucial question is always ultimately, "What does the word of God's infallible and inerrant holy Word written have to say?," not "What did the Fathers have to say?" The Bible is thing, no matter how wise and holy those early Churchmen might be!

I'm with Art. 6 100%: "VI. Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."


5:52 PM  
Blogger William Tighe said...

How is such a "patristic ecclesiology" compatible with continued membership in a "structure" some of whose bishhops practice WO, and others don't, and whose policy in that regard cannot be changed save by a "supermajority" of its constituent elements? That alsne seems to make a complete hash of any purported "New Oxford Movement."

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Tighe, you may have hit upon precisely why this kind of call might be issued at this time. I know there are movers and shakers within the ACNA who feel the WO question cannot be properly resolved without working out a common approach to ecclesiology first. Might not Bishop Akcerman's call here be motivated by just such a desire? The New Oxford Movement, I suspect he would tell you, is the necessary prerequisite to settling the WO question once and for all. I know of several folks here in DioFW who would tell that until a supermajority of ACNA decision makers becomes convicted of the need to stand up for a "patristic ecclesiology," a supermajority of them will not be moved to reach a final resolution of the disputed point of WO! A shared ecclesiology must be found before the question can be worked out, not the other way around.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

It seems to me that the problem with a "New Oxford Movement" among orthodox Anglicans is two-fold: How to square the patristic approach to theology with the approach developed at the Reformation? The Reformer's emphasis on sola scriptura is not found in substance in the writings of the Fathers -- the Fathers of course grounded their work in scripture but they did not hold to the Reformers' view of biblical authority. To argue they did is simply anachronistic. For good or ill, the Reformation, as English theologian Alister McGrath has argued, was essentially a theological novum in the life of Christianity. The distinctive solas of the Reformation -- sola fide, sola scriptura -- along with other doctrines (perpescuity of the scriptures, for example) simply don't crop up in the Church during the age of the Fathers. That doesn't necessary mean that the Reformers were wrong -- they may have been right. It just means that the Fathers and the Reformers aren't on the same page and efforts to put them on the same page will be unfruitful.

At the end of the day, I think that Anglicans need to either reaffirm their Reformation identity -- an identity that includes some catholic trappings (but not patristic substance) but which is primarily a form of liturgical Calvinism as embodied in the 39 Articles, or they need to seek to become something like a Western Orthodox Church that has some of the trappings (but not the substance) of the Reformation period.

5:56 PM  

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