Church HistoryMinistry

The Myth of the Via Media, and other Canterbury Tales [1]

GAFCON Australasia 2022

The Pressing Challenge of Anglican Identity

“Sometimes it is called fudge … And I say, hey, I like fudge, it’s a lot better than killing each other.”[2] So said Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, on the topic of Anglican identity, in an interview during the recent Lambeth Conference a fortnight ago. Personally, I too like fudge. Perhaps as much as Archbishop Cottrell. However, I am not as convinced that ‘fudge’ is a desirable description of authentic Anglicanism. And I trust, most of you will agree with me that ‘fudge’ is not what we wish Australasian Anglicanism to taste like; that Anglican ‘fudge’ does not supply sufficient sustenance for us Australasian Anglicans, as we seek to proclaim the glories of Christ to the nations, and as we seek to strengthen the spiritual lives of the men, women, and children within our parishes. Milk it may very well contain, but something more meaty is needed to sustain Anglican identity.

Now, the general theme of identity is a contemporary concern. Brian Rosner, Principal of Ridley College in Melbourne has recently published a book on the subject, and he is presently running a seminar on it too. Some of you may have read Carl Trueman’s Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (2020), which provides a potted intellectual history of selfhood. And some of you may even have clawed through some of Charles Taylor’s philosophical works on secularity and selfhood, upon which works Trueman’s book was somewhat based. I suspect that we will continue to see books about identity published for many years yet.

But the theme of ecclesiastical identity is also a very contemporary concern. Insofar as Anglicanism goes, the name of Paul Avis regularly rolls off the tongue in discussions about Anglican identity. And the freshly published five-volume Oxford History of Anglicanism series has been a best seller – at least, among those who can afford those weighty tomes. More controversially, the recent Lambeth Conference even had a whole seminar on Anglican Identity (this being the springboard for Cottrell’s fudge analogy). And, of course, there was a reason why we all subscribed to the Jerusalem Declaration as we registered for this GAFCON Australasia Conference. Our ecclesiastical identity as Anglicans matters. But how would you describe what Anglican identity actually encompasses? Does our Anglican identity have an all-inclusive comprehensiveness? Or does Anglican identity have limits of toleration? What, might we ask, is the most authentic way of being Anglican?

Here’s one example of an answer, from the Episcopal Dictionary of the Church:

The Anglican balance of authority has been characterized as a “three-legged stool” which falls if any one of the legs is not upright. It may be distinguished from a tendency in Roman Catholicism to overemphasize tradition relative to scripture and reason, and in certain Protestant churches to overemphasize scripture relative to tradition and reason. The Anglican balancing of the sources of authority has been criticized as clumsy or “muddy.” It has been associated with the Anglican affinity for seeking the mean between extremes and living the via media. It has also been associated with the Anglican willingness to tolerate and comprehend opposing viewpoints instead of imposing tests of orthodoxy or resorting to heresy trials.[3]

Now, if you had smelled something suspicious in this statement, that’s because it is a classic serving of Anglican fudge. And its ingredients include the myth of the Anglican via media and some other Canterbury related tales. Yet for all of its malnutrition, this theory of Anglican identity has had an immense impact on worldwide Anglicanism, and can even explicitly be found on a number of Anglican Church of Australia diocesan websites (which shall remain nameless, unless you want to ask me later!).

My goal for this seminar is basically to put a bomb under this approach to Anglicanism, and in so doing, to sharpen our sense of Anglican identity. To do this, I want to take you through two major misunderstandings: that of the so-called Anglican via media and that of the so-called Anglican three-legged-stool. Along the way, I will make some comment about contemporary confusions, and then will conclude with some anchors that I think we can cast, in order to secure an authentic Anglican identity. At the end of all this, we can have some time for comments and questions. I hope you’ll find this whistle stop tour of Anglican history and theology helpful. I think getting the narrative right is really important, for the future of Australian Anglicanism, and in particular, for the next generation of women and men in our parishes.

1) Classic Confusion #1: The ‘Via Media’

So, onto our first classic confusion about Anglican identity: the so-called Via Media. This Latin term can be translated into English as ‘middle way’, ‘middle path’, and so forth. It harks back to the ‘middle state’ explicitly found in Aristotle’s Eudemian ethics, generally discussed in his Nicomachean ethics, and sometimes spoken about as his ‘golden mean’. The general idea is that the best ethical choice is the mean between two opposite extremes.

Now, in an Anglican context, the ‘middle way’ assumes a contrast between the Scylla of Protestantism and the Charybdis of Roman Catholicism. In other words, that the wisest way of navigating through the treacherous ecclesiastical waters in which these monsters swim, is to position Anglicanism between them. This often takes shape in Anglican liturgy, Anglican history, Anglican theology, or the whole ecclesiastical kit, forging a certain kind of Anglican church identity. The Dictionary of the Episcopal Church furnishes us, once again, with another example of this kind of thing:

Via Media. A Latin phrase that means “the middle way.” The middle way allows us to synthesize great Christian truths into a central core, rather than focusing on extremes.[4]

Given its prevalence in many Anglican circles today, it sometimes comes as a surprise to discover that this via media was only concocted relatively recently. Indeed, it is largely a creature of the nineteenth century, as we can see reflected in this Google nGram search on the term:[5]

Well, if you are wondering what happened here, I should tell you that the answer lies in that same place where Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer were martyred. Yes, the city of Oxford in the UK. In the nineteenth century, a revolution in the Church of England occurred when various clergymen, including John Keble, Edward Pusey, and John Henry Newman, wrote a set of theological tracts – the Tracts for the Times – outlining their new vision for the church; a vision which was neither Reformed nor Roman:

“The glory of the English Church is, that it has taken the VIA MEDIA, as it has been called. It lies between the (so called) Reformers and the Romanists.”[6]

“A number of distinct doctrines are included in the notion of Protestantism: and as to all these, our Church has taken the VIA MEDIA between it and Popery.”[7]

So wrote John Henry Newman. He later realised the failure of his via media and so crossed the Tiber River and converted to Roman Catholicism (later becoming Cardinal Newman). But the damage was done through the Tracts for the Times. Those who held to this via media and who remained staunchly within the Church of England engineered an approach to Anglicanism which we know today as Anglo-Catholicism. This movement brought with it, what Prof. Diarmaid MacCulloch calls, “nothing less than an ideological revolution in the Church of England and in the worldwide Anglican Communion with which it was associated.”[8] What do you think this revolution involved? Well, among other things, great architectural, musical, liturgical, and theological change. And the latter two are particularly important to us, insofar as Anglican identity goes.

You see, in order to construct liturgical and theological foundations for the via media, the architects of the Anglo-Catholic movement were required to do some fancy historical and theological footwork. They needed to carve out a particularly English Reformation, distinct from Rome, and distinct from the various Reformations on the Continent. We may think this a difficult undertaking, but we ought to remember that this was a time when the mighty English Empire was rapidly expanding, and a time when “The Continent” (capital T, capital C) was a place where one might venture to go occasionally on a foreign holiday and forsake an English breakfast for a Continental one. But, notwithstanding the assistance of English insularity, revising the liturgical and theological identity of the Church of England was nonetheless a difficult undertaking. And the biggest difficulty was making Cranmer’s best work and the best writings of the English reformers sound like they were sealed off from Continental influences during the sixteenth century reformation. This difficulty was especially true in the case of the Lord’s Supper.

Let me give you an example. In 1896, the Oxford academic Henry Wakeman wrote his Introduction to the History of the Church of England. In his book, Wakeman attempted to show that the church of the English Reformation was not Reformed nor Roman – in its roots, it was peculiarly Anglican. According to his historiography, Thomas Cranmer’s first Book of Common Prayer (that’s the 1549 one) was “instinct [in sync] with the spirit of the Catholic Church”. And according to Wakeman, Cranmer’s second Book of Common Prayer (that’s 1552), marked “the extreme point to which the Church of England ever went in the direction of compromise with those who held Zwinglian or Calvinistic views on the subject.”[9]

So, note his subtle but substantial point. Between the two books of common prayer, Cranmer’s eucharistic viewpoint changed from non-papalist Catholic to continental Reformed. In other words, to uphold a non-papalist Catholic position on the Lord’s Supper, this historiography tried to drive a wedge not only between the English and Continental divines, but it attempted to time this driving of the wedge between the two Prayer Books. That way, Anglo-Catholics could argue that there was an untainted English sacramental theology (1549 BCP), and then there was a continentally-polluted Reformed sacramental theology (1552 BCP). Therefore, the purest English eucharistic theology was neither Roman nor Reformed. It was a eucharistic via media.

The problems with this history and theology are manifold, and you’ll be relieved to know we do not have time to deal with them all.  However, I will say this. Even before the publication of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, and with the help of English and Continental theologians, Cranmer had already ditched his Catholic eucharistic theology. Indeed, by the time of the parliamentary debates over the Lord’s Supper in 1548, he had already ditched Lutheran eucharistic theology, and had embraced a Reformed position.  In other words, the theology of the Lord’s Supper in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer was undoubtedly Reformed.

In fact, in the almost three years leading up to the publication of the first Book of Common Prayer, England was awash with the publications from all over the continent arguing against traditional eucharistic doctrine. I have counted 110 English publications which discuss the Lord’s Supper printed between 1547 and 1549 alone, and which came from Wittenburg, Leipzig, Cologne, Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, and of course England — I’m sure there were more.   But this plethora of productions supports a very simple point: that the eucharistic Via Media is a complete and utter historiographical myth. And indeed, this eucharistic example is illustrative of the wider religious scene. The English reformers did not find a golden mean between Rome and the Reformed in their official liturgy or in their official doctrine. Indeed, as Cranmer’s most recent biographer, Diarmaid MacCulloch, rightly says:

“Cranmer’s conception of a “middle way” or via media in religion was quite different from that of later Anglicanism . . . Cranmer would violently have rejected such a notion: how could one have a middle way between truth and Antichrist?”[10]

There is one further fudge of via media that we need to notice, and it’s a more contemporary confusion. It’s not so much about Cranmer’s period of the English Reformation, it’s more about the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. That the Church of England during her reign was the paradigmatic Anglican via media. That it was then that Anglicanism was invented.

Put simply, the myth goes as follows: Henry VIII gave Anglicanism its great ecclesiastical Brexit from Rome; Edward VI gave Anglicanism its Reformed character, ‘Bloody Mary’ gave it back its Catholic character, and the Elizabethan Settlement retained for Anglicanism the best Catholic and Reformed bits. In other words, it was a via media Settlement of Religion between Rome and the Reformed. Here are two excellent examples of this from recent publications:

The Elizabethan Settlement proved to be an important step in bringing different religious groups together in England through a ‘middle way’ (via media), which has become an important hallmark of the Anglican tradition.[11]

So [after Edward (Reformed), Mary (Catholic), and now Elizabethan Settlement] the Church of England followed a via media approach, evolving as a church that was both catholic and reformed.[12]

Now, before we bust up this strain of the via media myth, it’s worth pointing out that there are some grounds for the charge. Queen Elizabeth was a bit of a traditionalist herself: she notoriously had a silver cross placed on the communion table in her chapel, she did not see preaching as important as most of the reformers (cf., her famous stoush with Archbishop Edmund Grindal), and her personal motto was not semper reformanda (always reforming) but semper eadem (always the same). There are a few other bits and pieces too, but the basic point is that Elizabeth was not a ’hot protestant’ and thus was the via media Queen.

But this argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and it is pretty easily dispatched with. The bottom line is that the whole Elizabethan Settlement was bigger than Good Queen Bess alone. Now, without a doubt, she was Reformed. Despite her idiosyncrasies she was not Catholic, nor Lutheran. Let’s not forget that she was even excommunicated by the Pope! But the Reformation was bigger than her. She appointed strong reformers like Matthew Parker, Edmund Grindal, John Whitgift, and Richard Bancroft as successive Archbishops of Canterbury. The 39 Articles of Religion – with all of its justification, predestination, and reformed eucharistic theology – was passed during her reign. The very reformed John Jewel published the famous Apologie for the Church of England then too. And lastly, that the reformed theologian Richard Hooker wrote his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity in her time. Oh, and of course, both John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger praised the Queen and her clergy for their successes in securing the Reformed character of the Church of England. So, the Elizabethan Settlement had a thoroughly Reformed character – a via media between Rome and the Reformation, it was not.

2) Classic Confusion #2: The ‘Three-Legged-Stool’

So much for the myth of the Anglican via media. But alas, there is one more tall Canterbury tale which needs to be busted: the so-called Anglican Three-Legged Stool. This is a story about sources of authority within Anglicanism. And it claims that there are three equal sources of authority: Holy Scripture, tradition, and reason. The key word there is ‘equal’ – that the Bible, the creeds and confessions of the church, and the sanctified reason available to believers, all ought to have equal authority when drawn upon to resolve theological and liturgical questions. Here’s a good example of the Three-Legged Stool, from a certain metropolitical diocesan website in Australia which shall remain nameless:

The analogy suggests that the three legs are all needed. Take one away, and the stool topples over. If one is under-valued, or over-emphasised, the balance may not be right. A particularly Anglican approach to matters of belief is, then, to attempt to hold all three legs together in a balanced way.

Ok, so how did this piece of Anglican fudge become such a regularly plated up dish? To be honest, I am not entirely sure. I would love to know who was the first to apply the Three-Legged Stool analogy to Anglicanism – and I’ll shout a coffee to anyone here who can give me a good steer! But here’s what I do know, and it has to do with the theologian I mentioned earlier: Richard Hooker.

Richard Hooker is the theological doyen of most Anglicans. Sometimes he is spoken about as the greatest theologian of the English Reformation, though for my money, John Owen was probably a greater theologian, and Thomas Cranmer a more significant one yet. At any rate, the ‘Judicious Mr Hooker’ was an influential English theologian who hailed from Devon in the south-west of England and who lived between 1554 and 1600. He debated with those who were trying to presbyterianise the Church of England, and under the watchful gaze of his Queen and his Archbishop, penned a five-volume book called the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Strangely, it was not a best seller in its day. But it became a hit when, in the nineteenth century, the Oxford academic John Keble republished it to help the Anglo-Catholic cause. Indeed, Keble’s editorial preface positions Hooker between Rome and the reformers – a via media without so many words. And although Keble did not explicitly use the analogy of the Three-Legged Stool, he suggested that Hooker’s theological method involved Holy Scripture, human reason, and the history of the church.

Here, as in all other cases, [Hooker] recommends the safe and reverential course of inquiring what the New Testament, as interpreted by natural reason and church history, contains, rather than determining beforehand what in reason it ought to contain.[13]

Now, on the surface of things, this is not so controversial a quote. But what seems to have happened, is that over time this bundle of three things (Scripture, reason, and tradition) became associated with the image of a Three-Legged Stool. And that somewhere along the line (I suspect in The Episcopalian Church of the USA), the three legs came to represent three traditions: Reformed (Bible), Catholic (tradition), and Liberal (reason). And thus, Anglicanism equally represents the Reformed, the Catholic, and the Liberal streams just as it sees the Bible, tradition, and reason as equal sources of authority. In an influential book called What is Anglicanism? published in 1982, the Episcopal Church priest and academic Urban Holmes III summarised just this:

Hooker articulates for Anglicanism its answer to the question of what is our authority. Our authority is the association of Scripture, tradition and reason. Subsequent commentators have spoken of this as a “three-legged-stool.” If one removes a leg, any leg, the stool topples.[14]

Now, that is also, almost certainly where Archbishop Phillip Aspinall lands in his recent series on Anglican Identity for the Diocese of Brisbane.[15] In his short Youtube video course, Archbishop Aspinall tells us that these are the “three main emphases in Anglicanism” and that “At the heart of Anglicanism is a constant tension between these three perspectives.” This enables him to conclude that “This Anglican ethos is both classical and contemporary, catholic and reformed, orthodox and open. What more could anyone want?”[16] Well, personally, I’d want something a bit more authentically Anglican. The tension between these three emphases and perspectives might be the ideal Anglican identity in the Diocese of Brisbane, but they most certainly are not, in terms of historic Anglicanism.

And why not? Well firstly, the idea of a Three-Legged Stool is completely foreign to the thought of the Judicious Mr Hooker. That is to say, that scholarship in the last fifty years has completely debunked the myth of his supposed Three-Legged Stool. Reformation historians have re-examined the theology of Richard Hooker, and have discovered that he has remarkably Reformed credentials. This, of course, shouldn’t surprise us, given the reformed nature of the Elizabethan Settlement. And it shouldn’t surprise us, given that Hooker’s pivotal patrons were reformed stalwarts John Jewel and Edwin Sandys. Indeed, the undisputed academic consensus is that Richard Hooker wholeheartedly believed in the supreme authority of the Bible, and that all reasoning and traditions were subordinate to God’s Word. Hear the words of the great Elizabethan divine himself:

What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth. That which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must incongruity of reason over-rule all other inferior judgments whatsoever.[17]

So, Hooker cannot be easily enlisted by Anglo-Catholicism or Liberalism as an example of “Three-Legged Stool Anglicanism.” But the second, and most conclusive reason why the Three-Legged Stool ought not to characterise Anglicanism, is that it is completely contrary to the doctrine of Scripture embedded in Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. This is one of the reasons why advocates of the Three-Legged Stool so often downplay or decline to mention the Articles of Religion in their writings (especially true in the case of the American Episcopalians who began their tinkering with the articles upon their independence from England). This is one of the reasons why orthodox Australian Anglicans fought so hard for their inclusion in the Anglican Constitution of Australia. And this is why the GAFCON leadership wisely concreted the Articles of Religion into the Jerusalem Declaration. Hear the force of the Articles in light of the fantasy of the Three-Legged Stool:

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. (Article VI)

The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation. (Article XX)

3) Authentic Anglican Identity

So, we have said a lot about the myth of the Via Media and the Canterbury tale of the Three-Legged Stool – perhaps too much!? But if these are neither historically grounded nor theologically desirable approaches to Anglican Identity, then what is an authentic approach to Anglican Identity?

Well, a common mistake is to answer this question sociologically. That is, Anglicanism understood as a worldwide phenomena of churches which are connected to the Archbishop of Canterbury and have some semblance of shared liturgical heritage. Indeed, this approach to Anglicanism does not get us very far at all. Anglican ecclesiologist Paul Avis says that this only supplies Anglicanism with “a somewhat elusive ethos.”[18] In other words, we’re back to ‘fudge’. Now that might be an accurate description of the present reality, but it is certainly not an ideal. In fact, to my mind, this sociological approach to Anglican Identity seems only useful insofar as it lamentably legitimises the ‘fudge’, and thereby the extreme and morally deviant fringes of the Anglican Communion.

I think a far more helpful (and accurate!) answer takes an historical and theological way of understanding Anglicanism. This approach focuses upon the foundational theological documents that forged Anglicanism in the crucible of the Reformation. We use the word “formularies” to describe these documents, which include the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (through which the Book of Homilies is incorporated).[19] These are trustworthy anchors for authentic Anglicanism. And we can observe the persistent influence of this triumvirate of formularies throughout various vibrant centres of Anglicanism today.[20]

These mighty Reformation documents are as practically relevant now as they were five hundred years ago. Today, in the Anglican Church of Australia, we make solemn promises at our ordination which involves assent to what is confessed in these three major formularies at their ordination. So we might say that these are Reformation resources from the past which, when appreciated, regulate and positively influence the present. And it was because of them, these anchors of authentic Anglicanism, that J.I. Packer, the great evangelical theologian and honorary canon of Sydney’s Cathedral of St. Andrew, once made the claim that “Anglicanism embodies the richest, truest, wisest heritage in all Christendom.”[21]

Therefore, with such a glowing – perhaps stunning – commendation, what are the components of this heritage which make Anglicanism so rich, so true, and so wise? In other words, what is an authentic Anglican identity? Let me suggest seven – short! – defining characteristics of Anglicanism. This is, in fact, Jim Packer’s list, with a Mark Earngey twist here and there:

  1. Anglicanism is Biblical (Eph. 2:20; 2 Tim. 3:16). We believe that the Holy Scriptures are the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice, the norming norm which guides the church, and the magistrate which governs the church. We believe that the church has, and may still err, but that the Word of God has not, and will never. Therefore, our church services are saturated in Scripture, and our blood is, or ought to be, “bibline”, to quote the great Charles Spurgeon.
  2. Anglicanism is Reformed (Rom. 4:5; Lk. 22:19; Matt. 28:19). We believe that God justifies the ungodly though faith alone in Christ alone. What a man-liberating, and God-glorifying reformation truth! And we believe that there are only two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We love to baptise children and adults into the flock of Christ. And we love to see them, partaking of the supper by faith, and strengthened with the body and blood of Christ. We do not have Roman Catholic, nor even Lutheran sacramental theology. The Thirty-nine Articles elaborate on all this, and they place the Church of England rather close to Zürich on the reformed sacramental spectrum.
  3. Anglicanism is Catholic (Heb. 12:22; 1 Cor. 10:32). Not Roman Catholic, nor Reformed-and-Catholic in a via media sense. But Catholic in the best sense. Kata-holos, according to the whole church. Just like the reformers, we believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Just like the reformers, we enshrined orthodox Christological and Trinitarian doctrines into our confessional documents.[1] And just like the reformers, we appreciate and appropriate the wisdom of the church from previous ages. We believe that the church exists beyond us, and the church existed before us.
  4. Anglicanism is Episcopal (1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; Tit. 1:5). We are glad to have a three-fold order of ministry: deacon, priest (presbyter), and bishop. This affords us organisational benefits over large geographical areas and, at its best, this enables faithful gospel ministry to flourish through careful licensing of ministers for word and sacrament ministry, and through careful disciplinary action when necessary for the protection of the people of God.
  5. Anglicanism is Liturgical (1 Cor. 14:6-25; Acts 2:42-47). We prize Archbishop Cranmer’s principle of intelligibility and work hard to communicate the Christian faith at every service. This means we use regular rhythms and set forms of words to build up in the gospel, the diverse range of men, women, and children to come to our churches. So, we love to confess sins together, reinforce our catholicity through the creeds, sing, say, speak the Scriptures from both testaments, teach the Bible, pray general intercessions and particular petitions such as the Lord’s Prayer, and so forth. We do not do things in our services which disregard the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles and Book of Common Prayer. We need not expect our churches to look and sound all the same for our services to be recognisably and gladly Anglican.
  6. Anglicanism is Pastoral and Evangelistic (Ezek. 34:16; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). We have a big vision for ministry and mission, and our parish system demonstrates our commitment to serve all people – rich and poor, young and old, city and country, indigenous and non-indigenous – with the gospel of Jesus. Our clergy are ordained to be shepherds among those to whom they are sent. We love to seek out the lost sheep, restore the stray sheep, bind up the wounded sheep, strengthen the weak sheep, and feed and guard the healthy and strong sheep. The Good Shepherd is our model for ministry, and we love the lambs for whom the Lamb of God was slain.
  7. Anglicanism is Neighbour-Loving (Mark 12:30-31). Anglican churches care for the society around them. This is partly a function of the historic and confessional connections between the civil and ecclesiastical realms, and partly a function of the parish minister’s responsibility to those who live in a geographical area. The historic and parochial structure of Anglicanism has bequeathed it a culture of concern for the welfare of the society it inhabits. This heritage manifests in myriad ways, from diocesan social issues committees to parish fundraising for the local poor. We do not believe in a social gospel, but we believe that the gospel brings benefit to the society around us. We love our neighbour, because God first loved us.


So, Anglicanism is Biblical, Reformed, Catholic, Episcopal, Liturgical, Pastoral and Evangelistic, and it is Neighbour-Loving. It is a very short seven-point sketch of what an authentic Anglican Identity looks like. I believe that these characteristics are faithful to the Anglican formularies and I believe that, most importantly, they are faithful to the Lord who has given his written Word to us. It is, however, only a sketch. More could, and perhaps ought to, be said. What it is not, however, is Anglican ‘fudge’. Indeed, this sort of Anglican identity is a far cry from the myth of the via media, and from the tall Canterbury tale of the Three-Legged Stool. So, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, let us have nothing to do with such godless myths and old Canterbury tales. Rather, let us train ourselves to be godly and authentic Anglicans.

[1] The title for this seminar is adapted from Diarmaid MacCulloch, “The Myth of the English Reformation”, Journal of British Studies 30/1 (1991):1-19.

[2] Interview with Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, in “Bishop Joanna’s Lambeth Conference Diary”, 2 August 2022. Last Accessed 10 August 2022.

[3] “Authority, Sources of (in Anglicanism)” in Don S. Armentrout, Robert Boak Slocum (eds.), An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians (New York: Church Publishing, 2000), 34.

[4] “Via Media” in Armentrout and Slocum, An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, 34

[5] While the term is not explicitly used, precedents for the ‘via media’ concept can be found in writings of the seventeenth century clergyman, Richard Montague, and some other Caroline divines.

[6] “Via Media No. I [Tract 38]” in Tracts for the Times, Vol. I (Gilbert & Rivington: London, 1834), A.iiiv.

[7] “Via Media No. II [Tract 41]” in Tracts for the Times, a.3v. See also J.H. Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism (London, 1837), 21.

[8] MacCulloch, “The Myth of the English Reformation”,3.

[9] H. O. Wakeman, An Introduction to the History of the Church of England: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York, 1896), 281, 296.

[10] MacCulloch, Cranmer, 617.

[11] Winfield Bevins, Simply Anglican (2020).

[12] Likewise, Muriel Porter’s Sydney Anglicans and the Threat to World Anglicanism: The Sydney Experiment (2011).

[13] ‘Editor’s Preface’, in John Keble (ed.), The Works of that Learned and Judicious Divine Mr Richard Hooker … 3 vols. (Oxford: OUP, 1836), lxxiii.

[14] Urban Holmes III, What is Anglicanism? (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1982), 11.

[15] Sometimes referred to as the Anglican Church of Southern Queensland.

[16] See and (last accessed 12 August 2022).

[17] Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V, 8:2; Folger Edition 2:39,8-14.

[18] Paul Avis, The Identity of Anglicanism: Essentials of Anglican Ecclesiology (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2011), 24.

[19] Of course, the range of formularies can and should be extended out to include authorised catechisms, primers, and other legal documents.  For more, see T. Patrick, Anglican Foundations: A Handbook to the Source Documents of the English Reformation (Milton Keynes, UK: Latimer Trust, 2018).

[20] For example, the Church of England Canon A5, the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia, and the Jerusalem Declaration associated with GAFCON.

[21] J. I. Packer, “Speculating in Anglican Futures”, New Directions 1 (1995).  Originally given as an address at the Bishopsgate Conference of Reform, June 30, 1995.

[22] Of course, the magisterial reformers of the sixteenth century were grateful recipients of far more than this. Let Trinitarian and Christological doctrines be symbolic for the vast corpus of medieval theology that the reformers built upon.