The glorious history of Anglicanism as taught in Episcopal seminaries

The English Reformation was the enshrinement of Liberal Protestantism as a way of life with a bit of liturgy, and Sunday morning dress-up thrown in. The Socinian theology of scholars like Cranmer, Jewell, and Hooker is well known. Bishop Butler provided the definitive defense of Anglican scepticism by writing his definitive book on The Analogy of Religion, in which he argued that epistemological doubt must be the foundation of all theological method, and that miracles, are, frankly speaking, impossible. This commitment to a non-doctrinal latitudinarianism may well have reached its high point with the Oxford Movement, the members of whom argued in Tracts for the Times that theological controversy was really a waste of time. What was important was amorphous religious experience, expressed outwardly in the liturgical trappings of formal Catholicism, minus any of the dogmatic commitment. Anticipating by centuries the views of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Rudolf Bultmann, Anglicanism continued unmolested until later in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, when a determined cabal of Protestant Fundamentalists infiltrated the Church and attempted to take over. This movement tried to force on the church a repression of the sexual libertinism which had long been at the heart of official Anglican theology, enshrined in Prayer Book, canons, and countless works of Anglican divines. Anglicans had never had much use for the authority of Scripture, as evidenced by the decidedly sceptical views of those who translated the Authorized Version, and such later Anglican biblical scholars as Westcott, Hort, Hoskyns and Moule, who enthusiastically embraced without question the conclusions of the most radical German Higher Criticism. Inexplicably, this high-church Unitarianism was almost overturned by the rabid Fundamentalism of pseudo-scholars like Anthony Thiselton, N.T. Wright, and Christopher Seitz. How such un-Anglican views ever came to be associated with figures inside the church is inexplicable. Fortunately, at General Convention 2003, the Church returned to its roots with the election of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of N.H.

William G. Witt

12 Responses to “The glorious history of Anglicanism as taught in Episcopal seminaries”

1. Jeff Says:
July 30th, 2005 at 3:56 pm

Oh my!

2. Dan Crawford Says:
July 30th, 2005 at 6:12 pm

I know Dr. Witt’s keyboard is waxing satiric, but in the interests of fairness, I should point out that were it not for the Oxford Movement we wouldn’t have those wonderful R.A.Cram churches and the liturgical fussiness (thurifers doing figure 8s and vergers waving kites and men and ladies dressed in albs with big multiple rings and body piercings and close-cropped hair. And let’s give the evangelicals credit for providing the words and phrases for impressive sounding Jesus-talk which .

Actually, my seminary professor was the esteemed Dr. Leslie Fairfield who liked to point out that blame could rightly be apportioned to all the guilty parties mentioned above for the mess ECUSA finds itself in. Dr. Witt’s revisionist reinterpretation of Anglican History does cut awfully close to the bone, however.

3. Phil A. Webb Jr. Says:
July 30th, 2005 at 7:24 pm

Well, it appears to be time for Dr. Witt to follow the Pontificator and I, and convert.

When I was an Episcopal clergyman, I wouldn’t have characterized myself as part of a “determined cabal of Protestant Fundamentalists.” I think we were just the remnant of an evangelicalism that had its heyday then death in the gilded age of the 19th cent. As Dr. Gillis Harp said here at an address delivered to the 2000 Evangelical Episcopal Assembly at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry:

“The Evangelicals had their beginnings as a distinct movement in the eighteenth-century revival in England that saw the rise of preachers and pastors within the established church, such as George Whitefield, John Newman, William Grimshaw and Henry Venn. These Evangelicals highlighted the Protestant face of Anglicanism and preached the great Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone with a zeal that had been absent since the expulsion of the Puritans in the seventeenth century. Their preaching eschewed the arid moralism of much eighteenth-century Anglican homiletics and stressed the need for personal conversion.

When Phillips Brooks entered Virginia Theological Seminary in 1856, despite some dark clouds on the horizon, Evangelicalism was alive and well within the American Episcopal Church. In diocese such as Virginia and Massachusetts, Evangelicals had virtually saved the denomination from oblivion. Although Evangelical clergy never constituted the majority within the Episcopal Church at large, they represented a significant minority; indeed, during the 1830s and 1840s they were probably the most dynamic group within American Anglicanism. Important bishops such as Charles P. McIlvaine were convinced Evangelicals; one, Alfred Lee, would serve as presiding bishop between 1884 and 1887.

Yet, by the close of the century, the ecclesiastical landscape was very different. As early as the mid 1870s, Brooks was writing to a friend that “now you can hardly find a representative of either [Evangelicals or old High Churchmen] among the younger men…” By Brook’s untimely death in 1893 (scarcely more than a single generation after he had entered seminary), it was difficult to find a solitary church leader who would have characterized himself as an Evangelical in the old sense.

It is hard to exaggerate just how completely extinct Evangelical Episcopalians became. By the 1950s, there was no longer a living memory of genuine Evangelical churchmanship within the Episcopal Church. When a kind of Evangelical Episcopalianism emerged in the 1960s in ECUSA, it was largely a foreign import introduced by churchmen influenced by English Evangelicals such as John Stott and J. I. Packer. During the 1970s, their modest ranks were overrun by others who (though often labeled Evangelicals) had emerged from the charismatic renewal movement and whose eclectic churchmanship was not as self-consciously Protestant as that of the old party.”

4. Adam Says:
July 30th, 2005 at 7:49 pm

I think the Bishop Robinson General Convention was in 2003.

5. Fr M Kirby Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 10:54 pm

Amusing once you realise it is satire, sarcastic and a clever mockery of heterodox misrepresentation of Anglican history. The “well known” socinianism of Hooker et al. being a particularly funny, “coffee-spluttering” example of tis success. However, I do believe that the joke will be lost on some and that this may include some devout RCs who have always believed this about Anglicanism anyway! A better hint of the genre may be useful, IMO.

6. Michael Liccione Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 11:21 pm

Fr. Kirby:

I do believe that the joke will be lost on some and that this may include some devout RCs who have always believed this about Anglicanism anyway!

As a devout RC I got the joke, but only because I know more about Anglicanism than most devout RCs. All the same, it seems to me that the Anglican Communion over the past generation has done a creditable job of closing the gap between reality and parody.


7. William Witt (Albertus Parvus) Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 2:34 pm

You’re right. It was General Convention 2003. Time passes way too fast after you hit a certain age.

8. Fr M Kirby Says:
August 3rd, 2005 at 12:08 am


You make a reasonable point, and the recent shameful history you identify explains why I and so many Anglicans are not part of the mainstream “Anglican Communion” — the common joke among us being that that name is like “Holy Roman Empire”, an entity which was famously described to be neither holy, nor Roman nor an empire! Similarly, the AC has (in most of the West at least) transmuted itself so much that it is no longer recognisably Anglican and its member Churches are no longer in full communion.

However, since the post was “describing” Anglican history mostly before the recent apostasies and heresies, the gap between reality and parody there remains sufficiently great to make a cautionary “wink” at the reader by the poster more than helpful.


9. Gloria Says:
August 3rd, 2005 at 9:56 am

“the gap between reality and parody there remains sufficiently great to make a cautionary “wink” at the reader by the poster more than helpful.”

That’s a given… I “stumbled” across Dr. Witt’s post, and thought for sure he had been ‘demon possessed”, just when we need him most.
Thank God for the “comments”, now I can breathe again.

10. William Witt (Albertus Parvus) Says:
August 3rd, 2005 at 3:06 pm
“Well, it appears to be time for Dr. Witt to follow the Pontificator and I, and convert.”

See the post by Ralph McInerny above.

11. David T. Koyzis Says:
August 3rd, 2005 at 8:22 pm

So, Bill, are you part of a group blog now? I’ll have to link to this from my own.

12. CaNN :: We started it. Says:
August 4th, 2005 at 12:04 am

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