Ramsey on Anglican Theology  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Michael Ramsey (1904-1988) served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961 to 1974.  He was also a distinguished Anglican theologian.  His article "What is Anglican Theology?", published in the January 1945 issue of  Theology is perhaps even more relevant now, in light of the ongoing fracturing of the Anglican Communion.  A hat-tip to the site Full Homely Divinity.


The method, use and direction characteristic of Anglican divinity first came into clear light in the writings of Hooker.  His theology claimed to do both far less and far more than the theologies of Calvin, of Luther, and of Trent.  It did less in that it eschewed any attempts to offer a complete scheme of Biblical doctrine, or an experiential assurance of justification, or an infallible system of dogma.  It did more in that it appealed to a larger field of authority and dealt with the whole man rather than with certain parts of him.  For it appealed to Scripture, tradition and reason:  "the Spirit everywhere in the scripture...laboreth to confirm us in the things which we believe by things whereof we have sensible knowledge".  And it dealt with the whole man, both by its reverence for his reason and his conscience and by its refusal to draw a circle around the inward personal element in religion and to separate it from the world of external things.  It was congruous with all this that the Incarnation, with the doctrine of the Two Natures, was central, and that the Church and the Sacraments were closely linked with the Incarnation.  The claim of this theology to be "Catholic" rested not only upon its affinity with antiquity but upon the true "wholeness" of its authorities and of its treatment of man and his need.  It offered him not only justification in his inward self but the sanctification of his whole being through sharing in the divine life.

The method, use and direction seen in Hooker persisted.  Amid many diversities of emphasis there can be traced in Anglican divinity an appeal to Scripture which refuses to treat Scripture as a self-contained law or to select the doctrine of justification by faith as the essence of the Gospel, and insists instead that Scripture needs interpreting with the aid of the tradition of the Church as the witness and keeper of holy writ.  And with the appeal to Scripture on these lines there is linked both the study of the ancient Fathers and a reverence for reason and conscience such as commands authority while eschewing infallibilism.  In the centuries between Hooker and today the different elements in the Anglican unity have have often "gone apart".  High-churchmen, valuing tradition but missing the more  dynamic aspect of the Word in the Scriptures, have sometimes been led into a "traditionalism".  Evangelicals, holding the Bible in high esteem but divorcing it from the living tradition of the Church, have sometimes been led into a "scripturalism".  Broad-churchmen, reverencing reason but missing the significance of certain aspects of Scripture and tradition, have sometimes been led into a sort of "rationalism".  In each case there has been a tearing asunder of things which in the Anglican vocation are bound together--the Gospel,  the Catholic Church, sound learning.  Yet the underlying unity, often strained and never to be defined, has not perished.

Myrrh-bearing Witnesses  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

In the Eastern Orthodox calendar today is the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women.   Several women disciples of Jesus came to his tomb to properly anoint the body, which had been hastily sealed up so as not to violate the sabbath.  In first-century Palestine this was women's work.  However, they became the earliest witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus, which was definitely not women's work.  In the ancient world women were almost universally considered too flighty and prone to hysteria to be trusted as witnesses.  This issue is addressed by NT Wright in his magisterial The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress 2003), who paradoxically advances it as proof for the historicity of the resurrection.  The excerpt is found on pp 607-608.


Even if we suppose that Mark made up most of his material, and did so some time into the late 60s at the earliest, it will not do to have him, or anyone else at that stage, making up a would-be apologetic legend about an empty tomb and having women be the ones who find it.  The point has been repeated over and over in scholarship, but its full impact has not always been felt:  women were simply not acceptable as legal witnesses.  We may regret it, but this is how the Jewish world (and most others) worked.  The debate between Origin and Celsus shows that critics of Christianity could seize on the story of the women in order to scoff at the whole tale; were the legend-writers really so ignorant of the likely reaction?  If they could have invented stories of fine, upstanding reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it.  That they did not tells us either that everyone in the early church knew that the women, led by Mary Magdalene, were in fact the first on the scene, or that the early church was not so inventive as critics have routinely imagined, or both.  Would the other evangelists have been so slavishly foolish as to copy the story unless they were convinced that, despite being an apologetic liability, it was historically trustworthy?

...It is easy to imagine that, when a tradition was established for use in preaching to outsiders, stories of women running to the tomb in the half-light would quietly be dropped, and a list produced of solid witnesses who could be called upon to vouch for what they had seen.  It is not easy at all--in fact, I suggest, it is virtually impossible--to imagine a solid and well-established tradition, such as that in 1 Corinthians 15, feeling itself in need of some extra stiffening  in the first place, or, if such a need was felt (why?), coming up with a scatter of women on a dark spring morning.  The stories may all have written down late in the first century...But we must affirm that the story they tell is one which goes back behind Paul, back to the very early period, before anyone had time to think, "It would be good to tell stories about Jesus rising from the dead; what will best serve apologetic needs?'  It is far, far easier to assume that the women were there at the beginning, just as, three days earlier, they had been there at the end.