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.

This entry was posted on Sunday, May 29, 2011 at Sunday, May 29, 2011 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Dr Ramsey's words are absolutely quite timely considering the nonsense that's been going on in our beloved Communion with this ridiculous covenant, among other things...

May 29, 2011 at 1:42 PM
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May 29, 2011 at 3:54 PM

Dr. Ramsey's words are indeed, timely, and in part precisely because the proposed Anglican Covenant is anything but "ridiculous."

Ramsey writes: " ... there has been a tearing asunder of things which in the Anglican vocation are bound together--the Gospel, the Catholic Church, sound learning." That is true today. And however imperfectly, the Covenant seeks to reconcile them.

Along these lines, I commend the Rev. Dr. Philip Turner's recent essay entitled "The Covenant: What Is It All About?."

May 29, 2011 at 3:57 PM

Well, Dr. Ramsey's words resonate with me, and that is one reason I went to the Orthodox Church, which I think fulfills the premises of Anglicanism.

Rdr. James Morgan
PS In spite of some of the problems besetting us in the west, at least we have unity of belief.

May 29, 2011 at 6:56 PM

I'm not sure how Orthodoxy can fulfill the premises of Anglicanism when a premise of Orthodoxy is that Anglicanism is not a part of the true Church. One could just as well say that Orthodoxy fulfills the premises of Mormonism.

May 30, 2011 at 8:30 AM

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