Protestant Reformation

Who Apologized for the Reformation in the 20th Century?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The Oxford Movement's anti-Reformation legacy in the Anglican Church & beyond continues after more than a century.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part three of a series. Read part two.

Today we examine the anti-Reformation legacy of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church and beyond during the 20th and early 21st centuries. Its sad contributions to the decline of Protestantism include the reintroduction of Romish vestments; formation of the World Council of Churches; reinvigoration of canon law; increasing deference to the Pope; subversion of Bible societies worldwide; dynamic-equivalence Bible "translation"; and, promotion of the veneration of Mary among Evangelicals.

In our last article we discussed the development and influence of the Oxford Movement in the 19th century, its view that the Reformation was a tragedy, and its call for reconciliation with Rome. The Anglo-Catholic faction within the Anglican church increased its influence during the 20th century. One of the principal ways this influence spread was through the men who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the official head of the Church of England under the authority of the British monarch, and also the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In today's article we'll examine the work of un-doing the Reformation that has been led by successive archbishops of Canterbury. The influence of their efforts extends well beyond the Church of England itself.

Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1928 to 1942, was a liberal of the Anglo-Catholic faction who encouraged Catholic trends within the church, and succeeded in having them accepted as a normal part of church doctrine and practice. He was the first Archbishop of Canterbury since before the Reformation to wear the mitre, which is a symbol of the doctrine of apostolic succession.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 to 1944, was an ecumenicist who held to the Oxford Movement's "branch theory" of the church which stated that the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion are three principal branches of the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," and that the three should be reunited. During the 1930s Temple was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the founding of the World Council of Churches, in which he hoped the Roman Catholic church would be a member. (The Vatican did not become an official member of the WCC, but does nominate twelve full members of the WCC's governing Faith and Order Commission.)

Temple's successor Geoffrey Fisher, head of the Anglican church from 1945 to 1961, was also a committed Anglo-Catholic. Fisher greatly advanced and expanded Temple's efforts at reconciliation with Rome. Fisher's other major contribution to the un-doing of the Reformation was his effort to update and reinvigorate the use of canon law within the Anglican church. Canon law has its basis in the doctrine that the Roman papacy (and in England after the 1500s, the Archbishop of Canterbury) in his person possesses the totality of legislative, executive, and judicial power - not only in matters of doctrine and morals, but in civil matters as well.

Michael Ramsay, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961 to 1974, was strongly influenced during his formative years by Edwyn Hoskins, who had been a disciple of the Oxford Movement. In 1966 Ramsay repudiated the Reformation by meeting with Pope Paul VI in Rome. This was the first time a pope of Rome had received an Archbishop of Canterbury in his official capacity since before the Reformation. Paul VI told Ramsay that "by entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." The pope presented Ramsay with a bishop's ring - a symbol of papal authority and of the doctrine of apostolic succession.

Donald Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1974 to 1980, helped un-do the Reformation through his influence on Bible societies worldwide. From 1957 to 1976 Coggan was president of the United Bible Societies, comprising 17 national Bible societies including the British, American, Canadian, Australian, Dutch, German, and Russian. The Bible societies had long been viewed as enemies by the Vatican. "Pests of this sort must be destroyed by all means," said Pope Pius IX in his 1866 encyclical Quanta Cura. In 1897, Pope Leo XIII, in the Apostolic Constitution Officiorum ac Munerum, said that any Bible published in the "vernacular" (common language of the people) was "strictly forbidden."

But today, through the influence of men like Donald Coggan, those dangerous "pests" have become the friends and allies of Rome, publishing ecumenical Bibles that carry the imprimatur, the official stamp of acceptance, of the Roman Catholic Church. These Bibles are produced using the "dynamic equivalence" method of translation rather than the formal equivalence method (direct translation) in order to mask theological differences between Rome and Protestantism. Today, sixty percent of the employees of the American Bible Society, including members of its board of directors, are Roman Catholic.

Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1980 to 1991, built on the anti-Reformation legacy of his predecessors to seek open reconciliation with Rome. Runcie knelt in prayer with Pope John Paul II at Canterbury Cathedral in 1982. In 1989, Runcie proposed that the Roman Pope assume an official position of headship over the Church of England, but this proposal was rejected by the Vatican because it was phrased in such a way as to limit the pope's authority over English church affairs. As has always been the case in ecumenical negotiations, Rome's claims of absolute authority are non-negotiables. Rather than protesting John Paul II's position, Runcie sent his emissaries to the Vatican "back to the drawing board" to try to find a way to meet Rome's demands.

George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, had previously served Donald Coggan as representative of the Church of England at the 1976 meeting of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome. One of the principal activities of this organization is to un-do the Reformation by developing and promoting the use of ecumenical, dynamic-equivalence versions of the Bible.

Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, was the first to attend the funeral of a Roman pope since before the Reformation, when he accepted the Vatican's invitation to attend John Paul II's funeral in 2005. Williams has promoted efforts to reintroduce the veneration of Mary through the work of the Anglican - Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and the International Anglican - Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). Both Rome and Canterbury vigorously avoid the term "worship," but it is a distinction without a difference. Their 2004 joint statement on the work of reintroducing Mariolatry into the Church of England states that it is an effort to reintroduce "the common tradition which predates the Reformation."

In November 2006, Williams and Pope Benedict XVI issued a Common Declaration which said in part:

Forty years ago, our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, met together in this city sanctified by the ministry and the blood of the Apostles Peter and Paul. They began a new journey of reconciliation based on the Gospels and the ancient common traditions. Centuries of estrangement between Anglicans and Catholics were replaced by a new desire for partnership and co-operation, as the real but incomplete communion we share was rediscovered and affirmed. Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey undertook at that time to establish a dialogue in which matters which had been divisive in the past might be addressed from a fresh perspective with truth and love.

Since that meeting, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have entered into a process of fruitful dialogue, which has been marked by the discovery of significant elements of shared faith and a desire to give expression, through joint prayer, witness and service, to that which we hold in common. Over thirty-five years, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) has produced a number of important documents which seek to articulate the faith we share. In the ten years since the most recent Common Declaration was signed by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the second phase of ARCIC has completed its mandate, with the publication of the documents "The Gift of Authority" (1999) and "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ" (2005)...

In this fraternal visit, we celebrate the good which has come from these four decades of dialogue....

As Christian leaders facing the challenges of the new millennium, we affirm again our public commitment to the revelation of divine life uniquely set forth by God in the divinity and humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that it is through Christ and the means of salvation found in him that healing and reconciliation are offered to us and to the world.

There are many areas of witness and service in which we can stand together, and which indeed call for closer co-operation between us... We also commit ourselves to inter-religious dialogue through which we can jointly reach out to our non-Christian brothers and sisters.

Mindful of our forty years of dialogue, and of the witness of the holy men and women common to our traditions, including Mary the Theot√??√?¬≥kos [the Greek term for "mother of God"], Saints Peter and Paul, Benedict, Gregory the Great, and Augustine of Canterbury, we pledge ourselves to more fervent prayer and a more dedicated endeavor to welcome and live by that truth into which the Spirit of the Lord wishes to lead his disciples (cf. Jn 16:13). Confident of the apostolic hope "that he who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion" (cf. Phil 1:6), we believe that if we can together be God's instruments in calling all Christians to a deeper obedience to our Lord, we will also draw closer to each other, finding in his will the fullness of unity and common life to which he invites us.

Truly, the spirit of the men known as the Oxford Martyrs - Anglican bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cramner, who were all burned at the stake for their opposition to the papacy and all for which it stood - has fully surrendered to the spirit of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican church.

In our next article we shall examine the influences of "the Reformation was a mistake" thinking on 20th-century Evangelicals in the United States.

Next: The American Evangelical romance with Rome


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