Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Panther and the Hind, by Aidan Nichols

Aidan Nichols, OP. The Panther and the Hind: A Theological History of Anglicanism, 1993 T & T Clark, Edinburgh

Dominican theologian Aidan Nichols has become one of my favorite writers. I suppose this is because he writes about the things that interest me, Eastern Orthodoxy, Mariology and Anglicanism. In The Panther and the Hind, Nichols offers a very interesting and useful guide to the history of Anglican theology from a Roman Catholic perspective. Nichols' main conclusion is ultimately that there is no true Anglicanism; Anglicanism is a essentially an incoherent compromise arrangement between three traditions, Reformed/ Evangelical, High Church/ Anglo-Catholic and Broad Church/ Liberal. He rejects the view that these traditions complement each other, as the three traditions all deny fundamental premises of their rivals.

Nichols sees four elements at work in the Church of the English Reformation, Lollardy, Erastianism, Lutheranism and Calvinism. The Lollard element manifested itself in the moralism of the Reformation English Church and in its rejection of Medieval ceremonies and pious practices. Nichols suggests that the Erastian element of the English Reformation is easily overlooked. He points out the centrality of the Crown and royal authority in the provisions of the Reformation English Church. The Lutheran element is seen in the acceptance in Reformation Anglicanism of the principle of justification by faith alone. The Calvinist element could be seen in the Reformation Church's theology of the sacraments.

Nichols' shows how the Caroline Divines departed from the ideas of Richard Hooker over that theologian's emphasis on the authority of parliament as an expression of the will of the Christian community. They instead favoured the central authority of the Sacral Monarchy. He shows that there was a spectrum of different ecclesiological views among the Caroline Divines. Coming to the Evangelical revival of the 18th century, he identifies a shift in the views of John Wesley. In his early period, Wesley had been very much an High Churchman. However, increasingly through his career, he became more positive in his views of Puritan writers (despite rejecting their Calvinism) and became sympathetic to their calls for revision of the Prayer Book and the structures of the Church of England. Nichols points out that today the Evangelical party is the strongest and most dynamic faction of the Church of England, despite the dominance of the Liberal party among the episcopacy. I appreciated his expression of admiration for the commitment of Evanglicals to core Christian doctrines.

On the 'Liberal Catholicism' of the late 19th century, I particularly liked our author's critique of Charles Gore on the subject of Biblical criticism:

"Meanwhile, we can note here Gore's general conclusion on the truth of Scripture. Although Scripture ma contain errors of detail, the history it describes is, in its essential outline, trustworthy. To deny this, he thought, would have 'results disastrous to the Christian Creed.' Unfortunately, Gore's theology of exegesis is hardly more than a stipulation that traditional doctrine and the fruits of the historical-critical method must coincide. He lacked both an internal critique of the historical method's own presuppositions and limitations of scope, and a theory- of the sort already called, in the Germany of his day, 'hermeneutical'- which might explain, by reference to such matters as canonicity (the reading of Scripture in its entirety), 'spiritual exegesis' and 'Tradition', how an ecclesial reading of Scripture can at once exceed the purview of the critical method, yet also incorporate its philological and historical erudition. Nor could he have recourse, as an Anglican, to the fall-back position of a magisterial determination of the significance of some judgement of the inspired authors."

A lot of things have happened since 1993. We have seen the emergence of a 'big tent' form of conservative Anglicanism in the Anglican Church in North America, which differs from the narrower approaches of previous continuing Anglican bodies. We have also seen Diarmaid MacCulloch emerge as a key writer on the subject of Anglicanism. It would have been interesting to have seen Nichol interacting with MacCulloch's views. Most significantly, we have also seen the creation of the Ordinariates as a means of continuing the Anglican tradition within the fold of the Roman Catholic Church a project with which our author has had much involvement. In this book, Nichols spoke of the possibility of an 'Anglican Uniate Church,' and while arguably the Ordinariates are a rather more provisional structure, they come close to this vision.


  1. Please be advised that what you call the Anglican Church OF North America is in actuality the AC IN NA, a protestant body. The AC OF NA is a tiny Orthodox Catholic body which dates back to the thirties in Canada allegedly due to the ritual wars of the time. The AC of NA actually predates the continuing churches. Thank you!

    1. Pardon me. I'm sure I am not the only one to mix up those two names!

  2. Ah, a defence for nescience!