Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Anglicanism joins with wider Christianity in affirming that there is one God, a personal God, the creator of all that is.  According to traditional Anglican beliefs, God is living and true; everlasting; without body, parts, or passions; and with infinite power, wisdom, and goodness.  Most Anglicans affirm that God exists as a Trinity of three persons in the unity of the one Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The three persons are eternally of one substance, as described in the Nicene Creed. By one "substance" is meant that there are three persons of the Godhead who are one being, not that they share one substance like three pennies sharing the substance of copper, and not that there is one person manifested in three modes.  God did not become triune after having been a monad, as if the Son and Spirit are derived from the Father and proceed from the Father by an act of the will.  Rather, God is eternally the Father begetting the Son, and from the two of them the Spirit also proceeds eternally (but compare the Eastern Orthodox tradition on the procession of the Spirit).

Anglicanism also has traditionally affirmed that the second person of the Trinity is the Son, the Word of the Father, begotten of the Father from everlasting, the very and eternal God.  The Son took human nature in the womb of Mary, and became the man Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (which means Messiah or anointed one).  Christ is of two whole and perfect natures, fully human and fully divine, indivisible, who truly suffered and died, but who was (and is) without sin in flesh and spirit.

Christology (the doctrine of Christ), however, does not end with the person of Christ.  It also touches the work of Christ, including healing the sick, caring for the poor, announcing justice for the oppressed and freedom for captives, dying to atone for the sins of the world, and rising again in victory over death.  Further, Jesus is God's self-revelation, so all human understanding of God is centered on Jesus.  Jesus is both foundation and pinnacle of all revelation, and ideas concerning God's character must accord with that of Jesus.

Regarding the Holy Spirit, Anglicanism has traditionally adhered to the western elaboration of the Nicene Creed, which states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son.  Anglicanism upholds the Trinitarian faith that the Holy Spirit is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son.  The Holy Spirit is the giver of life, and the one who has spoken through the prophets.  The Spirit continues the work of Christ in every generation, guiding and inspiring God's people.

Anglicanism also affirms the doctrine of creation, which is that God created all things from nothing, and is the preserver of all things, whether visible or invisible.  Two fundamental points flow from this affirmation.  First, God is distinct from the creation--creation is neither the whole nor part of God, and God is not developing or evolving as creation changes.  Second, God is not aloof from the creation.  God did not create the world then withdraw the divine presence to allow natural processes to run their course.  Through the Holy Spirit, God is in continuing relationship with the world.  It should be noted that this doctrine of creation makes no claim as to the means or timing God has used in bringing about creation and the present diversity within it.  On such matters there is a wide variety of views.

Moreover, Anglicanism is marked by great diversity regarding the doctrines of the Trinity, Christology, and creation.  Although the doctrines just described are upheld by the Thirty-nine Articles and some of them have been affirmed at Lambeth Conferences, resolutions at those conferences are not binding, and not all provinces or dioceses require adherence to the Thirty-nine Articles by their ordinands (candidates for ordination to the clergy).  The doctrines are best thought of as conventional baselines rather than representative statements of the beliefs of all Anglicans.   

 In fact, ideas about God and Christ have so multiplied throughout most of the history of Anglicanism, and particularly in recent decades, that there is no single viewpoint that can claim representative status.  For instance, deism has for centuries questioned God's immanence, that is, God's continuing involvement with creation.  In contrast, recent theologians not only reaffirm God's immanence, but submit that God is so involved in creation as to suffer with it.  God is not without passions, but passionately suffering with the beloved creation. 

Similarly, the Christological doctrine of the resurrection has been subject to varying interpretations.  Many Enlightenment thinkers rejected it as lacking historical credibility and as unacceptably indicating supernatural intervention by God.  This view remains today, but many modern Anglican thinkers (as well theologians in other Christian traditions) seek to reinterpret the resurrection rather than to deny it outright.  For example, some teach that Christ's resurrection should not be thought of in bodily terms, but in terms of the transforming effect of his life on the lives of his followers.  Christ was raised from death in their experiences and proclamations.

Turning to lesser spirit beings, the devil (or Satan, traditionally held to be a fallen angel and the deceiver and accuser of sinners) and demons (also fallen angels) have not historically occupied prominent places in Anglican metaphysics.  Liturgical references to these beings in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) are  rare.  On the other hand, although there is not a developed metaphysic of angels in Anglican thought, liturgical references to angels are frequent.  Most commonly angels are depicted as co-worshippers of God, as the following from the American BCP: "Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven."  Additionally, there are a few references to angels as protectors and guides, and there is also a feast day commemorating St. Michael and All Angels.

Study Questions:
     1.     How should the Trinity be understood within Anglicanism?
     2.     What does Anglican Christology reveal about Jesus’ nature? His work?
     3.     Describe the doctrine of creation.
     4.     Are Anglican doctrines open to reinterpretation? Explain.
     5.     Do Anglicans believe in angels?

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