Is there an “Anglican identity”? Or is living with the tension between different temperaments and histories itself at the heart of the genius of Anglicanism?
Anglican Identities draws together studies and profiles by Rowan Williams that sympathetically explore approaches to scripture, tradition, and authority that are very different—yet at the same time distinctively Anglican. William Tyndale, Richard Hooker, George Herbert, B. F. Westcott, Michael Ramsey, and John A. T. Robinson are among the writers and theologians whose work Archbishop Williams explores. Williams resists easy characterizations and makes surprising connections between apparently opposing positions. In his study of the Victorian biblical scholar B. F. Westcott, for example, he suggests that “we might begin to identify a style of Anglican liberalism that is rather different from what liberalism is commonly supposed to be.”
Significantly, the name that recurs most often in these essays is that of Richard Hooker: “tantalizingly hard to pigeonhole—like the Anglican tradition as a whole.” Anglican Identities conveys the richness of the Anglican mosaic without ducking the difficult question of how far diversity can stretch before a common tradition begins to fragment.
The question of what if anything holds together the Anglican Communion has recently become a painfully immediate one. The answer will take a fair amount of time to work out; and the essays in this little book are meant to suggest that any answer that is more than just a temporary political adjustment will need to reflect the lives and the ideas (and the prayers) of some of those who, for various reasons, are recognised as in some way credible representatives of Anglicanism over the centuries. Anglicans have always been cautious about laying too much stress on formulae over and above the classical creeds; and that has proved both a strength and a weakness.
ROWAN WILLIAMS is the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is also the author of Wound of Knowledge and Ray of Darkness.