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Covenants and Anglicans: An Uneasy Fit

  • Frederick Quinn (a1)


Although there is a strong movement within Anglicanism to produce a Covenant, this article argues against such an approach. Postponing dealing with today's problems by leaving them for a vaguely worded future document, instead of trying to clarify and resolve them now, and live in peace with one another, is evasive action that solves nothing. Also, some covenant proposals represent a veiled attempt to limit the role of women and homosexuals in the church.

The article's core argument is that covenants were specifically rejected by Anglicans at a time when they swept the Continent in the sixteenth century. The Church of England had specifically rejected the powerful hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and the legalism of the Puritans in favor of what was later to become the Anglican via media, with its emphasis on an informal, prayerful unity of diverse participants at home and abroad. It further argues the Church contains sufficient doctrinal statements in the Creeds, Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886, 1888, and the Baptismal Covenant in the American Church's 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

Covenant proponents argue their proposed document follows in the tradition of classic Anglicanism, but Quinn demonstrates this is not the case. He presents Richard Hooker and Jeremy Taylor as major voices articulating a distinctly Anglican perspective on church governance, noting Hooker ‘tried to stake out parameters between positions without digging a ditch others could not cross. Hooker placed prudence ahead of doctrinal argument.’ Taylor cited the triadic scripture, tradition and reason so central to Anglicanism and added how religious reasoning differs from mathematical and philosophical reasoning. The author notes that the cherished Reformation gift of religious reasoning is totally unmentioned in the flurry of documents calling for a new Anglican Covenant.



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1. Appiah, Kwame Anthony, Cosmopolitanism(New York: Norton, 2006), p. 59.

2. Documents of personal or communal devotion can also be referred to as covenants, guideposts for relationships between worshippers and the deity, but are not treated in this discussion.

3. Quoted in Vincent Studwick, ‘Towards an Anglican Covenant, Part I’,

4. Huntington, William Reed, The Church-Idea, An Essay Toward Unity(New York: E.P. Dutton, 1870), pp. 155–57, 210–11.

5. Meyers, Ruth A., Continuing the Reformation: Re-Visioning Baptism in the Episcopal Church (New York: Church Publishing, 1997); Thompsett, Fredrica Harris, Living with History (The New Church's Teaching Series; Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999), pp. 3233.

6. The Faculty of the School of Theology at Sewanee, University of the South, Sewanee, TN, Sewanee Theological Review, 50.3 (Pentecost 2007), pp. 356–57. The document notes the American Prayer Book of 1789 was derived from the Scottish book of 1637, not the English book of 1662.

7. ‘Comments on the Report of the Covenant Design Group’, 2 June 2007, to The Office of the General Convention, The Episcopal Church Center, New York, From: Frank M. Turner, John Hay Whitney Professor of History, Director, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, and parishioner, Trinity Episcopal Church, Torrington, Connecticut.

8. There are both narrow and broad covenants. An example of a narrow covenant is a legal agreement, such as one establishing title to a property. Jürgen Moltmann defines broader theological covenants and covenantal theology as‘a theological method which utilizes the biblical theme of the covenant as the key idea for a) the designation of the relationship of God and man, and b) the presentation of the continuity and discontinuity of redemptive history in the Old and New Testaments.’ See Lillback, Peter A., ‘The Early Reformed Covenant Paradigm: Vermigli in the Context of Bullinger, Luther and Calvin’, in James, Frank A. III, (ed.), Peter Martyr Vermigli and the European Reformations: Semper Reformada (Boston: Brill, 2004).

9. Luther, Calvin, and others, weighed in on this issue as well. See James (ed.), Peter Martyr Vermigli; and Elazar, Daniel J., Covenant and Commonwealth, From Christian Separation through the Protestant Reformation: The Covenant Tradition in Politics, Vol. II (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1996).

10. MacCulloch, Diarmaid, The Reformation: A History (New York: Viking, 2004), pp. 172–74,378–89,518–23.

11. Faulkner, Robert K., Richard Hooker and the Politics of a Christian England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), p. 124.

12. Taylor, Jeremy, A Discourse of the Liberty of Prophesying, Sect. 5, in Works (ed. Heber, , Vol. VIII, 9798), quoted in Quinn, Frederick, To Be a Pilgrim: The Anglican Ethos in History (New York: Crossroads, 2001), p. 5.

13. MacCulloch, The Reformation, pp. 379–80.

14. MacCulloch, The Reformation, pp. 520–21.

15. Person, K. Jeanne and Davies, Matthew, ‘Anglican Women, Pledging Communion with One Another, Seek to Model Reconciliation’, Episcopal News Service, 8 March 2007.

16. Windsor Report Working Group, SCGS Report No 2006–109, October 2006, p. 3.

17. Quotations on the General Theological Seminary Conference are from Jerry Hames and Daphne Mack, ‘Anglican Covenant Conference Draws International Group, Elicits Varied Viewpoints’, 15 April 2008. From Episcopal Life Online—News. (

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Journal of Anglican Studies
  • ISSN: 1740-3553
  • EISSN: 1745-5278
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-anglican-studies
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