Part of what makes the Anglican Church the via media (middle way) is the conviction that its beliefs and practices must derive from a thorough integration of Scripture, reason, and tradition. Though it’s impossible to achieve a perfect equilibrium, Anglicans believe that we are in danger of teaching and living heresy if we highlight one of these categories such that it excludes the others.
One of the earliest understandings of the concept of integrating Scripture, reason, and tradition comes from Richard Hooker. He argues that the Church has authority to establish governance and order (reason) and that though it has authority in doctrine, it cannot deviate from the faith that has been handed on to it (tradition):
“Be it in matter of the one kind or of the other, what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next where-unto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth. That which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason overrule all other inferior judgments whatsoever.” —Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, book V, 8:2
Hooker, therefore, believes that there is a clear or plain sense in Scripture. Because it is clear, it needs no interpretation and should simply be believed. He then argues that reason and the Church, by which he means tradition, hold sway. Where the Church rules on something that is in accord with reason, this overrules any other opinions or theories on offer.
The Oxford Movement
Another understanding of the interplay between Scripture, reason, and tradition came in the early 1830s from the Oxford Movement. Led by John Keble, John Henry Newman, Hurrell Froude, and Edward Pusey, the movement sought to restore the place of tradition in the life of the Church. The Oxford men believed that it was wrong to suggest that all doctrines and practices must come directly from Scripture, but that such could be warranted if they were indirectly evidenced in Scripture and clearly practiced in the early Church (i.e., tradition). Speaking on infant baptism, they ask,
“Where is this enjoined in Scripture? No where. Why do we observe it? Because the primitive Church observed it, and because the Apostles in Scripture appear to have sanctioned it, though this is not altogether certain from Scripture.” —Tracts for the Times no. 45
They used the doctrine of the Trinity as a similar example. It is not stated plainly in Scripture. However, Scripture evidences the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Church has handed it down as a central belief of the Christian faith.
They also believed that a doctrine or practice could be legitimate—even if there were absolutely no scriptural evidence—so long as it was ubiquitous in tradition, accorded with reason, and did not directly contradict Scripture.
“Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Episcopacy is in fact not at all mentioned in Scripture: even then it would be our duty to receive it. Why? because the first Christians received it. If we wish to get at the truth, no matter how we get at it, if we get at it. If it be a fact, that the earliest Christian communities were universally episcopal, it is a reason for our maintaining Episcopacy; and in proportion to our conviction, is it incumbent on us to maintain it.” —Tracts
They were arguing, in other words, that it wasn’t the Church’s responsibility to reestablish its beliefs and doctrines in every age directly from Scripture. Rather, they were to take what had been passed on to them from previous generations, testing it against Scripture and reason, of course, but being faithful to the tradition.
Logos makes integration easier
Striking the balance between Scripture, reason, and tradition is a difficult task, requiring careful, in-depth study of a variety of sources across various disciplines. Logos gives you the tools you need to integrate Scripture, reason, and tradition conveniently and effectively. Scripture references in every resource appear on mouseover. All books are fully tagged, allowing you to jump from the reasoned theology of Richard Hooker to the traditions of the Book of Common Prayer with a click.
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