Thursday, August 1, 2013

Anglican Theological Education, Part 2

While reading "Nineteenth Century Anglican Theological Education" I could not help but think about the relationship between, on one hand, the theological colleges and the ancient universities in England of that era and, on the other hand, the relationship between reading for orders and attending seminary today in the United States. The latter is of course how continuing Anglicans have traditionally prepared for ordination. Some people read for orders, while others chose to attend a seminary or divinity school. Personal circumstances usually dictate who follows which path. While in the APA reading for orders is far less common today than perhaps it once was there are still a significant number of folk in the larger traditional Anglican world who read for orders under the direction of a priest. It should be noted, of course, that there is a lot of tradition behind this, as before the Episcopal seminary system was established men in the United States had to read for orders.

An interesting parallel between the subject matter of the book and priestly formation for continuing churchmen in the 21st century is the whole question of effectiveness. In the period covered by this book there was lots of disagreement about whether or not the theological colleges were effective in preparing men for the ministry. The same question has often been raised with regard to reading for orders, and/or attending open of the unaccredited [by ATS] theological school that different jurisdictions have tried to establish over the years.

The issues that the old guard in England raised concerning the new colleges were largely cultural and social. Men who attended the ancient universities were thought to better prepared because they were more well-rounded and had contact with all different people in different fields of study, which improved their own theological thinking. They were also thought to be better socially prepared for ministry, since the universities were not isolated like the colleges (and especially the Roman Catholic seminaries). These opinions and more were held even despite evidence that in many cases those who attended the universities were less prepared in some equally important ways! If we think about it some of these same types of criticisms have been leveled against reading for orders.

But just as the establishment figures in England (mostly bishops) did not have actual evidence to support their prejudices, so it is today I think with those who criticize these alternative ways of educating clergy. Now, to my knowledge there are no reliable statistics about which way of preparing men for orders is most effective, or even agreement as to how effectiveness is to be judged. But if there is a connection between the situation in the Church of England in the 19th century and the continuing churches in America today, as I think there is, then we need only look at the theological colleges and their graduates to see that just as the schools became very well established, and just as their graduates went on to have very effective ministries and hold high offices, so those in the Church today who prepare for ordination by way of reading for orders or doing an unaccredited diocesan program also often go on to have very effective ministries and hold high office.

I would go so far as to say that in a lot of cases the alternative ways of educating certain men for the ministry are more effective and efficient than requiring them to attend seminary. This is certainly true of older men who offer themselves for ordination. The APA, following Episcopalian tradition and canons, is actually very flexible in this area and only requires a seminary degree for men who are under a certain age, and lets older men pursue Holy Orders via these other avenues.

So in the end, one of the "take aways" for me from this book was that just as many of the men who attended the theological colleges worked hard and proved their intelligence, godliness, and diligence by their effective ministries and advancement, so the same is true of many of those in our own day and age who have prepared for the ministry in some other way than going to seminary. As any priest who is worth his salt will tell you, attending seminary definitely does not mean one will have an effective ministry. The opposite may very well be the case, and not only will he have a crash and burn ministry, he will also have lots of debt.

Next time I want to write about some insights I gained from this book regarding founding theological colleges.


  1. Interesting information. I sometimes think churches focus way too much attention on how they go about ordaining clergy, the technical aspects of educating them, rather than on the really most important issue, how they go about selecting men for possible ordination and how they examine them carefully before ordaining them. If we started with the "who" (we may want to ordain) and only then moved to the "how" (we go about educating them), we might have far better workers in Christ's vineyards?

    An interesting perspective can be found in Martin Bucer's The Restoration of Lawful Ordination for Ministers of the Church (written circa 1549 and directly related to the then ongoing debates on the Anglican Ordinal). A modern English translation is in David F. Wright's Common Places of Martin Bucer (The Sutton Courtenay Press, England (1972)).

    Bucer's section on "The Examination and Probation of the Ministers of the Church" is most relevant. For example:

    "So that Churches may be less liable to deception, the prescription that no recent convert be admitted to the ministry must be scrupulously observed,...because such novices will not have been able to prove their godliness to the Churches over a period of time." (citing the Canon 2 of the Council of Nicaea)


    "As a sound liberal education in the arts makes a great contribution to understanding, teaching and defending the Scriputrres, the [Patristic] Fathers made this too a requirement in ministers and included it in the examination." (citing Gratian's Decretum)