I regret not having come across this book earlier in my exploration of Anglicanism. For those of us who come from contemporary or non-liturgical church settings, our first encounter with Anglicanism can be confusing. But here, in a concise 185 pages, is a book that answers literally scores of questions about this form of the Christian faith. It is, if you will, an owner’s manual for faith and practice in the Anglican tradition.
Divided into ten chapters, the book is structured to serve as the basis for a course of ten weeks, but it is no less useful as a guide for personal study. Throughout, it is extensively grounded in Scripture and The Book of Common Prayer (BCP). However, note that it is the 1928 Prayer Book that Dr. Tarsitano works from and prefers. Indeed, he specifically repudiates the 1979 version.
Clearly, then, An Outline of Anglican Life is of a traditional or conservative bent. Hence, it represents what one might refer to as classical Anglicanism, or what is known as the Continuing Church Movement. In any case, I should think that anyone on the conservative-to-moderate end of the spectrum will be comfortable with this book. Even though I personally use, and worship in a parish that follows, the 1979 BCP, I found Tarsitano’s overall presentation of Anglicanism congenial.
The first three chapters cover the Church, the Doctrine of God, and Sin, Salvation, and Grace. Functionally these chapters are a catechism on the church, the Godhead, sin, evil, grace, righteousness, and the way unto salvation. For those who have practiced their Christian faith for some time, much of this will be familiar ground.
It is in chapters four and five where the book breaks new ground for the uninitiated. Here the Major, or “Dominical,” Sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion) and the Minor Sacraments (Confirmation, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick) are treated. These chapters are especially informative for those who come from churches that, for example, view communion as constituting only a memorial, and not “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” These are key chapters, worthy of close reading.
The Holy Scriptures and The Book of Common Prayer are covered in chapters six and seven. Again, the chapter on the Bible will mostly be familiar, with the one on the Prayer Book most helpful to newcomers to Anglicanism. Although it is the 1928 version that is in focus, this is in no way restrictive since Dr. Tarsitano is giving an exposition and explanation of the Prayer Book writ large. Therefore, what he sets forth applies both to earlier and later versions of the BCP.
The polity, or governance, of the church is the subject matter of chapter eight. Not only is the organizational structure of Anglicanism covered, so too are subjects such as canon law, synods, and how local parishes are organized. This chapter is imminently helpful for those unfamiliar with the episcopal form of church organization.
Chapter nine entails matters of ethics under the title of Moral Theology. Here the author lays out the contours of the lived Christian life. There is an objective and actionable tone to this chapter. “In the Bible,” Tarsitano writes, “true love is always presented as how we should act towards God and men, and not simply how we should feel about them.” Yes, it is a theological discussion, but one with practical application.
The final chapter, entitled “Church Miscellany,” covers topics that do not fit well within the first nine chapters. Answers to questions, such as What is Holy Water?, What are Ember Days?, and What are Clerical Vestments?, are helpful in understanding some of the unique aspects of Anglicanism. In some ways, this is the most informative chapter for newcomers.
The main chapters are followed by five appendices. The first, and probably the most helpful and practical, is “Participation in an Anglican Service.” This is the what, why, and how of Anglican service. An explanation of the Via Media (or the Middle Way) follows in the second appendix. The third and fourth are on the Textus Receptus and Canon Law. In these two appendices, the author’s conservatism is manifest. For example, his discussion of the Textus Receptus is mainly an argument for the King James/New King James tradition against modern translations. The fifth and last appendix is a Final Exam, which is useful for review or as an actual test in classroom settings.
This book would be very useful for teaching the ins and outs of the Anglican tradition in parish settings. By way of example, there is an online course based on it presented by Fr. Tony Melton of Christ the King Anglican Church in Marietta, Georgia. It is an informal but informative ten-part series, which can be accessed on YouTube simply by searching for “Outline of an Anglican Life.”
On the negative side, my only quibble is that there is no index. This would have helped locate various topics. However, with that said, the layout is logical and the arrangement of topics sensible, thus allowing one to locate information without too much difficulty.
Should you wish to purchase An Outline of Anglican Life, the usual retail outlets are of little help, since it is listed as out of print. Not true. Copies can be obtained for $15.00 plus shipping by visiting the Publication Society of the Reformed Episcopal Church at <http://www.recus.org/pub_soc.html>.
(Note: You can also access the book for free online as a PDF.)
I highly recommend this book, not only to newcomers but also to those familiar with the Anglican tradition. If you are simply curious or wanting to know more, this small volume will fit the bill. For those who wish to dive in deep, it is a well-written and thorough “catechism” of Anglicanism. Indeed, even experienced lay participants, vestry members, deacons, and rectors will likely find this book helpful.
Boone Aldridge lives in Cedar Hill, Texas, where he attends Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. He has served with the Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International in both Africa and the United States since 1996, and holds a PhD in history from the University of Stirling in Scotland.