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An explanation and
The short version
Music: Thou Knowest, Lord, Purcell, sung by Musica Humana Oxford
Born Anglican: how I got started
ANY years ago, when I was in college, I learnt a
lot about Catholic culture and picked up a good deal of sound basic theology too. Where,
you might ask? From the Catholic college I went to? Hardly. Except for some
elderly holdout priests Im sure are in heaven today, that place had sold out
and joined the secular world (except they tolerated prolife) long before I got
there. No, I learnt some basics from the friendly, conservative Episcopal
church down the street from where I lived. (Yes, Virginia, there are
conservative Episcopal churches.)
The great dream
This place was a part of Anglo-Catholicism, a 19th-century movement in
Anglicanism that had set for itself the goal of undoing the Protestant
Reformation among English-speaking people and after cleaning their church of
heresy, presenting it for restoration of Catholic communion. (What I call
Anglo-Catholicisms great dream.) Most thought of this in terms of reunion
with the Roman Catholic Church, which was the Church of medieval England and
after which most had patterned their local churches practices; a very few
others thought in terms of joining the Orthodox Churches. And many held to a
branch theory of Catholicity that emphasized what the various ancient apostolic
Churches (RC, Orthodox, Oriental and Assyrian) have in common as more important
than their differences, and holding that even post-Reformation
Anglicanism was a branch of this Catholic Church equal to Rome and Orthodoxy.
Reconciliation was an ideal held by these, too, but they held that Anglicanism
was in essence already Catholic.
Anglo-Catholics believed in community and continuity:
continuity with medieval Christendom, with Catholicism, the universal Church.
Ironically, a movement now seen as peculiarly British didnt want to be seen as
such. The adoption of Roman Catholic clerical uniforms (cassock, biretta) by
clergy in the movement was a visible sign of this: they wanted to identify with
the larger Church beyond Britain.
|The way it was|
by Fr Peter Robinson
I was very much made aware of the old discipline by my first priest who
was an old-school Anglo-Catholic. After Office, Mass, and breakfast, he
would settle down to a two or three hours in the study reading. After
lunch he would catch up with the Breviary and then it was the time for
visiting. Evening Prayer was read before Dinner, and there were a
couple of evenings spent at church during the week. However, in his day
there was very little in the way of paperwork to deal with just the
registers, the annual returns and the occasional letter from the Bishop
Lovingly built and maintained by Episcopalians in a Gothic style consciously
patterned after the medieval Catholic churches of England, this local church
retained the Catholic restorations to worship started in Anglicanism back in
the late 1800s, copied largely from the fine Roman Catholic practices of that
period: Mass vestments with brocade, gold thread, embroidery and stripes
forming a cross on the priests back (and Communion was often called Mass); cassocks and birettas (the pompomd square
hat once worn by Roman Catholic priests); hanging votive lamps; incense; a
stone altar with priest and congregation both facing it (the priests back to
the people or the traditional symbolism of common prayer facing east);
genuflecting during the recitation of the Nicene Creed (these people believed
in the divinity of Christ and were orthodox Trinitarians!) and ringing bells at
the consecration at Mass (they ignored the Articles of Religion and held the
Catholic faith about the Eucharist).
Plus there were many uniquely English and medieval
borrowings now common in Episcopal churches, such as: altar rails with kneeling
Communion; and a choir robed in cassocks and white surplices, standing in
stalls facing each other between the chancel arch and the altar. This area, the choir and sanctuary, was set off by a medieval English feature, a grill
called a rood screen, complete with crucifix on top sort of like an
Mass was the main service twice
every Sunday and on weekdays; supplemented by the common liturgical daily
prayer of the Church, the office in the forms of Mattins (Morning Prayer) and
Evensong (Evening Prayer or Vespers), and with borrowed Roman Catholic
devotions such as ringing the Angelus daily, Benediction and the public recitation of the Rosary once a
Having got started learning Catholic doctrine as a child in a conservative parish, old language, chant and eastward-facing, at 17 when I first walked into a full-blown AC parish Id come home: my culture turned up several notches to square with my beliefs!
|An ocean apart|
The modern American vs
modern British experience
English (and for that matter British) and American ACism are different kettles of fish! The American tends to be more externally conservative if not a Missal man then at least he resembles one in his praxis, maybe doing his Prayer Books traditional-language option, Rite I, with Tridentine ceremonial, etc., much like the old American Missal. He likes ye-olde-Englishe style in church. The Englishman either uses the Novus Ordo (modern RC books) or a Catholic-options, modern-language version of the current English book, Common Worship or whatever it is this decade, and actually looks down on the old Prayer Book, often held up in America as a symbolic rallying-point for orthodoxy. Novus use by American Episcopalians is virtually unknown. Anglo-Papalism seems a liturgically modern and English phenom. (The old-school ones are as rare as hens teeth everywhere.) And I think their Central and Low traditions differ: American Evangelicals are like English middle-of-the-road; English Evos like Presbyterians or conservative Baptists who happen to have been born Anglican. You dont see that in the States such actually become Presbys and Baptists!
How it happened
Three things made Catholic Anglicanism possible:
- The claim to the historic episcopate/apostolic succession.
- From the Prayer Book: ...but if any remain of that which was consecrated... the Priest, and such other of the Communicants as he shall then call unto him, shall, immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same. If a lasting presence then no theological objections to reservation, Benediction and Corpus Christi processions.
- And last, like a hidden Easter egg, a forgotten leftover rubric in the Prayer Book allowing Catholic ceremonial: such ornaments of the Church, and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England by the authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth.
Ed Pacht writes: [The first Anglo-Catholics in the early 1800s] would have objected strongly to the Missal. They were staunch Prayer Book loyalists, mainly concerned, in liturgical matters, in restoring precise observation of BCP rubrics. (I add: like the old high churchmen going back to the time of King Charles I.) The Tractarians of the 1830s, 40s and into the 50s were a theological movement, translating their theology into a precise and reverent use of the liturgy they had. The next generation of Catholics, however, came to feel that the BCP was not fully adequate for this theology and began enriching the Prayer Book liturgy with ceremonial and text from the historic Western (i.e. Roman) tradition. It was a gradual development, coming to flower by the 1880s and 90s, by which time the Missal form of Anglo-Catholicism had fully developed.
Fr Peter Robinson writes: The Tractarians were strict BCP men, and I guess the the ultimate working out of their position is [Percy] Dearmers The Parsons Handbook (1899) which restores to the BCP Rite a simplified version of the late Sarum ceremonial (RC usage from medieval England, used until the Reformation). (I add: Which is actually what the Prayer Book calls for if you take the Ornaments Rubric literally.) The first Anglo-Catholic Missal was the Directorium Anglicanum, which appeared about 1860. It was claimed that the additions to the BCP order made in that publication came from the Sarum Use. The more Roman school of Anglo-Catholic Ritualism grew up a little later say the 1870s and 1880s, because folks claimed that it was too difficult to revive the Sarum customs. This version of Anglo-Catholicism was codified with the appearence of the Knott (English) Missal somewhere around 1910, and later the Anglican Missal (Society of SS. Peter & Paul) of 1921, the American Missal of 1931 (I add: the Prayer Book with Roman additions and kitted out with Tridentine ceremonial), and the Anglican Missal (American Edition) of 1943.
Paul Goings writes: Dr [Edward] Pusey (one of the Oxford Tractarians) might have objected to the BCP being replaced with another, unauthorized, liturgy, but he was not averse to adding private prayers while celebrating, including reciting the entire Roman Canon around the Prayer of Consecration from the Prayer Book.
Fr Peter Robinson adds: Dr Pusey towards the end of his life took up with Puseyite notions! From about 1870 onwards he adopted many of the ceremonial customs which had come into vogue with the Ritualists around 1860-65.
Two movements in early 19th-century England were reactions to the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. Both looked back to medieval times. The first was the Gothic Revival in architecture; the second the theological movement of the Tractarians at Oxford. It was almost inevitable that the two would merge in the second generation of Anglo-Catholics, producing the movement as described here.
Why the great dream died
After college I lived in England, where medieval
Catholicism once was a reality and where my college acquaintances had got so
much of their inspiration. But for me, being there was a rude awakening that
gave clues why the great Anglo-Catholic ideal never was realized.
First, not all that glitters is gold: what happened in
Anglicanism as Anglo-Catholicism became larger and more noticeable in church
life was not the conversion of most Anglicans to Catholicism but rather a
toleration of Catholic trappings and of Anglo-Catholic beliefs as opinion, not
essential matters of faith. Some Anglo-Catholics themselves fell for this and
essentially gave up their faith while settling for a place in the English (and
American) mainstream. Thus today youll find lots of Episcopal churches with
women ministers and agnostic or a New Age grab-bag of beliefs but also with a
smattering of high-church trappings, ironically more traditional-looking than
what many Roman Catholics do.
Second, the æsthetic (visual, musical) appeal of the
movements worship the sugar of Catholicism as one priest in the movement
once described it as it evolved in the late 1800s drew a lot of people not
committed to the sound Christian teaching of the movement (which included the
sacrament of Confession and traditional moral theology, often drawn from Roman
manuals). Among these dilettante newcomers were many practising homosexual men,
tainting the reputation of Anglo-Catholicism in England to this day, which is
understandable. (Ive seen this weird undercurrent among Anglo-Catholics,
including clergy and ordinands, too often myself.)
That said, one must put in a good word for one of the movements gifts, the English art of tolerant conservatism: charity and discretion about peoples failings while at the same time (if youre Catholic) not making excuses for those vices either. (On this the faith and culture are a good fit with American libertarian beliefs.)
One of the ironies of the movement, and one of its weaknesses, is that although it all hung on Anglicanisms nearly unique claim among Reformation-era churches to have retained the Catholic apostolic succession of bishops, historically very few Anglican bishops have supported the movement. This led Anglo-Catholics to treat bishops almost as magical ordination machines, ignoring the fact that the bishops themselves didnt share their Catholic beliefs, and resulting in constant disobedience to the very bishops on whose existence the whole movement stood! This isolation in practice of the sacrament of holy orders outside the larger context of the Church and its life and belief is a notion utterly foreign to the Orthodox and to Roman Catholics. This also made some Anglo-Catholics susceptible to the game-playing of independent bishops and priests similarly claiming apostolic lines of succession but operating outside any historic or canonical Church.
The Anglican split from Rome could have ended
easily during or immediately after the Henrician schism that started it (Henry
VIII of six wives fame). The 1549 Book of Common Prayer was even still
Catholic enough to pass muster as a legitimate variant of the Roman Rite. But
after 1552 with King Edward VIs changes and the heretic Thomas Cranmer
proceeding to dismantle the old faith, perhaps this was a lost cause.
The English Reformation never was based on truth: from the Henrician schism to the settlement under Elizabeth I it was nothing but a cynical exercise in Renaissance kingship and early modern nation-building. (The satirical poem The Vicar of Bray isnt far from the truth. Today hed be the most affirming and inclusive of them all.)
Today we see the results of this truth while the last of
the sincere Anglo-Catholics suffer. Many have converted to Roman Catholicism
(the movement has been responsible for a small stream of conversions, such as
that of early leader John Henry Newman, from the beginning) only to find in
practice things are as wonky and liberal as what they left behind (only without
traditional Catholic trappings, ironically) and a few here and there are now
Orthodox. A few others have formed their own ever-splintering Continuing Churches.
When I was last in England, in the
architecturally well-preserved medieval city of York, I found there was an old
stone parish church literally nearly on every block. (Too many, in fact, for
the [Anglican] Church of England today to use! In medieval times in York, everybody could walk to Mass from where they lived.) While staying there I went to
a weekday Low Mass at a church I happened to find (it was pretty well hidden),
All Saints, North Street, then a decrepit, practically falling-down medieval
building in an alley. Quite a contrast to the well-off Episcopal churches in
America. There was a tiny congregation of white-haired,
stooped-over parishioners, setting up a statue of Mary on a crumbling niche,
kneeling and lighting votive candles. A middle-aged, birettad priest came out
at the sound of a sacristy bell, and with his aged, vested acolyte (a man, of
course) proceeded to celebrate the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass translated
into English (he didnt use the Book of Common Prayer, the newer Anglican books
or the modernized Roman books at all). Among the last of the sincere Anglo-Catholics.
Long lists of links are perhaps redundant in the age of Google
but here is one if you like. Some highlights:
One of the Webs best Anglican resources
A field guide to Anglican churchmanship
Catholic worship FAQ
Humour: You may be an Anglo-Catholic if...
On the Anglo-Catholic connexion to male homosexuals
With a comprehensive overview of the movement. From a liberal site.
Our Present Duty
By Bishop Frank Weston, from the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress: the faith and social justice
Four audio excerpts: BBC interviews with Bishop Trevor Huddleston
From 1966: the hero of anti-apartheid activism in South Africa talks about his faith
More BBC audio: C.S. Lewis reading
Priestesses in the Church?
By C.S. Lewis from God in the Dock
Why home to Rome isnt necessarily the answer today
The Hymnal 1940
By the Revd Dr Francis Hall
These are out of print but worth reading if you can get them (try ordering them through the links)
Anglo-Catholicism: A Study in Religious Ambiguity
By W.S.F. Pickering
Marginal Catholics: Anglo-Catholicism: A Further Chapter of Modern Church History
By the Revd Ivan Clutterbuck, a sincere, orthodox old soldier for the faith
These are available:
Cranmers Godly Order
By Michael Davies
Holy Bible, King James (Authorized) Version, 1611
The original Anglican version with the Apocrypha unlike Protestant Bibles
The English Missal
The Roman Mass in classic English: reprint of altar edition from 1958
Anglican Papalism (more)
The movement that produced the English Missal and Anglican Breviary
The Kings Highway
A classic instruction manual
Pocket Manual of Anglo-Catholic Devotion
By Bishop Andrew Burnham
These are in print:
Merrily on High
By the Revd Canon Colin Stephenson
History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland
By William Cobbett
The Panther and the Hind: A Theological History of Anglicanism
By Fr Aidan Nichols, OP
More from Fr Nichols