Sunday, 10 June 2012

Contrasting Definitions

Time, indeed like an ever rolling stream, has appeared to go quickly since we became Catholics.  A year ago, we were in our final month at Bourne St, preparing to leave the Church of England and our status as Anglicans.  We were embarking upon a eucharistic fast that was to last several months, in preparation for our eventual reception into the Catholic Church in early September.  It was appropriate that one of the last services we attended as Anglicans was the Bourne Street Corpus Christi devotion, in which we could give thanks for all the grace that had been poured out upon us in our time there.  Bourne Street always marks the Sunday following Corpus Christi with the grandest of services, greenery and herbs strewn on the floor during a procession, and of course some very fine music.  We wish our friends there well for their celebrations tonight. 

At St James's we mark Corpus Christi today with a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament after Mass.  We look forward to welcoming Fr Christopher Pearson of the Ordinariate as guest preacher.

That Bourne Street service last year was the final occasion upon which I served as an Anglican, acting as MC at a service of Evensong, Procession and Benediction.  How apt that the first time that I should serve at the altar as a Catholic should also be for the same form of service and in the same capacity.  Below you will see a couple of pictures of the Catholic service at which I served, the Ordinariate Anniversary at St James's, followed by a couple of pictures from Bourne St. 

You will see why we for us the progression seems entirely natural and normal.  Very much a continuation of the same, but crucially, now in communion with the Successor of St Peter.  A couple of pictures from the Bourne St archive now follow, giving a further indication of the reverence with which Corpus Christi has been treated in Anglo-Catholicism.  The first picture is from 2011, the second from c1995.

Our memories of those happy days have not flown, forgotten as a dream, but are very much fresh (all these Isaac Watts quotations were not intended to link with the mention of St Anne in our previous post, but do so quite nicely).  While in many ways so much has happened over this year, some of which has been recounted on this blog, in other ways we consider that what has happened was nothing more than the natural outcome for us, given the way we had understood Anglo-Catholicism.  There was a predictability, perhaps even in some ways an inevitability about what has happened, even if not about the way it has been allowed to happen, through the graciousness of Anglicanorum coetibus

Now, more than ever, it has become very clear that there was no one definition of what people understood by Anglo-Catholicism.  There had always been a wide range of sub-groups, that themselves could either be virtually entirely in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church, or in reality quite far from them in some important ways.  High Church Anglicanism and Anglo-Papalism are but two of the most long-established terms, but even there the difference is clear.

Over the past 20-30 years, the picture has become even more confused.  Movements such as Affirming Catholicism have sprung up, which happily absorb much of the liturgical and sartorial practice of the Catholic Church, while adopting an approach to moral teaching that is not based on the Catechism but on what people feel - quite genuinely - to be right and good.  It's the same old debate about there being a Truth that has been revealed, and is interpreted afresh in each generation, or there being an ongoing series of revelations in which the Truth today is not the same as the Truth yesterday (and indeed even today there can be multiple Truths, some of which can contradict each other).  We touched on this topic in this recent and widely-read post.  Anglo-Catholics of a more traditional outlook were sometimes prone to using the odd slightly unkind nickname for Affirming Catholics, the more printable of which include AffCaths and indeed De-Caffs.  However, the same naughtiness was shown in return, with Forward in Faith and its quasi-predecessor Cost of Conscience having been unkindly labelled Backwards in Bitterness and Price of Prejudice respectively.

That debate continues with Anglo-Catholicism.  With the departure of many to the Ordinariate, and the seeming acceptance of the changes likely to emerge from this summer's General Synod, the overall theme of Anglo-Catholicism seems to be shifting.  The debates on the approach to moral teaching will remain, but there now seems to be a view that the primary object of Anglo-Catholicism is not [to act] defence of Catholic Truth and...[to labour for]...the Reunion of Christendom, (as the words on the memorial to Lord Halifax say, see the photo in this post) but rather to be one of a number of contrasting strands of Christianity that should co-exist within the Church of England, even if the teachings of those strands are in some very signficant ways utterly incompatible.  The new Anglo-Catholicism now seems to be moving towards saying that if corporate reunion with the Roman Church were to come along, that would be lovely, but only if Rome moves on a number of significant matters, because Rome cannot expect to dictate to the Church of England the terms on which any such corporate reunion would take place. 

Perhaps this was obviously going to be the case.    The people who felt more of a draw to Rome and the Catholic Church have left or are very seriously considering leaving: yet this is not a new trend.  Yes, there have the departures since the 1990s, and indeed since the Ordinariate, but ever since Anglo-Catholicism began (in the sense we understand it arising from the Oxford Movement), there has always been a steady flow over the Tiber, even before the moment that Blessed John Henry Newman concluded that his eloquent and impressive arguments about the catholic nature of the Church of England, written while still an Anglican, did not stand up to the reality of the day (see here for details of where Newman drew his line in the sand, it being, to mix metaphors, a final straw at the end of a long process).

Newman's Tract 90, in which he argued that the 39 Articles of the Book of Common Prayer were not an attack on Catholic theology but rather an attempt to limit excesses, caused a great stir.  In response to protests from (Anglican clerics who were) senior in the University of Oxford (including Archibald Campbell Tait, mentioned so prominently in our most popular ever post) the Anglican Bishop of Oxford requested that there not be a Tract 91, and neither there was.  Tract 90 was published in 1841, just before Newman's withdrawal to Littlemore in 1842, from where he was received into the Catholic Church by Blessed Dominic Barbieri in October 1845.

Anglo-Catholics still cite Tract 90 today in defence of the great Anglo-Catholic vision of old, but given what is happening around them, one wonders if they can really continue to do so for much longer, at least in respect of the Church of England as it is today.  The drive of the Tracts for the Times, particularly Tract 90, was to show the Church of England as ecclesiastically catholic rather than protestant, ie that it was in tune with the teachings of the Catholic Faith.  As we mentioned a week or two ago, Geoffrey Fisher, a recent Archbishop of Canterbury summed this view up in the following way, just after the second world war.
The Church of England has no doctrine of its own, save that of the one Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.
When we quoted this recently, a comment on that blogpost was picked up upon by the excellent Let Nothing You Dismay blog.  There, the author pointed out
Although the idea of a synodical structure which would allow the laity, clergy and episcopate an opportunity to deliberate together on the issues facing the contemporary Church is (in theory) a laudable one, it has proved disastrous in practice. And this has been, not only because of the adoption of a quasi-parliamentary 'democratic model which has given the politicisation of church life a focus and an official platform, but because within Anglicanism there is no consensus as to what constitutes the authentic tradition.

Archbishop Fisher's comments about the Church of England having no doctrine which is not that of the catholic church are often seized upon by people like me, but the truth is that, however authoritatively they were expressed, they remain just the views of one Archbishop of Canterbury among many; they may have been an accurate snapshot of the consensus at the time within the Church, but are they any more than that? It's instructive that his comment was made just before the then established consensus (perhaps the high water mark of Tractarian influence within Anglicanism, going far beyond those who would identify themselves as 'Catholics') was about to fall apart.
As usual, the LNYD blog is spot on.  You cannot argue for the catholicity of the Church of England now (I make no comment about the past, nor do I make any comment about orders, which is an entirely different point) without addressing the issue of the change of direction.  You cannot logically argue using Tract 90 without volunteering to write a Tract 91, arguing the impossible, that everything that is now happening in the Church of England will not change the catholic vs protestant analysis that so obsessed the Tractarians who gave rise to what we call Anglo-Catholicism.

So in the CofE for those Anglo-Catholics who stay, change is required.  You can see this even from the wording of the statement issued by the Forward in Faith bishops last week. 
.....we must say something about diversity. At the heart of our theological tradition is an acceptance that the Church of England is enriched by the range of viewpoints within its spectrum. We are committed to the recognition of this diversity and to the liberty that protects it. Of course, the defence of liberty is one of the functions of justice and law, of which the monarch is guardian and symbol.
Really?  Diversity, with mutually incompatible theologies, is that a good thing?   Of course, this phenomenon is not new in the Church of England, but it has not always been seen as a strength of Anglicanism.  It seems there is no longer the attempt to catholicise or re-catholicise the Church of England, but that diversity of opinion,  Anglo-Catholic (of whatever hue) and protestant is good.  Well, here we come back to what we think we mean by saying "the Church", or even "the Catholic Church".  

The Forward in Faith bishops go on to say:
.....our search for unity will commit us to continuing engagement with the ARCIC process and dialogue with the Orthodox Churches.
So there you have it.  Anglicanorum coetibus is not on the agenda, the outcome of July's General Synod is irrelevant.  Christian Unity for the Forward in Faith bishops is the ARCIC process and the Orthodox (who, as we have noted before, do not think in the least bit favourably of the current Anglican changes).  That means it is not a high priority for them.  In the words of the Anglican Archbishop of New Zealand after the end of the recent ARCIC talks in Hong Kong:
There seem to be many obstacles from a human point of view, and it does not seem likely to have fully visible unity in the near future
Diversity constituted by incompatible theologies, and what risks appearing as institutional loyalty (however much any of us love our view of what the CofE is or has been) at the expense of a clear impetus towards unity, those are not goals for which any of us in the Marylebone group could have ignored this gracious call to Unity issued by Pope Benedict.

For us, it is sad to note this seemingly different approach.  However, we must acknowledge that it is only sad because it relates to our vision of what Anglo-Catholicism was all about.  We had always seen the Church of England as being part of the Church, but being in impaired communion, we had viewed the Catholic Church as being the rock from which....[the Church of England was]...hewn, we had seen ourselves as being separated by accident of history.  We had never seen the Church of England as a standalone entity in which we could seek to maintain a strand of catholicism.

So while it may all be rather sad for us, the changes may be positive and welcome for others.  The word Anglo-Catholicism has never meant just one thing, and the Anglo-Catholic movement has never had one single goal upon which all its adherents agreed.

Let us move back to Corpus Christi. Here are two contrasting pieces of music to prepare us for today.  First, some Tallis, and then another appearance from Frank Patterson.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent post.

    This blog just gets better and better.