This is the first of a short series of modest articles on the theme of Anglican Papalism. I will endeavour to refrain from polemics, but it is possible to see the real issues without treading on other people’s toes, taking the wind out of their sails or whatever metaphor we wish to use if any. I expect no nasty comments of the kind that have appeared on the English Catholic, and I too will refrain from criticism of the Roman Catholic Church.
A criticism that is often levelled against some Anglo-Catholics is their “aping” Roman Catholics yet refusing to submit to Roman Catholic authority and discipline. The less sympathetic critics would say that it is just dressing up and aesthetics without doctrine or spirituality. It may well be the case for some individuals, but I have known some very serious men with a real priestly vocation in this tendency.
At its purest, Anglo-Papalism is a movement that seeks to remove differences between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism to facilitate a movement of corporate reunion as was envisaged in the 1890’s before the fateful Apostolicae Curae came from Rome. One of the best sources for understanding this movement, its ideas and history is Michael Yelton’s Anglican Papalism (London 2005). The corporate reunion never happened, and the movement provoked large numbers of conversions to Roman Catholicism over the course of the twentieth century.
This clergy-driven Romeward movement is best understood in the light of history. The term Anglo-Papalism is a neologism of uncertain origin, but the tendency it designates can be found in the very early twentieth century. We find clergy like the Revd Spencer Jones, Vicar of Moreton-in-Marsh, author of England and the Holy See, recognising the Pope as the visible head of the Church and accepting the Council of Trent and Vatican I. They accepted the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady and even the Assumption (which was not defined ex cathedra until 1950). The only thing they refused was Leo XIII’s condemnation of their Orders!
I see Anglo Papalism as the most “extreme” version and a development of the Anglo-Catholic movement. However, rather than attempt an apologia of the Reformation and how Catholicism survived in the English Church despite Protestantism and a highly repressive persecution of recusants, Anglo-Papalists consider the Anglican Church as part of the western Church that was forcibly separated by the English Monarchy. Regarding the liturgy, the Prayer Book was seen as enjoying the authority of use, but that using the Roman Missal and Breviary was also legitimate. They also used all the para-liturgical devotions in use in Catholic parishes at the time. They saw corporate reunion with the Holy See as the only logical consequence of the Catholic movement. The most prominent community representing this tendency was the Benedictine community of Nashdom, numbering the distinguished Dom Gregory Dix amongst its members. Like the parish of St Magnus the Martyr in London, they went as far as celebrating the Roman liturgy in Latin.
This movement’s heyday as a parallel to contemporary Roman Catholicism in England ran from about the beginning of the century up to the 1960’s. Less “extreme” Anglican Papalists continued the Anglican way of celebrating in English, which they did by using the English Missal, first published in 1912. They reacted against Dearmer’s Parson’s Handbook and rejected the mediaevalist tendency. Their way was resolutely Roman and Counter Reformation.
In this optic, certainly vastly simplified, the Anglo Papalists logically followed all the changes and modifications during and after Vatican II, including the adoption of Paul VI’s reformed liturgy, which they called the Missa Normativa. It was in 1979 when I found this rite used at Saint Alban’s church Holborn, with sumptuous Tridentine ceremonial and music. The most well-known Anglo-Papalist parishes in London, other than St Alban’s Holborn, are St Magnus the Martyr near London Bridge, St Mary’s Bourne Street, St Augustine’s Queens Gate, to mention only a few. Their altars and internal appointments were characteristic, and quite often in baroque French style rather than Roman, marked by very high tapering candles and tomb-shaped altars. Mass facing the people came in relatively late in the Anglican world, and the temporary altar was often brought on only for some of the Sunday Masses. Solemn Mass would continue to be celebrated on the high altar in the traditional eastward position.
Going by most recent photos (I have been away from London Anglo-Papalism since about 1980 – thirty years ago), most Masses are celebrated facing the people as in Roman Catholic parishes. The use of the modern Roman rite is thus logical and understandable by Anglicans who rejected Anglicanism by the very beginning of the twentieth century, and rejected only one piece of Catholic teaching, the bull Apostolicae Curae of 1896 by Leo XIII saying that Anglican orders are invalid.
Last November the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev’d Richard Chartres, warned London clergy, in an ad clerum letter, that adopting new Roman eucharistic rites would be a “serious canonical matter”. He emphasised the extremely significant fact that the position of Anglican clergy who do not join the Ordinariate, yet use the Roman rite, are in an illogical position. He is not wrong. From the moment a partially corporate solution for clergy who believe that communion with the Pope is of the esse and not the bene esse, being a “Roman Catholic” in the Church of England has no credible basis. It can be said that Anglicanorum coetibus has destroyed Anglo-Papalism as a phenomenon of the Anglican Church.
I am not unsympathetic to the position of the Bishop of London. I have noticed that since the Ordinariate was established, Anglican parishes and religious communities begin to return to more Anglican forms of worship like the Book of Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer. It is a matter of being logical. The Ordinariate has certainly provoked Anglicans to take a new look at their heritage and patrimony. Of course, other problems loom causing serious problems of conscience.
I understand how theological and ecclesiological Anglo-Papalism came about. Some resorted to using the Roman rite simply because they were disillusioned with the range of Anglican rites on offer designed to please both Evangelicals and Catholics and needing interpolations from pre-Reformation or Roman sources. The Book of Common Worship has traditional language and modern language versions and options. The English idiom of the latter is the old “lame duck” language that has now become obsolete in the English-speaking Roman Catholic Church. It is not easy to consider returning to a messy loose-ends liturgy after having used something that is more or less clear and admitting of fewer variations like the modern Roman rite.
It is possible that the Eucharistic liturgy of the Book of Common worship is so flexible with its system of options and tolerance for the importing of outside material that it is possible to use any liturgy of the Western Church and claim with sincerity that one is using the Book of Common Worship! What seems to me to be important is not to be using the Roman rite. At least, where the English Missal is in use, it is something that has never been used in the Roman Catholic Church for the pre-Pauline liturgy is in Latin. My own option is the Sarum Use as it stood in the early sixteenth century, but so few know anything about it or would consider using it.
Many aspects other than liturgy will mark Anglican identity in the next few years and perhaps its very existence as an imperfect continuation of medieval Catholicism having undergone a good bath and scrub behind the ears! Anglicans have bread on their plates as the French say. Many of us need to give more serious thought to studying the Divines of classical Anglicanism as well as recent theologians. We need also to learn to appreciate the “English” style of churches and their furnishings. What is trashed and scrapped will never be recovered, but what is planted and watered may have a chance of growing and revealing its beauty in time. Whatever can be said of Anglicanism, it is the Church of my country. It conferred my Baptism and gave me the basis of Christian beliefs and values – as it did also to millions of my country-folk.