Discussions of Anglo-Catholicism

There are presently quite a few discussions about Anglo-Catholicism. By far, the most interesting articles are from Archbishop Peter Robinson. He has been writing about the north-end position, a subject upon which I touched a few years ago in North End Celebration. I have only known that in the evangelical parish in Kendal, St Thomas’ church, where I was christened back in October 1959. They still had north-end celebration in the mid 1970’s – that is, on the altar table up against the east wall, so truly at the end. Since then, they have removed the old carved wood altar and put a simple modern communion table in the middle of the chancel, the choir stalls and the organ also removed. In  evangelical Anglicanism, it makes more sense to celebrate the Eucharist facing the people like in the Roman Catholic Church.

It is significant that most things seem to hinge upon this question, symbolic of the theological emphasis of the Eucharist as a shared meal like the Seder or the Christian version of Temple worship of a transcendent God involving a sacrificial act, albeit the bloodless sacrifice of Melchisedech realised in the New Testament by Christ. This question was one of the most debated at the Council of Trent in the thick of the Reformation polemics. I am thankful for the influx of ressourcement and Eastern Orthodox theology over the past century or so.

Some polemicists of our days still try to push high-church clergy and lay folk of the established Churches and the continuing Churches into a dilemma according to which one must be Protestant or high-church as the term was understood in the late seventeenth century, or become a Roman Catholic. The most stabbing argument is asking the question of how a believer can claim to be Catholic and be in communion with bishops who ordain women and approve of homosexual practices. What happens if we side step the issues and are elsewhere? That really gets the bullies where it most hurts!

I have written a number of articles, which can be found easily through this link. I don’t have all the answers. My own experience over the past ten years has been limited to say the least, being isolated except on occasions of meetings and synods and living in an area where precious few are interested in parish Catholicism, let alone upstart “sects”. I continue as a priest on the reassurance of my Bishop that I fulfil my priestly ministry through the Mass, the Office and trying to “teach” through use of the internet. Priests have always done all kinds of different things according to how their bishops used their talents and disabilities.

Many of our problems are caused by worrying about how we can make other people conform to our beliefs in order to confirm our own conviction – if it is not our lust for power, money and sexual gratification. Most people operate according to the demands of social conformity and fashion, and political correctness. A few persons in this world eschew this dehumanisation and set out on the lonely and painful path of self-discovery and individuation, which bring liberating knowledge.

I am thankful that we have some measure of diversity in our continuing Churches, between the “old high church” position based on a moderate bending back from the extremes of Calvinism and the violent language against “Popery” but without rolling back to the pre-Reformation norms or referring to post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism – and the revival of Sarum or adoption of Tridentine doctrine and praxis. The ACC is based more on the Orthodox-leaning formularies of the Affirmation of St Louis rather than the strict Prayer Book, Homilies and the Articles. That is something for which I am thankful. My Bishop tends to be much more “Tridentine” though he usually uses the Eucharistic Prayer from the 1549 Cranmerian rite. I tend to be more “pre-Reformation” with some influence from the old French Church, and celebrate according to Sarum, sometimes in Latin, sometimes in English. I imagine that someone unversed in liturgical minutiae would find it difficult to find differences between the way my Bishop celebrates Mass and the way I do. The two are visibly similar. That is for the liturgy. In the ACC, our theological studies tend to centre more on the Fathers and Orthodox theologians rather than Scholasticism, though many of our priests are very fond of St Thomas Aquinas (as we all are to some extent).

Historically, one thing that made English Anglo-Catholicism stand out in the nineteenth century was its socialism. Continuing Anglicanism tends to follow American conservatism, and English conservatism by extension. It is true that modern socialism is more a question of “other people’s money” rather than humanitarianism, popular religion and care for the less fortunate. It is more difficult to justify oneself through philanthropy because the Welfare State has just about monopolised hospitals, schools and poverty, leaving but few niches open to Christians.

The advent of the Ordinariate has situated things differently. Its origins were mired in obfuscation and deceit from just about every side. England appears to be going well, and America has replaced its first Ordinary with a newly consecrated bishop. Australia is never talked about. I have now said all I will say about the Avignon Patrimony which will certainly be still-born.

It appears that I am a crank for my pains. The word comes from the German word Krank, meaning ill or sick. There is also the idea of eccentricity, which in mechanical engineering is associated with crankshafts. My own Bishop affectionately chides me for my eccentricity. I wrote several articles on my own suspicion that I might be somewhere on the autistic spectrum at the Asperger’s Syndrome level. Though I have not been for a psychiatric diagnosis (at least not yet), it would answer many questions about my life known only to myself and in my secret garden. It is both a gift and a cross to bear in my discipleship of Christ. So perhaps I am a crank, and will join the many little people who cried out in the way, “Jesus, Son of God, have pity on me”. Perhaps that is the best way to be a priest and not a clerical tin-god. One thing that strikes me about the whole “scene” is how few are interested. Very few bothered commenting on my posts on Archbishop Hepworth, which hardly surprises me, even though I know the numbers of readers who consulted the articles. I blog for other people. I don’t need to attract attention to myself. What would I feel I have to sell? Not a lot? On this subject, enough said.

Does Anglo-Catholicism have a future? Compared with the Evangelical churches and mega-churches in America, it has no future at all. Numbers are certainly not on our side in England in the ACC. Our existence is due to the devotion and professionalism of Bishop Damien Mead, together with his heroic perseverance in spite of being dogged with poor health. Beautiful churches are becoming redundant in England by the day, and nobody cares. Our time can be compared to the eighteenth century in that respect. Even with cause for discouragement, what would be gained by giving up? Nothing. So we continue, even if we say The Lord be with you to empty churches and chapels. We either believe in it or we don’t.

Perhaps in a few years, we will get sent to an Orwellian torture camp or get our throats slit for being Christians. For the time being, we are free, socially unacceptable but free. We have to value this freedom and respect it in others, to continue in the same way or change churches or religions. Many polemicists and apologists hate other people’s freedom. I don’t, and believe in freedom very firmly. This freedom includes sin and abuse, and it also includes what is most beautiful and noble in humanity. This is the gift of little Churches made up of people who value this freedom from the tyranny of conformity and fashion.

There is no future of Catholic Christianity among the hylic masses, but there is with persons and little groups of friends and intimate communities. There is a different way of looking at things. I hate crowds, and large numbers of people frighten me. Many of us need a life that is neither socialist or capitalistic, but human. So we continue with our archaic and irrelevant rites of worship, uninterested as we are in what else there is on offer.

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13 Responses to Discussions of Anglo-Catholicism

  1. Jim of Olym says:

    “I continue as a priest on the reassurance of my Bishop that I fulfil my priestly ministry through the Mass, the Office and trying to “teach” through use of the internet. Priests have always done all kinds of different things according to how their bishops used their talents and disabilities.”

    I think that in spite of any disabilities you are doing a good job, Father! Stay calm and keep it up!

  2. Paul Goings says:

    I have practiced Anglo-Catholicism as a layman within the Episcopal Church for all of my forty-seven years, and I suppose I will go on doing so as long as it is possible to. No one I know locally (Philadelphia, USA) is doing much better ecclesiastically. The Roman traditionalists are left to twist in the wind by the Archdiocesan authorities, and is a Sunday-only proposition anyway. The Continuum is on shaky legs, also limited in scope. The Ordinariate is struggling, and it’s not really the religion I’m used to anyway. In terms of numbers the Anglo-Catholics aren’t doing well; but no one else is either. Better the devil you know, and the people you know and love.

    • It all seems to depend on where you live and to where you can reasonably travel for Mass. You have St Clements, that amazing church where an Argentianian bogus pope (Alejandro IX) takes photos and claims it is his church! There are some nice Anglican churches in London where the liturgy seems OK, and Roman Catholics have the Oratory. Being a priest, I just walk about ten feet from my front door across the yard to my chapel, and it’s all there. Most people live out of range of any decent church, whether RC, Episcopalian, Church or England or Continuing. I wouldn’t judge others from my own advantageous situation of being a priest – or yours from living in Philadelphia.

      You are right. No one should be pushed to convert to one of the “One True Churches” or anything but rather stay put as much as possible, with your own spiritual family and the people you know. There are people who trash Anglo-Catholicism in the “established” churches, but can only offer heartache and alienation in the name of a truth they know nothing about.

      … religion I’m used to …” I ask you in all innocence to write another comment on what you find familiar and what you love where you do go to church. I noticed years ago how stability and homeliness are no longer available commodities in the RC Church. “Introverts are the new blacks” – I do so hate churches where we have to be extroverts and “alpha” males or females!

      Good to hear from you again.

      • Stephen K says:

        “The religion I’m used to…”. This is something I’ve been trying to get my head around and articulate for some time. In the end I think that this is what religion, even in the ‘best’ of circumstances, comes down to: what we are ‘comfortable’ with; what we understand, what we like. Just listen to the usual discourse – the liturgy here is Ok, over there it’s atrocious, etc.

        Now I’m not saying that the religion we like or understand or are natively familiar with can’t do us any good, from a spiritual or human relational point of view, but I hope it is at least considered plausible that it reinforces the idea that from start to finish religion is a matter of man’s making and not God’s. That religion serves human purposes, both good and not so good, and that it is entirely plausible and possible (if I don’t dare go so far as to suggest likely) that questions of liturgy are of no concern to God. Something about contrite hearts and burnt sacrifices springs to mind here.

        Indeed I am coming to think that there is absolutely no imperative for any religious preference or choice unless it is the idiosyncratic one that this and not that, religion makes us feel more generous to our fellow humankind. The extent to which any religion, Christian or otherwise, turns us into tribal competitors, religious critics and snobs, and spiritual malcontents, will be, then, the extent to which they, Christian or otherwise, should be eschewed and abandoned forthwith.

        For this reason, no religious form, no religious content, appears to be able to be regarded as intrinsically meritorious or, worse, to be universally preferred to any other. There may be an argument that one’s circumstances mean that God has deliberately placed each of us, since time began, into the religious path we find ourselves following for equal reasons so that any religion we adhere to at any given time is, so long as we sincerely hold to it, the very best we can have. This is not unqualified indifferentism, but rather it reflects, I think, the universal reach of God who, to Hindus will be many Hindus, to Catholics, a Catholic, to Presbyterians, a non-Catholic, to dogs a dog, to fish a fish etc.

        When it comes to religion, I fear that we are all in the position of the religious amateur, who like his or her artistic parallel, can only say: “I don’t know much about God, but I know I what I like”.

      • I have the impression that for Paul Goings, he has been going to the same church for a long time and has been happy. I don’t know the ups and downs of that parish. Generally, like in our homes, we like stability, homeliness, love of those with whom we live and something we can count on. We don’t like being constantly disturbed or told that what we are doing is wrong. This kind of stability and routine can cause complacency and remove the radical nature from Christianity. It is the message of Benedict and Francis, but I’m not talking about Popes – even through the names are highly significant as indicators of their programmes!

        The Franciscan and the Jesuit (I’m still not talking about the current Pope) are stoical in their philosophy. What goes against the grain is good. For St Thomas Aquinas, virtue is a perfection of nature, not denaturing or dehumanization. St Ignatius pushes a bent reed over to the equivalent distance of its bending so that it becomes straight. If we have been too dependent on beauty, then we have to get used to ugliness so that our love of beauty becomes more moderate. That is not my kind of reasoning, but I can understand it.

        Yes, of course, all religion is man-made, as is art and literature, science and technology. It is the response, or number of responses, of mankind to the Transcendent – whether that ultimate being is outside us, within us or the Whole. I can’t see religion as having philanthropy for its purpose, but rather that relationship with the Divine within ourselves and beyond ourselves, or in our Universal Idea as Plato would express it. It should be a natural consequence from this relationship that we seek good for and in others rather than give in to our natural reptilian instincts of dominance, power, money, competition and getting the best sex.

        Of course, religion, when it goes bad, brings those very instincts out of us, Christianity as much as Islam. It is just a difference of historical period. We have been conditioned into the consumer mentality of choosing the best value for money, what brings us the most pleasure. Most people will never get beyond that stage. They will never reach Gnosis and the full picture of the inner meaning of themselves and everything. Churches are essentially made for those people but the higher “spirituals” still need churches (mosques, temples, synagogues, you name it) as much as they need food, human companionship, etc.

        This way of talking sounds like relativism, indifferentism, liberalism (you name it), but it is only at a higher spiritual level that the notion of truth makes any sense above the level of political ideologies and the above-named animal instincts in man. If we aim high, like my old headmaster said in his report, then we can approach this question differently.

      • Stephen K says:

        Yes, Father. But, just to make my meaning clearer. There was no criticism of Paul in my post or anyone who says they have the religion they are used to or like; I was suggesting that that was the basic reality for all of us, whether we put it in those terms or not. Even the religious masochist “likes” or gets used to flagellation, physical or spiritual. It should make us shrink from any species of religious imperialism.

        As to the purpose of religion, I don’t say it’s philanthropic: I agree that religions generally have union or relation with the Divine as an object. But what I was saying was that if in the adherence to a religion we end up becoming hateful, intolerant, unhelpful and/or spiritual malcontents then either we’re doing something wrong or we ought to ditch that religion.

      • Non ti preoccupare! No need to worry – I’m not suspecting you of any aggressiveness … far from it. The big problem (no fingers pointed) is that human nature gets involved with religion, and eventually the religion corrupts (the salt loses its savour and…). Again I’m not accusing you of saying that religion is social rather than spiritual. I tend to say things rhetorically without pointing the finger at anyone. That often gets me into trouble!

        A corrupt religion (a religion that has the effect of causing intolerance, violence, etc.) is like a faulty machine. It is taken to the workshop for repairs or is scrapped and replaced with a new one (or a second-hand one that still works properly). What makes us shrink from ditching Christianity is that it was designed for something good and beautiful. Perhaps the corruption is intrinsic and irreparable, then we are in trouble, because non of us living remembers the pristine innocence.

        I do however have the radical idea that people who are adversely affected by religion would not be blameable for setting out to live a new and different life. Perhaps the hero’s way would be to sail round the world alone or go on a very long walk and experience solitude and other things in life, be they natural or some human culture. Certainly if I had the right boat and sailing skills to take on a storm at sea, I would love to follow Bernard Moitessier‘s example. He was a profoundly spiritual man in the fashion of the 1960’s. Even with lesser ambitions, we need to set off to do something original and off the beaten track. Another way would be to spend time as a “practical atheist” so that all old assumptions can be rebuilt. I would never blame anyone for doing that.

      • ed pacht says:

        This is going to be very roughly expressed, and needs to be prefaced with “as I see it”.

        I’m uncomfortable with the Gnostic idea that spirituality is the search for the divine within oneself. There is a sort of truth in that, but a limited sort of truth that, I believe, can easily mask the reality on which Christianity is based: that we search for the divine that is beyond ourselves and by entering into His creation has drawn all creation into His divine reality. The Christian faith is not a series of doctrines or rituals or understandings, but rather a relationship with a Person who is the infinite God and yet as human as any of us. Everything flows from that. Neither Scripture nor Tradition, nor, for that matter, the most powerful exercise of reason can define what it is to be a Christian. Rather it is the undefinable relationship with a human-divine Savior and the restoration of a mirror-image of Him who created us. Moreover, it is not so much the relationship of the individual to the divine as it is the relationship of a people (and ultimately of humanity) to the divine. Both Scripture and Tradition are consistent in this. In both Testaments, what is depicted is a God in relationship with his people, as a body, rather than one by one. Jesus did not say, “The kingdom of God is within thee,” but uses the second person plural, “…within YOU,” and the bridal imagery of both Testaments is decidedly corporate.

        OK then, religion is a relationship, first, foremost, and entirely, and expressions of religion are most certainly devised by human beings — not of themselves divine. However, God’s revelation of Himself is inexorably bound up with His relationship with the community He has called into being, and thus all the strivings and imaginings of individual Christians, the doctrinal statements and ritual practices thus invented are measured by the community, It is by the growth and development of Tradition (both in doctrine and in practice) that the Church maintains itself as the body of the faithful. Tradition matters. Doctrine matters. Liturgy matters. Even though the details may have been crafted by men, these express a continuity of relationship between the Bride and her Bridegroom. Of course the expression of the Faith will grow and change — it is a living thing — but it is not up to me to change it, and it is certainly not up to any grouping defined by a period of time to change it in ways that produce discontinuity. Discontinuity in a living thing is death.

        I think that Evangelicalism, Traditionalism, and Liberalism all fall under the judgment of Scripture in that the rigidity inherent in all of these schools of thought can so easily stand in the way of the relationship with the person of Christ.

        I hope these ramblings have made some sort of sense. I could goon for a very long time, but think it best that I stop here.

      • Monotheism is very wary of the idea of the immanent divinity. My study of theology has brought me to an approach of conciliating both Monotheistic transcendence with the immanence taught by Gnosticism. This might sound very academic, but is the real issue presently when considering fundamentalist Islam and Christianity. The other “extreme” is Gnosticism and Modernism. With both, rather than battling one against the other, we might be able to present a spiritual and religious vision that won’t be rejected by any sensitive or intelligent person. Sorry to sound patronising, but I seem to get the issue into this nutshell.

      • Paul Goings says:


        I first started attending S. Clement’s occasionally in 1989; that’s nearly twenty-seven years ago now, and more than half of my lifetime, which seems almost unbelievable.

        What originally attracted me there was the commitment to the practice of religion, which I had been unable to find elsewhere. S. Clement’s offered Solemn Evensong & Benediction on Sundays, High Mass on a variety of feast days, plus daily Mass and daily Mattins and Evensong. To be clear, I am not saying that parishes, chapels, etc., which cannot put on a full schedule like this are somehow “defective” or failing, but if one has the resources, well this is the business we’re in, as far as I’m concerned.

        Too, the people I met at S. Clement’s were both friendly and enthusiastic about their religion. I had tried another Anglo-Catholic parish in the diocese, the one where I had grown up, but the people there were decidedly unfriendly. And I tried several parishes in the suburbs where I was living, and the people were friendly and welcoming, but religion was a minor part of parish life, with a Sunday-only approach being mostly the norm. At S. Clement’s I had the best of both worlds.

        In terms of what I find familiar, largely we’ve had the English Missal and Roman ceremonial during my time there. The details have changed from time to time, and as you’ll have guessed, I’m terribly interested in the details personally, but the broad outline has remained the same.

        That’s not to say that life at S. Clement’s has been idyllic by any stretch of the imagination. Given our de facto tolerance of homosexuality, we had gotten short shrift from many other American Anglo-Catholics, not to mention Roman Catholic traditionalists. Too, life under the previous incumbent had its ups and downs. There was a breakout of Roman fever in 2005, under the pontificate of Benedict, and I lost several friends as fellow parishioners, some of whom later returned. The incumbent’s rejection of much of the S. Clement’s tradition during the early years of this decade were the cause of several years of deep sorrow, from 2011-2014, and in some ways it’s a miracle that things have recovered. We lost nearly half of the worshipping congregation, although some of them have now returned as well.

        Through it all I’ve attempted to soldier on (supported and encouraged by my dear wife, I should say) to the best of my ability, and I am very pleased with how things are at the moment. I realize that this isn’t good enough for some people, and one of your interlocutors to this day is seemingly fixated on the fall of Anglo-Catholicsm generally, and S. Clement’s specifically. That’s as may be; we can’t please everyone. We have a number of new people, including some younger ones, all of who seem to be genuinely interested in traditional Anglo-Catholicism, at least to a first approximation. If it all falls apart in the end, well, I suppose I’ll try to find someplace else, if I can, but I see little reason to wander off into the wilderness in search of some numinous “perfect truth” which some people claim exists.

      • Paul,

        It seems like St Clement’s still has a “medieval” ethos with its complete round of Mass and Office. Being in town, you have the resources: choir, organist, servers, clergy, a lovely church (I have seen photos). I am very happy to know it is continuing and thriving. The parallel in England is St Magnus the Martyr near London Bridge.

        Whatever you (singular) or you (the people in St Clement’s parish) do, you will be criticised by conservatives and liberals. You had John Treat who became Roman Catholic and a Cistercian monk, and he lives a fairly secular life as an independent bishop. I always enjoyed his writings, and you probably know him. You are very lucky that your parish has revived. A church that goes down usually goes in the same direction – down.

        I am in the ACC myself and I have my own life story. I have no right to insist that Episcopalians and Church of England people join us. They will come to us if they want. I am very lucky to have a good and broad-minded Bishop in England. Our Archbishop is also a good man. We all have to soldier on as best as we can and with what we have. I don’t have any sympathy for the RC zealots and apologists, who become pale when you mention the name of their Pope. They have their reality to live with, and we have ours, you and I.

        No perfect “true church” exists. We continuers are small and marginal, and often intolerant. You do well to hang onto your spiritual home. I once saw a film about a man flying a flying saucer and being chased by aliens. The pilot, a lovable black fellow, exclaimed “We ain’t hit, we ain’t hit! Stop shoutin’ in my ear! We’re not hit!” For as long as your parish ain’t hit, just carry on.

  3. rke says:

    I came across what I assume was a North End Church in Wadhurst, Sussex a couple of years ago. There were lecterns on both ends of both the main altar and a side altar; both of which were up against the wall. Not seen or heard of it anywhere else for along time so this was a suprise. I was only visiting so didn’t attend any services.

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