Msgr Andrew Burnham and Romanticism

One of the loveliest talks I heard this week in Oxford was that of Msgr Andrew Burnham of the Ordinariate in England – Reply to Bishop Christopher Cocksworth’s ‘The Character and Gifts of Anglican Worship’. The following passage particularly impressed me:

For myself, looking back I sometimes struggle to understand how and why, for sixty years, I looked for and rejoiced in Roman and Latin liturgy and music in the Church of England. Why was I not content with the noble simplicity of mainline Anglicanism – the weekday surplice and stole Communions I served at in my youth, and the daily glories of choral Evensong? Why abandon The Shorter Prayer Book of 1946, only 314 pages long, and go back to the situation which Thomas Cranmer so acutely describes: ‘to turn the book only was so intricate a matter, that many times there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out’? The answer, I think, is that what drove High Churchmen, at least from the nineteenth century on, at least in part, was the romantic movement. In that sense æsthetics led theology by the nose. For me, it was growing up at Worksop Priory (founded in 1103), singing as a schoolboy at Southwell Minster (founded in 956), and then attending daily Evensong at New College (founded in 1379). Though the Sarum loyalists with their reconstructed liturgies disagreed with the Ritualists and their holiday imports of statuary and vestments from across the channel, all were driven by the longing to re-inhabit these and similar buildings with what Geoffrey Rowell described as the Vision Glorious.

Of all the prelates of the Ordinariate, Msgr Burnham seems to be the one who “gets it” the most. He distinguishes himself from the usual Anglo-Papalist line of following the reforms of Vatican II and Paul VI as I so often saw in London in the 1970’s. However, Romanticism was not mere feeling or aesthetics, but also a philosophical paradigm that changed Anglicanism and gave it something it did not have in its Reformed ethos. Is it dishonest then to speak of Anglican Patrimony? Some would say yes! Romanticism had far-reaching roots in Anglican history and spirituality.

Msgr Burnham might speak of longing for being a part of the Roman Catholic Church. For a Romantic, one would be yearning for very little! I remember those days well, and my correspondence with erstwhile Bishop Burnham before the Ordinariate was established. It was a feverish time for us all. I disagree with Msgr Burnham in that becoming a Roman Catholic is hardly a subject of Romantic Sehnsucht. I had my own experience of swimming the Tiber both ways!

The article needs to be read with great attention, and several other talks are available on the site. More will certainly be added in time.

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2 Responses to Msgr Andrew Burnham and Romanticism

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Very interesting! It’ll be good to read all of it – I had not even checked yet to see if the Conference organizers were already putting papers online: their efficiency is admirable – well done (and well-noted, Fr. Anthony)! And, when convenient, the paper by the Bishop of Coventry to which it is responding. But I suspect from your quotation that things are distilled here which invite further attention in their own right.

    All sorts of Dixian bells sounding in my (foggy) memory with respect to the appreciation of proper diversity, for instance.

    The vivid biographical sentence got me thinking again what a wonderful building-complex Southwell Minster is – but, looking it up in Wikipedia to start with, I find striking details I did not remember (or somehow never learned in my undergraduate art history course in English Cathedrals when we visited it). “In 1805 Archdeacon Kaye gave the Minster the Newstead lectern; once owned by Newstead Abbey, it had been thrown into the Abbey fishpond by the monks to save it during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, then later discovered when the lake was dredged. Henry Gally Knight in 1818 gave the Minster four panels of 16th century Flemish glass (which now fill the bottom part of the East window) which he had acquired from a Parisian pawnshop.” Those sound two excellent examples of learned Romantic attention to diverse historical riches restored to liturgical
    context and use: wow!

  2. Linus says:

    How I wish I were in Old Blighty for the conference! Evensong, especially, college evensong is what led me to a more regular practice of Christianity. The cadences of the various settings of the psalms and canticles, together with the organ, have a unique settling and calming effect on the soul. I never was an Anglican but I have gained a lot from frequenting Anglicans, for which I am ever grateful. Regarding the future of buildings and their use, there is what we can do and what we cannot do, and we must be honest about it. In addition to my experiences, the one thing that had a deep impact on me as a small boy was Betjeman’s documentary about the Churches of Lincolnshire and East Anglia, in which a parson, who after having caused the bell to be tolled, is shown to be saying Morning Prayer in an “empty” church.

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