Anglican Patrimony Revisited

After the Oxford Conference I would almost call this famous expression Anglican patrimony a kind of “self-consciousness”. I was intrigued to find it coined by Pope Paul VI according to the talk by Archbishop Augustine de Noia of the Roman Curia. De Noia wrote:

The recognition that there is a unique English tradition worthy of preservation was affirmed by Blessed Paul VI in 1970 when he canonized the forty English and Welsh martyrs. On that occasion he praised “the legitimate prestige and worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Communion” (Homily 25 October 1970).

Diplomatic or sincere? It seems to have been a quid pro quo by Paul VI in exchange for the canonisations of a number of priests ministering to recusants and executed for “high treason” by some of the most twisted psychopaths of history on a par with Robespierre. Someone like Topcliffe the priest hunter would have been an Anglican, but we tend to think of the Anglican way as being more to do with the best and highest virtues of Christian humanity rather than man’s inhumanity to man.

In the context of Anglicanorum coetibus and the Ordinariates, it had to represent a way of providing Anglicans with a means of becoming Roman Catholics without the worst of neo-scholasticism, totalitarianism, sentimentalism and a generally Cartesian kind of philosophy imported from French Catholicism. Certain characteristics needed to be identified, and this would prove difficult with Anglo-Papalist clergy who had been using the modern Roman rite for years! And so, the Ordinariate liturgical books had to be based on the Book of Common Prayer and the English Missal. Is the liturgy everything?

Over a year ago, I wrote The Elusive Anglican Patrimony. One thing we have to observe is the extreme diversity of Anglicanism. Most English Anglicans do not call themselves by that title, but usually Church of England or C of E. Only a minority are Anglo-Catholics. For most, it is little more than a museum piece, civic religion, even a butt of jokes. There is every kind of churchmanship from near-Calvinism to happy-clappy Evangelicalism, modern Convulsionaries of Saint Médard to the stiff British middle-of-the-road. It is a world with which fewer and fewer people identify. It is essentially a clerical world. I may be conceding something in the direction of our friend John Bruce! Am I? I spent a day last week with an old friend of mine who is now Vicar of All Saints in Sutton. In a strange sort of way, those Forward in Faith parishes are the last remnants of Christian civilisation, something of the old order and harmony between civic life and religion. They lack the self-consciousness of continuing Anglicans or traditionalist Roman Catholics. They are still parishes in spite of their precarious canonical status in the Church of England. Perhaps Anglican Patrimony is simply English suburban life. Keep the Aspidistra Flying! There must be more to this particular philosopher’s stone.

I felt amazingly validated by Msgr Burnham’s talk, especially when he asked the rhetorical question of why he was “not content with the noble simplicity of mainline Anglicanism” and surmised that the answer was what was driving the Catholic movement from the nineteenth century was the romantic movement. He added “In that sense æsthetics led theology by the nose“, which shows a limited understanding of Romanticism, especially the German Idealist schools. The notion of Romanticism as a basis for a particular Anglican patrimony merited a passing reference in this talk, and it certainly struck me more that the other listeners. However, it is not the patrimony of Anglicanism as a whole, but only of a particular mindset or part of the clerical world.

The term Anglican Patrimony seems to refer to liturgical practices and justifying their not being abandoned by those becoming Roman Catholics. Certainly, there would be many attempts to extend the term to other aspects of Anglicanism: theology and other academic achievements, pastoral care of the laity, another notion of clericalism, willingness to discuss and debate rather than have the strongest impose the “truth”. It is of more relevance in relation to the Roman Catholic world than ours.

Certainly what I would see as the essence of our aspiration is too esoteric and elitist for most people to whom churches minister. The notion of a “spiritual nobility” can seem very proud and arrogant when humility is taught as a virtue. The concept I discovered in Berdyaev suggested a kind of “orthodox gnosticism”, the creative side of humanity which is the domain of the individual person rather than the group. All churches have treasures that have been contributed by individual creators, whether they be Michelangelo, Palestrina, Bach, Jakob Böhme the mystical cobbler, the many theologians and philosophers, each leaving their indelible mark. It is human to identify with what we feel to be ours rather than be told it was all worthless and that we have to conform in every detail to the “true church” micro-management. What we call “patrimony” is something that is bequeathed by individuals to their heirs, in this context, cultural values and monuments. We hope each one of us to leave something to the world, a few writings or pieces of music. It is a part of our hope for immortality beyond our inevitable bodily death.

I sat for many hours in this church. It is the church of St John the Evangelist in Oxford, the Cowley Fathers church and joined by a cloister to St Stephen’s House, the high-church seminary of the Church of England. It is a Bodley church, built in 1896. To me, it is an expression of the Romantic medievalism of the broader Oxford Movement. The proportions are almost perfect, apart from the west tower being a little squat. The rood screen is exquisite. The altar is more Roman than English and the steps are too high in relation to medieval ones. The Gothic script on the wooden vault and the organ case suggests a German influence which goes down beautifully with my tastes. Northern Catholicism indeed! This building has much in common with some of the smaller cathedrals and collegiate churches in France like St Bertrand de Comminges, with the added advantage of sobriety. Architecture is another expression of the “patrimony” concept, but many churches on the European continent have choir screens, choir stalls and liturgical altars. Anglicanism has resisted the debasing of churches from the standards of the 1890’s more than Roman Catholicism, where emphasis was on devotions. However, I have been shocked to see some very radically “wreckovated” Anglican churches from a “modern” liturgical point of view.

What about the future? No one is certain about anything. The present arrangements for the Forward in Faith parishes are quite precarious, falling short of the hoped-for Third Province. The ecclesiology justifying such an arrangement is weak but enables those parishes to continue in their “natural state”. The Ordinariates do not seem to be threatened at present by the post-Benedict XVI era, but opportunities for many things have been passed over – not only liturgy-wise but an offer of a large building in greater London for a school. The Continuing Anglican Churches are still very small and self conscious like the traditionalist Roman Catholics. In England, we are a bishop, twelve priests and only about one hundred and fifty lay members and communicants. The Nordic Catholic Church under Bishop Roald Flemestad, part of the PNCC Union of Scranton, also has a small presence in England comparable with our own. Current dialogue between it and other Churches seems to indicate that priority should be given to solid theological principles rather than unity / intercommunion for its own sake. I do know that the Union of Scranton is interested in “doing business” with the G4 (union of the four main continuing Anglican Churches last October in America). This is encouraging but it will all need a lot of work. It is the notion of what we can bequeath to posterity. It strikes me that the same questions about patrimony are being asked by people in all churches, be they Orthodox, RC, Anglican, Lutheran or anything.

I also saw something very clear in the Oxford conference: an opposition between the current tendencies of “identity politics” and cultural Marxism, on one hand, and reactionary authoritarianism on the other. The latter is very American but is to be found in England. Romanticism has brought me to reject both this modern form of Jacobinism and the collectivist notion of humanity expressed by ideologies close to Fascism. Romanticism took up some of the earlier and higher aspirations of the Jacobins but kept the primacy of the human person over collectivism and all forms of tyranny. Romantic aspirations are wild! They go beyond the confines of any human institutions like Churches, though they aspire to the highest ideals of Christ and the many saints who were distinguished by their virtues and love of God and humanity. I think we all need to have this attitude in order to keep a critical mind and not be bogged down in a quagmire that inspired a friend of mine to write in a private e-mail to me:

I think that here can be a nasty feel about many religious and (sad to say) Catholic establishments in England. there can be an atmosphere of spying, lack of trust, outward conformity and externalism. The seminarians were treated like children (unhealthy) and there were stupid rules about where and when you would wear your hat out and where you could “take tea”. Bruno Scott James in his superb autobiography Asking for Trouble says that some of the really nastiest people he met were “religious”.

I return to John Bruce, not on any intrinsic importance he might represent, but a contradictory mind who presents a challenge, as did various heretical tendencies at the early Ecumenical Councils. One always needs an antithesis to make progress. He eschews any form of medievalism or romanticism. The only alternative he can propose is corporate collectivism, the abolition of the person to “feed” the “system”. At least this is the way he comes over. Eyeballs rolled upwards when I mentioned his name to those I met in Oxford and for whom the subject was relevant, including a few Americans and Canadians. That is his notion of the Church he embraced, and we can only imagine the spirit of Allen Hall seminary in the 1940’s and 50’s! Comparatively, Gricigliano was a more pleasant experience, even with some of the catty goings-on at times.

In the end, we need to turn our thoughts upwards and beyond. We will never find satisfaction in this world. Even in that beautiful church from 1896, there are nasty demons hiding behind the pillars to ruin the dream! I speak figuratively. We can attend Evensong in a great cathedral, but still the organist might play a bum note or the choir might be a little off key in a very difficult piece. Imperfection is human. We look for perfection but it doesn’t exist here. We look for beauty, but it is marred. There are people who believe that harmony and beauty should be abolished because of our collective sins. Whatever we have that is good is only of relative importance, relative to the life and world we yearn and hope for after our bodily demise.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Anglican Patrimony Revisited

  1. Dale says:

    I well remember in the early 70’s attending sung Evensong in this gorgeous church when it was still a monastic establishment (Solemn Evensong was offered every evening). At that time it was an experience well worth remembering. A dark, virtually empty church with the monks only glimpsed through the rood screen, chanting the office with soaring glory of Gregorian chant. A few years later they rejected this tradition for the banal blandishments of modernist Rome.

    • And now there are no more Cowley Fathers in England, a few in the USA and some other countries. As I sat listening to the various talks or saying Matins and Evensong with all the clergy present, I imagined what the liturgy must have been like in this beautiful building!

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I wonder if that is Archbishop Augustine de Noia’s own translation from the Homily of 25 October 1970? The Vatican website only gives the text in Italian (noting that it is also available there in Portuguese, with the English index for his homilies linking to these and nothing in the Latin index -!):

    (I have yet to browse online for unofficial or – quasi-? locally? official – version(s)…)

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I wonder how far Patristics has become a substantial part of the ‘Anglican Patrimony’ in breadth, in and beyond Britain, also where ‘broad Church’ (I think, e.g., of Charles Kingsley!) and variously ‘Evangelical’ strands are concerned (where does Baxter fit in, here – and the young Newman, but also, e.g., the Rev. Dr. Lee Gatiss?).

    And, something probably closely related but distinguishable, the Christian humanistic strand which seems to me to have a flourishing connected with Romanticism, with all sorts of editing – and translating – of mediaeval historical, liturgical, theological, devotional, mystical (etc.) works, and related (historiographic) studies and popularizing and ‘practical’ works (John Mason Neale is one person who immediately springs to mind, here). It is striking, for instance, that the first of the three new Anglican Missionary Bishops, Jonathan Pryke, was consecrated in a context of attention to “7th century lessons from the North East for the evangelization of Britain in the 21st century and the way ahead”:

    • All those men, Kingsley included, were coming from a single cultural reference – Romanticism. The same instinct took those men to search for different references. Men like Neale were medievalists but researched the Fathers as did Newman, Pusey and Keble. In my own way, I grew tired of the dryness of neo-scholasticism as I found in the traditionalist RC world and was helped in my discoveries by going to Fribourg University which was one of the flagships of Ressourcement theology. But I am only small fry! There is also the ideal of humanism, that humanity becomes good and dignified under the effect of divine grace and not to be maintained under suppression and presumption of evil. It is the antithesis of both Calvinism and modern atheism.

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I see someone has Bruno Scott James’s Asking for Trouble online – in some borrowable way which I, alas, do not understand:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s