The Patrimony and Romanticism

I received a very kind e-mail about my last posting on what we continuing Anglicans are continuing. The correspondent in question is a priest in the Church of England but in the Forward in Faith jurisdiction. I think two paragraphs of that e-mail can be reproduced here without breaking any confidences:

I have just read your latest post. Full of good sense. The best of the Ordinariate are now, in the quest for “the patrimony”, pretty well all on the same page and exploring the same themes – the power of romanticism, its place in our history, and its potential for renewal etc. (Some are even a bit less snooty toward those who have not joined the Ordinariate, and renewing older friendships!) The Francis papacy is not all bad, but it is ensuring a rediscovery of the authentic theology and history of the primacy, and the question of what it’s all for. (Fr Tillard may well now be read by a new generation!) Some (not all!) who went to the Ordinariate were attracted in part by the most unfortunate aspects of triumphalist counter reformation Rome. They tended not to be well enough versed in the actual writings of Joseph Ratzinger/ Pope Benedict to know that he himself was never a “maximalist” with regard to the Primacy. I cannot believe he didn’t know that his “retirement” would help “demythologise” the primacy as part of the excruciatingly difficult process of its renewal.


Keep up the ministry with the blog. There was a time not so long ago when I thought that only Tracey Rowland (who wrote and lectured so movingly about romanticism and the nouvelle theologians – even including the impact of John Henry Newman’s writings on the young Joseph Ratzinger!-) and I were the only people left who could see the moving of the Spirit in the great romantic movement.

It was the impression I had of the Ordinariate clergy I met in Oxford, including Monsignori John Broadhurst and Andrew Burnham. I personally congratulated the latter for his comments on Romanticism in his talk, in which I wrote Msgr Andrew Burnham and Romanticism.

(….) 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.

He was kind enough to talk with me for a few minutes in the north quire aisle of the church over a cup of coffee. It was the story of my own conversion. My love for church buildings, organs and choirs preceded my interest in theology and spirituality. The “icon” of God brought me to God. This is of paramount importance in an age when many clergy believe that beauty should be abolished as an act of penance of the western white race. This theme is (he is still alive) uppermost in the thought of Pope Benedict XVI, a German cradle Roman Catholic and a Romantic.

My correspondent mentions Fr Tillard, whose lectures on the Trinity (mostly from the Eastern Orthodox point of view) I attended as a student at Fribourg University. His real subject was ecclesiology, and I have his book Eglise d’Eglises, L’écclésiologie de communion (Paris 1987). I had every admiration for him, and he always had a kind word at oral examinations in the way of a spiritual counsel. We need the ressourcement school of theology also with authors like Louis Bouyer, Josef Ratzinger and Dom Odo Casel. I have a feeling that the leadership of the English Ordinariate may well go down this path with some original studies and scholarship.

Tracey Rowland needs reading. So far I have only read her Ratzinger’s Faith, The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, Oxford 2008. In this book, she makes several references to Romanticism. For example, on page 6: 

Perhaps because so many of the questions raised by the Existentialists and the so-called Modernists were products of the nineteenth-century Romantic movement in Germany, Ratzinger, Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar, and other German-speaking theologians of their generation were able to see that something more than Neo-Scholasticism was needed to address what were fundamentally Romantic movement issues in a period of European history when Christianity appeared to have run its course. To put this point another way, if the central interests of the Romantics were history, tradition, beauty, individuality, and self-development, a Catholic response to this tradition needed to address these themes. Many Thomists who taught in seminaries in the first half of the twentieth century did not go near these topics, either out of a lack of interest or because of a fear of being suspected of Modernism. For seminarians like Alfred Lapple and Ratzinger, the writings of Newman and the Fathers of the Church provided a refuge and a treasury wherein one could safely reflect upon these topics.

I am thankful for my alma mater, Fribourg University, that for the most part taught this kind of neo-patristic and ressourcement theology. The Romantic element dawned on me as I found a common source, not only of a renewed philosophical and theological movement, but also art and beauty. I now do this work as a priest in the Anglican Catholic Church – Original Province. Not being a charismatic personality, I am no leader – but I seem to be able to convey ideas that others will make into a dynamic movement. Each to his own gifts…

* * *

Update – a few articles by Tracey Rowland on Newman’s influence on Pope Benedict XVI

It all reminds me of that enormously optimistic period in the late 2000’s and up to about 2011 when we were all discussing the meaning and interpretation of Anglicanorum coetibus. Tracey Rowland seemed to whittle everything down to Newman, who was without doubt a character in the Romantic movement, and the theological mind of Josef Ratzinger. The latter was always extremely careful about what he said and wrote given his position as a senior cleric in the Vatican. Rowland draws from the greater Romantic tradition when analysing what seemed to matter most in the era of Benedict XVI.

My own impression of Newman was that of someone who was extremely talented but naïve when he left the Oxford Movement to become a Roman Catholic. Keble and Pusey were also pillars of the Oxford Movement, and remained Anglicans. Newman is hailed as an example of the model convert to inspire hundreds of Anglican intellectuals who became Roman Catholics. It is easy to become swept into a movement that isn’t ours!

The idea of seeing Romantic influence is nothing new to me. I was particular influenced by Fr Guy Bedouelle’s church history seminar at Fribourg on Liberalism, for which I prepared a topic on Félicité de Lamennais. I would only discover the influence of Romanticism when I bought Bernard Reardon’s Religion in the Age of Romanticism (Cambridge 1985). This book and a number of other works by Russian philosophers like Berdyaev and Catholic Modernists like George Tyrrell shattered my last links with Thomism, driving me to neo-Platonism and all that implies. That turning point marked me ever since, with Newman a little more in the background as I became increasing alienated from Roman Catholicism in the John Paul II era.

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