Facing Criticism

This is something I should address as unofficially as possible, therefore in my personal blog. I stumbled across a blog with which I was not previously familiar, and which published The Conciliar Anglican (Fr. Jonathan) on The Rise of Parties.

It really is the “old problem”, which we are not going to solve here. So, I will just offer a couple of reflections in the knowledge that I will be shot down. I have no personal experience of American Anglicanism, either in TEC or the Continuum. There are big differences between our “English” way and the “classical Anglican” ethos in America.

My experience of Anglicanism was for the most part outside the “spikey” parishes of London and the South Coast. I developed something of an interest in Christianity from my time at school. It was public school (English “public” school that is, not American) religion – broad, liberal, doctrineless and passe partout. We in the choir had blue cassocks and surplices. The musical repertoire was everything that was most ordinary in Anglicanism, and sometimes we got some “smells and bells” at York Minister in the days of Dean Alan Richardson who had followed in the footsteps of Dean Milner-White. What is Anglicanism to a cradle Anglican? Probably something like Roman Catholicism to a cradle Roman Catholic. It’s something you go along with until you have enough awareness to seek an identity or reject it altogether as irrelevant to the rest of our existence.

I was not conscious of belonging to any kind of “reform” movement. I was just in the Church of England and developed an interest in church music. As I found “bells and smells” at York Minster, I came across Evangelical parishes in our city and some boys at my school who wanted to spice up chapel services with their guitars and catchy songs. By 1973, our chaplain introduced Series III and the first modern-language services that needed special compositions and not the classical repertoire we had been doing. This was my first notion that different “tendencies” wanted to do different things with the Church.

As time went on, I read something about Methodism, since we occasionally had ecumenical services with them. Their churches were so different, usually with a big central pulpit and the organ behind, with a little wooden table in front and the communion rail with little holes for the individual communion glasses. We Anglicans had a central altar (eastward facing or facing the people), the pulpit off to one side and we were given communion from a common chalice. This was so of the most Evangelical parishes.

One impression we English Anglican boys got was that it was a matter of taste and what felt best with. We chose our church because the music was good, because there was a fine organ, because we liked the Vicar, the services, whatever. No one I knew liked to be pressed into any one mould of conformity. With very little doctrinal basis, as with Roman Catholic youngsters, most of us would just “grow out” of religion.

Did we have an idea about Anglicanism having to be distinctive? I preferred Anglican churches to the non-conformist style, and I didn’t find myself attracted to the kind of piety I found in Roman Catholic churches where I occasionally played the organ, surrounding Saturday afternoon confessions and evening Rosary. As for doctrinal formularies, I hardly knew what the Thirty-Nine Articles were – and we still had the Prayer Book for Evensong. Actually in the choir, we didn’t use prayer books, but pointed psalters, a hymn book (Ancient and Modern Revised) and printed sheet music for the versicles and responses, the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis and the Anthem. We had the services as we were used to them, but without self-consciousness.

In my Anglican life in the late 1970’s, I wandered into some very “spikey” churches in London on my many “organ crawls”. I was reminded of the York Minster choir and our school choir processing up opposite sides of the Minster, led by acolytes in dalmatics swinging thuribles for the Epiphany 1973? We sang the lovely old carol O’er the hill and o’er the dale. The “spikey” churches reminded me of all that. It was in 1979 when I discovered an Anglican parish using the Novus Ordo Roman rite. That was at St Alban’s Holborn, up at the high altar and using sung settings with the Prayer Book texts, or even Latin as when using compositions by Mozart, Haydn, Byrd or others. I drew the line when I heard an East-End vicar talking about putting in an altar facing the people to conform to Roman Catholic norms!

I preferred the Prayer Book texts from the point of view of musical settings and an eastward-facing Eucharist rite. On the other hand, I witnessed a north-end 1662 service in one of London’s City churches and found it bizarre. I only went into the place on account of the fine eighteenth-century organ in a church that was not bombed during the Blitz in 1940. I began to hear about comprehensiveness, but that seemed to go with ecumenism, and I remember deeply offending a clergyman because I confused the two terms. The poor man understood that I sinned through ignorance, and I was just a lad of my time.

In time, I assimilated notions about the Tractarians and the Oxford Movement, and even about the London slum priests going to prison in the 1860’s for Ritualism. I didn’t have the impression of men “playing at religion” even if there were some very “camp” homosexual men around. That was and is London and places on the South Coast like Brighton.

I don’t think I ever heard of Hooker until I had become a Roman Catholic and was nostalgic about Anglicanism, and therefore read about it. Newman was supposed to be the great hero of converts, and it seemed strange he took so long to work everything out! Coming to the point, some of the identitaire articles floating about have no bearing on the Anglicanism I knew badly but of which I was a part.

My Roman Catholic experience marked me deeply, perhaps to the extent that I was too Anglican to be a good Roman Catholic and too influenced by the Tridentine forms I sought out to be a good Anglican. I sought out a third way in the light of my experience in France in parishes like that of Fr Montgomery-Wright. That way would be the pre-Reformation, medieval and conciliar tradition of Catholicism. I was struck by the quip by Oscar Wilde in his famous letter to his boyfriend about the meaninglessness of reformations. There is something so tedious about being reformed – it’s all about having to put on one’s Sunday best rather than enjoying life! I was always interested in seeing Catholicism as it “naturally occurred” in countries like Italy, a phenomenon of increasingly rarity.

So, comprehensiveness based on “reformed Catholicism” was never much of a priority for me.

This article to which I make reference assimilates me to “modern” Anglo-Catholicism, perhaps something like St Alban’s Holborn, St Mary’s Cable Street or Bourne Street. Lots of lace and big six? I have nothing against, since I was a seminarian at Gricigliano and unashamed baroque Catholicism seemed a good contrast with the more dour and humourless traditionalists. Since then I dropped the lace and took the plunge with the Sarum liturgy, whether others are interested or not – it makes no difference here in France.

Blog articles and comments of modern Anglo-Catholic clerics such as Chadwick and Haverland…

I am indeed flattered to be compared with my Metropolitan Archbishop who is an excellent theologian and an erudite man.

Was comprehensiveness really an ideal with the Tractarians? Perhaps it was, but this is the first I hear of such a notion. I would not dare to speak for Archbishop Haverland, but I have not jettisoned anything that was never a part of my religious baggage. Am I playing church? Am I wanting the church I want and forgetting the Church which God wanted. So, my Archbishop, I and others are not only “modern” Anglo-Catholics but also sectarians! I have a feeling or surreality, as if someone were calling me a pink elephant and I were looking over my shoulder to see whether the description fitted me or someone standing behind me.

Strangely, I am not really interested in a “church I want”, but more in finding the Church at all. Where’s the comprehensiveness in indicting our intentions and interior motives? What is not sectarian is seeking to base comprehensiveness on a narrow and intellectually unsatisfying ideology? It is a bit like trying to examine current social issues in the light of Marx and Lenin rather than the research of those with the benefit of more relevant data?

What makes them so sure that God wants something based on Reformation-era ideas and reactions against the Roman Catholicism of the time? Has God ever expressed any preference for any “type” of Church? The binary thinking (which is not merely for pedagogical purposes) is quite astounding. Only if you’re “modern Anglo-Catholic” are you seeking a “pure” Church consisting on bits and pieces chosen from the “cafeteria”. Now where have I heard that one before? Oh! Of course! From the conservative Roman Catholic apologists.

So, we “modern Anglo-Catholics” are bound to die out eventually. Isn’t that rather obvious? We’re all going to die one day! But, the idea of Anglicanism as “conciliar Catholicism” rather than Protestantism with the hard edges filed off seems still to be going more or less well. People have been going to Rome and Orthodoxy since the days of the Oxford Movement – and they were hardly “modern Anglo-Catholics”. Some Evangelicals have also gone to Rome and Orthodoxy, as they still do. It is not because of “modern Anglo-Catholicism”, but because a particular person or group believes that this is the right thing to do.

It is manifestly silly to blame “modern Anglo-Catholicism” for people being “bled off”. Perhaps “they” should blame Tractarianism and not only “modern Anglo-Catholicism”. Well, before Tractarianism, Anglican pottage was latitudinarian and an affair of country squires and the Establishment gentlemen sporting their facial hair in their Clubs.

So we “modern Anglo-Catholics” have “no real understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and are merely “camp” aesthetes! It’s a point of view… It’s time to question this term “modern Anglo-Catholicism”. If this were an accurate way to describe us, then why are we using old liturgical forms rather than the Novus Ordo? Perhaps “modern” means anything since the sixteenth, seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. It’s all rather slippery.

It comes to another consideration which is no less than a “true church” claim and the correlative intolerance. It strikes me that such intolerance and branding of ones “adversaries” will do more to discredit the Church and alienate seekers than either the importing of “foreign” traditions or reviving “obsolete” customs.

I wish all the best to all groups of Christians in their endeavours to bring about unity between themselves. I sincerely hope for their success in making their message more credible to tired, cynical and alienated people of our time. Perhaps only in America can any kind of Christianity make any claim to worldly success. That being said, I am hardly naïve about the fact that the greatest oppositions between Continuing Anglican factions are in America.

For my part, I am not jealous about the label Anglican. When I was a boy, it meant being in the Church of England. I quoted Bishop Mercer’s piece about extra-mural Anglicans a while ago. We all have difficulties in defining our identity or our particularity, and we squirm about using the title Catholic for fear of offending the Roman Catholics. Orthodox is even further away from our horizon as a word. Do we define ourselves by the institutional body we belong to or by our belief and praxis? It is a tendency among many independent Catholics to use special adjectives so that they don’t fall foul of accusations according to which they are misrepresenting themselves as other kinds of Catholics. This is a big problem.

What do we do? Go away and let the strongest stake their claims to the exclusion of all others? If that the Church God wants?

It strikes me that the goal should not be one of gathering all the little Anglican communities and making a big and politically powerful institutional body, but rather tolerance and recognising Christ in other people and the groups they belong to. Anyway, I could go on about this forever, and those who are convinced need no convincing, and those who are not convinced will never become so. I leave off this little article with the famous quote:

For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.

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17 Responses to Facing Criticism

  1. Dale says:

    Good Lord, I have never considered myself to be “modern” in any form! It is rather nice to be finally considered slightly up-to-date!

  2. Dale says:

    Also, I suspect that I am a snob as well, it certainly beats being a slob…the common man is vastly overrated; we tend not to have low-class as much as no-class.

  3. Stephen K says:

    Your religious development and discoveries, Father, could be retold with just a few name, place and flavour detail changes for many of us. Idiosyncrasy and happenstance also play a huge part in particular directions, and I have come to the conclusion that if God is quietly leading us each by an invisible hand (or pursuing us like a hound of heaven) then it applies to every soul that ever lived. But whether this is the case or whether it is all random chaos theory at work, I go on to conclude that there is no basis for sectarian self-congratulationism. So I am in considerable sympathy with the thrust of your remarks, Father. I think our earliest religious culture stays with us longer than we often like to think, but that also many of us – perhaps all – are or become more eclectic than we might prefer to profess at any given time. One of the things I suspect obtains is that in one way or another we spend our adult religious lives searching for the beauty (and/or truth) that we first sensed or experienced as children or youth, rather like the way old songs never quite lose their particular magic, and we delight to come across a long-cherished book. These are just my own thoughts.

  4. Pingback: A Comment by Young Fogey | As the Sun in its Orb & New Goliards

  5. Felix Alexander says:

    Dale, have no fear; modern typefaces emerged in the 18th century and (TeX users aside), has been long out of fashion. Being “modern” gives no certainty of being up-to-date! Mind you, the current fashion in published books seems to be for Old Style fonts; conclude what thou wilt.

    Fr Chadwick, (here for some humor I’m less confident of—my apologies if it fails entirely) “What makes them so sure that God wants something based on Reformation-era ideas and reactions against the Roman Catholicism of the time?” — well, seeing as “many are called, but few are chosen”, we can therefore conclude that the least popular forms are the ones that God approves of, and your Sarum must be his most favored!

    • Interesting way of looking at it. 🙂

      In every human conflict, people have always claimed that God was on their side. That’s something that makes Professor Dawkins very happy, the Devil too!

      • Felix Alexander says:

        But yo can hardly imagine a Christian (or Jew, Muslim, Bahá’í, …) saying “God’s on their side, but let’s kill em all anyway!”

        The Devil might be pleased by every blasphemy uttered by an arrogant Christian, but it disappoints me that a person as smart as Dr Dawkins can’t see the sheer illogic in that position. He is a “one true (Christian) church” kind of atheist, though. So was I, mind; like the Tardis, “it’s bigger on the inside”.

      • Yes, Dawkins, from what I have read and the interviews I have seen on TV and Youtube, is intellectually dishonest. His position is based more on ideology than science. The old philosophical definition of science is that it is certain knowledge obtained from demonstration. My only point here is that we as Christians, all too often, give ammunition to atheists who make use of it to make people believe they can debunk Christianity.

    • ed pacht says:

      I’m not sure modern science actually has a place for “certain knowledge” when every observation can (and should) be questioned as to its accuracy, and every statement, be it called hypothesis, theory, pr natural law, is begging to be disproved or changed. I tend to bristle when someone asserts that “science says…” Science does not precisely “say”, but rather it asks. A scientist is not only allowed, but, in essence, required to question every assertion made in the name of science — so long as his questioning is rigorously in accord with scientific method. A man of faith, then, is not required to knuckle under to what “science says”, but does have an obligation to take science seriously and to use scientific rigor in so questioning. Neither Dawkins nor the fundamentalists evidence any understanding of what science is.

      • Etymologically, science comes from the Latin word scientia, meaning knowledge. For example, I know that things fall because that is what happens every time I hold an object and drop it. I happens every time, so that is science under the aspect of knowledge.

        It is also an intellectual discipline in the same way as theology is a science – human intelligence seeking knowledge and meaning from things it doesn’t yet understand. Theories and hypotheses are constructed, and natural things that are objects of study of physics, chemistry and biology, can be subjected to experiments to find constant laws and principles. It’s an ongoing process.

        The important difference between science and ideology is the method – a posteriori and not a priori. A scientist goes into a question with an open mind and is ready to weigh evidence and the result of demonstration. An ideologue has everything worked out, and everything else has to fit into his “reality”.

        But, with the advent of quantum physics and all sorts of mind-boggling discoveries, things natural and supernatural are not so simple. So I leave this comment with an open mind.

      • Stephen K says:

        Here’s a further nuance, ed: there can be certain knowledge but only in a subjective sense. That is to say, “certitude” is a quality which we attribute to ourselves when we do not think there can be any further doubt. Knowledge is effectively an attitude we have towards phenomena or claims – an attitude of acceptance that x or y is so, or not so. Thus knowledge is not a thing external to ourselves, to the individual. It is a happy circumstance when many individuals adopt the same attitude to any given x or y, and the more there are who share it with us the more certain we may be tempted to feel, since the doubt about our own perspicuity is considerably allayed by the reassurance – however flimsy – that others have come to the same conclusion. It is therefore best not to use the word ‘knowledge’ as synonymous with “truth” or “facts”. And, as you point out, ed, “science” is the name for a process, an approach, a quest for understanding.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Say what you will for the magisterial Reformers, but they did try to find an absolute bedrock of certainty upon which to build. And for them it was Holy Scripture, OT and NT. They could find no other that had a constant, direct connection back to God, Christ, and the Gospel. I’ll take that over the Enlightenment, Marx, Freud, Communism, Fascism, modernism, post-modernism, scientific materialism, etc. any day! Starting with Genesis, the Psalms, John’s Gospel, Acts, Romans, and James… 😉

  6. William Tighe says:

    “And for them it was Holy Scripture, OT and NT.”

    Which meant, of course, sola scriptura, but they could never provide a coherent answer to the questions of who or what can authoritatively interpret scripture, since it is not self-interpreting and often not clear on issues of great importance (such as the scriptural basis of sola scriptura), and how to arbitrate those issues on which educated studious scripture scholars (even for the moment excluding Catholic ones altogether, and confining ourselves to those trumpeting their belief in sola scriptura) disagreed, such as the nature and purpose of the Eucharist. It took a later generation of Protestants to decide that, instead of Scripture being clear on all important theological questions — which meant that if it was clear (to academically qualified scholars, of course, not your ordinary hoi polloi readers) on such matters, then when the “experts” disagreed on serious matters, e.g., the Eucharist, it meant that only one of the disagreeing parties could be right, and the others either blinded by prejudice or arguing in bad faith (hence the extreme bitterness of Lutheran/Reformed disagreement on the Eucharist) — only those matters on which Scripture was clear (the number of which has seemed to diminish steadily ever since) were important.

    So instead of building their foundation on “an absolute bedrock of certainty” they chose, instead, a heap of sand, and as a result of its subsequent shiftings and slidings their “house” has splintered, with different portions moving in different directions ever since.

    • Michael Frost says:

      I’m talking only about the magisterial Reformers in the 16th Century. Certainly not the radical Reformers. The hash made of the Reformation today is its own issue. But even here, the general overlap amongst “Protestants” on basic dogma is quite extensive.

      If one studies the various Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican confessions, catechisms, etc., the amount and type of overlap is amazing. The very basics: justification by faith (see the RCC-LWF Joint Declaration on Justification. 😉 ), Holy Scripture, to be read and preached, as the revealed Word of God, the two sacraments instituted by Christ, and the historic understandings of the Trinity and Incarnation/Resurrection/Ascension, & 2nd coming with Judgment, Heaven & Hell. Which is why RCs and EOs oft have trouble understanding their infighting? And why they’ve achieved so much harmony and unity over the past 50 years or so. Isn’t ECUSA in “communion” with both some Reformed and Lutheran jurisdictions? And has altar sharing agreements? And I thought the CofE was pretty eucharistically friendly with the Swedish Lutheran Church? Similar things in Germany.

      You’re focusing on perceived differences and in the most controversal areas, like the eucharist. But us EOs essentially punt and label it all an unexplainable mystery. We try not to be either RC or Protestant. (Yet, our epiclesis, invoking the Holy Spirit to activate(?)/effectuate(?) the mystery, has some interesting affinity with Reformed and Anglican thought regarding the ascended Christ who is physically present in Heaven and the mystical communion between those who receive the eucharist and the body & work of Christ. Neither Rome nor Wittenberg have ever felt constrained to require an epiclesis; the words of institution can do just nice for them both. The LCMS has resisted attempts to add an epiclesis for the past century and they are firm believers in the real presence!)

      Saying by scripture alone does a great disservice to the magisterial Reformers. Notice their acceptance of the historic creeds! And their use of the patristic fathers! And some of the interesting positions they took on now controversal issues like the perpetual virginity of Mary! In the 1520s and 1530s universal agreement on this issue amongst them was so obvious that it surprises modern commentators. I’m thinking even an early Reformed giant like Oecolampadius, who is oft wrongly attacked for his views on the eucharist, pointed out the importance of this Marian Dogma! Both Luther’s Smalcald Articles (1537, Latin version, in the Book of Concord) and Bullinger’s highly influential 2nd Helvetic Confession (1566) clearly teach her perpetual virginity. Scripture alone?

      Or just take the uniformity of magisterial dogma on infant baptism: Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon, Bucer, Bullinger, Cranmer, Beza, etc. and all their documents.

      Is interesting that within RCC there have been and still are a plethora of schools and opinions. Some are Thomists. Some Augustinians. Etc. And even the RCC hasn’t definitively decided everything. Take foreknowledge-election,-predestination. In a different post Fr. Anthony comment on some of the great divergent thinkers in this area (e.g., Molinism).

  7. ed pacht says:

    Ultimately certainty is not the same as provability, and it may be said that all thinking rests somewhere on a foundation of faith. It is a faith proposition of enormous dimension to believe in the possibility of reliable observation, and the most materialistic scientism has to make that leap of faith. One may speak in terms of probabilities and thus derive probable conclusions, but …

    Who can say that the billions of observations of falling objects (referenced above) are a certain predictor of future events? is it inescapably certain that the next time we drop something it will not hover in place or take off in another direction? Could not all our observation be confined to a tiny portion of infinite (or near-infinite) reality? The only certainty is in revelation, which, of course, is only perceived by faith. It is on the ground of a Judeo-Christian perception of reality (quite different from that of, say, Hindu philosophical Monism) that the whole scientific enterprise rests.

    As for me, I rest upon the revelation summarized in the Creeds, expressed in the Scriptures, and applied by Tradition. There is certainty, but not provability.

    • Michael Frost says:

      ed, “As for me, I rest upon the revelation summarized in the Creeds, expressed in the Scriptures, and applied by Tradition.” Isn’t that almost…Wesleyan? Didn’t he say something about reason? And certainly very Melanchthonian & Bucerian.

      Maybe just change the order for Reformers: Scripture, Creeds (that act to summarize Scripture), Tradition (as reasonably and rationally applied) and tradition (as filtered through local circumstances). 😉

      Take just Lutheran patristics…See Melanchthon’s Excursus on the Authority of Scripture and the Falibility of the Church Fathers in his Commentary on Romans (1540, in modern English ed., CPH 2010). And Chemnitz & Andrae’s joint Catalog of Testimonies of Holy Scripture and the Ancient Pure Church Fathers As They Have Taught and Spoken of the Person and Divine Majesty of the Human Nature of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Exalted to the Right Hand of the Almight Power of God (late 1570s, in modern English ed., Sources & Contexts of The Book of Concord edited by Kolb & Nestingen (2001).

      • Tero T says:

        “And Chemnitz & Andrae’s joint Catalog of Testimonies of Holy Scripture and the Ancient Pure Church Fathers As They Have Taught and Spoken of the Person and Divine Majesty of the Human Nature of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Exalted to the Right Hand of the Almight Power of God (late 1570s, in modern English ed., Sources & Contexts of The Book of Concord edited by Kolb & Nestingen (2001).”

        -To be found here:
        These are collected as christological evidence against Reformed teaching about the Eucharist. Still very profound and useful.

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