Beware of the Anglo-Catholics…

I have been away from the blog for nearly a week, dismantling a pipe organ, moving it and installing it in another church. It was hard work and that re-installation was followed by a visit to another church in the same region for a few small repairs, regulation and tuning. I hadn’t done any organ work for a long time, but it is like riding a bicycle.

Harrison & Harrison of Durham gave me a good (though brief) grounding back in 1976, mostly on the tuning round with the short-tempered and foul-mouthed fellow I was assigned to work with as assistant. I’ll call him Tom. I remember that person particularly by his hatred towards Anglicanism and especially the high-church (yes some can be found in the north of England). He was (is) a Primitive Methodist and plays the organ in his chapel – rather well as a pupil of Conrad Eden, one-time organist of Durham Cathedral. He cussed and swore when pipes refused to respond to the reed knife, when all that was needed in the case of a reed was for the pipe to be taken out, carefully cleaned, put back and left to cool down (from being handled by human hands) and tuned on a second time over that particular stop. I was not a particularly devout Anglican at the time, but it was the Church of my family and my country. Tom was an asset to the firm because he was an excellent tuner, one of the best, and no apprentice would be allowed to cause trouble. It is difficult to work with a man who is rude, foul-mouthed and bigoted, and who hates the values of the young man holding the notes for him.

Harrison’s is still going in Durham, and they have built some of the finest cathedral, parish church and concert organs throughout the twentieth century. The word is craftsmanship and pride in one’s work. Humour in an organ building workshop is crude, and the slightest weakness of someone was exploited to the full. Tom had been married for quite a long time and had no children. The workshop foreman would mock him saying “Married for fifteen fuckin’ years and firin’ blanks, man“. It is easy to understand how this kind of thing turns a man bitter. Tom destroyed my vocation as an organ builder, and I left after only three months. I had been good at woodwork at school, and I went on a couple of years later to do a course in harpsichord making – which interested me much less than organs. I wanted another mentality in teaching a young man to do the job well, and not that of the men in the workshop whose outlook on life was much different from mine. Three months with Tom , nevertheless, gave me the ability to dismantle an organ methodically, load it up into a removals van, put it all back together and finish off with regulation of the mechanism and tuning. Tom would lay the scale of the middle octave of the Great 4-foot principal by ear, and would often do it several times before tuning the rest of the organ from that octave. I use an electronic instrument made by Korg, and then check it over by listening to the beatings in the fourths and fifths – the division of the Pythagorean Comma into twelve as required by the equal temperament. I then do the rest of the organ as I learned from Tom. Well, something remained from my first vocation!

I now leave the subject of organs to consider that attitude of Tom. I am uncertain of his background, but I would suspect that he came from one of those honest and straight living working families of northern England, the Salt of the Earth as we often call them. I also came from a hard-working family, but one with more liberal and rational values. I came to love beauty for its own sake, music, church architecture. My brief apprenticeship to this man showed the contrast between my liberalism and his bigotry. There was something of a class difference in his resentment of my coming from an Establishment background but yet with sensitivity. He was also an organist, but with a bigoted attitude, paradoxically despising beauty. To this day, I find my memory of this man perplexing and confusing.

As I reminisced about these things, I was looking for various words of Google and was quite taken aback to find Anglo-Catholicism and Homosexuality. The article needs to be read in full before returning to my few reflections. Strictly speaking, homosexuality means one or several sexual acts between persons of the same sex. It can also mean a tendency to prefer one’s own sex to the opposite sex. It can also be a euphemism for a man not conforming to the model of the masculine heterosexual, notably in matters of competition and a despising attitude in regard to anything “artsy-fartsy”. In the space of a hundred years, we have gone from Victorian moral values to the “anything goes” of today, which in its turn has become an aggressive agenda that now persecutes its erstwhile persecutors. It has paralleled feminism in its equal and opposite reaction against the old morality and order.

Why has there been an association between men who do not conform to the competitive alpha male stereotype and Anglo-Catholicism?  I prefer to put the question in this way, because men in the Victorian era like Newman certainly disapproved of homosexual acts on account of their adhesion to Christian and biblical moral teachings, and certainly never had any experience of such. I find this point expressed strongly in the article, which made it stand out in my esteem. In the late Victorian era, it was no longer considered merely as a moral deviation or a sin, but a type of person. These were the days when the great British Empire was pillaging and killing “inferior” races in places like Tasmania and Africa, blasting Indian rebels away from cannon!

By about the 1880’s, homosexual behaviour became subject to ever-heavier legal penalties, which extended the law to cover all male homosexual acts, whether committed in public or private. It also began to be seen as a mental problem needing treatment. As the law and public opinion became increasingly hostile, men who departed from the alpha stereotype developed a sense of collective identity. In the days of Oscar Wilde, in London, it became a sub-culture, which collected around pubs, clubs, meeting places – and churches. Some individuals in this sub-culture were attracted to transvestism and effeminacy, but not all. Higher class values predominated, since bigotry reigned in the working classes.

In the Victorian era, nearly everyone went to church on Sundays. Anglo-Catholicism was a way of showing difference from the mainstream of the Church of England but yet staying within the established Church. It represented an emphasis on beauty in worship, a sense of tradition and, above all, freedom from respectability and a puritan spirit based on classical and rationalistic conventionalism. It all colludes with the Romantic movement of the very early nineteenth century.

There is something that is highly significant in the mid nineteenth century, the romantic friendship between two men without any sexual meaning. The “stiff upper lip” of the late Victorian era considered such a particular friendship (as described by Aelred of Rievaulx in the twelfth century, for example) to be as bad, or an occasion of sin, as physical homosexual acts.

Victorian Anglo-Catholicism met with vehement hostility from representatives of the Broad Church and the Evangelicals. The reasons were similar to those they expressed against Roman Catholicism. Charles Kingsley (1819 – 1875) made his name both through his delightful books for children like The Water-Babies and his hostility to the Oxford Movement and Newman. Some of Kingsley’s criticisms of foppery, effeminacy and the ways of liberals resound in a similar way to those of modern-day American conservatives. Kingsley promoted Christian ‘manliness’, and eschewed clerical celibacy. I suppose that after my experience of Gricigliano, I appreciate my decision to take up sailing a few years ago and adopt a more “English” style in the liturgy! On the other hand, I can’t stand football or other competitive sports, and I wear my hair long (most gays have short hair).

The article gives a nice historical overview from the days of the slum priests and men “doing time” in prison for Ritualism to our own days. I see the story not so much as an “evolution” from darkness to light, or whatever, but rather as a golden thread of what remains today from the Victorian era. The way I see it is the bigotry of conservatism as it was then and still is now in some quarters, and the opposite and extreme reaction, each trying to prove itself to itself and the world.

What I am about to say may come as a shock to my conservative readers, but it goes with my general way of seeing the world. I don’t care what people do in the bedroom with the curtains shut, in private and between themselves. It may be sinful, but it engages only the consciences of the persons involved. It is only the business of a priest if that or those persons approach the priest for confession. Even then, a priest has to be gentle and show empathy, so that the penitent may make progress in a pilgrimage of life and love of God.

For men – or women – or men with women outside of marriage – to enter into a deep friendship is only a good thing. It builds the human person. I have already written on this subject in Aelred of Rievaulx and Friendship and De spiritali amicitia. Such a relationship, unlike marriage, is something personal and private, which has no need to prove itself to anyone. Marriage, on the other hand, is a public institution. It constitutes the basis of society on the family from natural procreation. It is good if marriage can be built on friendship and love, but that hasn’t always been the case – as in the days of arranged marriages. A man may often cease to be “romantically” enamoured by his wife, but yet will continue to be faithful (not have sex with anyone else) and not intend to leave home.

The problem with many conservatives is that they feel they have to prove themselves to themselves and the world. They feel that they have to be angry and vindictive. It is the same thing with homosexuals and feminists. It is the story of Orwell’s Animal Farm and the tyranny of the pigs after the revolution. I don’t mind if people want to love each other, have same-sex friendships and even engage in physical activities that result in sexual orgasm. I do mind when they usurp the public institution of marriage (and the sacramental institution from the point of view of the Church). Same-sex couples cannot procreate by natural means, and “making” children by other means is quite repulsive.

In my reaction to this article and my own experience, we do not have anything to prove to ourselves or others. I have got far beyond worrying what other people say about me, whether it is because of wearing the cassock or wearing my hair long. We have to be ourselves, something we can learn both from Quentin Crisp and Oscar Wilde. Above all, we are in the presence of the sign of contradiction, an affront to conventional moralism and respectability in favour of knowledge, daring and genius. This was one of the fruits of the Catholic revival in the Anglican world and English Roman Catholicism in the Victorian era. I am grateful and in admiration of those who put their Anglican Holy Orders to use to serve the Priesthood of Christ and the vision of the Saints, and here I think of Father Mackonochie of St Alban’s Holborn among other heroic figures of the mid to late nineteenth century. This was another aspect of the Romantic aspiration as it parted company with excessive rationalism and dreariness.

It seems simplistic to put homosexuality at the base of anything that revolts against conventional “masculinity”. I have also written on this subject. I wouldn’t even attribute this temperament to homosexuality, but rather to the higher level of life than the hylic and the psychic, as the Gnostics would have put it. A part of this spiritual elevation is beauty and art, a sense of the aesthetic, which predisposes us to Christianity as a Mystery – and not a code of law, a book or a human institutions making all the rules and doing the policing. If this notion of Christianity is effeminate or lacking in manliness, so be it. The spirit of Anglo-Catholicism is that of the Romantic, exactly the spirit of Christ as he rebuked the Pharisees and forgave sinners. Read the famous letter of Oscar Wilde with its amazing intuitions even if they are somewhat tainted by self-pity.

We should not forget that many who are attracted to Catholic ceremonial and liturgy are not the urban aesthetic stereotype. Some are very ordinary people. Likewise, not all homosexual men are aesthetes, and many aesthetes are not Anglo-Catholics or even religious.

The article describes the Protestant and “conservative” Roman Catholic ideology with great lucidity. There is the old idea that revived among conservative Roman Catholics during the run-up to the Ordinariates that consists of seeing Anglo-Catholics as a supply of Tiber-swimmers for their “true church”. The Protestants colluded in the same idea from the other end of the ideological spectrum. The “stiff upper lip” did us a lot of harm. It was the way I was brought up like my father before me. The role of the will was exaggerated as in Nietzsch’s philosophy of the Ubermensch. Strength over pity. Hitler took the ideology to the uttermost limit, far beyond the original thought of Nietzsche. This is another subject on which I have written – Nietzsche, Christianity and Weakness the weakness of Christianity through compassion and pity. This is central to the message of Anglo-Catholicism.

Something else is vital for understanding Anglo-Catholicism, at least in England. It was not a conservative or “traditionalist” movement, but was actually liberal and quite radical. Much of its theology developed along the same lines as the Modernism of men like George Tyrrell. I remind the reader that Modernism developed as a reaction against liberal Protestantism that sought to continue in the late eighteenth century latitudinarian tradition.

This influence as it rubbed off on me in my days in London colluded with the way I reacted to the with-it culture of the late 1960’s and early 70’s at Wennington. Respectability had become something so dreary and stereotyped like the Victorian and modern notions of masculinity and manliness, characterised by competition, violence and philistinism. The Church I belong to, the Anglican Catholic Church, was, from its origins in 1977, much more based on American conservatism than English Anglo-Catholicism. Our Diocese has adapted itself remarkably over the years to the noblest and best of English Anglo-Catholicism.

I have seen mincing “queens” in some of the “spiky” high churches in London, but they are a very small minority. Most clergy and lay folk I have come across were people who acted naturally and were themselves, without any embarrassing affectation. That is how we are in the ACC. We endeavour with God’s help to live honest and moral lives, but it is always the same thing – taking the beams out of our own eyes before taking the straw out of the eyes of others.

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11 Responses to Beware of the Anglo-Catholics…

  1. Timothy Graham says:

    Anglo-Catholicism “was not a conservative or “traditionalist” movement, but was actually liberal and quite radical”. The driving philosophical idea behind Pusey & Newman’s theology was Coleridge’s Platonism, his romantic idealism, & their interest in patristics was fuelled by the fact that they found the same underlying metaphysic in the early Christian centuries. Those of us who see ourselves as inspired by the Oxford Movement need appeal neither to naked authority for a guarantee of truth, nor to accept relativism – the Spirit and its symbols in Scripture & Creation have objectivity, and living power to transform us. As the symbols include the bull & the lion as well as the fawn & the lamb there is a home for the beefy and the weedy, and balance for both. (Anyone read Charles Williams “The Place of the Lion”?)

    • Interesting comment… I was thinking more of the Ritualist slum priests in London and the South Coast rather than the intellectual foundation given by Newman, Pusey and Keble. We do need strength and resoluteness, courage and perseverance. Compassion in the hands of the strong is that much more impressive. Thank you for this balanced view.

  2. Dale says:

    As someone whose family has been, on my father’s side, Catholic Anglicans for a very long time, I would be careful in trying to make Anglo-Catholicism into liberal or radical (I myself have never actually seen this); but I think that it is Catholicism with a more human and tolerant face might be a better description. Most of us did not come from parishes with a political agenda or from the slums, but quiet middle-class families (yes, I know for many that in and of itself is horrible).

    I simply cannot really image an Anglo-Catholic calling for either revolution or the burning of heretics. I should also like to mention that the other article that Fr Anthony posted, the one dealing with homosexuality within Anglo-Catholicism, has never been my own personal experience, I remember with real fondness our married clergy, often with large families, and our school chaplains, also married and who seemed quite, horrors again, middle class.

    • I would agree with you as people of our times, the slums and anti-Imperial or capitalist rhetoric were something from the 1860’s to World War I, via a few reforms in England. Now, as in the Church of England parishes I knew in the 1970’s, people in church are more middle class – just like I imagine it would be Stateside too. You and I also are middle class. The “working” and unemployed classes don’t need churches any more. They have football and booze (among other things)!

  3. Caedmon says:

    did anyone else ever see this verse on the web?
    Beware the Anglo-Catholic, my son
    The lace that swirls, the flames that burn.
    Beware the incense man and run
    When they genuflect and turn.

    • I would have to give this whole subject a lot of thought. Things have changed over the years, especially the parallel between “old rite” Anglo-Catholicism and traditionalist Roman Catholicism. Some of both are less self-conscious and “foppish” outside cities like London. Others are more politically conservative. There are certainly churches where it is still fun and games for overgrown children, but most now have a more sober attitude. We have never had the “camp” element in the ACC but the more conservative and “serious” American and Continental Roman Catholic style.

      • One thing that put me off Anglo-Catholicism was the overtly camp homosexuality of some of the churches. Some men were even in civil partnerships (and later “married”), which made me wonder at the time if they’d ever read the Bible or had any sense of shame. From my earliest days I was very, very conscious of the “sin” of homosexuality, and it may be fun to camp about in private, at cabaret shows, drag artists, and such things, but in church? It seemed very mocking and frivolous to me.

      • Yes, Patrick, I fully agree with you. I was once assistant organist at St Alban’s Holborn. The Curate was very “camp” (My dears, next Sunday, we have not one but two bishops and an orchestra!) and some of the servers minced around, but others were more serious. My place in the church was at the other end, high up on the organ gallery. I also found the frivolity shocking as in more middle-of-the-road churches in the choir. Perhaps it was no worse than the Goliards or the Church before the Reformation. We don’t know. I am glad that we are fairly serious in the ACC and don’t get silly – and get on with worshipping God and seeing where we are in relation to his holiness.

  4. Jim of Olym says:

    Ah, Father, your post brought back many memories. The person who introduced m as a teenager to Anglo-Catholic faith was an organ builder. I worked for him for several years, installing three pipe organs and repairing several. We had a lot of fun doing this. Unfortunately he was also a homosexual who liked adolescent boys….

  5. Ian says:

    Very interesting Father.

    To comment first on the first part of your article. Maybe you missed your vocation in the Arts & Crafts movement, with its mixture of aestheticism and craftsmanship? I could see you as a member of Gill’s Guild of S Joseph & S Dominic.

    The article to which you link is frustrating. It gives no references, for a start. It gives the impression of a cut and paste job – George Nugee becomes George Nug, for example, which suggests inaccurate cutting and pasting. Do you know anything about the author, Peter Crawford?

    As for the idea that Anglo-Catholicism attracts gay men, well anyone who has ever been to S Alban’s Holborn, as you say, or All Saints Margaret Street, S Marys Bourne Street, et all will know that is the case. But my experience is that Anglo-Catholicism attracts those who wouldn’t really fit in anywhere else. It provides a home for the homeless. The only RC church i have seen that does anything similar is the London Oratory. I think it is a good thing that ‘misfits’ of all sorts can find a tolerant and welcoming religious home in Anglo-Catholicism.

    • Welcome to New Goliards! The old Goliards were ragtag groups of wandering clergy and gyrovagus monks who wrote irreverent songs and parodies of religious services. They are best known for the Carmina Burana cycle, set in modern times to music by Karl Orff. Those vagrant clerics wandered around and welcomed the homeless and marginal. It is my vision of Christianity, the sign of contradiction, together with the Platonist idea of everything here being a sign or symbol of heavenly realities.

      I mused about missing my way as an organ builder. Perhaps I might have done better with a southern firm like Walker’s or Mander’s, since I have always had more affinity with the south than the north, in spite of my occasional show of nostalgia for Yorkshire. My mother came from Surrey. In a way, it was for the best that I should evolve in other directions, and eventually studied theology and became a priest. I don’t regret it!

      I don’t know anything about Peter Crawford, but I was quite impressed with the article even if was plagiarised. There are many sweeping generalisations, but the author of the article needed something on which to focus.

      Many of us are “misfits” in different ways, and cannot or will not conform to the mould. There are different forms of Anglo-Catholicism, and I hope we are all doing God’s work in some way.

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