J. Wickham Legg

On my morning rounds, I found “Good, or ancient, or Catholic” quoted from J. Wickham Legg. The exact source is not given, but a search on Google reveals his paper read before St Paul’s Ecclesiological Society on 27th October 1887, as published in Essays on Ceremonial in 1904.

Now the earlier ecclesiologists thought they might gain some knowledge of the customs of the middle ages by a study of modern Roman practices, receiving the assertion that Rome never alters with a too confiding generosity; and accordingly they proceeded to change some of the inherited medieval customs in accordance with the dictates of modern Rome. But from modern Rome we can learn next to nothing of the practices of the middle ages. A very little study soon convinces us of the deep division there is between the practice of modern Rome and of medieval England, and that modern Rome will only lead us astray if we trust to its liturgical decisions. Because a practice is Roman, it is not therefore of necessity good, or ancient, or Catholic. In the first place, the liturgy of modern Rome is the liturgy of the Franciscan Friars, while that of the national medieval Churches is the old Liturgy which was used in the parish churches of Rome before the days of Nicholas III. Theologians often tell us of the mischief which these Friars have caused in their science, and to philosophy; and the harm they have done in ecclesiology is certain. They are credited with the introduction of the Stations of the Cross, which even Mrs. Jameson can see set forth unworthy ideas. Further, how little of antiquity remains in practice in the Roman Communion may soon be gathered by those who will attend a few popular functions. Liturgical services, with the exception of the Mass, have well-nigh disappeared; and the seasons of the Christian year, which we prize so much, are but little thought of. Lent has given way to the month of Joseph; Easter and Whitsuntide are swallowed up in the month of Mary and the Sacred Heart.

I give the same emphasis as in the blog article, which has given no commentary of its own.

I have had the greatest admiration for Wickham Legg’s erudition in matters of liturgical history from his historical period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I have also noticed this difference between the post-Tridentine Roman liturgy and medieval local traditions in the dioceses. He was one of my important sources for my university work on the Tridentine codification of the liturgy, which I resumed in a published book: Alcuin Reid (ed.), T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy, London 2016, pp. 107-131.

Though the Pius V liturgy is substantially the Editio Princeps of 1474 with a considerable amount of material removed from the proper of the saints, and with many of the sequences taken out, I’m sure that Pius V’s commission intended to streamline something intended to present a “noble simplicity” for a Church similarly streamlined to withstand attacks from Protestants and have credibility in the modernity of the Renaissance. Paul VI was not far off target when he compared his own Novus Ordo with the 1570 reform for the same reasons: “noble simplicity” and adaptation to the times. When I was at university, I was still trying to defend the traditionalist position Michael Davies style, and sang the praises of the “codified” (as opposed to “reformed”) liturgy of Pius V. Count Neri Capponi, a Roman canonist, made much ado about this distinction of words – but it didn’t convince me for long. Since then, I have seen a great deal of cohesion between the reform movement in the sixteenth century, and the “pastoral” reforms of Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI: authority trumps Tradition!

This is the essential difference between the Anglican Catholic and Roman Catholic understanding of things. Whilst the ordinary of the Pius V Mass (and the breviary) is identical to the old Use of the Roman Curia based on thirteenth-century Franciscan customs, the proper was radically changed. Pius XII did the same thing in the 1950’s with a brand new Holy Week and the use of a special proper for Popes rather than the older way of treating Popes simply as confessor and martyr bishops. Finally, Paul VI changed the order of Mass and the entire system of the proper and the lectionary.

Wickham Legg, like other Anglican historians and researchers in his time, noticed the ever-increasing gap between the medieval customs and the “dynamic” progress of Papal authority and centralism. The uses of medieval England, like those in France before the various “neo-Gallican” missals of the early eighteenth century, sprang and evolved from different sources. Our English customs since the Norman Conquest were decidedly French, something I can easily accept since French culture was so easily accepted in England, at least before the Hundred Years war, and to a great extent after it.

I do believe that we in the Anglican tradition, particularly in the Continuing Churches, should study this issue in greater depth. We have done well to take a critical position in regard to the “Anglo-Papalism” that inspired and created the Ordinariate under Pope Benedict XVI. I do believe that our diversity is healthy between more Prayer Book expressions, the English and Anglican missals, and the Use of Sarum I have adopted since 2008 instead of the post-Tridentine Roman rite I had been trained with as a seminarian. We need very much to continue to base our piety and prayer on the Mass and the Office, not only the clergy but also the laity. The use of classical English rather than an absolute insistence on Latin has been most beneficial in the Anglican way, including the Catholic revival.

My reflections are not cast in stone, but I do know that a number of people think in this way – with or without Aspergers Syndrome!

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14 Responses to J. Wickham Legg

  1. ed pacht says:

    As I’ve always seen it (or at least as I think I see it), the RC Counter-Reformation was in many ways as drastic a restructuring and rethinking of historic Christianity as was the Protestant Reformation, both exhibiting a radical triumph of reason over faith and tradition, both giving new impetus to the Renaissance emphasis on materialism, and both leading inevitably to the Enlightenment. Trent made adjustments to Roman Catholicism at least as dramatic as those of Vatican II, in doctrine, in discipline, and in liturgy. Somewhat earlier Aquinas and the Schoolmen had begun a process of rationalization that (I think) made both reformations inevitable, and I’ve long felt that the emphasis on order and authority that flows from such a rational approach gave considerable support to the growing corruption in the papacy and elsewhere. The medieval mindset seems to have been focussed on mystery and mysticism, while there really isn’t much room for either in the modern mindset, even among “traditionalists”. The gulf could not be much wider.

    • Well put, Ed. Something new is coming out of the woodwork, and expressed by Fr Jonathan Munn, the idea of a new “via media” but this time between authoritarianism Roman style and liberalism which is even more intolerant and authoritarian. In the past, I have been anathematised by RC traditionalists for tracing the problems back to around the 13th century rather than Vatican II. I think a new thesis is coming out of this, and I might even start planning a book. Not many of us see this, but we continuing Anglicans are not in a bad position. Newman was revolutionary in his time because he favoured direct study of the Church Fathers rather than scholasticism. Perhaps it is something English, and something that survived the bloody centuries between the Reformation and our own days. If we are going to contribute anything in the future, we need the influence of Romanticism, which is our link with the best and most noble of the medieval era.

      • ed pacht says:

        I have a somewhat different view of “Via Media”. I couldn’t be much less interested in occupying an intermediate position between two ‘isms’, as both are most likely asking the same wrong questions and coming up with different but strangely similar wrong answers. I prefer to think of a search for balance where logic stubbornly refuses to find balance, the middle place where apparently contradictory concepts intersect, such things as the unity of God and His trinitarian nature (in which one does indeed equal three and the words so carefully evolved in theology do no more than eliminate every explanation we can think of while affirming the mystery). or the assertion that Christ is wholly God and wholly man (not partly o ne and partly the other), or that we are saved by grace without the works of the Law and are saved by our works, or that God predestines all things, but does not limit free will, or that what is obviously bread is totally the Body of Christ, or that His physical body is in heaven, but is also on every altar, in every tabernacle, and inside the communicants. I believe that we need to affirm both “impossibilities” as truth and let God Himself open to us the inexpressible Mystery to which they point. I think the Anglican tradition (even pre-Reformation English spirituality) with all its apparent contradictions comes closer to this concept of “Via Media” thn any other grouping, though the Orthodox do also reach more for Mystery than for definition.

      • This is why the whole question needs study and reflection. I remember discussing things with a Benedictine abbot, and his thought was to avoid trying to come to a compromise between two extremes but rather to transcend the two and be above both. Hegel’s dialectical method is of interest:

        (1) a beginning proposition called a thesis, (2) a negation of that thesis called the antithesis, and (3) a synthesis whereby the two conflicting ideas are reconciled to form a new proposition.

        It’s not something that can be applied to everything. To theological questions? Indeed, Hegel’s dialectics were applied to constructing the Marxist ideology. I can’t affirm this as the “right” way, but it merits study and experimentation.

        Indeed, in theology, we are confronted with mysteries beyond human reasoning, yet true because they are revealed.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        For what it is worth in this context, I was very impressed by Charles Homer Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Harvard UP, 1927), and C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge UP, 1964) as complementing it variously.

      • ed pacht says:

        The problem with Hegel is the rationalist assumption that somehow the ‘opposites’ can be reconciled. Most of the most important questions do not resolve logically. As you said, “Indeed, in theology, we are confronted with mysteries beyond human reasoning, yet true because they are revealed.”

  2. Alan Robinson says:

    Dr Adrian Fortescue likewise wrote critically of those who preferred special “days” and “months” as opposed to the real liturgical seasons. What would they think of how the great Octave of Easter is swallowed up by the “Novena for the Divine Mercy” beloved by modern conservative Catholics.

  3. J.D. says:

    “I have a somewhat different view of “Via Media”. I couldn’t be much less interested in occupying an intermediate position between two ‘isms’, as both are most likely asking the same wrong questions and coming up with different but strangely similar wrong answers. I prefer to think of a search for balance where logic stubbornly refuses to find balance, the middle place where apparently contradictory concepts intersect, such things as the unity of God and His trinitarian nature (in which one does indeed equal three and the words so carefully evolved in theology do no more than eliminate every explanation we can think of while affirming the mystery). or the assertion that Christ is wholly God and wholly man (not partly o ne and partly the other), or that we are saved by grace without the works of the Law and are saved by our works, or that God predestines all things, but does not limit free will, or that what is obviously bread is totally the Body of Christ, or that His physical body is in heaven, but is also on every altar, in every tabernacle, and inside the communicants. I believe that we need to affirm both “impossibilities” as truth and let God Himself open to us the inexpressible Mystery to which they point. I think the Anglican tradition (even pre-Reformation English spirituality) with all its apparent contradictions comes closer to this concept of “Via Media” than any other grouping, though the Orthodox do also reach more for Mystery than for definition.”

    That is an excellent way of putting things. There is indeed a sense where we “need to affirm both impossibilities” as truth and let God Himself open us to the inexpressible Mystery to which they point.”

    In my own estimation Christianity is more mysterious than it is logical or rational, which is something I can be alright with.

    Also, its something I too can see when you say that Trent was quite radical. The more we delve deeply into history without blinders on the less credible traditionalist Roman Catholicism becomes. I’m an Old Rite Slav Orthodox in praxis and theology, but very sympathetic to the pre Reformation, pre Tridentine Western style of Christian faith. There is something tragic in the top down papal heavy handedness and rationalism that has done so much damage to Rome and it’s expressions of the Faith.

    In a way these are exciting times we are living in, as we cross denominational boundaries as individuals and discuss things like this. The world would be a darker place without Father Chadwick, Father Jonathan Munn and the rest of the folks that contribute to these ideas here.

    • I just found this in my spam file (which I always check before deleting). Thanks again for your thoughts. I don’t know whether I’m able to bring much light into the world nearly alone, but my ideas have always been there, just waiting to be made more coherent and complete.

      • ed pacht says:

        Father, one of the things I appreciate in your writing is that it is neither fully coherent nor complete, because that is what ultimate truth is like in the hands and minds if finite beings such as we are. Truth such as we are able to grasp is full of apparent contradictions, logic-defying leaps, and ever-emerging loose ends. There’s astoundingly little that we can say about what is true (especially in theology, but now, with the dawn of quantum physics, even in the ‘hard’ sciences), while there is much we can say about what is NOT true – in fact, that seems to be the primary thing that theology is able to accomplish, even when the approach is not apophatic, as i seems that any positive statement of what is turns out to be flawed and partially untrue. Being sure that one understands appears to me to be at the root of every heresy. Lord, deliver us from excessive coherence and intellectual assurance!

      • I admire the classical scientific rigour that demands observation of phenomena, formulating hypotheses, testing these hypotheses by controlled experiments, establishing a theory based on repeated validation of results and repeating the hypothesis and experimentation stages to obtain ever more certain knowledge. We are given the use of reason and I believe in the validity of true science.

        At the same time, there are things we can be less certain about because we recognise them to be above reason, natural phenomena, experimentation and repeatability. We can only be fully scientific in the matters of our natural senses, but there are many other things about which we can form hypotheses and suspend judgement because of limited data. Not knowing everything doesn’t bring us to conclude that something is false. I perfectly accept the notion of mystery to which faith is the only response possible. But, we still search and yearn for knowledge. Theology is just that – fides quaerens intellectum.

  4. J.D. says:

    Indeed, as Mr. Pacht has said (and I paraphrase), Christianity is an inexpressible mystery. Pre-Reformation Western Christianity and Orthodoxy both safeguard those mysteries.

    I have found over the years that Christianity is not exactly rational or logical at all, and I’m ok with that. I sometimes struggle with understanding certain things within the doctrines of the Faith but that generally doesn’t bother me; i rather like the mystery.

    As an old rite leaning Slav Orthodox I can say that to enter into the service texts of the various feasts of the Church is to enter something as vast and mysterious and beyond reason and logic as a Zen Koan. We ought to embrace the mystery.

    • I was definitely brought up in a rationalistic and scientific mentality and I can tend to be quite Enlightenment in my ideas. At the same time, my Romantic penchants have brought me to learn the lesson of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and our need to know our transcendent selves and the transcendent God.

      Mysteries are not always found in churches. For me, I encounter mysteries in the natural world and on the sea, the different moods of the weather as it interacts with the earth and the sea. The key is our sense of wonder, being childlike in the way Christ meant it. This is what we need to cultivate and express for the world.

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Hoping not to be too tangential, I just visited Fr. Hunwicke’s blog for the first time in nearly a fortnight and read his interesting post, “1934”, about (pre-War) Anglo-Catholic attention to Patronal Festivals. He says, ” it is my feeling that Patronal Festivals never were and never have been very prominent in the culture of Irish-English Roman Catholicism. And, in any case, we rather prided ourselves in not aping the English Catholic Church.” (And asks, “Is this a Catholicism which needed the ‘liturgical reforms’ which followed so soon after the War?”)

    My (uneducated) impression is that Patronal Festivals (with, as he puts it, “high jinks continuing into the Sunday within the Octave”) are characteristic of the mediaeval English Church. Is their revival characteristic of the Nineteenth-century Sarum revival (if I may so put it)?

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