Saturday, March 06, 2010

In the Day

Back “in the day”, the computer generally was the stuff of fiction along with steam-propelled spacecraft and time-travel devices that usually housed the pilot in a jolly comfortable Chesterfield chair. “In the day,” the bookstalls and shops seemed awash in genuine Anglo-Catholic writing, published in tracts and small pamphlets, and sold for a few pence or pennies, depending on your location. There was much to write about, and this piece is “borrowed” from one such pamphlet, now yellowing and, until lately, in danger of loss.

For “in the day”, there was “in many quarters a revolt against what is called institutional religion.” Competition from other interests had become so overwhelming that the deeper and less obvious and immediate needs of the soul were in danger of being neglected. This world, back “in the day”, had become enlarged and elaborated by the resources of physical science, and, with its gramophones, telephones and other manifestations of progress, had become a fascinating place. It was “easy to become absorbed by its attractions, so as to live without any real thought of the eternal and the unseen.” “In the day” sounds very much like “today”.

Days Gone By

In former days, before that time of “in the day,” even though there was widespread neglect of public worship and much indifference to practical Christianity, for all but a small proportion of the community the main beliefs of Christianity were taken for granted. Men lived in an atmosphere created by Christianity. Always in the background one could count the assumption of the truth of Christian principles. They were implied in all forms of education. If, for instance, we simply look at the novels of such a writer as Jane Austen (a favorite of my daughter), at first sight there is little reference to, or appreciation of, religion for one who is known to have been a devout Christian. But, look more closely, and there is a reason for this apparent silence. “The general Christian position is not made more explicit, because in the circumstances of the time it could be assumed. There was no need for a more explicit assertion of Christian principles.”

Ah, but that was then, and not the halcyon days of Anglo-Catholic Congresses and a corpus of vibrant Anglican writing. What did the contemporary pamphleteer have to say about that glorious time? To paraphrase that writer, E.J. Bicknell (author of A Theological Introduction to The Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England), the position is very different. For Bicknell, a large number of the most popular writers were in opposition, not simply to Christian dogma, but to Christian morality. There was hardly a Christian principle that is not disputed by some¬body. Moreover, a large number of novels were “full of the suggestion that the restraints of religion have now been abandoned by all sensible people.”

Owing to a variety of causes England was “rapidly drifting into the condition of a heathen country containing groups of Christians.” A majority of the nation then still retained a vague affection for the religion of their fathers and were in no way actively hostile to Christianity. There was a deep reverence for the person of Christ, but scant knowledge of what that religion actually teaches. The people had a lurking suspicion that the Bible has been overthrown by modern knowledge, and they had still scantier inclination to accept the moral and spiritual discipline of the Christian Church. The solid background of agreed beliefs on moral and religious matters had disappeared. In the words of one, Dr. Gilbert Murray, the Cosmos has been succeeded by a Chaos.

The year was 1930, or, back “in the day.” The pamphlet I received is a tract entitled “The Ideal of the Church of England” from the Westminster Group for Unity in the Church, a group in England aimed, inter alia, at revitalizing a fractured Church of England in the face modernism, on the one hand, and the siren call of the Roman Catholic Church on the other. While some aspects of this piece remain unique to a time and place, the fundamental questions from that period upon which some gaze longingly have resurfaced with nothing less than a vengeance (or, perhaps, a vengefulness).

First Principles

In order to appreciate an Anglican ideal we must, according to Bicknell, go back to first principles. “What is the function of a Church?” He asked. “By what are we to test its pro-gress? Do we still need a Church?” As then, today there is in many quarters a revolt against institutional religion. Columnist Julia Duin, among others, has addressed this at length in her book Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do about It. Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality gives a personal, sometimes self-indulgent account of moderns distrust of the institutional church, that also is worth reading.

Like Bicknell, I would proffer in reality the need for a Church, the need of embodying religion in some form of institution, is greater today, and not less. There is a danger that it may get crowded out. Religion has not been disproved. It has not been consciously rejected. It has not been tested and found wanting. Rather, the competition of our own modern interests-more luxurious and tantalizing than those available “in the day”-lead to neglect. More worrisome is that fact that that corpus of Christian ideas and moral precepts has been far more corroded than in Bicknell’s time.

Certainly, there is “a close parallel between the religious confusion of the Roman Empire and the condition of Europe at this moment.” In terms of the mission field it is plain that some form of coherent organization is indispensable, not less for the building up of Church members than for forwarding that Great Commission to which we are called. Again from Bicknell,
[t]he solitary Christian is unthinkable, and would soon cease to exist. If his religion is to survive and hold its own against the pressure of a dominantly hostile environment, he must have the support and companionship of his fellow-Christians. There must be regular common worship and common life. In pagan lands Christ is seen to be inseparable from his Church.
As England has become a heathen land, so, too, are we not far behind. If men and women are to obtain and hold to living faith and build up their Christian character, they need the support of Christian fellowship and worship. If a Christian atmosphere is to be created, if our social traditions are to be interpenetrated by Christian principles, there must be a society. It is true that the especially devout may retain his or her religion in isolation, but the ordinary man or women requires a community of some kind. “If Christianity is not to be limited to a small and select band of mystics and philosophers it must be embodied and expressed in the ordered life of a Church. At the very moment when organized religion is most widely repudiated it is most urgently required.”

A Challenge and an Opportunity

This need offers to traditional Anglicans a challenge and an opportunity. We claimed “back :in the day” that, in its ideal, the Anglican Way represents a noble ”attempt… to fulfill the mind of Christ.” It is content with nothing short of the effort to embrace within the life and fellowship of a single body the fullness of Christian worship, thought and service. It refuses to rest in some easier notion which promises immediate advantage. The Anglican expression
strives to realize that wealth of ordered devotion and sacramental life which is the mark of Catholicism, to express those Evangelical and prophetic values which are the glory of Protestantism, and also to give full recognition to the claims of modern know¬ledge. This is worth our consideration as members of a new ‘Westminster Group.’
First, we claim to be a Catholic Church enjoying unbroken continuity with the Church of the Middle Ages. We have been reformed—not for the first time—but not re-founded. In its Prayer Book it has pre¬served all the essentials of Catholic worship in face of Puritan attempts to reduce it to a Protestant sect, and of the late-twentieth century attempts to draw it down into modernism and secularism. We have maintained the historic ministry. The Preface to the Ordinal makes it as clear as words can make it that there was, and always has been, the full intention to continue the orders of bishop, priest, and deacon which had existed since the time of the apostles.

In our doctrine as affirmed at St. Louis, we never have ceased to appeal to the authority of scripture as interpreted by the teaching of the Fathers and the practice of the primitive Church. And here’s a key point from E.J. Bicknell,
It is impossible to point to any date and say that at that moment the old Church was abolished and a new Church set up by the State or any other body. We frankly admit that the ideal of Catholicism as expressed in the worship and life of our Church is not identical with that of the Church of Rome. We are not in the least ashamed of the fact. For in the Church of Rome, as it now exists, we do not find a sufficient and satisfactory embodiment of the principles of Catholicism.
The counter-Reformation tended to emphasize and increase these differences. Faced with the revolt of the Reformation, the Church of Rome was fighting for its life, and necessarily resorted to military methods, by un¬wavering obedience and the acceptance of orders without criticism. Despite the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, these methods left an abiding mark on the life and outlook of the Roman Church. As has been painfully emphasized by late-enthusiasts formerly of our own ranks, the Church of Rome never has been able to lay aside its attitude of exclusiveness and intolerance. The struggle among conservatives, traditionalists, liberals, “cafeteria Catholics” and the plain clueless have spurred Encyclicals that drive home this difficulty.

Not Anti-Roman Catholic

As did the Westminster Group, we need to be clear that we are not “anti-Roman Catholics”, for I think that traditional Anglicans recognize the many excellences of the Church of Rome. It has undertaken a massive and unwavering witness to the reality of spiritual things that is most impressive. It has never ceased to produce saints, and it has great power for training souls in devotion and personal holiness. We can also admire the loyalty and self-sacrifice of its members, and would that those who are most eager amongst traditional Anglicans imitate the zeal of those who represent the sensus fidei in the Roman Catholic Church. But, what many of us regard as an insurmountable obstacle against joining the Church of Rome is, not the necessity of accepting just this or that dogma, but the whole ethos of the Church.

To be sure, the external unity of the Roman Catholic Church is in many ways attractive. It has proven so for those soon-to-be former Anglicans. But a closer examination of that unity, of the means by which it is maintained and of the real divisions it conceals, diminishes its attractiveness. A careful study of Roman Catholic theology shows there often lies concealed a real difference of thought and belief. It is the willingness to accept and use certain forms of words that is demanded, not intellectual sincerity or post-catechetical knowledge of the faith. This is the constant lament of conservative and traditional Roman Catholic writers, and the focus of outreach efforts such as the ETWN television programming.

As well, behind outward unity of worship there are to be found many religions-a fact made painfully apparent during public worship attendant upon the recent Papal visit to the United States. The “regional variants” are often quite divergent, and as recent rumblings in the Eastern Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, there is no small amount of fraying at the aprons of the big tents. And, for those obsessed with parsing Anglican liturgical forms (“Perhaps we can have Sarum with a Scottish prayer of Consecration, but not the Anglican Missal,”), to criticize traditional Anglicans as un-Catholic, merely because in details of worship or doctrine it does not agree with the Church of Rome, is to be false to the true standards of Catholicism. “Whatever is Roman is not necessarily right.”

Now, here comes a tough bit for the “ornate Anglo-Catholic”. To borrow from the late Fr. Lou Tarsitano, Fr. Peter Toon and others, Anglicanism aims at embodying in its own life the spiritual values of Protestantism, “using that much abused term in the proper sense.” “Protestantism is not mere negation, though it may be true that certain perverted forms of Protestantism would seemingly lose all reason for their existence if the Pope and the Church of Rome should come to an end.” Nor, again, in spite of many assertions to the contrary, is it merely “Catholicism-lite”.
Let us be clear, as a matter of history Protestantism has stood for the freedom of the Gospel, and has often battled for the cause of liberty. Above all, it well represents the prophetic side of religion. Yet today, “mainline” Protestantism in which I include the Episcopal Church is in a bad way. There always has been the danger of an exaggerated individualism, which formerly was countered in large measure by adherence to the written Word. “The individual felt that he needed to cling to a power outside himself, and he found that power in the Bible, regarded in the most literal sense as the Word of God verbally inspired.”

Now modern “exegesis” (and I use the term very loosely) has beset the old conception of literal inspiration which underlay popular Protestant uses of the Bible. The full results of this, especially in relation to the New Testament, are apparent. In Protestant circles large numbers, even of ministers, have no clear idea of what they believe or where they stand. We genuinely are faced with a crisis equal to the Reformation itself. It seems that Protestantism currently is largely engaged in “living on its wits”, and, here in America, it resorts to stunts and entertainment to hold and attract members.

This is in large measure the explanation of the “independent” Bible churches. This ultimately is an attempt to defend the spiritual authority of the Scriptures by mistaken methods. Much as one can sympathize with its motives, it really is a betrayal of the very principles of Protestantism-it refuses to trust the light that we have received. The true remedy is rather to be sought in that which Catholicism can supply.

What is needed to train and support individual piety is the ordered life and spiritual tradition of the Catholic Church, that approach to reality which can be found only in the atmosphere of worship and devotion. The New Testament itself is the literature of a worshipping community, and its truth can never be rightly understood apart from Christian life and worship. It was never intended to stand by itself. It is the glory of traditional Anglicanism that it consciously and deliberately strives to hold together the two sides of religion, the prophetic and the priestly, in the life and fellowship of a single community. For in truth each needs the other if it is to be strong and healthy.

A third challenge is modern knowledge which comes now in a veritable flood that increases by the day. In matters of knowledge we ourselves are being compelled to make an almost equally rapid transition, and there is more difference between the intellectual outlook of an educated man of today and of one, say, fifty years ago than between a man of fifty years ago and a scholar of the Middle Ages. No wonder that the adjustment of our religious thinking to these new and still changing conditions is difficult. Here we claim that the Anglican expression can provide an at¬mosphere in which these problems can most successfully be faced. It can furnish that background of Catholic devotion and evangelical fervor against which alone such questions can be discussed on a Christian basis.

We all are painfully aware of the danger of a barren intellectualism-the modernist teacher who destroys, but he cannot build up. He has no Gospel. He forgets that because a man learns that, for example, Moses may not have written the Book of Genesis, he is not necessarily any nearer to God. Correct information on critical matters does not necessarily augment the love of God. If we are to have a truly Christian theology, the intellect must work on materials supplied by the life of devotion and missionary zeal, individual and corporate. “Otherwise it will be thin and barren.”

Catholic and Critical

There must be spiritual experience behind the activity of the intellect if it is to be fruitful. Here in traditional Anglicanism, there can be a renewed attempt to form a synthesis between modern know¬ledge and Christian life and worship. To borrow a phrase, we can dare to be both Catholic and critical. There is a vital distinction between saying that the Church teaches a doctrine because it is true and saying that a doctrine is true because the Church teaches it. It is the glory of Anglicanism that it proclaims that doctrine is to be believed because it is true, and for no other reason. It matters enormously whether we put truth in the first or in some lower place. All of the difficulties of first-world, so-called “Communion Anglicans” and “mainstream Protestants” stem from the fact that they seek to locate truth other than in the first place (or to recognize it at all).

So, then, the ideal of the authentic Anglo-Catholic is difficult to attain, and subject to a constant critique that we are intransigent or “denominational”. There is the constant push to sink into a mere compromise, to tolerate opinions that are mutually exclusive, without making the effort to see whether any of them happen to be true or not. There is the temptation to drift. The position is all the more difficult because, owing to circumstances of past history-particularly since the events of the 1970s-the power of discipline has been impaired in many quarters of “the Continuum”; and, even more seriously, the very idea of the Church as possessing the inherent right to order its own worship has been obscured in the minds of many of its members.
On the other hand, there is the opposite temptation to be impatient, to distrust the power of truth and goodness, to use the methods of this world in the supposed interests of spiritual advance. There are those who would rush to some simple and clear solution of all problems. This has led recently to a profusion of “cooperative groups” and efforts aimed at uniting that which cannot be joined.

Let’s be clear: the refusal to make immediate decisions is not necessarily due either to laziness, inability or intransigence. The wise often pause, because they believe that opinions and policies that appear divergent are not so in reality, and those that appear convergent may be wholly incompatible. A Bishop of Oxford “back in the day” pointed out that if a field of corn was surveyed by a farmer, a botanist, and a painter they would say very different things about it. With due apologies to post-modern philosophers, they would all be contemplating the same field, but it would be easy to conclude that their descriptions of it had nothing in common. Yet each would be true. Further, each would miss the fuller truth unless he had the patience to listen to what the other two had to say. Discernment takes time, and the few years we have dwelt as “Continuing Anglicans” are but a few, particularly as events continue to unfold in places like Ft. Worth, San Joaquin, and Quincy, as well as for those ACA parishes and people now faced with difficult decisions. Prayers not push, consideration not speed, seem the order of the day.

Of Unity and Alphabet Soup

All would agree that traditional Anglicans today navigate difficult waters just as we did “in the day”. The situation affords a challenge to all who would call themselves Catholic to think and to encourage others to think in terms of the whole, and not only of the parts. Several large and many miniscule organizations abound and expend unlimited energy. There need be no evidentiary test to demonstrate that for some time traditional Anglicans have been made the object of a well-organized and subtle attack by those who feed the popular press, by some quarters of “Communion Anglicanism” which should be allies, and, lately, by Roman Catholic enthusiasts who have abandoned, if they ever really knew, their patrimony. There is a persistent and determined effort to hold those who do not “cross over” up to ridicule, to set in the limelight any failure (real or imagined), to suggest that it is spiritually dead or dying, and that no up-to-date or intelligent being can possibly belong to such an effete and deplorable part of Christendom. It is only fair to add that this defeatist policy receives considerable support from certain members still self-identified as traditional Anglicans, who lose few opportunities in speech or in print from sneering at the body to which they themselves belong.

On the other hand, particularly in the last six months (but, thankfully, only in certain quarters) the Church of Rome is held up to unlimited admiration. The Apostolic Constitution receives a quite disproportionate amount of space in the papers and on the blogosphere, while the activities of tens of thousands of faithful Anglicans are largely ignored, dismissed or calumized when viewed as not fitting in the pro-Roman Catholic scheme of “unity”. Writers who identify themselves as Anglo-Catholic, with increasing support from those in the “Mother Church” take every opportunity to try to impress on the public mind that the one hope of religion for the future rests with Rome. There is no need to develop this theme, it is evident.

What has been done to meet it? To toot our own horn a bit, we, here, at The Continuum try to hold up our end with others in the electronic world, and that, at least, is a beginning. Misrepresentations have been corrected, and we attempt to insure that attacks on the Anglican Way, direct and indirect, do not go unanswered. The task is not always easy. In more than one instance, some have published violent attacks on traditional Anglicanism, but either have refused to allow even a reply to appear, or have set up comments, only to hoot them down. But a beginning has been made, and The Continuum writers believe it is essential that our case should be presented in the spirit of charity and truth, and that people should have the chance of learning that traditional Anglicanism is alive and well, and striving to fulfill the mind of Christ.

A Stronger Defense

But the best defense, however, is for those who are genuinely Anglican and Catholic to develop of their own spiritual life in all its fullness. Its ideal makes a larger demand on human nature than a merely partisan ideal, and the bickering that comes to those who would be mere partisans. To this end, The Continuum solicits responsible articles from those of good-will across the “alphabet soup” of all parties. We don’t ask that you surrender your own convictions, but to work for the good of the whole. Why?

There is abundant evidence that there is a large body of devout Church-people distressed at what they perceive as a weakening in the life and influence of Anglicanism, and who have become eager to support anything that seems to vindicate the ideals of the Church Catholic whole, but uncertain what should be done. It will take time to convince them that something more than empathy or “Angricanism” is needed. If the ideal of Anglicanism, to which the great majority of “Continuers” are loyal is to be maintained and fostered, there is need for immediate thought and action. If we are to continue to exist, we must continue to make plain to ourselves and to the world at large the principles and purposes of our existence. These are at this moment in danger of being obscured, with very dangerous results.

As we have built parishes and raised families these last thirty years, we may have taken our position too much for granted. We have supposed that because we are convinced of the excellences of our cause the world outside is no less convinced. In the world of today that is a dangerous illusion.

I am not in the very least ashamed of being a traditional Anglican-or of being called a “Continuing Anglican,” much less an Anglo-Catholic. I will not apologize for the existence of the Continuing Church. We all recognize its deficiencies; we desire the quickening of its spiritual life and a future unity among those of like faith. But we hold that the ideal which it is striving, however imperfectly, to embody is the ideal which most fully represents the mind of Christ. It is therefore an ideal for which it is worthwhile contending.

Not “in the day”, but in the world of today, men and women need a Church. They are looking for one in which they can be both religious and rational, one which can command the allegiance of free men and which is faithful in Sacrament and Scripture. They are rightly repelled by intolerance and obscurantism. The worship and religion that they seek must be consistent with their highest ideals. Hence all who would call themselves Anglicans or, more particularly, Anglo-Catholics are called to rally to support a true Anglican expression, to witness to its glory and truth here and now.


Robert E. Armidon said...

Nicely done, Father.

Paleologos said...

Amen, with a caveat. "There is a vital distinction between saying that the Church teaches a doctrine because it is true and saying that a doctrine is true because the Church teaches it.". These things are one and the same. How would we know what is true, except that it is the consensus of the Church? How would we know what writings are Scripture unless the Church, which has the mind of Christ, tells us?

It is the teaching of the Church which is the guarantee of truth, for she is led into all truth by Christ, her Head. Parts of the Church, at sundry times and places, have fallen into error, but the consensus through time is never in error because it is the voice of the Holy Ghost.

Canon Tallis said...

Excellent, Now let us live up to it. Unfortunately, I have just this night received an e-mail indicating a failure on the part of one ACC recor and parish to do so. But such failure is not, at least in my eyss, one of the Church but personal with the rector involved.

However, it is or should be an embarrassment for all who call or think themselves Anglicans.

Thank you, Canon Nalls, for something done superbly.

derril said...

Thank you Fr. Nalls and to all the contributors to the Continuum blog.

Fr_Rob said...

Brilliant and most timely. Thank you, Fr. Nalls. This is exactly the kind of positive, measured, and truly Anglican apologetic we need to have and to develop.

+ Peter said...

As someone raised in the UK I cannot help thinking that the Church of England somehow got out of step with it own supporters. The vast majority of those who identify as "fringe C of E" identify as Anglican and Protestant, but are put off when they encounter Affirming "catholicism" and Liberalism. It is probably no accident that in the C of E it is the Evangelicals that are on the march. Unfortunately for the New Labour version of the C of E, they are too rich to ignore and too conservative to be trusted.