Anglican Patrimony

An anonymous commentator calling himself ‘Father’ writes the following on the Anglo-Catholic blog:

It seems to boil down to what one thinks the Anglican patrimony consists. The anti-AC-cabal seems to think Rome wants to annihilate this patrimony. But what is this patrimony they so desire to maintain? I don’t think I’m a lone Anglican voice in expressing that the dearest patrimonies are:
1. The AV
2. The Coverdale Psalter
3. “Cranmerina” English
(Some might add membership to the country club.)
What else of our unique Anglican identity does not Rome already embrace?

What an astonishing reduction. The Anglican patrimony consists of a prose style and nothing more: perhaps not even the Book of Common Prayer!

The sad thing is that ‘Father’ probably has gained little more from the Anglicanism which he claims as his own. We fear that ‘Father’ is not apt to learn, but we will try nonetheless, if only to help some of those who might find themselves reading this.

What is the Anglican patrimony? Here are some parts of an answer.

1. George Herbert. The piety and devotion and art of Herbert are distinctively Anglican. The superiority of Herbert’s inspiration can be seen by comparing him to another priest-poet, Richard Crashaw, who preceded the TAC down the Anglican-to-Rome trail by about four centuries. Crashaw’s poetry is baroque and empurpled, full of Counter-Reformation piety and questionable taste. Yet for all Crashaw’s uninhibited, Catholic sensibility, his verse is much less inventive than Herbert’s in form, in vocabulary, and in imagination. Most readers who spend time with both poets will agree that Herbert is Crashaw’s superior in almost every respect. Crashaw stands for a hothouse kind of devotion and piety which flourish in the Roman Catholic world and not in Anglicanism. Herbert stands for the restrained, but nonetheless deeply felt and deeply moving, faith of Anglicanism at its best, and for all the art inspired thereby. Take Herbert as a synecdoche for a large swathe of our patrimony in poetry, music, architecture, and literature.

2. An emphasis on a strong and achievable lay piety. Roman Catholicism tended to develop a bifurcated piety and morality, with one set of standards for the clergy (the Counsels of Perfection; mandatory clerical celibacy; a Daily Office not realistically open to busy layfolk; etc.) and another for the laity (many rules stating minimum obligations below which the laity were not to fall; concessions to the lower capacities of laity; emphasis on avoidance of sin rather lay sanctity). The Prayer Book and Anglicanism in general set a more uniform standard, which at its best embraces a kind of integrated, Benedictine vision of work and prayer and family life. Any Anglican layman can say the Prayer Book Offices, find a realistic model for his life in the clergy, and believe that he is fulfilling the whole duty of man rather than pursuing a second-class vocation. The bifurcated piety and morality of old Roman Catholicism are now out of fashion, but still can be seen in the rank clericalism of Roman parish life and of the Roman bureaucracies.

3. Anglican rectory life. English life and civilization and Anglican life in general are heavily influenced by the clerical home and are enriched by the children of rectories and vicarages. (See previous point for a related idea.) Think, say, of Jane Austen as the product of a rectory. Or think of the ‘high priestly’ clans: the Knoxes, the Temples, the Bensons. Or, taking another path to the same conclusion, since Mr. Arabin did not topple over into the pool of Rome in the end, think of his domestic life with Eleanor Harding Bold - and think of the children they undoubtedly had and of what those children undoubtedly achieved.

4. The sermons of Lancelot Andrewes. The devotion and piety of Andrewes include an avoidance of sterile theological debate, an embrace of the Fathers, a deeply sacramental and emblematic view of the world, and an eschewal of doctrinal innovation. There are of course fine Roman Catholic sermons (think Bossuet) - but nothing approaching Andrewes in English.

5. A conservative but not fundamentalist theological spirit. An irenic temper that can be found, but not commonly, among Roman Catholic theologians. A strong theory of adiaphora without doctrinal reductionism. A contrary spirit of innovation seems to be at work everywhere in the Roman Catholic Church these days. Forget the doctrine of the papal office itself, or the Marian doctrines, or even the proposed enormity of our Lady as the Mediatrix of All Grace. The spirit of innovation is evident in much simpler and more easily understood matters. What Church Father gives support for girl acolytes, female lectors, meat on Fridays, or lay administration of Holy Communion? Yet Rome permits such things and many similar.

6. Auden. Eliot. Ken. Law. Swift. Mascall. Trollope. Donne. Hooker. C.S. Lewis. Dorothy Sayers. Charles Williams The English Hymnal. Kenneth Kirk. Austin Farrer. English cathedral and collegiate choirs. Gothic Revival. Etc., etc.

7. Or since an Anglo-papalist asks the question, we might explain the Anglican patrimony by thinking how very little is left to the Roman Catholic Church in the English-speaking world once you subtract the Anglican converts: Cardinal Newman and Cardinal Manning; S. Elizabeth Seton; G.M. Hopkins; Crashaw; Ronald Knox; Father Faber; G.K. Chesterton; Evelyn Waugh. Etc., etc.

Need we go on?

Theophilus Anglicanus