Saturday, April 26, 2008

April is the cruelist month . . .

It is perhaps not fair to quote one of modern Anglicanism's glories, the poet T. S. Eliot, but when he has given us such an opening - then we must use it. To refuse it would be to ignore the contribution he made to Anglicanism in the last century. And not just in the last century but for all time to come.

April is here: the first flowers have come and fled. We have watched petal fall of the Bartlett Pears and thought of all the wonderful Japanese "cut'um up" movies we loved for years and years with their wonderful photography and their yearnings for the mythical Japan of the warriors and warlords past. We, of course, have the same sort of thing in the Western canon but we have never come quite so close in giving it the cinematic magnificance as have the Japanese. We have the legends of Authur and all of the high middle ages but the movies which we made of them have not come anywhere near those of modern Japan.

On the other hand our homage to those legends of our own past, our Anglican and Britianic past, have created another sort of magnificance which mostly we now come to ignore. I am thinking of the glorious church buildings created by that Anglican renaissance which we call the Church Revival or the Oxford Movement. And yet, even as I write this, I am reminded of a church close to the Welsh border which was built in the year before Keble preached his sermon. When I walked around it and into it I was convinced that it was clearly medieval so much that it was one with the greatest examples of that period in the near neighborhood. Its building was not spurred by the theological movement that was to begin in the following year. It was built because the people in the vicinity needed a church and they built one that reminded them of the churches nearby. Their architect looked at them and chose the best of each building to put into the one which he designed and the people built.

This was somewhat like the advice which Gregory the Great gave St Augustine after he had sent him to England. He told him in liturgical matters to choose the best that he found. And essentially and for their times that is what the framers of the classical prayer books did. They chose the best they could find that met their goals of restoring the English Church to something as close as they could come to the sub-apostolic church. Their goal was to give to their people a liturgy that was profoundly Biblical and Catholic in the sense of the Greek words behind that word, according to the whole. And for the time between 1559 when Elizabeth I's prayer book restored the English reformation to the people until the present, that liturgy and its orthodox daughters has been Stupor Mundi.

Now, of course, it is under attack from almost all sides. Anglicanism in the English speaking nations has become increasingly heretical with the exception of those who to retain the faith and practise of the classical prayer books have had to sever themselves from establishment Anglicanism. Consequently the beauties of the historical Anglican liturgy seem almost doomed to disappear from the planet. But then almost all things beautiful seem equally doomed. Music has become noise and our children have returned to scarring and defacing their bodies like the barbarians of old.

April is the cruelist month. In the acts of nature it reminds us that all things, countries, histories and peoples, both flower and fade. We have short moments of beauty which decays so quickly that we are almost never sure that they were really there. But it was there and it yet remains. It may not have the great cathedral buildings anymore, but in smaller and newer churches the ancient liturgy of the English Church and classical Anglicanism remains. It is just a little harder to find.


Alice C. Linsley said...

The Continuum and GAFCON give me hope. This crisis is deepening Anglicans worldwide. If only we can be uncompromising in defense of the Gospel yet unfailing in Love.

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Lord Peter

Anonymous said...

Personally, I have taken to calling the Prayer Book Tradition, "New Sarum," as the original BCP is essentially Cranmer's conservative and gentle pruning of Old Sarum, much along same gentle lines as de Quinones's revisions of the Roman Breviary, especially the second recension.

Admittedly, the original 1549, both 1928 books, and the Canadian 1962 are more gentle and, therefore, more "organic" continuations of Sarum. But, even the 1552, 1559, 1662 editions (as usually implemented) are within the Sarum ambit.