Friday, November 7, 2008

"The Curse of the English Church,

and indeed of the whole Anglican Communion has been the individualism of its members. They have been a law unto themselves; and yet this individualism has seldom had the justification of originality: sometimes it has been Geneva that was copied, and sometimes Rome. The result has been that our Church has failed to make herself recognizable: foreigners know almost nothing about her, have no idea what she is like, would not recognize her when they saw her."

Percy Dearmer, The Present Opportunity

The above quotation from the works of Percy Dearmer may have been written some time ago but is yet particularly appropriate to the situation of the Anglican Continuum and the controversies of the moment. We should all be aware of the struggles with the Church since the Accession of Elizabeth I between those who were willing to obey the Church's rules and those who wished to substitute for them those of Geneva. These latter folk were joined in the late nineteenth century by a new party, growing out of the Church revival generally known as the Oxford Movement which wished to substitute the rules of the Church of Rome for those of historic Anglicanism and Churches of the British Isles. The result was the mass confusion satirized by the saying: "High and crazy, Broad and hazy, Low and lazy" used to characterize the three parties which the Church seemed to contain in an abnormal tension.

But there were not three prayer books or three sets of rules to be followed so which of them represented real obedience to the rules of the Church to be found in the Book of Common Prayer, the Canons and the Thirty-Nine Articles? Each party, of course, insisted that it was itself. And how do we find the answer? They cannot all be right.

The answer is right in front of us. Indeed, right in our hands for it is the Book of Common Prayer itself even if it is not always immediately obvious to the questioner. A party that is at war with the prayerbook itself, either in terms of Geneva or Rome, simply cannot represent the intent of the Church which gave us the Book of Common Prayer. To be ordained deacon or priest, one must promise 'conformity to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the . . . Church: and where are they to be found if not in the prayer book itself. And not just in our 1928 American prayer book but also the English prayer book of 1662 which was used by American Anglicans before our Revolution and without which the rubrics of the American book are sometime not quite understandable.

The question then is what sort of practise recognizably conforms to what we find in the text of our prayer book and the English books which preceded it? Is it one which habitually uses language that is at variance with that of the Book of Common Prayer? Is it one which constantly provides services which are not to be found in the prayer book, i.e., Morning Prayer and Sermon, or which fails generally to provide those services ordered to be daily, i.e., "Daily Morning and Evening Prayer?" I could offer my opinion and in a way am doing so. But more importantly, the priests and deacons of the Continuum as well as the wider Anglican Communion are making their own answer in what they do day by day and week by week. The question is whether by the example of their actions they are teaching what is in the Book of Common Prayer or that which is grounded in another set of assumptions? When you "read the priest" you should find nothing but what you would find in the Book of Common Prayer and in the greater prayer book tradition.

10 comments:

Matthew Nelson said...

Percy was spot on. And, as far as turning the tide, we haven't made an inch of progress since he made the statement.

We have cafeteria Anglicans everywhere -- picking and choosing from among our constitutive formularies. Interpreting with special pleading. Or, just ignoring all of them outright.

Lord have mercy!

Canon Tallis said...

After the Restoration in 1660 the bishops made a great effort at securing the uniformity of which Elizabeth I and the prayer spoke. But that effort could last only as long as the bishops were allowed to actively discipline those who dissented from what the prayer book taught or required. The bishops who went to the tower under James II did so because they saw that they must protect the Church, but when the not-so-Glorious Revolution took place which brought William and Mary to the throne, their efforts were doomed. William was a Calvinist who neither understood or respected the English or Scots's Churches. He drove the non-jurors into the wildreness and pushed for the so-called Liturgy of Comprehension only to see it defeated in the lower house of Convocation. But during his reign and that of the Georges which followed Whig governments waged war upon the Church and prevented her from recovering her heritage or enforcing the real discipline required. This led to the crisis answered by Keble's National Apostasy sermon and the beginning of the Tractarian Movement.

The problem was that this recovery was met by a very active opposition who seemed to have the support of a considerable number of the clergy, of members of parliament and even of the queen. All of these could have been overcome in time had it not been for a development which I think no one could have forseen and that was the development of the Anglo-papalist party which claimed to be Catholic, but in acutality was as 'prot' as the most extreme of low churchmen. Their vows meant nothing; the game everything. The result was the undermining and destruction of everything that the Catholic recovery meant. We continue to live with the results today. In fact, it is this which has ripped apart the witness of the Continuum and made it so ineffective in presenting a vision of a united vision of what Anglicanism was meant to be.

Matthew Nelson said...

Yep. James II really mucked things up because he put presented the Hobsons choice of two unAnglican dangers: creeping Catholic Romanism or creeping Continental Reformationism.

Anonymous said...

Would this be the same Percy Dearmer who was a socialist, and whose hymn texts mention Socrates & Plato more frequently than Jesus?

Matthew Nelson said...

Dear Anon.,

Yes, Percy Dearmer was a Christian Socialist.

No, his hymnals do not mention Pagans more than Christ.

Thanks for visiting!

Anonymous said...

Well, considering how het-up Canon Sockpuppet got about "pinkos" elsewhere on this blog, I just wanted to make sure that we were on the same page. Or does he only dislike pinkos who also happen to be RC (and therefore queer as well)?

Canon Tallis said...

Dear Anon.

Yes, Dearmer was a Socialist as were a great number of English clerics of his time. But then so were my father-in-law and most of his friends and co-workers. At that time it was more a romantic notion that the English society and the world would be improved by using the government to steal from one set of citizens for the benefit of others. From my point of view it misses the fact that such political views violate two of the Ten Commandments.

I have a long experience with those with Socialist views and have found that while many can be quite nice socially, they are quite irrational when it comes to the economic realities. The question is whether one really wants to improve the lot of the poor or to achieve power by promising to harm others for their benefit. Dearmer wanted improvement in the lives of the poor and did what he could in his own mind to do so.

My views on the Roman Church have a like relationship to the effect they have upon ordinary people, even their own clergy. I have grown up with Romans, both as family and friends and want the best for them. I have had many good experiences but enough of the other kind that I question the differences between their system and that of Orthodoxy and classical Anglicanism.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Is the problem individualism or the sola scriptura justification of every private interpretation?

Canon Tallis said...

Alice,

It is my belief that it was part of a rebellion against the whole of what they believed that English society had become. In too many ways it had become frozen in the age of the Georges and the reign of Victoria was merely an extension of the same. The morality of the Georgian Church was a fraud and it had degraded everything in English society. The return of the Chorch of England to the belief in the teachings of Holy Scripture and the fathers as set forth in the prayer book liturgy pioneered by the Tractarians and their immediate successors resulted in the Church returning to the social consciousness which she had in the middle ages, but with the rise of the Anglo-papalist movement, that portion of it embraced a doctrine of dispair. If you begin to research the lives of its earliest leaders it is not long before you realize that a good deal of what was going on involved gross immorality and worse. If you are good at reading between the lines that period makes for some very interesting reading.

One would have hoped that they would have grown out of it, but once in positions of power and influence they were not and are not about to surrender them to 'mere Christians.'

Matthew Nelson said...

Unfortunately, the purported successors of the Caroline Divines and Old High Churchmen, i.e. the Victorian Anglo-Catholics, did great harm to the orthodox-catholic witness in the Anglican Communion. Now a fringe Victorian Anglo-Catholic Movement still exists, but most Anglicans claim the appellation are liberal "Affirming Catholics" -- this is what liturgically middle- of-the-road parishes using the 1979 Common Book of Prayer actually are, whether they realize it or not. The only other alternative seems to be Evangelical Party, whose single issue seems to be opposing homosexual clergy.