Friday, November 20, 2009


This posting is going to be extremely simple. It will consist of a few paragraphs of wisdom from Percy Dearmer's introduction to Illustrations of the Liturgy. I am putting them up because they seem especially appropriate at the present moment. What is left of orthodox prayer book Anglicanism is being assaulted by the Roman Church and even its strongest theological defenders have been seduced by the missals and by Roman ornaments not invented until well after the English Reformation and religious settlement under Elizabeth I. The result is a chaos but it also presents an opportunity if we are only wise enough to seize it.

"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, sometimes Rome. The result has been that our church has failed to make itself recognizable : foreigners know almost nothing about her, have no idea what she is like, would not recognize her when they saw her."

"You cannot enforce a system of worship. Even the iron-bound system of Rome has failed here. Since she has attempted to dictate uniformity, she has found herself obliged to follow the last popular fashion, however puerile or however effeminate, far more than in the comparative freedom of the late middle ages.

"What then can you do? Just what is done in literature, in art, in science, in politics, in every branch of human activity. You can educate. You can search out the facts, you can spread knowledge, you can establish principles. You can show men the beauty of the right way. You can also remove the remnants of autocratic ignorance which still unhappily linger among some of our bishops, or at least you can secure that the young men who are now learning shall know and understand when some of them come to such positions of authority; and you can spread the spirity of loyalty among clergy and layfolk alike, if only on this ground - that the spirit of individualism has proved a failure

"Antimony has been tried and has failed in every form. Every man has done what was right in his own eyes; with the result that every man has done wrong. This was disastrous; but if every man will now be content to learn, to think, and to carry out his appointed duty, if every priest will use the great opportunity which the Prayer Book offers, and if every bishop - true to that "sound learning" which Bishop Creighton described as the keynote of our part of the Church Catholic, and which is as necessary in public worship as in public speech - if every bishop will wisely lead, using the crook of a shepherd and not the driver's whip which disperses and does not direct, then we may in the future be true to ourselves, and of service to a world which is much distracted by the follies of Christians and their moral failures."

There is more to be added, but I shall not do so now. Some of this is best taken slowly and thought through bit by bit. It has taken us a long time to get ourselves into our present mess and we shall not be out of it quickly. We must learn to want to be what we are supposed to be. It may not be as exciting as adopting the role of another, but it will not make us play either false or the fool.

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