Sunday, December 13, 2009

Honest to God . . .and to ourselves!

There is a group of Anglicans who greatly admire what we call the religious life and which do their best to promote monasticism among us. They seem to place a very high value on other people living lives under rule and practicing the vowed virtues of "chastity, poverty and obedience." The truth is that these are virtues that belong to all who call themselves Christians and are equally attractive when practiced in the course of our daily lives.

But what is necessary is the old fashioned virtue of keeping your word, simply doing what you said that you would do. Here I am writing of the vows which are taken and made at the ordination of bishops, priests and deacons according to the Ordinal which now forms part of the Book of Common Prayer. When you take orders as an Anglican you ought to do so in obedience to the rite by which you received them and with the intention of using that rite appropriately. Unfortunately, right from the reign of Elizabeth I there have been far too many who have wanted office in the Church but when ordained refused to do what they promised they would do so. This has given us three parties in the Church whose chief charactoristic is their refusal to do what the Church has ordered in the way the Church has ordered it. They are the so-called 'evangelical' or low church party, the broad church party and finally the Anglo-papalist party who does most of what is required but chooses to do so with the ornaments and ceremonial of a foreign church. The result is that many both inside and outside the Church have any idea who we, as Anglicans, are or were intended to be. Consequently, this is another plea for all Anglicans, lay and clergy, to do what the prayer book orders in the way in which the rubrics in the prayer book tradition intended it to be done. And to that point I have chosen to quote two books, both of which I think are very much to the point.

The first is one of those books which every Anglican lay or clerical really ought to know. It is Proctor and Frere's A New History of the Book of Common Prayer.
"The Puritan party from the days of Elizabeth to the present time have never honestly accepted the Prayer Book: its members have been too much of churchmen to leave the Church, but too little of churchmen to value its principles: they have remained in a false position, attempting to subvert the system to which they nominally conformed. It has been pointed out how openly the attempt was made in Elizabethan times; and, though it has in God's good providence failed all along to win any substanial recognition, it has been able at times to establish an evasive and false tradition of Prayer Book interpretation which has practically popularized and sought even to justify a system of disloyalty to the Prayer Book. The party has had its conflicts with the loyal and more wholehearted churchmanship, and the issues have hitherto not been finally decisive. The failure of the Elizabethan attempt to puritanise the Church inaugurated the period of loyalty of the early Stuart times: the success of this recovery was too rapid and too injudicious, and so the revenge came speedily; for a while sectarianism and puritanism had their way, until a short experience of their results under the Commonwealth produced a fresh reaction. The failure of the Puritans at the Savoy inaugurated another period of loyalty under the later Stuarts, but, when Church life was systematically crushed in the 18th century by Whig politicians and latitudinarian bishops, the reign of the false tradition and the evasive, disloyal or merely torpid attitude to the rules of Church worship again set in; and those who tried to be loyal system, whether early followers of Wesley, Clapham Evangelicals or Oxford Tractarians, were all alike in turn charged with innovation, disloyalty, and even with Popery. The contest still survives: the Puritan party still works for a system which is not the system of the Catholic Church or of the English Prayer Book, and defends its disregard of plain rubrics (e.g., as to fasting or daily services) and its want of sympathy with the system (e.g., as to the frequency and discipline of Communion) by appealing to the evasive tradition, which in the dark days of its history it has been able to form, and would like to fasten permanently upon the Church. Thus there is no feature more marked in the history of the Prayer Book than this contest between the Church system of worship expressed in the Prayer Book and the false interpretation which has grown up through a continous tradition of evasion and rebellion"

The other quotation if from the Reverend Canon J. C. L. Dart's The Old Religion. "This Protestant fifth column is still with us. Declarations are constantly being made that the Church of England comprehends many points of view and that all of them have an equal right to exist within its borders. We are told that extreme "Evangelical" Churches are as much "Church of England" as "Anglo-Catholic" ones, perhaps even more so. But this is simply not true. This is proved by the one authoritiative document which the Church of England has issued -the Book of Common Prayer. Doctrines which are contrary to it are disloyal. Churches which do not obey its directions represent disloyal and rebellious elements."

There you have it: the question of honesty and obedience, not set away in an enclosed community, but in the totality of the Church itself. Is it right that we should not only expect it but require it of all who have made these promises to the Church and to God?

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