Monday 22 November 2010

High Churchmanship and Anglo-Catholicism - what now?

At some point in the last century, the term "High Church" became a perjorative term used by those who called themselves "Anglo-Catholics" to denote groups who had not become "ritually advanced" to the point of celebrating the Roman Liturgy and practising contemporary Roman Catholic devotions. The term was used to distinguish the post-Ritualist and predominantly Romanised Anglo-Catholics from those who persisted in the Tractarians' cautious cleaving to the Prayer Book whilst quietly reserving the Sacrament in aumbries and increasing celebrations of the Holy Communion on Sundays and feast days. In more recent times, "High Church" has been applied to Liturgy to describe practices that, while headed in the right direction, don't quite meet the accepted standard of the Western Rite: A Prayer Book Eucharist with Copes and incense on Feast Days rather than the Roman Mass followed by an Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart or similar. The idea behind this use is that High Church parishes have not made it all the way to being fully "Catholic", as they insist on using Cranmer's Liturgy and regard Baroque church fittings, Ultramontane teaching and the promotion of contemporary Roman Catholic devotions as ostentatious and extreme. "After all," they would say, "this is the Church of England!".

This was a significant, if not the most signficant, split between the groups and parties that believed themselves to be heirs of the Oxford Movement. It was part of a trend that involved a dynamic between Teaching and Practice throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, Tractarianism spawned the Branch Theory, and this focus on the relationship of the C of E to the Medieval Church instigated a re-appraisal of the Anglican Liturgy, creating the necessary conditions for the Ritualist movement, which in turn crystalised around Liturgical Romanism which produced and fed Ultramontanism and Anglo-Papalism, leading to the apogee of Anglo-Catholicism and the start of its slow decline after the 1960s.

At every stage of this development, there were those who fell away and refused to assent to the advances of the radicals, and the movement became characterised by the rivalry of conservative and extreme elements, both embarking on creative projects of scholarship in an attempt to justify their own party labels. There were Branch Theorists who vehemently opposed the re-introduction of "popish" liturgical practices from the Medieval Church. There were Liturgical Romanists (served by the SSPP publishers) who adopted the aesthetic, if not the substance, of contemporary Roman Liturgy, refusing to drop Sundays after Trinity and the Collect for Purity. One important group rivalled the Romanists in the last years of the 19th century and were dismissed as practitioners of "British Museum Religion". The Dearmer set and the Alcuin Club are now remembered for the famous put-down I just quoted, and their often eccentric attempts to imbue the Prayerbook Liturgy with Sarum ceremonial. They were superseded by Romanists, now claiming to be Anglo-Catholics, and their legacy fizzled out as they became identified with the defeated High Church label.

So where has all this taken us, and what do we have to show for our journey and our battles? Anglican Papalism lost its identity after Vatican II, and the Ultramontane leanings of its clergy led to continuous, sometimes debilitating, defections to Rome culminating in the exodus of 1992 in the wake of women's ordination to the Priesthood in the Church of England. Anglicanorum Coetibus stands to flush out the very last Anglo-Papists in the Anglican Communion (at least those who accept the Papal claims in toto and fantasise that they are under the Roman Pontiff's jurisdiction). In a curious irony, the very Anglo-Catholics who for so long have disparagingly referred to non-Romanised, and more recently "alternative-integrity" ritualist Anglicans, as mere "High Church" imitators, are now being beaten about the head with the same label by some Roman Catholic Traditionalists, eagerly awaiting the Ordinariate's Anglican liturgical contribution to their slightly ludicrous programme of the "Reform of the Reform" (the image of clergy obscurbed behind the 'Benedictine arrangement' candlesticks and crucifux at a west-facing altar is one example that springs to mind of this movement's bizarre urge to invent traditions).

Indeed, irony is the prevailing flavour of the current state of Anglo-Catholicism and the purpose and integrity of those Anglicans who don't go to Rome will be a serious question that demands a serious answer. For my part, I think it's worth taking a step back to evaluate what the whole point of the Oxford Movement has been, and my personal conclusion is that we need to serious review the work and teaching of the High Church movement, and especially those High Church Liturgists who started with the Prayerbook and worked backward.

The High Church movement was cerebral, scholarly, quiet and calm. In contrast to the extreme Romanists who tried to nudge the Church of England to catch up with contemporary Roman Catholic practice, the High Churchman started with the basic premise that the formulas o the Prayerbook were an adequate, even complete, statement of the Catholic and Apostolic faith of the Church of England, and yet at the same time they were not so prejudiced (as Evangelical Protestant apologists were) as to overlook or dismiss the Medieval Liturgy of Sarum, and the uses of other great Sees, and indeed these Liturgists produced some important scholarship on Liturgy in Medieval England, translating the Sarum Missal and Breviary. These translations allowed for the publication of editions of the Book of Common Prayer printed in parrallel with the Sarum Missal - an exercise that allowed Catholic Anglicans to see quite plainly that whatever Cranmer had intended to do to the English Liturgy, in most cases he had merely paraphrased the Sarum Liturgy in English.

The High Church liturgists also took a fundamentally different approach to the Romanists. Instead of accepting wholesale the Liturgical culture of contemporary Rome, and updating their liturgies in line with the latest prescriptions from the Vatican, the High Churchmen took a more measured approach, focusing on the good and authentic aspects of the Prayerbook liturgy and living out that Liturgy according to their understanding of the Church's Apostolic history: They made the Eucharist the principle Sunday service, and fiercely defended the daily Office against the proliferation of daily celebrations and evening Masses. They encouraged devout Communion at one principle Sunday service rather than banning it at High Celebrations as the Romanists did. They were keen on continuity with the Medieval Church whilst also proposing that the institution was in need of reform, and they only very cautiously introduced aspects of Medieval Liturgy, and rarely invented new services. The sorts of things they did bring back were authentic and original to the context, and they delighted in their Englishness. Crucifers in tunicles became associated with High Church or English Use Liturgy by Anglo-Papists who had become used to copying contemporary Roman Catholic Liturgical practice, which was itself prone to imitate the Papal Court Liturgies. This despite the fact, and without the knowledge, that even Acolytes wore the tunicle in Rome until fairly recently. As Romanism became more extreme and intolerant as ultramontanists rejected any liturgical practice not sanctioned by the Congration of Rites, High Churchmanship became more tolerant of the Church parties around it, sure in its Anglican identity and steady, measured rapprochement with its pre-Reformation past.

I have to admit I don't know a great deal about this group, or the High Church Divines that informed their teaching, but I think it is now time to re-appraise the High Church ideals, and ask how they might be relevant to the future of Catholic Anglicanism. Romanism and its logical conclusions are set to play out in the years ahead. We have to decide whether we will give up on the Church of England, or whether we will try to carve out a more durable, realistic and authentic identity within it.


  1. This is a really interesting post and it brings forward a lot of questions that, for me, remain unanswered. Good food for thought.

    p.s.- Alcuin Club > S.S.P.P.

  2. This is an extremely sensible, perceptive and well argued posting. Of course, there is no easy answer and different people will come up with different answers. My own personal stance is influenced greatly by the actions (or inaction, more likely) of the place where, over many years, I have received the greatest spiritual blessings, but that is a private matter.

    Within certain constraints, I am not sure that it matters too much which Rite or ceremonial one uses as long as it is done well. Within reason I can happily take English cathedral/major parish church worship - which tends to be Sarum in flavour - as well as the more Ultramontane, traditional liturgy of the London church where I choose to worship 2 or 3 times a month.

    I don't think I could stomach 1552 or even 1662 but I'm quite happily directing the music at a Solemn Funeral Requiem later this week according to the 1928 Rite.

    Occasionally I play the organ for Masses at an RC church where the Parish Priest prides himself as a connoisseur of good music and traditional liturgy (plus "Benedictine arrangement" nonsense on the altar). I wonder whether those Anglo Catholics who are so keen on becoming RCs realise how appallingly awful and sloppy RC music and liturgy really is and that what RC priests say in their pulpits (the "party line") is often very different from the beliefs and opinions they express privately over coffee in their kitchens.

    My gut feeling is that the Catholic Movement in the C-of-E (whatever future form it may take) is far from dead or even from dying.

  3. Malcolm,

    Thanks for your comment. If I were better read I would have considered more the theology of the pre-Oxford Movement High Church Divines, and thought more about their view of the relationship of the Reformed C of E and the pre-Reformation church, and then considered their sacramental and liturgical teachings.

    It seems to me that Anglo-Papalism and Ultramontanism was in direct conflict with its own High Church origins: their position was that although the C of E was formally in schism, there was never any real reason for that to happen other than the caprice of a wayward King, and that the C of E had an infected, Protestant hierarchy that needed converting to counter-reformation Catholicism. They replaced all "Anglican" theology and teaching with contemporary Roman materials and imagined themselves to be under the spiritual, if not temporal, jurisdiction of the Pope. They replaced the prayerbook with the Roman Mass, sharing the Vatican's disinterest in pre-Trent Liturgies and enforcing Rome's Liturgical law to the letter.

    It seems that the movement was too short-sighted in setting its sail towards Rome. The High Church group had a much broader view of the Church Catholic and looked backwards towards the Ecumenical Councils, rather than horizontally, to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Lourdes.

  4. There are many psychological reasons why certain people are attracted to Anglo Catholicism, especially in its more extreme and colourful forms, and we are all well aware of them. To pick out just one, there is a strong element of being "naughty" or "illegal" and this appeals to adolescents and to some of us who are (much) older but have never quite lost this rebelious tendency. The very deep spirituality of many Anglican Catholics grows out of this; it is both caught and taught.

    Last Sunday morning I thought the decent sized and fairly young congregation was due largely to people knowing that they would get good music and good liturgy, very well done. Not to mention the most friendly and welcoming people of any church anywhere.

    The greatest asset of the Catholic wing of the Anglican church (and I never tire of saying this) is the pastoral care given to their flocks by the clergy. As an example, I first recognised this in someone you know very well, about 27 years ago. Staggers does churn out silly, overgrown adolescents, and always has done, but frequently they develop into some of the finest pastors in the Anglican Church. We must never lose sight of this strength; I very much doubt whether you would find such pastoral care elsewhere.

    What the events of the past 18 months or so have done for me more than anything else is to make me realise how much I really do love and value the good old C-of-E whether it be Choral Evensong in a cathedral or Oxbridge chapel or Ponticifal High Mass according to the English Missal (and most points midway). For years now I have said the full RC daily Office, Most people would say that the second readings in the Office of Readings are awful. Although catering for a different Calendar and ethos, the published non-Biblical readings for Common Worship are so very much better.

    If I wasn't spending so much of my life playing All things B&B and Morning has Broken at the crematorium I might fnd time to read the Caroline Divines of the C-of-E but c'est la vie!

  5. A very thought-provoking and very well-written post.

    Are you familiar with the writings of Dr. Wickham-Legg? IMHO Dr. W-L was the finest liturgical scholar this Realm ever produced. He consistently warned of the dangers of following Rome too closely and fully understood the precarious nature of tradition in the Roman Church after the triumph of Ultramontanism. A century ago this great man could see what was going to happen to Rome, and to those in the Anglican Communion who would follow it.

    My favourite quote from his writings:
    "A very little study soon convinces us of the deep division there is between the practice of modern Rome and of medieval England, and that modern Rome will only lead us astray if we trust to its liturgical decisions. Because a practice is Roman, it is not therefore of necessity good, or ancient, or Catholic."

    Words written 120 years ago but so pertinent today.

  6. The fundamental questions are these:

    1. Was the Medieval Church of England in need of Reform?
    2. Is the counter-Reformation Roman Church worth copying in the C of E and should Anglicans immediately accept all the innovations of Rome since the Reformation and seek immediate restoration of full Communion with Rome?

    An Anglo-Catholic in the 20th Century would have said 1. Possibly not and 2. Yes, definately while the High Churchman would say 1. Definately, at least the Hierarchy and 2. Certainly not.

    This is fundamental difference between the two positions, one arguing that Anglicans are better off outside Roman jurisdiction and the other that the CofE has nothing to offer as an independent body and this schism must be overcome.

    I have to say, I feel more inclined to the former view. The counter-Reformation in the Roman Church was as much a reactionary break from Tradition as the Reformation was, and rather than addressing the entrenched absolutism that this created on both sides, Papist Anglo-Catholics have only ever tried to ignore it.

  7. I know what it is to find yourself having to reassess your ecclesiological understanding. It can result in all manner of paths, including finding yourself right where you are, but it can be an unsettling journey in any case.

    I hope you're able to find some sort of resolution to this questioning. Happy and peaceful searching.


  8. Brilliantly thought-provoking post, Joseph. Thank you. I think I am also inclined to the former view.

  9. Curiously, it is those of us who were "Prayer Book Catholics" and not anglo-papalists who seem to be first to join the Ordinariate; for us, it was not the dressing up which was at the heart of catholicism. It was always about ecclesiology; and in the CofE that has fallen apart, and the only touchstone of orthodoxy is the belief that any part of the Anglican Communion can decide any matter unilaterally. It is about authority, and I hope SSWSH can address that for you.

  10. It is precisely my reservations about the exercise of authority in the Roman Church that persuade me not to go to Rome. Well, that and the whole issue of the Order(s) of the Ordinariate.

  11. Thank you for this. I share many of your thoughts.

    I am certainly within the "Prayer Book Catholicism" party within the Anglo-Catholic camp. I'd dare say most High Church Episcopalians are in this vein.

    Nowadays, it is easy to be Prayer Book Catholic, as our 1979 BCP is more Catholic than its predecessors, even though some of the language is absolutely horrid (I'm looking at you: Rite II, Eucharistic Prayer C). Most likely you'd add Catholic aspects (the Angelus, Introits, etc) to our BCP rather than take things out or rearrange them as it was in the days of old.


  12. +Edwin,

    When you talk about "the belief that any part of the Anglican Communion can decide any matter unilaterally", what do you mean? You can't be talking about women priests and women bishops; decisions to ordain women to both orders were specifically authorised by Lambeth Conferences.

  13. Ex Fide:

    An excellent post. I had just posted something similar (though much shorter) on another blog, but I didn't say it anything like as well as you did!

    Would you mind terribly if I asked you where it all leaves you personally re the use of C of E (BCP/Common Worship) vis-a-vis Roman liturgy in the Church of England?

  14. Well Steve, as you well know I go to a Parish where the Roman Rite is used, but certainly not in any form authorised by Rome. We follow the English Missal (occassionally using the Anglican Missal) 1942 (?) and the attendant rubrics.

    What I value in Liturgy is that which it is supposed to be: traditional, authentic and comprehensive, the problem being those terms can be interpreted quite subjectively. The traditional Roman Rite is, to my mind, all of these things, although one could argue that excesses and untraditional practices had already crept in, and I couldn't imagine a cut-off point (before 1955) when the Roman Liturgy became unliveable.

    The big problem with Roman Liturgy in the C of E is that Anglo-Catholics have sought to slavishly follow Rome in her errors of reform. The C of E has a good, firm liturgical foundation on which to build: the Book of Common Prayer, which, despite being an extreme abridgement of the medieval Liturgy, nonetheless preserves much of what is good, authentic and traditional in Liturgy, and offers an edifying liturgical English perhaps better than other great liturgical dialects in Christendom.

    Frankly, although the latest American Prayerbook and Common Worship have augmented the 1662 rite and are hailed as being more "catholic", the yardstick by which their catholicism is judged is modern Rome, and I would no more feel comfortable with Common Worship than I would with the modern Roman Rite (which is almost aliturgical, all sense of Liturgy having been lost by 1955).

    So the happiest I could be in the C of E is where I am now at a Church whose Vicar has clear liturgical sense and supports the use of the traditional Roman Rite (I'm not talking about 1962 btw). I'd equally be happy with full-on Sarum (calender, rite, everything, not just dressed-up BCP), although this simply does not happen, unfortunately - and the fact that Rome does not allow it is telling. If my Anglican days are forced to end, then I would be quite comfortable in Western Rite Orthodoxy (Sarum is a more likely Candidate than post-Trent Roman rite). I am not a Byzantine rite Christian and hope to always be part of the Western Church.

    That's roughly my (confused) manifesto.

  15. I didn't actually know exactly what rite was in use at the church you belong to - perhaps if I had followed your blog more closely and/or lived less than a hundred miles from London I might have done! Anyway, many thanks for your clarification.

  16. Steve, when I said "any matter" I meant just that. Some Anglican dioceses bless same-sex unions, others forbid them. Some have serially married Bishops, others refuse consecration to those divorced and remarried. As for the ordination of women, Lambeth said that both those opposed and those in favour of it were authentic Anglicans and that we were in a period of 'discernment', to be concluded only when all the Churches (Eastern and Western) came to a common mind. Authority in the Anglican Communion is now so 'dispersed' as to be meaningless; which is what the Catholic Church discovered when it supposed the Anglican Communion could agree on any matter, only to discover that such agreement was a mirage, and 'Conversations' with the Communion on matters of theology a waste of breath.

  17. Henry Joy Fynes-Clinton you might well never have lived.

  18. It would be a shame if you felt that was true. We owe him a lot. But if Rome was the final destination, why the detour through faculties, renovations and Walsingham. If Rome calls, just go!

  19. Good post. You’ve covered most bases, apart from homosexuality. Which are the padres who give it all the Catholic tat and show in public but can’t go to Rome because of the boyfriends? Are they in the High Church or the Anglo-Catholic camp?

  20. Clergy with boyfriends are no doubt scattered across Christendom, from Canterbury to Rome, to Lyons and Moscow and beyond, as are Priests with mistresses.

  21. "If my Anglican days are forced to end, then I would be quite comfortable in Western Rite Orthodoxy (Sarum is a more likely Candidate than post-Trent Roman rite). I am not a Byzantine rite Christian and hope to always be part of the Western Church."

    I doubt that. Your branch-theory ideas are anathema in Orthodoxy, and you would also need to subscribe to an "Eastern" understanding of the Western theological and liturgical tradition.

  22. James C. - Who says I have Branch Theory ideas? I am not a branch theorist. There are and have been many RC scholars who have rejected Ultramontanism. Are they neo-branch-theorists? What's your argument?

    I don't think adjusting to an "Eastern" or, as I would see it, an orthodox, understandings of theology and liturgy would be as massive a leap for me (or many Anglicans)as you seem to think.

  23. I am both delighted and relieved to have discovered your blog, and in particular this posting and the majority of the comments made about it. Despite having been trained at St Stephen's House, and even been the celebrant at Vespers and Benediction on 8th December at St Magnus the Martyr during Colin Gill's reign, I could never understand how or why some Anglicans could so cheerfully deride the Church to which they themselves belonged while apparently either ignoring the elephant in the Roman room (apostolicae curae and the papal claims) or even swallowing the animal whole. It seems to me that the pope's 'generous offer' is now giving rise to a greater degree of realism (and indeed honesty) amongst Anglo-Catholics which has long been needed, and I for one am grateful to His Holiness for his assistance in this matter.