The last couple of posts (Anglo-Catholic Future in the Episcopal Church and its follow-on A Response to Josh) have raised some comments and questions that I’ll try to address. On one hand, Brian has questioned my use and appropriation of the term “Anglo-Catholic”; on the other, Susan, Greg and others have located themselves in the final paragraph of “A Response to Josh” but neither see nor understand themslves as being particularly “catholic”… As different as these questions are, I think there’s a common thread here that makes me reckless enough to try to tackle them both in a single post.
I’ll start with Brian’s comments:
I am challenged by your self-description as an “Anglo-Catholic” only because, in the history of this blog, I have never seen you cite, or even mention having read about, the Tractarians, especially Newman and Pusey, the Ritualists, the founding priests of the SSC, the slum priests of the late 19th century, the “martyrs of ritualism” who were jailed for violating the Public Worship Regulation Act, the early AC religious orders, the Anglo-Papalists of the early to mid-20C, the participants in the Anglo-Catholic Congresses, the work of Frs. Huddleston, Raynes, and other CR priests in South African missions during apartheid, and so on. I think those of us who were steeped in that tradition, by the priests who formed us, chafe at your description of historic Anglo-Catholicism as “extreme, regressive, and eccentric,” and at your reference to “the sins of the fathers” in your response to Josh. Your vision of Anglo-Catholicism seems historically myopic, and I think it is easy to dismiss those of us who differ with your understanding of the movement if you lack a full knowledge of that history. I say this in good faith after a few days of bemusement.
I know Brian fairly well from our online interactions and, I think, have a good sense of where he’s coming from. Lineage is important. (There’s an additional subtext here around lineage as both of us enjoy martial arts and if there’s one thing martial artists like to argue about its lineage and the implicit connection between lineage and effectiveness…)
When I first started actively attending an Episcopal parish it was one in Ohio headed by a former Presbyterian who was high as could be with smells, bells, and Rector’s forums on Anglo-Catholic topics. When we wnt back to Atlanta, M had a parish placement but we were unofficially affiliated with an Anglo-Catholic parish there. The priest was a member of the SSC and highly placed in Forward in Faith NA. I learned quite a lot from him, his liturgies, sermons, and spiritual direction. (He was the one who introduced me to Martin Thornton.) Bouncing from Atlanta to New York, we alternated between Smokey Mary’s and St Luke’s in the Village and I got up to the Church of the Resurrection a few times. On moving to the Main Line, M got her start in a parish with an incumbent raised at St Clement’s who maintained a prayer-book parish with an Anglican Missal altar party. I could go on, but I don’t feel the need to…
What’s my point in this rehearsal? The Anglo-Catholic movement within the Episcopal Church is a living tradition. And, as a result of being a living tradition, it’s a rather broad one—indeed, much more broad than some would desire. As you can see, there’s quite a span: Tridentine ceremonial to Vatican II style, those affirming women and queer folk and those not. Which is why there’s also an Anglo-Catholic movement outside of the Episcopal Church. Furthermore, in the time since I’ve started blogging, the span of Anglo-Catholics within the Episcopal Church has narrowed quite a bit. Between the formation of ACNA, the mass departure of Forward in Faith, and the establishment of the Anglican Ordinariate, there has been a lot of shifting around and many who described themselves as Anglo-Catholics left. For those whose ultimate desire was union with Rome, they have left and gone to Rome. Indeed, the FiFNA priest mentioned abve is now a priest of the Ordinariate. For those who were too Anglican (or too remarried) for the Ordinariate, ACNA provided a option.
If you’ll note, I carefully specified my remarks around an Anglo-Catholic movement that wished to be taken seriously within the Episcopal Church. So—I’m speaking to the living tradition of Anglo-Catholism that has chosen to remain within the Episcopal Church and wants to have an effect upon it.
Having talked a bit about the “living tradition” thing, I’ll switch gears slightly, shift to the topic of self-applied labels in identity politics and directly address the points that Brian raised. As I read his comment, Brian is suggesting that I don’t belong within the Anglo-Catholic tradition and have no business claiming the label because I do not have the proper intellectual foundations within it.
So, let me sketch a little bit of my intellectual formation with regard to 19th century Anglicanism. I’m a biblical scholar with an interest in the use of Scripture in liturgy and its application in ascetical theology. That means I do a lot of reading, only some of it related to Anglican topics. I have read the entire contents of Tracts for the Times in my early days as an Anglican and learned a lot from them. I’ve read a lot of John Mason Neale and his circle. I’ve read some from the Ritualists. I’ve read, in particular, liturgical and ceremonial material from the time, focusing on the early history of Ritual Notes and the Directorium Anglicanum and others. Fr. Rock’s Church of Our Fathers in three volumes lives on my Kindle. I’ve read broadly through Hierurgia Anglicana. Those are the folks who fall narrowly within your canon.
No, I’ve not read much from the early SSC founders or their hiers.
I’ve no doubt departed from the narrow way in reading more of J. Wickham Legg, Vernon Staley, Percy Dearmer, and those who I would regard as my best conversation partners, Walter H. Frere and his friend and correspondent Evelyn Underhill. And I’ve been guilty of reading and being formed by other people you didn’t mention like Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, John Donne, and George Herbert.
My take-away from this reading is that the Anglican way is a liturgical spirituality informed by patristic interpretation and practice understood in such a way to speak to the spiritual yearnings of our times. So I spend more of my time reading Augustine, Cassiodorus, John Cassian, Benedict, Gregory, Bede, and the desert tradition generally (that also being the roots of real “Celtic theology” which learned much more from the Desert Fathers than Greenpeace.)
So—am I a real Anglo-Catholic?
Those who have been reading this blog from the beginning will recall that I have a love/hate relationship with the Anglo-Catholic label. Indeed, over the past decade(!) that I’ve kept the blog up, I have attempted to explicitly disavow the label and distance myself from it at least twice.
Once was here back in 2005: Anglo-Catholic.
Another was here in 2008: faux catholic.
I’ve tried to go with different alternatives too. Here was an attempt from 2006: Sarum Anglicans? and another from 2007: What is in a name?
But, like a dog returning to its vomit, I have returned to the Anglo-Catholic label partly because that’s how I am perceived by the wider church. I’ll talk more about this in a moment, but for the sake of completeness let me link to this piece from 2006 where I specifically recant the position that I took in that first link up there from 2005: An Anglican Moderate.
“Anglo-Catholic” to the best of my knowledge—and I’m sure folks will feel more than free to correct me on this if I’m wrong—does have a narrow meaning in which it refers to a particular group of writers and thinkers in late 19th century England who suceeded the Ritualists. However, very few people use it with this narrow referrent. Its far more common usage is a general term for those who insist on a catholic continuity in the Anglican churches. (For instance, check out the authors collected in the mid-ninteenth century “Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology“!) As such, the general term “Anglo-Catholic” is a synthesis. I explore my understanding of such a synthesis in this post from 2010: Tradition: Between Synthesis and Historicity. At the end of the day, such a synthesis is a set of ideas and perspectives enshrined by a current living community, and this is where we really get at the root of things. Brian’s community will not regard me as a true Anglo-Catholic. Why—because I have not read the intellectual canon within which Anglo-Catholicism resides? No—they would tell me that I am not a true Anglo-Catholic because if I were formed properly in that canon I would recognize that women cannot be clergy and that queer folk should be kept in their closets. And—by and large—most of the people who make up Brian’s community have left the Episcopal Church. (As has Brian.)
I, on the other hand, recognize a synthesis largely contiguous with that of Brian’s community (!), that not only has a home but has an important voice to offer the Episcopal Church—and that there is a living community here that embodies and sustains it.
(I identify the two major differences between my position and positions like Brian’s as these: 1) I don’t believe in an infallible church and thus see some matters as open for discussion that they see as closed, and 2) I don’t see the point of the movement as corporate reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. I’m certainly not against corporate reunion with the Roman Catholic Church but, let’s face it, they’ve got some work to do before I’d be willing to sign off on it.)
But there’s another piece here too. Up to now, I’ve been talking about self-applied labels. As my friend Robb noted in a comment on one of the pieces linked to above, there’s a point where a subculture’s navel-gazing breaks down…
The funny thing is that – the more I am engaged in debates about what is truly Catholic – the more it feels like other debates about meaningless subcultures: is Green Day punk in the same way as The Ramones; can you be a true Goth and listen to Marilyn Manson; who best represents country music, David Allen Coe or Kenny Chesney? (btw, there is only one right answer to that last question!!!)
Anybody remember the Goth Code (or the Geek Code)? I’m sure there’s an Anglo-Catholic variant somewhere. If the seventh letter is an “f”, it means you’re for the use of folded chausibles in Lent; if the 12th is an “m” then you think the maniple should be removed for the sermon—but if you do, you’d better be ready for the severe verbal whoopin’ from those who think it should stay on and have three sources older than yours to cite as evidence!!
But these are points that—however significant they may be to insiders—are completely ignored by those outside the subculture.
Here’s the thing. When someone sees me cross myself at the Elevation and genuflect on the way out of the pew they’ll say, “What are you, an Anglo-Catholic or something?” I could say, “Well, no, actually I’m a Reformed Patristic Prayer-book catholic Anglican within the Episcopal Church—not technically an Anglo-Catholic. When I crossed myself, I was following the tradition of the vernacular devotions for the Sarum Mass which is totally different from the use of ‘Anglo-Catholics’ simpliciter as they were simply borrowing the Roman Catholic customs of their day without a whole lot of reference to historical analogues…” but the person making the remark would have wandered off after the third word.
The Episcopal church calls me an Anglo-Catholic. I can disagree, isolate myself because of a concern for terminology not shared by 99.9% of people in or outside the church, and in the process cut myself off from a community of people who may or may not share my terminological scruples with whom I share a great deal in terms of theology and practice. Or, alternatively, I can embrace the label despite my hedging and potential scruples and lend my voice to those who love the church and want to support it in its mission by reminding it of our core beliefs and principles.
This, then, is where we get to the final point I want to make: what a catholic movement (and yes, I do prefer to use this term and to use a lower-case “c”) has to contribute to the broader Episcopal Church. Several people saw things they liked in the final paragraph of my previous post. But—they don’t see themselves as being “catholic” let alone “Anglo-Catholic.” So what gives?
I don’t think that there was anything distinctively catholic in that last paragraph; I think it is something that Anglicans of any stripe ought to be able to get behind. However, I do think that catholic Anglicans (and Episcopalian Anglo-Catholics) may have a clearer perspective on some of these issues because of our chosen theological conversation partners and patterns of life.
Reading the Church Fathers is a manifestly useful exercise. All sorts of discussions and arguments were had in the first several centuries of the Church’s life as we were hammering out language to wrap around our understanding of God in the Scriptures, the experience of the Risen Jesus in the Sacraments, and participation of the Holy Spirit in the life of our communities. The Fathers (and Mothers) got a sense of what thoughts led to skewed practice. And that’s the real problem with heresy—not that someone is thinking an unapproved thought, but that someone has construed who and what God is in a way that will have tragic consequences if we try to live it out. That’s why Arianism, Gnosticism, Pelagianism, Montanism, and others are problems: they live badly. In some way, their communal expression undercuts the abundant life with God and the reconciliation between God and his whole creation promised in the true Gospel.
We who read these writers hear what they were struggling against and are more ready to identify it in our own time.
We who have chosen to lead a self-consciously liturgical and sacramental life will have both different thoughts and different instincts—whether conscious or not—around the sacraments, their relationship to a life of discipleship, and how the church deploys them than those who don’t. Are these thoughts and instincts “better”? I wouldn’t say “better” myself, but they may well be more thought through or more organically integrated in a spiritual life.
Personally, I think the Episcopal Church could stand to learn quite a lot about sanctity, holiness, and the connection between the sacraments and the sacred from the catholic movement. As I’ve said before and will no doubt expand upon, “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” is not the document I wish for the church—but it meets the church where the church is. I hope it serves as a starting place for a set of discussions that can eventually get us to a clearer place.
No, I don’t think the catholic movement is the sole location of faithful Christians in the Episcopal Church—there are myriads who aren’t and have no need to be catholic. No, I don’t think that catholic devotions should be made mandatory or imposed on the prayer book. I’m quite happy having the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book to use alongside my BCP. No, I don’t think that being an Anglo-Catholic in the Episcopal Church is the only way to be one. There are different syntheses recognizably within the tradition. I can honor that and respect those who hold them even while I don’t agree with them.
So—that’s where I am today. An Anglo-Catholic in the Episcopal Church who believes that we have much to offer the church. You may not agree—either that I’m an Anglo-Catholic, or that the church needs to listen—but I don’t plan on shutting up and going away any time soon…