Dearmer’s Grand Rant

One of my chief conversation partners as I work on my presentation for the Society of Catholic Priests is Percy Dearmer’s Art of Public Worship. I’m about halfway through editing the text as a Kindle file and will be saying more about it as it becomes available. However, I couldn’t help but share this bit where Blessed Percy draws together the threads of ceremonial, theology, and denominational relations in one big argument. I wouldn’t go all the way with him, here, but he certainly makes a passionate case:

For the Church does need guidance, leadership, education; otherwise the silly people will continue to stamp the whole Church with their diverse follies, and the great mass of moderate men will continue to think that the safe and moderate thing is to combine the mistakes of both sides. We have never realized the seriousness of ceremonial, the need of sound knowledge, of aesthetic understanding, of careful thought. And ceremonial, as I have suggested, is of the utmost importance, because worship must express itself in action. You can carry off an almost unlimited amount of inadequate ritual by means of ceremonial, you can hide your ritual behind your ceremonial, as the Latin and Eastern Churches so largely do; but you cannot undo the harm of a bad ceremonial. If our Church is to be at one moment a weak imitation of Geneva or Berlin, at another of Cologne or Cork, or an illogical combination of such shadows, she can have no future. As it is, the Anglican Church is still regarded all over the Continent, from Vigo to Vladivostok, as a mere variety of Lutheranism; while a small section of her clergy are hated by the general public of America and Britain as imitators of Rome, and win the amused contempt of Roman Catholics for their pains. Yet what the Continent of Europe wants, what the whole world is blindly groping for, is what we can offer, what we have always stood for — a reasonable, free, and evangelical Catholicism. Mere Protestantism is shrivelling and weak in Europe, and its deep moral failure in the country of its birth at the very outset of the Great War will be difficult to survive; but Vaticanism, as Loisy has been explaining in France,[i] has also failed morally. Yet the people of Christendom do still want to be Christian, if only they could see that there is another way open to them besides those two alternatives: they think that they must either be Papist or Protestant, and the modern world will not be either; they do not know that it is possible to keep all that is true and beautiful in traditional Christianity, and that there is a more fruitful course open to intelligent men than anti-clericalism or indifferentism. It was the duty of the Anglican Church to make this clear to the whole world, standing, with the Churches of the East, for free, national, and federated Catholicism; and she has hitherto failed, mainly because she has not proclaimed her message in the only language that the whole world can read — a consistent, beautiful, and expressive ceremonial. She has not even been intelligible to her own children. Her ministers have disregarded her rules, and marred her beauty; her members have regarded her as a compromise or a dim reflection of something else. But people will never rally to an imitation, they will never be inspired by a compromise. The Anglican Church could not exist if she had no mind of her own, and would not deserve to exist. She has a mind of her own, and the principles which she has never ceased to maintain are those which alone can make Christianity possible in the future as anything more than a vague sentiment. If by the example of her public worship all over the world she can now show herself for what she is, she will win, and win, and win all along the line; and, proclaiming by her strenuous beauty the undying strength of the old Christian tradition, she will help the peoples of the other Churches to that reconstruction which must surely come if they also are to flourish in the new age.


[i] [Ed.: Alfred Loisy was a French Roman Catholic priest who argued on behalf of biblical criticism and a more modern approach to theology. He was excommunicated by Pius X in 1908 for Modernism.]

8 Replies to “Dearmer’s Grand Rant”

  1. Dear Mr. Olsen:

    Thank you for this lovely quote from the late Fr. Dearmer. Thank you also for the intelligence that you are editing his excellent Art of Public Worship. That, and The Parson’s Handbook, The English Hymnal, and the Oxford Book of Carols are part and parcel of and to the rich Anglican patrimony which Dearmer managed to bequeath to the Christian East and West.

    As an Eastern Catholic, and as one who favors Russian, Greek and Arabic Orthodox practice over Western Christian practice, I must confess that I have some doubts as to the advisability of the presbyterate or the episcopate including women (although not the diaconate, but then, I believe that that last is where a Scriptural Church would place control of the purse strings). Thus, you will excuse me if I do not quite agree with the course that the Anglican Communion has been taking for the last thirty or so years.

    Nonetheless, as one who has loved English literature since my youth, I have found that the Anglican Church has given to much to the world, including a high view of liturgy, a broad wisdom, and a low cunning that has managed to maintain itself in a world that barely tolerates Christianity these days. It is my hope that your Communion might continue to do some good on occasion. Thank you for helping to continue to inspire that hope.

    Very truly yours,

    Bernard Brandt

  2. Dr. Olsen:

    I would certainly enjoy being on the journey from Vigo to Vladivostok to survey current European attitudes to Anglicanism. Within our current Episcopal Church here in the United States, however, I have seen somewhat of a trend over the last decade. We have indeed welcomed into our beloved church a number of believers from Geneva and Berlin, Cologne and Cork, but I am not sure that we are doing enough to share with them the glories of our own heritage. Clergy and laity alike become Episcopalians, but some have left behind in another tradition ceremonial and ritual that they feel that they must continue to enjoy in their new one. It would not be an issue if these things formed part of individuals’ personal piety and were conducted at home. It is the desire for and even insistence on them in public worship that waters down the observance of a particularly Anglican spirituality: animated conversation before the beginning of the Eucharist, pop-influenced psalm tones unsingable by the congregration, alternative versions of the Creeds, an aversion to the communion hymns in our authorized hymnals, etc. If I were to write of the general ignorance of the Book of Common Prayer of whatever publication date, this would quickly become a rant, so I will desist. In any case, as we invite others to join us in a “free, national and federated Catholicism,” if that is what the Episcopal Church of this century is to be, I believe that we should show them, teach them, explain to them, the reformed and Catholic nature of what they’ve shown up for. If we won’t, I imagine that we will move from being what an old Biretta Belt Diocese of Northern Indiana friend called “the thinking [person]’s Catholic Church” to being the feeling person’s Protestant Church. Personally, I prefer the former, although I know that my sentiments are far from universal. Certainly a feeling person’s Protestantism would have much to recommend it.

    Please convey my warmest regards to your wife, the priest, when she returns home from work.

    Sincerely,
    Scott Cooper

  3. A “free, national and federated Catholicism,” like Bishop White’s “Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order” both require active, intellectual engagement. That is something many of our Clergy, and our Purple Shirted Indecisive Grenadiers in particular, are unprepared to do. After all, it might harsh on the Boomer Mellow.

  4. The thing is, though, John Robinson: the web has leveled the playing field. We can have these discussions ourselves, whether clergy engage in them or not – and we are doing exactly that.

    This is why – in the Facebook era – the blogs are still very important, I think. “Social media” is one thing, and “active intellectual engagement” is another thing altogether. We have a voice we’ve never had before, ever; it’s miraculous, really.

    Thanks for this article, Derek; it’s a good one.

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