Tag Archives: Anglo-Catholic Identity

Anglo-Catholic Identity–Again

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…

On Rite-Thinking

I had a good question a while back regarding “Anglo-Catholicism” and the choice of rites in the Book of Common Prayer: “What makes the language of Rite I inherently more Anglo-Catholic than the language of Rite II? Is it our equivalent of Latin, or something?”

The reason why this is such a good question is because it forces us to consider what that loaded term “Anglo-Catholic” means, and how it applies to our decision-making processes.

Let me parse it out this way… There are two (of probably many) common ways of understand the “catholic” in Anglo-Catholic. One sees “Catholic” as pertaining to the Roman Catholic Church as presently constituted. This could be labeled the Ecumenical Approach and understands Anglo-Catholicism as the point of closest contact to the Roman Catholic Church. The hope in this approach is either to 1) advocate for corporate reunion with the Roman  Catholic Church or 2) to remain as close as possible to modern Roman Catholicism despite the structural divisions between us. These two plays out in a couple of different ways. Many in the first group (corporate reunion) have now gone the way of the Ordinariate and are now no longer Anglican Anglo-Catholics but are now Roman Catholic Anglo-Catholics. Indeed, virtually all of the Episcopalians I have known in the first group are now in full communion with Rome.

As a result, the second group of this Ecumenical type is now more common within the Episcopal Church. Some of the folks I know who fall into this category started out in the Roman Catholic Church but departed; others started out in some form of low protestant Evangelicalism and in their way up the candle stopped in the high section of the Episcopal Church. One priest I know started out in an Assemblies of God type tradition and began moving in a Rome-ward direction.  However, now divorced and in a same-sex relationship, there is no way that he could be a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, he remains Episcopal, but assimilates as closely as possible to Roman theology and practice. I know several who were ordained Roman Catholic clergy who switched and are now married whether to different or same-sex partners. A number of formerly Roman Catholic women and divorced people also appear in this group.

So, this is Anglo-Catholicism as the point of closest approach: it’s the closest that  people in a variety of groups—usually related to gender, orientation, or marital status—can come to being Roman Catholic (or Orthodox) and still be ordained. Sometimes—not always, but sometimes—they have no real desire to be Anglican or Episcopalian; it’s just the next best thing to what they truly desire.

Now, for this perspective, Rite II makes perfect sense. Despite the tinkering with the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, modern Roman Catholic practice is definitely contemporary language. For someone wanting to align with this tradition, it’s a no-brainer.

The other common means of understanding the “catholic” in “Anglo-Catholic” I will characterize, for want of a better term, as the Historical Approach. The Historical Approach rejects a narrow sense of Anglican identity and the notion that Christianity began at the Reformation. The Historical Approach see Anglicanism as a purification of the catholic tradition and, in particular, is interested in the practices, theologies, and spirituality that informed the English church prior to the Reformation. This Approach is interested in reconnecting with broader Christianity but tends to look “back” rather than “across” as in the Ecumenical Approach.

I’m most definitely in this camp. Coming from this perspective, there are three main reasons why I prefer the Rite I liturgies.

1. A sense of historical continuity. For me, to be Anglo-Catholic and to hold an Historical Approach isn’t just about the pre-Reformation period. I dislike pretense, and there are those who would like to pretend that the Reformation never happened, and that we can or should go back to celebrating pre-Reformation liturgies the way it was done then—just with comprehensible English. However much this might thrill my inner Sarum geek, it simply doesn’t and won’t work as a way of being church now. A key notion of the Historical Approach is that the tradition is an inheritance; the things handed on to us have worked for centuries. Yes, things are different; yes, the culture is different; but humanity is still fundamentally the same.

The Rite I liturgies put me in touch with a larger church. Knowing that I am praying in the same words that spiritual ancestors used one hundred, two hundred, four hundred years ago is valuable. This helps me get a concrete notion of baptismal ecclesiology—I pray in consonance with those baptized centuries before I ever came into being. When praying the Daily Office or participating in the older form of the Rite I Eucharist, I am conscious that I am being formed as an Anglican through the experience of sharing in those words and rites.

2. A superior expression of transcendence. As I’ve argued before, here and here, I believe that the Anglo-Catholic path is one that foregrounds transcendence as a means of connecting with God and God-stuff. To shamelessly plagiarize myself, here are some paragraphs from the second link that cut to the main point for our purposes here:

When we come at the question of environment and the vestments by way of a worldview, and worldview as a way of proclaiming and enculturating the kingdom of God, we can see what we do and what the other choices are, in a new light. So for the sake of argument, let’s consider two options next one another. On one hand we have a stereotypical Anglo-Catholic setting and service; on the other hand we have a stereotypical evangelical mega-church setting and service. (My goal here isn’t to put down either one of them—it’s to draw some very big-brush comparisons…)

Our overall impression of the Anglo-Catholic service is that we are encountering things that are initially unfamiliar. In comparison with other buildings, the Gothic church has an odd shape and layout. The ministers are wearing strange clothes. The place is outfitted with crucifixes and candles and thuribles and a bunch of other things you normally only find in a goth shop. The music is played on old instruments. The language and terminology may be unfamiliar; the internal logic of the rite isn’t similar to other meetings we’re used to experiencing. By way of contrast, the evangelical mega-church does everything it can to feel familiar. The room looks like it may well be a regular auditorium with stadium style seating and potted plants. The ministers are dressed in street clothes and tattoos. They’ve got guitars and a drum kit. Both the language and internal logic of the rite are what you might find in a typical pop concert.

Now – what do these two environments communicate about the worldview that they are expressing? About the proclamation of the gospel in relation to the modern secular culture? The way I read it, the Anglo-Catholic service is foregrounding a theology of the transcendent. The environment is fundamentally and intentionally discontinuous from contemporary culture. The message is that the values and world of the gospel are likewise discontinuous from our everyday secular world. A transformation is required in order to cleave to the mind of Christ. To me, it’s a visual reminder of Isaiah’s words: my ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts. Some people will tell us that we’re not being accessible. That’s not how I’d frame it. I’d rather say that we’re bearing witness to a mystery, and inviting people to come and learn about that mystery with us.

The way I read the evangelical mega-church environment, it foregrounds a theology of immanence. This environment is fundamentally continuous with contemporary culture – but with a twist. The message is that the values and world of the gospel can be seen from here, we just may not be there yet. A tweak is what’s needed. To me, it’s a reminder that God is in our very midst. This is accessible, it’s a kissing cousin with modern culture—but my concern is, where and how is the line being drawn? Where is the Gospel demand to something new, something radical?

Now, this is not to say that either one of them have a lock on transcendence or immanence. It’s a matter of emphasis, but also a legitimate difference of theology. We have chosen a different way.

The use of “traditional” language is a clear sign that we are operating with a different frame of reference from the everyday world. It is understandable—but noticeably different.

3. Greater beauty. As a lover of language, I find the Rite I liturgies to be more beautiful. I think that they have a superior flow of language, better use of assonance and alliteration,  better attention to balancing clauses than what we find in the Rite II liturgies. To a degree, the syntax of traditional language helps this happen. That is, the verb endings help with assonance and rhyme; certain stock phrases contribute an inherently better balance to sentence structure. In a culture that still (rightly) sees and reads Shakespeare as one of the best poets of all time in any language and where the King James Bible is a deep part of our vernacular, traditional language reads as elevated language which reads as poetic language. Following Dearmer and others, I see beauty as a necessary part of our worship of and witness to God. Therefore, the more beautiful option is the better option to my way of thinking.

So, coming from the Historical Approach, I do see the use of Rite I as having a natural contention to Anglo-Catholic thought and theology.

Now, the necessary caveats and disclaimers!

First, let me be the very first to say that these two Approaches are rather crude caricatures! I know that they are. There is a great deal of fluidity, cross-over, and additional inputs around Anglo-Catholic identity than simply these two. I still think they’re valid distinctions, though, despite that.

Second, I do love the Rite II liturgies as well, especially prayers A and B. I find Prayer C a little too modernist for my taste; the constant dialogue interruptions prevent me from praying it with the priest as fluently as I do A and B. Prayer D is a perfectly fine prayer, but there’s a certain amount of ad-fontes baggage around it. (And please, please, do not try to sing the Mozarabic tone if you have not extensively practiced it and know that you can do it well! Badly-sung prayers are painful, not festal!)

Third, I am not saying that Anglo-Catholic parishes or people shouldn’t or can’t do Rite II liturgies. I think that’s fallacious. We can and should. Rather, I’m explaining why I prefer Rite I particularly in my own devotions and, hence, why my directions for an Anglo-Catholic style Office use Rite I.

Fourth, in reading over this again having finished it, I do detect a slight hint of animus in my sketching of the Ecumenical Approach. That’s from personal pain. My experience of this position is that it has been used as a way to continue the disenfranchisement of women priests in the Anglo-Catholic movement. From one side, it’s used as an excuse to suppress women priests because they’ll be a barrier to reunion; on the other, their presence gives the lie to the “point of closest approach” and they are sometimes barred in order to maintain the pretense of being Roman Catholic without the discipline. There are at least a couple of posts still needing to be written here: one on the necessary characteristics of a viable Anglo-Catholic movement in the Episcopal Church going forward, one on various forms of pretense rampant in the Anglo-Catholic movement and why they are unhealthy.

Here endeth the rant; let the bomb-throwing begin…