Monday, 2 January 2017

Anglican Papalism, by Michael Yelton

Michael Yelton, Anglican Papalalism: An Illustrated History 1900-1960, 2005 Canterbury Press

I am very grateful to Father Anthony Chadwick, a priest in the Anglican Catholic Church, for recommending this book. I found it extremely interesting. Anglo-Papalism was the more extreme wing of Anglo-Catholicism. It took the position that the Roman Catholic Church was entirely correct in its claims to authority and that the Church of England was in schism and needed to seek reunion with the Roman Church. While the usual Anglo-Catholic position was that Anglicanism was a branch of the universal catholic church, the Anglo-Papalists saw the true universal church as located only in those churches in communion with Rome.An obvious problem for the Anglican Papalist position was the declaration by the Catholic Church of the nullity of Anglican orders. Unfortunately, Yelton does not go into how Anglo-Papalists wrestled with this inconsistency, though he does look at the question of whether any of their number were secretly re-ordained by varagante bishops.

Liturgically, the Anglican Papalists favoured use of the Roman rite over either adaptations of the Book of Common Prayer or the revival of Sarum use. They had no interest in the development of a romantic, nationalistic English Catholicism. While some more moderate Anglo-Catholics also favoured the Roman rite, Anglo-Papalists took the lead in championing Baroque church decoration and furnishings, the aesthetics of the Counter-Reformation. Arguably, the Anglo-Papalists had a somewhat narrow view of the Roman Catholic tradition, identifying it entirely with the Tridentine liturgy and the Baroque aesthetic, playing down diversity and development in the Western tradition. This contributed to the movement's floundering in the Sixties when the vast changes of Vatican II swept over the Catholic Church. Anglo-Papalists did not know what to think about the new model Catholicism. I would have liked Yelton to have looked a little bit more at the development of Anglo-Catholicism after the Sixties. Many Anglo-Catholics adopted the Novus Ordo Roman liturgy rather enthusiastically.

Yelton examines the part played by Anglo-Papalists in controversies regarding liturgical reform in the Twenties. While moderate Anglo-Catholics favoured revision of the Prayer Book in order to accommodate their liturgical flavour, the Anglo-Papalists had no interest in this as they were able to benefit from the liturgical confusion and anarchy that prevailed. Plans for a Prayer Book revision went hand in hand with greater regulation of ritual practices. It was certain that regulation of the reservation of the sacrament would have been introduced with the new Prayer Book, and bishops having control over reservation would have been intolerable for Anglo-Papalists. They therefore joined with the ultra-Protestants in opposing the proposed Prayer Book of 1928. Our author also looks at the part played by Anglo-Papalists in both the restoration of the Walsingham shrine and the establishment of Anglican religious communities. As the religious communities were not officially regulated by the Anglican hierarchy and so were free to adopt us much Catholic ritual practice and liturgy as they chose and avoiding the conflicts that plagued parishes under Anglo-Papalist priests. Our author points out that most Anglican religious communities accepted the ordination of women, which rather raises the question as to how deeply rooted their Catholic principles really were.

What is remarkable about the Anglo-Papalists is that though they were a minority, they were able to have such a significant influence and to attract such a following in sections of the Anglican Church. It is remarkable when you consider just how fiercely anti-Catholic the Church of England had been in the 19th Century, with even the Anglo-Catholic party publically taking a fairly anti-Papal stance. Yet the Anglican Papalists were able to foster devotion to practices that had been previously been detested by generations as wicked, idolatrous and superstitious.

The Anglo-Papalist movement did not inspire a wave of mass defections to Rome, as the ordination of women was to do, however, the movement was always weakened by a steady trickle of conversions to Rome (such as the great Ronald Knox). After all, if one has come to the conviction that the Roman Church is the real deal, it is logical that one should want to join it. Our author never actually considers the psychology of a person who paradoxically believes the claims of Roman Catholicism but chooses to remain outside of it. What motivates a person to such a perplexing position? Was it a sort of English eccentricity in adopting a bizarre view or just sheer facetiousness? Or perhaps it was motivated by a weary sense of martyrdom, born out of a personal vocation to strive for reunion of the two churches.

Yelton does not seem to care for the right-wing political tendencies of the Anglo-Papalists (which contrasted with the socialism of many Anglo-Catholics). He implies that Benito Mussolini, admired by some of the Anglo-Papalists before the war, was not a man of great intellect. However, despite his caricature as a buffoon, Mussolini was a former school teacher and journalist who had written a biography of Jan Huss. He was very much a thinking man and an intellectual (which is what troubles me about the frequent comparisons between Trump and Mussolini). I would have liked Yelton too have spent more time examining the theological and doctrinal issues raised by the Anglican Papal movement. However, perhaps this was part of the problem for it. The Anglo-Papalists spent so much of their energy on trying to defend the public celebration of their liturgical and devotional practices that they failed to work at making the case for reunion with Rome. A more shrewd strategy would have been to have avoided the public celebration of controversial practices and focused on those aspects of the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican identity which were held inn common with Rome. By focusing their energies on the doctrinal questions, they might have been in a better position to shift the direction of the Church of England. This was essentially what the Oxford Movement had done in the 19th century.

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