Anglican Papalism by Michael Yelton, Canterbury Press £30 When Cohn Stephenson published Merrily on High – a humorous account of his life as an AngloCatholic priest – in 1972 E L Mascall, the distinguished Thomist, said that the book had done more harm to the Anglo-Catholic cause than the work of its critics put together.
Now we have a serious study by Michael Yelton of the most advanced expression of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England: Anglican Papalism. Stephenson once occupied this sphere, but, disillusioned, he trivialised it as a make-believe world peopled by eccentrics. What he achieved by wit, Yelton has accomplished by earnestness, for, despite his good intentions and loyalty to papalist aims, the factual record he presents inadvertently delivers the coup de grâce.
For Catholics, papalism is a position which few will understand. The phenomenon was a late development of the Oxford Movement and was defined by Victor Roberts, the warden of the Community of the Holy Cross, Haywards Heath, as those Anglicans “who believe ex animno the teaching of the Holy See concerning faith and morals, not on any selective principles, but upon the authority of the Holy See itself, and yet they are not in visible communion with Rome”.
Their objective was to lead the Church of England into reunion with Rome by catholicising it from within, yet they believed that they were already in invisible communion with the Church. They ignored the inevitable conclusion that the principles of the movement could have no other logical termination than submission to the Holy See.
Despite the personal integrity, learning, occasional intellectual brilliance, holiness and dedication of some of its adherents, the tendency was misconceived and resulted in a travesty that many Catholics and Anglicans regarded as dishonest and parasitic. Yet it had its own internal logic which those persuaded found hard to abandon, and solved either by submitting to Rome, or else confining themselves to a self-authenticated limbo that led nowhere.
The roots lay in the Association for the Promotion of Christian Unity, founded in 1857 by F G Lee to further the objective of reunion between the English and Roman Churches. It was the publication in 1902 of England and the Holy See: An Essay Towards Reunion, by W Spencer Jones, that laid the foundations of papalism. Jones was a scholarly country parson, a relation of John Keble and friend of Lord Halifax, whose life spanned the period of Tractarianism into the 20th century. The book attracted wide publicity, not least on the Continent and in America.
One who was swayed by the arguments was Paul Wattson, an Episcopalian priest, who had founded the Franciscan Order of the Atonement at Graymoor, New York. In January 1908 he established an Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity but a year later he and the community were received into the Church while retaining their ecumenical goals. As a result of their conversion Pope St Pius X approved the observance, and in 1916 Pope Benedict XV extended the Octave to the whole Church. Yelton maintains that the ecumenical drive was the principal fruit of the movement, not least because it attracted the interest of the Abbé Coutourier who came to know the leading protagonists, and anticipated later developments. While the Malines Conversations of 1921 and 1925 looked towards the agenda of ARCIC.
Pastorally papalismfi was usually a disaster. Mainly conned to London and urban churches, where eclectic congregations were gathered, it was rarely a success in the country unless the local squire provided support. Rural parishes were alienated, not least by the lack of interest generally shown in them by papalist incumbents. Rare exceptions were found at St Saviour’s, Hoxton, where E L Kilburn showed pastoral zeal before his conversion and subsequent admission to the London Oratory, and at St Hilary, in Cornwall, where Bernard Walke combined artistic flair with remarkable pastoral gifts, before he, too, submitted.
H J Fynes-Clinton, one of the prime movers, rarely had a good congregation at St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge, the most notable survival in its original decorative integrity. Martin Travers overlaid Wren and created an interior of astonishing Counter-Reformation authenticity inspired by Lowlands Baroque churches. The movement’s triumph was at Walsingham where Alfred Hope Patten restored the Shrine of Our Lady and made the village famous nationally through the pilgrimages he organised.
A fundamental problem was the condemnation of the validity of Anglican orders by Pope Leo XIII in 1896. Validity became an allconsuming obsession with many Anglo-Catholic clergymen. Some fiercely defended their orders, others sought devious validation. The darkest chapter in this book is devoted to Episcopi Vagantes and the re-ordination of Anglican clergy. This sordid underworld was permeated by evil that tarnished all who were associated with it. Evil also expressed itself in furtive homosexuality, and Yelton rarely resists a prurient opportunity to expose the downfall of many clerical papalists without attempting to investigate the inherent psychopathology that lay at the movement’s heart.
Yelton has done pioneering research in primary sources but much is based on published work and gossip. While keen to identify the mistakes of others, he adds his own, and it is anecdote that leads to occasional slips. Let me correct one concerning an old friend. Fr Cyril Hordern, an Anglican priest of conspicuous holiness, was received into the Church on his deathbed. His funeral was not held at his former church, St John the Baptist, Holland Road, Kensington, as Yelton asserts, but at St Thomas More, Seaford. Nor was he buried wearing his biretta, though it was placed on his coffin. This I know, because I was there. Despite special pleading, this is a substantially accurate, if moralistic and sometimes ungenerous, account of a marginal parenthesis in Anglican history that will not quickly be superseded.