A merry High Anglican's flirtation with Rome
AST week's high-level
ecumenists — as manifested by the Prime Minister's successful visit to the Pope. by a Cardinal saying Mass in the Archbishop of Canterbury's own chapel at Lambeth, and by the union, celebrated in Westminster Abbey, of two historically very distinct Nonconformist
somehow called somehow called
Churches u nrI cyhemsind a notable peculiarity of English religious life.
The Reformation in England, as most people now recognise, was more political than theological, and resulted in an Established Church which claims to be both Catholic and Protestant. This in no way dims the glory of the English Martyrs. who laid down their lives for the Old Faith.
But while people on the Continent, and indeed in Scotland, were absorbed in theological controversy. which, alas, eventually found its expression in religious wars. the more practical English for the most part transferred the conflict to the realm of external symbolism.
It has been that way ever since. Catholic Emancipation was seen in political terms. and in Victorian times Anglican clergymen found themselves in prison not so much for the doctrines they taught as for the ceremonial with which' they expressed them.
This does not suggest to me a superficial attitude to religion. There have been many great English divines, Catholic, Anglican and Nonconformist. whose luminous writings and sermons are now part of the universal Christian heritage. What it does suggest is a reluctance on the part of the average Englishman to examine and parade his interior faith, and his preference for expressing it in external forms of worship.
This was brought home to me. during that very same ecumenical week, by a delightful book from the pen of Canon Colin Stephenson. formerly Warden of the Anglican shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. "Merrily on 'High" Marton, Longman & Todd, £2.50) is its compelling title. and the holy gaiety of a Christmas carol runs right through it.
Cohn Stephenson, from the testimony of those who know him. is a saintly man and a faithful pastor. His hook is an account of his sacerdotal career. But it is impossible to imagine it written by anyone but an Englishman. Indeed. in any country unaffected is■ English culture' and relict; traditions it would simpfi,
The Canon. as his ten ~ear, at Walsingham imply, is a sexy Catholic-minded Anglican. He believes that the Church of England is still part of the Church Universal, and, more specifically. of its Western rite. This is a faith infinitely more nrecious to him than a belief in Britain's European destiny is to Mr. Heath. Consequently his whole ecclesiastical life has been spent, in the various parishes of which he has had el-large. and even as a naval chaplain in the last war, in giving the Anglican Church as "Roman" an appearance as possible.
The method by which this had to he done. involving a "daring" use of the vestments, incense and genuflexions which, until the post-Vatican Council reforms, we Romans simply took for granted. may have seemed an over-emphasis on formalism.
It was, I am sure, nothing of the kind. In the English context it was the natural way of expressing an intense desire to feel at one with the Church founded on the shores of Galilee.
Is there an hilarious side to this "spikiness"? Yes, indeed there is, as. to firm believers, there is to most sacred things. Colin Stephenson, a witty man, has made the best of it, and has produced a book which provides two or three kindly chuckles on every page. Anglo-Catholic jokes are as funny as Roman Catholic ones. I particularly like the story of the High Church cleric who detested "Sarum" fashions, revived from pre-Reformation England.
Whenever he has given a flowing Gothic chasuble to wear, he insisted on fastening it up with •safety-pins to make it resemble the Roman fiddleback type, often damaging the fabric in the process.
But what is "Roman" today, in these external matters? We Papists are no longer baroque, and we are certainly not antiquarian. Any imitator who tries to catch up with our rapidly changing liturgical habits will soon find himself out of breath in surroundings he will scarcely recognise. This gives the canon's lighthearted but basically serious book a somewhat old-fashioned air. All his struggles with bishops and churchwardens to make the Church of England conform to the ritual norm of Western Catholicism seem in vain when that norm has spread itself out to embrace other Christian traditions.
But Cohn Stephenson, 1 surmise, will have few regrets. High Anglicanism, like Roman Catholicism, has passed through its counter-Reformation phase. The hopeful message of Cardinal Willebrands last week. in the Great Hall of Lambeth Palace, with its intimation of future unity without ;absorption, offers a brighter prospect for our Anglo-Catholie brethren than did their once defiant birettas and thuribles.