Robert Ian Williams replies to an article arguing that Anglo-Catholicism is the authentic Anglicanism
n his recent article criti cising my letter on the Anglican patrimony Anthony Reader-Moore makes the typical arguments that have marked those who adhere to the claims of Anglo-Catholicism. The claim that Anglo-Catholicism is the genuine tradition of Anglicanism, and that for over 400 years it has preserved a genuinely English variety of Catholicism, is an unsustainable assertion. It is simply not true. I will attempt show that it has no real continuity with the pre-Reformation Church or even the high Church tradition that emerged in the Protestant Church of England in the centuries after the Cranmerian reform.
The Church of England was born in the Reformation. Henry VIII initiated the schism and it was Cranmer who introduced the Protestant theological and liturgical revolution, which robbed the English and Welsh people of the sacrifice of the Mass, the Real Presence, the sacrament of Extreme Unction, the intercession of the saints and prayers and Masses for the dead. Cranmer’s new ordinal was stamped with this Protestant spirit and lost the Anglican Church the apostolic succession. A faithful remnant remained true to the Catholic Faith, refusing to associate with the newly constituted church and its Protestant theology. Thus were produced our noble martyrs who kept the Catholic Faith and Church alive in these islands. This is where the authentic Ecclesia nglicana of pre-Reformation foundation lay. The Church established by St Augustine of Canterbury was kept alive by the brave missionary priests who laid down their lives to maintain the true Faith.
But did the Church of England as by law established preserve the Catholic faith in some form or other? Read the writings of the English reformers and you see nothing but Protestantism. This is based on the heretical doctrine of justification by faith alone, an abhorrence of the Mass, the Real Presence and the priesthood. Men such as Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley had become convinced that the Catholic Church had been subverted by the errors of Rome. Cranmer regarded the Roman pontiff as the Antichrist and the Mass as the “chief weed that choketh the Gospel”. Even his 1549 Holy Communion service was stripped of the offertory and the sacrifice of the Mass. When Bishop Gardiner (imprisoned in the Tower, and at that time an Anglican, unreconciled with the Catholic Church ) tried to interpret it so, Cranmer issued a stiff rejoinder. He stated that there was no change of the elements in the communion service. Indeed, the 1549 Holy Communion rite is so riddled with Cranmerian heresy that the Vatican would not accept it as a genuine canon. It has to be replaced in the Anglican Use of the Catholic Church with the Roman Canon. Gregory Dix, probably one of the greatest Anglican liturgical scholars summed up Cranmer’s liturgy well when he wrote: “As a piece of liturgical craftsmanship it is in the first rank... it is not a disordered attempt at a Catholic rite, but the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.” Cranmer’s definitive 1552 Prayer Book is indeed more Protestant in its tone, and forms the basis of the definitive 1662 revision. It is this book that the canons of the Church of England set as the doctrinal norm for Anglicanism. With the Cranmerian reform, Holy Communion becomes a service tagged on to morning prayer and only occasionally celebrated. Even the consecrated elements that are left over are given for the personal use of the minister and that rubric was only changed in 1662, to allow for their consumption in the church. So thorough was this Protestant revolution that when Anglo-Catholicism emerged in late Victorian Britain many AngloCatholics rejected Cranmer outright and replaced him with a revised English version of the Roman missal.
Mr Reader–Moore makes much of the ornaments rubric, which speaks of churches in the second year of the reign of Edward VI. What he doesn’t tell the reader is that in that very year the liturgical revolution began, with the wholesale destruction of altars and other Catholic ornaments, such as sacrament houses, religious statuary and murals.
Mr Reader-Moore asserts that I am utterly wrong and misleading in saying that Anglo-Catholic ritual results from the illegal 19th-century importation of Catholic ritual. I refer readers to the definitive volume, Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain, written by Nigel Yates in 2001. In it the reader will see how Eucharistic reservation, benediction, prayers for the dead and to the saints were all Roman Catholic imports illegally introduced into the Church of England. Some AngloCatholic innovators were actually sent to prison for introducing them. There exists a wealth of literature in which the whole ritualist movement is critiqued as a dastardly scheme to Romanise the Church of England.
The case of the chasuble is an interesting one. Ritualists exploited the loophole in the Prayer Book when they attempted to introduce the sacerdotal vestment, which was entirely missing from the Church of England for 300 years. Yet the ecclesiastical courts and the Privy Council persistently ruled against the Anglo-Catholic interpretation of the ornaments rubric, and it was not until 1964 that the chasuble, stole, alb and amice were actually legalised in the Church of England. Mr Reader-Moore could not produce a single example of a 17thor 18th-century Anglican chasuble. Copes were indeed allowed in cathedrals, but history also reveals that they gradually disappeared until the 19th century, and in any case this garment did not have the sacerdotal undertone of the chasuble.
For 300 years Anglican ministers merely wore a white surplice at Holy Communion, with an academic hood (if a graduate) and black scarf. There were no stoles either. The communion service was administered from the north end of a wooden communion table. Indeed, this is the manner that it is still celebrated in many Evangelical Anglican churches today. The modern revised liturgy of the Church of England still has no explicit prayers for the dead or invocation of saints, and the Benedictus is an optional extra.
As for the previous High Church tradition, before the emergence of fullblown Anglo-Catholicism in the the late 19th century it was firmly Protestant. Mr ReaderMoore makes mention of the Non-Jurors. Yet when this schismatic Anglican group tried to effect a union with Eastern Orthodoxy they were turned down because they would not accept icons, the veneration and invocation of saints or transubstantiation.
The Anglo-Catholic myth is such that if you visit the AngloCatholic shrine at Walsingham you will see a statue of Archbishop William Laud, a 17thcentury Archbishop of Canterbury executed by the Puritans. Yet Archbishop Laud repudi ated in his writings that Holy Communion was a propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead. He never prayed for the dead or to the saints in his life and he acknowledged the validity of non-episcopal continental Protestant churches, even allowing Presbyterian French refugees to continue worshipping (as they still do) in Canterbury Cathedral. Read the other Anglican divines that Mr Reader Moore cites and you will find nothing that compares to the theology of modern Anglo-Catholicism.
As I stated previously, the average Anglican has no understanding of the Catholic Faith, and would not be at home with the Anglo-Catholic Mass portrayed in the photograph attached to Mr Reader-Moore’s article. Essentially the Anglican Ordinariate will cater for this minority within Anglicanism who have inherited this 19thcentury development and aberration, and it will be presented in the vestments and ritual of Tridentine Catholicism, and not in the black scarfs and wooden communion tables of Cranmer. I therefore maintain that the tradition of Anglicanism that the Vatican is accommodating is not the mainstream of the Anglican patrimony and is a tradition excised of Cranmer.
Robert Ian Williams is a convert from Low Church evangelical Anglicanism, and the author of A Catholic critique of the Book of Divine Worship and Cranmer and Vatican II: a response to the Society of St Pius X