In Our End is Our Beginning?

As always, Fr. John Hunwicke provides fascinating food for thought. Today, he posted a couple of quotes related to what we might refer to as the state of the Anglican patrimony in Anglicanism itself.

The quotes:

  • Dr. Rowan Williams (former archbishop of Canterbury) stated recently that the “Anglican Church no longer shows so clearly the same combination of rootedness in the early Christian tradition and unfussy, prayerful pragmatism”.
  • Gary Bennett, in his preface to the 1987 Crockfords, referred to the demise of “the usual Anglican assumptions about the authority of Scripture and the normative character of patristic usage”.

Whether these “no longer” statements are true of the Anglican Communion is a question I wouldn’t know how to address and shouldn’t try to anyway. But as a former Episcopalian who is convinced Anglicanorum coetibus values, in its reference to the Anglican patrimony, something much more profound than anglophilia, I think it’s worth another effort at circulating among Ordinariate Catholics the idea suggested in the quotes above that the essence of the Anglican patrimony has its deepest roots in patristic spirituality.

There are those who give a ready assent to this statement and refer to their love of the writings of the Church Fathers. But “patristic spirituality” involves more than assenting to the writings of the Church Fathers.  It’s a matter of reading the Fathers, reading Scripture, celebrating the liturgy, and living one’s day-in-and-day-out life as one integrated whole.

Elsewhere, others and I have mentioned why the language of the Prayer Book tradition (and thus of the Divine Worship missal) was meant—before the ink of the first version of the prayer book was dry—to be a different kind of language so that it would resonate in the memory. Fr. Hunwicke refers to “one old Anglican custom,” which was “to learn the week’s collect each week.”  As in the Rule of St. Benedict, so in the intent of the Prayer Book compilers, if one is kneading dough, pray the week’s collect or a Psalm or the Magnificat …; tilling the field, pray the week’s collect or a Psalm or the Magnificat …; walking from lecture hall to one’s room, pray the week’s collect or …; etc.

Contrast all of this with a comment that appeared recently on another blog:

  • “An Anglican who becomes Catholic is going to do it for comprehensive intellectual reasons, and indeed reasons of conscience, and a cutsey-pie [sic] prayer book isn’t going to do much one way or another. … Bring back Aquinas.”

There is food for thought in this statement. First, though Ordinariate Catholics aren’t likely going to refer to the Divine Worship missal as “cutesy-pie,” might some give the impression that the Anglican patrimony is about little more than what the above-referenced blogger refers to as “faux Cranmerian English”?  “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15). Ordinariate Catholics have the double responsibility, I suggest, of making a defense of our basic Christian hope as well as of what the Anglican patrimony is and isn’t.  The way things were done at our Anglican parishes before we crossed the Tiber mattered then as now, which means expecting these customs and traditions to have a place in the Ordinariates is valid.  But we need to re-discover the foundations that have led to these customs and traditions (which might mean some small-“t” traditions might have to go while others can be reclaimed with deeper fervor).

For a number of reasons I’ll not chase down here, Anglicanism as a whole has tended to take its own English-spirituality roots for granted. The unformulated assumption that cultural givens are always there means they eventually won’t be.  This helps explain why Rowan Williams and Gary Bennett have written of what Anglicanism has lost.  As a small group within Catholicism, Ordinariate Catholics don’t have the luxury of taking the roots of the Anglican patrimony for granted.  I and others have attempted to address this.  Since my prose is never as streamlined and lucid as it should be, though, it is understandable that my attempts to explore the Anglican patrimony’s roots in my essay, “The Monastic Quality of Anglicanism: Implications for Understanding the Anglican Patrimony” (in Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church: Reflections on Recent Developments, ed. Stephen Cavanaugh, 161-183 [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011]), have generated little discussion.  But if the research I’ve done—which relies on the scholarship of esteemed scholars—holds up, it points to a way forward in “making a defense” of the Anglican patrimony beyond “what we did at St. Swithun’s” or “the customs we had at St. James’s-in-the-Meadow.”

The above-referenced blogger’s allusion to Aquinas is important. The work of St. Thomas Aquinas might arguably have been necessary for the future of Catholic theology.  If Aquinas hadn’t existed, the Holy Spirit might well have found and inspired someone else.  (Peter Abelard pointed in the same direction earlier, which set him and St. Bernard of Claivaux at odds in those days when the patristic/monastic way of doing theology was already waning in the west.  St. Bernard later repented of the ferocity of some aspects of his response to Abelard.)  But important though the work of Aquinas and the scholastics was and is, it ushered in a subtle loosening of the patristic/monastic era’s symbiosis of Scripture, liturgy, and day-to-day life.

This symbiosis is, I think, what Rowan Williams means by “prayerful pragmatism” and what Gary Bennett meant by “the authority of Scripture and the normative character of patristic usage.” Here is perhaps *the* distinguishing characteristic of the Anglican patrimony.  It also happens to be the essence of the theological perspective that prevailed in pre-twelfth-century Catholicism.  And since the Catholic Church doesn’t throw her treasures away, the Anglicanorum coetibus ordinariates have been given the keys to this part of the treasury.  Sharing this with others is our privilege and responsibility.  If the ordinariates become known not for “cutesy-pie” liturgy but for valuing the authority of Scripture, the normative character of patristic usage and spirituality, and prayerful pragmatism, I think we shall have honored that responsibility.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Ellen Christine Elizabeth Carney says:

    Nicely stated.


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