That Old Anglican, Oxford, Patristic Tone

[Attached below is an eight-year-old post by Fr. Hunwicke from his blog that is still worth circulating.  It refers to that pithy assessment Manning made about Newman bringing that “old Anglican, patristic, literary, Oxford” tone “into the Church.” (Edmund S. Purcell, Life of Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster [London; New York: MacMillan and Co., 1896], 323). 

Though I cannot bring myself to share Fr. Hunwicke’s love of the Baroque—acknowledging, however, that perhaps Fr. Hunwicke’s sense of the Baroque is much more in line with its restrained English manifestations than with the exaggerations of Einsiedeln, Melk, and all the marble, marble, marble one sees everywhere in Rome—I immensely appreciate his unearthing and sharing the Manning statement since it succinctly sums up what Fr. Hunwicke and I, at least, regard as the Anglican patrimony.  

The patristic way of doing theology isn’t disquisitional.  It is, instead, reflective (reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting) and is integrated with liturgy.  Patristic mysticism isn’t about extreme kenosis, Dark Nights of the Soul, or methods but everyday fidelity to the transformative power of the liturgy, both the Eucharistic liturgy and the daily Office.  Reading the Fathers is to appreciate that writing with an eye and ear attuned to literary style is part of this way of thinking theologically.  As for the “Oxford” descriptor, it is probably no longer current, alas.  But England’s ancient universities (as well as my alma mater, Durham University, founded in 1832 and not one of the nineteenth-century “Red Brick” universities) played their role in instructing generation after generation of clergymen in this “tone.” 

“Manning was right.”  Happily for us, though, Benedict XVI—whether he even knew of Manning’s statement—gave this tone a place in the Catholic Church.  But having an apostolic constitution and ecclesiastical structures in place doesn’t mean the work is over.  It’s now up to us in the Ordinariates to live and grow according to this old Anglican, patristic, literary, Oxford tone.]

[Posted 10 September 2009 here]

“The other day, in Fr Ker’s admirable biography of Mr Newman, I found a diverting error in the Index. Nothing less than a description of Cardinal Manning as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Ah, the might-have-beens of History. Today, I would remind you of Manning’s bad-tempered criticism of Newman; that with Newman, even after his reception into Full Communion, it was still the same old Anglican, Oxford, Patristic tone. We can do worse than recall this as we approach the beatification of that very great man. This may irritate some readers, but since this is my blog I will say it all the same: the whole point of Newman is that Manning was right; he never ceased to be an Anglican; that is to say, a superb exemplar of all that was best, God-given, grace-given, wholesome, and holy, in the life of the Provinces of Canterbury and York while in separation from the Voice of Peter. When he put off all that was schismatic, separatist, narrow, flawed, partial, heretical, in the ethos he imbibed from the Church of England, he was free to be more perfectly and fully Anglican than ever he had been before.

Because there is more to say about ‘Anglicanism’ than I said in yesterday’s post. An Anglicanism which purports to be a doctrinally distinctive, even a superior, form of Christianity: yes, it is a diabolical mirage. But in the unhappy centuries of our separation from Peter, grace was not stopped up. A tone emerged; a style, a way of doing theology, of living the Christian life, which in itself is by no means unCatholic; a sober tone, a careful tone, a tone which read deeply and with understanding in the Fathers and looked to Byzantium and beyond as well as to Rome.

I know I surprised some readers and enraged others not long ago by describing Benedict XVI as the first Anglican Pope. But I believe it is wonderfully providential that it falls to this man to raise his fellow-Anglican John Henry Newman to the Altars of the Church. Have you read the Ordinary Teaching that this pope gives week by week? His sympathetic exposition of the Fathers of East, West, Syria? When you read his own theologising, can you avoid a feeling (I can’t) that you are reading one of the Fathers; that you have picked up a volume of Migne … you aren’t quite sure whether it’s from the PG or the PL, and you’re even less certain which volume it might be, but anyway, that’s the corner of Bodley that you’re sitting in, and out of the window there’s Newman’s Church of S Mary, with his college of Oriel just beyond. And it is very easy to feel that it would be the most natural thing in the world to raise your head from your desk in the Patristics Room and see, in the chair opposite you, the diffident, erudite face of Professor Ratzinger, verifying a reference or two before hitching an ancient MA gown round his shoulders and scuttling through the traffic in the High back to his lodgings in Tom Quad.

Anglicanism as some self-important separatist codswallop that prides itself in its separation from the Successor of Peter: let’s flush it away fast. But then the cry can go up: “Anglicanism is dead! Long live Anglicanism!”

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