Why conservative Anglicans can’t just go to Rome

My colleague Dr. Roberta Bayer, professor of political theory here at Patrick Henry College is a conservative Anglican, an editor with the Prayer Book Society, which champions the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. She writes about how the Pope’s offer to let Anglicans come on over to Rome is not a legitimate option for genuine Anglicans:

The spirituality of the Book of Common Prayer is not the spirituality of the Counter-Reformation. The art and the architecture, the poetry and prose of the seventeenth century reflect some of the differences. The churches of the Anglican Reformation reflect classical order, the inward spirituality,of Christian vocation lived out in the family, the community, and the nation. The churches of the Counter-Reformation reflect an inward spirituality as well, but one which glories in the spiritual journey of the soul within the church. The Bernini statue of the Ecstacy of Teresa of Avila relates an approach to God which is very different from that found in the theology of the Reverend Jeremy Taylor, writing in the same period, or the poetry of George Herbert and John Donne. Roman spirituality calls for an ecstatic art and architecture, calling heaven down to earth, and the church up to heaven. Anglican spirituality, calls for columns and rational proportion, for reflection upon the right relation of our sinful nature to our final redemption, a proper relation of man to world, and the consideration of holy living in this world, and preparing ourselves for the the next.

The nineteenth century revival of a nostaligic neo-Gothic in both Roman and Anglican traditions, bringing with it a spirituality sometimes of sentiment, followed in the twentieth century by a new spirituality, charismatic and self-expressive, means that in the English speaking world, Christianity presents itself, in both Roman and Anglican churches, as more or less similar. Yet contemporary perceptions are deceptive. Counter-Reformation practices in the church of Rome are as remote to most peoples’ contemporary sensibilities as is the Book of Common Prayer. The proper recovery of both is salutary to the recovery of the fullness of Christian teaching in both traditions.

In the contemporary world, given our changed perceptions of prayer and worship, and the fact that few leaders, if any, are sympathetic to a historical understanding of their own tradition, people have forgotten the theological basis for the dispute about spiritual formation that drove the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Thus, the move to Rome seems easy: the liturgical rite in an Anglican parish looks much like the rite in a contemporary Roman parish. Rome appears attractive because it upholds orthodox Christian teaching on gay marriage and women clergy. But morality never was a fundamental or key point of difference between traditional Anglican teaching and that of Rome. It is only in the twentieth century that there have come to be divisions over moral truth for reasons having to do with the culture at large.

Benedict has been friendly to those willing to embrace the fullness of tradition in his own church by allowing for the older mass. But on behalf of those too few Anglicans who continue to embrace the theology and spirituality of Cranmer, Hooker, Ridley, Taylor, Donne and Herbert one can only ask of the Vatican how it is that catechetical, spiritual, and liturgical differences can truly be resolved? To move to Rome with this ordinariate may be to remain Anglican in name only. Indeed, it may have the further and unfortunate consequence of confusing perceptions about Anglicanism, and make the possibility of reviving the Anglican Way, its spiritual and liturgical patrimony even more remote. And one may in fact be moving from one instantiation of contemporary theology to another, having lost the riches of the past on the way.

This is an important point. Conservative Anglicanism, as defined in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, is NOT Anglo-Catholicism. Rather, it is a church of the Reformation.


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