Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Old High Church Ethos

Ethos is a word that seems to have been popularized, at least in Church of England circles, by the Rev. John Keble. It refers to that combination of ideas, principles, practices, and precepts that guide an organisation or individual very often as an unspoken or unwritten code which everyone seems to follow, but cannot quite define. Although the word was popularized by a Tractarian, it is without doubt that there was an ethos guiding the Old High Churchmen as well. At its worst, it was not much more than seemliness, at best, it could provide the basis for a very deeply felt religious experience, but not one that wore its heart on its sleeve. Much of this stemmed from where the old High Churchmen were educated, and where they liked to 'hang out.' They were creatures of the older Public School, the Oxbridge College, and the Cathedral Close created an atmosphere where public worship and private devotion were valued, but display was very decidedly not welcome. Even in the country vicarages to which they were preferred after completing their University careers and serving their curacies, they cultivated the same conservative principles with the same reserve and seemliness that had been so much part of their environment growing up. You could almost say that they originated by their way of living the jibe, "Change? We're Anglicans, we don't do change!" The fact that they were Establishment Men was both a blessing and a curse to the Old High Churchmen. The curse side of it was that they were too much associated with Toryism, but in a sense that was a defect of a virtue. The Old School Tories were paternalistic, and at least in theory, believed firmly that the rich a responsibility to the poor, and that every man was bound together in a mutual interdependence in which every man in his station contributed something to the stability and prosperity of the nation. Unfortunate in the 1820s and 1830s this made them look like agent of repression, as the new industrial middle class started to want to claim their share in the government of the country. This dismantling of the Anglican Parliament in 1828/9 followed by the Reform Act of 1832 put High Churchmen rather too publicly in the position of being the opponents of Reform, and this brought down a good deal of hostility on the Church. However, the wisest of them realised that the Church needed to put their house in order before the Whigs did it for them. As a result, a series of Ecclesiastical Commissions led principally by Charles Blomfield, the Bishop of London, piloted through a series of moderate reforms, equalizing the income of the Bishops, making provision to equalize the population of the various dioceses, streamline cathedral chapters, and making arrangements for the augmentation of the income of the poorest parishes, whilst at the same time making it easier for the Bishops to divide overly large parishes, and build new churches. The Tractarians for the most part opposed this sort of common sense reform, not so much because they opposed reform per se, but because the Old High Churchmen chose to do it through Parliament, rather than wait for the creaking machinery of Convocation to be revived and reformed. It took them a while to adjust to the consequences of the Reform Act, and a government that was no long theoretically, as well as practically, Anglican. In the end they compromised with the new realities, sighed for the old certainties, but made sure that the new were as little inconvenient as possible. They also believed that the State was by definition Christian, and in the case of England, Anglican. When it came to their faith, they took it from the Bible, the Prayer Book, and the Articles of Religion, seen through the writings of men like Daniel Waterland, all of which tended to inculcate a rather studious, sturdy, and sacramental Protestantism. That does not mean to say that they were not unaware of the Catholic roots of Anglicanism. Van Mildert was probably the man who made Charles Lloyd aware of how much the Prayer Book owed to the Breviary, and he in turn passed that knowledge on to the Tractarians. Van Mildert also believed that the English Reformation had made the Church of England Protestant in order that it 'might be more fully and properly catholic.' For the Old High Churchman the Reformation was both a rediscovery of Biblical theology - a theology which was supported and illuminated by reference to the Early Fathers, and also a time when the abuses of the Middle Ages were sloughed off. They shared the Latimer and Ridley as heroes with the more Evangelical brethren, but they also revered Laud and Charles I as high principled, if occasionally wrong-headed, martyrs to the cause. The eighteenth century had shorn services of some of the Beauty of Holiness that the Laudians had insisted upon in the 1620s and 30, and their Caroline Successors had revived at the Restoration in 1660. Copes had fallen into disuse except at Westminster Abbey by the late 1760s, and had the occasional use of incense to sweeten church buildings had disappeared by the 1780s, but old customs such as bowing at the Holy Name (in the Creed, at least, if not elsewhere), at the Gloria Patri, and to the Holy Table when entering and leaving the Church still survived widely. High Churchmen tended to cultivate Church Music, though they were often somewhat hampered by the life tenure customarily extended to organists and lay clerks, and they made some early, if ill-advised attempts to put their cathedrals into better repair. They also restored parish churches. Both churches in my home town received considerable attention in first two decades of the 19th century long before the rage for church restoration hit c. 1850, and it is not unusual to see significant work done in the years immediately following the Napoleonic Wars. Where it is hardest to pin down High Churchmen is on the subject of what constituted their personal religion. In one sense the proverbial archetypal Georgian sermon text "To fear God, and to keep His commandments; that is the whole duty of man" would cover the greater part of it. They were brought up as Christians, they believed it was their duty to be Christians, and to that end they worshipped, prayed, and gave alms. They even gave thought to missionary work through SPCK and SPG, and the education of the poor through the National Society. In that respect, their religion had a very practical cast but even this was hidden behind a shield of reserve. They hoped that folks would be led to a more sincere profession of Christianity by quiet example, rather than by preaching, exhortation, and that favourite Evangelical weapon, the tract. Perhaps illustrative of the difference of attitude is the shock of the then Evangelical J. H. Newman at seeing his new friend, the High Churchman, John Keble slip a copy of 'The Whole Duty of Man' into a draw rather than leaving it around to do people good. Although both went on to other things, most famously, the Tracts for the Times, the incident is illustrative of the difference between the Evangelicals and the Old High Churchmen in the 1820s, and also the basically unassuming, and reserved cast of the Old High Church spirituality.

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