Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Irish High Church Tradition

It might come as a surprise to those who know a little about the Church of Ireland to know that there was a High Church tradition in Ireland. The main reason for this has to be the post-disestablishment Canons which clamped down on all and any attempt at making ritual innovations. However, due to its lack of liturgical hang-ups other than following the BCP, Tractarianism found a home in Ireland.

The best know exponants of the Tractarian tradition on the Irish bench were Richard Chenevix Trench 1807-1887 (Archbishop of Dublin 1861-1886) and William Alexander 1824-1911 (Derry and Raphoe 1867-1894; Armagh 1894-1910). Both were minor poets, and both had picked up the "high seriousness" of Tractarianism during their times in the English University. Of the two, William Alexander seemed to connect more easily with Irish Clerical life. His ministry at Fahan in Co. Donegal, his happy marriage to hymnodist Cecil Frances Alexander, and sunny nature made him very popular. The more "English" Trench was somewhat disliked in Dublin, where the majority of enthusiastic Churchmen would have preferred an Evangelical. Both worked quietly to broaden the outlooks of their dioceses, though it has to be said that Trench was the more successful in promoting "Church Ideals."

Trench's time in Dublin saw the establishment of three "Anglo-Catholic" parishes - St Bartholomew's, Dublin; and St John's, Sandymount; and to a lesser extent, Christ Church, Leeson Park; which joined All Saints', Grangegorman, as exponants of the Tractarian tradition in Ireland. All three had daily Communion, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer whilst keeping just inside the ceremonial restrictions then current in the Church of Ireland. They maintained the North end position at Holy Communion; lit the altar candles only for the purposes of giving light; but also scheduled Confession. Periodically one of them would "get brave" and challenge the interpretation of the rubrics, but such attempts usually resulted in a case being brought in the Court of the General Synod.

This brings me to the most influential of Irish High Churchmen - John Allan Fitzgerald Gregg (1873-1961) a member of the firm of "Gregg, Son and Grandson, Bishops to the Church of Ireland!" His uncle and grandfather were Evangelicals, but J.A.F. was born and educated in England and picked up Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic ideas both at Bedford School and at Cambridge. However, rather than stay in England and become a "spike," he decided to go to back to his family's native Ireland where he was ordained in the Diocese of Down and Connor, and Dromore. Curacies in Ballymena and Cork ensued, then a spell as Rector of Blackrock 1906-11, then four years as Divinity Professor at TCD before election as Bishop of Ossory, Leighlin and Ferns at the early age of 42. Translation to Dublin followed in 1920; then to Armagh in 1939, where he stayed until his retirement in 1959, aged 85.

One painful aspect of his ministry in Dublin was having to adjudicate the cases brought against two of the High Church parishes in Dublin. The first involved St Bartholomew's, Dublin, where C. B. Moss (yes, that C. B. Moss!) was Curate Assistant, and the second involved St John's, Sandymount. In both cases, Archbishop Gregg upheld the Canons of the Church of Ireland whilst conceeding lesser points to the rectors of the respective churches. Gregg himself thought the Canons too restrictive, but with his respect for law, he was not going to engage in any sort of prophetic activism.

Known to his clergy as "The Marble Arch" Gregg appeared in public to be aloof and self-contained. This was a by-product of the Tractarian seriousness that he absorbed school and university. In private he could be a warm and approachable man - especially in his later years. He was probably at his best when dealing with clergy. Despite his austere appearence and manner, he was often very compassionate with his clergy who experienced difficulties, and he took a great deal of time and effort with his ordinands, as one of my own mentors could testify.

Gregg's variety of High Churchmanship resembled that of Gore and the "Lux Mundi" school. He was prepared to accept the positive contribution of Biblical Scholarship and acknowledge the role of history in shaping the theology and institutions of the church, but was unyielding in his adherence to the Sacraments, to the Apostolic ministry, and to Tractarian spirituality.

He was particularl vehement in his defense of the apostolic ministry and led the charge against Archbishop d'Arcy's attempts to reconcile Anglicans and Presbyterians in 1934. Later, in 1948, he was also distinctly cool towards the Church of South India Scheme. For Gregg, the integrity of the Apostolic ministry of bishop, priest and deacon was non-negotiable, and he was not ariad to take an unpopular position in order to maintain it.

Gregg was twice considered for English bishoprics. Firstly in 1938 as a serious candidate as successor for Hensley Henson as Bishop of Durham, and less seriously as a candidate for York or Canterbury in 1942 and 1945. It is unlikely that Gregg would have accepted such a promotion, as, after some initial pangs for academic life in Cambridge, he had become so much part and parcel of the Irish Church. However, it also shows the seriousness with which English Churchmen and politicians regarded him.

Gregg finally retired from Armagh in 1958 and was succeed by the well regarded, James McCann of Meath. In 1969 George Simms, another High Churchman with a fascination for literature succeeded to the primacy, and finally managed to liberalize the ceremonial Canons that had caused Gregg so much heartache forty years earlier.

Because of the sober tradition of the Irish Church, Anglo-catholicism there has always been a matter there of belief not ceremonial. This is completely in accord with what the Tractarians believed and taught, but confusing to those who are tempted to mistake the right vestments for the right beliefs. At the end of the day what really matters is what one believes.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why the Big Fuss about 1549?

This week past saw the 461st anniversary of the First BCP, that of 1549. It was used for a mere three years and five months before being replaced by that of 1552, which in all essential respects, is the one still used by the Church of England today. At least, in the odd places that have nt substituted "Comic Washup" - oops, I mean, Common Worship!

Whilst the anniversary is an important one, I do not quite understand the modern Anglo-Catholic enthusiasm for it. For a start, if they think that Cranmer's 1549 BCP allows more mediaeval teachings about the Eucharist than its successor then they are mistaken, it is just as clear in its repudiation of mediaeval Eucharistic theology as its successor. On the other land, the 1549's structure is more traditional; more obviously derived from the Sarum Missal, which preceded it. Its real strength, from the Anglo-Papalist point of view, is that the 1549 BCP can be more successfully "spun" than its successors, as Cranmer himself soon realised.

This brings me to what is now a half forgotten controversy - that between Stephen Gardiner, the Henrician Catholic Bishop of Winchester, and Cranmer himself about Eucharistic doctrine. This developed into a pamphleteering slug-fest that occupied the leaders of both the conservative and reforming factions of the Church of England throughout 1550 and 1551. Gardiner saw the 1549 as being capable of traditional interpretation, accepting the BCP whilst pushing the mediaeval Catholic doctrines of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass. Cranmer, nettled firstly by what he saw as Gardiner's erroneous doctrine, and secondly, by his "bending" of Cranmer's own BCP to support his teaching, delivered a weighty defense of the Reformed Eucharistic doctrine.

The early English Reformed doctrine of the "true Presence" was based on the writings of Ratramnus - a ninth century monk of Corbie - via Nicholas Ridley, and emphasized the presence of Christ in the Supper, at the expense of his presence in the elements. Also, pushed onwards by the (mainly) constructive criticism of his Reformed colleagues, Cranmer also began to prepare a revision of the Book of Common Prayer. This appeared at All Saintstide 1552 and gave more explicit litugical form to Cranmer's Eucharistic theology.

McCullough in his biography of Cranmer, argues convincingly that the 1549 was meant to be transitional. However, I still suspect that its replacement's preparation was accelerated partly because of the controversy with Gardiner, and possibly because of Edward VI's declining health. One thing that is very prominent in the second book of 1552 is revised structure of the Communion service. Gone is the quasi-traditional structure of the 1549, and in its place comes a service which is clearly focussed on the act of Communion - to the point of actual interupting the Eucharistic Canon so that priest and people can receive. Whilst this layout is highly unorthodoxy liturgically, it is extremely effective at a service at which most of the congregation receives Communion. Hearing the prayer of Oblation after Communion having received the gifts, and with the elements on the altar table, makes one acutely aware of being both a partaker of the offering and also of being offered as part of the "reasonable, holy and living sacrifice." Cranmer's doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice, rather than being absent as some reason, took the form of the Eucharist being a memorial of the one perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice, and also an offering up as ourselves and our lives, sanctified by Christ's sacramental Body and Blood, as a sacrifice to God. This offering of "ourselves, our souls and bodies" is the response of faith-filled hearts to the love of Christ.

The two subsequent English BCPs - 1559 and 1662 - retained the 1552 as their basis, but introduced more traditional wording and ceremonial. The 1559 prefixed the 1552 words of administration with the traditional "The Body (Blood) of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life," and allowed the use of the traditional Eucharistic vestments and wafer bread. The 1662 revision reintroduced the offertory with both the alms and the bread and wine being presented at the altar. In Ireland, where the 1926 revision of the BCP chose to retain the 1552/1662 form of the Communion service, a further restoration takes place in the form of a rubric allowing both the prayers of Oblation and Thanksgiving to be said after Communion. This approach was also adopted by Archbishops Fisher and Garbett in their "Shorter Prayer Book" of 1948. These revisions served to balance the Memorial, Communion, and Sacrifical elements of the BCP Commnion rite.

Apart from a few Anglo-Catholic parishes and the odd historical reenactment, 1549 remained pretty much a dead letter. However, 1549 did influence the Scottish BCP of 1637, the "Durham Book" revision of 1661, and the eighteenth century Non-Juror revisions where it plays second fiddle to Eastern Orthodox influences. However, inspite of having received a decent burial in the archives, it was exhumed in 1949 just in time for the liturgical revisions of the 1960s, and the controversies of the 1970s.

As a result, it found its way into the Affirmation of St Louis, perhaps as part of the "Anglo-Catholic Ecumenicism" that also led to the seven councils and seven sacraments provisions in that document. Perhaps it was felt that it might be more acceptable in some future reproachement with Orthodoxy than 1662 or 1928, but in truth, Western Rie Orthodoxy has tended to work from the American BCP or the Non-Juror Liturgy of 1712.

I cannot help thinking that the "canonizing" of the 1549 BCP alongside the American 1928, which embodies both the Scottish and Anglo-Irish traditions whilst favouring the former, and the Canadian 1962, which also compromises between the Scottish and Anglo-Irish traditions whilst favouring with the latter, was yet another piece of invisible mending intended to force the Continuing Movement into a "Catholic restorationalist" path than maintaining Classical Anglican/Caroline High Church line of development. It would certainly have been more in line with the historical mainstream of Anglicanism to have "canonized" the 1662 BCP, or, if the Black Rubric really is that much of a problem and not just a shibboleth, the 1559 version of the same. Certainly, the adoption of the 1549 BCP had the effect of shutting the door of the Continuing Church Movement to mainstream Anglican Evangelicals, as well as proving to be an unwelcome additional burden to those of us who hold to the Caroline tradition.

Let me be clear, I am not proposing that we repudiate the Affirmation of St Louis, I am suggesting that we see it for what it truly is, a flawed document. The Affirmation both successfully defines the central points of Continuing Anglican Movement by repudiating the modernist errors that destroyed ECUSA, but also attempts to redefine the Anglican tradition by embracing mediaeval Catholic elements rejected at the Reformation and by the Caroline Divines. In choosing to retain subscription to the 1928 Book Of Common Prayer and the Articles of Religion, the United Episcopal Church of North America returned to something close to the tradition Church of England (and for that matter, Ireland) manner of defining itself. I also believe it may also have been a tacit protest against the revisionist elements within the Affirmation of St Louis.