Fr Robert Hendrickson recently opined that “It’s Time for a New Oxford Movement.” He rightly points out that in many ways, the ’79 BCP represents a decisive move to institutionalize an anglo-catholic liturgical vision. Yet there remain other problems. The “Spirit of ’79” is still alive and kicking among the Boomer generation still holding onto power. Liturgical innovation continues to move us closer and closer, ironically, to the post-protestant vision of the UCC. A dialectical negation of what was accomplished may be close at hand.
I will not lay out the whole of Fr Hendrickson’s post, one can simply go read it. He offers suggestions of where a “New Oxford Movement” should focus its energy.
For my part, as someone who usually uses labels ironically but who, when he gets earnest, readily self-identifies as a “liberal catholic in the Gore/Ramsey/Williams tradition,” I would like to offer a few of my own thoughts. It bears noting that the so-called theological sentiment “Radical Orthodoxy” in a way may be comparable to the Oxford Movement, though it is much more clearly in the Lux Mundi vein. It’s certainly the most lively Anglican theological movement now going — exciting both strong admiration and zealous hatred, as well as general confusion.
But I don’t want to talk about that. What follows are a few ideas that rattle around in my head when I think about, to wax poetic, “the future of anglo-catholicism.” They are not a system, neither are they exhaustive. I imagine these too will incite confusion among my peers, but that’s alright since they often do the same to me. These are framed in constructive dialogue with an old and continually thought-provoking post by Benjamin Guyer, “Theses on Anglicanism,” specifically theses V-VIII, and XXXVI-XXXVII, though several others are in view. Essentially I’d like to see what happened with the “catholization” of Anglicanism in the wake of the new liturgical movement to carry itself out further, to where anglo-catholics do not make of themselves a privatized enclave of voluntary theological fetishization. But I run on ahead of myself.
I – Give up the catholic moniker in service to the truly universal, that is the catholic. As Ben puts it: “To define oneself as a particular kind of Anglican is to make the modifier of one’s identity – e.g., Anglo-Catholic, evangelical, liberal, etc. – more important than the base of one’s identity – i.e., Anglican”
I would suggest that this is something that the Oxford Movement would have agreed upon entirely. For them, what was important was to establish that the Church of England, and by episcopal extension all Anglicans, were in legitimate “apostolic succession.” It would not have mattered if they could’ve filled a thousand parishes with candles and incense if the C of E was not a truly apostolic church. Indeed when some thought that it wasn’t, they converted to Roman Catholicism. “Anglican” should be sufficient enough to cover what needs to be said. (Let’s not forget that not all Tractarians were especially “high-church”)
II – Reject the “enclavization” into “catholic,” liberal,” evangelical,” low/high church,” broad.” Reconfigure along lines of monastic rites and orders.
What I’d like to see is “Anglican” denote a scripture reading church that takes the fathers, ecumenical councils, and traditions as authoritative, and one that is episcopally governed, with a concrete history. With these three things, scripture, tradition, and episcopacy, we “catholics” get everything we need. To the extent that these enclaves exist and have unfortunately become wedded into a (theologically unreflective and unjustified) happy clappy “broad church” meta-ethos, we find ourselves buying into the modern depoliticizing of religion into an irrational but allowable personal and private opinion. This is no doubt related to the serious lack of academically rigorous theological debate around church dividing issues. Consider that different monastic orders in Roman Catholicism have different ethoi, and their distinctive theologies have subtle shades and emphases; many have their own ordo, their own rule of prayer and liturgy, yet they still fall under the banner “Roman Catholic” without scandal. So perhaps an “evangelical Anglican” ethos would produce theology with its own uniqueness; nevertheless we need to see this as under the banner “Anglican,” held together by the three things I just mentioned. When a Roman Catholic talks about “Dominican theology” they don’t mean the same thing as when we say “evangelical theology;” they’re all still responsible to dogmatic theology that is universally true.
III) Reconfigure dogmatics, including the Eucharistic theology, as properly dogmatic, ie – obligatory for the whole church to believe.
I don’t mean to suggest we take up a Continental-style confession, or make the Articles of Religion the new standard of Anglican orthodoxy. What I mean is that when we are having theological discussions that there is no more of this “everyone has a right to their own theological opinions and all are equally valid.” Anglo-catholics need to discuss theology in such a way as to reject the position that it’s acceptable simply to retreat into a “catholic ghetto” where Anglo-catholics get their own special and idiosyncratic positions but no one else needs to take them seriously, or where they themselves aren’t challenged by other Anglicans.
IV) Reconfigure difference in the same way. Affirming the local and received is different than latitudinarianism, which is to be rejected as whiggish and false, beholden not to truth but to “peace when there is no peace.”
What is to be sought is not a bland or authoritarian uniformity — Anglicans are traditionally best at devotional, poetic, and irregular dogmatics for that to be the case anyway. Difference is not a threat to unity and the truly catholic is a peaceful unity-in-difference; yet unity is to be found in the action of God in Christ in his Church and not in a belief in “tolerance” or “inclusion.”
V) Start reading Scripture in such a way as to challenge the independent validity of evangelical readings.
This is already underway in the wake of post-liberalism. Yet our (healthy) tradition of “liberalism” still tends to accept the “historical” as the primary and authoritative mode to read Scripture. We should absolutely incorporate historical readings into a multi-layered hierarchy of ways to read Scripture, but we are languishing in a lack of faith and have failed to read Scripture rightly to the extent that we no longer consider the literal, that is the christological sense of Scripture to be the primary and most authoritative sense. Whatever aid we may get from examining the scriptural imaginary of 1st century Jews, we do not need such a base to give us permission to read Christ in the Old Testament. It is fundamentally an act of faith that Christ is the primary referent of all of Scripture.
VI) Purposely distance ritualism from “catholicism.” Argue for it on other grounds — dogmatic, philosophical, cultural — but catholic is not shorthand for “pretty robes.”
What I’m specifically reacting against here is whatever the hell it is that makes people think that when I say “anglo-catholic” what I really mean is that I like smells and bells. On the one hand it’s a reduction of “catholic” to subjective aesthetic preference — “Oh, you just like high liturgy” — and it’s not even connected to theology or ecclesiology on the other. And anglo-catholics buy right into this with so many petty discussions about the intricacies of liturgy and robes and how many times to shake a thurible. Not that high liturgy is bad, obviously, or that low church is actually praiseworthy, but it’s such an incredibly narrow vision of the catholic. Also think of certain austere monastic orders that live a simple life and perform simple prayers and liturgies. We would never suggest they “aren’t catholic.”
VII) Reconnect charity to justice and the good such that social justice, the Eucharist, and the Church, are tied back together again. Requires the rejection of capitalism on the one hand, and communism on the other. Connect again ritualism, labor, and justice re: the London priests.
There’s no such thing as a purely free, nor purely natural, economy. There’s no economy that does not need the severe disruption given it by the Christian primacy of charity as overruling all other virtues; there’s no national people, Christian or not, that do not need to be asking the larger question about a) the transnational Church united in Christ, and 2) the needs of any and all their neighbors; there is no “traditional family value” that is not at least relativized in the Church – “Who is my father and my mother?” The Church is before “the family,” as is made clear by the ecclesial nature of the rite and the taking of the Eucharist in the wedding ceremony.