Sunday, November 23, 2008

Battling for the soul of Anglicanism

Here is a taster from a larger - technically demanding - article by eminent British historian Jonathan Clark in the Church Times:

"CONTROL of the Reformation means control of a commanding height of the historical economy. The early Reformation continues to be a battleground, and the polarity between Diarmaid MacCulloch and Eamon Duffy seems on the surface to reassert an older conflict of opposites. Yet, when examined more closely, the two are saying similar things.

Professor Duffy presents a deeply Roman Catholic populace on whom the Reformation was imposed. Pro fessor MacCulloch explains how far-reaching were the intentions of early Refor mers, especially Cranmer, and emphasises the extent of the transfor mation they effected. Both argue for a radical discontinuity, and, by implication, for a wholly new Church.

Yet, arguably, Professor MacCul loch has won: many more Anglicans now see the Reformation as a new departure, a licence to pursue a per son al spiritual pilgrimage, uncon strained by scripture or tradition.
Two generations of historians, from Patrick Collinson to Peter Lake, have argued for the deeply Calvinist nature of the later Reformation and the Church it created. Professor Collinson has termed the idea of the Church of England’s treading a via media a “persistent myth”.

This interpretation leads naturally to the Civil Wars, now widely viewed — thanks especially to John Morrill — as wars of religion, triggered by militant sectarianism. This moves the 1640s away from the old secular story of parliamentary liberty defended and vindicated, into a lurid scene of bigotry and fanaticism: many 17th-century Anglicans seem to have had much in common with the Scots Covenanters.
Two English literary figures have been displaced in the opposite direction. Most controv ersially, Wil­liam Shakespeare has been presented as a covert recusant or “Church Pap ist”; Samuel Johnson has been depic ted as a Nonjuror. If so, the Church of England has lost two of its greatest icons.

From being loyal, patriotic, deeply English (and so, by implication, sound churchmen), they now stand to some degree outside English society in their day, offering coded critiques of it. The more that figures of this calibre aff irmed alternatives, the less Anglican ism looks like the natural, timeless bedrock of national consciousness and character it once seemed.

TRUE, much was restored in 1660, and the continuum that lasted into the early 19th century now appears as one characterised by the long-delayed intellectual hegemony of the Church. It was the era of sound scholarship, especially patristics, the clergy of the Church of England deservedly win­ning the accolade stupor mundi. But this formidable intellectual and social foundation was broken down, begin ning in the 1830s. Why?

Political historians have illumin ated Protestant Nonconformity’s part in swamping an Anglican hegemony in 1828-32. Anglo-Catholicism now seems more a political response to this social bloc than a plausible assertion of a powerful Catholic strand within the Church of England. Increasingly, 19th-century liberal ism looks like Nonconformity mobil ised for action, a challenge to which the Church of England failed adequately to reply.

Peter Nockles’s influential account has recast the Oxford Movement. From being an expression of the continuity of a Catholic element in Anglicanism, the Tractarians are now presented as indebted to pre-Tractarian High Churchmen, reas serting key elements of their hege mony of c.1660-1832. It all looks less securely Catholic, and more political.

Appropriately, there has been renewed interest in John Henry Newman from scholars such as Ian Ker and Sheridan Gilley.

Historians have emphasised the emergence of parties within the 19th-century Church of England, and the lasting importance of this dynamic; but High Church, liberal, and Low Church or Evangelical parties now seem locked in a civil war that gravely damaged each party rather than ex pressing a happy pluralism."

For more views/responses go to Thinking Anglicans for links.

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