Andrew Burnham draws some important conclusions from a curious interchange at question time in the General Synod

EVERY SO OFTEN a book appears which, it seems, every black-suited clergyman in the land rushes out to buy. Such a book, I predict, will be John Shelton Reed’s account of the cultural politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism, Glorious Battle.1 Professor Reed is William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina and spent a year in England doing research for the book. The list of works cited takes up twenty pages, seven of which contain a long list of pamphlets from Pusey House in Oxford.

As an account of Ritualism, the movement which came hard on the heels of Tractarianism, Glorious Battle is magnificent. “Glorious battle” is a reference, of course, to the hymn Pange lingua, gloriosi proelium certaminis, which appears in the English Hymnal as “Sing my tongue the glorious battle”. The book is more than an enjoyable read. Nevertheless the author comes to a conclusion which he finds disquieting:

When I began this inquiry, I did not think of Anglo-Catholicism as a countercultural movement. I came to that view of it only gradually, after immersion in the literature by and about the movement left me wondering how it could be so impolitic, so indifferent to the offense it gave to so many people whose goodwill would seem to have been desirable … I confess that I now find the movement less sympathetic, if more entertaining, than when I began.2

Is this judgment another example of American bewilderment at the rudeness of English conduct and the abrasiveness of English humour? Are people whose countrymen buy Absolutely Fabulous only to tone it down by rewriting and recasting it likely to understand the mindset of Victorian Anglo-Catholics? We must not underestimate Professor Reed, however, who has spent time in this country as Pitt Professor of American History at Cambridge, and who, as a sociologist, will be alert precisely to national cultural differences. No, I think we must accept his view and, if we do, we find much in what he describes that contextualises ‘the glorious battle’ as it continues to be fought a century later.

There are startling similarities. One is clericalism. `The Tractarians are essentially a clerical party, and have but few lay retaines’ was an 1853 comment. Half a century later – by which time Ritualism had superseded Tractarianism – there was the calculation that ‘Anglo-Catholicism had the loyalties of one clergyman in six but of only one layman in twenty’.3 Modern Anglo-Catholicism has probably attracted more lay support, but one of the criticisms of Forward in Faith has been that it has not attracted as many laity as it might have been expected to do. (For that matter, Affirming Catholicism, I understand, does not have a huge lay paid-up membership). Yet to say that Anglo-Catholicism is too clerical is rather like saying that the Labour Party has too many politicians in it. Those who vote Labour are, generally speaking, not paid up members of the Labour Party, just as those who support the Anglo-Catholic movement are not generally speaking paid up members of its various societies. Of course evangelical groups have a higher proportion of lay members because one of their objectives is to promote ‘every member ministry’ and break down clerical elitism, but, again, there will be many who support the evangelical cause who do not belong to any of its societies.

The government of the Church was regarded by the Ritualists as the responsibility of bishops and priests. Gladstone was distrusted by some for not accepting this view. One could imagine what he would have said to Fr Luke Rivington SSC who spoke of `the office of the laity, whose high and noble prerogative it was to LISTEN and OBEY.’4 Modern Anglo-Catholics, as a whole, have given the laity a higher and more noble prerogative than listening and obeying (despite the old chestnut about `Father knows best’); but it would be fair to say that they have never been convinced of the appropriateness of laity debating and deciding upon doctrinal matters, as they do in the General Synod. Anglo-Catholics, following Vatican II, believe more in the sensus fidelium, the corporate reception of doctrine by the whole People of God, than in the theological competence of the House of Laity.

Another similarity between Anglo-Catholics now and a century or so ago is disquiet with the role of the state in church government. Fr Wagner of Brighton put his objections colourfully: obedience to judgments of the Privy Council `subordinates the Spiritual and Divinely given powers of the Clergy to the powers of this world, degrades the Church to a mere department of the State, and ignores the Divine basis and supernatural character of Christianity’5. Keble’s comment about the call of the Bishop of London in 1865 for the creation of a Royal Commission on ritual said much the same: `Today, at your request, the State new-models your Ritual; tomorrow, at the request of some one else, or of its own free judgment, it will be new-modeling your Creeds and Prayers’.6 The legal activities of Fr Paul Williamson in recent years to try to prevent the state changing the doctrine of the Church of England are a modem expression of Tractarian and Ritualist disquiet with Erastianism.7

When Michael Ramsey became Archbishop of Canterbury (1961), Anglo-Catholics felt at last that they were in the mainstream of church life.8 By now they had begun to relate well to and co-operate with diocesan bishops. How different this was from Ritualist days we can infer from a comment of Fr. Mackonochie: `the Bishops [have] consistently, for at least forty years, done all that they could to alienate the only section of the Church that cares a straw for their sacred office’9. The view of many Anglo-Catholics now would not be very different once more from that of Fr Mackonochie, the perception being that the Church of England, and its bishops in particular, chose to ignore the ecciesiological difficulties that the ordination of women would create for Anglo-Catholics.

In the thirty or so years from 1961, Anglo-Catholicism has once again moved from the mainstream to a backwater. There have been various explanations of this and all, I suspect, are partly true. One is that the ARCIC process went on to the back burner, whether because of the reservations expressed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 198210 and by the Open Letter from 511 evangelical leaders in l988,11 or because of the ordination of women priests in the USA. Whilst the meeting in Rome of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury in December 1996 was cordial, the homilies in San Gregorio al Celio revealed different agendas. ARCIC will indeed continue its task but the homilies set out some of the new understanding. The Pope once more reminded Dr Carey of the essential role the Petrine ministry has to play in matters of faith and morals and of the difficulties caused by the Anglicans’ priestly ordination of women12. Dr Carey in turn reminded the Pope that the Reformation was not so much a tragedy as a rediscovery’. The Pope’s message was clear: ARCIC will succeed ultimately only if it solves the problem of central authority versus provincial autonomy (or, in the words of Bishop Mark Santer, co-chairman of ARCIC, `the impossible takes longer’).13 Dr Carey’s message was more nuanced. In reminding the Pope of the Reformation he was alluding to the Pope’s own recognition of Martin Luther as a ‘reformer’. Nevertheless he might as well have said: ‘Watch out, Pope! The evangelicals are in charge now. Much as I myself like and admire pick-and-mix catholic spirituality, there’s a whole bunch out there who aren’t convinced that Roman Catholics are even Christians’.

A second reason why Anglo-Catholicism has ceased to be in the mainstream is the growth of evangelicalism, a growth which, in turn, can be explained by the growth of liberalism. In the view of many Anglo-Catholics, liberalism flourished by stealing the clothes of Catholicism. One version of this myth is the story Anglo-Catholics tell about Cuddesdon, the school of bishops. Once upon a time there were two colleges. One, modernist, was called Ripon Hall. The other, mainstream Catholic, was called Cuddesdon. One day (in 1975) the modernist college, Ripon Hall, merged with Cuddesdon, the mainstream Catholic college. The new college, Ripon College, Cuddesdon, flourished and lived happily ever after, producing year after year theological liberals, that is modernists, resplendent in the borrowed plumes of Catholicism. They went out into the parishes but they gave such an uncertain account of the gospel that nobody was convinced. The Church shrank and shrank and shrank until, one day, nobody came.

So runs the myth, but it does not quite work. For instance, Robert Runcie who, for Anglo-Catholics, is the archetype of the liberal in vestments, was Principal of Cuddesdon College before the merger with Ripon Hall. Moreover, the Runcieites – former students who have benefited from his patronage and provided the Church of England with its middle management for the last generation – are, it follows, Cuddesdon College men and not Ripon College, Cuddesdon, men. However, the Cuddesdon myth, like any other myth, is true enough not to depend on historical accuracy. It is likely that theological liberals, with or without vestments, will continue for some time to be scapegoated for the collapse of Anglo-Catholicism, the rise of evangelicalism and the inexorable decline in the influence of the Church in this nation.

A third reason for Anglo-Catholicism no longer being mainstream is its inconvenient view of ecumenism. To generalize for a moment, ecumenism, for most Anglicans, has been perceived as the spread of the Anglican ethos throughout the universal Church. Thus, the Church of South India experiment (which upset Anglo-Catholics) saw the gradual acceptance of the Anglican model of episcopacy by presbyterian Christians. Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry,14 a World Council of Churches document, was applauded by Anglicans as sounding so reasonable, so Anglican. And the early success of the ARCIC documents, particularly the Final Report of ARCIC 1 (1982),15 was not least that it tackled Southern European theology in such a Northern European way. In short, it made even Roman Catholicism sound very Anglican.

To continue the generalization for the purposes of this argument, Anglo-Catholics were in danger of spoiling everything. They nearly wrecked the South India scheme and very largely did wreck the Church of England / Methodist conversations in the 1960s16 and the proposals of the Churches’ Council for Covenanting in the 1980s. 17

They were clearly uncomfortable people to have swimming around in the mainstream, not least because they insisted on doing their ecclesiology in what sounded like a Roman Catholic way. Thus, like the eighteenth century High Church party, they insisted on apostolic succession and the historic episcopate,18 rather than on the gentler Anglican view that, though bishops are of the bene esse, they are not of the esse of the Church. It is because of the marginalization of Anglo-Catholics that the triumphs of the 90s, first the ordination of women priests, then the Porvoo agreement, have come to fruition. Indeed, in the Porvoo agreement, continuity of apostolic teaching (`bums on thrones’) is given almost as much value as continuity within the historic episcopate (`hands on heads’).

The new doctrine of apostolicity is not new. Something like it was taught by lrenaeus (c130-c200)19 and something like it was believed during the English Reformation, when presbyterian church order on the continent was accepted along with (if thought less desirable than) the episcopal ordering of the Church of England.20 The new doctrine is very convenient ecumenically. It makes Local Ecumenical Projects run more smoothly and it opens up again a new basis for discussion with Methodists and other churches which are not episcopally ordered.

Anglo-Catholics are gradually learning to adapt to being no longer mainstream. The Provincial Episcopal Visitors set up by the Act of Synod, together with the Bishop of Fulham, are providing episcopal oversight in a friendly and effective way. The ecciesiology is a bit tortuous (as, indeed, is the whole notion of an Anglican episcopate within the episcopate of the universal Church) but, at worst, the situation is no worse than it was in the heyday of Anglo-Catholicism, when even Anglo-Papalists, for whom the notion of an ‘Anglican Communion’ beyond England was dubious, were content to accept the ministry of colonial bishops.21 At its best the PEV system and the Fulham jurisdiction are pioneering new forms of episcopal oversight and showing what bishopping might be like in a Church of England which was no longer by law established.

And so the ‘Glorious Battle’ continues, with Anglo-Catholics in a position not very different from that of 100 years ago.

The position of Dr Carey, vis-a-vis Anglo-Catholic traditionalists, is quite a difficult one. He has not been quite forgiven for calling the view that only men can represent Christ at the altar `heretical’ in a Reader’s Digest interview when he was first appointed archbishop. Nor has he issued, as it was thought that he said he would, an explanation of his view on this matter (though he did withdraw the word `heretical’, realising, no doubt, that he had been implicitly hurling anathemas East and West). Also, by himself ordaining women to the priesthood, he has failed to maintain the ecciesiological distance thought necessary by successive Archbishops of York and Bishops of London during what is judged to be a time of reception. There is a sense, that is to say, in which the Bishop of Beverley and perhaps his successors, consecrated by an Archbishop of York who does not ordain in the new way, belong to the pre-1992 ecciesiology of the Church of England in a way that the Bishops of Ebbsfieet, Fulham and Richborough do not.

Lastly, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been thought himself to believe in the deficient form of the doctrine of reception as contained in the original legislation.22 To be fair, Dr Carey in Rome this December, whilst reiterating his belief in the legitimacy of ordaining women to the priesthood, articulated the doctrine of reception as found in the Act of Synod – that is, that the ordination of women to the priesthood is provisional until the universal Church comes to the view that it is a development consonant with scripture and the tradition of the Church throughout the ages.

There is a positive side to the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury with regard to the ‘Glorious Battle’. He has maintained regular contact with a group of traditionalists, who form something of a `think-tank’ for him. Also, though the list of new senior appointments is relentlessly liberal,23 the Archbishop claims that, theoretically at least, those of the traditionalist integrity may be appointed to senior positions. The recent exchange at General Synod Question Time is worth reprinting in full.24

Question 25 asked the Chairman at the House of Bishops:

Given that the September issue of the New Directions magazine alleges that the integrity which is unable in conscience to accept the ordination of women to the priesthood faces a hidden policy of benign neglect and a slow strangulation through non-preferment of clergy of that integrity to senior positions in the Church of England, particularly in dioceses where the diocesan Bishop is of the opposing integrity, has the House of Bishops given any thought to what proactive and lasting measures can be taken by the House to show that these suspicions are not justified?

The Archbishop of Canterbury: All diocesan bishop are conscious of their responsibilities under Bonds of Peace and we are taking steps to brief new bishops on this as on other important aspects of their task. Synod will recall that it promulgated a Code on Senior Appointments which came into effect in October 1995. This ensures that the appointing bishop conducts wide consultation within the diocese both on the needs of the post and on potential candidates. It is accepted that the considerations underlying the question are a factor in selection, especially where there is a need for balance within a team. The overall consideration must be to appoint those with the experience and skills demanded by the post concerned.

The Code requires bishops to consult also with the Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments and it is his responsibility to keep a watching brief for the names of priests opposed to the ordination of women who have potential for senior office. As I said in my reply to Mrs Joanna Monckton in July in York, 1 am not inclined myself to offer figures in response, mainly for reasons of principle.

Mr John Hares (Oxford): Would His Grace confirm that significant numbers of diocesan and suffragan bishops opposed to the ordination of women require to be appointed in order to show that the statement in the September edition of New Directions, that “the persistent rumours that the bishops have secretly endorsed their original report to General Synod that no opponent to women priests should be appointed as a diocesan and preferably not as a suffragan” is untrue?

The Archbishop of Canterburv: I want to reject immediately the substance of that. Certainly no decision of that nature has been taken. When senior appointments are made we look for a cluster of gifts.. proven ability to lead and inspire confidence, vision to seize new opportunities, confidence in God’s mission and the future of the Church, a love of people and a desire to make disciples, and a willingness to work with the Church as it now is; all these qualities are to be found not only in people who are in favour of the ordination of women but in those who are opposed and people of both integrities are considered seriously for senior appointments. Indeed, if there is any further question do write to me or to Mr Tony Sadler, the Archbishops’ Appointments Secretary.

Rt Revd Colin Buchanan (Suffragan and Assistant Bishops): Does the Act of Synod bind the Prime Minister? The Chairman: Not relevant, Bishop to the original Question or to the answer!

The Archbishop of Canterbury: Nevertheless, Chairman, it is a very interesting question.

This exchange is interesting for a number of reasons. Most obviously, Dr Carey allowed himself to be drawn on the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Act of Synod. Believers in the conspiracy theory may think, from now on, either that, every time a liberal appointment is announced, the Prime Minister has ignored the makeweight traditionalist name on the terna, or that, since the Prime Minister might be thought likely to suppress traditionalist names, only liberals are ever suggested.

Bishop Buchanan’s question is indeed an interesting one because it does highlight the limitation of the Act of Synod: though the Act of Synod might have been designed to meet the anxieties of Parliament about the treatment of traditionalists, it is not in itself a powerful enough device – or even a relevant enough device – to influence any prime minister who was not sympathetic to it.

If Question Time on Monday 25 November 1996 has revealed a weakness in the Act of Synod provision, it has also given those who are waging the `Glorious Battle’ grounds for hope . The Archbishop is clearly distancing himself from – indeed (because his own good name is impugned) is one of the victims of – discrimination against traditionalists for senior office. He is clearly embarrassed that so very few have been appointed to senior office and that some diocesan bishops, by their deeds, have shown no intention of supporting traditionalists.

There is one more piece of information which makes the Question Time answers particularly interesting. The Archbishop’s reply to Mr Hares’ question was clearly prepared in advance. As any student of Question Time knows, the answers prepared in advance are often anodyne and evasive and may themselves be the reason why Question Time is so long: anodyne and evasive answers excite people to ask supplementaries. Dr Carey’s answer to Mr Hares’ question was certainly not anodyne but it was fairly evasive. `I am not inclined myself to offer figures in response, mainly for reasons of principle’ is an evasive answer, particularly if one knows how shocking the figures in response would be.

The piece of information which was particularly interesting was contained in the Archbishop’s answer to Mr Hares’ supplementary: `a willingness to work with the Church as it now is’ has become one of the criteria for making senior appointments.

The other criteria – `proven ability to lead and inspire confidence, vision to seize new opportunities, confidence in God’s mission and the future of the Church, a love of people and a desire to make disciples’ – are unexceptionable. They would be on almost anybody’s list of desirable attributes for senior appointees.

`A willingness to work with the Church as it now is’, however, is unmistakably a shot across the bows of the traditionalists. Indeed the characteristic of those who wage the ‘Glorious Battle’ has often been an unwillingness to work with the Church as it now is. That is why the Tractarians and Ritualists have noisily battled against the `Church as it now is’ for 150 years.

It does seem that, though the prospects of them winning the `Glorious Battle’ are certainly no worse than they were a century ago, the Ritualists must endeavour to repeat once more the 1860-1960 campaign or else conclude that, wherever the future of the Catholic Religion is to be found, it will not be in the Church of England.

Andrew Burnham is a member of the General Synod.


1 Reed, John Shelton, Glorious Battle, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville and London, 1996, xxiv + 357pp, ISBN 0-8265-1274-7

2 ibid page xxiv

3 ibid page 128. Reed records both comments. He often quotes from secondary sources. For readers’ convenience I refer them to Reed rather than to his sources.

4 ibid page 134.

5 ibid page 135.

6 ibid page 135.

7 For an extract from the judgment in Rev. Paul Williamson versus The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Archbishop of York and The Church Commissioners (HMSO, London, 1994) see ed. Broadhurst, Quo Vaditis, Gracewing, Leominster 1996, p 4

8 Many Anglo-Catholics, nonetheless, were to resist the proposed Anglican/Methodist unity scheme about which Ramsey would be enthusiastic.

9 Reed, op.cit., p144

10 See eds. Hill and Yarnold, Anglicans and Roman Catholics: The Search for Unity, SPCK/ CTS, London, 1994, pp 79ff ibid, pp 283ff

12 It is significant that the Pope referred to ‘priestly” ordination. The indication, yet again, is that the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion has served to delay the cause of women’s ministry universally rather than to advance it. The great communions of East and West will have to wait for some time before they dare admit women to the diaconate. To act now would be to run the risk of Anglican chaos where the recovery of the tradition of women deacons has proved to be little more than a means to bring about the innovation of women priests and bishops.

13 The Tablet, 14 December 1996 p1658

14 Faith and Order Paper No. 1 1 1, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1982

15 See eds. Hill and Yarnold, op. cit. ppl2ff

115 Conversations between the Church of England and The Methodist Church, Church Information Office and the Epworth Press, 1963, gives details of the discussions.

17 See Towards Visible Unity: Proposals for a Covenant, The Report of the Churches’ Council for Covenanting, 1980, ISBN 0-9507114-0-3.Thus continental presbyterians were accepted but not English ones because they were dissenting from what was authorised by the monarch.

18 There is a good discussion of changing Anglican attitudes in Norris, Richard A., “Episcopacy” in eds. Sykes and Booty, The Study of Anglicanism, SPCK/Fortress Press, 1988, pp296ff

19 See Bradshaw, Tim, “The Christological Centre of Anglicanism” in ed. Hannaford, The Future of Anglicanism, Gracewing, 1996.

20 The vital question then seemed to be what legitimacy was given by the state.

21 Reed, op.cit., p147

22 See the article by Fr Jonathan Redvers Harris in this month’s New Directions.

23 See “Who? Where? Why?” in New Directions (September, 1996) p15 for a breakdown of appointments.

24 From the unedited transcript. The edited transcript will eventually be found in Report of Proceedings Volume 27 no.3.