The Bishop of Norwich continues his thoughts on Anglican Papalism


An Anglican Papalist tradition easily found favour in Walsingham in the 1930s. It was never clear cut, though, for Hope Patten continued to use the Book of Common Prayer rather than the Roman Breviary for his offices, was deeply devoted to King Charles the Martyr – an observance most Anglicans Papalists abhorred – and he never seemed tempted to become a Roman Catholic. Some of the most significant supporters of a revival of the Shrine were equally Anglican, but even-more-convinced Papalists. One was Henry Joy Fynes-Clinton, who became Vicar of St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge, in 1921 and remained there until his death in 1959. St Magnus the Martyr may have been part of the Church of England and the Diocese of London; but, as with a number of other Anglican Papalist churches, the devotions were entirely in line with the rest of the Roman Catholic Church in the West. St Magnus the Martyr has a memorial to Myles Coverdale, the sixteenth-century Bible translator, and when Protestants occasionally came to see the monument Fynes-Clinton delighted in telling them “we have just had a service in the language out of which Coverdale translated the Bible”.

Fynes-Clinton was independently wealthy. He was a long-serving General Secretary of the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association, was a good linguist who had spent time in Russia, and had many contacts with the Orthodox Churches. Prior to his ordination in 1900 he attended a service at St Matthew’s, Westminster, where the second Viscount Halifax – perhaps the most prominent Anglo-Catholic layman of the Church of England in the early twentieth century – was also present. Preaching was Fr Spencer Jones, the Vicar of Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, who promoted the reunion of the Church of England with the Holy See throughout his life. The sermon was published and widely circulated. From it came a link with a relatively new religious community in the Episcopal Church in the United States, at Graymoor in New York State, and through this transatlantic Anglican connection emerged the suggestion that there should be an Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, focussed upon reunion of the Anglican tradition with Rome. It was proposed that it should run from the feast of St Peter’s Chair at Rome on 18 January to the feast of the Conversion of St Paul on 25 January; and it was widely promoted in Anglican Papalist circles.

  Meanwhile, the community at Graymoor was received in its entirety into the Roman Catholic Church. It became the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, and in later years grew considerably. It brought with it to Rome its custom of observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which was commended by Pius X in 1909 and extended to the whole church by Benedict XV in 1916. It continues, of course, to this very day on those same dates – but few of those who observe it realise that it started life as an Anglican Papalist initiative.

   Other unlikely friendships were nurtured in continental Europe. Italian, French, and Belgian Catholic priests were frequently in touch with the leaders of Anglican Papalism in the 1920s and 1930s. Just before the Second World War many exchanges took place with Fr Paul Couturier, a French priest and one of the great ecumenists of the twentieth century. In 1936 Fynes-Clinton went to Lyon to meet Couturier, together with Dom Gregory Dix of Nashdom Abbey. Both men lectured in French at the various meetings they attended with Couturier, and in 1937 Couturier came to England and visited the main religious communities then flourishing in the Church of England. Many of them had become entirely Roman in liturgical character and common life – it was said of the Benedictines of Nashdom that if they were to be received into the Roman Catholic Church only one thing would change in their life and that would be the name of the Ordinary in the canon of the mass.

Couturier’s biographer was Geoffrey Curtis, one of the brethren of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield. He records how it was Couturier who re-shaped the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity so that it became focussed not simply on corporate reunion – the original intention of its Anglican Papalist founders – but for that unity which Christ wills for His whole Church. Couturier’s vision of Christian Unity was rather wider than some of those he met in England; but perhaps he had more impact on their thinking than even he realised. Fynes-Clinton, for example, introduced lunchtime masses at St Magnus the Martyr long before this was normal practice in either Roman Catholic or Anglican churches. He did so when Pope Pius XII introduced some relatively minor relaxations over fasting before Communion. It ushered in a completely different manner of reaching out to the workers in the City of London on the part of all the churches there: the Anglican Papalist tradition could be innovative.

Nor should the general strength of Anglo-Catholicism in the 1920s and 1930s be underestimated. It was the age of the Anglo-Catholic Congresses: the great festivals held in London which filled cathedrals, parish churches, and the Royal Albert Hall. Numbers registering grew from 13,000 in 1920 to over 70,000 in 1933; and in those years and in later decades thousands of English parish churches moved from Matins to the Eucharist as their main Sunday service. All this happened in a period when church attendance in Britain declined about 25% from 1900 to 1930: Anglo-Catholicism grew rapidly – as did Anglican Papalism, as a subset of the movement – at a time when the Church more generally was in decline. One of Anglican Papalism’s leaders, Hugh Ross Williamson, believed the forces of secularisation could only be pushed back if England was re-converted to the Catholic faith; and he believed that the Church of England was the instrument for doing so. He said that “it should be possible to preach the faith within the Church of England and ultimately win from the Erastian element and the pseudo non-conformists sufficient Catholic converts to make the Establishment itself seek reconciliation with the Holy See.”

 In the midst of this, it became more commonplace to hear the Pope prayed for at Anglican services. A growing number of Anglicans saw Roman Catholics, rather than Nonconformists, as their closest partners in faith; and this reduced considerably the anti-papal feeling which once inflamed so many English people. Those who consider the Papalist movement in the Church of England to have been an eccentric minority have not looked at the statistics. In 1932 a manifesto was issued which asserted that the inevitable end of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England was the corporate return of the English Church to the Holy See. In 1933 it had 760 clerical signatures. By 1953 over 1,000 Anglican priests had signed it; and by 1959 1,500 clergy had done so. Those increasing figures suggest the continuing fertility of Anglican Papalism until well after the Second World War.

To be continued.