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Death Comes for the C. of E.

Death Comes for the C. of E.
On the 'Anglican Patrimony.'

By Michael Warren Davis
March 2023

One Sunday in my fifteenth summer, my dad and I decided to try one of the other Episcopal churches in town. Everything went all right until the elderly priestess introduced herself to us afterwards. “It’s always nice to see new faces.” she said. “How long have you two been together?”

I glanced up at Dad. His face was beet-red with anger and embarrassment. “This is my son,” he said, and then strode out the door.

That’s the Episcopal Church in a nutshell.

Little wonder that, when King Charles III visited the United States in 2007, he boycotted TEC. During one reception, a layman said to him, “I would have thought that as the head of the Church of England, the parent church of the Anglican Communion, Your Royal Highness would have attended services at the Episcopal Cathedral.”

Charles wagged his finger “in a scolding manner” and said, “You know very, very well why I cannot worship in an Episcopal Church.”

His Majesty must be relieved to hear that the Church of England just torpedoed yet another attempt by liberal bishops to recognize and solemnize same-sex unions. According to a C. of E. press release, “The formal teaching of the Church of England as set out in the canons and authorized liturgies—that Holy Matrimony is between one man and one woman for life—would not change.”

However, the C. of E. will issue “an apology. . . to LGBTQI+ people for the ‘rejection, exclusion and hostility’ they have faced in churches and the impact this has had on their lives.” And I’m afraid it amounts to the same thing.

Now, of course, it’s true that Christians have seldom treated homosexuals with the compassion they deserve as fellow children of God. But that’s not what the C. of E. really means. These days, whenever institutions talk about “rejection and hostility” towards gay people, they mean “failure to affirm and celebrate.” Whenever they talk about a church “excluding” gay people, they always mean “… from the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.”

The Church of England’s bishops know that full well. So, what they’re really saying is, “Sorry for not letting you get married, but we will soon enough.”

If you don’t think the C. of E. is capable of making such a dramatic about-face, then you don’t know the C. of E.

In 1920, the bishops passed a resolution commissioning lobbyists to campaign against the “open or secret sale of contraceptives.” Then, in 1930, they passed a new resolution allowing married couples to use birth control. This sudden reversal prompted T. S. Eliot to observe, “The Church of England washes its dirty linen in public.” Some might say it dirties its washed linen, but I’m not going to quibble with the master.

I should be glad the Anglican Communion is queering itself. Otherwise, I never would have found the courage to join the Catholic Church.

I loved being an Anglican. Truth be told, I still love basically everything about Anglicanism. I love the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version. I love the music and the poetry. I love the painting and the architecture. I love the history and philosophy. I even love the theology, which is the part nobody loves.

I came back to the Faith via the Church of the Advent in Boston, which still feels to me like my home parish. Back then, I dreamed of becoming a chaplain in the Navy and then going to teach at Nashotah House, the great Anglo-Catholic seminary. I wanted nothing more from life but to spend my days wallowing in all things Anglican.

In that, I know I’m not alone. No less than G. K. Chesterton spoke of the “nostalgia or romantic regret,” the “shadow of homesickness in one who has in truth come home,”
which is felt, at some point, by everyone who swims the Tiber.

But why? Why does the Anglican Church enjoy this devotion even of her apostates?

The answer is deceptively simple. For the better part of five centuries, Anglicanism held a virtual monopoly on English Christianity. Whenever the English genius addressed itself to God, it did so in the Church of England. So, every Christian who is in some way English—whether it’s by nationality, heritage, or culture—is also, in some way, Anglican. That includes many more of us than one might think, since (as Russell Kirk argued quite convincingly) American culture is British culture.

By the way, these are not original ideas. I took them from a letter Walker Percy wrote to Caroline Gordon, the wife of Allen Tate. Percy, Gordon, and Tate were all Southern traditionalists and converts to Catholicism. And they agreed that the key to converting the United States was to rediscover this uniquely English form of Christianity. This is what Percy calls “the Road Back”:

One of the stumbling blocks to the Southerner (or the American) who is drawn to the Church is that he sees, not the Church of [Thomas] More, not the English Church which is his spiritual home, but the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori by way of the Irish Jesuits. If he does go in, he must go in with his face averted and his nose held against this odor of Italian-Irish pietism and all the bad statues and architecture.

You can take the commentary on the Irish Jesuits, or you can leave it. But Percy is on to something here. Those of us who are in some way English (e.g., most of you reading this) may need this uniquely English expression of our Faith. We may need this uniquely English means of addressing ourselves to God—this uniquely English science of worship and prayer.

That is why the C. of E.’s slow decline into liberal error cuts so deep. Five hundred years ago, the British Crown declared a monopoly on Christianity in its realm. That monopoly, of course, is known as the Anglican Church. For hundreds of years, the Crown violently suppressed any rival sects, be they Catholic (“Recusants”) or Protestant (“Dissenters”).

Now the monopoly is abolishing itself. It is abdicating its mission without surrenduring its privileges. Imagine if the U. S. Postal Service decided to stop delivering the mail… but wouldn’t make way for a new postal service. That’s more or less what the C. of E. is doing now.

The great medieval churches that Henry VIII stole from Rome now stand empty. Some are being turned into fun houses, or mosques, or LEGO® brick-building workshops. Most will be left to rot.

Thankfully, there are faithful Anglicans working to keep our traditions safe from their official custodians in the Anglican Communion.

Some intrepid souls—bishops, priests, and laymen—choose to remain within the Church of England and the Episcopal Church. Others join the so-called Continuing Anglican movement, including the the Anglican Catholic Church and the Anglican Province of America.

The Antiochian Orthodox Church is also doing some amazing work to forge a new “Western Rite Orthodoxy” based largely on the Anglican tradition. Most of their liturgical materials were adapted from existing Anglican texts like Book of Common Prayer. They’re available through Lancelot Andrewes Press, which also has some great icons of English saints like King Charles the Martyr.

Naturally, though, I’m loyal to the Personal Ordinariates of the Catholic Church. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI (God rest his soul!) published the constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, establishing a uniquely English expression of the Catholic Faith—one informed by legitimate liturgical and spiritual progress made during the last five centuries of rupture. At last, our “Anglican Patrimony” entered into full communion with the Holy See. The English branch of Christianity was grafted back onto the Universal Church.

The Ordinariates’ unique liturgy, know as Divine Worship, is heavily influenced by the Book of Common Prayer. So is its edition of the Daily Office, which uses the Coverdale Psalter. Ordinariate priests are officially authorized to use the King James Version of John 1:1-14 for the Last Gospel. And its St. Gregory Prayer Book, whose popularity extends well beyond the Ordinariate, incorporates prayers from Anglican divines like George Herbert and John Keble.

It's funny: Catholics and the Orthodox are more devoted to the Anglican Patrimony than the Episcopalians or the Church of England. But so it goes. The good news is that English Christianity—the faith of Bede, Becket, Alfred, Edward, Cranmer, Hooker, Andrewes, Tallis, Byrd, Donne, Taylor, Herbert, Traherne, Law, Wesley, Johnson, Wilberforce, Hopkins, Keble, Pusey, Newman, MacDonald, Maurice, Chesterton, Tawney, Cram, Lewis, and Eliot—has found a new home, with new guardians. Thank God for that.

May the Church of England rest in peace; may the Anglican Patrimony live forever. Alleluia, amen!

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