Friday, 8 October 2010

Time's Up

Reappeared and still on my food table, I have finished reading again H. L. Short's nine part 'The Later History of the English Presbyterians' that appeared in the Hibbert Journal between 1966 and 1968. It spans the period between the Puritans and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches formed in 1928.

What it shows, for someone with sociological insight like me, is how traditions rise and die, and how people almost invent arguments at the time to suit how they have arrived at where they are, with a myth of historical force that offers further legitimacy.

What I see is relevance to today's Anglo-Catholics: that their traditionalist position is finished, and even that the more liberal Catholic approach is a romanticist fantasy that is perhaps useful but rather something of a cover.

We are told in the nine part series that the Puritans that became English Presbyterians were 'sober' and 'moderate' (though a useful point: setting up Presbyteries would have been counted as schismatic, so they never did this - it wasn't just repression). I keep thinking this 'moderate' judgment is after the effect, and somewhat down the line. Much of it draws on Richard Baxter, of course.

The problem with this line is that, as we see with today's Anglo-Catholics, it takes an awful lot to wrench anyone out of the Church of England. When the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was introduced, some 2000 ordained (or in some cases not ordained) ministers left (on 24 August) to make a ministerial and congregational life in a half-illegal existence. They either had to take on the 1662 book in full or go, and they couldn't stomach it. But the point is many Puritans did stomach it: there is always a cut-off point, especially when it is so much easier to stay than to go.

The Puritans had been in the ascendancy in the Civil War and parliamentary period, and the Church of England was in a condition of being half dissolved, but with the restoration there was a deliberate reversal. As I suggest to my Unitarian friends, who get confused that Puritans were some kind of liberals, these Puritans were really disliked by the general population. They used the law as killjoys: far better then to have the King and nobility back in all their duplicity and let the plebs have some fun in their otherwise wretched short lives.

I doubt that the Puritans were moderate at all, but once they were out some were Independent (as were some already) and made a run with that, and others were Presbyterian and pined after some sort of parish life and some sort of Godly Kingdom of all that was no longer in prospect. They then went about setting themselves up in such a way that, as the Restoration was modified, the Act of Toleration legalised these trinitarian dissenters. Thus the Trust that built the house I live in was nicely set up, and was to operate through times and by people very different from one Puritans would have known. In fact, some Puritans thought the death penalty was too good for Socinians, but the equivalent of the Socinians now run the Trust.

Nevertheless, Puritanism died as an effective religious force. It died sociologically because the descendents only knew wealth and wealthy people don't want strict religion - a sect will go the way of a denomination. It died theologically too because to rely on the Bible alone is to discover that it is not as doctrinally sound as you think it is: and a liberal drift can take over. They became Arminian and, as a read of the Gospel of John will allow, many became Arian. In the beginning was the Word, not eternally, and the Word (Christ) was the agent of creation.

Actually, Presbyterians became like many Anglicans are now: they used the trinitarian forms, but what those forms meant were relaxed out. Today's apparent trinitarians would be heretical under cross-examination of their forebears. There is a lot of self-deception around. A lot of present day trinitarian-speak masks an actual Reformation-Arianism and even Unitarianism among its users. I tended to carry out quick cross-examinations and find, again and again, a woolliness of interpretation. Liturgical form and theological content don't necessarily coincide.

With the exception of the later nineteenth century, Presbyterians and Unitarians have been in decline. What prevented them conking out (until now?) is other groups joining en masse. The Presbyterian mercantilists were joined by liberal ideological Unitarians, but also physically by denominations splitting off - General Baptists and Methodist Unitarians as well as some other urban drifters.

One group that failed regarding splitting off were the Anglicans. Theophilus Lindsey and his sidekick John Disney (of to be Disney Corp. connections: Lincoln Unitarians gets some of its money from Mickey Mouse so long as it keeps a defunct rural chapel going, as it does) were Anglican priests who left to form an Arian based independent Anglican form of Church called "Unitarian" back in 1774. It didn't attract liberal Anglicans, who stayed grumpy but where they were, and so it became part of the English Presbyterian stream. Anglicans just won't budge as a group: life is too good; a familiar nurse is too close. Anglicanism is Duplicity.

These ideological liberals were rationalists and materialists: when rationalism and materialism included belief in a literal reading of the Bible (the Eastern Europeans called it 'ordinary comprehension'), in the miracles of Christ and in the Resurrection. They preached this synoptic gospels Unitarianism to the annoyance of other denominations, who tried to grab Unitarian assets set up by Puritans, and would have been successful except that, after the 1832 Reform Act (pressed for by Unitarians and other middle class types), Parliament had a good representation of such Unitarian folk, and by 1844 the law was changed to allow for 25 years of continuous occupation despite changes back from wherever you happen to be at any one time. The principle of religious evolution is part of the law of the land. They'd grabbed the Lady Hewley money in York, but a legal pause and then parliamentary change meant they never grabbed Leonard Chamberlain's in Sutton, Stoneferry and Selby (Bridlington as well, originally?) as well (or any other assets and dosh).

But the rationalist liberals also pretty much died out, under the opposition of biblical criticism and romaticism. Short's series suggests that James Martineau wasn't over concerned about miracles and the resurrection, but didn't reject them, and was not part of the German biblical criticism and scepticism that would lead to an anti-supernatural party within the Unitarians. But, putting myself up against a denominational historian, I rather think that romanticism was made possible and filled the gap provided by the scepticism, and they run together, plus many Unitarians of that Martineau school had been to Germany and studied, or at least welcomed and studied the new knowledge. It was all about new knowledge and intellectual disciplines. The Oxford Liberal Anglicans examined the thinking whilst the Oxford Movement wallowed in romanticised dogma. Martineau certainly regarded Christianity as the true religion, but his subjectivism had sawn off the branch he was sitting on, and many others were not on that branch but where he'd fallen. Christian liturgical forms just supplied the 'feeling' that was wanted whilst people were thinking far more broadly. Again, liturgy and theology are not the same.

Romanticism was a dangerous development in Europe. In Germany a rationalism that was so progressive regarding the Jews and Christianity proved to be horrendous in time, as Wagner and then the Nazis turned into into anti-rationalism. The use of romanticism must be checked by rationality.

Whilst a very few took the romanticism into Free Catholicism, a parallel movement to Liberal Catholicism (interesting that Brooke Herford (1830-1903) was a denominationalist and yet his son Ulric Vernon Herford (1866-1938) became this Oxford based independent Liberal Catholic bishop from 1902 via the Syro-Chaldean Church in India), the Martineau development did become the less romanticised religious humanism of one part of the denomination, particularly marked as such in the 1960s and 1970s, but a mellower pluralism later. For some, the religious humanism of the sixties was almost Puritan in its rational rejection of symbolism. Still, around all these subsections, the Christian groups as such had merged, given that few carried on promoting miracles or even resurrection. The argument about Christianity in the denomination became mainly one of forms and appearances: is this a church we are running or something else? Christianity is now conservative denominationally, about what you should do and what you should not do.

I take the view that the Anglo-Catholicism of the nineteenth century was an invented tradition - invented to be anti-state since 1832, not the pro-state or empire entity that it was. The Oxford Movement was traditionalist and doctrinal, like a pure reaction in a bubble, but Charles Gore invented a more moderate version that can be connected to today's Affirming Catholics, a sort of negotiated synthesis.

The Church of England chucked out many Puritans and later it couldn't handle the Methodists, who became an independent denomination and then denominations. This is what is happening now with the traditionalist Catholics. The decision is effectively to have women priests and bishops, and that means those who don't like it have to leave or go sit in a corner. Their attachment to romantic dogmatism, a lot of it sexually powered, cannot give ground, but they are now faced with a tempting offer of Anglican form ordinariates from Rome bolstered by a successful visit by the crafty Benedict XVI. The price is their current ordination status as zilch, and having to be done as if from scratch.

But some don't want to leave. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas (although Christians should). The pay gets cut, the congregations disappear, the ordinations as were vanish - particularly for a married bishop. So now we have a self-made Anglican potential ordinariate called Saint Wilfrid and Saint Hilda, with Bishop John Hind as the master copier. Presumably it will be a huddle in a corner vetting any bishop or priest for ordained purity and will have no organisational status except a half-life in the Church of England. All this while Anglican Churches around the world have varieties of women as bishops, men consecrated by women, women by men, even ordained martians are a possibility. It will take a lot of intelligence gathering about purity and pollution.

Here's a thing then: ordinariates existing that will be Roman in institutional objectivity but Anglican in subjectivity, or the SWASH being possibly Anglican in objectivity and Roman in subjectivity, where one can dance to the music of time old style.

Notice how, then, and again, the liberals are not the ones to leave or be forced out. The liberals always seem to ones to hang on grumpily. Only a few liberal individuals come out. In the new to be Catholic-free (other than as forms of presentation) Church of England, newly bipolar between evangelicals and liberals, there might just be a reversal of form. Strong evangelicals could make life very difficult for liberals: confess! But, looking at GAFCON and all that, they seem to be the ones who would set up parallel Church forms, so that eventually they do the leaving and self-existence. That would be historically consistent.

A slimmed down Church of England could range from Open Evangelicals from a more closed variety to the Liberals - though I think these liberals would have to shave off their radicals to behave and would involve the third cut. Perhaps they might come Unitarian way. But again, they just muddle on with the duplicity. "We believe..." when we don't.

Or perhaps there simply is not enough in number institutionally in the religious market place in Britain for a place where people who are Christians, humanists, Muslims, Pagans or Easterns (Buddhist, Hindu etc.) prefer to meet with others than with (or as well as) their own dedicated kind. I still think this creedless 'difference' setting has its own unique selling point (well the Quakers have it too, but they are very quiet in worship), but I'm not sure enough people can 'get it' to want it, and probably not with churches and chapels. Tolerance of gender variations may be one plus for the Unitarians, as for the Quakers. I tend to think that the Methodists, URC, Baptists will collapse into themselves and each other by around 2050, and the USP Unitarians can pick up distinctive liberals, but it may just be a few folk on the fringes and might not be enough.

Nevertheless we are not quite there yet. Where we are is the position that Anglo-Catholicism is bust, at least at its meatier end. This isn't the last stage, however, as a New Reformation rearranges the deck chairs.

I suppose I am most interested now in whether there are sufficient others to come in from outside to boost the declining Unitarians, bobbing along the bottom, or whether we are into new and final territory for a number of once active religious institutions.


Erika Baker said...

"Anglicanism is Duplicity"

Only if your benchmark is black and white, right and wrong.
If your benchmark is human compromise without which no society can flourish and live and let live, then Anglicanism is the murky reality of what life is really about, the place where you can focus on your place in the scheme of God's world without having to police everyone else.

Anonymous said...

If you say "I believe" and don't believe, it's duplicity.
Or the Anglo-Saxon version of Shinto; historic ritual linked to life cycle events calling itself a church.
Take your pick.
Do you see Disestablishment down the road anywhere?