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St Paul's: The Cathedral Church of London 604-2004
St Paul's: The Cathedral Church of London 604-2004
Arthur Burns; Andrew Saint; Derek J. Keene
Yale University Press, 2004
536 pp., 125.00

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Timothy Larsen

Anglican Angst

Save the last dance for me

Anglicanism sometimes seems like a country with a proportional representation system of government that is doomed, Groundhog Day-style, to be forever in an election year. For the last 150 years or more, Anglicans have subdivided into three basic groups. Labels have varied based on time period and nuance, but, for convenience, let's use Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, and Modernist. As any student of politics knows, three parties means coalitions. As there is no election day, however, Anglican party strength is perpetually being testedevery decision and every appointment can be read as a triumph for one faction or another.

Related to this is another curiosity: most everyone, whether insider or outsider, will tell you that Anglicanism's notable strengths include tradition and continuity (not to mention unity). Nevertheless, the great rock of traditionalism seems more than most denominations to be forever anxious about what it must do to be relevant in the contemporary world.

There is no more delightful way into this terrain than John Richard Orens' urbane study of that quixotic Anglican priest of the Victorian age, Stewart Headlam. Headlam's father had been an Evangelical, but that was the one thing he was not. Everything that he thought was wrong with Anglicanism Headlam attributed to "Manichaean Calvinism." Never one to do things by halves, he eventually gave institutional expression to this antipathy by founding the Anti-Puritan Leaguea band of convivial polemicists whose members included G.K. Chesterton. Headlam embodied the natural anti-Evangelical coalition, being either a Modernist Anglo-Catholic or an Anglo-Catholic Modernist.

Headlam's Modernism was informed by such Broad Church classics as Essays and Reviews (1860) and the writings of F. D. Maurice, both of which provoked investigations for heresy. Well-established Modernists adopted Headlam when he was a young curate, but he proved too reckless a freethinker even for them. Headlam taxed his Modernist vicar to the breaking point by preaching universalism and was sent off to the bishop to explain himself.

On the other hand, Headlam was also a keen Anglo-Catholic and had to answer formal charges for introducing such contentious liturgical innovations as kissing the altar and the gospel book, genuflecting, and making the sign of the cross. This made him paradoxically also a guardian of tradition in a way that most Modernists are not. He even went so far as to defend the eminently assailable Athanasian Creed, waggishly retorting to Modernists who complained of its untenable level of philosophical abstraction that it was easier to understanding than the neo-Hegelian thought of T.H. Green which was then the rage.

To top it all off, Headlam was an irrepressible champion of radical politics, slum missions, popular amusements, and people who got in trouble for being irreligious or immoral. His politics included republicanism (a hard sell in Queen Victoria's England) and socialism. When given the opportunity to preach in Westminster Abbey on Maundy Thursday, 1881, he declared to this high-society congregation that the solution to such social ills as bad housing was "the Christian Communism of the Church of the Carpenter." Headlam publicly supported the defiantly anti-Christian atheist leader, Charles Bradlaugh, infuriating Anglican leaders by his attempt to recast the self-styled "Iconoclast" as a heroic anonymous Christian. The piece de resistance along these lines came when Headlam, who was a man of independent means, put up 1,250 for Oscar Wilde's bail and sheltered the writer in his home on his release from prison. Headlam also had a Mr Toad-like obsession with the Music Hall. He founded the Church and Stage Guild in an attempt to remove the stigma of worldliness from chorus linesanother uphill cause among Victorian church people.

The theological links bewildered lesser minds, but the Reverend Stewart Headlam could see quite clearly how devotion to the Virgin Mary must lead on to votes for women, how a logical implication of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was socialism, and how it was a denial of the doctrine of the incarnation to prohibit dancing girls from wearing flesh-colored tights. One can sense the desperation that the church not get left behind in a changing world.

Yale University Press has recently issued a lush, illustrated history of one of Anglicanism's most iconic buildings and the ministry arising from it, St Paul's: The Cathedral Church of London 604-2004, edited by Derek Keene, Arthur Burns, and Andrew Saint. Anglicans across the globe have felt so strong a common bond with St Paul's that it used to be referred to as the "parish church of the British Empire." An essay by John Wolffe evokes the truly national role the cathedral has played in modern times, from the state funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and Winston Churchill, to the wedding in 1981 of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and beyond. When the signing of the armistice ended World War I, Londoners spontaneously came to St Paul's and insisted that its bemused clergymen conduct a service of thanksgiving. A foreword by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, identifies the cathedral's spiritual mission as one of harmoniously drawing together "all Christians."

Nevertheless, Arthur Burns' superb historical survey of St Paul's since 1830 reveals that such unifying aspirations have come up against countervailing realities. In the late 1860s, the cathedral began a long period of being controlled by Anglo-Catholics. The dean from 1871, R.W. Church, and his successor from 1890 to 1911, Robert Gregory, were both ex-Evangelicals who had gone high church. When a court declared that the Eucharist could not be celebrated from the eastward position (a liturgical development viewed by its opponents as an effort to make Anglican worship more Roman Catholic), Gregory and Liddon defied the ruling and dared the authorities to prosecute St Paul's. Militant Evangelicals decided that the cathedral had become the agent of an unsound faction. In 1883, one went so far as to charge the altar during the Easter service, shouting as he ran the rallying cry, "Protestants to the rescue!" This rebellion was thwarted through the expediency of stuffing Dean Gregory's handkerchief into the mouth of the disgruntled worshipper.

Yet this man's sentiments, if not his tactics, were widespread. 9,000 people signed a petition against a newly installed altar screen that depicted a breast-feeding Virgin Mary. When, in 1969, a Roman Catholic was allowed to preach at St Paul's there was a heavy police presence to deal with any possible disturbances. When the archbishop rose to introduce the speaker, he was met with shouts of "traitor."

The theological links bewildered lesser minds, but the Reverend Stewart Headlam could see quite clearly how devotion to the Virgin Mary must lead on to votes for women, how a logical implication of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was socialism, and how it was a denial of the doctrine of the incarnation to prohibit dancing girls from wearing flesh-colored tights. One can sense the desperation that the church not get left behind in a changing world.

The Bishop of London is pleased to report that the director of the Evangelical Alliance is now a canon of St Paul's, but that is mere windowdressing. Anglo-Catholics or Modernists or a coalition of the two have maintained control over the cathedral church of London for over 135 years now, and there is no sign of that changing. W.R. Inge, who became dean in 1911, was a decided Modernist with an unfortunate enthusiasm for eugenics and sterilization programs. He was so immune to the appeal of Anglo-Catholicism that he deemed the cathedral's elaborate liturgy "a criminal waste of time." He consoled himself that he might be able to use the time to catch up on his reading, but even this modest compensation was thwarted by the peering eyes of the choir. Still the chapter was firmly controlled by Anglo-Catholics, and Inge was therefore unable to implement substantial changes. Other key figures at London's cathedral personally embodied the Modernist-Anglo-Catholic coalition.

St Paul's has also witnessed its share of efforts to be relevant, some of them so pathetic that they could make even an American cringe. The 1960s versions of this propensity included everything from the "festival of jazz praise" to a fashion show. Even the building itself was modified to include a son et lumiere, which Burns rather wickedly describes as the architectural equivalent of a lava lamp. Perhaps the nadir was when paratroopers were allowed to practice their descents in front of St Paul's. The dean was even coaxed into having a go himself. London's Roman Catholic archbishop made the withering observation that Christ, on the other hand, had managed to resist the temptation to jump from the pinnacle of the temple.

William H. Katerberg's Modernity and the Dilemma of North American Anglican Identities, 1880-1950 is a little marred by a tendency to gravitate toward vague and sweeping theoretical categories. To take a random example, does the rather banal occurrence of an Anglican priest moving from England to Canada really need to be thought of in terms of the relationship between modernity and disembedded identities? That said, this is a well-researched study that has much to say to contemporary Anglicans.

In the period Katerberg covers, Evangelical Anglicans generally had a visceral objection to Anglo-Catholicism, rooted in what they perceived to be core Protestant doctrinal commitments. Evangelicals fought high church liturgical developments tooth and nail, calculating that the gospel itself was at stake. The enemy was "ritualism." Modernists, however, were often seen as welcome coalition partners: Evangelicals and Liberals together was then in vogue. Their alliance was based on a common revolt against the dead weight of tradition. I suppose one might say that evangelicals are model Modernists in that they excel at having no sense of history.

As ever, some internalized the coalition. In the decades before World War II, numerous Evangelicals referred to themselves as "Liberal Evangelicals." I have never heard that self-description in my lifetime, although one does now hear what would have sounded strange then, "Catholic Evangelical"and even Evangelicals that prefer "Evangelical Catholic." You don't often hear such hybrid appellations when evangelicals from other denominations are introducing themselves; Anglicans, by contrast, seem particularly prone to coalition labels. More recently, Evangelical Anglicans have decided to leave Modernists at the punch bowl and to try a bit of liturgical dancing. Ask yourself, when was the last time you heard an Evangelical accuse someone of "ritualism"?

Evangelical Anglicans ought therefore to reflect upon whether their earlier principled objections to Anglo-Catholic theology and worship were really wrongheaded in toto. Do they have any critique left of "Romanizing tendencies"? That chalk line has not been drawn afresh for so long that they should not be surprised if people start crossing over without even noticing it.

Many wannabe Episcopalians, of course, are shedding the religious identity of the anonymous auditoriums of their parent's baptistic churches precisely because they want to add to their evangelicalism a more elaborate liturgy and tradition. The price tag is that the Prayer Book they love is being held by numerous Modernists, and has been for a long time. Katerberg goes so far as to argue that the anti-ritualism campaign of Evangelicals "contributed to the liberal-modernist victory in the struggle for supremacy in the Episcopal Church after World War II." It is invariably bad manners to ask an Evangelical Episcopalian whether he or she is an Anglican or an evangelical first.

So on to a mischievously titled collection of essays by the Church of England college chaplains at the University of Cambridge, Anglicanism: The Answer to Modernity, edited by Duncan Dormor, Jack McDonald, and Jeremy Caddick. The meaning of the title is not that Anglicanism is anti-modern but rather that it is relevant (that word again) to the contemporary world. It is not so much an answer as an echo. As Modernists have often been wont to do, the editors specifically disavow the notion that they represent any church party. To start at the beginning, F. D. Maurice, the 19th-century founder of Broad Church Anglicanism (as Modernism was called in his day), always denied that he belonged to any party.

Like the supercilious sectarians in Corinth who claimed "I follow Christ," Modernists purport to be above the party fray. They are for "comprehensiveness"which, of course, means unity on their terms. The contributors concede that they all represent "an orthodox liberalism"; one might have hoped that orthodoxy could have been the noun. The genre they are consciously aiming at is that of the liberal-edited volume, Essays and Reviews, which once so energized Headlam.

On the positive side, this collection has real verve. Wishy-washy, milk-toast vicars have set so much of the tone in the contemporary Church of England that one cannot help but cheer unapologetic and confident Anglican theology. Who would have thought that such a thing could arise from, of all places, Cambridge University? Jo Bailey Wells' call to reclaim the wisdom books of the Hebrew Scriptures has a welcome resonance. Ben Quash is right to remind us that the authentic Anglican Church is represented not by the goofy extremes that grab the attention of the national media but rather by the sacrificial acts of being present to ordinary people that are recorded in season and out of season in local newspapers. Jeremy Caddick helpfully argues that Christianity can offer resources in the field of medical ethics that move beyond inadequate rights-based language. (If I may be allowed to extend what I take to be the thrust of his argument: just as J.S. Mill taught us that no one has the right to sell themselves into slavery, the same logic refutes as spurious claims to a "right to die.")

There is plenty here, however, to rub Evangelicals and anti-Modernist Anglo-Catholics the wrong way. Jack McDonald, in a cheerful piece on evil, informs us that the notion that all people are fallen is "a theodicy for sadists and masochists." It is also rude to ask Anglicans if they have read the Thirty-Nine Articles, but McDonald might want to dust off number nine.

Duncan Dormor makes a plea for the church to affirm cohabitation as an acceptable alternative to marriage. The argument consists of the classic Modernist claim that this is the only way the church can stay relevant in a changing society. Nevertheless, Dormor's vision of young people finding their soulmates and then settling down to cohabit in mutual love and respect till death do them part is just as quaint and countercultural as the church's historic stance. "True Love Waits," we are told, is un-Anglican. Well, if it is time to be prophetic, a larger target, and one closer to home, might have been a culture of dumping old partners in a self-absorbed search for new thrills. If a church that still defends the ideal of traditional marriage is out of touch, what can be said of someone who pretends that a significantly more realistic solution to the current disarray is old-fashioned, lifelong, monogamous fidelity minus the piece of paper?

So where does all this leave Evangelical Anglicans? Is a coalition with Anglo-Catholics the solution? Perhaps, but many Anglo-Catholics are also Modernists, thinning the number of potential co-belligerents yet further. Moreover, if Modernism is truly the enemy, and if Evangelicals really have no critique of Anglo-Catholicism left, then why should people not just convert to Rome, a church that isn't afraid to be countercultural? On the other hand, the positive side of Anglicanism's perpetual election year is that the faithful can continually hope: a victory for their party might be just around the corner.

Timothy Larsen, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, is associate professor of theology at Wheaton College and the author most recently of Contested Christianity: The Political and Social Contexts of Victorian Theology (Baylor Univ. Press).

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