Recently, at a local Episcopalian Church, I had the pleasure of sitting through an introductory class on ECUSA. The video was produced in the mid-eighties– before the consecration of homosexual bishops but well after after the ordination of women priests. What surprised me was how Anglo-Catholicism was so praised by ECUSA, especially the allure of sacramental mysticism. While I only may be guessing, I venture there’s at least two reasons for this–
First, the type of sacramentalism the video celebrated was truly a pantheistic sort, provocatively assigning nature and especially social justice (aka, alms?) the same kind of sacramental objectivity and virtue as the Supper and Baptism. No distinction was made between the nature of Christ’s sacraments and so-called church rites because ECUSA views its own prophetic voice and deeds (the alleged church and the related culture) as coextensive and equal to Christ. This solves an obvious hermeneutical problem of scripture being the sufficient and final rule for faith.
Second, when ECUSA celebrates the victory of Anglo-Catholicism against bible literalism in the 20-th century, it really celebrates Bishop Gore’s Lux Mundi. Lux Mundi originated as a series of lectures addressed by Bishop Charles Gore in 1904 to the Bampton Conference at Oxford. The lectures propounded upon a radical view of society and christology.
Bishop Gore introduced modernism into Anglicanism by relocating the uniqueness of the incarnation from the virgin birth of Christ towards breath of life in Man. This enabled certain categories of redemption to shift from the cross towards creation. If the image of God was not depraved, or only stained by a slight “stumble” rather than “fall”, then sin was very little a problem. This allowed ethics to shift from a scriptural to a more philosophical basis, especially in relation to Fabian-marxist ideas. Therefore, Lux Mundi successfullyflattened the world with Christ’s body removing divine humiliation as its bridge. Rather than Christ uniquely glorified and ascendant through mortification and death, Gore gives the unconditional honor to man regardless of sin and rebellion. The Holy Spirit therefore dwells everywhere with equal imminence or “light”, and therefore Gore proposes a kind of pantheism?
” If we are to apply the religion of Christ, we need also and equally to have our ears open to the moral ideals of each age and country — especially of the present age. For instance, the ideas associated with democracy — the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity — we must believe to be, at their best, of divine origin — real expressions of the divine purpose and the divine wisdom for to-day.” (Gore, “Everlasting Gospel and Spirit of the Age”, Christ and Society lectures, 1927)
A sad example of Liberal and Anglo-Catholic affinity is found within the 1904 Expository Journal. Here, Dr. Hastings Rashdall discussed the downside fortunes of Broad Churchmen at the turn of the century. Dr. Hasting curiously had high hopes for Bishop Gore. In retrospect he was not giddy in his estimation,
“Dr. Hasting agrees with the high church principle, appealing to the church instead of the bible. For the appeal to the church, which is a living and progressive society, carries with it a ‘recognition of the principle of growth, of development, of a perpetual inspiration, not limited to the first century or the fourth’. His message to the High Churchman is, therfore, mainly one of encouragement. Let him [the High Churchman] carry his principle out. Let him emancipate the truth to which High Church teaching owes its great spiritual triumphs, from the too narrow intellectual envelope by which its growth has been fettered. Dr. Rashdall’s hope is in Bishop Gore… his hope even now seems to be in detaching the leaders and the scholars of the High church party from its unintellectual residuum, rather than in the broad church party itself. His hope is Bishop Gore.”
Living with liberalism:
What I find most disturbing about Lux Mundi is how beloved Prayer Book catholics like Dearmer and Frere played leading roles in English socialism, eroding the very patriarchate that we defend today. Bishop Gore perhaps fired an early shot against male orders, consecrating twenty-one women lay readers in 1917. The 1928 BCP(s) also reflect the rising powers of liberal catholicism, particularly evident in the marriage rite where many OT references are trimmed down and unequal vows removed. As with the American, the watering-down of OT verse from 1662 was a general theme catholic revision in the English proposed book,
“The proposals of 1927 had a polarizing effect on Anglo-Catholicism. Undoubtedly, the changes made were in a distinctively Catholic direction; however, the book was also highly controversial. It contained various ‘modernist’ develompents, such as the treatment of the Athnasian Creed, the omission o freferences to the Flood adn the corssing of the Red Sea, and a ‘softening down’ of the baptismal and marriage offices that would offend conservative sensibilities…The response of pro-revision liberal Evangelicals was influenced by three main factors: a desire for progressive liturgy, a belief in comprehensive Anglicanism, and a commitment to Church order. Although liberals were wary of a change in the doctrinal orientation of the Church, many welcomed the ‘modern’ dimension of the bishop’ revision.” (p. 53, 61 National Religion and the PB controversy, 1927-28)
Was this an early manifestation of the egalitarian or feminist spirit? Of course, these are faulty reforms judged in retrospect. Dearmer and Ferere were men of their times too, none possessing 20/20 vision. Even so, divines like Andrewes knew God’s majesty invoked more than an aesthetic or style but included a deep conversion of life and repentance under the preached Word, partly explaining why Caroline sermons are so eloquent yet long– many a ‘homily’ going past an hour in duration. The Anglican Way is certainly more than aesthetic (or Shakespearean English) but it is first a heavenly theology that wonderfully articulates the unique miracle and Promise of man’s salvation uniquely by God, dividing rightly between fallen man and raised Christ. Lux Mundi perhaps weakened the gap between the two.
Nonetheless, we can’t dismiss everything liberal catholics achieved. We might judge men like Gore and Temple more by their faulty political alliances than theology per se. Part of their dilemma was renegotiating Erastianism. Some points about the incarnation and society have profound insight and validity (even if secondary matters of import). But where these speculations displace moral or natural law, they have no authority other than a creative philosophy of the age.
If Anglicanism ever turned from the cliff of ruin, we might wonder how a conservative center might prevent another liberal tendency? If Anglicanism regrouped into a “large church” (ACNA #3?), perhaps the restraint of common formularies would suffice, and, rather than Lux Mundi courting bad allies it might serve a regular and common benefit as Dearmer and Bicknell did. Dearmer and Bicknell, however, were exponentially closer to orthodoxy, in both doctrine and discipline, than those who pass for Lux Mundi today. The Dr. Rashdall’s of TEC have appropriated the rhetoric of late 19th and early 20th-century liberal catholics and set it to their own design.