Monday, May 08, 2017

Pruning the Rose-tinted spectacles

I was once told by a senior member of the CofE in my Diocese that I was being loyal to a Church that had passed away. He'd obviously read in me my adherence to traditional forms of worship, to the Book of Common Prayer, the English Hymnal, to choirs and anthems and bells and smells, to beating the bounds in Rogation Week, to a ten o'clock Mass with the Nicene Creed. Is that what I wanted?

Fr Anthony accuses me cruelly of being Romantic.  Naturally, I'm shocked to the core! ­čść

In all seriousness, one might perceive in me a desire for original versions of things. I prefer music on period instruments, with the right type of voices. I don't like a female alto singing The Record of John, nor do I like a male alto singing the Pie Jesu from Durufl├ę's Requiem. I'm not fond of Bach keyboard works on a piano! Of course, there are exceptions to these silly rules of mine.

It does raise a good question: are Continuing Anglicans looking for an Anglicanism that doesn't really exist?

Consider those traditions that Anglicans hold dear: choral evensong with Psalms sung to Anglican Chant. Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas, great buildings in stone, glorious organs, large congregations, Sunday School at the vicarage, the regular use of the Churching of Women and the Catechism. Do any of them go back any further than the mid-Victorian era? It would seem not according to many in the Church who want to strip of antiquity the traditions on which many of us look back with fondness. Why? So that they can justify the proliferation of new material which, quite frankly, is cheap, second rate, and subject to fashion.

There is an extent to which they are right to do so. We must not adhere to traditions of men: Our Lord is very clear of that. As lovely as the great anthems from the Victorian era, even up to the 1960s are, they are still a product of a particular time. These are all things that we must be prepared to sacrifice if we seek to follow God.

Yet, we know that the quality of belief has been declining, and one might argue that the quality of Church music, architecture, and liturgy has something to do with it. I don't doubt that the two are linked through correlation, but correlation is not necessarily a statement of cause.

Too often we seem to have a "Golden Age" mentality, that the past is something that we have to reclaim, that original versions are always better. Of course, we have to accept that there is no real "Golden Age"/ We can't hark back to a 1950s way of life because a 1950s way of life has its own problems and its own lessons to be learned. Certainly, many Continuing Anglicans (and Roman Catholics) have a loathing of the 1960s with the Sexual Revolution, Vatican II, and Honest to God. Yet, it must be remembered that the seeds of the 1960s were germinating in the 1950s and, indeed, have always been germinating before then. One might find the roots of liberalism in the Enlightenment, yet the Enlightenment is a product of the Reformation and the seeds of the Reformation have always existed somewhere in Christianity.

We do need to be critical of our tendency to wear rose-tinted spectacles. We have to admit that there is no real Golden Age to look back to, but rather look forward to bringing about that Golden Age.

The seeds of what we perceive to be great about Anglican heritage are part of our past as much as its apparent destruction. Everything has its origin somewhere. The glories of the Anglican Choral tradition are old and we still hear this age in the choral evensongs of today.

Even words of greater antiquity have a habit of turning up in a rediscovery by someone who understands its significance and eternal quality:

Again, it is those who seek to revise meanings and themes that always have been present in Christianity to suit their own ends who do the greatest damage to the aesthetic of the Faith. As St James says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." We can always tell that which comes from God because it has that character of Eternity about it. God simply does not change. His doctrine does not change. His decisions do not change. We can trust God's word because it is ageless.

This is why we cannot find a Golden Age to hark back to. We have to accept the limitations of our being present in this world now, and bringing to birth things which possess that character of Eternity which people recognise and which still persist. If we find things around us to be ugly or deformed or base, then let us seek to bring some beauty back ourselves, rather than just rail against the humdrum nature of things around us. Yes, modern worship music is, by and large, shocking in its ignorance of the faith and paltry nature of its art, so then let us commit ourselves not only to the majesty which we may perceive within the English Hymnal but also bring something out of ourselves to be new and yet touch upon the character of Eternity which only God possesses but desires to pass on to us human beings in our journey back to our own character of Eternity in Him. Let us be the vehicles of the majesty of expressing our worship through words which keep the Great Catholic Faith which our fathers always had. Let us build, create, and bring to birth things which possess the power of being a window into Heaven by which people can see the Light, feel the Warmth and know the Truth!

Always we begin again. We must always go back to the original, always back to the Source, always back to the Truth and bring Him into our Time through the integrity of our own humanity that He gives us. Let us forget about mythical Golden Ages and give our rose-tinted spectacles a polish in the light of Eternity itself.


Auriel Ragmon said...

' are Continuing Anglicans looking for an Anglicanism that doesn't really exist?

I say that if they are doing it instead of just 'looking for' it,it does exist, Father.
James Morgan
Olympia WA

Warwickensis said...

Thank you. :) I see what you mean and perhaps that's my point. Too many Churchmen have an attitude of negativity about the time we're in. They cultivate a form of ennui and Weltschmerz rather than seek to build the Anglican Church that should exist. This is why those who.are aClive in this building have my admiration over those who mournfully dwell in the past.