Project Canterbury

The Faith of an English Catholic
by Darwell Stone, D.D.

London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1926.

Chapter I. Introduction

DURING the last year a demand has been somewhat insistently made that Anglo-Catholics should show their hand, and explain what they mean, and say what they want. If an attempt is made to answer the challenge, there must needs be some definition who Anglo-Catholics are, and some statement how they have come to be. The writer of this book does not love the word Anglo-Catholic. Both for linguistic and for theological reasons he would prefer to call himself an English Catholic. But the wide use of the word in popular speech makes it one which cannot be avoided, and to which even those who could have wished for another phrase must consent. It is indeed not new. Besides the older use of it, the Tractarians called themselves by this name, and their critics so described them; [1] and this fact may serve to illustrate features in the history of what is known as Anglo-Catholicism to-day. For the Anglo-Catholics of to-day are the successors of the men who nearly one hundred years ago began and carried through the Oxford Movement.

The Oxford Movement was the result of many different causes, some remote, some near at hand. It was affected by many different influences. The promoters and supporters of it included men of very different history and character and attainments. In its sources and in its history there were diversities. But there was one great desire which pervaded the earliest stages of the whole Movement; and, with whatever modifications in details or effects, remained all along. This great desire was to find and express the true authority for theological belief and church organization and religious life. In seeking this authority the Tractarians tried to see the facts and the meaning of history. They looked back to antiquity. They sought to know what was the tradition which the Church of the first centuries had received from the Apostles, to see how it was sustained by Holy Scripture, to understand how the ancient Church had given it expression and form. There was one way--the way of truth, the way of worship, the way of holiness--which once for all had been committed to the saints, which was the abiding inheritance of the Church on earth. It was the gift of God, not made but received by man. It was in sharp contrast to the many forms of error, the many kinds of perverted devotion, the many undisciplined phases of life, which human sin and mistake had brought to be. To strengthen the teaching of the dogma inherited from the earliest centuries was the right means of opposing the inroads of unbelief. The Oxford writers made their appeal to the Church of the Fathers and the Church of the New Testament; they regarded the historic Catholic Church as the teacher of truth and the home of grace; and, beyond all that they gained for belief and worship, they tried to rekindle and renew the spiritual significance of our Lord's earthly life.

As time went on, two new features came into the Movement. In its beginnings it was intellectual and largely academical. Notwithstanding the desire to promote goodness, which had been strong from the first, and the deep sympathy with all sorts and conditions of men, which had never been absent, the character of its appeal necessarily made it the work of the learned and the refined, and necessarily it found its chief response among those who possessed well equipped and cultivated minds. But it soon found fuller scope. Soon the supporters of it were no longer confined to narrow circles. They moved out into wider spheres of Church activity. The work of the Movement went on in parishes filled with poor and ignorant people; and the missionary enterprise which had always been very near to the heart of the Movement expanded in practical work of many kinds at home and abroad. When this expansion took place, new needs of practical urgency were felt, and could not be resisted. As one result, the warmth and brightness of a beautiful and appealing and impressive ceremonial was added to the original austerity. That which had been known as Tractarian came to be called Ritualistic. London and other centres, as well as Oxford, began to have their say. .

The other new feature also was the result of a widening influence. The earliest appeal had been to the ancient Church and the Scripture behind it, and in a less degree to that preservation of the earliest tradition which, it was believed, might be found in the authorized formularies and the great divines of the English Church since the Reformation. As the facts were studied, a sense of isolation made itself felt. The Church of England, alone, exclusive, separated from other Christians in all parts of the world, seemed very different from the Church of the Fathers with its wide extent and far reaching influence, which was Catholic not only because it was orthodox but also because it was the Church of the whole world. And, on another line of thought, it was seen that the Churches of the East and the Church of Rome could no longer be merely condemned or lightly ignored, but must be taken into serious account. Hence came a desire to find out all that was good in Roman and Eastern theology and life, to search for agreement rather than for difference, to adapt and use the principles and methods of Roman and Eastern thought and devotion. The study of theologians who gave allegiance to Rome was added to that of the Reformation and post-Reformation English divines. Ways of prayer and worship and work were modelled on much which had not hitherto been known in the English Church. Retreats, missions, systems of meditation, services of which the Three Hours is a notable instance, were given a place in English Church life. The claim of the English Church to be a true part of the Catholic Church had already been strongly emphasized; and the desire for reunion with the East and with Rome, which had never been quite extinguished, gradually grew in intensity and determination and force.

From this origin and this development those who are now known as Anglo-Catholics have come to be. They are a large company. Among them there are wide differences. They do not form a mechanically organized party. Many of them are suspicious of any kind of direction and control, very sensitive to any kind of interference. Many of them are so far touched by the spirit of the age as to claim independence of action to a very large extent. Some words of the accomplished historian Mr. Henry Offley Wakeman are even more true now than when he wrote them in 1896. "Since 1845 the High Church revival has never been the work of a party within the Church. High Churchmen have never been like an army organized under definite and authoritative leadership, still less like a parliamentary group, which answers obediently to the crack of the whip. Their common action has been constantly marked by much independence of thought and practice." [2]

But, if there are differences among Anglo-Catholics, there is much more that unites. And what unites is fundamental. Mr. Wakeman's further words are true again of those to-day, as they were of those of an earlier time. "Still less," he continues, "have they been a disorderly mob, actuated merely by frivolity and passion. They have been rather like one of the great political parties under a constitutional government, men united in common action by a belief in common principles, held in very varying degrees of intensity and perspective, but clear enough in their main outlines." [3]

In the following pages the writer must try to show what Anglo-Catholics have in common, and wherein they differ; how far they have inherited the position of the Tractarians, from whom they sprang, and how far they have altered or supplemented it; what is their relation to the Church of England as a whole, and to the Catholic Church throughout the world.

[1] See, among many other instances, J. H. Newman, Tracts for the Times, no. xc (1841), p. 25; C. Bronte, Shirley (1849), I, p. 1.

[2] H. O. Wakeman, An Introduction to the History of the Church of England (ninth edition, 1919), p. 470.

[3] Ibid.

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