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The Catholic Movement in the Church of England

By Wilfred L. Knox, M.A.
Priest of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd

London: Philip Allan, [1923]


I HAVE endeavoured in this book to put forward a general account of the position of those who are commonly called "Anglo-Catholics." The word itself I have avoided: already there are signs that it is in danger of acquiring a misleading significance, as though "Anglo-Catholicism" ought in some way to aim at establishing a new variety of the Catholic religion, or could be content with securing certain changes in the general standard of teaching and external presentment of the Christian faith within the Church of England, while retaining the insularity of outlook which has since the sixteenth century been the curse of English religion. Consequently I have replaced the word by the term "English Catholics": the mere fact that it is somewhat awkward and inconvenient is of a certain value, since it serves as a continual reminder that the present state of affairs, in which those who hold the specifically Catholic conception of the Christian revelation are outwardly divided, is contrary to the will of God and calls urgently for remedy.

My object has been to describe the main features of the Catholic system of religion as it has developed from the teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles, to trace the course of events by which the continuity of that system was just preserved in the English Church at the Reformation, and to describe the almost miraculous manner in which it was revived in the last century and the course which that revival has followed down to the present day. In conclusion I have endeavoured to estimate the attitude which the followers of the revival are tending to adopt towards certain of the problems of the present time, notably towards the urgent problem of Christian re-union.

The Christian religion is an eternal revelation of God to man, and is therefore necessarily in one sense incapable of change. None the less in another sense it is continually changing; for it is continually adapting itself to new methods of human thought and new ways of looking upon life. Consequently it is in this sense a continual process of evolution, in which the element of permanent truth is continually being adapted to the needs of new generations. The present time is one in which the challenge of new methods of thought is being urged with the utmost vigour by one side, and resisted with equal vigour by those who find nothing wanting in the older traditions of Christian teaching. In certain points I have endeavoured to indicate the lines along which the reconciliation of the two claims may be looked for: but at the same time I am well aware that a final synthesis is not to be looked for in the immediate future. Those of my critics who do not condemn me as a "Modernist" will condemn me as an "obscurantist"; probably both will be perfectly correct.

Unhappily in an age of controversy it is necessary to take for granted the greater part of those fields of Christian belief on which there is general agreement, and to spend an excessive amount of energy on ploughing the arid fields of polemical argument: this must be my defence for the lengthy treatment devoted to the question of authority in the Church. Here again I shall incur the displeasure of those who see nothing amiss in the traditional arguments of popular Anglo-Roman or Catholic and Protestant controversy. My apology for venturing on a new line of approach must be the proved futility of a system of controversy which is foredoomed from the beginning to a perpetual deadlock.

In regard to the more recent developments of the Catholic movement in the English Church I have endeavoured rather to analyse the tendencies actually at work than to dictate a line of policy which the movement ought to follow. Those familiar with the course of the revival will be aware of the many attempts that have been made to limit its progress to some particular doctrinal and devotional point, beyond which it cannot go without being disloyal to the traditions of the Church of England. Those limits have each in their turn been submerged by the advancing tide of Catholic devotion, and are now only remembered as curiosities of the past. It is possible that I shall be accused of a lack of loyalty to the distinctive position of the Church of England. But if in being loyal to the teaching of the Church Catholic I am disloyal to the Church of England, I fear that I shall bear the reproach with equanimity.

In one respect I am conscious that this book is seriously deficient. Any attempt to trace the growth of the Catholic revival in the English Church ought to deal also with the parallel revival within the Roman communion in this country, a revival that has been so closely and curiously interwoven with the Anglican movement. I have not attempted to do so. The historical survey of the two revivals in M. Thureau-Dangin's La Renaissance Catholique en Angleterre succeeds in surveying the whole course of the two revivals with an impartiality which is hardly to be achieved by any English writer who is inevitably engaged as an active partisan on one side or the other. I have therefore ignored the Roman revival, since any estimate of it that ventured beyond the limits of uncritical admiration would almost certainly be resented as an impertinence.

In conclusion I would ask that if in anything I have written I have offended the feelings of my readers, the fault may be considered as due to inadvertence of expression, not to uncharitable intention. I have endeavoured to write in that spirit of charity which alone can lead to the reconciliation of the divisions of Christendom and bring into the way of truth those who are now in the darkness of unbelief and error. I would ask in advance for pardon in respect of the many failures of which I have no doubt been guilty.

Since the beginning of the Oxford Movement in 1833 its opponents have prophesied its speedy failure. Several times that failure has seemed imminent: yet it has never come to pass. "If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."

W. L. K.

Octave of SS. Peter and Paul, 1923

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