Project Canterbury

The Catholic Faith and the Religious Situation

New York: The Churchmen's Alliance, 1921.

3. Anglo-Catholicism To-day
Simon Blinn Blunt, D.D.,

All Saints Church, Boston, Mass.

IN speaking to you this evening upon the topic of "Anglo-Catholicism To-day," I am keenly conscious that there are two aspects in which the subject may be viewed. First, there is the narrow aspect which takes into consideration only that group of Anglicans who apprehend the greatness and glory of their Catholic heritage. Then there is the other and broader view which sweeps within its range the whole visible body of the Anglican Communion.

Now, while the treatment of the first aspect of the subject would be interesting, and afford some degree of satisfaction and encouragement, were we to confine ourselves to it, we should be working to disadvantage, because there would be wanting a proper background against which to show the progress of Catholicizing which is all the while going on. In the opinion of the writer, therefore, it seems wiser, more judicial, and vastly more interesting to face the problem as it exists; to try to see the situation in its proper perspective, rather than hide our heads in the sand and beguile ourselves into believing that only those who think as we think are Anglo-Catholic. I remember well a conversation held some years ago with the late Bishop Grafton, in which I expressed doubt as to the validity of the official acts of a certain clergyman who held extremely loose sacramental views. His reply was so strong and comforting. He said, "It makes no difference what view of the Sacraments any individual may hold, provided his own baptism, confirmation and ordination are regular. His personal denials do not release him from his official prerogative. He is a Catholic Priest, whether he believes it or not, and the recitation of the prescribed words of the Prayer Book over the prescribed Elements makes a valid Catholic Sacrament, whether the Officiant acknowledges the fact or denies it." And by this same process of sound and logical reasoning it is quite unnecessary, in this presence, to add that every baptized member of the Anglo-Catholic Church is an Anglo-Catholic whether he be bad or good, unbelieving or believing, unconscious or conscious of his privilege.

Now with this much by way of general outline, let us turn to consider briefly something of the magnitude of the City of God. Let us try to "see the land, what it is, and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many, and what cities they dwell in, whether in tents or in strongholds."

And the first to claim our attention is the Church of the British Empire, with its 18 Provinces, 20 independent Sees, 15 Missionary Jurisdictions, making in rough figuring a total of 184 Dioceses; with 18 Archbishops and Metropolitans, 212 other active Bishops, and 63 retired, in all 293; and that impressive army of approximately 30,000 Priests, and millions of baptized members.

Then we must add to this array our own American Church, with its 8 Provinces, 12 extra-provincial jurisdictions in foreign lands; with 126 active Bishops, and 10 retired, making 136 Bishops; nearly 6000 Clergy, and upwards of two million baptized members. I wish it were possible to denominate also our Archbishops and Metropolitans, but unfortunately our democratic terminologies are chosen to conform more with those employed by Banking House and Commercial Institution, than with a Catholic Church, so we must content ourselves with such titles as "Presidents," "Secretaries," and "Presiding Bishop and Council."

But to proceed, according to such hurried and imperfect computations as the writer is able to make, Anglo-Catholicism to-day comprises 26 Provinces, with 286 Dioceses and Jurisdictions; 18 Archbishops, 384 other active Bishops, 73 retired, in all 439 Bishops; and fully 36,000 Priests. To attempt any enumeration of the stately Cathedrals, the parish Churches great and small, Chapels, Mission Stations, Schools, Colleges, Hospitals, Reformatories, Monastic Institutions, and other physical properties, would be obviously beyond our capacity, but, could it be done, would be amazingly beyond belief. Friends, we Anglo-Catholics of to-day are citizens of no mean city. "The hill of Sion is a fair place."

Now it would be a wonderful thing could we add those other familiar and thrilling words of the Psalmist, "Jerusalem is built as a city; that is at unity in itself." But since we cannot, nothing will be gained by side-stepping the issues with which the Church is confronted, nor minimizing the real difficulties which block the wheels of progress toward the consummation of a more ideal Catholicism. In discussing this phase of our subject I must, of course, confine my observations to the familiar field of our own American Church, though I fear what we deem peculiar to us is common to the whole Communion, differing perhaps only in degree. And while there may be much in this analysis to sadden us, there will be also much to cheer. We say to the child,—take the bitters, it will make you better, then you shall have a piece of candy. If we begin that way, if we consider the bitterness of our faults first, it will tend to make us better and enable us to appreciate the sweet and encouraging things which follow.

The discouraging factors in our organic life are so numerous and complex that we can only touch upon two or three of the more prominent ones. It makes little difference in what order we take them. Suppose, therefore, we consider first the Protestantizing element in the midst of our Catholicism. It is difficult to account for such a paradox, but the truth remains that a large number, I fear a majority, of our Bishops, Clergy, and lay-folk, esteem the Church to be a peculiar sort of pink-tipped, halo-trimmed, glorified protestant denomination, very much superior indeed to ordinary vulgar protestantism, but just inferior enough to escape the odious charge of Catholicism. And I believe you will sympathize when I state that I find myself wholly incapable of solving the mystery of those processes of reasoning which are responsible for such erroneous conclusions. The fact exists however, and presents a very real obstacle to Catholic progress, because many, perhaps most Christians outside the Church, Romans and Protestant alike, have come to measure us at the estimate which the Protestantizing element has put upon the Catholic Church. Psychologists tell us that man is prone to live up or down to the reputation which he enjoys or suffers from, and this most unenviable reputation for which the Protestant element is responsible has had its reflex influence upon a vast multitude of our improperly equipped Church people. Communicants everywhere, in their social and business relations with other Christians, are being constantly told that the Protestant Episcopal Church is Protestant. They try at first feebly to defend themselves, but, having been provided with no adequate weapons of defense, lose courage and finally lie down under the damning accusation, and end in believing that because everybody thinks they are Protestants they must be so. It is sad and discouraging to contemplate such a condition, chiefly because it seems so utterly unnecessary when there stands before us that great open storehouse of history, tradition, and practice which testifies to the Catholic character of the Anglican Church beyond all peradventure of doubt. It is unbelievable that so many superior intellects should see only the uncongenial mud of Protestantism about their feet, and fail to catch the glorious vision of a Catholicism purged from all the undesirable features of Latinism. We become impatient sometimes at the obtuse reasoning and obstinacy of those who "like the deaf adder, refuse to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely."

Much more could be said along this line. For example, it would be interesting to trace the weakness to its source, to seek to place the responsibility for its existence, but time forbids, and we must hasten on to speak next of the evil which the Church suffers at the hands of the destructive Theologians. "They go to and fro in the evening; grin like a dog, and run about through the city. Behold they speak with their mouth and swords are their lips; for who doeth hear." The Psalmist here puts the whole matter into a nutshell. These tiger-people in the Church, who too often sit in high places, attack with apparent indifference, under the mask of superior scholarship and through the instrumentality of faulty logic and false philosophy, the eternal verities of the Christian Religion. In subtly veiled language they declare the philosophical impossibility of the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation and the resurrection of the body; they assume in bold and lofty terms the doubtful authenticity of this or that book of the Bible; they try to rationalize the miraculous and scoff openly at the whole realm of the supernatural. The damage which the Holy Church suffers from this class is great, but fortunately they are confined to a comparatively narrow sphere of influence. Perhaps they suffer most themselves from their own poison, since, praise God, the rank and file of Churchmen know nothing of them, and many of those who do are saved from their wiles by a wholesome sense of American humor and good nature. Their gross denials and coarse blasphemies however, are growing fainter day by day and we have good hope that the fast-waning influence of their heresies may soon die in its own welter.

Of the many discouraging obstacles which tend to retard the advance of Anglo-Catholicism there is one other which must not be ignored. I refer to those oft repeated exhibitions of wierd and illogical individualism which continually beset us. And in speaking of this difficulty fairness compels me to say that it is not confined to any particular school of thought. It is a strange sporadic ailment, as likely to break out in one place as another, but one to which many of our Clergy show a marked susceptibility. Nor am I at all certain that any one of us is wholly immune, for the ancient proverb of the old Scotch woman holds, "that everybody is queer but thee and me, and sometimes I think thee is a little queer."

In its mild form individualism manifests itself most frequently in the conduct of the public services, when some of our Clergy seem possessed to say and do usual things in some unusual and extraordinary way. Two reported incidents, both taken from our New England Church life, will serve to illustrate the point.

The one is the case of a Priest who, throughout his ministry, has habitually emptied the residue of the Consecrated Element from the Chalice out of the Church window, and disposed of the other elements by burning, thus violating a clear and concise rubric. The other is the case of a Priest maintaining a perpetual light, genuflecting, and even prostrating, before the Altar in a Church where the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament has never even been contemplated. So while it may be low, or it may be high, this mild form of individualism is always sad because it is always funny, and since it confuses the minds of the faithful is always pernicious and detrimental.

Were this the only form, however, in which individualism manifested itself it would at least be local, and consequently attract no marked attention, but when an egotist becomes ego-centric and his individualism begins to reflect his pessimism we must stand ready to hoist our storm-warnings and begin to look for the approach of some miserable public scandal which is sure to bring the Catholic Church into open contumely and make her the sport and gazing-stock of the world, through the instrumentality of the venal public press.; The two outbursts which have recently occurred in the Diocese and City of New York from one class of enemies, and the cowardly betrayal of the Church in Delaware and other similar apostacies from another class, will serve to illustrate my meaning and warn us of the baleful effects arising from unbridled individualism in its more violent form. "From all blindness of heart; from pride, vain-glory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness, Good Lord deliver us."

We turn now to consider what remedial measures may be employed to improve these distressing conditions which we have just been reviewing. And of course the initial step is to watch and pray. And to impress the point which I wish to make, I am sure you will absolve me from irreverence if I quote the legend of the Irish soldier who, when his Chaplain admonished him just before going over the top, "to watch and pray," replied, "Your Reverence I'll try to remember me prayers, but when I go over the top nobody has to tell me to watch." Now, mingled with our constant prayers and supplications for the better establishment and defence of our spiritual Zion, we must not forget to watch. The members of the Churchmen's Alliance must man the towers and scrutinize every movement going on in the Anglo-Catholic Church today. May I point out one or two of the important matters which should be looked after?

First we should look to, and seek to influence those sources from which our Clergy are produced, I mean the Theological Seminaries where our young men are being trained. "As the twig is bent, the tree inclines" is an axiom which in this respect may not safely be disregarded. Those unprejudiced minds, brought up from the Schools and Universities to the final stage of their training, afford exceptionally plastic ground upon which the right or wrong sort of impression can be easily made. The Church is suffering to-day for want of the right sort of spiritual teaching in our parishes, because many of our spiritual teachers are so absorbed in social service, so-called, that the flock must starve on the husks of high sounding phrases instead of the solid truths of the Christian religion. Here, and in the proper education of the children in our Church schools, is presented an unlimited opportunity for the Alliance, by praying, watching and doing, to exercise a strong and helpful influence.

The next remedial measure, which can be helpfully employed, is the continuance and intensification of that work which has been so admirably begun by the Alliance. I mean the work of organization. The writer is among those who believe that the chief hope of Anglo-Catholicism to-day rests with the laity. When convinced and converted they can act with greater freedom and exercise wider influence than the Clergy. Once establish a small nucleus of right minded praying people in a parish or community and we have accomplished a more effective and lasting result for Anglo-Catholicism than all the legislation in the world. Our work of organization therefore, should be extended and perfected as far and as speedily as possible. Then, as occasion requires, the cross of fire may pass from city to city, from town to town, from hamlet to hamlet, summoning to action, in prayer and propaganda, the whole Clan of Loyal Churchmen, that their voices may be heard and their influence recognized in the work of purging, strengthening, and upbuilding of our Holy Mother, the Church.

The third and last remedy suggested is one which, at first thought, may not meet with your unanimous approval, but in the main I feel sure you will agree, and that is the remedy of mingling freely with all classes of Churchmen. Nothing can be gained by standing aloof and emphasizing our partisanship, while much good can be accomplished by cordial contact, by kindly and discreet words, by speaking the language of the Church, and generally breaking down the partitions of misunderstanding. The late Dean Hodges, in one of his able sermons entitled "Saints in Society," makes the point that for Christians to segregate themselves from contact with society in general is like putting all the yeast in one vessel and all the dough in another and expecting to make bread. The truth of this trite statement is self-evident, and applies admirably to the case in hand. If Catholic minded people, Clergymen and Laymen alike, are going to hold aloof from their less fortunate brethren they thereby forfeit their opportunity of influencing those whose view-point is faulty, and whose need for enlightenment and development is great. A number of years ago a certain select club of Priests, with which I am acquainted, whose tendencies were all one way, and that not our way, elected to its membership an outstanding Catholic leader. Since then two or three other Catholic minded men have been admitted, and all with the happiest outcome. Prejudice has been overcome, sympathetic relations have been established with the most satisfactory results, and all in favor of better things. In this connection may I also point out, in dealing with those of our brethren who are not in agreement with full Catholic teaching and practice, how important it is to be sweet-tempered and encouraging, rather than impatient and supercilious. One lost opportunity comes to my mind, namely the ungentle and unsympathetic attitude of a very able Catholic Priest toward a young Bishop who was pointed in the right direction, and whose willingness to conform was greater than his ability to perform certain obscure and, for the Bishop, unusual offices. The unhappy occurrence so deeply hurt and humiliated the Bishop that he was embittered not only against the Priest in question, but all Catholic minded people in general. In brief, he was set back years in his growth toward the Catholic cause.

Finally, any review of Anglo-Catholicism to-day which should fail to take into reckoning the encouraging signs which are everywhere about us, would be too hopelessly pessimistic to be worthy of serious consideration. Too much optimism, we are told, is as dangerous as too great pessimism, but for myself I should far rather err on the side of hopefulness, for so long as we are acutely conscious of true conditions cheerfulness cannot be as harmful as despondency.

Let us seek now to measure the value of some of the advances which have been made in the past twenty-five years.

a. The custom of early Sunday Eucharist, a quarter of a century ago, was regarded as peculiar. To-day we may truthfully say it is universal.

b. The restoration of the Eucharist to its rightful place as the chief act of Christian worship at the popular or midday Sunday service has made a tremendous advance. First once a month, then once a fortnight in a vast majority of our churches, and now weekly, in a rapidly increasing number of parishes, and we may confidently look forward to a complete fulfillment of the Catholic ideal in this respect within the next decade.

c. The increasing number of parishes where the daily Sacrifice is offered. Twenty-five years ago one could call off at random the dozen or so parishes which were notorious in this respect. To-day it is no longer notorious. Even our S. Paul's Cathedral, Boston, established the daily Eucharist two or three years ago. And in the next quarter of a century the parish which does not provide the daily Eucharist will be the one to be accounted peculiar.

d. Then there are the countless small matters, like proper Sacramental Bread, once unusual, now universal; the use of Altar lights in the great majority of our Cathedrals and parish churches; a much more general use of proper Eucharistic vestments.

All these things, small and unimportant if you so deem them, are at least contributary signs pointing to the advancement of the Catholic cause. To these encouraging advances may be added the open Churches, the increasing number of parishes where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, and the constantly growing number of penitents.

Again, there is a deepening sense of piety manifesting itself everywhere in the Church. The Church's view-point of twenty-five years ago is no longer adapted to meet the social conditions of to-day. Bishops, Clergy and Laity recognize this and are awakening to the need of ministering in a more effective way to a people, whose allegiance to the Church is strained to the breaking-point by the exacting claims of our dizzy daily life.

But the most encouraging factor of all is that the Anglo-Catholic Church is attracting the wide spread attention of all sorts of earnest Christians to itself as the promised vantage-ground and trysting-place where the divided forces of the Suffering Christ may meet and blend.

In concluding this address, may I say that I have purposely ignored the whole Concordat Question. First, because all that can be said on the subject has already been said so well that I feel myself unable to make any real contribution. And further, because, while fully believing that in its present form it will fail and fall of its own weight, I hesitate to condemn any attempt which contemplates a possible assumption of Protestantism into the glorious freedom of the Catholic Church.

Finally, dear friends of the Churchman's Alliance, your lecturer believes, as he trusts you also believe, that Anglo-Catholicism to-day is a living, advancing, conquering cause, with much terrain yet to be possessed and many dangerous trenches yet to be reduced and captured. And those who hold firmly to the unchanging truth that the Anglo-Catholic Church is a Divine Organism and not a human organization will be given faith, hope and strength from the unchanging God of justice to hold on until the banner of our Catholicism shall be planted firmly and gloriously upon the hill-top of accomplishment. And our hill of Sion shall be not only a fair place, but the joy of the whole earth.

Several years ago an Oxford Don, walking out toward the hillside Cross, on a Good Friday, where the Three Hours Service was to be held, was asked by the Religious who was to deliver the meditations, this question, "And what shall I say for you to-day?" The Don replied very simply and seriously, "Tell me the old, old story." And why not end with the old, old words, so old yet ever new.

"Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore opprest,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distrest;
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up 'how long?'
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song."

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