Fr. Ed Tomlinson has posted the text of a marvelous talk he gave at a recent meeting of three Ordinariate parishes in England to explore the “Minster way” of providing mutual support and a sharing of resources to help them thrive.
He gives a history of Catholicism in England that reached an apex a thousand years ago.
It was a golden era when art, music and architecture of the highest calibre were produced, the fruits of which were many distinct English customs and traditions.
Holding it together was the religious life. Over 800 monasteries and convents dotted the landscape; centres of learning, pastoral care and devotion. England had a truly Catholic vision- a fact few people appreciate today. And this ‘English Catholic Way’ became a jewel in Europe’s crown. English Catholicism famous for high culture; an emphasis on academic learning and aesthetic beauty. So here are two things to bottle in our quest to unearth an authentic English Way. It is something rooted in beauty, culture and a striving for excellence.
He then goes on to talk about how the Reformation “decimated” this legacy, and how Catholicism came to be seen as a foreign import rather than part of England’s heritage. He notes an attempt at revival of The English Way came through the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement, led by Newman and others.
Who can restore the authentic English spirituality today? I could not go to America and tell American people who they are. Such a message must arise from within. So where is the key to restoring English spiritual customs… like long albs, harvest festivals, Evensong, hassocks, unbelieving bell ringers et al? The answer, like it or not –is in the Church of England. Because- perversely- it is there, with the heirs of the reformers, English customs survived. Catholicism was not preserved but Anglicanism nevertheless retained fragments of the rock from which she was hewn. If recusants retained Catholicism but lost the English Way, we might say Anglicans retained aspects of the English Way but lost their authentic Catholicism.
A few thoughts of my own. The “English Way” also has deep relevance even for largely Protestant America and I would guess for all parts of the English-speaking world, the Anglosphere.
I also think of the Magna Carta and the Common Law tradition that bequeathed to us our notion of rights as inherent in individuals because of human dignity springing from our being made in the image of God as something in English patrimony that needs to be recovered, not necessarily by the Ordinariates, but in any revival of western civilization in the Anglosphere. These were principles that did not spring from the Enlightenment but have much deeper roots. Then there are the Westminster system of government that, when adopted by countries colonized by the British Empire, bequeathed greater order and stability to those nations than those countries that were merely exploited for material gain with little attention to leaving any lasting improvements.
And there were certain cadences of language from the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer that still have a hold on our culture in North America, though admittedly one that is weaker and weaker. I think of attempts to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer in modern language—or the Hail Mary for that matter– and how the “thee” and the “thou” cannot be eradicated, that high sacral English, in the prayers people have memorized and pass on to their children.
People often say English is not a poetic language when compared to French or Italian, but I beg to differ for is not part of The English Way to pay attention to how words are heard, how they can be more easily remembered if they are also in some sense musical?
Fr. Tomlinson concludes:
To conclude: in the Ordinariate we have a fragile shoot growing, against all odds and with the help of the Holy Spirit. I believe it has enormous potential. But for this to be achieved it needs people to believe in it, support it and sustain it. We provide, not protestant treasures- that would be madness- but lost Catholic treasures.