The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Some Anglican Difficulties

"The Church of England of twenty-five years ago is one that [Lancelot] Andrewes would have recognized and (generally) approved of; the present one is neither.... Andrewes would have deplored the loss of episcopal authority, of respect for tradition, of belief in basic doctrine; but most of all he might have deplored what perhaps lies at the root of all of these failures, the abandonment of a specifically religious language. The language of God has to be different; and once people cannot talk about God properly, they cannot talk about God at all."

-P.E. Hewison, in his introduction to Lancelot Andrewes, Selected Writings. (p. xv)

This is a veritable gem in explaining much of the malaise of modern Christianity, but it also opens a Pandora's box for me in many respects. I have addressed this topic before here . Since then, a friend of mine said to me that the concept of Biblical and sacred language cannot be reduced to a rationalistic transmission of data, but that the Word of God is efficacious is an almost sacramental sense; i.e. It has the power to enact and realize what It (or He) says. The old concept of translation, from the Septuagint and the Vulgate to the Authorized Version still had this in mind. Do contemporary translators, liturgists, and theologians share this reverence, or are they too busy editorializing against certain traditional concepts that they find distasteful? You be the judge.

The other find I discovered in my perusing of the Main Stacks of the U.C. Berkeley library was a copy of Ritual Notes written c. 1963. (Don't worry, classes haven't started yet, so I am free to goof-off this week.) The interesting thing about this copy was how it was looking anxiously at the liturgical proceedings of the Roman Catholic Church around the time of the Second Vatican Council. While I realize that those who want a more elaborate Anglican liturgy other than the straight Prayer Book have to look to Rome for many things, the ethos in which the author was writing seems to have been that of shadowing the Roman Church almost to the letter. He even tips his biretta to the much overused and vague concept of "active participation" by the faithful; a term that I have also critiqued severely in the past on this blog.

The crux of the problem is the following: Roma locuta est, causa finita? In other words, does our liturgical practice have to slavishly follow the dictates and programm of Vatican congregations? Is it absurd to still be using subdeacons, eastward facing altars, altar cards and other blasts from the past when the very people we were aping have long ceased to use them? Does this seem a bit ridiculous to anyone else? Perhaps the people who use the 1979 Prayer Book are right on the money on this one.

The answer I would give is that we must find a more substantial reason for these practices than mere obedience to the Roman way as a liturgical standard for the Universal Church. Do Roman chausables, tunicles, lace albs, and Baroque statues mean anything, really? Do they have something to do with the core of our Faith? I don't think there are easy answers to these questions. I tried to address these issues in my posts on the Neoplatonic philosopher Iamblichus starting here . To say that they do makes us seems like Russian Old Believers, who in spite of being maligned for being martyred for supposed trifles, had a point on a very profound level. On the other hand, is not Hooker's Anglicanism a belief that such issues are not important? So where is the way out?

Any takers?


At 8:04 PM, Blogger axegrinder said...


You're on the Berkeley campus 5 minutes and you start in like this? Is the timing more than coincidental?

"Is not Hooker's Anglicanism not a belief that such issues are not important?"

You're the first person I've heard use a triple negative since a Pentecostal street preacher I knew who used to say, "I ain't never heard 'a no such as that."

"Is it absurd to still be using subdeacons, eastward facing altars, altar cards and other blasts from the past ... ?"

Which of these 3 is not like the others? Which of these 3 does not belong? That's right, it's the eastward facing altars, which, unlike the other 2, is a theological statement, rather than an expedient practice.

"Slavishly follow" and "aping" are a bit inflammatory, don'tcha think? Are you trying to bait us?

All the best,

Jason Kranzusch

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Okay, thank you for the correction in grammer. I still think these are sincere questions, though. What will determine how worship will evolve? How will it evolve? And is there a theological defense for traditionalism other than having to keep what has been passed down?

Why keep Tridentine ritual (because that is what it is, let's call a spade a spade) when the Tridentine church has been disbanded and changed?

I think these are sincere questions. Does this mean we have to jettison the Anglican Missal tommorrow? No, of course not. Liturgy should be something that changes very, very slowly. As I have said before, at least the Eastern Orthodox KNOW they are too stupid to change the liturgy. Just because something is not perfect or even non-sensical does not necessarily mean that we are clever enough to fix the problem. It does mean that we should be wiser in not fetishizing things that have an arbitrary origin. It's just being smarter about how you believe.

At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across this blog and I love it. Keep up the good work.

At 8:20 PM, Blogger J. Gordon Anderson said...

If I may speak as an artist.... I see value in maintaining old traditions and ways of life, sort of like continuing to teach old artistic techniques such as silk screen printing, even though Photoshop does the same thing a hell of a lot easier. Maybe that makes me some kind of sentimentalist or something, but I don't care.

Sure we do not need to do all of that Tridentine stuff to authentically worship the Lord in word and sacrament, but having some parishes out there that still do it - especially in the anglo-catholic way - is certainly of historical and asthetic value (and also, of course, spiritual value to some, and perhaps many).

At 12:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are dead on, and watch for a does of Anglo-Tridentinism at St. Joe's.

The fallacy of the C of E Ritualist Movement lives on in the Continuum and my blog is dedacade to educating folks that Roman does not equal Catholic -- if anything Roman's are Catholic despite their Romanism (whether Tridentine or more obviously of Vatican II provenance), not because of it.

Try C. B. Moss, Dean Staley's book on Anglican Ceremonial, or Percy Dearmer's Parson's Handbook. But, do actually burn that copy of ritual notes. No kidding.

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