Tuesday, October 12, 2010
The gifts of Anglican spirituality
In the 500 years or so after Henry VIII's break with Rome, the Roman and Anglican Churches have faced crises to its existence . Rome had to reform in Trent to face the continental Calvinist challenges while Canterbury had to settle with Elizabeth I's via media to deal with Puritanism and a resurgent Roman Catholicism. While Elizabeth I was broadly Protestant, she was also broadly Catholic. And her Book of Common Prayer became a norm for Anglicanism and its expansion. In the 21st century the Roman and Anglican Communions are also facing the challenges of a more secular global society. Anglicanism is agonizing in its response faced with tensions from a sociological approach and an approach consistent with Biblical teaching while Roman Catholicism will stand by Apostolic teaching but is still finding a way to engage in a constructive manner in a church which is as polarized as the Anglicans are.
What then can Anglican spirituality contribute in this tension filled atmosphere? Not a few "freethinkers" have predicted the demise of the Church (Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant).
One of the major graces of Anglicanism is that its spirituality is very interior, sacramental and incarnational. It nourishes a liturgical piety which the focus of is the Book of Common Prayer which was held up as the standard of the Anglican divines and mystics, a favourite of mine is John Donne. The BCP is not just a Mass book, a novena or a Bible, but a prayer book that families have kept throughout the generations. Their copy of the BCP may battered as it is brought from home to church. The BCP is used in the baptistry, during the wedding rites, in the dining room, to the bedroom for prayers at bedside, the sickbed for prayers of healing and to the final commendation at the graveyard. The BCP and its "Cranmerian" language to Anglicans was in a sense like the Tridentine Mass to Roman Catholics until the Vatican II liturgical reforms resulted in a vernacular Mass. An Archbishop of Canterbury even said that if anyone attends a BCP service in any part of the world, it proclaims the Catholicity of the faith. Right from the start Anglican spirituality was impelled to a Catholic unity and John Donne's mysticism was witness to that future reality. That reality is now with us, if we accept the added graces of the Holy Spirit.
And that spirituality prizes moderation. This is I believe is interior too in the spirituality of Pope Benedict XVI. He is not Anglican but I daresay he is the most Anglican of the Popes. Moderation is a leaven in a society that is pulled apart by polarization and its medium is a return to the older liturgical forms. This I believe is Anglicanism's grace to the Catholic Church.