England and Always: Decline and Fall

“England and Always”
The British, the Empire, and the Faith
Part VII: Decline and Fall

Why, If there’s a God in the sky,
Why shouldn’t He grin
Above this dreary
Twentieth century din?
In this strange illusion,
Chaos and confusion,
People seem to lose their way.
What is there to strive for,
Love or keep alive for,
Say, ‘Hey, hey!’
Call it a day ?
Blues —
Nothing to win or to lose,
It’s getting me down.
Blues —
Escape those weary
Twentieth century blues.
Noel Coward, “Twentieth Century Blues”

The Anglo-Catholics also took advantage of Imperial protection. Several of their religious orders, most notably the Cowley and Mirfield Fathers, as well as the Community of St. Mary the Virgin, expanded throughout the Empire. The Cowley Fathers, for example, from their palatial mother house at Oxford, spread out to Cambridge, Massachusetts; Bracebridge, Canada; Cape Town and Tsolo, South Africa; and Mazagaon, Bombay, and Pune, India. The results were extremely successful, paralleling that of the slum priests in England. Whole provinces of the Anglican Communion, such as South Africa and the West Indies, were considered Anglo-Catholic as a result. So too were the Anglican churches in Scotland and Wales; but facing rabidly Protestant majorities in their countries, that might have been separatist reaction; there was little Anglo-Catholicism in the Church of Ireland — until after Vatican II.

In any case, despite the jailing of several AngloCatholic priests for “ritualistic crimes,” in the early part of the 20th century they seemed to go from strength to strength, under the leadership of such men as Lord Halifax, President of the Church Union, who engaged in the Malines Conversations with Cardinal Mercier in attempt to heal the breach with Rome. Leo XIII’s condemnation of the validity of Anglican Orders led to two reactions on the part of Anglicans in General: angry denunciation and use of continental Old Catholic Bishops in episcopal consecrations (the so-called “Dutch Touch,” which may well have bestowed valid orders on a number of Anglican prelates). The proliferation of Anglican Missals in England and America, and the holding of huge Anglo-Catholic Congresses all underscored these successes.

At the same time, however, divisions appeared in the ranks. Such as Lord Halifax and the Catholic League were “AngloPapalists,” believing that reunion with Rome must be part and parcel of the AngloCatholic vision. But others, such as Percy Dearmer, held that such reunion was unnecessary; that what was required was an entire recovery of the CatholicSarum past. Complicating things further was the 1930 Lambeth Conference (a decennial meeting of all the world’s Anglican bishops at Lambeth Palace to discuss issues facing the Anglican Communion) which reversed the condemnation by the 1920 conference of artificial birth control. This brought forth a blistering attack on both the practise and the reversal by Anglo-Catholic Bishop Charles Gore, which deserves to be read alongside Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae. In the meantime, however, a world-wide network of Anglo-Catholic parishes had sprung up world-wide — from All Saints Margaret Street, St. Marys Bourne Street, and St. Stephens Gloucester Road in London to St. Mary the Virgin, New York, Church of the Advent, Boston, St. Clements, Philadelphia, and Ascension and St. Agnes,Washington, to St. James, Sydney. Shrines and pilgrimages such as Walsingham, Willesden, and Glastonbury were revived. The myrrh used in the King’s Epiphany service would be sent to the great Anglican Abbey of Nashdom to be mixed with incense.. From their ranks emerged architects like William Butterfield, Sir Ninian Comper, and Ralph Adams Cram, and musicians of the calibre of Healey Willan. Of course, at no time were they ever the majority of Anglicans, and their beliefs and sensibilities often jostled (at the very least) with their far more numerous Low Church (or Evangelical) and Broad Church (or Modernist) nominal co-religionists.

There was no shortage of educated lay Anglo-Catholics, to be sure, and a number of them, spearheaded by G.K. Chesterton, converted in roughly the same era, as chronicled by Joseph Pearce in his masterful Literary Converts. They faced the social, cultural, and economic challenges produced by revolutions, world wars, industrialism, the Great Depression and the rest. Now, on the Continent and in Latin America, these drew forth responses by innumerable Catholic writers and gave birth to all sorts of roughly cognate schools of thought (Solidarism, Catholic Corporatism, Falangism, Integralism, and on and on) and political parties, more or less influenced by official Church social teaching as enunciated in Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. But there was nothing like that amongst English-speaking Catholics — that is, until after Chesterton and his circle began speaking and writing about “Distributism,” after which a number of things of this sort sprang up, from the Catholic Worker and Friendship House (forerunner of Madonna House) to the Antigonish Movement to the Campion Society. Even as with Distributism, however, converts were very often in the forefront of these developments. Why?

The answer is not hard to find. For all that English-speaking Catholics had overcome the devotional and liturgical malaise that dogged recently emancipated Catholics in the early 19th century, they had yet to overcome their feelings of inferiority and need to fit in the early 20th – the so-called “Coachman’s complex.” Moreover, most Catholics in the Anglosphere were relatively poor and uneducated — often immigrants. They were too busy struggling to make a living and to be accepted by the society in which they found themselves to worry about how to make that society more acceptable to God. Hovering on the fringes of the Establishment, however, (Lord Halifaxs son — of the same religious opinions of his father — became Viceroy of India and built the beautiful Cathedral of the Redemption in New Delhi as a complement to his newly built and lavish palace, protected by the stalwart Viceroys Bodyguard), Anglo-Catholics had no such qualms.

Writers such as T.S. Eliot, Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Arthur Machen, Sir John Betjeman, George Grant, John Farthing, and Ralph Adams Cram (already noted as an architect, but his writings on religion, society, and politics really merit our attention; see especially his Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh) did their best in their writings to apply Catholic principles to society and its leadership. They saw clearly the progressive de-Christianisation of the Anglosphere, and warned of the results in a way few Catholics dared to. Where most Catholics at that time feared to go beyond suggesting improvements, such as these warned that the whole edifice was rotting, and would collapse if there were not a religious revival — indeed, a specifically Catholic revival, something few if any Catholics were prepared to say, then or now.

Things change, however. The British Empire had begun to show cracks over the Boer War — not merely because of bad publicity, but because of financial strain. The Irish problem waxed into white heat — and burst into flame with the First World War. That conflict wiped out many of the Empire’s brightest and best (for all that, as we have seen, it also reinforced Imperial patriotism to a degree). Afterwards, the Dominions received the right to separate diplomatic representation. The 1926 Imperial Conference decided upon (and the Statute of Westminster erected into law) the divisibility of the Crown. Henceforth the Governors-General of the Irish Free State, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa would be appointed by the King on the advice of the local governments rather than the British government — which would be represented by a High Commissioner instead (and receive them from the Dominions in return). This action weakened the ability of the Governor-General to safeguard the rights of either the Monarch or the people in the face of the government of the day: although formally the powers of disallowance and reservation to the King formally remained. Since the Governor-General now acted on the local government’s advice rather than that of the British government — and the Sovereign was unlikely to invoke theses powers independently — they would not be used (the reserve power remained, however, as became evident in Australia in 1975). The Dominions’ shared loyalty to the Monarch would be their only legal bond, with the British Parliament no longer able to legislate for them. The growth in Germany’s power faced Prime Minister Chamberlain with a terrible choice — to fight another war or keep the Empire. For all that Churchill declared that he had “not become the King’s First Minister to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire,” he was forced by circumstances to do just that. In truth, World War II was a pyrrhic victory for the British Empire.

His successor, Clement Attlee, oversaw the independence and descent first into civil war and then dictatorship of Burma. India was bloodily divided into two — Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, which both received independence in 1947 as Dominions, Ceylon doing the same the following year; that same year, Jan Smuts of South Africa was defeated for re-election, and the National Party were elected. Committed to erecting the Apartheid State and ushering in an Afrikaner republic, their accession to power was a further blow to Britain. In 1949, Ireland left the Commonwealth, and India became “a republic within the Commonwealth.” While the Monarch would remain “Head of the Commonwealth,” that organisation became increasingly easier to define in terms of what it was not than what it was.

Despite the brave service of the Commonwealth Division in Korea and the glitter of Queen Elizabeth IIs coronation, Imperial meltdown continued. In 1956, after the Suez debacle, Great Britain’s great power status effectively ended; henceforth, until 2013 when the House of Commons refused Barack Obamas summons to a war in Syria, the British would never act independently of the United States again. In 1961 South Africa became a republic and left the Commonwealth; the remaining African colonies were quickly granted independence, to be followed in the 1970s and 80s by most of the remaining West Indian and Pacific real estate, culminating in the cession of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Most of these became republics sooner or later, and enjoyed dreary cycles of evolution and oppression, genocide and/or civil war. Even in the most stable Commonwealth Realms (as Dominions were now called) the links were stretched as the United Kingdom entered the European Union, and Loyalists like Diefenbaker and Menzies were replaced with flashy separatists (and aborton-legalisers) of the ilk of Whitlam and Trudeau who asserted “national identities” of their own imaging. Wherever possible in such places, Monarchical symbols were replaced with new nonspecific ones.

Decolonisation also resulted in a flood of immigrants to the United Kingdom and the three oldest realms. The effect was to weaken national cohesion and — not, to be sure, with the like of West Indians and Anglo-Indians, but certainly with African and Asian Muslims — even the Christian identity of these countries. Adding further to the latter were the general decline of values starting in the 1960s, and exacerbated by the coming to power in each land of the “Generation of ’68,” whose personal journeys of self-discovery have proved to be as toxic to their subjects in the Crown Commonwealth as they have been in Europe, the United States, and Latin America.

None of this happened in a vacuum, of course, and the latter aspects of the process have coincided with the travails of the Catholic Church after Vatican II. An important result of that Council was the creation of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, which brought together for the first time all of the English-speaking Bishops’ Conferences in the world in one umbrella organisation, which and used their authority to empower liturgical folk who created a translation of the Mass as poor in doctrinal content as it was banal in style and inaccurate as translation. One need not remind the reader in too much detail of the doctrinal, liturgical, and demographic dislocations that have afflicted our Church, especially in Western Countries, of which last year’s Synod on the Family and this year’s marriage referendum in Ireland are only two loud and most recent reminders. In the latter years of St. John Paul II and under Benedict XVI, at any rate, a certain amount of realism appeared to creep into the minds of Church leaders. Among the changes was a revamping of ICEL in 2003, and their promulgation of a much better and more sacred sounding translation of the Mass in 2010.

What was happening to Anglo-Catholicism during all of this activity? Nothing good, to be sure. The movement’s high water mark, in the United States at least, was arguably in 1946, when the Anglo-Catholics at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention were able to torpedo the proposed merger of that body with the Presbyterians. A year later, the consciences of many Anglo-Catholics were scalded when the southern dioceses of the Anglican Church in India merged with several Protestant bodies to form the Church of South India, which was admitted as a full member of the Anglican Communion — thus damaging severely the “Branch Theory.” About a quarter of a century later, the remaining dioceses joined a similar scheme, the Church of North India. Then came the 1960s and Vatican II — which, oddly enough, had a similar effect upon the Anglican Communion as it did to us (ironically, the Anglicans were complimented in Lumen Gentium for having retained more Catholic customs than the other western non-Catholics). Various alternatives to and new editions of the Book of Common Prayer were devised (often reflecting a more liberal theology), with a result not unlike that of the abandonment of the Latin Mass amongst us. Altars were turned around — and often, especially in England, Anglo-Papalist parishes started using our New Mass in preference to the Anglican Missal to show their attachment to the Pope. Anglican religious orders declined precipitately; Cowley, for example now has only a single house — the one in Massachusetts.

Of course, some parishes chose not to follow these trends, and retained the Anglican Missal they were used to — offering basically Tridentine Masses in Elizabethan English, facing eastward. Polyphony and Gregorian and Anglican chant were the order of the day in such places, accompanied by strong hymnody. When the Asperges and Benediction had fled from Catholic churches in the English-speaking world, they were carefully maintained in these. While such care was beautiful — and reflected a real belief in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, it drew quite a number of people away from the Catholic Church, and reinforced whatever anti-Papalism could be found among such folk. Of course, one might wonder where the real blame in that situation actually lay. In any case, outside such sanctuaries, liturgy went from bad to worse.

But more disturbing than these developments were the theological ones. Anglo-Catholics had always had to live with bishops who might not share their Sacramental theology, but at least retained belief in the Trinity, Incarnation, and the rest. Now these too were coming under fire. When, in 1967, lapsed Catholic James Pike, Episcopal Bishop of California, was given a heresy trial for denying the Resurrection, Virgin Birth, and other core doctrines, he was acquitted. The reason given was that there is no such thing as heresy in the Episcopal Church; of course, that being true, there could be no orthodoxy either. Where then to turn for certainly? There would soon be several answers offered.