Saturday, December 5, 2009

Rome or the Bush

There was an Australian tract written some decade or two ago, entitled Rome or the Bush - signifying by this the choice of Catholics here to either adhere to Rome, or "be bushed", that is, lost in the wild, there to wander lone and witless ere they perish at the last.

This title well sums up the ineluctable choice facing Continuing Anglicans, and their sympathizers within the Anglican Communion - to either come to Rome (it must be admitted, some have gone East instead, but I leave them aside for the moment), or, having broken from the Church of England and all her pomps and empty promises, on the grounds of her detestable enormities, and deviation from Gospel truth into the ways of heterodoxy and error, to gradually fade away...

For this is the fate of the one great historical schism of Anglicanism: that of the Nonjurors, those High Churchmen who could not in conscience break their oaths to King James II, nor swear allegiance to the intruded monarchs who replaced him in 1689 and thereafter. Their history I have been rereading, and it is most instructive, as showing how schism begets schism, and eventually the movement dies out completely.

J. H. Overton's The Nonjurors (1902) provides, on page 346, the following sadly damning opening to his eighth chapter:

That the Nonjurors, with their strong convictions on the unity of the Church, should have had so many internal divisions is a painful illustration of the fact that when the process of dividing once begins it has a fatal tendency to go on making subdivisions and subdivisions, till there is scarcely anything left to divide.

Mark well these words.

They had begun with such saintly men as Thomas Ken, who could not in conscience take the oath of allegiance to the new King and Queen, William and Mary; but soon, as in their private conventicles their ministers conducted divine service, the question arose - for they were High Churchmen all, very zealous for primitive doctrines of the Fathers - of returning to a more perfect form of liturgy than that provided in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (from which Book they only now omitted the name of the monarch!).

Meanwhile, some of the deprived bishops ordained new bishops, in opposition to the State Church's hierarchy...

Many accepted as desideranda the so-called four Usages: the mixed chalice, prayer for the dead, a prayer of oblation, and an invocatory prayer for the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the elements. These were available, as one of their number, Bp Hickes, took them in his worship, in the very first, and arguably most Catholic, 1549 BCP.

In 1718, the Usagers broke communion with the Non-Usagers, and drew up a most startling Communion Office or Liturgy, with several Eastern Rite prayers included. This schism endured for more than a decade, before the two groups were reconciled, and all took to this new form; but in 1734, a still more exotic and frankly un-Anglican liturgy was promulgated, taken almost wholly out of the ancient and pseudonymous Apostolic Constitutions: yet to this liturgy adhered only a small party of the Nonjurors, styled the Separatists, and fated to linger the longest.

The regular line of Nonjuring bishops - who stuck to the 1718 Communion Office - died out in 1779, with the demise of Robert Gordon, who commended what remained of his flock to the Scottish Episcopalians; by this time, the Young and the Old Pretender having both failed to retake the throne of their fathers, the political motivations for the Nonjuring cause seemed antiquated. (From these links between the Nonjurors and the Scots come several highly significant liturgical pecularities of the latter, as evidenced by their 1764 Communion Office, which, still more or less unchanged in the 1929 Scottish BCP, is the most truly Catholic of official Anglican rites.)

Meanwhile, among the offshoot Separatists, there was a continued line of bishops in an irregular, but still (by Anglican standards) acceptable succession, until it came down to Bp William Cartwright (d. 1799), the last of whom any biographical details survive. He was a workman, an apothecary, in Manchester, who gathered a tiny congregation, eventually reduced to the members of his own family; nonetheless, he consecrated a successor, Thomas Garnett, in 1795, who gave up his office; but first who consecrated another, Charles Booth (d. 1805), said some time earlier, while still as a priest of the sect, to have had an attendance of thirty worshippers at his services. There are rumours of their being some last Nonjuring congregations as late as 1815.

For a taste of the curiosity that the last of the Nonjurors manifested, consider one of the last of their known ministers, a deacon (and wigmaker): Thomas Podmore (d.1785) – he wrote a lengthy book in 1745 asserting, against the errors of the Greeks, Romans, C. of E., and all “Anti-Episcopalians”, that “if the pious Reader would know where such a pure, perfect Church as I am reccommending is to be found, I will tell him in one word, at MANCHESTER.”

One refrains from laughter out of pity.

They all died, and their exotic liturgies and distinctive doctrines with them.

The Nonjurors are now a footnote in ecclesiastical history - the challenge for to-day's Continuing Anglicans is not to end as they did.

I would propose that the Traditional Anglican Communion, and their fellow-travellers still within mainstream Anglicanism (such as those groups joined under the name of Forward in Faith), most probably have heeded this warning, and see that, lest they simply die out, their only course is to seek adhesion to a larger body more evidently designed to last: the Catholic Church in communion with the Holy See.

Those in the so-called Continuum (of non-Papalist Anglicans) I see as the modern counterparts of the Nonjurors, just as others call them (by reason of their rejection of Rome) "Anglo-Jansenists". Everyone knows that their numbers are exceeding small, and not composed of many young persons. Yet look up a blog of that name, and find men speaking of "we will not convert, but come into communion with Rome, once she abjures her errors"!

As with the learned Nonjuring deacon above who proclaimed that in all the world, the true Church was to found at Manchester, gathered in their bishop's dining room, consisting of his family plus an elderly wigmaker in deacon's orders, one refrains from laughter out of pity.

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