I have given one subject quite an amount of thought, that of defining Anglican patrimony in relation with the Counter Reformation patrimony in Catholicism. It seems to me that this point has been narrowly missed in our postings and threads of comments, but never really addressed head-on.
The Counter-Reformation was the Catholic Church’s answer to the scourge of Protestantism, the loss of parts of Europe to the Church, and also to its own corruptions and problems in the clergy in the late middle-ages. It was therefore defined by the Protestantism challenging the Catholic world, and less by the early pre-decadent medieval tradition.
Europe was, from the late sixteenth century, divided into two kinds of reformations, one within the Church and the other against the Church. It is true that the Counter-Reformation brought many improvements into Catholic life like the revival of preaching, vernacular Bibles, practical mysticism of the Devotio Moderna, movements for ecclesistical reform headed by Saint Charles Borromeo among other great reforming bishops in Europe.
Most prominent in this movement, other than Popes like Paul IV and Saint Pius V, was Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the Society of Jesus. We see here the inspiration in the traditional Catholic movement of our own times in the foundation of several priestly institutes and religious communities following a strict rule. In the sixteenth century, several orders of regular clerics came into existence including the Theatines and the Barnabites. The Oratory of Saint Philip Neri was something absolutely unique and not at all typical of the authoritarian Spanish spirit.
The missionary work of the Jesuits, along with their work in education, theological research and preaching, was astounding in its brilliance and effect. Jesuits went to the Far East, and, a couple of centuries later, to South America .
The Roman Inquisition was established in 1542 by Paul III against Lutheranism in Italy. Many Popes from that moment onwards were former Inquisitors General, like Cardinal Caraffa who became Paul IV, and the Dominican Michael Ghislieri who became Pius V. What was corrupt in the Church was swept away by Protestantism or reformed by Catholic authority. The Church was faced with the challenge: “Put your house in order or we’ll come and do it for you”.
Bishops began to take their responsibility for their dioceses seriously and established seminaries for the training of clergy. Some Protestant gains were reversed by the influence of the Jesuits or remarkable saintly bishops like Saint Francis de Sales. The Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation strengthened the position of the Pope, leading to the Ultramontanist movement, and consolidated clericalism and authoritarianism. One unfortunate side-effect of this movement was the quest for absolute uniformity and the crushing of local traditions, perceived as a weakness in the reform movement. It was only with difficulty that the Byzantine communities were allowed to keep their traditional liturgies. The much-exalted Missal of Saint Pius V severely curtailed many wholesome and traditional aspects of the previous editions of the Roman Rite.
There were many shining aspects to the Counter Reformation, which are conspicuously absent from the thought and actions of Pope Benedict XVI. The present Pontiff is not a reformer or a counter-reformer, and this is, I am convinced, the key to understanding why Anglicanorum Coetibus saw the day only two years after a pastoral provision was requested by the Traditional Anglican Communion.
Many would like the Catholic Church to go back to Counter-Reformation ways, to the scholasticism of Bellarmine and Cajetan and to aggressive apologetics – and Pharisaical bigotry. We have had plenty of comments from a minority on The Anglo-Catholic showing this state of mind. Along with zealous orthodoxy comes the very real risk of falling into heresy – Donatism, the opinion that denies any Christian value or divine grace in schismatic or heretical communities of Christians. Anglicans are considered as suspect, and even more so when they are perceived to be imitating Catholics and “causing confusion”.
One effect of the Counter-Reformation was to marginalise a sense of history and tradition beyond the reforming movement. The Tridentine Fathers were concerned for keeping Tradition and referring to the ancient Church and the Fathers, but there was a movement seeking to break with the old established medieval Church. Emphasis would be put on the missions and a dynamic vision of the Church’s ministry. The liturgy was preserved, but it was also deprived of its character of organic development. It was hyper-legislated, codified and micro-managed. Nothing was to be left to anything other than the Congregation of Rites down to the least detail. Now, this might seem desirable in our age of total liturgical anarchy, but living in that policed and regulated environment must have been quite stifling between the late sixteenth century and the 1960’s.
The Catholic traditionalists of the Society of Saint Pius X founded in 1969 by Archbishop Lefebvre and the “dissidents” of that Society who accepted the deal from Rome in 1988 have followed Counter–Reformation spirituality and that way of thinking. I have a tremendous esteem for the Fraternity of Saint Peter and the Institute of the Good Shepherd among the various priestly societies, monasteries and religious congregations in full communion with Rome. Counter-Reformation Catholicism depends on strict authority and a cooperative secular authority. This is where the involvement of some of those people in extreme right-wing and nationalist politics comes from. They have seminaries, schools, dynamic parishes – many wonderful things and virtues – but do we want to conform to that mould. They have scouting movements and pilgrimages, the most famous of which is the Chartres Pilgrimage in France, held each Feast of Pentecost. Their way is not ours, even though there are many parallels.
We Anglicans are coming from somewhere else, even if some of our trappings look quite Counter-Reformation. We don’t like heavy-handed authority. English Anglo-Catholicism in the nineteenth century was quite “left-wing” in certain ways. The Establishment did not want Ritualist priests, so they established parishes in the poor districts of our cities and the slums. Tied up with Romanticism and medievalism, Anglo-Catholicism looked towards the Middle Ages and sought to recover something from that era of history and culture.
Anglicanism has always had that establishment character about it, not only its subservience to the State, but a stable and established local Church. I perceive the Anglican Patrimony as a kind of English Gallicanism, local Catholicism that fits into its ambient culture (I don't mean the anti-Christian "culture" of our time – I say this, as I can already hear you wince!) as well as maintaining links of communion with the Church elsewhere. Anglicanism broke from Rome, so this desire for universal communion manifested itself in the early Ecumenical movement.
This is the main thing I think we need to preserve. More than trappings or even particular liturgical rites, or things we can see and touch, our Patrimony is a spirit by which we live in the communion of the Universal Church. We eschew excessive authority and totalitarianism. I don’t know about the Americans and other Anglo-Saxons, but we English like to think we do things, not because we have to on pain of punishment, but we because we believe it is right. I have written on this stuff before, but not so far so explicitly in comparison with the Counter-Reformation spirit.
The Catholic Church sought to slough the Counter-Reformation image with Vatican II, but unfortunately many old assumptions and habits went unchallenged, and the intended renewal is still in our hopes and expectations. Many things were scrapped that should have been kept, and some of the worst aspects of totalitarian clericalism remained in the Vatican and dioceses around the world. Pope Benedict XVI lived all the way through those years, and it is fully understandable how he would not want to return to the kind of Church he knew as a boy and a young priest, or "evolve" to an extreme progressivism in the way Hans Küng did. The Church cannot go on oscillating between radicalism and reaction, but needs to find a solution above the old liberal / conservative dialectics. This, for Benedict XVI the visionary, is the interest of Anglicanism – if enough of us can be astute enough to go beyond our own institutional inertias and parochial concerns.
There’s the big picture! I hope we can rise to the challenge.
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