Friday, 11 September 2009

What changed with the Tractarians?

Fr Hunwicke has a typically provocative post on Anglicanism on his blog, Fr Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes. (N.B. One needs to read his second post on the subject if one is not, like some of the initial commenters, to fall into the trap that the author rather wickedly set for his readers. Bravo, Father!) 

In a comment Independent makes a couple of points which perhaps deserve some exploration:

"Such a belief was conpatible with the Receptionist doctrine common among the Laudian Divines and among High Churchmen [...] The Tractarians did not follow a tradition, they transformed it."

This partly true, but also partly untrue - which leads to an Interesting Point.

Some High Chuchmen certainly believed in an objective presence, some seem to have believed in a subjective presence, and some so tie themselves in knots that it's hard to tell exactly what they believed. But apparently receptionist statements are not of themselves decisive. [If one merely took in isolation Aquinas' words, "O sacrum convivium! in quo Christus sumitur: recolitur memoria passionis ejus", one might conclude that the Angelic Doctor was receptionist and memorialist!]

Laudian divines were often cautious what they committed themselves to in print, for obvious reasons. (Other evidence, e.g. their liturgical practices, may suggest a much more Catholic understanding of the Eucharist than their words do - such things were perhaps felt to be less incriminating.)

Later High Churchmen might use receptionist language in an eirenical spirit, appealing to common ground: as if to say, "You and I may differ about whether the presence is objective or subjective, but let us focus on what we agree on, viz. that Christ is received, and the Eucharist is not a matter of nuda signa."

The Tractarians might be said to have "firmed up" the High Church tradition on the Eucharist. They became much bolder about the objective presence, and averse to receptionist language. They could be said to have narrowed the tradition, but it is misleading to say that they were not following it: more precisely, they followed and developed one particular strand of it, to the exclusion of others.

A similar (and related) development took place in their attitude to the Fathers. Earlier High Churchmen were often ambiguous about the relationship between patristic teachings and the Anglican acquis. Many were prepared to "correct" the Fathers in the light of Anglican doctrine and practice; others got into a terrible muddle, trying to reconcile the two.

The Tractarians cut this Gordian knot: they had no inhibitions about correcting Anglicanism where it disagreed with the Fathers.

Again, this is not new: some earlier High Churchman had done so too. The change was that this strand hunted the others from the field.

Whilst this tendency narrowed High Church tradition on the protestant side, it also broadened it on the Catholic side, opening up a far deeper engagement with the Fathers and with Catholic Christianity generally (both West and East), an engagement that proved extraordinarily fruitful. It was an antidote to the insularity and complacency that had too often been the fatal weakness of High Churchmen. Could one imagine the work of the great Anglo-Catholic slum priests had this development not taken place?

All this remains relevant today. There are those (Anglicans and others) who would correct the Great Tradition in the light of some narrower experience. There are others for whom that Tradition provides the necessary perspective to see our contemporary and local prejudices for what they are.

But Sir Watkin's thoughts on that will have to wait for another post ....

No comments:

Post a Comment