There are many times when I wonder about the utility of social media, but more and more I am inclined to value it for what I find there which I am not certain that I should find anywhere else – certainly nowhere else so readily. Included in this category, indeed very high up it, is the Akenside Institute for English Spirituality, which was founded by Fr Matthew Dallman. I have been meaning to write about the Institute for some time, but am prompted into action by Jessica’s recent posts on the Book of Common Prayer. The Institute’s mission is “the rediscovery of Orthodox Catholic reality in Prayer Book parish life.”
Both parts of this statement are important. Rather than summarise what is clearly a well-wrought statement, let me quote in full:
- “Orthodox Catholic reality” means according to and corresponding with the Church, through the theological virtues/habits (Faith, Hope and Charity), Sacraments and sacramentality, devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, holy icons, mystagogy, culture, imagination, doctrine, moral theology, practice, and discernment, inclusively.
- “Prayer Book parish life” recognizes that English spirituality is rooted in, and is only truly apprehended within the context of, a parish ordered by the Book of Common Prayer: in the pastoral relationships between parish priest and congregation as well as the domesticity of the parish as an ascetical organism that reaches into the homes of the parishioners, and out into their neighborhoods
This comes together as a total way of life—that is, the English School of Catholic spirituality being a member of the glorious family of spiritual schools. English spirituality begins in the present and looks both ways; to the wisdom of the past and to future development.
This statement recognises something important which often gets overlooked in discussions, which is that whatever one’s view of the Church of England, it inherited and/or continued a tradition which began in these islands under the Romans. When St Augustine arrived in A.D. 595, Christianity had already been here for about four hundred years. The Venerable Bede, who certainly had a horse in the race, naturally emphasised the “victory” of the successors of St Augustine, but that did not mean that the patrimony of those who had kept the flame of the faith alove in these islands was lost; rather it was incorporated. That, indeed, has been the way of Christianity in these islands.
The Normans liked to represent themselves as straightening out the supposed laxities of the Anglo-Saxon Church, but again, did not erase what had come before them, and before very long, the Norman monarchs found themselves at odds with Rome about matters of ecclesiastical appointments. In that sense, Henry VIII was the inheritor of a long tradition; he simply took it rather further than his predecessors, though it is clear that he did not see himself as founding anything resembling a separate church. As the Akenside Institute website puts it:
The broadly Catholic and Orthodox spirituality of Anglo-Saxons grew into more uniquely English flowering through S. Anselm, English anchorites and solitaries, English Cistercians, Walter Hilton and the Canons Regular, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Richard Rolle; and later in the Prayer Book era through Richard Hooker, George Herbert, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, John Keble, Edward Pusey, Charles Gore, Evelyn Underhill, Father Andrew, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, Sr Penelope Lawson, Eric Mascall, Ian Ramsey, A.M. Allchin, John Macquarrie, Benedicta Ward, and others.
The Tractarians were simply reasserting the Catholic dimension of the Anglican tradition, and whilse some, like Newman, found in it a way to Rome, others, such as Keble and Pusey, found in it a way of reasserting a part of “English spirituality” which had been understated in the previous century. No one who has read Charles Gore of Keble, or Newman for that matter, can be in any doubt of the debt they owed to Hooker, Herbert and Andrewes, just as no one familiar with their writings can be in any doubt that it represents an English dimension to Catholic teaching.
One of the most important themes of what, following Martin Thornton, I am calling “English spirituality” is the idea of participation in God – as St Athanasius put it: “God became man so man might become God.” This idea of participation in God through grace is reflected in Hooker, Andrewes and in what might, for convenience be called the High Church tradition: John Keble, Edward Pusey, F. D. Maurice, B. F. Westcott, Charles Gore, William Temple, and latterly Michael Ramsey, and Rowan Williams
If we believe this then we believe that God has poured His power, goodness, and beauty into Creation: one effect of the Incarnation has been to transfigure human nature; through the sacraments we are in union with God; and, of course, the Holy Spirit never ceases to work within the Church through us.
St Athanasius was, of course, referring to 2 Peter 1.4: “that you may become partakers of the divine nature”. In the Orthodox tradition it is called “divinisation” or theosis, and it shows the extent to which the Catholic tradition has remained a key part of the English tradition. Whatever else occurred at the Reformation, England was not severed from the Christian roots laid down here even before St Augustine.