I was struck by a letter in the latest edition of the Prayer Book Society magazine which decried the idea that Anglicanism could be associated with “compromise” and that the latter could be a good thing. The erudite writer quoted Lady Thatcher and Lord Edward Cecil. I understand that point of view. They both seem to have thought of compromise as giving up what you believed and persuading others to do the same so you ended up with the lowest common denominator – something C451 brought up in his moving post on the Reformation Martyrs yesterday. But that Thatcher/Cecil view is itself a caricature; it also ignores the history of the Church of England.
With the aid of a long reading list from C451 (for which many thanks!) I have been occupying my enforced leisure time by catching up on the history of my own church. Being of an Anglo-Catholic persuasion and a fangirl of the Oxford Movement, I had taken on board its view that the Church of England was the reformed Catholic Church in these islands. That’s still what I see, but I can also see there was another side to it, and that there was a strong reformed element which wanted to be almost Calvinist. That did not happen, though it might have done, and it is unwise and inaccurate to ignore the strong Protestant element in the Church.
How then, you might wonder, did the Catholic and Protestant elements come to coexist. I am not an historian, though I wish C451 would attempt the task for us, but in large measure it was to do with being an Established Church. That great woman, Elizabeth I, loved elements of the old Catholic school, especially the liturgy and music. She also, with good reason, feared the misogynistic and republican elements in the the sort of Protestantism favoured north of the border by that ghastly man John Knox. She feared also the effects of religious strife, seeing elsewhere how it divided kingdoms and made them weaker. Being by far the most intelligent person ever to have sat on the English throne, she used her royal authority to ensure that reasonable men and women of faith could find a home in the Church. She declined to make windows into men’s souls.
That did not mean that at times of peril such as the Aramda, she would not take action against those whose religious allegiance threatened her throne, but it did mean she was willing to have a Prayer Book which many of the more Protestant wing thought Popish, whist accommodating herself to the absence of incense and Marian veneration in a way the more Catholic wing found not to its taste. This is something of a simplification, but it’s how I read it. It all came a bit unstuck under the Stuarts who (with the exception of Charles II) could never see a compromise which might have allowed them to keep their throne without chucking it, and their throne, aside, but after 1662, settled down.
Compromise? Yes, I think so, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing or a sign you lack principles to acknowledge that others can hold different ones and then try to find, in Christian charity, whether there is a common way forward. I recommend it, not least to those friends and former bloggers here who scream into the void their vitriol at their own Pope. The Anglican way can seem. I know, not least to men of bold spirit, a little “wet”. As an avowed “wet” woman, I am fine with it. We stand on foundations laid by the first five centuries and on reason and scripture. We have come a long way, and there’s a long way yet to go until His kingdom comes !