Sunday, 23 October 2011

Anglican spirituality

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What is distinctive about Anglican spirituality at its best?

What are the strengths and limitations?

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In the first instance, Anglican spirituality is less pure and perfect than that of Christian (Eastern) Orthodoxy.

The Orthodox ideal is monastic, meditative, mystical - they aim at the highest levels of spirituality - ascetic Holy Fathers, Saints and Elders.

The 'typical' Orthodox Saint is a person of extreme holiness.

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The Roman (Western) Catholic tradition also aims higher than Anglicanism. 

Rather than a specifically monastic and ascetic ideal, the focus is on the Pope, priests and a variety of religious orders.

Although there are ascetic Western Saints, typical Saints since the Great Schism are more likely to be great leaders, scholars or altruists.

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The Church of England has not made and does not officially recognize new Saints; and perhaps has not itself produced any Saints except for (early) Martyrs.

Instead, the height of Anglican spirituality has been literary.

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The greatest Anglicans in spiritual terms have been great writers, have expressed their spirituality perhaps most in their writings.

This is a limitation; but it is also a strength - because in a corrupt society words may remain available long after higher spiritual traditions have been cut-off.

To understand the core of Anglican spirituality entails, therefore, reading, reading-out and listening to words.

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(The loss of awareness of this fact - the literary nature of Anglican spirituality, that words are its essence - has been therefore, perhaps more than anything, responsible for the spiritual decline of the Church of England. When words are at the heart of a spirituality, and then these words are casually and frequently altered, that spirituality loses its cohesion, its strength, its gravitational-pull: breaks-apart.) 

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To learn Anglican theology one could not do much better - perhaps - than read and meditate upon the Anglican liturgy: the services of the Book of Common Prayer (in its original language, naturally).

In them is superficial appeal of course - literary beauty; but more importantly great profundity of doctrine, great balance and subtlety of distinction - a lifetime's worth.

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