Monday 27 June 2016

A Catholic Albion? Probably not at the moment...

Before 1066 Albion (i.e. Britain, in terms of its spiritual identity) was Catholic.

Eastern Orthodox Catholicism was the original form - which survived (mainly, although not exclusively) in the Ancient British parts to the West and North, from the Roman era. The Christian faith was sustained after the Fall of Rome by ascetic monks, and often hermits.

There was a later wave of reconversion by Eastern-style Catholicism (that is, Catholicism based on ascetic monasticism and dominated by Abbots and monks - rather than the Western Type dominated by Bishops and 'secular' priests - later mendicant orders such as Friars).

This so-called 'Celtic' (actually Orthodox) Christianity - came down from Northumberland (via Iona in Scotland and originally from Ireland); while the Roman Christianity came into England from the south-east via Kent. East and West contended until the Synod of Whitby in 664 when Roman Catholicism won - which is why the head of the Church is in Canterbury (in Kent, where the British Saint Augustine did his missionary work).

From the Norman conquest of 1066, Roman (Western) Catholicism was solidly the religion of all Albion; until the Reformations of England and Scotland from the middle 1500s - after which Albion was broken into an Anglican Eastern/ Western hybrid Catholic England; and a Presbyterian Scotland.

I regard Anglicanism as Catholic because that is how it has mostly self identified; the Church of England is primarily Episcopal/ led by Bishops (like Western Catholicism); and is spiritually headed by a divinely anointed Monarch who (originally) appointed the Bishops (like Eastern Catholicism).

Although the CoE is Protestant, it is also Catholic - as Presbyterians and other Nonconformists have always recognised. There were various periods of increasingly Catholic practise in the CoE (e.g. in the era of Charles II and in the middle 1800s through to early 1900s - with serious negotiations to join with Easter Orthodoxy up to the middle 1900s -

Especially from the Russian Revolution, there was a mini-revival of Eastern - mostly Russian - Orthodoxy in England; based in London and Oxford. And at present there are some large ethnic-dominated Orthodox churches of various types serving recent immigrants - for example, where I live has a Coptic Orthodox church serving immigrant  Egyptians, Ethiopians etc as well as others serving Greeks, Romanians, and a Russian congregation of mostly British converts.


In the Western Catholicism of Albion there has nearly always been a tension between Church and State - because the Pope (in Rome) appointed Bishops, sometimes against the wishes of the Monarch. Eastern Orthodoxy is less prone to this type of disharmony, since the churches are organised nationally. The cost is, of course, disharmony between the national Orthodox churches - each led by a Patriarch. The Patriarchs have an order of precedence, but an equality of influence in the sense that decisions should be reached by complete (divinely inspired) consensus in ecumenical councils.

But the situation in Albion is that there cannot be an English Orthodoxy, because the Monarch is not Orthodox. At most, there can be an aspiration towards an English Orthodoxy, and hope for a future Orthodox Monarch who might 'emerge' in the way that happened in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

And Roman Catholicism has, since it became officially allowed in Albion from the middle 1800s, been in practise mostly non-British, and indeed anti-British - since it was massively dominated by Irish and other foreign priests, and inculcated with mostly Irish (but also Continental) politicised anti-Britishness (in particular anti-Englishness).

(Of course, there have been and are many great patriotic Roman Catholics - GK Chesterton being far from unique. Evelyn Waugh is another; JRR Tolkien yet another. But on the whole, this has been atypical of the mass of British Catholics; and anti-British sectarianism has characterised the densest Roman Catholic populations of the large cities such as Glasgow. Liverpool and Belfast.)

The Church of England is now also (on the whole) very anti-English/ British - due to its domination by secular Leftists.

So - as things stand, at present, Catholicism is on the whole and dominantly - either non- or more usually anti-Albion. This is currently a potential problem for that possibility (just, as yet, a mere possibility) of a spiritually resurgent Albion - but maybe something will happen, soon, to change it?


Nathaniel said...

I think in "Mere Christianity" there is great truth still - and perhaps Albion is the place where a renewal could be found of a truly Universal ("Catholic") church that potentially overcomes many of the apparent obstacles and disagreements among Christians.

It is hard to say how strong the tendency is, or if it is just a trial, but the Roman hierarchy appears intent on undermining itself. Some of the most devout Catholic are already out-of-sync with this leadership. It may force the point for a more direct participation with the Holy Spirit by individual Christians seeking guidance?

Or if Albion - or wherever Christians are strongest and most devout - would be a guiding light and uniting principle for others to follow and be the guidepost for that Universal Christian faith.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nat - I can't remember whether you live in the UK - but if you do you will know that the Establishment is imploding before our very eyes. The ruling elite are tearing each other apart, lashing-out, panicking, venting... despairing in an escalating cycle (while repeatedly calling for calm, unity, reconciliation etc).

This increasingly looks exactly what I expected the collapse of the establishment to look like - a positive feedback cycle.

Things may be very different in just a few weeks time.

Much depends on whether the idealism (as I believe it to be) of the Brexit vote takes a spiritual, then religious direction - and this may depend upon a suitable leader/s emerging from... somewhere, most likely someone currently 'inknown' from somewhere unexpected (therefore almost certainly not from the current national leadership nor from the Brexit leaders).

I wonder whether the main Christian denominations will be a part of this collpase - which looks to be the case, superficially - or whether from among them may emerge some really inspirational.

Nathaniel said...

I am in the US, but that is very interesting. I think your recent posts are right, and the fate of the UK is deeply interconnected to the fate of the world, and especially so its descendant nations.

John Fitzgerald said...

My parents are Irish and my city, Manchester, like those you mention, is a bastion of green, white and gold. Nearly everyone in my Catholic High School had an Irish surname. I know very well, therefore, that Irish Catholic ambivalence towards Britian you speak of. I was brought up in it. I inherit it to an extent. I must stress, however, that this 'froideur' extends only as far as what in recent posts we've been alluding to as the 'outer' Britian - the Whig-dominated nation of money, materialism and empire - the Britain, or parody of Britain, that Blake felt such animosity towards. The 'inner Britain' - Logres or Albion - is a different kettle of fish entirely, with its wind and weather, it's 'rocky shores', Roman roads, Medieval Cathedrals and treasurehouse of myths and legends, from Joseph of Arimathea to King Arthur to Robin Hood and more. Outside Greece, I can't think off the top of my head of a more mythically-rich nation. The Irish spirit responds very well indeed to this.

I have the impression, deep down, that neither Catholicism nor Anglicanism, nor any of the other Protestant churches, really address or speak to or resonate with this inner Britain. None of them quite fit somehow. Like yourself, I have the odd sense that some kind of British Orthodoxy (in symbiosis with the Crown) would represent the most natural form of Christianity for this island. It's something that comes over (to me at least) in Lewis and Tolkien. One was a Catholic, the other an Anglican, yet the sense of the numinous they invoke seems to have little in common with either. There's something else at work in their stories, something profoundly 'other', yet also homely and familiar, a spirituality that was perhaps native to this land sometime in the past and that might be again in the future but that can't be actualised in the present for the myriad of practical factors you delineate above.

As you say though, the referendum has opened up a space in our national life where it feels that anything can happen - if not yet the great Christian revival our country so sorely needs, then certainly the planting of some very potent seeds. Who knows if the window will slam shut straightaway or go on opening wider and wider? We can't know. We can only watch, pray, and tune into to what God is asking of us - as a nation - at this time.

Anonymous said...

Bruce, just to state something you doubtless already know, but which might be worth repeating - Many Anglicans, in recent historical times, died for their faith in Jesus, and many more patiently lived difficult lives, accepting the difficulty with joy, to make others, including their descendants, me and you, for example, happy. The "Anglican" (if one wants to call it that) world the Anglican saints - and nobody can number them - lived and died for is and always will be one of the most joyous places in creation, regardless of whether the lands they performed their works of love in are ruled in later generations by politicians who have little love for our loving and suffering Lord, as seems to be the likely outcome for the foreseeable future, or whether, as I pray, the lands they (the Anglican saints) performed their works of love in become more and more joyfully Christian with each passing year. - Stephen C

Bruce Charlton said...

@John - Thanks for this - I was aware while writing that it was rattling your cage (!) and I am glad you responded so generously. I see that in Northern Ireland the Catholic population voted Remain and the Protestants Leave - neither of which was surprising, but which fits my thesis.

@Stephen - Yes. I wrote about a year ago that the goodness of England was somehow still present, but not located in the people - was stored somewhere else. But it has now shown itself.

It is a bit like that with Anglicanism - the goodness has not been evident in the dreadful Bishops and (most of) the Priests - and the laity have been sheep-like (in the bad sense!) - but the Brexit vote revealed that the Anglican laity were strongly for Brexit while the Priesthood strongly against.

Since about 1700, the strength of Anglicanism has been in its 'extremes' (which is, of course, a weakness!) of Evangelical/ Low Chirch and the Anglo-Catholic High Church alternating in vigour; but the Anglo Catholic tradition has collapsed due to its dependence on the Priesthood and the corruption thereof (esepcially in relation to ordination of women, more recently attitudes to same sex marriage etc) - while unopposed Low Church Anglicans will, under present conditions, probably be forced to leave the CoE and set up independently to avoind corruption (there are no CoE Evangelical Biships and only one reasonable British training seminary - and they need to seek suitable Episcopal supervision from Africa, Asia and South America - but these Bishops do not appoint the British vicars).

Shane Chubbs said...

How does the Ordinariate affect your argument?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Shane - I was amazed and delighted by the Ordinariate (indeed, at the time it was announced, I fully expected to become a member - although as things turned out the nearest parish is a hour away and in practice inaccessible) - but it is currently a tiny church and really something for the long term. I am talking here about the short-medium term.