Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Lest it be thought that all my reading this Lent is concerned with the conveniently forgotten history of the sixteenth century (valuable exercise though that is), I’m also trying to reacquaint myself with some of the writings of the more recent Anglican patrimony.
The works of Austin Farrer are a great source of theological riches; he writes elegantly, persuasively and penetratingly and is invariably, if sometimes surprisingly, orthodox in his conclusions. Not for nothing does the Dominican scholar Fr Aidan Nichols include him in his list (‘The Panther & the Hind’ T&T Clark 1993)) of ‘separated doctors’ of the Catholic Church
But as we know, Farrer was no papalist, he reserves some of his most trenchant criticisms for what he regards as the illegitimate and even 'blasphemous' development of the papacy, and for the promulgation of the "modern" Marian dogmas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (expressions such as the “papal fact-factory” are amongst the more acerbic he uses to describe what others would come to see, pace Newman, as simply the authoritative declaration of a legitimate development of Christian doctrine)
This not uncommon strain of anti-papalism might be thought to be a problem for those seeking to reintegrate the Anglo-Catholic patrimony into the mainstream of the Western Church, although in this respect the Orthodox would have very similar problems if ever the Church does, in the words of Pope John Paul II, breathe again with its two lungs, east and west.
Farrer, of course, did not live to see the modern disintegration of the concept and practice of authority in modern Anglicanism, seemingly convinced that the Church of England in its appeal to the apostolic tradition, particularly as seen through patristic antiquity, to Scripture and to reason (subtly defined) had sufficient authority in itself to withstand error.
The question we can legitimately ask is whether on the basis of his published writings Farrer would continue to hold that view or whether, like so many of us, he would be driven by events to seek a more enduring source of authority elsewhere. Ultimately that is an unanswerable question; Farrer was a man of his own times, not of ours, but this passage from the sermon ‘On being an Anglican,’ (printed in the collection ‘The End of Man’) may give us food for thought. For us, the reference to the Church in the United States (which Farrer knew well) is as sharp an irony as can be imagined.
“I cannot desert the apostolic ministry, I cannot submit to the Pope. And I was not born a Greek or Slavic Christian. I was born in the English-speaking world, where God’s merciful providence has preserved the form and substance of the Catholic Church, and freed it from papal usurpation. At first the Church, liberated from the pope, fell heavily under the hand of the king, but the bondage was not lasting. That royalism is an accident to our faith, is made evident by the healthy condition of the American Episcopal church, where prayers are not offered for Queen Elizabeth. The Crown is no part of our religion……”

We can with justice doubt whether he would say the same of a Communion which now so lightly sits to (or is in the process of rejecting) the apostolic traditions he held most dear.

“When reunion is discussed, it is a sentiment as inevitable as it is amiable on diplomatic lips, to say that all Churches have their peculiar riches; that we disvalue no one’s treasures by prizing our own, but hope that everything of worth may find its place in the final synthesis. “ (ibid p 51)

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