Friday, December 5, 2014

Foundations of the Anglican Church C

Old Ship Meeting House in Hingham
MA, an example of Puritan worship
Robert Browne (c1555-1633) had studied at Cambridge where he fell under Puritan influence.  He served as a Lecturer at Saint Mary’s Church, Islington—at the time a wealthy suburb of London and today right smack in the middle of London.  A Lecturer was a lay preacher—a man with sufficient theological education to preach but not ordained.  Lecturers were very popular among the Puritan segment of the Church of England which stressed preaching, while the Episcopal faction generally preferred to limit preaching to those in Holy Orders and so tie it closer to formal worship.  It should be pointed out that the clergy of the Church of England, even before the Reformation, were all University men, educated at either Oxford or Cambridge.  Cambridge had always been the more theologically radical and what one might today call “low Church.”   Browne returned to Cambridge after several years at Saint Mary’s Islington and was encouraged to take Holy Orders, but shortly after ordination gave up hope that the Church of England could be reformed from within.  He attempted to set up a separatist congregation at Norwich—that is an independent congregation not under the bishop but ruled by its own members—and was arrested for doing so.  Powerful family connections won him his freedom but not tolerance of his ambitions for a separate Church. He and his followers moved to Middleburg in the Netherlands where they could form an independent congregation.  Browne and others like him believed that the Churches of the New Testament were such independent congregations, each having their own pastor and each being self-governing.  Browne was reacting against two things: the authority of the State over the Church and its policies (remember, the Church of England was a State Church and thus governed by Parliament) and an established hierarchy in which bishops had authority over a number of congregations, thus usurping the authority of the congregation’s local pastor.  Browne’s understanding of primitive Church governance was a bit naively romantic, but at the same time was closer to the post-Apostolic Church of the 2nd and 3rd centuries than the diocesan authority structures of either contemporary Catholicism of Anglicanism. 
In any event, Browne soon gave up on his separatist notions and returned to the Church of England which he served as headmaster of several schools and rector of Achurch in Northamptonshire.  (Achurch is the name of the parish.)  He died within the Anglican Communion though he had founded the separatist movement.  
Richard Clyfton was an Anglican priest of the Puritan faction appointed to the Church of All Saints, Babworth.  Despite his holding a benefice in the Church of England, he followed Browne and became a Separatist.  Among the members of his congregation which met at Scrooby Manor was William Bradford who was one of the leaders of the Pilgrim emigration to Massachusetts Bay. 
While the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth were Separatists and rejected the authority of the Church of England—both its bishops and its supervision by Parliament—the majority of settlers in Massachusetts Bay Colony were Puritans who in the 1620’s and 30’s still considered themselves members of the Church of England.  However as under James, and even more under his son, Charles I, (reigned from 1625 until his execution in 1649), the Church of England moved increasingly away from the Calvinist/Puritan ideals towards a recovery of its Catholic liturgical heritage and Arminian doctrine; consequently the co-existence of the Puritan faction and the Episcopal faction in the same Church of England became more and more strained.  In the New England colonies there were no bishops and no royal officials who could insist on worship conforming to the Book of Common Prayer.  Ministers and Congregations were free to do more or less as they wished, while back in England non-conformity was dealt with with an increasing severity.  It was only a matter of time until the tension between the two factions would set off an explosion that would shatter the Church of England.  And it would do more than that, it would bring down the monarchy. 
I think this is a particularly important period for us to look at.  Increasingly since the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church, at least in the English speaking world (and too a lesser extent in France and Germany) has also seen a division between two distinct visions of Church.  This is not totally new, at least here in the United States where the recusant tradition of the old Maryland Catholics gave a markedly different Catholicism than the immigrant tradition brought over from France during the French Revolution and later from the German, Italian, and Eastern European Catholics who settled here in the 19th century.  The different Episcopal styles of Ambrose Maréchal and John England in the early 19th century or the conflicts between Cardinal Gibbons and Archbishop Corrigan in the late 19th century witness to two distinct—and to some extent incompatible—ecclesiologies in American Catholicism.  Today we see the Church of Cardinals Burke and Archbishop Cordileone and Bishop Finn and its very different style than the Church of Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Cupich.   Like the Church of England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries we can live together in the same broad communion, but how far will this last without breaking?  Certainly Burke or O’Malley or Cordileone or Finn or Cupich will never break bonds with Peter in Rome and thus with one another, but there is a rising tension among priests and peoples that might easily snap the cords, each accusing those of the other side of betraying the tradition.  As a historian I think that not only is schism a possibility but that it is all but inevitable unless we are willing to allow for a pluriformity of Catholicisms in which legitimate differences of discipline and even doctrine are respected.  A rigid uniformity, on the other hand, will be very detrimental to the future of the Church.  

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