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John Henry Newman (1801-1890) is off to a good start in the process of becoming a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. For Anglicans to then dismiss him as a convert and to let Roman Catholicism entirely appropriate his legacy would be a mistake, in my mind. Similarly, it would be regretful if the only Anglicans who held the torch for Newman were of the High Church, Anglo-Catholic, and Anglo-Papalist varieties. Newman is representative of the unique tension of Anglicanism, the tension created by the pull toward purity (doctrinal or otherwise) that exists in all churches on the one hand and the pull toward breadth. Allow me to illustrate this by referring to a particular post and comment on my personal blog (O God, come to my assistance). In discussing the Divine Office, the paradox of the Prayer Book office when compared to other liturgies such as The Anglican Breviary, is that it is broad-minded precisely because it is exclusive (restrictive) in content. Or, for another example, this very group blog is representative of the kind of diversity that exists within Anglicanism; the Book of Common Prayer is at the center of all our spiritualities, yet our spiritual/theological leanings are not identical. In fact, it is a testament to the liberal (generous) spirit of Anglicanism that the River Thames Beach Party is home to Anglicans on both sides of the Atlantic as well as in the Anglican Communion and Continuum. If you haven’t already, I encourage our readers to take a glance at the authors’ pages. You will see that Charles describes his blog, Anglican Rose as “a quest for magesterial Protestantism within the context of antique orthodoxy and medieval Catholicism,” Kevin describes himself on Ohio Anglican as a “Broad-Church Orthodox Anglican,” and Nicholas at Comfortable Words invites us into the world of the 1662 English Prayer Book. The truth of the group’s commitment to the Anglican spirit may perhaps be best exhibited by my own inclusion here as I am the only Episcopalian ’79 BCP using contributor.
All of these examples, I hope, make the Anglican tension between purity and breadth come to life in a real way. This tension not only exists in Newman’s writings, but I believe fueled the fires of his devotion to the faith of the Church. This can be seen as early as 1834 when Volume I of his Parochial and Plain Sermons was compiled. In these sermons he displays an incredible fidelity to the prayers of the Church. In Sermon 11, “Profession without Hypocrisy,” he describes the regression in the prayer life of one who fails to maintain their duty in saying the prayers:
Accordingly, such persons in their own case first give up the Church prayers, and take to others which they think will suit them better. Next, when these disappoint them, they have recourse to what is called extempore prayer; and afterwards perhaps, discontented in turn with this mode of addressing Almighty God, and as unable to fix their thoughts as they were before, they come to the conclusion that they ought not to pray, except when specially moved to prayer by the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Extemporaneous prayers do have a place in the lives of the faithful, but Newman warns against substituting these prayers for the common prayers of the Church. In sermon 12, “Profession without Ostentation,” Newman moves to address the question of professing Christ as an individual vs. as a body. He warns against a man “standing on his own ground” because he is “grieving and disturbing the calm spirit given us by God.” He writes:
Men are to be seen adopting all kinds of strange ways of giving glory (as they think) to God. If they would but follow the Church; come together in prayer on Sundays and Saints’ days, nay, every day; honour the rubric by keeping to it obediently, and conforming their families to the spirit of the Prayer Book, I say that on the whole they would practically do vastly more good than by trying new religious plans, founding new religious societies, or striking out new religious views.
Here Newman prescribes something profoundly simple, the most efficient way we profess Christ as individuals is by conforming our lives to the spirit of the Church’s prayers and pattern. Describing the model of the Liturgy in Sermon 14, “Religious Emotion,” he reminds us that the Church’s prayers come from the lessons and examples of Christ himself:
Now let me remind you how diligently we are taught the same by our own Church. Christ gave us a prayer to guide us in praying to the Father; and upon this model our own Liturgy is strictly formed. You will look in vain in the Prayer Book for long or vehement Prayers; for it is only upon occasions that agitation of mind is right, but there is ever a call upon us for seriousness, gravity, simplicity, deliberate trust, deep-seated humility. Many persons, doubtless, think the Church prayers, for this very reason, cold and formal. They do not discern their high perfection, and they think they could easily write better prayers. When such opinions are advanced, it is quite sufficient to turn our thoughts to our Saviour’s precept and example. It cannot be denied that those who thus speak, ought to consider our Lord’s prayer defective; and sometimes they are profane enough to think so, and to confess they think so. But I pass this by. Granting for argument’s sake His precepts were intentionally defective, as delivered before the Holy Ghost descended, yet what will they say to His example? Can even the fullest light of the Gospel revealed after His resurrection, bring us His followers into the remotest resemblance to our Blessed Lord’s holiness? yet how calm was He, who was perfect man, in His own obedience!
By way of a final selection of his words, I would like to direct us to his warnings in Sermon 19 “Times of Private Prayer” where he is unwavering in his insistence in keeping the daily prayers of the Church. He reminds us that “Nothing is more difficult than to be disciplined and regular in our religion” along with the assurance:
Be sure, my brethren, whoever of you is persuaded to disuse his morning and evening prayers, is giving up the armour which is to secure him against the wiles of the Devil. If you have left off the observance of them, you may fall any day; – and you will fall without notice.
Newman demands nothing less than a conforming of our individual lives to the life of the Church. He does not demand this out of mere civic or ecclesiastical obeisance, but for the very best and holy of reasons: it is the way of conforming our lives to that of Christ himself, the most efficacious way of preaching the Gospel in the world, and the most secure way to resist evil. He is also profoundly aware of the inclinations of human nature, “if we leave religion as a subject of thought for all hours of the day equally, it will be thought of in none” (Sermon 19, “Times of Private Prayer). This vision of the Church is nothing less than that of Paul’s vision of one body with Christ as the head and each of us as different members. We need not all be the same. The Anglican tradition is one that embraces both purity and breadth fed by the prayers taught by Christ’s very word and example.
My journey to the beach has been a very long one full of wrong turns, bumps and delays. Now that I have arrived, my only regret is that I did not get here sooner.
It wasn’t until I was well into my 30’s that I had found the love of God in Jesus Christ, and it took finding love to find love. I had been an Agnostic most of my life with exposure to Christianity happening only in my early childhood; it took meeting, falling-in-love with and marrying the love of my life to put things into perspective for me.
The new found responsibility of becoming a husband and father has shown me my own shortcomings and the dangers of a sinful and fallen world. I wanted my new family to have the moral direction that I had lacked as a child and young adult, to build for them a better future. I had been researching Christianity, trying to find what I had missed and wanted for myself and family. While studying the doctrinal differences between various Christian denominations, along with theology, morality, philosophy and history, I discovered the Book of Common Prayer and Anglicanism.
The more I read the Prayer Book, the more I wanted to learn about the Anglican tradition and practice. This discovery, combined with my overall research and study of Christianity, made me feel what I was reading was true and comforting and loving and right. My reading of the Bible (especially the Gospel) had put into my heart for the first time, God’s covenant with man through Jesus Christ–a true understanding of His love for us and reinforced by reading the works of the Anglican Fathers and other great minds in the Anglican tradition. This was cemented into my being when I read Mere Christianity; Lewis had come to the same conclusions that I had come to independently, which made them ring more true to me than ever. I left the hall and entered the room marked Anglican in which I had found holiness, yet I will always remember those still in the hall and the other rooms with charity.
I was trying to put together all of the things I had been reading and learning, as well as my personal devotions, so I started blogging. At first, it was a personal venture for my own edification, but soon I noticed that others were reading what I was writing. It felt good to know that I was connecting with others who wanted to learn as I did, or wanted to share in faith and devotion. In this way, I began to learn and share more. During this process, I found that there were others who really felt that traditional Anglicanism was worth preserving and promoting, which led me here with these guys.