Archive Nota Bene Steven Wedgeworth

Reactions to Anglo-Catholicism in 19th Cent. America

Allen C. Guelzo, in his very informative For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians, records the negative reaction to Anglo-Catholicism on the part of the established church leadership in the 19th cent. First the “High Church” opposition:

John Henry Hopkins, Bishop of Vermont, had never found any reason to swerve from the “really Catholic principle” of “faithful adherence to the Holy Scriptures as THE SUPREME RULE, and to the primitive Church as THE BEST INTERPRETER,” and far from sympathizing with Newman, “as soon as that melancholy proof of perversion, Tract No. 90, appeared, I was compelled to see the perilous consequence of their course, and promptly contributed my own poor share in denouncing their delusion.” Bishop Thomas Church Brownell, the heir of Connecticut High Churchmanship, understood clearly that the real allure of Anglo-Catholicism lay in the subtle appeal of the Anglo-Catholic aesthetic for the Romantic temperament. “Those in our Church who would carry us back again to the showy ceremonial of the Romish Ritual,” declared Brownell to his diocesan convention in 1850, have been moved by little more than “the promptings of a fanciful temperament.” (60)

Many readers might be surprised to see “High Church” in opposition to the Anglo-Catholics, but this was certainly the case at the time. The “High Church” movement had been present in America since the colonial days, and while it was certainly clericalist in polity and discipline, it was not actually sacerdotalizing in doctrine. As such, it saw the Anglo-Catholic movement as a significant threat, something which would antagonize the evangelical Episcopalians, setting them in even stricter opposition to “High Church” positions.

The most blistering critique (either abusive or entertaining, depending on your demeanor) is certainly that which came from the evangelical Anglicans. Dr. Guelzo quotes this denunciation from R. W. Harris:

We ask… what there is, that is imposing in the spectacle of men, of supposed sense and professional education, dressing themselves up in attire, strange and ludicrous, as well from its fantastic shape, as from its flimsy material… and increased yet more in its absurdity by posture and grimace, and little boys dressed up in gay or sad garb, as the feast day or fast day may demand… Nor can I understand how two such pretended priests, arrayed like mountebanks, when they look at each other in the vestry, and form their little cortege with their boys to go into church, before the people, can keep their countenances, in the solemn sham, and go through their parade without crimson cheeks, for the very effeminacy. No—if ever device deserved to be driven from the temple with a whip of small cords, it is this presumptuous folly of stage performance by ministers in a Protestant Church—nor can it be denounced, ever, in terms too severe.  (59-60)

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the Rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Indiana. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a founding member of the Davenant Institute.