Our mission is the rediscovery of Orthodox Catholic reality in Prayer Book parish life.
- “Orthodox Catholic reality” means according to and corresponding with the Church, through the theological virtues/habits (Faith, Hope and Charity), Sacraments and sacramentality, devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, holy icons, mystagogy, culture, imagination, doctrine, moral theology, practice, and discernment, inclusively.
- “Prayer Book parish life” recognizes that English spirituality is rooted in, and is only truly apprehended within the context of, a parish ordered by the Book of Common Prayer: in the pastoral relationships between parish priest and congregation as well as the domesticity of the parish as an ascetical organism that reaches into the homes of the parishioners, and out into their neighborhoods.
This comes together as a total way of life—that is, the English School of Catholic spirituality being a member of the glorious family of spiritual schools. English spirituality begins in the present and looks both ways; to the wisdom of the past and to future development.
English spirituality itself flowers from monastic roots. As such we hold that any view of English spirituality that does not account for both pre-Reformation English Christianity as well as post-Reformation English Christianity in the Catholic tradition is an inadequate and partial perspective on the true patrimony.
A complete perspective of English spirituality sees its tradition in these ways:
- a school which is defined by, and in all things understood in, the perspective of the fullness of its almost 2,000 year history, not understood as being founded in and defined by the second half of the 16th century;
- a school which upholds the historic teaching of the undivided Orthodox Catholic Church as defined by its seven General Councils:
- The Church on earth is a divinely instituted sacramental body established by Jesus Christ, which will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit until Christ’s coming again at the end of the age;
- The Church on earth, while not infallible, is “indefectible,” that is, it cannot remain in error. In the fullness of time the Holy Spirit will lead it into all truth;
- Christ gave the authority and power to interpret his revelation and apply it to the ongoing life of the Church (to “bind and loose”): to his apostles as a body (neither to any individual bishop alone or any local synod of bishops nor to every individual Christian). Therefore only a general council of all the bishops in the apostolic succession can authoritatively interpret matters of faith and morals (de fide) and alone constitutes the dominically established magisterium of the holy Catholic Church;
- The Church has three states: “militant” on earth, “expectant” in paradise, and “triumphant” in heaven;
- Salvation is a lifelong process or journey beginning with justification (which comes through Baptism) and continues with sanctification (which comes principally, though not exclusively, through the other sacraments);
- Seven sacraments objectively convey salvific grace, including the sacrament of Holy Orders: bishops, priests, and deacons in the Apostolic Succession.
We promote and support an understanding of English spirituality that—in the words of Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Francis Fisher (1945-61)—proclaims that “We have no doctrine of our own. We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church, enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and those creeds we hold without addition or diminution.” And we are providing resources to help this school of spirituality flourish anew.
“The foundation of Christian life is the liturgy, seen as both Mass and Office, from which flows personal devotion based on the Bible.” So begins Fr Martin Thornton’s description of a key characteristic of “English spirituality,” in his classic book of the same name. Our spirituality—that is, total life responding to God’s creation—really is impacted in a particular way when liturgy is not an extra, added-on layer of devotion, but in fact a mode of living. That monastic life is an example of this may be rather easy to observe; yet English spirituality, whether it lives on British lands, on North American soil, or any of the continents around the earth, insists on the centrality of the same principle, because it is nothing less than the basis of The Book of Common Prayer.
So what is “English spirituality”? In addition to the characteristics already mentioned, there are at least nine more: five “positive” and four “negative.” There is (2) a speculative-affective synthesis, that is, a stubborn balance of intellect and action, head and feeling, study and wilderness, dogma and love: an inheritance from monastic and Anglo-Saxon roots. We see also (3) an insistence on unity of the Church Militant, that is, a pattern of parish life that distrusts clericalism yet flourishes through a prayer life held in common by laity, priest, and bishop, all of which fosters a decidedly domestic temperament and emphasis. There is (4) a sober optimism toward the harshness of life’s trials, perhaps best expressed by Julian of Norwich’s “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” in the face of major episodes of the Black Death. There is (5) the ideal of constant recollection of Christ’s presence, whether at home, in the pub, on the neighborhood streets or in an airplane flying across an ocean. And there is (6) a hunger for spiritual direction to grow through the stumbling blocks inherent in mature Christian life.
On the negative side, challenges often encountered in this spiritual school include (7) an over-reliance on “moderation in all things,” (8) a legalist, almost Pelagian, attitude to participation in parish life in response to the temptation to laxity in the face of the tasks and obligations of discipleship, (9) a lack of dogmatic certainty, and (10) an obscured or deëmphasized sense of mystery.
Thus understood, “English spirituality” is one of the several dozen historical “schools,” or corporate patterns, of Christian life. Its longer name is “the English School of Catholic spirituality.” It cannot be divorced from its British upbringing, any more than Our Lord Jesus can be seen apart from the Jewish culture of His day. To grasp the nature of schools of spirituality as such, a biological analogy may be useful. For just as the term “vine” actually means several dozen different varieties or strains, each that flourish according to conditions of environment and climate, yet because of diversity can all be seen to exhibit irreducible features of “vine-ness,” so is it with the holy Catholic Church of Christ and its varieties and strains. Christianity is an incarnational religion, yet amid variety always points to, and emerges from, the holy Cross. The life and health of any school of spirituality can come only from Jesus Christ and its obedient faithfulness to Him, and the English School is no different.
It takes looking at English spirituality as a whole to begin to discern its true membership in Orthodox Catholic tradition. Its tapestry of spirituality incorporates theological and pastoral insights from the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon tradition of Saints, Ss Augustine and Benedict, S. Gregory, the Venerable Bede, Alcuin, Ælfric, the Cistercian Fathers (including S. Bernard, William of St Thierry, and S. Aelred of Rievaulx), Hugh and the other Victorines; furthermore, medieval voices such as S. Bonaventure and the Franciscans, S. Thomas Aquinas and S. Catherine of Siena, and more have been influential.
The broadly Catholic and Orthodox spirituality of Anglo-Saxons grew into more uniquely English flowering through S. Anselm, English anchorites and solitaries, English Cistercians, Walter Hilton and the Canons Regular, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Richard Rolle; and later in the Prayer Book era through Richard Hooker, George Herbert, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, John Keble, Edward Pusey, Charles Gore, Evelyn Underhill, Father Andrew, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, Sr Penelope Lawson, Eric Mascall, Ian Ramsey, A.M. Allchin, John Macquarrie, Benedicta Ward, and others.
This tradition, known-of yet still obscured and therefore functionally marginalized, and yet still a vital and active ferment, is a unique member of the family of Christian spiritual schools, distinct yet in ascetical fellowship with the various Orthodox, Roman, Old Catholic, and Oriental Catholic schools and traditions.
Fr Thornton’s seminal book English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition, reissued in 1986 with a new Preface by the author, remains the primary text used for study of Ascetical and Pastoral Theology. Yet Thornton always insisted it be supplemented by contemporary resources as these emerge (see, for example, High King of Heaven and Give Love and Receive the Kingdom, both by Sr Benedicta Ward). A work of deep erudition and pastoral wisdom, English Spirituality captures the scope and theological depth of the orthodox way of life behind “Anglican patrimony” with its full quota of saints and doctors, and invites its rediscovery as a living spiritual tradition.