29 January 2018


Bishop Peter Broadbent, who is keeping Richard Chartres' London cathedra warm until Mrs Wozname can settle herself down upon it, is getting some criticism; apparently he defined the term 'High Church' as meaning "Faffy ceremonial".

Broadbent is absolutely accurate in his description of how words were used when I was in the C of E. Unless there has been a big shift in terminology, he is 100% right, and his critics do not know what they are talking about.

'High Church' originally referred to the the 'high and dry' churchmen before the Oxford Movement, who believed in Anglican Privilege and in putting down all dissent, be it Protestant or Papist. But it lost that sense well before my time, and had come to refer to people who like some ceremonial. A bishop I was matey with at Lancing, Christopher Luxmoore, used to say that the difference between High Church and Catholics was that the latter went to Confession, the former didn't. That is perceptive. Basically, 'Catholic' points to doctrinal content; to a worked out system of belief and practice which invites assent.

It is true that some Anglican laity who weren't much into the finer distinctions used 'High Church' to mean any church where there was a whiff of incense; a server or two or three. I remember, as a tiny boy at Clacton in Essex, walking into S James's Church on Sunday morning with my parents and nearly being pushed aside by a couple of old ladies, apparently visitors, who were precipitously exiting. The smaller of them was wondering why the larger was dragging her out; the latter was explaining "It's High Church so it'll only be the Communion". This sort of lay person would have been unaware of any sort of distinction between an Anglo-papalist church where the Tridentine Rite was celebrated, and a Percy Dearmer Temple of Libreralism with 'English' ritual. I think it was the diverting Fr Hugh Ross Williamson who first defined 'High Church' as "Protestants in chasubles".

In one of the churches I served as a curate in the 1960s, I was deemed to be High Church because I wore 'preaching bands', which at that time were commonly more associated with Low Church (nowadays the Low Church fad is to eschew any sort of vesture). That is to say, the term sometimes means little more than "I'm not used to that".

Fair enough. It is not my purpose to sneer at good plain people. But some of those attacking Bishop Peter are clergy, indeed, bishops. And they are 100% wrong.


william arthurs said...

There is for some people a psychological connection between elaborate religious ceremonial and sensual passion against which the ceremonialist must be on his guard.

- C B Moss, The Christian Faith, Pt. II, Ch. 53 (note).

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Would you say the Fathers of Vatican Two were high or low church given this perceptive observation:

It should be noted that in contrast to Vatican Council I, none of the decrees issuing from Vatican II proceed from the Peter passage in Matthew. With Vatican II behind them, contemporary Roman Catholic scholars can justifiably interpret their more favorable reception by Protestant colleagues as evidence that they are now more readily perceived as capable of being free of Vatican influence.

1870 - 1914
William R. Farmer
(University of Dallas)