Friday, April 23, 2010

The English Tradition

A reader commented on my devotion to the English Martyrs, and it was only then that it really hit me how big a part they have played in my faith. I always tell people that my decision to 'go Roman' was purely intellectual, but if I've learned anything from the Existentialists (there is a kernal of truth in every heresy), it is that we are whole beings, and I guess my emotions have followed my education.

I am a student of English history and while that makes me appreciate the Anglican tradition, I feel like there is an undercurrent all throughout English history. The story of Christ begins with St. Augustine of Canterbury - sent by the Pope!, St. Gregory the Great no less - and continues to make England the 'most obedient child of the see of Peter' I believe the Venerable Bede says.

St. Thomas Beckett died as a papal martyr, refusing to serve the king over Rome, as did St. Thomas More. Eventually one begins to see that England never saw itself as seperate from the jurisdiction of the Roman bishop.

Such learned and holy men like St. Edmund Campion, and St. Robert Southwell, as well as all the Tyburn martyrs (mostly Jesuits), inspire me and show how far people were willing to go for sometimes only 1 doctrine (in the Anglican communion's more conservative days). St. Margaret Clitherow likewise showed the same determination, as well as all the executed priests I had to study for my project on the Old Bailey courthouse, where Catholic priests were executed until 1701 and after that, received the 'merciful' Hanoverian sentence to life in prison.

As St. Thomas and the scholastics knew the obstinate denial of even one de fide dogma was a damnable offense. While there is room for invincible ignorance, etc, the English martyrs prove by their devotion and self-sacrifice that Papal Supremacy is such a doctrine (as the Apostles' martyrdom bore witness to the truth of the Resurrection).

The example of the English saints teach me another doctrine of the faith. By seeing the transformed life of those like the Venerable John Henry Newman, St. Aelred of Rivaulx, or the English Dominicans like Fr. McNabb, I am reminded that justification by infused grace which makes the person righteous, is not just a theory, but an empirically observable fact.

These two prime doctrines which have set Traditional Protestantism apart from the Roman Church, I feel, are best argued against by the life witness of the martyrs of the English tradition. While there are counter examples like John Donne, I feel that when reading G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, and Timothy Radcliffe O.P., the spirit of the English tradition is the spirit of the Roman Church, and that it is the Holy Spirit.

That might be a little triumphalistic or weak philosophically/theologically, but this is only a blog after all. I do not consider myself a part of the English tradition (I'm Canadian after all, and only half British, half German Anabaptist), but I am an avid follower of it. I love talking with Anglicans, and even seeing marxist English historians like E.P. Thompson pick up on it.

When the Venerable Cardinal wrote his great philosophical work "An Essay on the Grammar of Assent" he preferred to go in the school of the English philosophical tradition even if it was at discord with Catholic Realism. He employed it and sanctified it.

I need to remember to invoke the intercession of the English saints more often, and find some more female ones.

Thanks for reading, God bless.

No comments:

Post a Comment