Anglican Papalism: An illustrated history 1900-1960

02 November 2006


Canterbury Press £30 (1-85311-655-6); Church Times Bookshop £27

Showing Rome the way: Kenneth Leech recalls cutting-edge papalism in London's East End

WHEN I first started to take "the faith" seriously, as a teenager in Greater Manchester, the church I attended was part of the Anglican papalist tradition, and I was nourished on The Dome and Crux. My first parish as a curate was The Most Holy Trinity, Hoxton, where the English Missal had been compiled (the original copy was still available to researchers in the parish chest).

The deanery of Shoreditch must have been unique in Anglicanism in that, of its ten churches, six used the Roman rite (or Western rite, as we would have said), and four said the Canon in Latin at least some of the time. Here were the great shrines of Hoxton and Haggerston. One of the first articles I ever published was in The Pilot, the journal of the Society for Promoting Catholic Unity.

So I read Michael Yelton's book, in which all these churches and journals figure, with much personal as well as historical interest.

The word "papalist" was first used - in scorn, Yelton tells us - by Sidney Dark, sometime editor of the Church Times. But later it was used with pride by those who believed that the provinces of Canterbury and York were part of the Western Church, having been severed from Rome by events for which they were not responsible. They worked tirelessly for the corporate reunion of the Church of England with the Holy See. Yelton cites the description of them as  "ultramontane" (beyond the mountains), though the great enemy of the papalists, Dr C. B. Moss, referred to them, in his Anglo-Catholicism at the Cross Roads (1933), as "ultramarines" - people who accepted an authority beyond the sea.

Neither Moss nor other critics of the movement are given much, if any, space in this study.

Well-known figures such as H. J. Fynes-Clinton, Donald Hole, and W. J. Bennett (to whom the book is dedicated) appear in its pages. The author notes that some (though not all) of the papalist clergy exercised important parish ministries. My recollection is that, in Shoreditch, by 1964 (four years after this study ends), only two of the papalist churches had significant local ministries - or, indeed, congregations. I would have wished for more on the decline and death of the movement. The history of the final years of St Augustine's and St Columba's, Haggerston, was very sad.

One aspect of the tradition which is not brought out is that there were churches that used the Roman rite but were way ahead of Rome (and Anglicanism) liturgically. A striking example was St Paul's, Bow Common, where the Roman rite was celebrated in the 1950s with all the changes that came about with Vatican II later (and some that didn't); and Lauds and Vespers from the Roman Breviary were sung daily to Gregorian chant.

Yelton brings out the minority status of the movement, and its strangeness, as well as its prophetic character at times. The battle for reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, for example, was won, to a large extent, by the courage of the papalist clergy in the face of episcopal persecution. The 12 chapters include valuable material on the history, on shrines, architecture and furnishings, religious communities, and episcopi vagantes. (The role of episcopi vagantes in areas such as Poplar has been neglected, and it is good that Yelton has addressed it.) There are detailed studies of papalist churches in London and Cornwall.

I strongly commend this book.  It is a thorough and important study of a much neglected movement.

I detected some mistakes. In the list of abbreviations, SPB meant Sodality (not Society) of the Precious Blood, and SPCU the Society for Promoting Catholic Unity (not Union), though the author gets them right later.  In the chapter on episcopi vagantes, Ferrete is misspelt as "Ferratte".

The Revd Dr Kenneth Leech was formerly Community Theologian at St Boltoph 's, Aldgate, in east London.

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