Monday, May 15, 2017

Newfoundland and Anglicanism

I am in the process of writing a review of Beating Agains the Wind: Popular Opposition to Bishop Feild and Tractarianism in Newfoundland and Labrador, by Calvin Hollett.  The review is for a little journal called Fides et Historia, a Journal of the Conference on Faith and History. This is an excellent organization of evangelical scholars, mostly found in the many small church colleges in the United States. This may seem an odd place for a Catholic such as myself. But, their level of scholarship, camaraderie for any scholar of religion and sheer joy in their work welcome anyone serious about the history of religion. I subscribed for a few years until the pile of editions grew too high for my home library. Apparently they remembered me as an historian of Anglicanism and of Canada, so sent me a note asking if I would be interested in reviewing this book. I was and am.

The book is interesting in that it focusses on a particular aspect of the history of religion that is my own focus: the religion of the 'people in the pews' rather than the leaders, theologians, ecclesiastical structure and so on.

Thus far in my reading and thinking, the book does very well in unearthing the religiosity of mid 19th century Newfoundlanders. I wish I could say the same of the author's critique of Bishop Feild and more particularly of the Oxford Movement that Feild represented. I get the sense without good evidence Dr. Hollett is himself an evangelical as his tone seems to be one of opposition to anglo-catholicism (which he insists on calling tractarianism throughout) rather than scholarly detachment. It is no small matter either that his first name is Calvin. The insistence on the term tractarian is itself an indicator.  While the ritualism of the later anglo-catholicism did arise out of the Oxford movement, or Tractarianism, it is not equivalent. Tractarians or members of the Oxford Movement did not consider ritual to be important. They did consider that the church to be a divine institution which should not be controlled by the state. This was the genesis of their movement in fact. They were intellectuals, perhaps too much so except in the case of John Keble who spent the last 30 years of his life as a rural parish priest. He was an intellectual but one who lived happily among  his congregation and who in turn saw nothing distant about him. Anglo-Catholicism was focussed determinedly on ritual, to the point they were often labelled ritualists by their enemies, though not inaccurately. Feild was, if Dr. Hollett's description of the man is correct, a ritualist or Anglo-Catholic. Using the term tractarian is therefore misleading.

Anyway, I am learning about what Dr. Hollett calls the  kitchen Anglicanism of a people who were not urban in outlook or lifestyle. My studies focussed on urban culture and my conclusions suffered from a lack of a look at rural society.