Fr. Tomlinson on “The English Way”

Fr. Ed Tomlinson has posted the text of a marvelous talk he gave at a recent meeting of three Ordinariate parishes in England to explore the “Minster way” of providing mutual support and a sharing of resources to help them thrive.

He gives a history of Catholicism in England that reached an apex a thousand years ago.

He writes:

It was a golden era when art, music and architecture of the highest calibre were produced, the fruits of which were many distinct English customs and traditions.

Holding it together was the religious life. Over 800 monasteries and convents dotted the landscape; centres of learning, pastoral care and devotion. England had a truly Catholic vision- a fact few people appreciate today. And this ‘English Catholic Way’ became a jewel in Europe’s crown. English Catholicism famous for high culture; an emphasis on academic learning and aesthetic beauty. So here are two things to bottle in our quest to unearth an authentic English Way. It is something rooted in beauty, culture and a striving for excellence.

He then goes on to talk about how the Reformation “decimated” this legacy, and how Catholicism came to be seen as a foreign import rather than part of England’s heritage. He notes an attempt at revival of The English Way came through the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement, led by Newman and others.

Who can restore the authentic English spirituality today? I could not go to America and tell American people who they are. Such a message must arise from within. So where is the key to restoring English spiritual customs… like long albs, harvest festivals, Evensong, hassocks, unbelieving bell ringers et al? The answer, like it or not –is in the Church of England. Because- perversely- it is there, with the heirs of the reformers, English customs survived. Catholicism was not preserved but Anglicanism nevertheless retained fragments of the rock from which she was hewn. If recusants retained Catholicism but lost the English Way, we might say Anglicans retained aspects of the English Way but lost their authentic Catholicism.

A most interesting talk and please do read the whole thing over at Fr. Tomlinson’s website.

A few thoughts of my own.  The “English Way” also has deep relevance even for largely Protestant America and I would guess for all parts of the English-speaking world, the Anglosphere.

I also think of the Magna Carta and the Common Law tradition that bequeathed to us our notion of rights as inherent in individuals because of human dignity springing from our being made in the image of God as something in English patrimony that needs to be recovered, not necessarily by the Ordinariates, but in any revival of western civilization in the Anglosphere.  These were principles that did not spring from the Enlightenment but have much deeper roots.  Then there are the Westminster system of government that, when adopted by countries colonized by the British Empire, bequeathed greater order and stability to those nations than those countries that were merely exploited for material gain with little attention to leaving any lasting improvements.

And there were certain cadences of language from the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer that still have a hold on our culture in North America, though admittedly one that is weaker and weaker.  I think of attempts to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer in modern language—or the Hail Mary for that matter– and how the “thee” and the “thou” cannot be eradicated, that high sacral English, in the prayers people have memorized and pass on to their children.

People often say English is not a poetic language when compared to French or Italian, but I beg to differ for is not part of The English Way to pay attention to how words are heard, how they can be more easily remembered if they are also in some sense musical?

Fr. Tomlinson concludes:

To conclude: in the Ordinariate we have a fragile shoot growing, against all odds and with the help of the Holy Spirit. I believe it has enormous potential. But for this to be achieved it needs people to believe in it, support it and sustain it. We provide, not protestant treasures- that would be madness- but lost Catholic treasures.

2 thoughts on “Fr. Tomlinson on “The English Way”

  1. Fr. Tomlinson’s noble attempt (
    ) to summarize the Anglican patrimony is stirring, but it also causes concern.

    To be fair, pinning down the elements of the Anglican patrimony is not easy. Too, Father is a successful pastor, which means he probably has little time for extensive scholarship and ferreting around for footnotes. Also, his presentation does occasionally point in the direction others have explored through scholarship. (An example of such scholarship: pp. 161 et seq. in _Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church_, ed. S. Cavanaugh. Yes it’s my essay. But my essay does nothing more than gather the solid scholarship of others.)

    But what causes concern in Father Tomlinson’s fine talk is that the Anglican patrimony is identified as simply the English way of being Catholic, which means, according to Fr. Tomlinson, being “rooted in beauty, culture and a striving for excellence.” It could be that Fr. Tomlinson recognizes that other spiritual/theological/cultural expressions in the Catholic Church are also rooted in beauty, culture, and excellence. But if he does, it leaves un-answered the question of what makes the Anglican patrimony distinct. (Therefore, why the Ordinariate indeed?) And some will choose to read Father Tomlinson’s comment as implying that other spiritual/theological expressions in the Catholic Church are not interested in beauty, culture, and excellence, which also suggests Anglican converts are here to save the day. That notion will not endear us to our brother and sister Catholics.

    The scholarship referred to above indicates that the Anglican patrimony has developed from much deeper roots that go all the way back to the patristic era, the Desert Fathers, and the Rule of St. Benedict. English Christianity at the time of the Reformations was unique in that it preserved this spiritual/theological perspective to a degree neither continental Catholicism nor continental Protestantism did. (Sound scholarship establishes this.) The result was a spiritual/theological perspective that has since come to be regarded as English but is—at a deeper level—patristic/monastic: meditative reading of Scripture, a “poetic” understanding of liturgy, etc. (See also Newman’s reference to the Benedictines as poetic and Fr. Francis Bethel, O.S.B.’s essay on Newman’s observation, pp. 14 et seq. here: .)

    This concept is not an easy one to communicate, I realize. It means plowing through a number of historical and textual details. It also means acknowledging the schizophrenia of the English Reformation’s love of monastic spirituality while it dissolved monastic institutions. That a monastic view (not a mendicant view, not canonical-religious view, but a monastic view) of Scripture and liturgy characterizes the Prayer Book is a notion some Protestants are loath to accept. And some Catholics balk at acknowledging that some aspects of pre-sixteenth-century Catholicism were in better hands in Protestant England than in Catholic Europe. But this concept is worth taking seriously, by which I mean spending time with the research and the reasoning and accepting or refuting it on its own terms. Otherwise, the claim that the ordinariates are about mere anglophilia and cultural snobbery is going to be difficult to refute.


  2. Pingback: Resources for Ordinariate musicians | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog

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