Anglicans Online banner More about the gryphon
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 200,000 readers More than 25,000 links Updated every Sunday

New This Week
Everything new is here.

News Centre
News archive

News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Start here
Anglicans believe...
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
Hong Kong
New Zealand

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
Awards and publicity
About our logo

Support AO
Shop for AO goods
Help support us!
Thanks to our friends

Our search engine


Hallo again to all.

Seal of the Virginia CompanyVirginia has been on our mind this week for a few reasons. HM Queen Elizabeth II's second visit to that commonwealth took place in the course of a year-long celebration marking the 400th anniversary of the 1607 settlement of Jamestown by English adventurers. (Some Anglican historians will gather there next month to commemorate 400 years of Anglican history in North America marked by this milestone.) In another episode of the seemingly endless religious cell division happening before our eyes in recent years, bishops and representatives from several Anglican provinces met in Virginia to install a new bishop who is not recognized by the province in which he plans to work. In a related event in what was originally part of Virginia, an American thoroughbred horse named Street Sense won the Kentucky Derby as Her Majesty and tens of thousands of fellow Anglicans looked on. In the visits of monarchs, the actions of bishops, and the running of horses, history is made. They are interesting things in their own right, but without context their meaning can be difficult to ascertain. For meaning we need to turn to tradition, the handed-on consensus of communities about what is important and where it comes from.

What is history? It's facts, anniversaries, events, words—the remembrance and record of them. But it's also in the dirt below us, the buildings around us, the things we touch and the water we drink. In Jamestown, archaeologists can dig and sift to find out about history; we can visit the same geographical place where history was made 400 years ago, and stand on dirt that sits on top of dirt where people stood then.

In the Church, history is an essential part of tradition, the lived-in, Spirit-filled, passed-on truth of Christianity. In the life of faith, we participate in, guard, share and plumb the great tradition as we move forward in history. We can dig and sift in tradition, too, to find out about its content and to help in its transmission. It's a good thing for us to get our hands dirty in it and our minds full of it so we can think and live within tradition—sentire cum ecclesia, some have called it. It is tradition that gives history context and texture.

Franz LisztOne of the most excellent examples of tradition we know comes from the childhood of the late Jaroslav Pelikan, a hero to us for many years whose recent death we mourned with an unexpected sense of loss. As he practised a Beethoven piano sonata in Chicago in the late 1920s, the following exchange took place:

Suddenly Jan Masaryk shouted, 'No, that should be an F-natural!'

'But right here in the score it's an F-sharp.'

'That's wrong. I heard from my mother that there's a mistake in the printed score, and she heard it from her teacher, Liszt, who heard it from his teacher Carl Czerny, who heard it from his teacher, Beethoven.'*

Although there are sure dangers in relying on oral tradition alone—even with so august a pedigree as this one—for factual accuracy, this charming incident fills us with a little bit of awe for the kind of continuity that can be maintained in a succession of teachers and students within a fixed field. The internet and various forms of digitial media allow us today to choose our teachers at will. Within the relatively small field of American Anglican church history, we have at our fingertips Manross, McConnell, Tiffany, Doll, Hawkins, Shattuck and Hein, and a vast trove of related documents. History is easy to get at, easier than it ever has been.

Tradition remains the sort of thing that requires us to make a little more effort to discern what it is, to move beyond historical knowledge—from books, digital or printed, to experience, whether in railed chancels or cozy living rooms. A shout from across the room about the accuracy of an Anglican historical fact means that our peculiar tradition is alive, and that tradition itself goes on from strength to strength. It's not that tradition is better than history, but instead it's somehow more than history. History engages our senses and intellect, while tradition enlivens them dynamically. It's tradition that passes from piano keyboard to piano keyboard and from altar to altar, whether in Chicago or Virginia.

See you next week, sharp or natural.

Our signature
All of us here at Anglicans Online

Last updated: 6 May 2007

* See Orthodoxy and Western Culture: A Collection of Essays Honoring Jaroslav Pelikan on His Eightieth Birthday, edited by Valerie Hotchkiss and Patrick Henry, page 11.

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©2007 Society of Archbishop Justus
. Please address all spam to