Picture it: Singapore, 1899, St Andrew's Cathedral. Throughout the hot summer, a wide-reaching epistolary row has taken place over the teaching and affiliations of two prominent local clergy. They are the Archdeacon of Singapore, James Perham, and his friend William Herbert Cecil Dunkerley, Colonial Chaplain at Penang—both priests associated with the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.*
This organization, founded in 1862, requires its members to be what Max Weber called religious virtuosos; they must make careful, fasting, preparation for receiving Holy Communion as often as possible; they must pray regularly for one another; they must understand the Holy Communion to be sacrificial; they must honour the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; they must also be members of 'the English Church'.** By the end of the 19th century, when the furore about the CBS broke out in Singapore, it claimed the membership of more than 1000 clergy, and some 14,000 layfolk throughout the Anglican world.
The columns of the Singapore Free Press were filled with spirited correspondence under delightful pseudonyms: Plain Service, R., Common Sense, Singaporean, John Bull, Pax, Honesty and the like all weighed in for or against (mostly against) the affiliation of local clergy with the CBS.
The detractors of the CBS—the oldest surviving society of its kind in Anglicanism today—opposed it on many grounds depending on their own degrees of religious literacy or bigotry. Some believed it unnecessary, because the Book of Common Prayer and the canons of the Church of England already require rigorous preparation for Holy Communion. Some believed the CBS to be objectionable because of practices of secrecy or privacy designed to protect the entirely spiritual nature of the organization. Still others objected to the CBS because its members hold and share beliefs that are not consistent with the commonly-accepted meaning of several of the Thirty-nine Articles.
Opposition on whatever grounds strengthened the solidarity of the members of CBS, however, and it flourished through the beginning of the 20th century as an organization with a strong sense of its own identity. In many corners of the Anglican world today, one can find tabernacles, ciboria, eucharistic vestments, and other liturgical items provided by the CBS for 'poor or populous' parishes where the fullness of the Church's teaching on the Blessed Sacrament has been expressed with the confraternity's assistance.
The deep, real and very visceral objection to the CBS—and to the Oxford Movement, the Ritualist movement, and to the Catholic Movement in Anglicanism in general—is always the sense that it is a way for the resources of the Church of England (or any of its ecclesiastical offspring) to be diverted to the use of the Roman Catholic Church. For the Singaporean controversialists of the very end of the nineteenth century, this was a fear to be expressed in newspaper columns about the possibility that funds intended for the sustentation of Anglicanism were in fact being used for the propagation of Roman Catholic doctrine. They, with other protestant-minded opponents of things like incense, candles, eucharistic reservation, vestments, etc., felt such practices to be ecclesiastical Trojan horses that would ultimately take away Anglican communicants, buildings, money, property—in a word battered about fondly now, patrimony.
We have always dismissed these concerns as rooted in fearmongering rather than calm apprehension of reality. The erection of the Roman Catholic Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham early this year started to chip away at the confidence with which we could dismiss such concerns. And with the announcement this week of a gift of £1m to the Ordinariate by the CBS, we have begun to wonder whether the anti-ritualists and Kensitites weren't on to something after all. Their sincere if often intemperate fear was that organizations like the CBS are
We, like CBS founder Canon Carter, are not cheered by this scandalous development. In fact, we suspect that if you venture to the churchyard of St Andrew's, Clewer and are just quiet enough, you'll be able to hear the unmistakeable sounds of the grave-bound spinning of a man who in his life opposed Anglican conversion to Romanism enough to write an entire book dissuading a friend from taking such a step.***
Like Singaporean, Plain Service, Pax, and John Bull, it is far from our minds to interfere in the internal matters of any independent fellowship, ancient or modern. When, however, an organization of the stature of the CBS takes an action that calls into question the larger shape of Anglican history and the very integrity of an ecclesiastical movement of which it was always a centre, we must add our grimaces to those of Canon Carter.
See you next week.
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