17 December 2007


Christmass mail builds up; so many nice letters and cards from our dear parishioners in Devon, and, from even further back, parishioners in our first parish, Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, where we served in the 1960s. It could make one dangerously conceited if one didn't from time to time wonder how many there are who not only don't write but even open a weekly bottle of wine to celebrate the fact that I moved on. Ah, well ...

And a letter from Fr Michael Moreton of Exeter, who became such a close friend during our six years in that diocese. Fr Michael was a junior collaborator of Dr Jalland [the Revd T G Jalland DD, Vicar of St Thomas the Martyr Oxford 1933-45] when J moved from S Thomas's to found what became the Theology Faculty of Exeter University. They also founded a priestly society for study, called the Society of S Boniface. We met monthly for mass, study of the Greek Testament, and to read and discuss papers. While I was secretary, I looked through the old minute books, in which J features as the Great Man with the Big Contacts in the National Church. Repeatedly, he gave members up-to-the-minute accounts of how Big Issues like the liturgical revisions of the 1960s were going.

Fr Michael reminisced in his letter about J's funeral at S Thomas's, at which he said the mass. The then bishop of Dorchester was there, and Bishop David Silk, and Archbishop Michael Ramsey. Fr Michael writes 'I was determined that, as a patristic scholar, he [J] should have a patristic Eucharistic Prayer'. By this he means that he used the 'Roman Canon'; the First Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Rite, the oldest eucharistic prayer in Christendom still in regular use. Fr Moreton (who celebrated his 90th birthday this year) belongs to a generation of Catholic Anglican scholars who, in the 1960s, had great hopes for the authorisation of a satisfactory English eucharistic prayer. But General Synod eliminated from the draft the words (taken from the prayers of the early Church) about offering God Bread and Cup, and many as well as Moreton came to despair of committee-produced liturgy. He reverted to the old Roman Canon, which for a century had been used by 'ritualist' clergy (who, in using the 1662 Prayer Book rite said the Canon sotto voce before and after Cranmer's prayer of consecration). Despite his advanced years, Fr Michael still uses this prayer every Sunday - but, nowadays, aloud - at the little Exeter church of S Mary Steps (which is in many ways curiously like S Thomas's). Incidentally, Fr Michael was one of the first scholars to publish evidence that, in the 'Early Church' the priest faced east and did not stand behind the altar to face the people - this is yet another thing the 1960s got wrong! Up-to-date liturgists agree that Moreton was right, and his work is quoted in the newer books that are coming out especially in the RC Church.

Another memory of Dr Jalland in the post this morning! A generous American friend, Professor Tighe of Mullenburg University, has found and sent me a secondhand copy of a book J wrote in 1944 on the Church of South India scheme (the flawed idea of setting up a church in which Anglican priests and protestant ministers were treated as equivalent). That whole controversy, of course, is now more than fifty years in the past, and browsing through the book is a strangely 'retro' experience. But 'South India' is in a funny way very much like the 'WomenPriests' controversy, particularly in this: in both cases those pushing for uncatholic innovation start off with the conclusion - they know what they want - and then they fudge, twist, distort, suppress, invent evidence (historical and theological) in order to prop up the idea they were determined to promote in the first place. Even worse than the fact that Catholic theology goes out of the window is the fact that a plain respect for truth gets ditched.