30 Dec

Mystic Chords of Memory in England (and Elsewhere)

Michael Potemra @ NRO:

There are very few kind words spoken these days about the good old Church of England, so I am delighted to discover that one of the most prominent conservative intellectuals of the past few decades has just devoted an entire book to praising it. Roger Scruton, the acclaimed philosopher and polymath, has recently issued Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England, a short but rewarding attempt to explain just how this unusual institution has managed to provide spiritual nourishment over so many centuries. (It will be available through the U.S. version of Amazon in a month and a half; it is already available through Amazon.co.uk.)

Scruton understands the C of E as a religious institution very much rooted in a specific place and in the character of a specific people. “It is undeniable,” he writes, that “skepticism is now part of the English character. But it coexists with a certain curiosity towards the transcendental, and a desire to imagine it on the English model, as a place where we might be at home — an eternal Wind in the Willows.” This typically English attitude has been both praised and condemned over the years as a “domestication of transcendence”; but it is, in my view, very close to the distinctive essence of Christianity, as a religion in which God becomes Man. God is by definition transcendent; in Christ, He limits Himself and becomes more approachable.

For Scruton, the Church of England is a place of sacramental access to this very approachable God. With its two great literary monuments — the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer — it stands with the Reformation in its view of the Word as the purest point of access to the truth about God. But with its emphasis on Sacrament as well, it also stands with its pre-Reformation forebears. At Scruton’s parish church of Garsdon, there is behind the altar an inscription reading, “This do, in remembrance of me.” Scruton comments:

The reredos is a reminder that this is a Catholic church, which dispenses salvation as a daily sacrament, and which turns our thoughts to remembrance. Those six words on the wall contain the secret of tradition. What matters, they tell us, is the past, its daily re-enactment, and the intertwining threads of memory that make the past forever present among us. Our lives are wrapped around the solid fact of Christ’s sacrifice like ivy around a stone. And when we gather on a Sunday it is not in order to judge the quality of devotion in our sinful neighbours, but to accept, for a while, the shortcomings that impair our weekday relations and to share the vision of an “eternal home.”


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About Curt

Curt served in the Marine Corps for four years and has been a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles for the last 20 years.

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