The Sacramental Church: The Story of Anglo-Catholicism
by John F. Nash
(Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011, 306 pages)
The Anglican tradition is known for being a via media, a “middle way” between certain extremes of Protestantism and Catholicism. This has made for an increasingly diverse communion of churches and theological identities. One of the most important streams of Anglican identity is that of Anglo-Catholicism. Anglo-Catholics understand the Church of England and the other churches in the Anglican Communion as being manifestations of the Catholic Church in and extending from the British Isles. Anglo-Catholicism is distinguished by its recovery of a rich liturgical and aesthetic tradition. Modern day Anglicanism, even Anglicans who do not identify as Anglo-Catholic, are heavily indebted to this nineteenth-century movement that emphasized apostolic Christianity and ritual worship.
Nash’s account focuses on the development of Anglo-Catholicism in England, Scotland, and North America, though its reach extends across the globe. Not only does he give a detailed account of Anglo-Catholicism from its origins in the Oxford movement, which began the 1830’s, but he offers a substantial account of the English Church extending back to its pre-Reformation roots. This five chapter “pre-history,” as it were, of Anglo-Catholicism helps to contextualize the various Anglican traditions that developed after the Reformation. Nash spends two chapters on the Catholic Revival of the 1800’s, which saw some in the Church of England attempting to recover its apostolic roots in doctrine and worship. The final chapter looks at contemporary Anglo-Catholicism.
This is far from a critical history of the Anglo-Catholicism, and Nash is upfront about his commitment to the tradition. However, Nash has done a very thorough job of detailing its history and providing context to better understand the current trends within Anglicanism. Though he is an able historian, Nash is definitely not a theologian, and this weakness shows up when he attempts to contrast Anglo-Catholicism with other Christian traditions. Despite this weakness, this is a fascinating book. It should be particularly interesting for those interested in the history of Christianity in England.