Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Anglican vesture, the roots of the "Reformation," and Freemasonry

  • Religious non-story, not news: Church of England makes clerical vestments optional. On this they've almost 360ed to their founding, but the historically and religiously illiterate press of course doesn't care and is too lazy to research it. (In the Internet age that's inexcusable.) But I believe this is the first time vestments have been completely optional for them. When Cranmer and his friends cut loose under the regency for Edward VI, really starting Anglicanism, they reduced vestments to the old choir habit, which aren't really liturgical vestments: cassock, surplice, black scarf, academic hood, and Canterbury cap (the medieval English version of the biretta). Which the very low-church, the Puritans, fought the law about, and anyway, after the Sixties low-churched many people (even actual Catholic churchmen lost their nerve and sold out: Vatican II), Evangelical Anglicans took this to heart so they often don't use vestments. This change just ratifies longstanding practice. The Catholic vestments associated with Anglo-Catholicism (usually a rival true-church claim against us; only sometimes would-be Catholics), especially the Eucharistic vestments (the Protestants including Anglicanism's founders hated the Mass: "Christ's saving work is in the past; he is not here"), were actually illegally introduced to Anglican churches starting in the late 1800s (vicars went to jail) and I think remained technically against the law until 1964 (same process as just now, in reverse: it long was no longer enforced).
  • Book reports:
    • The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation by Alister McGrath. From an Oxford don at Wycliffe Hall, an Evangelical Anglican seminary. At lot of it goes over my head, but the points I think I've picked up are that the first Protestant leaders came out of the confusion among late medieval Catholic thinkers (one idea: maybe Luther mistook one school of speculation on justification for the teaching of the church and attacked it), and while the humanists (such as Erasmus, who as far as I know never attacked the teachings of the church) and the first Protestants were intellectually related, there were also important differences.
    • That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture by David G. Hackett. In "Enlightenment" England, upper-class men of letters met at each other's houses, in coffeehouses, etc., just to talk freely about ideas; nothing wrong with that. (The church says that's what the university is for, even discussing/debating our doctrine but of course we have ground rules.) They ended up taking over the old, real stonemasons' guild, turning it into their private club. (What happened to the real stonemasons?) Upper-class colonial Americans brought this over to emulate the mother country's upper crust, and the rest is history, basically the story of America and how secular humanism, liberal Christianity without Christ, became the ruling class's religion. (One change in America: after the Revolution, Freemasonry actually changed from elitist to popular.) Liberal Protestantism got started at the same time, basically all the English Reformed churches going bad, including the Anglicans (the English Masons started by attacking what doctrine the Anglicans still had and ended up taking over the Anglicans); they and Freemasonry became interchangeable. (Some things never change: Hackett mentions that Unitarianism was originally snooty New England Congregationalists looking down on George Whitefield's evangelicalism.) Hackett thinks the accusations of being in league with the Illuminati are hooey but he points out that for many 19th-century American men this goofy fraternity with made-up ritual was literally a serious substitute for church, which was seen as feminine. Reading between the lines, you see the Catholic Church's point against it, even though Hackett's unsympathetic. Even though Freemasonry banned atheists, if you take their ideas to their conclusion, man is so naturally good and perfectible that we don't need that Jesus story after all (some early-1800s Protestants got the picture; there was a backlash against the Masons). Even if there wasn't a conscious plan against the church, it does work against it. Today, both the lodges (and the knockoffs/wannabes: the Odd Fellows, the Elks, the Moose, etc.) and the denominations are shrinking, considered quaint/passé (interestingly, like the old left, Freemasonry and the Sixties didn't mix), but their work is done; America has been shot through with these ideas from the beginning.


  1. "Today, both the lodges (and the knockoffs/wannabes: the Odd Fellows, the Elks, the Moose, etc.) and the denominations are shrinking, considered quaint/passé..."

    The Knights of Columbus became popular in part because they could serve as an approved Catholic substitute for Freemasonry, with secret initiation rituals and a place for men to socialize privately and plan charitable community work. Like the Masons, they've also occasionally been the targets of nutty conspiracy theories, though of the anti-Papist variety instead. The decline of such clubs was a key theme in Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone". He initially blamed television as one of the leading factors, but later grudgingly admitted that increased ethnic diversity was probably a bigger driver.

    In a way, this is a good era for joining fraternal orders of that type, because most of them have relaxed their membership standards out of desperation, and excess space in most clubs means they can keep their dues low. The KofC and the Hibernians near me, for example, both require applicants to check a box affirming that they are Catholics of good character who comply with their religious duties (true, in my case), but nobody really bothered to verify that assertion or demand references. I've heard similar things about the Elks Club and the like being pretty relaxed about admissions. This isn't a problem, though, because true lowlifes rarely want to join anymore. $30/year will get you the key to a quiet place where you can go to shoot some pool, take a nap, play cribbage with old geezers, pop in briefly to use the bathroom, entertain friends, or socialize with off-duty cops over $1 beers.

    1. Right; Hackett writes a little about the K of C (and some other groups), both a substitute for the Masons and a mutual-aid society. And good point about fraternal orders' good old-fashioned fellowship, still available but barely.


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