By Alan Hayes
Published: June 2009
Fifty years ago the pope announced the Second Vatican Council. That changed Anglicanism forever.
That's my conclusion after completing a little historical project. I went through every issue of the Canadian Churchman (now called the Anglican Journal) between 1959 and 1967 and every General Synod journal between 1950 and 1969 to gauge the impact of Vatican II on Canadian Anglicans.
Some readers may remember what the Church of England in Canada was like in the 1950s. Union jacks on church walls, toasts to the queen at church dinners, and loyal addresses to the queen at synods. On Sundays, sixteenth-century liturgy, sentimental Victorian hymns, and lots of prayers for the queen, culminating in an earnest "God save the Queen." An English accent gave clergy an edge for the best pulpits and the best salaries. Anglicans had a reputation for being—how do I put this delicately? Kind of stuffy.
In most places, that ethos couldn't and didn't survive the 1960s. There were lots of reasons why stuffy quaint anglophilia could no longer serve as the defining characteristic of Canadian Anglicanism. Maybe sometime I'll talk about those reasons. But for now, let me focus on how Anglicans tried to build a new identity for themselves.
Some advocated "secular theology". Others liked Billy Graham. A charismatic renewal broke out in several parts of the Anglican world. Many gushed over interpersonal training groups. Several envisioned a non-institutional religion. ("People are leaving the church and going back to God," said the comedian Shelley Berman.) Some of these alternatives had friends and supporters in Very High Places. But none took hold.
A global Anglican Congress brought thousands of people to Toronto in 1963. The archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Ramsey, gave one of the most brilliant Anglican orations of the twentieth century. People for a few weeks felt a huge sense of renewal and a great enthusiasm for mission. But, afterwards, there lacked the leadership in Canada and elsewhere to build on it. Within a year or two, all that was left of the Anglican Congress, so far as most people in the pew were concerned, was documents gathering dust on a shelf.
So many false starts! But then between 1962 and 1965, Vatican II happened. "Hold onto your hats!" said George Luxton, the Anglican bishop of Huron, in the Canadian Churchman. He had gone to Rome, checked in on the Vatican Council, and secured an audience with the pope. He was blown away by the Roman Catholic Church's new and totally unexpected spirit of self-criticism, its re-thinking of Christian basics, its ressourcement (its return to essential sources, especially Scripture), and its aggiornamento (its passion to come to faithful terms with the modern world). Luxton wanted Anglicans to follow suit, and he wasn't the only one.
The main Canadian Anglican interpreters of the Council were George Wheeler, a Wycliffe graduate, and Eugene Fairweather, a professor at Trinity College. Both had taken courses at St. Michael's College, the Roman Catholic university in Toronto. Both went to the Vatican Council and were transformed by it. (You can read Fairweather's diaries in the Trinity archives.) They both wrote scores of articles and spoke at scores of church events.
The Toronto School of Theology was formed in 1969, and as a result, students at Trinity and Wycliffe, which trained most of the country's Anglican clergy, began to take many of their courses at St. Michael's and Regis Colleges, which happened to have some of the most brilliant Roman Catholic theologians in the English-speaking world. Anglicans and Roman Catholics started formal dialogue groups. Anglican leaders read and digested the Vatican II documents, which were passionate, intelligent, and persuasive. The fruits of Vatican II were ripening in the Anglican climate....
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