Book Review: “Deep Anglicanism”

Deep Anglicanism: A Brief Guide, 2nd edition. By Gerald R. McDermott. Nashotah, WI: Nashotah House Press, 2024. 374 pp. $15.49 (paper).

C.S. Lewis’ novel Till We Have Faces contains a profound image of our epistemological situation as human beings on this earth. Orual, a princess, is told by her sister Psyche of a castle in the mountains, inhabited by an unknown mysterious king that has taken Psyche to be his wife. Orual doubts her sister and demands proof of the king and their marriage. Unpersuaded by Psyche’s insistence that the king exists, Orual pursues her sister into the mountains, but finds no trace of her or her royal bridegroom. However, one night while in the mountains, Orual is granted sight of the castle of this mountain king. Kneeling beside a brook to get a drink, she looks up, and through the mist (while on her knees), she beholds a marvelous castle. “There stood the palace…wall within wall, pillar and arch and architrave, acres of it, a labyrinthine of beauty. As she (Psyche) had said, it was like no house seen in our land or age.”[1]

This image, of sight bestowed through a posture of reverence before reality, illustrates a foundational truth of our epistemological status. We are below truth, and by kneeling reverently before it, it may reveal itself and grasp us with its weight. Our present age is one in which this image is inverted. We act as though we are above truth, descend upon it, and use it for our own ends. Modern man believes, in the final analysis, that “truth may be approached without homage.”[2]

This modern inverted epistemology is destructive to religious tradition (and tradition broadly speaking), which claims to steward and convey knowledge that cannot be immediately grasped by an individual. Tradition claims to tend fire—fire that illumines the mind and inflames the heart with love for the res of the thing “traditioned.” Tradition, in this sense, always points beyond itself by pointing through itself, within itself. By positing the ability to know outside tradition as a “neutral” reasoner, tradition collapses and is made into a mere helpful tool, accidental to knowing at best, more often an obstacle to overcome. It is no longer approached with reverence, but openly challenged in every aspect.

Those who attempt to descend from above on the fire of tradition are either burnt by its intensity or smother its vitality. But if one approaches with humility and reverence, through tradition is gained a sight and communion with the beautiful reality of things. Father Gerald McDermott’s Deep Anglicanism is a wonderful appeal to those who are newly within or humbly open to the historic Anglican tradition—it is an appeal to submit and thereby be nourished within the orthodox Anglican faith. As he states in the introduction, “These chapters are not for fellow theologians…but for the Anglicans and Anglican-interested folks in the pews…or even those who are afraid…but considering them. It is a ‘guide’…because any book can only go so far” (8).

Deep Anglicanism is a brief treatment of a wide array of theological subjects with a focus on Anglican distinctives. It does not attempt to offer the exhaustive and definitive arguments for all claims of the Anglican tradition. It will not equip the keyboard warrior bent on raiding the pesky neighboring reformed baptist or Roman Catholic online profile. Rather, it is a gentle guide to a reverential submission to the church.

Father McDermott addresses common questions for those who are coming into the Anglican tradition. Infant baptism? Holy orders? Purgatory? Real presence? With each of these questions, Father McDermott turns to the historical teachings of the church, emphasizing the rootedness of the Anglican way in the lower-case “c” catholic tradition. He frequently cites the church fathers alongside well-known Anglican divines such as Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, and George Herbert. Himself a former evangelical pastor, Father McDermott speaks with understanding and compassion towards concerns coming from those traditions, establishing unity where possible, while holding fast the Anglican faith as a distinct catholic tradition.

The second edition of Deep Anglicanism, recently published, includes an added introduction elucidating the purpose and intended audience of the book. It also contains further references for those seeking to continue reading on the topics discussed. One of the most common questions posed to Anglicans is what makes Anglicanism a distinct tradition and not just a cherry-picked set of doctrines. This book is aimed squarely at those who are open to the Anglican tradition and have that very question. It is a terrific resource for parishes looking for a book to hand new members and those in catechetical classes. By it, no doubt, further questions will be raised, and conversations generated within the local parish life.

Father McDermott also emphasizes the pre-modern philosophical and theological categories that the Anglican church dwells within. He pays special attention to the ontological nature of the priesthood, in distinction to a purely functional or mechanistic view. Sacramental time (in relation to the eucharistic sacrifice), is contrasted with a completely linear and sequential perspective. These discussions help remedy potential misconceptions about the Anglican faith, and form a reverential posture before the church’s historic teachings. These chapters are oriented towards beginning or furthering a Christian’s submission to the Anglican church, where truer and deeper knowledge is to be found through a humble participation in the liturgy—as Father McDermott writes, “you don’t understand the Anglican way until you have lived its sacramental and liturgical life for five years (8).

For this is the proper end of all study, communion with the reality words signify. Reasonings and arguments fall silent in the face of that true knowledge. By reverence and submission to Christ, known by and through His Church, we are transfigured after His likeness. Our epistemological milieu is one that scoffs at and assaults the notion of knowing through reverence and submission. Deep Anglicanism is a wonderful aid for those who are submitting (or open to) the Anglican way. This book offers the believer insulation against the cold, bitter winds of modern rationalism, and beckons the reader to approach reverently before the living fire of the Anglican tradition. For its light and warmth are not its own, but the fire of the Spirit of the living God.

Notes

  1. C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1984), 132.
  2. John Henry Newman, “Faith and Reason,” in Oxford University Sermons (London, 1880), 198, quoted in Josef Pieper, Faith, (San Fransico: Ignatius Press, 2012), 66.

 


Caleb Symons

Caleb Symons lives in Leesburg, VA, and attends a local Reformed Episcopal Church, the Church of Our Savior Oatlands. He studied journalism and political theory at Patrick Henry College before leaving to work full time in the film production industry. Currently, he works for a film production company in the northern Virginia area and does freelance projects for a variety of clients. His leisure time is spent reading, writing, and discussing theology and philosophy with friends and family.


'Book Review: “Deep Anglicanism”' has 1 comment

  1. June 21, 2024 @ 1:19 pm Philip Enarson

    “You don’t understand the Anglican Way until you have lived its sacramental and liturgical ways for 5 years”. Amazing insightful statement! I have now lived the ” Anglican Way” for some 15 years and sense only now the wisdom in this insight. To be on our knees in humble, repentant faith at the communion rail is where wisdom is found and true knowledge begins.

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