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Stewart Headlam’s Radical Anglicanism: The Mass, the Masses, and the Music Hall (Studies in Anglican History) by John Richard Orens

November 1, 2015

Headlam 2Ken Leech’s review in the Church Times says: “John Griffin’s small book on the Oxford Movement claimed that it was “radical in its politics and its sociology'”. But the evidence does not bear this out. Most Anglican Ca­tholics remained socially conven­tional, and were no threat to the status quo. Many, from an early -stage; were preeious and even dainty. None of this is new however, in the 1870s, there was a fusion of early Oxford theology, Ritualism, and the Christian socialism of E D. Maurice. The key figure in the fusion was Stewart Duckworth Headlam, the prophetic leader of the Guild of St Matthew, founded at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green, in June 1877.”

Headlam was a member of the Fabian Society who stood bail for Oscar Wilde, urged the common ownership of land and, on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s jubilee argued that a biblical jubilee for the poor, when hey would be released from their debts, was better.

He was the father of sacramental socialism and when many of his peers were urging belief in the real presence of Christ in the mass he argued that this presence extended to the music hall and to ballet. “The beauty of the Mass revealed not only God’s beauty, Headlam argued, but also the world’s, represented on the altar by the gifts of bread and wine. The Mass thus reminded worshippers that God’s kingdom would be estab­lished on earth and that it would be as joyful as it would be just. Art and fel­lowship were inseparable in Headlam’s conception of life in the age to come. Socialism, he believed, would liberate the human spirit so that all human beings could live “nobly and truly” and “enjoy all that is beautiful and pure…… Again and again he reminded the people of St. Matthew’s that they were “made for nobler things . . . than mechanical works” and that they should “train themselves intellectually and spiritually” lest they sink to the level of “a mere machine.” It was important that the ritualists had turned their churches into homes of art, he noted, for the poor were perishing “for lack of beauty, and joy, and pleasure.”….He cham­pioned the doctrines most dear to all Anglo-Catholics: baptismal regenera­tion, the real presence of Christ in the eucharist, and the church’s apostolic authority. But having learned his faith from Maurice rather than from the Tractarians, he interpreted these doctrines differently. That Christ gave him­self on the altar, for example, Headlam had no doubt. But he avoided speak­; ing of a change in the eucharistic elements, preferring instead to speak of Christ’s presence “in the holy communion.” To H. G. Wells he explained that “the Presence in the Mass [was] a spiritual presence.” It was the social significance of the sacrament he thought most important, not its metaphys­cs. In the Mass, he argued, the priest sets forth “such a radical reformer, so divine a democrat as Jesus Christ,” and thus pledged the church to support “every kind of reform and progress.”

“Headlam’s discussion of baptismal regeneration was equally corporate. Like Maurice, he rejected the view that baptism transformed human nature, owing men and women to fend off the wrath of God only as long as they preserved their sacramental innocence. Baptism, he insisted, declared that all human beings were children of God. Moreover, baptismal regeneration would be a mockery if divine love were alterable. Like the eucharist, baptism was a democratic sacrament offered to all, binding all in Christ to a common father. Thus, the Church of England was the people’s church, unlike those Nonconformist sects that, despite their professions of liberalism, reserved baptism for adults who shared their narrow opinions.”

“As for the dancers themselves, Headlam knew more about their private lives than any clergyman in Eng­’ land. Indeed, he was the only priest to whom many performers would turn in time of need. For years he had been laboring quietly to keep dancers and actresses from taking up disreputable lives on the streets. Since 1879, unbe­knownst to all but his friends, he had been visiting Brussels twice a year to help the British Institute care for English dancers who might otherwise have fallen prey to that city’s notorious purveyors of flesh. He even established a Sunday school for the ballerinas’ children.’

“Headlam did not ask (bishop) Temple to endorse the music hall because it was pure but because it was entertaining and, at times, inspiring. It was easy, Headlam knew, for Temple and others like him to deny they were puritans by parading their respect for the drama. But what made a puritan, Head-lam argued, was not hatred of the theater but hatred of pleasure. Even the simplest delights were precious, especially for those wearied by long hours of drudgery. And there were times, he wrote, when dancers were so grace­ful that, like swallows in flight or trees bending in the wind, they mirrored the grace of God. “How healing this is,” he exclaimed, “for our overworked and worried population.”

“If the music hall did not always live up to its high calling, Headlam ar­gued, that was the fault of the moralists who condemned it…… For the clergy the choice was simple: either the human body was “an evil thing or the temple of the Holy Ghost.” If they were orthodox, Headlam declared, they must acknowledge that the body in motion was a sacrament and that Christ was present on the Alhambra stage as surely as he was in the Mass…..The dispute between Temple and Headlam, declared the Reverend Charles Marson, confronted the church with “the whole question of Protes­tantism versus Catholicism in concrete,” for Temple’s hostility toward the ballet was rooted in Protestantism’s antisacramental hatred of the body”

The Victorians spoke of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving poor’ as if poverty was often the fault of he who was poor, about which the author observed: “the Tractarians shared the common assumption that poverty is divinely ordained. “God has divided the world into rich and poor,” Keble told his parishioners, “that there might be the more exercise of charity and patience.” Thus suffering ought to be relieved but the poor must accept their unequal lot until they enter heaven. And even paradise was not assured, for the Oxford Apostolicals insisted – as firmly as their Evangelical opponents that unbelievers and unrepentant sinners were doomed to everlasting damnation. Not surprisingly, this gloomy prospect only deepened the chasm between church and people. “The great body of Englishmen is becoming utterly indifferent to us all,” F. D. Maurice wrote sadly; they “smile grimly and contemptuously at our controversies, and I believe that no help is to come to their suffering from any of us.”

Against theological abstractions and hope for a heaven hereafter: “(F.D.) Maurice insisted that Christianity is a religion of this world as well as the next. We need not scale the heavens to find Christ, Maurice wrote. Rather, we should seek him where he is already to be found: “in all our ordi­nary business and duties, in the cornfield, in the shop, at the marriage feast, wherever we go, whatever we are about……. Most Christians, he complained, had cast living men and women out of heaven, reducing it to a home for the righteous dead. But the truth is that the kingdom of heaven—the divine society ordained by God for the whole human race—has already been established on earth.

“The great evils afflicting England, Maurice believed, were the result of the nation’s refusal to acknowledge this fellowship. Instead of living as children of a common father, men and women were blindly pursuing their own selfish ends. Competition, he claimed, was the economic equivalent of sectarian­ism, and it was equally detestable. He denounced as idolatrous the elevation of the competitive principle to the status of “some tremendous power . . . to which we must bow down whether we will or not.” The nation must choose, the insisted, between competition and association. Kingsley, always more dramatic, likened competition to cannibalism.”

For those of us who are accustomed to witness devotion to Our Lady from rather misogynistic types, it is refreshing to read: “. In a sermon he gave at St. Mary’s, Graham Street, in 1880, he delineated again the bond between dancers, workers, and the Catholic church. His subject, “The Cul­tus of Our Lady,” was dear to all ritualists. But there was nothing conven­tional about Headlam’s Marian devotion. Reverence for Mary, he told the congregation, was important because it strengthened belief in Christ’s humanity. Only this incarnational faith could deliver the church and the world from the Manichean Calvinism that condemned joy and had “turned Mer­ry England into what it is.” Wealthy Anglo-Catholics may have thought that their principal duty was to teach the poor sound doctrine. What they ought to do, Headlam argued, was share the delight that devotion to Mary and her son inspired. “Learn the Catechism yourselves, my sisters,” he admonished the women of the parish. And, as John Ruskin had urged, “teach the children of the working class to dance on Sunday.”” But dance alone, Headlam reminded his listeners, was not a sufficient rem­edy for injustice. The incarnate God who took flesh of the Virgin Mary hal­lowed their labor even as he hallowed their art. It was thus the duty of every Christian to take up the cause of social reform. Many respectable churchgo­ers cared about those less fortunate than themselves. But too often, Headlam complained, they merely handed out doles and then dismissed the objects of their charity as the “lower orders.” The poor were kin, he told the people of St. Mary’s, and must be met “on terms of absolute social equality.”

“He also believed that equality must characterize the relations between men and women. It was no coincidence, Headlam argued, that England was awakening to Mary’s importance at the very time that women were demand­ing the right to work, the right to the same education as men, and the aboli­tion of laws that treated them as chattel. In summoning his congregation to support trade unions, he emphasized the rights of female workers to “a bet­ter share” of industry’s profits. Headlam warned the congregants that if they were deaf to workers’ cries, their “skirts” would be stained with “the blood of the souls of God’s people.”

Headlam addressed the Lambeth Conference about tax and rents. Unlike Margaret Thatcher’s misguided attempt at exegesis when she gave her ‘Sermon on the Mound to the church of Scotland, Headlam said, “two propositions which underlie socialist teaching are essentially Christian. The first of these, the guild council argued, went back to St. Paul. “If a man will not work,” the apostle had written, “neither let him eat.” Christians were thus enjoined, like socialists, to condemn an economic system that al­lowed the idle few to extort rent and interest from the laboring many. So­cialists also demanded a more equitable distribution of income, and this, too, was a biblical commandment. “The husbandman that laboureth,” the Old Testament taught, “must be the first to partake of the fruits.” To argue, there­fore, that wages be kept low so that landlords and capitalists could obtain a return on their investments may have been economic orthodoxy, but it was Christian heresy.’”

There was a complaint about his ritualist practices. Would that all tat queens could answer as he did: “What his anonymous complainant thought arcane and Romish, Head-lam justified as common decency and common sense. He did not like the word genuflect, he said, but admitted that he had bent his knee at the mass’s last gospel. What else was he to do? Here was proclaimed “the most stupen­dous fact in history”—the Word was made flesh—a miracle that abolished “all class distinctions and unbrotherly monopolies.” He had kissed “the Holy Table” because he loved the altar. And he had kissed the gospel book because the Bible was “the charter of humanity,” especially of the “disinherited, the oppressed, the masses.”

“Headlam’s explanation of his private devotions was just as straightfor­ward. He had prayed, he told the commission, “for ‘Randall my Archbish­op,’ and ‘Arthur, my Bishop,— and hoped that his supplication would “not be taken amiss by those for whom it was offered. I also prayed,” he added, “for a few dead men and women whom I have loved and for others who have been of value to me and to the Church, that they might be granted a place of refreshment, light, and peace.” His accuser was right, Headlam acknowl­edged, in reporting that he had spoken in a low voice to his servers. But it was for a reason that an enemy of sacerdotalism ought to have cheered: he was confessing his sins. Those two simple laymen, he testified, “had the au­dacity to ask Almighty God to have mercy upon me, forgive me my sins, and bring me to everlasting life.” It was “a healthy private devotion to begin the great service with,” he argued, for there was always the danger that “a priest might be tempted to make too much of himself.”

“in the London diocese and the Canterbury province so many lit­tle children have no clean beds to sleep in, so many of our dearly beloved brethren have no healthy homes to live in, so many are out of work, so many , are overworked, so many are underpaid.”” As he explained in a sermon at All Souls’, the commission might try to decide if a priest should be punished for saying “dearly beloved brethren” in a low voice rather than the custom­ary loud voice. But the important question was “whether we are brethren at all, whether we had not better give up shamming and recognize that we are rivals and competitors, ravening wolves—anything rather than brethren.”

“Thus, when Headlam told GSM priests to put their sacramental duties before all else, he was not asking them to abandon politics. Rather, he believed that they and their congregations would find in the sacraments the vision of human life that alone can inspire the struggle for justice.”

Ken Leech’s review in the Church Times says: “John Griffin’s small book on the Oxford Movement claimed that it was “radical in its politics and its sociology’”. But the evidence does not bear this out. Most Anglican Catholics remained socially conventional, and were no threat to the status quo. Many, from an early -stage; were precious and even dainty. None of this is new however, in the 1870s, there was a fusion of early Oxford theology, Ritualism, and the Christian socialism of E D. Maurice. The key figure in the fusion was Stewart Duckworth Headlam, the prophetic leader of the Guild of St Matthew, founded at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green, in June 1877.” Headlam was a member of the Fabian Society who stood bail for Oscar Wilde, urged the common ownership of land and, on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s jubilee argued that a biblical jubilee for the poor, when hey would be released from their debts, was better. He was the father of sacramental socialism and when many of his peers were urging belief in the real presence of Christ in the mass he argued that this presence extended to the music hall and to ballet. “The beauty of the Mass revealed not only God’s beauty, Headlam argued, but also the world’s, represented on the altar by the gifts of bread and wine. The Mass thus reminded worshippers that God’s kingdom would be established on earth and that it would be as joyful as it would be just. Art and fellowship were inseparable in Headlam’s conception of life in the age to come. Socialism, he believed, would liberate the human spirit so that all human beings could live “nobly and truly” and “enjoy all that is beautiful and pure…… Again and again he reminded the people of St. Matthew’s that they were “made for nobler things . . . than mechanical works” and that they should “train themselves intellectually and spiritually” lest they sink to the level of “a mere machine.” It was important that the ritualists had turned their churches into homes of art, he noted, for the poor were perishing “for lack of beauty, and joy, and pleasure.”….He championed the doctrines most dear to all Anglo-Catholics: baptismal regeneration, the real presence of Christ in the eucharist, and the church’s apostolic authority. But having learned his faith from Maurice rather than from the Tractarians, he interpreted these doctrines differently. That Christ gave himself on the altar, for example, Headlam had no doubt. But he avoided speaking of a change in the eucharistic elements, preferring instead to speak of Christ’s presence “in the holy communion.” To H. G. Wells he explained that “the Presence in the Mass [was] a spiritual presence.” It was the social significance of the sacrament he thought most important, not its metaphyscs. In the Mass, he argued, the priest sets forth “such a radical reformer, so divine a democrat as Jesus Christ,” and thus pledged the church to support “every kind of reform and progress.” “Headlam’s discussion of baptismal regeneration was equally corporate. Like Maurice, he rejected the view that baptism transformed human nature, owing men and women to fend off the wrath of God only as long as they preserved their sacramental innocence. Baptism, he insisted, declared that all human beings were children of God. Moreover, baptismal regeneration would be a mockery if divine love were alterable. Like the eucharist, baptism was a democratic sacrament offered to all, binding all in Christ to a common father. Thus, the Church of England was the people’s church, unlike those Nonconformist sects that, despite their professions of liberalism, reserved baptism for adults who shared their narrow opinions.” “.As for the dancers themselves, Headlam knew more about their private lives than any clergyman in England. Indeed, he was the only priest to whom many performers would turn in time of need. For years he had been laboring quietly to keep dancers and actresses from taking up disreputable lives on the streets. Since 1879, unbeknownst to all but his friends, he had been visiting Brussels twice a year to help the British Institute care for English dancers who might otherwise have fallen prey to that city’s notorious purveyors of flesh. He even established a Sunday school for the ballerinas’ children.’ “Headlam did not ask (Archbishop) Temple to endorse the music hall because it was pure but because it was entertaining and, at times, inspiring. It was easy, Headlam knew, for Temple and others like him to deny they were puritans by parading their respect for the drama. But what made a puritan, Head-lam argued, was not hatred of the theater but hatred of pleasure. Even the simplest delights were precious, especially for those wearied by long hours of drudgery. And there were times, he wrote, when dancers were so graceful that, like swallows in flight or trees bending in the wind, they mirrored the grace of God. “How healing this is,” he exclaimed, “for our overworked and worried population.” “If the music hall did not always live up to its high calling, Headlam argued, that was the fault of the moralists who condemned it…… For the clergy the choice was simple: either the human body was “an evil thing or the temple of the Holy Ghost.” If they were orthodox, Headlam declared, they must acknowledge that the body in motion was a sacrament and that Christ was present on the Alhambra stage as surely as he was in the Mass…..The dispute between Temple and Headlam, declared the Reverend Charles Marson, confronted the church with “the whole question of Protestantism versus Catholicism in concrete,” for Temple’s hostility toward the ballet was rooted in Protestantism’s antisacramental hatred of the body” The Victorians spoke of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving poor’ as if poverty was often the fault of he who was poor, about which the author observed: “the Tractarians shared the common assumption that poverty is divinely ordained. “God has divided the world into rich and poor,” Keble told his parishioners, “that there might be the more exercise of charity and patience.” Thus suffering ought to be relieved but the poor must accept their unequal lot until they enter heaven. And even paradise was not assured, for the Oxford Apostolicals insisted – as firmly as their Evangelical opponents that unbelievers and unrepentant sinners were doomed to everlasting damnation. Not surprisingly, this gloomy prospect only deepened the chasm between church and people. “The great body of Englishmen is becoming utterly indifferent to us all,” F. D. Maurice wrote sadly; they “smile grimly and contemptuously at our controversies, and I believe that no help is to come to their suffering from any of us.” Against theological abstractions and hope for a heaven hereafter: “(F.D.) Maurice insisted that Christianity is a religion of this world as well as the next. We need not scale the heavens to find Christ, Maurice wrote. Rather, we should seek him where he is already to be found: “in all our ordinary business and duties, in the cornfield, in the shop, at the marriage feast, wherever we go, whatever we are about……. Most Christians, he complained, had cast living men and women out of heaven, reducing it to a home for the righteous dead. But the truth is that the kingdom of heaven—the divine society ordained by God for the whole human race—has already been established on earth. “The great evils afflicting England, Maurice believed, were the result of the nation’s refusal to acknowledge this fellowship. Instead of living as children of a common father, men and women were blindly pursuing their own selfish ends. Competition, he claimed, was the economic equivalent of sectarianism, and it was equally detestable. He denounced as idolatrous the elevation of the competitive principle to the status of “some tremendous power . . . to which we must bow down whether we will or not.” The nation must choose, the insisted, between competition and association. Kingsley, always more dramatic, likened competition to cannibalism.” For those of us who are accustomed to witness devotion to Our Lady from rather misogynistic types, it is refreshing to read: “. In a sermon he gave at St. Mary’s, Graham Street, in 1880, he delineated again the bond between dancers, workers, and the Catholic church. His subject, “The Cultus of Our Lady,” was dear to all ritualists. But there was nothing conventional about Headlam’s Marian devotion. Reverence for Mary, he told the congregation, was important because it strengthened belief in Christ’s humanity. Only this incarnational faith could deliver the church and the world from the Manichean Calvinism that condemned joy and had “turned Merry England into what it is.” Wealthy Anglo-Catholics may have thought that their principal duty was to teach the poor sound doctrine. What they ought to do, Headlam argued, was share the delight that devotion to Mary and her son inspired. “Learn the Catechism yourselves, my sisters,” he admonished the women of the parish. And, as John Ruskin had urged, “teach the children of the working class to dance on Sunday.”” But dance alone, Headlam reminded his listeners, was not a sufficient remedy for injustice. The incarnate God who took flesh of the Virgin Mary hallowed their labor even as he hallowed their art. It was thus the duty of every Christian to take up the cause of social reform. Many respectable churchgoers cared about those less fortunate than themselves. But too often, Headlam complained, they merely handed out doles and then dismissed the objects of their charity as the “lower orders.” The poor were kin, he told the people of St. Mary’s, and must be met “on terms of absolute social equality.” “He also believed that equality must characterize the relations between men and women. It was no coincidence, Headlam argued, that England was awakening to Mary’s importance at the very time that women were demanding the right to work, the right to the same education as men, and the abolition of laws that treated them as chattel. In summoning his congregation to support trade unions, he emphasized the rights of female workers to “a better share” of industry’s profits. Headlam warned the congregants that if they were deaf to workers’ cries, their “skirts” would be stained with “the blood of the souls of God’s people.” Headlam addressed the Lambeth Conference about tax and rents. Unlike Margaret Thatcher’s misguided attempt at exegesis when she gave her ‘Sermon on the Mound to the church of Scotland, Headlam said, “two propositions which underlie socialist teaching are essentially Christian. The first of these, the guild council argued, went back to St. Paul. “If a man will not work,” the apostle had written, “neither let him eat.” Christians were thus enjoined, like socialists, to condemn an economic system that allowed the idle few to extort rent and interest from the laboring many. Socialists also demanded a more equitable distribution of income, and this, too, was a biblical commandment. “The husbandman that laboureth,” the Old Testament taught, “must be the first to partake of the fruits.” To argue, therefore, that wages be kept low so that landlords and capitalists could obtain a return on their investments may have been economic orthodoxy, but it was Christian heresy.’” There was a complaint about his ritualist practices. Would that all tat queens could answer as he did: “What his anonymous complainant thought arcane and Romish, Headlam justified as common decency and common sense. He did not like the word genuflect, he said, but admitted that he had bent his knee at the mass’s last gospel. What else was he to do? Here was proclaimed “the most stupendous fact in history”—the Word was made flesh—a miracle that abolished “all class distinctions and unbrotherly monopolies.” He had kissed “the Holy Table” because he loved the altar. And he had kissed the gospel book because the Bible was “the charter of humanity,” especially of the “disinherited, the oppressed, the masses.” “Headlam’s explanation of his private devotions was just as straightforward. He had prayed, he told the commission, “for ‘Randall my Archbishop,’ and ‘Arthur, my Bishop,— and hoped that his supplication would “not be taken amiss by those for whom it was offered. I also prayed,” he added, “for a few dead men and women whom I have loved and for others who have been of value to me and to the Church, that they might be granted a place of refreshment, light, and peace.” His accuser was right, Headlam acknowledged, in reporting that he had spoken in a low voice to his servers. But it was for a reason that an enemy of sacerdotalism ought to have cheered: he was confessing his sins. Those two simple laymen, he testified, “had the audacity to ask Almighty God to have mercy upon me, forgive me my sins, and bring me to everlasting life.” It was “a healthy private devotion to begin the great service with,” he argued, for there was always the danger that “a priest might be tempted to make too much of himself.” “in the London diocese and the Canterbury province so many little children have no clean beds to sleep in, so many of our dearly beloved brethren have no healthy homes to live in, so many are out of work, so many , are overworked, so many are underpaid.”” As he explained in a sermon at All Souls’, the commission might try to decide if a priest should be punished for saying “dearly beloved brethren” in a low voice rather than the customary loud voice. But the important question was “whether we are brethren at all, whether we had not better give up shamming and recognize that we are rivals and competitors, ravening wolves—anything rather than brethren.” “Thus, when Headlam told GSM priests to put their sacramental duties before all else, he was not asking them to abandon politics. Rather, he believed that they and their congregations would find in the sacraments the vision of human life that alone can inspire the struggle for justice.”

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