Thursday, November 11, 2010


There's much talk of patrimonies as the moment without actually getting much closer to a definition. Let's start with a clip from The Free Dictionary; 1 (a.) An inheritance from a father or other ancestor. ( b.)  An inheritance or legacy; heritage. 2. An endowment or estate belonging to an institution, especially a church. We'll leave the latter alone as I suspect it's not the primary concern at the moment. Tracking the notion of a spiritual inheritance we find frequent references to the patrimony of Eastern Christendom and at the moment to an Anglican Patrimony but, and this is my grief at the moment, very few references to a Latin, or even Western Patrimony. You'll forgive me if I digress for a minute.

Because when we think of an Eastern patrimony the first things that come to mind are the externals- the particular form of the Divine Liturgy and customs that obviously distinguish it. Only after we have confronted that aspect of Eastern Christianity do we normally bother to investigate the spiritual methods and attitudes that lie behind the rite- the particular forms of prayer, the writings of the spiritual giants. This is part of the problem at the moment. I suspect that when some commentators are thinking of Anglican Patrimony they are not going beyond the externals of psalm chants, surplices and Tudor English all of which, by the way, have disappeared in the bigger world of Anglicanism. But what of the spiritual patrimony that might lie behind these externals?

If there is an Anglican Patrimony, and I think there is, it has to be understood as part of a part of the Western Spiritual Patrimony. It's externals are essentially Western, the spiritual practices, at least in their classical form and stripped of counter Reformation developments, contain a fading memory of what spiritual life in England was like before the Protestant Revolution. At the heart of this is a three pronged spirituality balancing personal prayer, liturgical prayer, and sacramental life. Personal prayer in the spiritual writings at there zenith in the 14th century, liturgical prayer in the maintenance of parts of the Divine Office for all the faithful, and sacramental life in the outward forms that survived. For a more detailed description of this Martin Thornton's English Spirituality is well worth a read.

Back to the point of this entry. I suspect that if we were try and to make a closer examination of the Western Patrimony by comparing it with the 'time capsule' that is Anglican spirituality we would learn a lot about the bigger picture of what distinguishes Western Catholics. And is this not what we need at the moment? We've been through a period of time when anything 'Western' was deemed inferior. It's time to redefine our own tradition free of the extraneous elements that have crept in.  For a start defining is very much at the heart of that patrimony that we have inherited.


  1. I can't believe I just discovered this! I run a blog with a similar premise:

  2. Snap! I've started reading through your entries. Thanks for the index.


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