Our Lady's Dowry: The Decline and Fall of the Anglican Church

I read today that according to the 2021 census for England & Wales the proportion of people identifying as Christian has fallen from 59.3% to 46.2% over the past decade. That's quite a decline over 10 short years, even taking into account demographic changes.

This growth in the non-Christian element of society is neither to be celebrated (as the charity Humanists UK will do) or simply accepted as “one of those things” as the Church of England appear to be responding. Indeed, the current Anglican Archbishop of York is reported to have said the decline is “no great surprise”, adding “people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by.”  What sort of weak, mealy-mouthed response is that supposed to be? At least the secularists know what they are about and have set objectives, which is the de-Christianisation of society. The Church of England sits idly by. 

I personally think the Church of England's response to the Covid crisis is largely to blame for the census results. In 2020 when the pandemic broke out, the decision was taken to close the churches. This was an abject failure of Christian mission and responsibility. The Church leadership has much to be held responsible for. These charges of stepping back and out of responsibility for praxis (practical faith) lies at the root of the current problem. For a long, long time the Church of England and the other mainstream churches in the west have been in chronic decline with falling memberships. The response was to ‘modernise' worship and to make religion more ‘contemporary.' Yet this policy has failed, and one cannot help but wonder if the Church would be in such a dramatic state of decline if it had retained worship according to the traditional Book of Common Prayer, or if the Roman Catholic Church had retained the Latin Mass instead of the adopting the vernacular?  Is there not value in mystery in matters of worship?  Must we really need to hear and know everything to derive some benefit from it?  Are not the sacraments of Holy Communion, Confirmation Marriage and Baptism etc mysteries that convey a powerful sense of spiritual renewal that comes from outside of us - as well as from within?  In truth, these latest figures are a sign of the tremendous imbalance in our society. Yes, I say imbalance. The secular and the profane, the ordinary and the obvious dominate our culture and mindset. Yet without the mystery of religion and contact with the otherness of spirit, that which the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing describes below can never take effect, and we remain blind to the beauty to be found in faith:

“One loving, blind desire for God alone is more valuable in itself, more pleasing to God and to the saints, more beneficial to your own growth, and more helpful to your friends, both living and dead, than anything else you could do.”

This brings me to another point, which is the Archbishop of York is only partly right when he says: “people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by.”  He mentions nothing of Christ. Nothing of the Blessed Virgin. Nothing of the fruits of the Spirit. There is no reference to the portal of grace opened to us by the sacrifice on the cross or in the rebirth of Christ's resurrection as the reintegrated Man-God. No. There is instead blandness, a nothingness of verbiage that tells us society is missing something. Yes, it is missing something. It is missing the beauty of Christianity and its sublime message of hope amidst the decaying world of environmental and economic chaos engendered by violence, greed and selfishness.  The God that humbled himself to become man, to restore and rebuild the gateway that leads us back to the spiritual beings we once were is no longer being taught and therefore heard. And why? Why is this? Can it be the fault solely of the relentless depravity broadcast on our television screens and on the internet? 

No, it is not solely due to this since these things are merely a sign of imbalance in our society.  They are often good things turned bad through excess, and without any moral foundation needed to keep them in check. The Church leadership has singularly failed to argue its case: for the benefits of common worship; of the beauty and sanctity of the sacraments; and of the hope for better things which the Incarnation of Jesus Christ has promised us.

England was once described as Mary's or Our Lady's Dowry. The designation goes back to the Middle Ages, and described the deep devotion the people of England once held for the mother of Christ. It was believed until the time of the Reformation that the people once belonged to her in some special way, and that their prayers for her protection were heard more especially than others, due to the spiritual truth, wisdom and values they once saw in her.

How sad an indictment that today only 46.2% of the population of England & Wales should identify as Christian of any denomination. Yet, this is not the greatest sadness. The sadness is that the sacrifice of those who went before us  – whose blood bled into the sand of Jerusalem and the toil of a hundred thousand others who left these shores to proclaim Christ risen – have been betrayed by the spoilt, weak and foolish generations of this our lost age.  

To the feckless clergy of the Church of England, the Established Church, your legacy is not only one of failure - it is one of betrayal. For those of us who seek a spiritual life in esoteric Christian orders let them remember that mysticism without the foundation and balance brought by the exoteric form of our faith is a state of imbalance. Bear this in mind as our new post-Christian era gains ground.

This article is the copyright (c) of M.R. Osborne, 2022