Stewart Headlam's Radical Anglicanism: The Mass, the Masses, and the Music Hall

By King, Benjamin J. | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Stewart Headlam's Radical Anglicanism: The Mass, the Masses, and the Music Hall


King, Benjamin J., Anglican Theological Review


Stewart Headlam's Radical Anglicanism: The Mass, the Masses, and the Music Hall. By John Richard Orens. Champaign, 111.: University of Illinois Press, 2003. xii + 184 pp. $29.95 (cloth).

Scholars who write biographies these days tend to fall into two groups. There are those who are interested in the personal lives of their subjects, exposing (in the manner of psychologists) the influences of people and events their subjects might have taken trouble to hide. Others concentrate on the written works of their subjects, producing what are called "intellectual biographies." In his preface, Orens explains that his is of the latter sort, above all because few of Headlam's papers or letters survive. One cannot help being sad about this. His subject is such a splendid figure that it would be fascinating to know more about him.

Stewart Headlam was one of the most colorful characters produced by the church in late Victorian and Edwardian England. he was the scourge of politicians and bishops alike, combining radical politics with conservative theology, a passion for working-class culture with an Anglo-Catholic aesthetic. There were scrapes with various bishops of London, who often refused Headlam a license to officiate. Orens writes of one peeved prelate: "He had put up with Headlam s socialism, secularism, and ritualism, but he would not tolerate the advocacy of vice." The vice in question was Headlam s support of the theater. The young curate replied that "a strong faith in the Incarnation and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ sanctifies all human things [,] not excluding human mirth and beauty" (pp. 30-31). Such humorous and touching episodes occur throughout the book.

One of Headlam s most endearing features was his anti-puritanism. In ways which seem more appropriate to the struggles of our own day than of a century ago, Headlam came to the defense of those judged scandalous by society. Orens shows us an advocate, pastor, and friend of ballerinas and actresses often accused of being prostitutes. …

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