Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Maude Royden's Sacramental Theology of Sex and Love

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Maude Royden's Sacramental Theology of Sex and Love

Article excerpt

Historians of twentieth-century women and scholars of twentieth-century theology have operated largely in isolation from one another, despite Ann Braude's influential claim that "women's history is religious history." This isolation has contributed to the neglect of Maude Royden (1876-1956), a feminist preacher and religious writer who promoted the ordination of women and was known throughout the English-speaking world in the 1920s and 1930s. If scholars pay attention to Royden at all, they tend to focus on her interwar writings about sex and marriage or on her earlier suffrage and pacifist activities. The religious context of her writings has gone mostly unnoticed." Royden's influence challenges pictures of this period as one of religious decline, and her ideas provide windows into a feminist theology that energized those on the church's margins, particularly single women. The 1920s and 1930s were significant for religious debates in general and Anglican debates in particular, with great controversy over divorce, birth control, and the 1928 Proposed Book of Common Prayer, whose failure in Parliament raised pressing questions about the church's relationship to the state. J Royden both contributed to these debates and stimulated some of her own.

Royden's marginality lies behind both her neglect by religious historians and her relevance for the church today. In voicing the concerns of unmarried women, she raised questions about the purpose of marriage, questions with which the church still struggles. Royden argued that sacramentality lay in loving relationships, not the marriage rite, echoing the theologies of St. Augustine and the 1549 Anglican marriage rite. She integrated these theologies with modern psychological notions of the libido, helping subvert Christianity's historic suspicion of sex and contributing to emergent notions of companionate, egalitarian marriage, or what Marcus Collins has termed "mutuality." At the same time, Royden's prioritization oflove over sex enabled her to defend celibacy as a legitimate, even holy, lifestyle at a time when sexologists and many others viewed it as deviant, and gave a special place to same-sex love even as she labeled it "abnormal."

MAUDE ROYDEN

Royden was born disabled, "lame," in the language of the time, which shaped her empathy for those who felt different from their peers. Born in 1876 to a wealthy Liverpool family, she read Modern History at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and then returned to Liverpool to do settlement work. She moved south to lecture for the Oxford Extension program and became prominent in the suffrage and pacifist movements. Working among the poor evolved into teaching the poor and then preaching to the poor, after her appointment in 1917 as "pulpit assistant" at the Congregationalist City Temple Church by the American clergyman Joseph Newton.

Royden had discerned a spiritual vocation within herself and, as Joy Milos put it, "she believed that by accepting this controversial position [at the City Temple] she would show the Church of England that women had a valid call to ministry."" She remained a committed Anglican after she moved into non-denominational ministry. In 1920, Royden co-founded the Fellowship Guild for spiritual renewal with the hymnologist and clergyman Percy Dearmer and the musician Martin Shaw. The Fellowship Guild became the Guildhouse in 1921, when it moved to a former Congregationalist chapel in Eccleston Square, and it constituted something of a religious experiment - a successful one, attracting up to one thousand people to its services.10 Royden and her colleagues sought to construct a sacred space for both believers and seekers. They experimented with increased lay participation, especially that of women; the integration of modern Biblical criticism and the hard and soft sciences, particularly psychology; interfaith dialogue; and a blend of traditional and modern music. Royden based her integration of modern ideas and people on a theology that sought to recapture the fellowship of early Christianity. …

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