Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain, 1830-1910

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain, 1830-1910

Article excerpt

Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain, 1830-1910. By Nigel Yates. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999. xiv + 455 pp. L60.00/$99.00 (cloth).

For many years Nigel Yates has been publishing occasional articles on aspects of the local growth of Anglo-Catholicism in Britain in the nineteenth century. The quality and detail of these has been such that it was obvious that they could constitute the core of a formidable and important monograph. This has at last appeared, and it is by no means a disappointment. Far from merely rolling up disparate essays into what would have been an uneven-if nevertheless useful-book, Yates has completely rewritten and considerably expanded his material to produce what will surely become for many years a definitive account of the growth of Anglican ritualism.

The bulk of the material is confined to the British Isles, as the title suggests, though there are some interesting pages on ritualism in North America and the colonies. The great merit of this book lies in its daunting thoroughness. An immense amount of detail has been assembled here, covering at first glance every aspect of the institutional and liturgical development of ritualism in Britain. Yates's method is to avoid flashy generalizations (of which the history of Anglo-Catholicism has produced many), or provocative arguments supported by the minimum evidence necessary to buttress the case, in favour of testing specific hypotheses through the patient and, at times exhaustive, accumulation of local narrative. Time and again, this pays off handsomely. Yates quietly debunks the myth of ritual success in the slums, for example, demonstrating that there is little evidence to support the contention that ceremonial flamboyance of the ritualists was any more successful at attracting working-class congregations that any other form of religious expression. He charts the diffusion of specific ritual practices through the Anglican churches in Britain, refining the common suggestion that Anglo-Catholicism took root most deeply in London and in coastal resorts (the `London, Brighton and South Coast' religion myth-a designation which, incidentally, owes more to the name of one of the old railway companies than it does to the geography of ritualism). He also questions the belief of some Anglo-Catholics that ritualism faced constant 'betrayal' by the bishops: instead, as he demonstrates so convincingly, above all the growth of ritualism in the end owed much to the High Church bishops' policy of trying to restrain extreme ritual in order to countenance that which could legitimately be claimed as consonant with Anglican tradition. …

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