Socialist politics and outlook have had a part in Anglicanism for many years. In the early years of the twentieth century a number of Anglo Catholic priests, no doubt influenced by the political rise of socialism and the social conditions in which they ministered, metaphorically, and even literally, raised a red flag, challenging ‘the apostasy and corruption of the Church, her pandering to the rich and respectable…’
Among such priests Conrad Noel (1869 – 1942) the ‘Red Vicar’ of Thaxted was a notable leader. Noel was inspired by his faith and his Anglican upbringing to proclaim his Christianity in a radical and challenging way. The Church of England should be, he said, a ‘red army fighting for God and Christ.’ In Thaxted Church the red flag, the flag of Sinn Fein and the flag of St George for a time hung together.
In 1918 Noel formed the socialist Anglican group the ‘Catholic Crusade’ whose rallying cry was responded to in several parishes around England. The Crusade aimed to show its members the essentially Christian nature of socialism. The Crusade produced liturgies and prayers for members, often rewriting the traditional words into forms intended to inspire, challenge and even provoke.
In this Anglican tradition Mary and the Magnificat had an important role. It was a role, however, with a different emphasis to that traditionally found in Anglo Catholicism. Members of the Catholic Crusade were encouraged to pray the ‘Rosary of Redemption’ and praise God for ‘Mary, the patriot maiden of Galilee and the Mother of Mankind, whose eager heart aflame with justice, drew God down out of his Heaven to redeem the race.’ Mary is spoken of with fervour and passion, often political passion.
Theologically the comrades of the Catholic Crusade toned down some traditional terms for Mary such as, Virgin, Queen, Sinless, preferring more simple language such as ‘Blessed Mary’ or ‘Mary, Mother of Mankind’ and earthy and radical terminology. This point is shown particularly in the Crusade’s rewriting of the ‘Divine Praises.’ The vision of Mary was interwoven with the politics of the day, thus in 1947, on August 15th, Mass at St Peter, Becontree celebrated not only the Assumption of Mary but also the beginning of the end of the British Empire.
The Catholic Crusade is no more. Its radical challenge is somewhat dormant in Anglicanism today but it has inspired many, including, for example, Fr John Groser, Fr Alan Ecclestone and Fr Ken Leech, and members of the later Jubilee Group.
Writing about Noel, the Catholic Crusade and the church of today Professor John Orens comments that there is a need today for ” listening to community and to God. What we need are not programmes so much as vision, the courage to dream and the courage to act on our dreams. Challenges await, but that is the price of adventure, and for Noel it was adventure that made life worth living.”
Perhaps the time is coming for a radical and challenging Anglo Catholic vision to interpret Mary for today.
This post is part of a series of blog posts about Mary in the Anglican tradition. We consider different interpretations of Mary in word and image, as found in the Anglican church.