It is apparent from the early history of almost every people that the tribe almost always followed a pattern. Men killed game and farmed and protected the village; women raised children and maintained gardens; and the village itself was a network of such families. Their interactions over time eventually led to customs regulating their relations. These were enforced by a council of elders or a chief, together with the shaman. This is, after all, the reason for the Crucifixion of Our Lord: He is the God-King of the Jews, and the god-king of the Romans wouldn’t acknowledge another sovereign’s jurisdiction.
After the Ascension, the Gospel spread quickly among diverse conditions of men. After sporadic persecution, Christianity was legalized in Armenia (301), Rome (312), and Ethiopia (330) in rapid succession. Each time, legalization accompanied the conversion of a monarch, which became a pattern in later centuries. Emperor Constantine called the first worldwide council of the successors of the apostles to establish the basics of Christian belief, setting a precedent for the rest of history. The Church immediately fell away. Early on, the Syriac, Coptic and other Churches failed to endorse Councils following Nicea I. It is now believed that geographic, cultural and linguistic isolation, not theology, were at fault. The early division of the churches may even be viewed as a sort of canonical legal fiction. Over time, all Churches experienced heresy, establishing and disestablishing intercommunion on a rolling basis.
Since then, the Patriarchate of the West has undergone more schism than any other in Christendom. The secession of Continental Protestants from the Church was accompanied by schism with the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1534. In the 1770s, many Loyalist Anglicans in colonial North America, under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, fled the Revolution that produced the United States. Catastrophically, the frontier missions also left Anglicanism to form the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784. The few remaining Protestant Episcopalians only preserved the episcopate by presenting the Rev. Dr. Samuel Seabury of Connecticut to non-juring Scottish bishops for ordination.
Many remaining Episcopalians were Easterners from respected families; they and their descendants have been well represented among our statesmen, public servants and philanthropists. But by the time they returned to frontier mission, others had reached out to the future US heartland. Generations of average Americans lived and died without even learning to pronounce “pescetarian.” By and large, the Episcopalians were a society apart, speaking only to themselves. Further, the secularization of the US was a project of the elite, and devastated their religion first. Now, for the second time in four centuries, loyal Anglicans wander the desert, having lost the majority of their membership, their bishops, and their influence on American society. There is nothing new under the sun.
Here’s the kicker. US Christianity in general is so debased that none of the old rules apply. Not one. Once, Baptists and Methodists had the privilege of evangelizing what is now Middle America. Now, nondenominational churches even threaten the Baptists, who long and rightly considered theirs the most American of churches. Combined, non-Christians and non-observant Christians are now the bulk of our population. In the past, Americans were unchurched because large numbers of Christians lived on the frontier, where no church was available. Now, city dwellers actively avoid church on principle, and our social structure has changed, irreversibly. It was once said
“An Episcopalian is a Presbyterian with a trust fund/
A Presbyterian is a Methodist with a college degree/
A Methodist is a Baptist who can read/
And a Baptist is a Methodist without shoes.”
In my experience, this old joke never made sense. And not just because I grew up with Romans, Mormons and atheists. The descendants of many Episcopalians and Presbyterians are now nonbelievers, or have even joined Baptist churches in the belief that their theological conservatism, identified with the political Right, was secure. Those who became Baptists now associate liturgy with theological liberalism. Methodism is riven by the same debates as the Episcopal Church, and can only end up the same way.
For perspective, Ethiopia was the last host of Christendom. There, by the Grace of God, a monarch still ruled, until 1975, over a largely Christian population living in rural communities centered on monasteries. Ethiopia kept the Faith through Providence, of course, but let’s not ignore its isolation, homogeneous culture, and location on a plateau bordered by steep cliffs.
Against the Heathen
A warning: If a stable community doesn’t restore basic societal norms, only a rigid way of life prescribed by a totalitarian leader and circulated by mass media will be able to restore even a mutilated order. Europe, decimated by World War I, turned to the Fascists and the Communists. The US, which has never had any real cultural stability, has suffered the steady predations of abusive New Religious Movements for centuries. Our global mass culture now includes all people of consequence. If there is ever another world catastrophe, military, natural, or otherwise, another prophet-king could rise from the ashes of what went before. He would not dominate a country, as before, but mankind. Without a strong, unified Church to beg for the intercession of the Divine Emperor, that’s a real possibility. “It’s happened ere now, in the olden time.”
Now, we labor under no delusions. There is no Golden Age from which we have declined, only vanity and vexation of spirit. Next, we will examine Anglo-Catholic history specifically. It will bring us back to the present in due time.