Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Love Divine

I was just reading about John Wesley's ideas about Christian Perfection. Unfortunately, it started a "movement", (we at the Picnic are opposed to "movements") the Holiness Movement. Like all good ideas not guided by the Church it ended badly, with Pentecostalism and all sorts of tent-oriented weirdness. But the idea itself seems in its origin to be more or less indistinguishable from St. Francis de Sales' doctrine of holiness attainable in ordinary life.

Apparently, I'm not alone in that realisation. Wesley was persecuted for his attempts to bring the Anglos back to a real Christian faith.

Too bad it failed.

From 1739 onward, Wesley and the Methodists were persecuted by clergymen and magistrates because they preached without being ordained or licensed by the Anglican Church. This was seen as a social threat that disregarded institutions. Ministers attacked them in sermons and in print, and at times mobs attacked them. Wesley and his followers continued to work among the neglected and needy. They were denounced as promulgators of strange doctrines, fomenters of religious disturbances; as blind fanatics, leading people astray, claiming miraculous gifts, attacking the clergy of the Church of England, and trying to re-establish Catholicism.

Wesley felt that the church failed to call sinners to repentance, that many of the clergymen were corrupt, and that people were perishing in their sins. He believed he was commissioned by God to bring about revival in the church; and no opposition, persecution, or obstacles could prevail against the divine urgency and authority of this commission. The prejudices of his high-church training, his strict notions of the methods and proprieties of public worship, his views of the apostolic succession and the prerogatives of the priest, even his most cherished convictions, were not allowed to stand in the way.

I wish again that Mr. Wesley's ideas had taken hold in the Anglican Church, as he meant them to.

Things would have been better.



Anonymous said...


Hmm...English Methodists must be a different sort from the American variety.

Growing up in Western New York, where over 60% of folks were Catholic, I encountered few. I knew LOTS however in the 10 years we spent in Virginia. There, my experience was more like the great line in "A River Runs Through It"

- "Methodists are just Baptists who can read."

Zach said...

Hilary, will you stop reading my mind this week! I was just contemplating that very thing.

In America, there's Methodists and there's Methodists. United Methodists are just Episcopalians/Anglicans with less funny clothing and no incense. Free Methodists/Wesleyans are more like what you're describing.

My high school spiritual formation was with the Wesleyans ("Holiness Movement" Methodists).

And yes indeedy, the things that separated us from other Protestant Evangelicals now look oddly Catholic to me. Attainable holiness in ordinary life, for one. Rejection of that "once saved, always saved" presumption was another.


Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Oh Zach, if you were here, I'd smack you.

Zach said...

"Well, isn't that special?" :)

What, did I violate the interdict again?

Anonymous said...

* "Sing lustily and with good courage" is a quote from the Anglican psalter (Ps 33:3).

* St François and J. Wesley certainly had similar outlooks on the spiritual life – a point of reference might be Scupoli's The Spiritual Combat , which they both knew and used.

* Jon: yikes!


Anonymous said...

You have to give it to them -the Weslyans thought souls are worth trying to save. I have experience with those of Wesley's charism in the states -they preach the Gospel as they understand it.

Catholics can look down on the fundies when their own Mendicant orders, and others, are taking the Gospel to the streets again.


Sue Sims said...

Have you read Mgr Knox's 'Enthusiasm'? He suggests (using evidence from Wesley's Journals) that Wesley was as a young man attracted at one point by the Catholic faith, though it never went further than that. He certainly drew on Catholic authors for much of his own spiritual reading.


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