Robert D. Crouse represents that paradigm of those catholic of scholars, whose investigations of the Christian tradition have consistently shown courageous sensitivity to its complex origins and trajectories from late antiquity to our present.
- Robert Dodaro (OCA) Instituto Patristico Augustinanum Divine Creation in Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Thought: Essays Presented to the Rev’d Dr. Robert Crouse (2007)
George Grant has been called Canada’s greatest political philosopher. To this day, his work continues to stimulate, challenge, and inspire Canadians to think more deeply about matters of social justice and individual responsibility.
- Athens and Jerusalem: George Grant’s Theology, Philosophy, and Politics (2006)
There can be little doubt that George Grant (1918-1988) and Robert Crouse (1930-2011), for different reasons, were two of the most significant Canadian Anglican intellectuals of the latter half of 20th and first decade of the 21st century. Grant was a public intellectual in a way Crouse never was, but Crouse had a depth to him (in his many probes into the Patristic-Medieval ethos) that Grant did not. Grant challenged the ideological nature of liberal modernity at a philosophical and political level in a way Crouse never did, but Crouse, in a detailed and meticulous manner, articulated and enucleated the complex nature of the Patristic-Medieval vision in a way Grant did not. Both men were deeply concerned about the passing away of a more classical vision of the soul, church and society and both attempted to retrieve the discarded image. Crouse was much more of an Anglican churchman than Grant, but Grant engaged the larger public square in a way Crouse never did.
I have been fortunate, over the last few decades, to do in depth work on George Grant and I have many a letter from Sheila Grant (George’s wife) on life at Dalhousie-King’s (where George began and ended his academic life). I also have many a letter from Robert Crouse, many a fond memory of visits with Robert (some fine photos also) when in Nova Scotia or when Robert visited the West Coast (Robert bunked in at our home). My interest, therefore, in the Anglican life and writings of George Grant and Robert Crouse is both of some academic interest but also of a personal nature. Hopefully, this essay will embody and reflect both these approaches.
The Anglican theologian that most impressed Grant was undoubtedly Austin Farrar.
- Robert Crouse (personal letter: March 3 1997)
Austin Farrar taught Grant a lot when they were at Oxford, more than C.S. Lewis.
- Sheila Grant (personal letter: August 18 1998)
George Grant began his academic life (after completing a PHD at Oxford) in the late 1940s at Dalhousie University in the philosophy department. It would be somewhat remiss to ignore the fact that Austin Farrar (certainly one of the most important Anglican theologians of the 20th century) had a significant role to play in Grant’s faith journey. Grant’s PHD, in many ways, bridged the often contentious divide between theology and philosophy, and his friendship with James Doull (Classics at Dalhousie) introduced Grant to a much deeper and fuller read of Plato. The complex combination, in Grant’s journey, of Farrar and Doull (the lasting impact of Farrar would go deeper and endure longer than Doull) did much to shape and inform Grant’s budding faith pilgrimage. It is significant, and rightly so, that, in recent years, more and more attention is being paid to Ferrar (who was also a close friend of C.S. Lewis—Lewis had quite an impact on Grant, also). Grant did, though, in the late 1940s-early 1950s, in many ways, recognize Doull as his guide into Classical philosophy. The fact they parted paths on how to read the ancients did mean two of the most significant Canadian philosophers of the 20th century did point to different places to understand and define the faith journey. Robert Crouse, as a student of Grant and Doull, had to decide, in time, where he would turn and why.
The young Robert Crouse attended Dalhousie University-King’s College and graduated with a BA (with Distinction) in 1951----not many finish their BA with Distinction when only 21 years of age---Robert was, obviously, a gifted young man. Robert continued his studies at King’s (Divinity) and Dalhousie (Philosophy) from 1951-52—George Grant and Robert Crouse did many a class together between between 1947 &1952, Grant the aspiring professor (in his 30s) and Crouse the gifted and eager student (in his 20s).
The fact that Grant via Doull was deepening his understanding of philosophy from a classical perspective meant that his notion of philosophy (unlike the more scientistic attitude of logical positivism that he had encountered at Oxford) was, increasingly so, contemplative philosophy (and, by extension, contemplative theology). The publication in 1951 of Grant’s “Philosophy” in the much heralded Massey Commission seriously vexed the philosophic Sanhedrin in Canada. Grant suggested in “Philosophy” that much of modern philosophy, by turning against the depth and wisdom of the past, had seriously distorted the meaning and purpose of philosophy (in the realm of experience, thought and life). It was Grant’s immersion in the thinking of Plato and Aristotle that took him to such places. Fulton Anderson led the armada contra Grant, and in the 1952 gathering of the philosophic elders in Canada, Grant was the target of their fury---the ancients and the moderns were very much on a collision course. The young Robert Crouse certainly leaned in Grant’s direction. The ancients, in short, had still much to teach if we have but the ears to hear and souls to welcome.
George and Sheila Grant became, formally, in 1956 Anglicans (Sheila from a Roman Catholic and George from a United-Presbyterian backgrounds). Bishop Davis brought them into the life of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), and both, in their different ways, were to challenge the drift and direction of a type of liberal ideology that was about to dominate the ACC. Robert Crouse was at Harvard in the mid-1950s (he once told me that Grant had suggested he study at Harvard after leaving King’s-Dalhousie---there was a significant renewal of Patristics Studies there in the 1950s). The fact that Werner Jaeger was at Harvard University in the 1950s (and at the cutting edge of classical-patristic studies) does need to be noted. Doull studied with Jaeger, but, in time, Doull would part paths with Jaeger’s read of the ancients. Grant and Crouse (Crouse more than Grant) would argue that the classical tradition (Greek-Patristic synthesis) embodied a depth and perennial relevance we ignore to the peril of soul, church and society, whereas Doull would suggest that the classical phase of human thought and culture (following Hegel) anticipated but did not adequately or fully embody the modern liberal ethos in which we live, move and have our being.
Grant emerged in Canadian life in the 1950s as one of the most prominent public intellectuals---he was becoming well published and a regular participant, speaker and lecturer on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) circuit. Crouse was still feeling his way, and Doull, certainly, did not have the public profile that Grant did in the 1950s (in fact, Doull never did have the public persona that Grant had). Grant took a Sabbatical in England in 1956-1957, and a variety of diverse ideas were at work in his research. Much of his work, in a broader way, was delivered on the CBC in 1959. The book from the lectures became Grant’s first significant public philosophic missive that engaged the issue of the ancients and moderns. “Philosophy and the Mass Age was Grant’s first book, and it drew together much of the thought of the Dalhousie years” (Collected Works of George Grant: Volume 2, 1951-1959, p. xxxi). A read of Philosophy and the Mass Age makes it abundantly clear why Grant thought the ancients were superior to the Hegelian moderns (as this becomes, in time, played out in American and Canadian thought, life and public culture).
Robert Crouse at the time Grant was waxing in a mature way about the co-opting of thought and public life by liberalism was attending Trinity College (a High Church Anglican College with emerging post-WWII liberal tendencies). The Low Church Anglican College across the street was Wycliffe College. It was quite natural that Crouse would attend Trinity rather than Wycliffe given his catholic Anglican commitments and studies. Robert finished his studies at Trinity with a M.Th. in 1957 (1st class honours) with a thesis on “St. Augustine’s Doctrine of Justitia”. The probes that Robert was making into the deeper dimensions of Christian Patristic theology pointed in vocational directions that he would mature in as the years unfolded---Grant never went in such a direction. Much of Robert’s work presupposed the validity of the Christian vision and its ongoing relevance and significance. Grant’s life was lived out at a public university in which Christendom was over, various forms of science, rationalism and secularism dominated and religion (when studied) was viewed in an empirical, sociological and pluralistic manner. Grant’s task, unlike Crouse’s, was to highlight the worrisome side of ideological liberalism and point the way to alternate ways of being and thinking—Crouse’s work was to walk the interested and committed further down the path that Grant pointed to. There must, in short, be some curiosity and interest in the Christian Tradition if an in depth study is going to be made of it. Those who have no interest in Christianity are not likely to give their time, attention, energy and finances to learning more about the classical-patristic-medieval-early modern thought (or Anglicanism which is part of such a narrative). In short, Crouse’s role is significant for those who see the issues for what they are. Grant’s task was to illuminate, for the unwary and uncritical, how they were enfolded in liberal ideology, what such enfolding meant when unfolded and options to the inadequacies of liberal modernity in the church and world.
When Robert Crouse was at Trinity College in the 1950s, he would have studied with Eugene Fairweather (“Mr. Theological Canada”). Fairweather was, without much doubt, one of the most learned catholic Anglicans in North America at the time (and, like Robert, of Nova Scotia loyalist stock and breeding). Crouse would, when at Trinity, contribute an article to Fairweather’s book, A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Occam (1956). The publication of Fairweather’s The Oxford Movement in 1964 established Fairweather as a prominent catholic Anglican at the time, but the definition and meaning of catholicity was about to be challenged and redefined in many ways. The worldview and ideological shifts that were taking place in the larger world were, naturally, going to work themselves out in seminaries, church and parish life, though. The emerging liberal paradigm was, in time, going to redefine catholic Anglicanism and the tensions and clashes between Fairweather (1920-2002) and Crouse (1930-2012) bring substantive differences, at the core and centre, into the crosshairs. Crouse was, like Grant, very much moving in a classical catholic direction—Fairweather was heading in a liberal catholic direction from which, in time, the notion of catholicity would become shaped and defined by the prejudices of liberalism. These tensions were in seed form when Crouse studied with Fairweather in the 1950s at Trinity College. The reality of the Hegelian liberal tradition in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada would bud, blossom and bear much fruit in the ensuing decades. But, the Farrar-Grant-Crouse counter culture and fifth column opposition to the emerging liberal establishment (of which Fairweather and Doull would embody) was very much just under the soil in the 1950s.
The fact Crouse taught at Trinity College from 1954-1957 (while studying there—he spent the summer term of 1955 at Tubingen) meant he and Fairweather had plenty of interaction. Fairweather, like Grant and Doull, were Robert’s elders by about a decade or more. Much was occurring at Trinity College in the 1950s that would have a substantive impact on the Anglican Church of Canada and Robert Crouse was in the thick of the fray. Robert did go to Harvard again from 1957-1960, and in those years, his interest and commitment to the Patristic ethos (and its impact on Medieval Christendom—which, in time, became Robert’s focus) was clarified and sharpened. Grant was about to make a serious change in his academic journey by 1960 that would have a substantive impact on his life and the larger Canadian intellectual public discourse.
The Anglican Church of Canada was going in one direction---Grant and Crouse in another direction.
III. Grant and Crouse: The times they are a changin’ (Bob Dylan 1964)
George Grant always claimed that Lament for a Nation had been misunderstood.
- Sheila Grant (“Afterword,” Lament for a Nation)
I’m not sure I disagree with Grant’s conservatism, except that I think it needs the nutriment of a fuller historical understanding (e.g. Grant pretty much skipped from Plato to S. Weil, with a passing nod to St. Augustine) and a deeper institutional commitment than he seemed to consider necessary.
- Robert Crouse (Personal letter: March 3 1997)
When Robert Crouse left Harvard in 1960, he was offered the position of Assistant Professor of Church History and Patristics at Bishop’s University (where he taught from 1960-1963). Bishop’s had been an English speaking Anglican College in Quebec and, to some degree, the Anglican respect for church history and patristics still lingered on-Robert was the bearer of such a line and lineage—his training at Dalhousie-King’s in Halifax, Trinity College in Toronto and Harvard (where a Patristic revival was afoot) prepared Robert well for his position at Bishop’s. Grant had left Dalhousie by 1960, was temporarily hired as the first professor in philosophy at the newly established York University in Toronto, but a clash with his old philosophical nemesis, Fulton Anderson (University of Toronto) led to his resignation at York.
Grant, unlike Crouse, entered the lion’s den where science, rationalism and secularism reigned and did battle. Grant saw, all too clearly, that new gods had come to dominate the cultural and educational scene and if such gods were not challenged, interest in Christian thought, life and culture would become an irrelevant and fading reality, significant only for a shrinking minority—the Anglican Church, would, as part of the passing of the Christian ethos, go the way of all flesh.
As Crouse was settling in at Bishop’s, Grant through the assistance, ironically enough, of two leading liberal Anglicans (Michael Creal and William Kilbourn—who taught History at McMaster) was offered the position as founding chair of Religious Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
The implicit premises of liberalism that were scarcely under the soil in the 1950s burst forth with rapid growth, in an explicit way, in society and the church in the 1960s, and the Anglican Church of Canada was front and centre in such a historic reality. The General Board of Religious Education of the Anglican Church of Canada invited (via Ernest Harrison) in 1963 a significant Canadian journalist (Pierre Berton) to write a book on faith, the church and Canadian life. The book was published in 1965 as The Comfortable Pew—the book was an immediate best seller (more than 150,000 printed and sold in the first few years). The Comfortable Pew was unabashedly a defence of the liberal agenda and a justification for why the church should assimilate into the spirit of the age. Needless to say, reactions were intense (pro-contra). The Anglican Church of Canada replied to Berton’s book in a more nuanced and moderate way with This Restless Church: A Response to the Comfortable Pew (1966)---William Kilbourn was the editor of the many essays-Michael Creal was also involved, as was Eugene Fairweather. Kilbourn, Creal and Fairweather did not go as far as Berton in their embrace of liberal modernity, but they were on the same path. Ernest Harrison, who initiated the invitation to Berton, published A Church Without God in 1967. There could be no doubt that Harrison was going further down the secular liberal path than Berton, but one and all were on the same trajectory at some of the highest levels of the Anglican Church of Canada.
It is apt and significant to note that Grant’s Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism was published in 1965. Grant, like Daniel before him, saw the writing on the wall, and, like Jeremiah, lamented the passing away of the grandeur of the Christian ethos and vision. Sheila Grant rightly noted that most readers of Lament for a Nation misunderstood the deeper intent and content of the political missive and manifesto. The store front of Lament was the defeat of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker by Lester Pearson in the 1963 Federal election. Pearson was a keener on President Kennedy (and the USA as the great good place)—both were liberals at a variety of worrisome levels. Diefenbaker (although imperfect and flawed—Grant does note this) stood for an older Tory way. Grant was, therefore, just not only lamenting the defeat of the Progressive Conservative Party by the Liberals—he was lamenting the passing away of way of seeing, thinking and living a more substantive Tory worldview and way of life. Grant saw more than most in the 1960s (both in the world and the church) that the liberal ideology was becoming hegemonic and imperial—those who dared to differ with such an agenda would be marginalized—Harrison, Berton, Creal, Fairweather and many other Anglicans had uncritically bought into such an agenda. Grant lamented both the uncritical attitude of the church towards liberalism and the lack of understanding of an older Toryism by the cause de jour liberals.
The publication of Lament for a Nation turned to Richard Hooker’s oft quoted comments in Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity that was directed at the puritans of his time: “Posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted things to pass away as in a dream”. The puritans of Hooker’s day were, at a deeper philosophic level, not much different than the liberals of Grant’s day—Grant connected the dots well and wisely. Grant, of course, had little or no patience for Berton’s triteness and trivia in The Comfortable Pew, he thought Harrison to be a silly reactionary and he did not contribute to The Restless Church (although an article by Grant might have been of some worth). The publication of Lament for a Nation, like The Comfortable Pew, pointed in different directions—the former an in depth articulation of a classical Tory tradition, the latter a genuflecting to liberalism at a variety of ethical and religious levels. The Anglican Church of Canada heeded Berton, and decades later, the implication of such a heeding , led to the splitting of the Anglican Church of Canada into the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) and the larger and more conservative North American opposition to the dominance of a liberal ideology in both the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church. The Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), although conservative in tone and texture, certainly lacks the deeper Toryism that Grant understood and articulated so well in Lament for a Nation. It is significant to note that Robert Crouse (considered by most as the Abba of the Canadian BCP-PBS) had more affinities with Grant’s High Tory form of politics than many within the PBS that lean in a more Blue Tory or American conservative republican direction—this does need to be noted, and, in many important ways, it links Crouse and Grant with another fan of the BCP: Eugene Forsey. Forsey, Grant and Crouse were Tories of a more classical political sense—somewhat suspicious of the captains of industry, pro-state as a mean of bringing about an imperfect common good and wary of American imperial ambitions (the New Romans).
It is somewhat essential to realize, also, that the catholic BCP-PBS vision of Crouse and followers would be much less inclined to split from the Anglican Church of Canada and join ANiC-ACNA—their catholic commitment to the unity of the church in a spiritual, formal and material way did mean a parting of the paths with ACiN-ACNA. This did create quite a clash within the Canadian classical catholic Anglicanism over how, in an ecclesial sense, same sex blessing and, earlier, the ordination of female priests, would be handled. The differences between Bishop Don Harvey (thoroughly catholic in life and commitment and first bishop of ANiC) and Robert Crouse could not be more stark and revealing on this issue---Harvey led the schism charge, Crouse opposed it.
The publication of Lament in 1965 further consolidated Grant’s position in Canada as a leading public intellectual. Robert Crouse left Bishop’s by 1963 and returned to Dalhousie (where he was an Assistant Professor of Classics from 1963-1967). Robert would remain at Dalhousie for the rest of his academic life while also teaching at King’s. The Maritime Anglican tradition at Dalhousie-King’s still had much of the older Tory touch in its blood and bones and Robert became a model and mentor for many on how to understand the best of the time tried Anglican way in the church, university and public realm. The fact that Robert was becoming an established Patristic scholar by the 1960s-1970s-1980s (and publications were multiplying aplenty) meant he attracted the attention of Roman Catholics. Crouse was invited to be a visiting Professor of Patrology at the Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome in 1991, 1995 and 1998. It is virtually impossible to imagine Grant being offered such a prestigious position. Robert had also, in 1986, published his insightful book, Images of Pilgrimage: Paradise and Wilderness in Christian Spirituality through St. Peter Publications (an Anglican conservative publishing house in Charlottetown PEI).
There can be no doubt that Robert Crouse had emerged as a classical catholic within the Anglican Church of Canada in the latter decades of the 20th century. He was deeply respected both for his piety, pastoral compassion and learning. The fact he was a founder of the annual Atlantic Theological Conferences that began in 1981 (as an attempt to clearly articulate the historic theological and liturgical meaning of the Anglican heritage) meant Robert was seen as an elder within the Anglican family who could articulate, in a thoughtful, measured, reasonable and historic way why and how the Anglican Church was losing its way by genuflecting uncritically to the liberal agenda. Crouse’s
many contributions to the Atlantic Theological Conferences (and his insights offered) have been able tracked by Wayne Hankey (one of Robert’s earlier disciples of sorts) in his superb article, “Visio: The Method of Robert Crouse’s Philosophical Theology”. Hankey’s article is one of the finest introductions and overviews of Crouse’s multilayered thinking---a must read for those interested in the importance and significance of Crouse for Canadian Anglican thought and life in the latter half of the 20th century (when the culture wars were waged with much intensity within the world and church).
When George and Sheila Grant (and growing family) left Dalhousie in Halifax, they eventually settled in Dundas (on the outskirts of Hamilton where McMaster University is located). The Grant family attended St. James’ parish in Dundas throughout most of the 1960s-1970s (before returning to Halifax in the early 1980s). The three rectors’ at St. James (when the Grant family attended) were front and centre in moving the Anglican Church of Canada (both in their diocese and national levels) more and more into the liberal fold: John Bothwell: 1960-1965, Joachim Fricker: 1965-1973 and Philip Jefferson: 1973-1984. George and Sheila did, in time, after the initial honeymoon phase at St. James’ was over, come to differ, on essential philosophical points, with Bothwell, Fricker and Jefferson. Grant was called, by some, the bishop of the area. Robert Crouse is right, of course, in his critique of Grant. The more the Anglican Church came to embrace the liberal agenda, the more Grant withdrew from parish, diocesan and national church life. Sheila was more faithful to parish life, but even she, in time, stepped out of the troubling fray. The publication of Saint James’ Dundas Sesquicentennial: Addressing Change in the Church in 1989 (Anglican Book Centre) could not be more poignant. Most of the contributors were either moderately or uncritically changing with the times at the levels of principle, theory and practice. The article by George and Sheila dealt with the controversial issue of abortion and the too easy way the Anglican Church of Canada, with reservations, approved of a pro-choice agenda.
Robert Crouse, unlike Grant, remained in the struggles and, unlike Grant, dug deeper and deeper into the subtle and motherlode depths of the Christian tradition—Grant lacked the nuance and depth of Crouse. The article by Hankey, mentioned above, highlights in sensitive detail, Crouse’s commitment to the Prayer Book, the Fathers impact on Medieval Christian thought and the ongoing relevance of the Great Tradition for the modern and postmodern ethos. The publication (a festschrift of sorts for Robert Crouse), Divine Creation in Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Thought: Essays Presented to the Rev’d Dr.
Robert Crouse, is most telling. Each of the essays is an in depth probe of the fullness of the classical past and the implications (by being ignored, banished or discarded) for the present. St. Peter Publications also hosts The Recollected Pastor: the pastoral & academic writings of Dr. Robert Crouse on their website.
There can be no doubt that Grant and Crouse had many of the same concerns. Grant was much more a public intellectual than was Crouse and his vocation took him to places in the public realm Crouse did not go. Crouse, on the other hand, like James Doull, had a depth to his thinking that Grant did not. Grant and Crouse, in their different ways, were very much prophetic Tories---certainly not uncritical liberals but also not reactionary conservatives of blue tory philistinism. The last few years have seen a variety of articles on Grant and Doull in print—the time is nearing when essays need to appear on Grant, Crouse and Doull—much will be illuminated by such a revealing.