Second Sunday of Advent

This is the second of this series of devotions and organ music for the Sundays of Advent

J.S. Bach, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 739

St Paul announces the Messiah of all Jews and Gentiles alike. And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.

Johannes Brahms, Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen

We live in terror of the end of the world or any number of calamities, but there is another way to see the eschatological Kingdom. We must be ready, not to fear, and wait… This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Dietrich Buxtehude, Chacone.

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Freedom of the Sublime

I come from a fairly “establishment” kind of background, from a conservative and hard-working northern English family. Like many of my time (1960’s) I yearned for a kind of freedom that I did not know how to define or express. The Establishment seemed to control and oppress. It is an old problem that goes into history. It is the reaction against one power group, and sometimes creates a revolution of the kind that happened in Catholic Europe in the sixteenth century, in France or nihilist Russia.

As a child, I was so anti-authoritarian that my father suspected psychological problems, for which an adapted education seemed to offer a solution. At age 12, I dreamed of stealing a boat and chasing the “lost chord” somewhere in the world. I started stealing things and smoking cigarettes. Fortunately I stopped short of drugs. Something gnawed at me from within. After an inconclusive experiment with Wennington School in Yorkshire, my father decided on bringing me back to the Establishment and a traditional school. Eventually I adapted. Christianity and the outward trappings of churches and church music attracted me. I was sensitive to beauty and something bigger, higher and nobler than myself. I had difficulties with the social aspect of school on account of what turned out to be autism much later in my life.

Throughout my life, I oscillated between the Establishment with its promises and a notion of wildness and “freedom”. I still feel this dialectic within me, but am able to master it rationally. A little knowledge of Hegel will explain many of these feelings in my youthful mind. Thesis – antithesis – synthesis is the classical slogan. Many of us vacillate and stability in spiritual peace comes in life as we mature and balance realities with our deepest desires and Sehnsucht.

Living a fairly isolated life since my separation in April 2021, I have followed events in the world through mainstream and “independent” sources of news and information. Google News in both French and English gave most of the main newspaper stories about whatever subject interests us. Signs of the Times is quite conspiracy theorist, and I take everything with a big pinch of salt. One can go as far as David Icke and his theories of Archons in the form of shape-shifting alien reptiles disguising themselves as humans. Perhaps he would have done better to use the analogy of the Fallen Angels, the demons of hell. These theories begin to become so absurd that we are pushed back to the Establishment and the mainstream. Yet, the conspiracy theories are based on an underlying mythology of the dialectic between society and individual freedom. It would seem that we are all torn.

For decades since the end of World War II (I was born only 14 years after the suicide of Hitler), we trusted our leaders and politicians to care for the common good and the rule of law in our societies. In my childhood, it was the same in my family, at school and in public life: there were rules to follow. Care for other people and they will care for us. We respected those in authority from my father to my schoolmaster, from the policeman on his beat to the Queen and the government. There were constraints, but nothing essentially against our conscience. Then came the lying politician, sleaze and the fractures in the social contract.

Brexit affected me, but less than if I had been living in England. I had already been living in wider Europe, another and greater Establishment for many years. At first, I let myself get into arguments and writing polemical articles on this blog (which I removed), and then… It is a bigger problem than any of us. What really brought on the Angst was the Covid pandemic.

Coming from a scientific and medical family, I knew something about epidemics and the care we have to take, especially hygiene and social distancing. Covid 19 seemed so devastating that we accepted the lockdown which was much less strict than the ones in China. The world fell silent. There were no aeroplanes in the sky, few cars on the road, just people going for essential food shopping. We were in solidarity with the sick and those who were caring for them. We were living in a state of emergency and told to stay at home. That was not difficult in the early months of 2020 living in the countryside. There was still the garden and things to do to the boat. No work came in for three months, and fortunately I was eligible for financial aid to small businesses from the French government. There were plenty of things to do, at least for me.

As time wore on, the lockdown was relaxed in stages and I was finally allowed to go sailing in late spring. We were wearing masks even outdoors, but it was obvious to me that this was absolutely unnecessary when I was hundreds of metres away from the nearest person. It made sense in a public indoor space like a shop, a bus, a train, the bank or whatever. After all, the government was listening to the scientists and doctors, and making the most prudent decisions in the face of this new strain of the coronavirus. It all seemed to be almost over in the summer. Then came the “waves” like the Spanish Flu of 1918, of which the most murderous was the second.

As the “waves” succeeded each other, people started to get angry about the loss of their freedoms. Freedoms to do what? On the whole, to socialise, to go to mass gatherings, rave parties and the like. I don’t feel the need for that degree of social life or “hanging out” with friends. As a child, I could play in the garden and be with nature alone for hours. To this day, perhaps 90% of my life is in “lockdown”, either at home or otherwise alone. I treasure the moments I spend with a good and kind person, and nothing gives me greater joy than to help, like running an electric wire to a neighbouring house whose tenant had problems with his connection, before the electricity board sent a team to do the repair. This good man, a retired landscaper and gardener, then helped me prune my hazelnut trees and dispose of the cut-off branches. Little things that make life worth living.

I had my vaccinations in the spring and the summer. I was able to get the first a little early because I don’t have 100% confidence in my lungs. I used to smoke and I react badly to common colds, often by a spell of laryngitis and inability to sing. Someone in a shop coughed over me, a cold that was so bad that I wonder if it was an early and mild form of Covid. I will never know, but I recovered from it and my voice returned. I got my second dose of Astra Zeneca in July this year from the village pharmacy just over the road from my doctor.

We then had a succession of variants, the most murderous being Delta, first found in India. Cardinal Burke spent time in intensive care and a priest from my old seminary has recently died in hospital. Ravaged lungs and nervous systems! This is not flu and certainly not the common cold, yet most people suffer no more than that. Covid 19 beats all we already know about viruses of this type, which are not Ebola or HIV. This one is caught like a common cold. We catch it, and we might get away with a mild illness or find ourselves in hospital, in intensive care, on a ventilator or dead. Even apparently healthy people can die from this virus. It gives us enough to be very afraid – for ourselves and our loved ones.

Now we learn of a new variant discovered in South Africa, called Omicron (fortunately not Omega). It contains scores of mutations and seems to be quite unstable. It is much more contagious. Beyond that, the scientists are working around the clock in their labs and glove boxes. The remaining two questions are whether the existing vaccines will still work and whether this new variant makes people as sick or sicker than Delta. Some experts already think that this variant would infect just about all of us and cause no more than the symptoms of a common cold. If that is so, it will displace Delta and the pandemic will be over. No more vaccines, lockdowns, masks or anything. Life returns to normal and we can catch that plane and go on holiday when we want. The virus gets what it wants (being endemic) and stops killing and maiming people. Dr John Campbell supports this hypothesis.

I have always took this very seriously, and I have made the same sacrifices as most people living in France and Europe. I obeyed the rules and took the attitude that this is for the common good. Do good to others and they will do good to us.

Then the other narrative came in. We will not take a vaccine. The politicians and government are lying to us. We have lost our freedom. We must “wake up” and fight, stage demonstrations and riots, join extreme right-wing parties, loot and pillage, beat people up. Freedoms against “liberticide”, our rights! That was me at 12, except that I just wanted to run away, not join the mob. They want to be released from all constraint. For what? Their rave parties? Night clubs and discotheques? That, at least, is the caricature that we see on the news. Does it correspond with real people with whom we could dialogue on their own? I am not so sure.

One figure I have listened to is Dr John Campbell, a virologist and someone who has devoted his life to training nurses. His view has evolved in respect of the vaccination programme. They are not as effective as they were once touted to be. The governments are telling us that we need a third shot, and I have my appointment for 11th January. However, I would go with less conviction than the other two times. I have always trusted Dr Campbell and his scientific and unpolitical integrity. One thing makes me smell a rat, or rather two things. The number of hospital beds is being reduced. What is more alarming is that Pfizer and Moderna are not letting go of their patents for the sake of a humanitarian gesture. They want every cent of the money they are making. When this pandemic is over, I hope governments around the world with tax the guts out of Big Pharma! How many politicians and members of the scientific community and the medical profession are having their palms greased to maintain the emergency beyond what might be the reality?

There seems to be another agenda, perhaps to an extent making conspiracy theories true threats. I don’t know what credibility we can give to the Great Reset, the Chinafication of the world, our subjection to the social credit regime of the technocratic remnants of the old Communist ideology. The idea is frightening, and it may well be a conspiracy without the theoretical bit. It is the Dark Satanic Mill of William Blake, the Third Reich on steroids, Orwell’s 1984. The archetypes are there in our cynical minds. We fear hell on earth. Fear is maintained, that fear which leads us to the Dark Side as the Star Wars film coins.

Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The pandemic has opened up this hell and basket of serpents. It is within each of us, this Ungrund of chaos and fear. Alongside, we have whole groups of people forecasting the day of doom through climate change and global warming. A whole segment of society seeks to “cancel” history and culture. We live in the midst of collective insanity, the hell of the collective consciousness.

We have reached a point where we have to think for ourselves and become critical of everything. This is the value of scepticism. I wrote about this a while ago – Scepticism and Freedom of Thought. From being a good Establishment and mainstream person (in this respect), I try to open my mind and distinguish the pearls of wisdom from the hubbub and screaming of the mob. I am not so sure of the wisdom of ghettoising unvaccinated people or demonising them, locking them down, crippling them financially by fines for refusing compulsory vaccination. The worst thing is using our fear to make an enemy of them. This is exactly what Hitler did by spreading propaganda against Jewish people, leading to the Holocaust. It has all happened before, and we will only repeat history if we cannot learn from it. The social engineering experiment is failing, and the technocrats are getting frustrated from being faced with human scepticism.

Dr Campbell has also been studying the effects of the vaccines on people’s health. All vaccines are potentially dangerous. I have personally been lucky, but we are taking a chance. I know a family whose daughter was made severely mentally handicapped by a polio vaccine. Most of us are safe, but some are sacrificed. I say nothing of the aborted foetus tissue that has had some part to play in the production or testing of these vaccines. Everything is in the risk-benefit ratio on an individual basis and a basis of humanity. We can’t wish these risks away. Could we do better with more care taken in the way we behave in populated places? Without “virtue signalling”, I say candidly that I have very little social life and I practice social distancing in shops and supermarkets, knowing that even that might not be enough.

Much of what we hear from the minority is hysterical and incoherent, but we have to try to decode the legitimate fears that exist. With the shenanigans of sleazy politicians (I won’t name any), our trust in our governments is being eroded. Increasingly, they are doing it for selfish motives rather than the common good. I feel sorry for obscenely rich people, but that’s by the by. We become suspicious and cynical (in the modern meaning of that word). As Oscar Wilde said, the man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. The rot goes both ways. Our view of the world is increasingly apocalyptic as our familiar markers and references rot away.

Ever since William Blake (the eighteenth century), we have feared the consequences of the Industrial Revolution and the evils of the kind of capitalism that cares only for profit and the shareholders and not for the underpaid workers operating dangerous machinery with no consideration for safety and welfare. We might think that we have progressed but the work is now being done by children in China and Taiwan. The satanic mill takes new forms from the old steam-driven weaving loom. We have what I am using to write this piece, our mobile phones and the apps that allow easy communication between persons. Many books have been written on the theme of trans-humanism. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the first, written in 1816. The writing was on the wall. It is present in science fiction films. I have two pieces of plastic inside my body, put in to repair hernias. Others have metal hip protheses, artificial limbs, organs transplanted from dead people. The miracle of modern medicine has used technology to save lives and improve the quality of life. What about downloading a person’s mind and soul, his consciousness, onto a computer so that he may never fear death? What about having your head removed and transplanted onto another person’s very fit body or even a robot? This is no longer the Cyberman or the Dalek of Dr Who or the Borg of Star Trek. It is becoming “normal” to be a cog in a digital machine via our smartphone apps and our computers. Once we accept trans-humanism, social credits, being careful not to commit “thought crime”, Communist China melts into Orwell’s dystopia. At a more “popular” level, some people want to abolish gender and encourage people to have surgery that would make them look like the opposite sex. Frankenstein on steroids!!! Our human consciousness protests and yearns for another more human age in the past or in the future.

My essential point in this article is how we understand freedom and humanity. A hysterical response is self-defeating. We would just be arrested by the police, put in a cell and hauled up before the Beak for a term in prison or a big fine that we cannot afford to pay. Most of us are prepared to make necessary sacrifices to limit infection by this disease – if we understand what is going on, that we are not being kept in the dark and fed bullshit.

Society is severely fractured and cracked. We are all tempted to get into a tribe and shout down the adversary, but that will bring no good. War and revolution lie just under the surface of us all. Mob rule is something none of us would want to experience. Just read the history books! Tyranny is also just under the surface even since the defeat of Nazism. It is on the table. Some have a desire for revolution, war and authoritarianism – because they have nothing in their own soul. Just emptiness and nihilism.

I don’t know whether the social contract is already gone or merely in a very precarious state. I listened to M. Zemmour a few days ago, and to Mme Le Pen, and to several others. Their agendas are largely single-issue – immigration and expelling illegal immigrants from France. The idea attracts us if we have become convinced that they would cost us our money and freedom. As things are, I remain unconvinced by the politics of the left and right extremes. I am tempted once again to go with the middle-of-the-road, Macron and those whose policies are more inspired by pragmatism than self-interest. That can be argued! Many find fault with Macronie, but what would they replace it with? Chaos and a repeat show of Hitler in 1933? Or Stalin? Reading Nicholas Berdyaev will show you what a dark era were the 1930’s. Orwell too lived in that tuberculosis-infested era of grinding poverty and misery. Whoever we vote for, that will not solve the real problem, that of our spiritual soul.

We can reject Christianity and humanism, then science and reason. The notion of progress broke down with the Holocaust, until we managed to forget it! We cannot continue with materialism and the denial of God and the spiritual roots of culture. Covid has revealed our spiritual void. We lack the knowledge of the scientists with their hand in the glove boxes and the battery of computers, but we have to see something higher. Perhaps the Omicron variant is an answer to our prayers, the end of the scourge and a new chance for humanity. I am vaccinated, but I am not more virtuous. Perhaps many unvaccinated people are prepared to live a more isolated style of life to protect others.

Many Christians bewail individualism, which can mean selfishness or the desire to discover one’s highest spiritual being. The opposite is collectivism, the State above the person that characterises Socialism and the totalitarian cult. We have a higher purpose of life than consuming or escaping death indefinitely (if we can afford it). These things must be brought into the public view and discussed, debated whilst listening to and understanding the other.

Both “sides”, the mainstream Establishment and the braying mobs, need to be kept in check and made accountable to each other. We need clear and coherent information from our scientists and political authorities, not bumbling claptrap. Darkness and deceit create fear of the unknown. Erroneous understandings of freedom also leave us in a state of fear and astonishment.

I am brought to a conclusion by Alan Jacobs in his book The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis. It was one thing for the Allies to win the war and defeat Hitler. It was another to be spiritually and morally prepared. A war won by technology laid the ground for a world of technocrats. A number of Christian intellectuals, Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, among others, sought to offer a sober and reflective criticism of their own culture and come up with a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world. That was 1943, when my father was a bright young boy of 14 filled with a desire to be a Yorkshire farmer – and his father was so far away in the Oflag near Linz (now Austria) trying to survive the harsh regime as best as possible. We are against faced with this task of Christian witness and education in a world ruled by technocracy and a diabolical delusion of transhumanism. Christ and his Gospel message are the way, the so-called “lost chord” I discuss with some measure of humour.

Our time is like the beginning of the nineteenth century, groaning from the wake of the Revolution and the Terror. We need to recover our rational minds but to humanise them and consecrate them to God, so that we may be whole persons. Freedom is given to us to enable us to attain this nobility of spirit, in the same way that playing a complex piece of music on the piano requires sacrifice and practice, conferring the freedom to express oneself as a musician. This is the freedom that Thomist moralists call the liberty of perfection as opposed to the liberty of indifference.

I read somewhere:

We who invented this thing called “liberalism” are now burying it, and building on the bare soil some technocratic state-corporate hybrid; a China-style social credit society, centralised, monitored, powered by algorithms, emphatically unnatural and unfree.

Maybe, God and our collective consciousness are bringing our salvation from the pandemic through this new variant that would just make us feel a little off-colour for a few days, and then liberate us from the entire drama we have lived. However this amnesty would have to be accompanied by our conversion and volte-face away from our futilities.

* * *

In response to a private message, I feel I should add the following:

I do appreciate that my quite isolated life in the French countryside doesn’t exactly give me an accurate appreciation of the increasing radicalisation. I recently saw this interesting interview

My own thoughts were influenced to an extent by Mr Kingsnorth who seems to be a very decent and sincere person. As I visited this site, I found this harrowing interview about Australian “concentration camps”. It is always the same thing when dealing with the police and the law – cooperate with them of suffer the consequences. As Quentin Crisp used to say “Never run away from the police. They’ll catch you“. I think that most policemen are decent persons doing their job, but some are very nasty. Recently, some policemen in France were disciplined for having a picture of Hitler in their mess room, suggesting that they fancied themselves as Gestapo men. Most are not like that.

I suspected that this would happen, but they are still using expensive airport hotels in England and having the “guests” pay full whack for shitty service. Now the infections rates are skyrocketing exponentially…

The “antithesis” people (so-called anti-vaxxers, etc) are extremely diverse between those who have a very selfish notion of individual freedom, and who are protesting for what would amount to the civil authorities admitting that they were in it for the money and that Covid is just a little flu.

I have toyed with the idea of the Great Barrington Declaration. Protect the elderly and vulnerable by isolating them for the necessary time. Then let the virus rip until herd immunity would be achieved – populations “vaccinated” not by a vaccine but the disease itself. Perhaps the hospitals could cope with the younger “fallout” whilst the elderly were protected. Here in France, such a strategy was condemned as discriminatory. So, really, the only solution is lockdown, Australian style, for the slightest numbers of infections and using brutal methods of repression for enforcement. Most state authorities have argued from a humanitarian point of view – reduce the numbers of deaths and serious ill in hospital.

The present is a boot stamping of a human face forever. We have allowed it to happen. I don’t applaud this revival of Nazism and the Chinafication of the world. I didn’t vote for any of the people responsible for this. Yes, we “sheeple” can “wake up”, protest and go on demonstrations. Then end up tortured in a police cell and fined more than we could ever pay. Defeat.

The best thing would be Omicron being extremely infectious but mild as a pathogen, able to displace the virulent strains. It would do what post-rational humanity couldn’t do. For a long time I was in denial about the total stupidity and incompetence of political authorities, even for a simple matter of logistics to distribute masks and vaccines. Even today, it is very hard to get an appointment in a city for vaccinations. You have to jump through hoops.

There are different theories about the risks of the vaccines and whether they are experimental or proven to have an acceptable level of safety. All vaccines cause some tragedies and ill effects to some people.

Yes, it is political incompetence and self-interest that has caused this dialectic. So far, France is teetering on the brink of going extreme right-wing with Zemmour or the slightly more moderate Mme Le Pen. I suspect a good shake-up would do some good, and Macron seems to represent big money, but he also seems to appeal to our sense of being reasonable and rational, perhaps a last light of the Enlightenment. So far, France has resisted compulsory vaccination and mocking down the unvaccinated. We have the passé sanitaire – I have only shown mine once or twice to go to a café with a few people, and since then I have has so little social life, not because I am forbidden but because I have other priorities in my own life. Most infections are caused in private homes and in families, not in shops and cafés. Austria changed its policy to lockdown for all. Compulsory vaccination is planned but I don’t see how they can enforce it. Same in Germany. I fear that France will be in general lockdown by the beginning of next year, which will mean admitting that vaccination was a gigantic failure and that Macron might as well hand his keys directly over to Zemmour and the other national populist zealots.

The other problem is the lack of transparency and the ongoing flip-flops. We lose trust in such governments. I have some sympathy for the counter-narrative, but I refuse to let radicalisation, emotion and fanaticism take over. I find the counter-narrative as irrational as the “mainstream” narrative.

Oh yes, Big Pharma. I mentioned that in my article. Pfizer and Moderna should be nationalised and their patents removed. There is too much self-interest. We are told so many things for and against the efficacy of the vaccines. Is there a truth? We seem to be in a multiverse down a rabbit hole!

In some countries like Singapore, the non-vaccinated are told that they can pay for their own hospital treatment if they catch the virus and become very sick. Another form of coercion and blackmail? Perhaps. There is no solution other than let the virus take its course like the Spanish Flu in 1918-20. About 50 million deaths, no vaccine and just a few compulsory masks.

We are all discouraged. I prefer to hope that this is a transitory phase of human history rather than the end of all. The usual theme of the science fiction films is the totalitarian dystopia and marginal people living outside in abject poverty. Often, some human value comes through a story like Mad Max. It is the same in the Church with the “thesis” of Pope Francis’ and Archbishop Arthur “Padlock” Roche reforms and control over the traditionalists, and then the “antithesis” of the traditionalists. I would not be able to vindicate either position. I am a bit like that with the China-like lockdowns and social credit system and then the hysterical people provoking the police and getting beaten up and tortured. Both “sides” are either wrong or excessive.

All I can suggest for some of us. Live far away from it unless you want to become a politician and get more power than the bastards of the “other side”. I couldn’t. Perhaps I am a coward, and will pay for it one day by being dragged out of my home, put on a train and then into a gas chamber! I fight by trying to keep culture, reason and humanity, and above all spiritual life. Read the little book of Rob Riemen (Nobility of Spirit) that resumes Thomas Mann’s reaction to Nazism in the 1930’s and during the war. Let us write and express ourselves, then no one can blame us for being cowards!

Different people deserve different answers. Some are selfish, others are afraid and their fear is caused by political deceit / sleaze and incompetence. Most of us are confused, and our culture, reason and humanity are not the way to deal with this situation.

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The Lost Chord

In the early 1990’s a friend in London introduced me to a periodical and a series of cassette tapes intended to reproduce the style of the BBC Home Service of before World War II. I wrote about this stuff long ago in The Invisible Empire of Romantia and The Lighter Romantia. From being an amusing nest of eccentrics educated in English universities, these women truly became a pathetic caricature of what they apparently wanted to revive as opposed to The Pit, the name they gave to the modern world. It seemed at first to be a beautiful Romantic idea about another world, something desired with the deepest Sehnsucht but without any possibility of attaining it. The idea can be attained actually, but through music.

There is a strange old Victorian song set to music by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame), The Lost Chord.

Seated one day at the organ,
I was weary and ill at ease,
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys;
I know not what I was playing,
Or what I was dreaming then,
But I struck one chord of music,
Like the sound of a great Amen,
Like the sound of a great Amen.

It flooded the crimson twilight,
Like the close of an angel’s psalm,
And it lay on my fevered spirit,
With a touch of infinite calm,
It quieted pain and sorrow,
Like love overcoming strife,
It seemed the harmonious echo
From our discordant life,

It linked all the perplexed meanings
Into one perfect peace,
And trembled away into silence,
As if it were loth to cease;
I have sought but I seek it vainly,
That one lost chord divine,
Which came from the soul of the organ,
And entered into mine.

It may be that death’s bright angel
Will speak in that chord again;
It may be that only in Heav’n
I shall hear that great Amen.
It may be that death’s bright angel
Will speak in that chord again;
It may be that only in Heav’n
I shall hear that great Amen.

It might strike us as a grotesque example of Victorian sentimentalism, but there is a message. Unlike the drunken or sleepy organist, I am at my most aware and awake when playing the organ. I am not much of an improviser. I play what I read from the score, and the music is always identified and can be reproduced. This song suggests someone playing almost randomly, in an unconscious state, perhaps drunk and unable to reproduce what he has played.

I find the scenario difficult to imagine, but the theme of the lost and unattainable is a part of Milton’s Paradise Lost up to the Romantics and up to our own times. It is difficult to imagine what Ms Martindale, the inventor of Romantia really wants, something very shallow or a deep aspiration. I suspect that their nostalgia led them to madness. It can happen. Reading C.G. Jung can help us unravel the mess of our own consciousness, to a point. We have to come to terms, make a compromise between the transcendent “chord” and the mundane “reality”. It will be different when we leave this world.

The poet who wrote this song, Adelaide Procter, was probably more deeply conscious of something than what we can imagine of semi-drunken Victorian gentlemen singing around a piano in someone’s parlour after a hearty dinner. Reading about her life reminds me a little of Mary Shelley in her radical feminism and her dark imagination as author of Frankenstein. Procter was a highly popular poet and a learned lady. She attracted the attention of Queen Victoria and must have had an esteemed place in society until her untimely death from TB. Whether or not she was aware, she expressed that sense of having lost something precious in the form of something absolutely intangible and spiritual – musical harmony. Procter was not a musician as far as we know, but was certainly highly sensitive to it.

A chord in a harmonic progression is something very fleeting, occurring in a few seconds, and gives away to other chords as the music progresses. The composition itself is fleeting, and is heard and remembered by the musician and the listeners. The piece can be repeated and played as many times as desired. However, there is another kind of musical composition, the improvisation.

This kind of music is not written. The good musician will plan the piece in his mind and choose a theme and the style. Jazz musicians do the same thing on a set harmonic basis for each instrument of the band. The rhythm is also common, but the notes and details are free. It is another skill, which I am not at ease with. The great organists of Paris like Dupré, Vierne, Widor, Cochereau, Duruflé and others were famed for their improvisation. Perhaps Procter had an idea of someone lazily improvising and daydreaming, losing the thread and basis of his music. Surely this can happen. Improvisation is not repeatable unlike written compositions, unless it is recorded like the piece by Léonce de Saint-Martin. It could be taken as a “dictation”, though this would be very hard work and probably not perfect. Was it is 6/8 time or 3/4? The acoustics of the cathedral and out-of-tune notes might also cause errors of transcription.

For the purposes of this song, the “lost chord” is a symbol. Perhaps it suggests the Paradise Lost of Milton, the Garden of Eden from which man was chased on account of Original Sin. As we grow, subject to the merciless passage of time, we lose our childhood and youth. we lose precious objects by their being stolen or destroyed in a fire. Sometimes we recover lost things like that bunch of keys or something that slipped down the back of the sofa. Loss and gain are a fact of life. What about the fleeting moment, that one single chord of a piece of music? Even a single Amen contains two or more chords, usually in the form of a plagal (subdominant – tonic) or perfect cadence (dominant – tonic). Perhaps the lost chord implies the one we still have. Sullivan was an excellent musician and knew his harmony and counterpoint. No chord can subsist in isolation and make any sense. I switch the wind on, pull out a couple of stops and play a C major chord and nothing else. What did it mean? Was it the tonic in its own key, the dominant of F major. What? It is like a single letter or word on a page. It is comprehensible only in its context.

Perhaps this is one reason why improvisation is not my “thing”, but I prefer to play the music of composers from a printed score. Even when I write English prose, there is a context and a plan, at least in my mind. Then I’m not improvising but composing English prose. It is written and a permanent record. Music is something else.

I have an odd impression on listening to the music of Thomas Tallis who lived and worked in the sixteenth century. He began his musical career working with the Sarum liturgy and survived the Reformation by composing for the Cranmerian texts of the Prayer Book. He avoided getting his head chopped off like so many unfortunates who sinned by indiscretion. As Tallis was almost a kind of Scarlert Pimpernel in his time, his music is ethereal. I can understand how it had such an effect on great English composers like Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells. The chords and harmonies of these men are not lost, but the men are. They have passed on to another world that we cannot begin to imagine. This is the mystery of death and our yearning for the New World in the Christian faith. How can one avoid thinking of such things while hearing this?

For me, Tallis is the lost chord of the Use of Sarum, the link we have to the old English churches, the villages, the folk traditions and even the last traces of paganism “baptised” into Christianity. This may sound fanciful, but the idea fills every fibre of my being. Procter described how the sleepy organist felt the presence of what was lost. The past has slipped away as we are victims of time and man’s determination to “cancel” history to usher in some infernal dystopia of grim materialism. Music, whether sacred or secular, brings us into the presence of a world that is lost and which we can find “as through a glass darkly” to quote St Paul.

Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night:

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.

Music gives us a glimpse of heaven, of that lost world we will not find here on earth, except through the sounds and harmonies of the voices and instruments. Indeed, it is in heaven that we will find and sing that great Amen.

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First Sunday of Advent

I have been thinking about some kind of outreach since the time I recorded Mass in my old chapel. The events in my life up to and since last April and my move here to the Mayenne affected me very profoundly. I have to confess that I even found it difficult at times to hold on to my faith! We have two priests in the Diocese of the United Kingdom offering streamed Mass in the Use of Sarum, and other priests do the same thing with other rites. This is a very valuable service to those who cannot get to church and not only for fear of catching the coronavirus.

I have allowed myself to be influenced by a number of professional musicians who offer music played on the organ, and some of their videos have a spiritual content.

From this Sunday, I am offering a video with a Bach chorale prelude followed by a spiritual word, and then perhaps to be followed by another piece. I will do this throughout Advent and intend to continue throughout the liturgical year. There is plenty of music written on and about these spiritual themes.

Wherever you are, I wish you a holy Advent and a luminous Christmas.

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If Music be the Food of Love…

I have just been listening to a conversation between three French priests and two informed layman on a YouTube forum by the name of Club des Hommes en Noir hosted by the French Catholic journal L’Homme Nouveau. Que signifie “être en communion avec l’Eglise” ? The rhetoric is semper idem, the “same as ever” of Bossuet. The less doctrine and religious practice change, the more it is believed to be true. It is the Aristotelian and scholastic notion of God, the immutable, the unchanging, the essential difference between God and man as God’s creation that fell into sin. The particular conversation I heard this morning was communion with the Church, Church understood as the Roman Catholic institution. The subject of rites came up and concelebration during Holy Week at the Bishop’s Chrism Mass. I was reading the same stuff forty years ago!

Umberto Eco, in his famous novel The Name of the Rose, offers a caricature of this kind of immobilism in our understanding of tradition. The Venerable Jorge, the hideous librarian, argues that knowledge should be preserved but not advanced.

Let us return to what was, and ever should be the office of this abbey: The preservation of knowledge. Preservation, I say. Not search for because there is no progress in the history of knowledge merely a continuous and sublime recapitulation.

When we think about it deeply, we find the idea repugnant, as we do for the opposite extreme based on idealism and nihilism, what is sometimes called progressivism. As always – in medio stat virtus.

My own mind was forever changed during my University days when I discovered Nicholas Berdyaev, and through him, Jakob Böhme and German Idealism. All great ideas can be corrupted and become twisted into communist ideologies and nihilism. Christianity itself was corrupted over the centuries, and we have to realise that it is not something we have or possess, but something towards which we aspire and yearn.

I have the impression of an infernal and unending loop of the same debates of decades and years, no one learning anything or contributing to something new. Indeed, all novelty is condemned as heresy, so in this washing machine of immobilism, it is all so depressing. I say this with respect of the sincere men around that little table in what appears to be a bookshop.

I ended the video before the end, feeling as if I had eaten some food that had “gone off”, a kind of “spiritual poisoning”. I returned to the music I was listening to as I work on a translation job. It was a piece by a little-known English composer, Harold Darke, who wrote in a style that was clearly influenced by the Impressionists. Unlike scholastic theology, music moves onwards and inspires the human soul towards its final happiness and purpose. I felt flooded with a sense of another notion of God, the immanence and transcendence that are within each of us, created in God’s likeness and image.

My calling is clear, priesthood through music. Vivaldi, Il Prete Rosso, was so taken with music that it transcended even his priestly duties of the Office and the Mass, yet he gave God to his faithful through music. I am not a professional musician, and my talent as an organist is limited. There are many pieces I cannot play because my keyboard technique is not up to it. So, I play what I can play well. I have composed a few simple choral pieces, but I don’t have the three other voices to sing them. I absorb divinity through music and contribute what I can to others with a similar sensitivity.

This is where being true to ourselves comes in. The world in general, including the Church, is too competitive, too much of a rat race. I have known a professional organist and organ designer who arrived at the end of his life having lost interest in the organ. What happened? We will never know. Pride, if that’s what it was, leads us to our ruin. I also suspect an extreme degree of saturation of people using this common interest to denigrate and destroy. See my article Exclusivity with its mention of Léonce de Saint-Martin, the man and brilliant musician who became organist of Notre-Dame de Paris in spite of not being considered to be sufficiently qualified by the musical establishment of the day. We must be humble and do what we can, and do that well. I finish this reflection with a quote from Oscar Wilde (De Profundis):

Like all poetical natures he [Christ] loved ignorant people.  He knew that in the soul of one who is ignorant there is always room for a great idea.  But he could not stand stupid people, especially those who are made stupid by education: people who are full of opinions not one of which they even understand, a peculiarly modern type, summed up by Christ when he describes it as the type of one who has the key of knowledge, cannot use it himself, and does not allow other people to use it, though it may be made to open the gate of God’s Kingdom.

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Self-Effacement and the Liturgy

This is a really impressive article by Archbishop Mark Haverland, Metropolitan of the Original Province of the Anglican Catholic Church. He is also my Ordinary and therefore my father-in-Christ. He has written this article in his blog Anglican Catholic Liturgy and Theology.

The point he makes is that we spend a lot of time discussing rites and ceremonial details, forgetting the interior disposition a priest is asked to have as he approaches the altar of God. I have had to examine my own interest in the medieval Use of Sarum, faced with question like whether ordinary churchgoers would be attracted or find it the right expression of their piety.

I see the entire rite as simply a symbol of a less regimented Catholicism than after the Council of Trent. I have to say honestly that it is something of a daydream, but daydreams in their right place can sometimes be the cause of great inspirations and creativity. Archbishop Haverland takes a look at the usual attitude in regard to worship: traditionalist or modernist. Is it the language? Is it the Prayer Book, the rite of Pius V or Paul VI? No, it is the priest’s attitude, his self-effacement and putting himself second to his Church and its worship.

The rite is a part of this profoundly priestly attitude. When I was in the TAC and Archbishop Hepworth was telling us that “we would be all right”, all sins forgiven and Rome’s red carpet rolled out for us, I celebrated the Paul VI Mass a couple of times. I needed to have that experience with a “traditional” attitude, using the Roman Canon, etc. It all seemed so bare and stripped, so that a natural reaction of a priest would be to fill in the void with his own personality. It would be an exaggeration to claim I was committing some kind of sacrilege. It is an official rite of an institutional Church, but one I could not live with. Was that not a message from my own subconsciousness? I resumed the Use of Sarum which I began to use with Archbishop Hepworth’s blessing in 2008.

Thus some priests see themselves as entertainers, a dimension which is enhanced by the practice of celebration facing the people. Orientation at the altar has been discussed by men of the stature of Pope Benedict XVI and Msgr Klaus Gamber (Zum Herrn hin and Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background). There is another fine book on this subject, U.M. Lang, Turning Towards the Lord. These books are based on good liturgical scholarship rather than traditionalist polemics. Celebrating Mass on an eastward-facing altar also helps the priest to be recollected and self-effaced.

Archbishop Haverland gives several points by which the priest takes a more humble attitude: following a set rite and not improvising, wearing vestments, restraining signs of extroversion or outward show, avoiding affectations in reading the sacred texts or bumbling through them in the shortest time possible. The priest should be introverted and quiet, allowing the Mystery itself to take first place.

This is a most timely reflection.

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The Final Blow?

I am probably coming across as a miserable old curmudgeon, as I mull over the aches and pains of my own life and its meaning. I picked up a Swiss TV interview between several academics from my old alma mater (Fribourg) about whether it would be a good thing to scrap the Church because of the extent of sexual abuse committed by clerics on children. The issue is highly emotional and makes most of us very angry. Should the law courts condemn the culprits to be tarred and feathered, handed over to the crowd and what is left to be slowly hanged, disembowelled and quartered? Would our society be enriched spiritually and culturally by such barbarity, like the hanging days in the eighteenth century when the condemned were taken on their macabre procession from Newgate to the Tyburn gallows?

As heinous child sex abuse is, especially when committed by a man of authority, the real issue is profaning the Church without any defence being possible. The argumentation is simple: if women were ordained instead of men, or at least the men being held in check, the priesthood would be freed from the toxic cloak of clericalism. The prevailing “solution”, given that the institution in France does not have the financial resources to give out as compensation to all the victims, would be for the entire Episcopate to resign. On one side, I do not belong to that institution, and could react by saying that I couldn’t care less. Let it all come tumbling down! Would it be replaced by the “good guys” in cassocks from the traditionalist world?

Unfortunately, the traditionalists have also had their own scandals and share the same problem of repressed sexuality and clericalism. One of my commenters would seem to see the extreme left-wing agenda behind the crisis – and propose the extreme right-wing national-populist solution. It is now on the horizon of the French Presidential Election for next spring. I ask myself whether Eric Zemmour would not give a needed “short sharp shock” to break the corruption and incompetence of mainstream politics. That was precisely what happened in Germany in 1933 with the downfall of the Weimar Republic and the election of Hitler as Chancellor. Is that what we want? I am not comparing Zemmour to Hitler, but I have my doubts about these “simple” solutions.

What seems obvious to me is that, unless we are prepared to sink into nihilism, we need to search much deeper within ourselves (as we cannot search into others). Like so many of our contemporaries, I lose faith in institutions whilst recognising that society without them would fall into a worse state of barbarity. I fail to have any faith in politics of the left or the right. Next spring, the country I live in will ask its citizens to do our duty – vote for a President. Probably the only thing most of us can do is to think historically and vote for the person who would cause the least harm!

One could rightly ask me whether I really believe in Christianity, or rather the message of Christ and the Church as Christ’s abiding sacramental presence throughout time. Both have survived in spite of human sin. There is no doubt that Christianity is unique among spiritual philosophies and religions in that it proposes the intrinsic dignity of the human person. This is a principle on which morality and law are based, on which those with nobility of spirit may shed light and leave an everlasting legacy of truth, beauty and goodness.

I have already written about criticism of Christian (or nominally Christian) institutions. Alan Watts comes to mind with his reflection from 1947:

The present low ebb of Church religion consists in the fact that rarely, even for Church people, does it give the soul any knowledge of union with the reality that underlies the universe. To put it in another way, modern Church religion is little concerned with giving any consciousness of union with God. It is not mystical religion, and for that reason it is not fully and essentially religion.

Nicholas Berdyaev was just as scathing. The most frightening consequence seems to go far beyond politics – transhumanism, the rise of technology and “artificial intelligence”. Once Christ’s spiritual humanism is out of the way, we can be brought to believe the absolutely absurd, like for example very wealthy people being offered the possibility of living forever through technology. I remember the science fiction scenes of human brains in machines instead of human bodies. Would you want to be a dalek or a cyborg? Could you imagine having your head removed from a paralysed body and attached to someone else’s body? There are rumours that such an operation has been performed in China.

One drum I have banged for a long time is the question of the Sarum liturgy. The first thing many think about is the external aspect, vestments, style of the church, the music and then whether it is licit in this or that institutional church. Even a more philosophical medievalism has its shortcomings, and in itself cannot form anything more noble or sublime than modernity and technocracy. This is why I am trying to figure out a way to fashion a Christian culture that draws inspiration from the past through a form of metaphysical Idealism and Romanticism.

Christian institutions try to save themselves by assimilating themselves to secular culture. One example is the “dogma” according to which the “climate emergency” can only be averted by eliminating carbon dioxide emissions. In reality, the environment is incredibly complex and pollution coming from industry and the technological civilisation is taking only a small part in relation to solar activity and other geological factors outside human influence. My logical mind is that there is only one solution for the hard-core environmentalists – genocide. There are too many people in this world, so they have to die. Unfortunately, genocide was part of the Nazi ideology and something that (rightly) causes indignation. As repugnant as such an idea is, it is the only coherent result of this “dogma” which is replacing Christianity. Eschatology or the expectation of the Apocalypse is a powerful archetype in our psychology having its root in our fear of death. We seek to project fear of death – the world carrying on without us – onto the whole of humanity. Götterdämmerung.

Churches tried to tailor their wares to the prevailing regime – cuius regio eius religio, which once described the people of an area following the religion of their secular ruler. Thus we once had bishops collaborating with Nazism, then Ostpolitik and now the various ideologies rising out of spiritually bankrupt humanity. In spite of trying to ingratiate with every worldly ideology, the Church has never made a reality of its œcumenicity. To the contrary, the lines of division are becoming more acute.

Berdyaev could only see that we had a Christian renaissance to look forward to, or that it was all over. At the same time, he considered the promise that the “gates of hell would not prevail”. If there are only three Christians left in the world, the Church is intact. The great paradox is that Christianity built culture, but culture is needed for Christianity to survive and uphold human dignity.

Reading Post-Christianity: How Christianity Failed and Continues to Fail, we come across many other prophesies from Berdyaev. Only Christianity can save the world from Christianity. What Christianity is this? True humanism can only come from spiritual effort and vision.

I mentioned the present crisis in the French Church and the idea that we have to have a feminine clerocracy, or perhaps no clerocracy at all. Some elements in a German synod recently advocated the abolition of the sacramental priesthood. Others were more moderate in calling for a deprofessionalisation of the clerical state – something like my own priestly life in a Church that does not have the financial resources to employ its clergy. We are “tent makers”. We live like “ordinary guys”, without the excesses of some groups of men where large quantities of alcohol are involved! What is the difference between my life as a deacon at Gricigliano, living in a beautiful Tuscan villa like in the eighteenth century – without the wigs and with electricity and flushing toilets – and my present life when I only wear a cassock for Synod in England (which was possible before the Covid pandemic)? Perhaps, now, I am freer to take my responsibilities in life as a more mature person.

Is reviving Sarum still of any interest? Yes, but on condition of not putting the cart before the horse. Clearly, you can’t walk into a parish and start celebrating Mass like eighty years ago or eight centuries. I wrote very recently of awakening from a dream in which the idea of a French country parish of fifty years ago was uppermost. Those parishes died when their priests were promoted to glory. The institution is too fragile a basis to found the future of Christianity. The future as it is presently announced is technocracy and bureaucracy, euphemistically named synodality.

In the article I mentioned, this concluding paragraph pronounces a fearful sentence:

So, no, I am not optimistic. I take no pleasure in watching this decay and take no pleasure in watching these various caricatures of Christianity choke on the vomit of their own absurdity. The technocrats are winning. I guess that’s how it’s going to be. Christians like convenience; and technocracy promises all kinds of convenience. I still listen to other voices, however, just as Berdyaev did before me. Like William Butler Yeats, Berdyaev was attentive to the tragic nature of revelation as it destroys the falsity of our various temptations and our bourgeois complacencies; for, “Surely some revelation is at hand; / Surely the Second Coming is at hand.” It is so strange to watch all this unfold, to see Christianity absorbed into the technocratic realm of Ahriman. Only a god can save us.

Is this a death sentence “On the appointed morning, you will be taken to the place of execution…”? I asked the question about the Sarum liturgy, which is surely a part of the condemned man being taken to the gallows. For me, it is not a question of appearances or imitating medieval priests. We need to identify an alternative to what now seems to be inevitable in our trans-humanist dystopia. For the time being, the desired utopia can only exist in our minds.

Like the early Romantics, we need to have an ideal based on the whole human experience, spirituality and human empathy rather than on the “enlightenment” obsession with science, money and the impersonal application of law. We need faith and love more than “having and knowing”. For me, Sarum represents the idea of a golden era and a longing for a cosmopolitan, global, spiritual community. Novalis’ Christenheit oder Europa made a deep impression on me, coming as a I do from an Anglican background and having had experience of French integralism.

This German text (and the various translations into other languages) from the 1790’s is capable of several interpretations depending on the mind and spirit of the reader. Someone like Charles Maurras or any number of modern French demagogues strutting around the streets of Paris appeal by their opposition to an ideology that seems to be even more toxic. Let’s go back to feudalism and collectivism! Like Scripture, texts are interpreted in so many different ways, the very limit of human language and meanings of words. Pauline Keingeld sees the symbolic and allegorical use of language in Novalis, meaning a change in human culture from competition, money and domination to solidarity through faith and love. This solidarity would not be imposed by force by men calling themselves socialists but in reality fascist bullies, but through empathy based on self-knowledge and acceptance, on nobility of spirit. The limits of human language in a literal reading show such inadequacy as is proven by the diversity of interpretations of the Scriptures!

How is such an inner utopia brought about? It starts with oneself, being true to our own thoughts, experience and knowledge about oneself. Another essential thing is to identify our own intimate intuitions in cultures and subcultures around us. Many would say that Romanticism died in the nineteenth century. Its last real manifestation was in the 1960’s and early 70’s, the hippies. Surely these were immoral people who were dirty and addicted to drugs! Perhaps many were, like Coleridge on laudanum (opium), Byron, Shelley and Keats so long ago. However, the hippies protested that Money is not the supreme goal of existence. They identified the Monster of technocracy long before it became as evolved as the computer I am using to write and publish this text. Again, I distinguish the appearance from the inner philosophy as I do with symbols like liturgical rites in churches. The 1960’s hippie is the Romantic in a different era from the 1820’s or 1790’s. William Blake speaks through the early environmentalists before ecology became the shrieking hysterical ideology it has become. He was a prophet back in the early days of the Industrial Revolution when human beings only represented money and power for their masters.

I find considerable inspiration in Bernard Moitessier, the man who sailed twice around the world without a single stop. His angry tone accused the Monster of exploiting the poor and ruining the planet through heavy industry. Is there any difference between this inspiration and the present institutionalisation of ecology? I believe that, like in the Christian idea, the difference is man himself, humanity. An idea dies when it is institutionalised and dehumanised.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

It is not a coincidence that the appearance attributed to Christ (long hair and beard) resemble the hippie of the 1960’s – and paradoxically, the nobleman of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Long hair on a man is a symbol of freedom and nobility of spirit, at least an aspiration thereto. These are symbols, but what is important is what is inside, the inconsolable yearning for God’s Kingdom within ourselves and others who are close to us, united by friendship and love. This is where Christianity will never suffer final defeat by the gates of hell.

The Monster may succeed in turning the institutional Church to its own ends. It is for each of us to know and be ourselves. Maybe the bishops and priests may throw themselves on their swords as a gesture of repentance to grasp back the credibility of their status. They have nowhere else to go. We have to make distinctions between what is being offered for the sake of appearance and what is true and interior. If they want, they can make the Roman Catholic institution into a clone of the Worldwide Anglican Communion with its bureaucracy and dehumanised “pastoral” methods, themselves an analogy of raping children. Such an institution cannot be saved.

Do we make new institutions of our own? I joined one, the Anglican Catholic Church. We still have room for eccentricity as my Archbishop cheekily wrote to me. We have dealt adequately with priests who were unable to keep their cocks in their pants!!! We still have room for solidarity and love. Perhaps that will no longer be true in time when we become too institutionalised and try to automate everything. Usually these processes take longer than the time given to us to live, so I am not worried about other people’s problems! One bit of genius in the Church of England, even at a time I am old enough to remember, is the eccentric vicar or cathedral canon. Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury between 1961 and 1974, was observed to have traits that we might be tempted to attribute to Aspergers autism. I have known John Rothera, an alto songman in the York Minster choir, who bought the last Halifax tram and made recordings of the choir with his old Ferrograph tape recorder and a ball-and-biscuit microphone permanently hanging between the choir stalls. I had the impression that his anecdotes gave me a memory going back decades before my birth! Conventional people find it hard to relate to the “wild” mind of the eccentric.

As Oscar Wilde said from his bitter experience of a Victorian prison:

A man whose desire is to be something separate from himself, to be a Member of Parliament, or a successful grocer, or a prominent solicitor, or a judge, or something equally tedious, invariably succeeds in being what he wants to be. That is his punishment. Those who want a mask have to wear it.

May our faith not be a mask but our inner reality. We can use different images for this inner Kingdom. Some like Novalis used gothic cathedrals and chivalry. I can honestly say that I truly became an Anglican on swimming the Tiber (or the part of the Rhône that goes through Switzerland) to Rome. I yearned for something that the Tridentine, ultramontane and Vatican II Church no longer offered – and perhaps never did. I was blown over by Novalis’ text, because I was not the only one. We are often deceived by symbols and ideas, because we have not learned to understand them fully. I chased many things in my mind – the ideal Sarum church, even the priesthood. I have had to transform the “mask” into something much more interior without rejecting or destroying it.

Perhaps the “final blow” might come, but not to ourselves if lessons have been learned.

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The Sign of Contradiction

I awoke from a dream this morning in which I was approached by some priests I knew in the 1990’s, all dead now. They suggested that my canonical situation in regard to the Roman Catholic Church could be “sorted out” and that I could become a parish priest here in France – with the cassock and the old Latin Mass, running the parish according to my own initiatives. In the dream, I was already deeply sceptical and wondered if it would be desirable if it actually happened.

In 1995 I left the Institute in which I had been ordained a deacon. My attempt at reconciliation, involving six months as a working guest in a Benedictine abbey, come to nothing in 1997 and 1998. That was even with the support of the parish priest of Bouloire who was later present as archdeacon at my priestly ordination by an “uncanonical” bishop of the Ngo-Dinh-Thuc succession. I was again faced with the agony about ten years ago when Archbishop Hepworth of the Traditional Anglican Communion was telling me that “everything would be all right”. His vocation as a priest or a bishop, or someone with any responsibility for souls, foundered on the rocks. I was sceptical all the way through the process, even though I believed in loyalty to one’s bishop as a priest. I took a lot of stick from the various continuing Anglicans involved with the move to the Ordinariates. Archbishop Hepworth fell as a lightning bolt from heaven, and I joined the Anglican Catholic Church after a decent “cooling-off” period for prayer and discernment.

I awoke this morning spiritually drained. What is a priestly vocation? I often write on the subject and seem to come up with answers. One thing I know is that I will never be a country parish priest, un curé, here in France or anywhere else. The realities are such that no bishop would appoint me to a parish – not only that but I am not a team player, having endless meetings about meetings, an exercise of self-importance for narcissistic personalities. The reality of the Church in France and many other countries is grim. A new anti-clerical movement has emerged from the clerical paedophilia scandal. The writing on the wall indicates a church without ordained priests, merely “committed” lay officials and pastoral workers. The purpose of such a church is not spiritual, but propagating the latest ideological, political and social issues. I see it, feel it, as big as an elephant.

Tout est grâce, the dying words of the young priest in Bernanos Journal d’un Curé de Campagne.

These melancholy thoughts came into my mind following that vivid dream and having read Reflections on “Going to Rome” – a Measured continuing Anglo-Catholic Response. This article was obviously inspired by Bishop Nazir-Ali swimming the Tiber. He has just received Roman Catholic ordination to the priesthood. Now what will they do with him? It is obviously his problem, not mine. Usually converting to “true churches” involves a kind of Sehnsucht for spiritual peace and the end of contradictions. As Umberto Eco’s Franciscan priest said to his young pupil “How peaceful life would be without love, Adso. How safe. how tranquil. And how dull“. Welcome to the Church of Jesuit Pope Francis!

Institutions. That’s what it is all about. We yearn for them, but we are too aware that they have failed. They have succumbed to human sin and corruption.

Some who believe they have a grasp on music say that, after a musician marries, the compositions are no good. It’s the kind of subjective general statement that is hard to prove, but one can see the point. The point is this, creative art comes from tension. Music is, essentially, tension. So is theology.

They say that 50% marriages end with divorce. I bought the flashy second-hand car and had a serious case of buyer’s remorse. I don’t think that what I went through was any different from thousands and millions of other men who suffered being “cancelled” and losing their very purpose for living. Their wives (or wives’ husbands – I am not sexist) have become like cancerous tumours and unbearable weights. Surely I should have known before I too joined that particular institution. Being “mainstream” has its price, which is exorbitant.

One thing I really appreciate about this article is the notion of tension, the dialectics of German Idealism. The alternating opposition of magnetic poles in a generator produces electrical energy. So it happens in the suffering contradictions cause for us. The pain brings forth our ability to write, compose music and enter into true friendships. Indeed, the saints lived in tension with the institution, and came within an inch of being condemned as heretics. Genius feeds off of tension and relishes it and the Holy Spirit knows it.

I am a priest. What good would come of my denying it or pretending it didn’t exist? I occasionally attend offices in monasteries and devotions in pilgrimage churches, in civil dress so as not to attract attention and indiscreet questions, and go away with an intense feeling of sadness. I was not part of a community, but simply an outsider who came and went away like a ghost. My presence in the Anglican Catholic Church is spiritual. I live far away from its parishes, and I am prevented from travelling by the pandemic crisis and continuing restrictions. Am I suffering from self-pity? No, rather from a dose of reality as the dream brought home to me.

I remember the moment of learning about the Modernism of Tyrrell, Von Hügel, Duchesne, Loisy and others. I was taught that it was the greatest threat to Catholic orthodoxy, indeed a synthesis of all heresies. I read about it, and saw a number of highly diverse personal histories and views, far from being a “conspiracy” against the Pope and Thomism. We find a kaleidoscope of persons trying to defend faith and doctrine from their own conflicts and incoherence. Mysteries are above human reason, not against it. Eventually, another kind of modernism was engineered and institutionalised, and this is what we have in the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and the American Episcopal Church. Everything eventually becomes institutionalised and deprived of life, subjected to conformity and stereotype, killed stone dead.

The Church I belong to still accepts spiritual and intellectual diversity and eccentricity. It is a Church in which I can live and justify that vocation that the RC Church would cancel without even a human thought about the matter. Deus ex machina indeed!

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
  By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
  Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
  The brave man with a sword! – Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol

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Celibacy and Vocation

The crisis in France concerning the Church and paedophile clergy festers on with discussions on TV (which I don’t watch except occasionally on YouTube) and Facebook threads. One such is to be found on a group dedicated to the Ordinariate.

From what I have been reading, including some participation from me, there are different schools of thought. One is that it is all about libido and desire for sex: let a priest get married and he won’t bugger choirboys any more. Another is that tempted priests are not spiritual enough in their observances or sufficiently orthodox. What about a woman involved with such a man whose attitude would be Nach dem guten Essen, eine Zigaretten nicht vergessen. Nach dem guten Rauchen, eine Frau gebrauchen! – This bit of German doggerel suggests that a woman is no more than chattel to be used once a man has had a good meal and a good smoke. The idea is quite appalling. How many men are so basic, especially if they are priests, that it would almost be better for them to go to a prostitute.

To lay aloft in a howling breeze
May tickle a lands man’s taste,
But the happiest hour a sailor sees
Is when he’s down
At an inland town,
With his Nancy on his knees, yeo ho!
And his arm a round her waist!

It is almost the idea of a reward after hardship or a long day’s work. With such a notion of marriage, we have the idea of a very selfish man who cares little or nothing about the suffering of the woman who is stuck in a relationship with him. If the priest has no more nobility or virtue than a rough fisherman or a drunkard press-ganged into serving a naval vessel in the days of Captain Bligh, then what are we to think of the priestly vocation?

At this point, we arrive exactly at the purpose of this posting. Vocation. The priesthood and ministry are a calling, the sense, purpose and meaning of life. Marriage and family life are also a vocation. However, we need to peel away the layers of meaning behind this word, often used superficially by clerics and seminaries. Someone once said that they were afraid that she would “catch” a vocation (like a disease) that would make her want to become a nun! A vocation is not (or extremely rarely) an e-mail from God, but something that comes from within (which can be caused by God, by grace, by illumination of some kind).

There are certainly many theological studies on vocation beginning with the call of Abraham, of Moses and others through the ministry of an angel or directly by God’s voice in the veil. A call to priesthood is one thing, another is celibacy and monastic chastity. It is not only repression of the sexual urge but also the acceptance of a solitary life.

I was ordained a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church and “contracted” the obligation of celibacy. I was in the Latin Rite. My superior put me into a situation where I acutely sensed the contradiction between what was expected of a cleric by the laity and their utter contempt and lack of care. It all brought out in me what the institution calls “instability”. As a psychotherapist once said to me many years ago, a person cannot keep his or her sanity when deprived of human affection, attention, empathy and opportunity to give. He related a story of patients in an asylum in Dresden when the Allies bombed the city. The building was damaged and the patients suffering from severe psychiatric disorders wandered out into the city. They found suffering on an incomprehensible scale, and began to help children, injured people and those trapped in bombed buildings. They seemed to have lost their mental illnesses and found their humanity. When they were rounded up and taken back to the asylum, their psychosis returned and they again lost their sanity. This gave me a very profound notion of vocation and our own spiritual health. This profound desire can bring an isolated and despised priest to desire marriage and some degree of normality.

I have already mentioned Le Journal d’un Curé de Campagne by Georges Bernanos in other blog articles. This is the story of a young priest in the 1930’s with stomach cancer and an inconsolable Weltschmerz. I know priests whose lives have become almost a living hell, perhaps through their fault, but also through that existential dilemma between the vocation they believed they received from God and the utter contempt and indifference of hypocritical parishioners.

The obvious problem with the RC Church opening the priesthood to married men is who is going to pay a stipend big enough for a family. Then the priest’s time has to be divided between earning his living and doing his ministry. The Orthodox and Continuing Anglican churches have married priests, but also priests who earn their own living through secular work. Consider the dioceses here in France. They don’t have the money or means to employ married men with their families. That is the practical consideration.

Very often, those who are the most opposed to the married priest are the women themselves. It can be a challenge to the woman’s self-esteem to become higher in importance to the priest’s vocation. Have him give up the priesthood and become a layman might be a very appealing idea to some women. Not all women are the same, but it is frequently in the feminine psychology to remove any sense of vocation or meaning of life from her husband other than her and the marriage. It is existential and depends on the degree to which she might be a narcissistic personality.

Other women are prepared to accept her husband’s dual vocation. It is no different when the husband is in the armed forces, the merchant navy, a lorry driver doing long hauls, anyone who works more than 9 to 5 in an office job. With the priesthood, there is the added element of a complete philosophy of life and something that might be perceived as serious competition for her love. The natural instinct is to make sure that the husband will “have no other gods than” her. However, it would be wrong of me to be too sweeping in my generalisations. The experience of many priests is different, in which the women truly support their husbands’ ministries in a self-effacing and altruistic spirit.

One aspect of a Bishop’s ministry is looking after his priests. Few films give justice to this inner conflict other than The Cardinal from 1963.

The Cardinal of Boston was in no hurry to laicise this suffering priest who after a time returned to his calling as a priest. See this film from 1 hour 22. The drama unfolds in two parts, the second of which shows the agony Fr Fermoyle was going through. The Cardinal allows him to take time off, get a teaching job in Vienna and work through it all. It is a beautiful study of pastoral flexibility in dealing with a profoundly difficult situation. That is the discernment that comes from being deeply human and spiritual.

I have seen these conflicts in others and experienced them for myself. Taking time off without making a new commitment can help us find ourselves. A priest going through this suffering needs support from his Bishop and professional help if needed. He should not be laicised too quickly but allowed to take a rest from clerical life, live like a layman and get a job or start a business. He needs hobbies that change the mind and give rest. Lastly but not least, he should spend time as a working guest in a monastery and go through a thorough spiritual overhaul or “catharsis”. During this time he should above all avoid getting involved with another person, learn about true solitude and self-acceptance. Then go and see his Bishop with his enlightened decision.

Few lay faithful will take responsibility for a priest breaking or burning out. Priests have been known to commit suicide. It is not unique to the priestly vocation, but also that of any married man, depending on whether the woman is an empath or someone who is so deeply selfish that she has no care for the suffering of her husband. The human person is as deep and ineffable a mystery as God himself. I often reflect when I go sailing and look down into the sea. We know less about the depths of the sea than the far side of the moon or another planet. We will never understand what goes on in the other person. It’s hard enough to know ourselves. The mystery of the priestly vocation or the vocation to be a husband and father is just as deep and beyond the answers we think of giving to the questions. I am constantly confronted with my inability to understand many things about others, doubtlessly because of my autism. I have learned that we must find strength within ourselves where we find the Divine Kingdom within. This is what I learn from solitude and doing almost as much work in self-knowledge as Jung did in order to find something of an understanding of others. Beyond a certain stage the man can become so spiritually and mentally maimed that there is no coming back. We retreat into our eccentricities and live in our little lodgings from one day to another.

I don’t think there is any one solution for the well-being of priests in any Church, Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Anglican. Most need some kind of community life, either a religious community of some kind or marriage. Isolation and loneliness are true sources of suffering for those who have not learned self-reliance and the art of the solitary life. Like the priestly life, marriage is a place of giving and receiving the fruits of that oblation.

I recommend The Academy of Ideas in general. It can give many ideas for building a solid philosophy of life – for living as a priest, for being a husband and father of a family, for recovering from a broken vocation or a broken marriage. Please take the time to explore the many videos these people have made, and see what we can learn.

It is not about celibacy or marriage, but the deepest meaning of vocation, what makes our lives intelligible and meaningful. We should try to delve into the philosophy of everything and to be truly ourselves.

I will leave you with this delightful evening with Quentin Crisp.

 

 

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Exclusivity

Exclusivity / inclusivity, these are two buzz words that often determine the relationship between an individual person and a corporate entity like a local or wider church. One of my brother priests has done a YouTube talk on commitment in the church community. Fr Jonathan is a very thoughtful priest in his efforts to adapt to different kinds of ministry in our little Church. One thing he emphasises is the “comfort” factor, that of people failing to become committed through fear of being uncomfortable or some degree of selfishness. He doesn’t mention the latter word but it may be in his thoughts.

In bewailing the dying church institutions, many priests and bishops fail to mention a degree of exclusivity in the existing community. The opposite of exclusivity is inclusivity, which can become a buzz word for certain kinds of identity politics. I would like to exclude this rigid ideology and belief system from my own reflection about the idea of combating exclusivity in favour of inclusivity.

What is exclusivity? I include here a video about Léonce de Saint-Martin, a brilliant French organist who occupied the organist’s post at Notre-Dame in Paris between Louis Vierne who died in 1937 and Pierre Cochereau who succeeded him in 1954.

The story is poignant. The main issue was that Saint-Martin, though from an aristocratic family (and remotely related to the mystic philosopher Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin), had not been trained at the Grand Conservatoire in Paris, the exclusive “club” for professional musicians in France. Saint-Martin was branded an “amateur” because he had not been to this school. Instead, he  had private lessons with some of the great Parisian organists of his time, but was too old to be accepted by the Conservatoire on account of having studied law and done his military service. The video, which I hope you will watch, features several compositions by Saint-Martin. The harrowing story is related about Vierne’s deteriorating mental health prior to his death in 1937.

I have known something of this “club” mentality in England. It is found in every walk of life, separating the “upper crust” from the amateurs. I have heard about some very snobbish sailing clubs where there are some strange criteria for those who are welcome and those who are not. I belong to the Dinghy Cruising Association, which is simply open to people who love sailing for reasons other than competition and racing. Being an unashamed amateur (meaning someone who loves something) is something positive for the quality of our lives. We do something because we like it. We might be more or less good at it, but we are always learning new skills as we go along. Also, it’s not something we do to earn our living, but for pleasure and personal development, often with an association.

The organ world in England is also quite toxic, both those who play the instrument and organ builders. One sign is a degree of purism, a particular kind of music or organ design rather than the wideness and diversity of the good amateur. I have known a brilliant organ designer who left the organ world totally and that would not have been good for his self-esteem. A young cathedral organist severed his connections with that world, but does a YouTube channel playing his Hauptwerk digital organ at home (which sounds like a cathedral organ) and does virtual concerts on real cathedral organs. See Beauty in Sound with Richard McVeigh.

In France between the wars, just the time of Léonce de Saint-Martin, there was a group of musicians who fought against this stuffiness. They were known as Les Six. They reacted away from neo-Romanticism and impressionism, seeking a more popular style for the young people in Paris. Despite his appearance and the style of music he composed to earn his living, Edward Elgar also represented a certain reaction from Parry and Stanford by his intimate and tuneful style when not writing imperial marches. He was softly spoken with a slight West Country accent, definitely not one of the “club”.

Now, I come to churches. Here in France, the traditionalist world is very connected with la-di-da bourgeois or minor aristocratic families from Versailles. I have been a seminarian with a priestly institute that was certainly geared towards that kind of “club” mentality. It doesn’t help to be English! I was accepted, and made myself useful with my organ playing, having made the old chapel organ playable. However, the limit of tolerance was felt in the unspoken realm, something we aspies are supposed not to experience in any way.

This can also happen in parishes with the pseudo-clericalism of groups of lay pastoral assistants (political activists?). It is a reflection of the old clericalism against which anti-clericalism rose its ugly head at the beginning of the twentieth century. Newcomers are put off by the rigid barrier the “club” holds against them. As a result, parishes become inward-looking, and then they die.

In a certain way, I can understand what Pope Francis is trying to do, though I oppose his policy of excluding traditionalists, even if they promote the “club” mentality. He is trying to set up a synodal system like in the Orthodox and Anglican Churches. We have a Provincial Synod in America and diocesan Synods. Thus we have a democratic and decentralised style of government. Maybe Pope Francis is pushing his Church towards some kind of Woke-ish ideology. Is he? That is the problem. Also, synodality can create a new form of clericalism and exclusivity as bureaucracy and collectivism enter the picture. There has to be a solid philosophy of the human person and the relationship with society and the collective.

We can’t legislate policies to improve our sense of diversity and inclusivity (again making a distinction from toxic ideologies using these words), but we can try to be good persons and do things differently from the way the group does. People who have this ability to be themselves are rare, and end up as saints! It take a lot to be an eccentric and fight the current in order to bring about authenticity and the spirit of Christ. In the end, it isn’t about people enjoying life and being too comfortable at home, but rather about what the Church is doing to welcome people, their talents and originality and be those who clear new ground.

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