Consecration to the Heart of Mary in solidarity with all Catholics

I have discovered that some traditional Roman Catholics are intending to use a special prayer of consecration to the Mother of God in the midst of their concerns. The original version, specific to Roman Catholic use, is found here. Those of us belonging to other apostolic Churches are repelled by some of the terms used.

I therefore propose (unofficially) that some may like to use the formula I have modified in solidarity with those who are concerned for Catholic Christianity in this post-humanist and godless world. We share the same concerns for souls in distress, for the liturgical tradition, for doctrinal orthodoxy and morals according to natural law and revelation, especially the sanctity of human life.

* * *

Feast of the Assumption, 15th August 2021

O Mother of God, Mother of the Church, we come to thee in this bleak hour. The forces of evil, enemies of thy beloved Son, rear their heads with overweening audacity. Our families are under relentless attack, the unborn are slaughtered by the millions, our children are scandalised and corrupted, vice is glorified and sanctioned by law, our most fundamental liberties are being speedily curtailed. Good is now called evil, and evil good (Cf. Is 5:20).

Nor is this lamentable situation confined to the secular world. In our beloved Church, founded by thy Divine Son, the cause of Truth and Justice is often brushed aside; priests who stand up for the moral law are silenced and besmirched; religious communities devoted to traditional observance are pressed to compromise or written off as outdated; the Sacred Liturgy handed down by Tradition is under overt attack. In this hour of fierce trial and impending persecution, we entrust to thee our woes. Thou hast assured us that, in the end, thy sinless Heart would triumph. This promise consoles us, and we are ever mindful that we must make ourselves worthy of such a victory by the sanctity of our lives.

Our Lady of Victories, on this day, as we honour thy glorious victory over death and look up with joy to the eternal crown of victory which rests upon thy beloved head, we are filled with confidence that thou dost not forget thy beloved sons and daughters, still labouring in sorrow in this vale of tears.

In many revelations and apparitions to innocent souls, thou didst request that the entire world, and especially those countries still under the yoke of totalitarianism, should be consecrated to thy resplendent Heart. As we look around us, it is all too clear that our societies live more and more as if there were no God. We are saddened by the plight of our beloved Churches in which prominent Catholics are allowed with impunity to reject the most formal teachings of our faith without condemnation and even with approval, while faithful Catholics who defend the moral law and cleave to the sacred rites and traditions of our Fathers are forced to the margins. In this hour, Most Powerful Virgin, each one of us approaches with filial confidence thy sinless and Maternal Heart.

United together with all Catholic communities of various institutional Churches around the world and who are attached to Tradition, we consecrate to thee ourselves, our families, our communities, our priests, our bishops, our metropolitans, patriarchs and the Pope, and the whole world. We consecrate our world to thy Immaculate Heart. We entrust to thy maternal intercession all those whose lives and whose souls are in danger: the unborn, the youth, the elderly, the weak and handicapped, the persecuted and the slandered, the famished souls who search in vain for the clarity of truth and the purity of divine worship. We ask thee to look down with thy merciful eyes and to save one and all.

In a very special way, we consecrate to thee all the priests and faithful who remain devoted to their ancient liturgical traditions. We ask thee to protect every priest in whose heart thou hast sown the resolve to persevere, to give him the grace and the courage to stand firm in the midst of whatever persecution he may have to undergo. We entrust to thee all the traditional religious communities and secular priests, that they may be unshakeable in fidelity to their charisma, immoveable in their dedication to doing the truth in charity (cf. Eph 4:15) for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

O Woman clothed with the sun, upon whose head rests a crown of twelve stars and under whose feet lies the moon – symbol of change and instability – (cf. Apoc 12:1), abandon us not in this hour which we know is thy hour. Spread thy immaculate mantle over each of us, our families and communities, and protect us from all harm. Keep us ever faithful to the practice of the true faith and to the Mass of our Fathers. Lead us to that heavenly home where, with thee and all the angels and saints, we may forever be the Praise of the Glory of the Most Holy Trinity (Cf. Eph 1:12). Amen.

Sub tuum praesidium…

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Terrific Interview

This is a terrific interview of Robert Moynihan. He thinks this new challenge will cause the movement for the traditional liturgy to awaken and grow.

He talks quite a lot about Annibale Bugnini, the bête noire of the liturgical reform. The Christian name today makes us think of a cannibal in the Hannibal films! We should read Louis Bouyer’s work, especially when he challenged Bugnini’s approach.

Watch the interview, several times as necessary. I found it fascinating.

Why do I continue to feel concerned about a Church to which I no longer belong? It is an analogy of the “brave new” secular Anglicanism. It occurred to me that this dialogue is still replete to the theme of conversion to the “true church”. The facts show that Roman Catholicism is no more true (or at least exclusively true) than Orthodoxy, Old Roman Catholicism and continuing Anglicanism. We are called to conversion to God through prayer, spiritual life and repentance from our sins. The Episcopate and the priesthood exist in several institutional churches, and the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church subsists in them all. Indeed we are each day called to conversion to the Church, in whichever institution it might subside. I feel quite repelled by the traditionalist RC institutes, but they do uphold a spiritual view of Christianity. However, they are shrill about matters which could be dealt with by kindness and care for persons in different situations in life. We seek conversion and to be better Christians  in the Old Roman Catholic and continuing Anglican Churches. We are called to conversion where we are.

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Fr Claude Barthe on Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio

Fr Claude Barthe is a French traditionalist Roman Catholic priest. I have read several of his books and I greatly esteem his capacity for rational analysis. I last saw him in 2009 at a conference in Versailles about the developments around Anglicanorum Coetibus in November 2009. At the time, I believed Archbishop Hepworth’s narrative and the French traditionalist priests were very warm in my regard. I was already out of communion with Rome under the John Paul II pontificate. Fr Barthe has an interest in liturgical studies, and particularly reflects on the situation of Christianity in today’s world. In his book Trouvera-t-il encore la foi sur la terre?, he mentions the thought of Georges Bernanos who wrote the famous Journal d’un Curé de Campagne. These words are most characteristic of the young parish priest already dying of cancer:

Ma paroisse est dévorée par l’ennui, voilà le mot. Comme tant d’autres paroisses ! L’ennui les dévore sous nos yeux et nous n’y pouvons rien. Quelque jour peut-être la contagion nous gagnera, nous découvrirons en nous ce cancer. On peut vivre très longtemps avec ça.

“My parish is devoured by boredom, that’s the word. Like so many other parishes! Boredom is devouring them before our eyes and we can do nothing about it. Perhaps one day the contagion will reach us, we will discover this cancer in ourselves. You can live with that for a long time”. Bernanos found that this boredom was not limited to parishes or even the Church, but it is all around us, and in ourselves if we do not take care for our souls in this world of conformity, technocracy and bureaucracy.

The Roman Catholic Church is becoming a clone of the Anglican Communion. You can make what you want of that boring fact.

I was sure that Fr Barthe would have something to say sooner or later about Pope Francis’ motu proprio. Traditionis Custodes une nouvelle guerre liturgique ? Un entretien avec l’Abbé Claude Barthe is found on the website of Paix Liturgique and apparently also in Présent. An English translation is now available in Rorate Coeli. Italian Bishops and Cardinals were the origin and moving force behind Traditionis Custodes (an Interview with Fr. Claude Barthe)

Something I will say, full of cynicism and sarcasm, is that it would be useless at this stage to ask permission in the RC Church to celebrate according to the Use of Sarum!

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The Godless Church

This morning, thanks to Dr William Tighe’s e-mails of news links, I read this interview of Benedict XVI by a German newspaper – Benedict XVI laments lack of faith in German Catholic officialdom. This expression of his thought is quite powerful, and it is something I have felt in my own life: an organisation that fails to recognise a person as such, but as a number, a cog in the machinery of mass humanity. It is certainly what would inspire a poet to write the words of William Blake :

And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic Mills?

Institutionalisation is a constant in history. In the case of the Church, it was the Peace of Constantine in 313 when it received official status in the Roman Empire. This process has sapped the spiritual and specifically Christian content of the Church over the centuries, but some spontaneity continued to exist at a local level in parishes and other small communities. We live in a time when the Church, not only Roman Catholic but Anglican too, loses credibility in terms of a spiritual testimony.

One thing I have noticed in my own experience is that we have to be perfect in every way, completely “stable” and free from any canonical irregularity. It is all about one’s institutional profile, originating from the right kind of family (preferably a source of money). It isn’t just me. I noticed this for others in seminary as they ingratiated themselves with superiors and the little hierarchies of authority. Life in a community has constraints and necessary limits of freedom, as in society at large. It is just a question of degree and balance between rules and their reason for existing.

I no longer have any contact with the French Church. I observed little groups of conservative-looking priests in discussion after a ceremony at Pontmain. I certainly did not expect any of them to run up to me, in civil dress, shake my hand and tell me wonderful things. Why should they, any more than any stranger in the street? I was once a part of that world but no longer. They and I live in different worlds, different universes. What about the German Church of which Josef Ratzinger was an Archbishop? It seems to be as impersonal as any social security agency treating its subjects according to criteria and how well each person would fit into which category.

Ratzinger finds that the German Church is no longer about faith and religion but about politics and social issues.

Many people are involved in decisive positions who do not support the internal mission of the church and thus often obscure the witness of this institution.

The “official church”

insinuates an inner contradiction between what faith actually wants and means, and its depersonalization.

It has become a machine. In the 1980’s when I contemplated returning to the Church of England, I discerned the tendencies that would become ever more pronounced in time. I would have to prove how I would be identical to mass humanity and its criteria rather than be dealt with as a person. Without doubt, it is not as monolithic as I feared and there are expressions of faith and mysticism.

Josef Ratzinger as a young professor “asked a young bishop who was a friend of his to contribute a text to be published in the Catholic magazine Communio, in which the bishop described his work at the bishops’ conference”. He read the text and expressed this critical idea:

The manuscript he sent us, however, was obviously written by his section and was in fact the language of the apparatus, not the language of a person. Unfortunately, this experience was repeated many times later.

How is the balance found? How can the Church be in the world and not of the world?

Benedict expressed this astounding idea in an essay he published in 2019:

A world without God can only be a world without meaning. For where, then, does everything that is come from? In any case, it has no spiritual purpose. It is somehow simply there and has neither any goal nor any sense. Then there are no standards of good or evil. Then only what is stronger than the other can assert itself. Power is then the only principle. Truth does not count, it actually does not exist. Only if things have a spiritual reason, are intended and conceived — only if there is a Creator God who is good and wants the good — can the life of man also have meaning.

If the Church loses its spiritual purpose, then only power, money and sexual libido have any importance. The spectre of Nazism rears its ugly head, because it is an image of depravity and hell going far beyond earthly politics or ideologies. Should this bureaucratic organisation go the way of anything that has lost its fitness for purpose? Close it down and sell off the buildings? Perhaps. Perhaps the Church needs to be modelled on the communities in the catacombs before the Edict of Milan of 313.

We are brought to think of the Roman Catholic traditionalists and continuing Anglicans, like John Wesley and the first Methodists of the eighteenth century. They were and are a challenge to the bureaucratic notion of the Church that exists for no more than its own sake.

Should a Church not be organised? The Anglican Catholic Church to which I belong is organised. It has administration, financial reports, secretary’s reports and everything needed to keep some internal coherence. We are attentive to the danger of potential sexual predators in the clergy, hopefully without being too paranoid about it. We make sure that our places of worship meet certain rules about safety so that no one has an accident through our negligence. All associations and businesses are run according to similar rules, according to their finality. A business earns money. A sailing club promotes sailing. A church promotes faith and prayer, together with communion between the souls who attend church services and other common activities.

At the same time, I don’t see my Church as bureaucratic. Bureaucracy needs definition, and this is not easy. Generally, we can find several definitions:

  • an administrative system within the social structure of modern, mass society
  • a hierarchical arrangement between the parts of an organisation in which the pyramid order is based on division of function and authority
  • a power-wielding organisation with a hierarchy of ranks, the statuses and functions of which are planned in advance and in which the official activities of personnel are supervised by the next higher rank, up to the apex of control
  • a large-scale formal organisation that is designed to coordinate the activities of many individuals in the pursuit of administrative tasks.

We recognise here the structures of the government of a country or very big business corporations, or in the Vatican or the levers of power in the Church of England. The defining word would seem to be impersonality and dehumanisation. The governing principle is Groupthink and the extinction of personal talent. In my work as a translator, I deal with many texts about corporate management. Some forward-thinking corporations are discovering that they do better to respect individual persons and welcome their contribution of skills and values. The Church is always fifty years behind the cutting edge of secular society!

One tendency I notice in modern Churches is a kind of Jacobinism. It characterises what has just happened when Pope Francis issued his motu proprio Traditiones Custodes. I suspect, unconventionally, that it is not a swipe against traditionalists as such but the beginning of a purge of diocesan bishops who are sympathetic to communities under their oversight wanting to use the old Latin liturgy – and critical of the bureaucratic model of the institutional Church. I have read many commentaries on this story, and this is the theory I suspect might have some basis in fact. The Pope is gambling, and he knows that he is going the way of all mortal flesh. It is a bit late for a Pope to be declaring this kind of internal war in the Church. Now he has done so, we can expect this little Napoleon or Robespierre to meet his Waterloo! How long will that take?

What happens in those big “mainstream” churches is not really my problem. At the same time, they affect the credibility of Christianity in the world among souls seeking a spiritual and idealistic way of life away from bureaucracy and materialism, the Machine. I think the big institutional Churches will empty out and run out of money. It makes anyone sad to see churches sold off today, cathedrals tomorrow. What a waste and what an epitaph to centuries of history! Like Non-Conformists of yesterday, our little Churches and communities will try to witness to the credibility of Christianity in spite of human evil, both corporate and individual.

Like in the early Church, I celebrate Mass in an upstairs room of a house, hidden from the world. I just try to keep going, knowing that I am not alone but in communion with fellow Christians in England, America and many other parts of the world.

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Roman Catholic Woes

I am one of relatively few who has swum the Tiber both ways, return journey. I left the Church of England and returned to Anglicanism via the Continuum. I experienced the traditionalist world at first hand. I knew the most toxic and fanatical elements, and I have also known gentle and beautiful souls who sought sanctity and the beauty of holiness.

I was also able to discover my own difficulties in relating, because my experience was analogous in the community as in marriage. I have (Aspergers) autism which essentially means that I cannot deal with the cut and thrust of hypocritical and insincere people negotiating for power, money and sexual domination. I live on “another planet”, and found refuge in a Church where I was not expected to take extreme political positions or adopt the “one true church” ideology.

Pope Francis has decided (the writing was on the wall for a good while) to line up his sights on the traditionalists, defining them by their liturgical use. It is ironic, since many traditionalists used their liturgical rite and other symbols (like the cassock) to promote extreme political views like the intégrisme favoured by Pope Pius X at the beginning of the twentieth century. I lived in the traditionalist world from 1981 when I was received by a priest of the Society of St Pius X. The following year, I went to France hoping to escape the crankiness of many I found at St Joseph and St Padarn in Holloway Road. Many would call this kind of rigorism and fanaticism a form of Jansenism (Jansenism and Jansenism Revisited). I would call it the madness of mass humanity as happened in Nazi Germany when ordinary people hung on every word of Hitler and Göbbels. Over the years, I separated from this kind of sectarian religion and learned about alternative theories and views about truth and consciousness. Eventually, I would discover Romanticism and noble souls like Thomas Mann. Many others too have taken the road of silence and attend Mass and prayers, but avoid the indoctrinating socialisation on the steps outside the church door. This silent minority is also being punished because all they want is a Christian life with the old rite but without having to adopt a clear identity other than being simply Catholic.

The motu proprio Traditiones Custodes is a clear expression of the Pope’s policy of reversing that of Benedict XVI which was to “mainstream” traditionalists and grant them a particular liturgy in the legitimate diversity of rites that those of religious orders and some dioceses like Lyons and Milan. The official text and its English translation is found here. I won’t go through it all here. Quite simply, those who want the old rite have not only to accept the mainstream status quo but also to identify with a self-defined traditionalist community. This is the crunch point of belonging to an ecclesial institution and not being able to accept things like the new rite, the ordination of women (in the Church of England). It is an agonising choice. We choose marginalisation or leaving institutional Christianity altogether.

Personally, I returned to Anglicanism to find an ecclesial spirit that was generally much less fanatical, though upholding traditional rites in archaic English. Being mostly alone as a priest, I was allowed at an unofficial level to adopt the Use of Sarum, which I continue to use. I probably belong to that category of people called geeks or enthusiasts for anything that is out of the ordinary. I have many friends who as laymen collect church plate and vestments, making them available for the priests they support. Some of my friends became Orthodox, even if it meant embracing the Byzantine Liturgy and a whole different Christian culture. It was the only way they could remain coherent.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit, the very force that promoted ultra-papalism in the nineteenth century around Vatican I and the pontificate of Pius IX. It is all about obedience, blind obedience, Der Führerprinzip which Hitler “borrowed” from the Church. It is all about authority. Benedict XVI has a different attitude as a German, placing Tradition and custom above authority. Authority has to be accountable, something we are reading about all the time in the political world of prime ministers and presidents of republics. The ultra-papalist Pope is accountable to no one, and that is the very weakness of a system that has destroyed its own credibility.

In a piece of his writing, a friend of mine has pointed out that, like in current British politics, the blame has to be put on an enemy, the “rigid” traditionalists. They are the ones to blame, not the pedophile clergy or the money embezzlers. This is not entirely just, because, at least in theory, sex-abusers and crooks are severely sanctioned in Rome. Unfortunately, the bias seems to be in favour of liberals who are far from liberal or concerned with other people’s freedom. Like in society in general, Catholics are becoming polarised in the extreme positions and “cancel” each other. This new motu proprio comes over more as a punishment than a real pastoral attempt to win the unity of the faithful in Christ.

The impression I have is the story of Charlie Chaplin’s Dictator, in which the Jewish community in Tomania is tolerated for as long as Hynkel is negotiating for a loan with the Jewish banker to finance the invasion of Osterlich. The loan is refused and Hynkel declares his persecution of the Jews with the repeated word “Straff, straff!” (German word for punishment).

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not accusing the Pope of being like the Nazis, but there are profound human characteristics in common which make comparisons possible.

For many years, I have thought that the Roman Catholic institution (like the Church of England) need to go to the end of their self-destructive logic and face the consequences. I share many ideas with Rod Dreher in terms of seeking to live a Christian and priestly life differently. Personally, I am not persecuted, but I am already in the catacombs. I have come to terms with certain realities. I am canonically irregular for Rome and I would not be acceptable to the traditionalists because I am not of the right Apostolic succession or I am unorthodox. I am elsewhere, and I legitimately function as a priest because I am under episcopal jurisdiction.

I won’t go calling Pope Francis names or saying that he is some kind of anti-Christ. That kind of talk is sterile and hateful, and not based on real evidence. We can be prophetic and apocalyptic, as nihilistic as we want. But that will bring no good. I sense and observe many of the things Dostoyevsky found in late nineteenth-century Russia: madness, nihilism, negativity. This is what brought me to Russian philosophers and the inspiration they found in German Romanticism. There is another side to humanity from this ugliness.

I am realistic to come to terms with the fact that this century may well resemble the past one, not with the same symbols and caricatures, but with the same ideologies deep down. Those who will not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. The victory has already been won by Christ. Our tiny little communities, identifying with Roman Catholicism or Anglo-Catholicism (or Old Roman Catholicism for that matter) may go the way of all mortal flesh, but we will have tried. I and many others are not concerned for ecclesial respectability or status. We have been down the road of contradiction for so long already.

Our duty now (at least mine) is to know what liturgy really means to us. We need to go to the heart of everything and not remain at the superficial level of appearance or worldly politics. It is not unlike my own campaign to revive the Use of Sarum, a new Romantic medievalism and a way out of the present dualism of extremes. In worldly terms, it is hopeless, and we will have died before anything moves. Our vocation is to sow seeds without any hope of reaping a harvest. That harvest will be for others.

I leave this subject with the words of the repentant Cardinal Altamirano in the film The Mission:

Your Holiness, the little matter that brought me here to the furthest edge of your light on Earth is now settled. The Indians are once more free to be enslaved by the Spanish and Portuguese settlers. I don’t think that’s hitting the right note. Begin again… Your Holiness, I write to you in this year of Our Lord 1758 from the southern continent of the Americas, from the town of Asunción, in the Province of La Plata, two weeks march from the great mission of San Miguel. These missions have provided a refuge for the Indians against the worst depredations of the settlers and have earned much resentment because of it. The noble souls of these Indians incline towards music. Indeed, many a violin played in the academies of Rome itself has been made by their nimble and gifted hands. It was from these missions the Jesuit fathers carried the word of God to the high and undiscovered plateau to those Indians still existing in their natural state and received in return, martyrdom.

These final words resound in my mind, remembering that the Church was in the pockets of those anti-religious rulers like the King of Portugal. I have in my own time known priests who died from broken hearts. Cardinal Altamirano utters the words of his own salvation or damnation:

So, your Holiness, now your priests are dead, and I am left alive. But in truth it is I who am dead, and they who live. For as always, your Holiness, the spirit of the dead will survive in the memory of the living.

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And in the depth be praise

Praise to the Holiest in the height,
And in the depth be praise:
In all His words most wonderful;
Most sure in all His ways.

I had the immense privilege and joy of having lunch with Dr Gavin Ashenden who is presently in France and lives only an hour from my home when he is over here. We first met in Oxford in 2018. What I discovered in him was a rare depth of spirit, akin to that of Russian philosophers like Berdyaev who lived through the end of the old Russian Empire and the bloody Revolution of 1917. We live in a new time of nihilism, extreme polarisation and encroaching totalitarianism. The foreboding signs are there for all to see.

I draw your attention to a dialogue between Dr Ashenden and Rod Dreher:

The tone is sombre as the way ahead for us all seems to be the collapse of civilisation and the catacombs. I also listened to The Christian Mental Health Crisis involving Damien Thompson, also a profound mind. We have lived through the Covid crisis differently, the more extroverted people suffering the most from their deprivation of their habitual level of social life.

Dr Ashenden has a rare degree of profound thought and knowledge of philosophy. He has my esteem and my beginning of a friendship. I also praise him for his honesty of mind, even letting go of many certitudes. Whether we are Anglicans, Roman Catholics or Orthodox, we live in hope, not certitude. We are called to be faithful confessors of the Faith.

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Megachurch or bust?

About a week ago, I read the article Defining Church Growth for Traditional Anglicans: Leaving behind failed models of church growth for new ones. I wondered whether it would inspire some thoughts from me. It didn’t. Then this came up: The Church is abandoning its flock, the CofE’s great leap forward will cull clergy and abandon parishioners by Giles Fraser. I found this in Unherd, the group of people with critical minds about our slow descent to Orwellian Dystopia and living hell.

Already for Nietzsche in the nineteenth century, there was something very wrong with institutional Christianity. I keep quoting Alan Watts about the Church having lost its way from the notion of spiritual life. It is odd to hear about some of the clerical elite calling for a de-clericalised church that should sell off the buildings. Rest assured that the elite would change form but still hold the purse strings! Only the appearance of the bureaucracy would change. The medieval church is sold and the rich person’s lounge becomes the new church. Who else has enough space for the crowds of “vibrant” worshippers. It all drips with cynicism.

The church is not called to be successful. It is called to be faithful. I would prefer for us to die with dignity, being faithful to our calling, rather than to turn ourselves inside out trying to be superficially attractive, thus abandoning the faith as we have understood it.

The first article I mentioned is from a Continuing Anglican source (the second concerning the Church of England). The American scene is so different from what we have in the UK and even less in Continental Europe. The author of this article is critical of marketing methods as I have always been. I do quite a lot of translations of texts about corporate management, leadership of teams and projects. If that kind of collectivism enters the Church, that is the end of human spiritual life. Why bother?

What is important is quality, not quantity. The author tries to resume his recommendation in several points. I add my own words to his theme titles.

Authenticity. Let’s cut the crap and decide what we believe in.

Inspiration. People are inspired by different things. Again, we can begin by being ourselves and honest.

Beauty and Mystery. This is mainly manifested through liturgy, resisting the urges of philistinism, the “cancelling” of beauty, yet avoiding exaggerated rubricism. Naturally, beauty will only be appealing in a world that is mostly concerned only with money and what money can buy. You don’t throw pearls to swine!

An emphasis on mystery, paradox and interiority are antidotes to cold rationalism, and empty materialism.

These are the very thoughts of Romanticism.

Meaning and Purpose. Frankly, I find very little in the way of meaning of life in the average parish. It is much easier in the village where I live. The church is open every day, which is a complement to the person who keeps the key. I suspect it is more to keep the building dry rather than anything else. I often visit the church to go to a discreet place and pray. I haven’t seen anyone else doing the same thing. The church is only used for funerals and those are rarely conducted by priests. It is quite heartbreaking, but there is still some love for this Romanesque building and its baroque altars. Memento mori. The cemetery is beautifully maintained here, though, sadly, some graves have been abandoned and forgotten for decades. The remains will be removed and buried in the common grave, and the spaces will be made available for new burials. Ironically, a church reduced to the burial of the dead reminds us all of that one certitude, our mortality. Are we machines to be thrown away when we don’t work any more? Is there a consciousness that transcends both life and death and which eludes both reason and imagination? Perhaps the old church is still doing its job by its mere presence and the lay people working with the undertakers to ensure a decent burial for all.

Authority. There will be authority for as long as there is law and consequences for not observing the terms of the social contract. My freedom to swing my fist is limited by where your nose begins. Authority exists for the common good, though it often falls into the hands of the unworthy and unscrupulous. It therefore has to be subject to criticism and accountability. It is the same with Popes, Archbishops of Canterbury, Patriarchs and Metropolitans, clergy of every denomination and religion. The most important is the purpose of this authority and what it upholds.

Christ-likeness. What was Christ like? We have the Gospels as witnesses, but interpretation is not always easy. Most of us think of kindness and forgiveness, willingness to suffer rather than make others suffer. I tend to think of the paradox, the Sign of Contradiction, being oneself rather than following fashions and collective thinking. I don’t think we will solve it all in a few words. I think of the contrast between the Grand Inquisitor of Dostoyevsky and Christ who was in the place of the heretic on trial for his life. Who was the most Christian, Christ himself or the Cardinal taking advantage of his power having “cancelled” the freedom of the little people?

In his Charge to Synod yesterday, Bishop Damien Mead spoke of future-proofing the Church. That can mean good material stewardship, but it above all means our fidelity even if we end up doing little more than bury the dead. I believe we can still do more and be a small worshipping community of the living.

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Rigid Repression of Rigidity

Should I comment about this subject? Is it just a blind alley of cognitive dissonance? In the end, perhaps I may be able to contribute positively. The article on which I base my reflections today is Pope calls for an end to ‘intransigent defense of tradition’.

I am as much against abortion as any other human being who seeks to defend the sanctity of life, from both Christian and humanist points of view. However, there is a way to dealing with these questions from the study of moral theology and ethics, politics, medicine and sociology. When we have groups of fanatical people banging the same drum, with the effect of the Chinese Water Torture, the cause somewhat loses its credibility. We are dealing with a new wave of puritanism, just the same as with Woke and all the other single-issues that are subjects of obsession and extreme intolerance. It is a very frightening tendency especially when we read the history of the 1920’s with the rise of Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism.

Many do uphold the older forms of the liturgy with the same mentality, and often converging with these moral issues, especially regarding homosexuality, gender identity and a particularly narrow idea of the Christian family. I have been to the USA four times in my life, once to stay with a friend in Baltimore, twice to be of service to a chivalric order in Tennessee and once to a traditionalist chapel and its bishop in Florida. I hardly scratched the surface of American conservatism or integralism. I was once a seminarian in an American community in Rome founded by Msgr John McCarthy who had worked in the Roman Curia and was particularly bothered by “liberal” or demythologising biblical exegesis. We had the Pauline liturgy in Latin and celebrated in a conservative way, suggestive of the way Anglo-Catholic priests in the nineteenth century “interpreted” the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Indeed, the priest who celebrated our community Mass most days was Australian and a convert from Anglicanism. He was one of the few joys in this community lodged at the Czech College still in the Communist era. I saw the sadness on the faces of those men who had sacrificed everything for their vocations, and it reflected in this American community with other concerns in regard to secular and post-Christian society. These men were not the worst of radicalised Catholics. Even as far back as then, I was reacting away from Aristotelian and Thomistic realism and seeking something that recognised the human spirit outside these categories.

Previously, with the Society of St Pius X (I left them around Easter 1983), I found radicalised and rigid attitudes, conspiracy theorists, people with binary thinking that was so far removed from the reality of most of us. In France, political ideas were more or less founded on those of Charles Maurras and Action Française. There were the monarchists divided between the Orléanistes and the Légitimistes. It all seemed new to me in 1981, but the idea of restoring the French Monarchy would be something like restoring the Stuart dynasty in England and having the USA back in the British Empire! All the same, these dreams seemed as nothing compared to the truly sinister collectivist ideas of those who would take the places of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco – burning heretics as in bygone centuries. When people professing to be Christians hold the same fundamental discourse as Dostoievsky’s Grand Inquisitor, what can be done?

From what I am reading about Pope Francis and the so-called “rigid” Catholics, I am brought into the presence of another form of integralism – repression. Thesis – antithesis – synthesis. We have the dialectical clash of opposites which only brings out more hatred and radical opinions.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit. Their spirituality is based on Renaissance Christian Humanism and gentleness. At the same time, any means is justified to advance Christendom. Many lessons are learned through the book and the film The Mission, about the Guarani missions in what today is Brazil in the 1750’s. We see the contrast between Cardinal Altamirano in his political pragmatism and scruples of conscience, Father Gabriel the gentle contemplative and missionary and the aggressive Rodrigo Mendoza who had repented of killing his brother in a duel. How was everyone to react in the face of Portuguese imperialism and rationalist anti-clericalism? Altamirano chose to negotiate, Gabriel appealed to the oppressor by holiness and beauty, the Blessed Sacrament, and remembered that he was there as a priest. Mendoza decided to fight with the arms he had abandoned on his conversion. Jesuits use a military analogy in their rigid and blind obedience to authority, especially the Pope. It comes from piety and self-denial, but assumes the goodness and purity of intention of the authority, which is – human. This would be a simplistic way of understanding the present Pope, which would require a profound study of his preaching and writings.

Repression will not be the answer, even though I can sympathise with the Fr Gabriel in him. However, radicalism is not cured by repression or abolition of various concessions by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. A return to the status quo of c. 1976 when Paul VI suspended Archbishop Lefebvre would seem to be unrealistic. That was 45 years ago, and there is less in the coffers to keep the institution going.

St. Paul was liberated from “the most oppressive form of slavery, which is slavery to self,” stated the Pope. Not only this, but Paul was “set free from the religious fervour that had made him a zealous defender of his ancestral traditions (cf. Gal 1:14) and a cruel persecutor of Christians.”

There may be something of a Dostoievsky in Pope Francis who seems to observe the enmity between the profound spirit of Christ and religious intolerance. Are we going to beat intolerance with intolerance as did the Jacobins in the 1790’s as cartloads of people were taken to the guillotine? The dividing line is very fine between inquisitor and inquisitor!

Formal religious observance and the intransigent defence of tradition, rather than making him open to the love of God and of his brothers and sisters, had hardened him: he was a fundamentalist.

We find here unjustified stereotyping and binary thinking. What is tradition? There is no single or simple answer. What is fundamentalism? Is it a literalist way of reading Scripture or an American form of European integralism? Many of these distinctions are glossed over by the “simple” Jesuit. To be a Christian, you have to free yourself from tradition. Why not go further and tell people that they have no longer to be bound by the institutional Church. All of a sudden, there are fewer butts in the pews and less money to keep the institution going. I wonder if that would be the thing to do in a revolutionary and nihilistic act of destruction followed by building something new, a total reboot. Would not such a destruction of Christian tradition be followed by atheism or recourse to another religion?

We too have been touched by the Lord; we too have been set free. Yet we need to be set free time and time again, for only a free Church is a credible Church.

Yes and no. What is that free Church? Unfortunately a free Church is something like the Methodists or Continuing Anglicanism. Were Pope Francis to encourage that, he has only to step down, give the Vatican to Turkey and leave the rest of us to live our faith in our little communities. I wonder who would pay his pension, because most of us “non-conformists” have to earn our own living by work and living very invisibly in the world.

I think that most of us would agree that we have to live our faith from the inside-outwards rather than in the manner of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Like Paul, we are called to be set free from hypocritical outward show, free from the temptation to present ourselves with worldly power rather than with the weakness that makes space for God, free from a religiosity that makes us rigid and inflexible; free from dubious associations with power and from the fear of being misunderstood and attacked.

Is this Cardinal Altamirano or Fr Gabriel? Or is this the imperialistic ambition of the Portuguese king with his masonic and anti-clerical tendencies? I am all for Christianity without worldly power or being determined by other people’s sins. However, Francis seems quite oblivious to anything positive to replace the rigidity and intolerance. He seems little concerned with anything other than his own status as Pope and source of everything.

It may be easy to preach to my own chapel, but I personally suffered from the kind of rigidity he denounced, but the remedy is not a new bout of iconoclasm and repression of the old liturgy. Benedict XVI’s answer was the openness of which he was capable with a love of beauty and man’s deepest desire, the beauty of the liturgy that is an icon of God’s love. Hatred cannot be answered by repression but by love.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Has not Pope Francis thought of celebrating Masses in the old rite and seeking to win the hearts of those intolerant and rigid people, to warm them from the inside? Only warmth will melt ice. Only light will dissipate darkness.

Today too there is no shortage of preachers who, especially through the new means of communication, can disturb communities. They present themselves not primarily to announce the Gospel of God who loves man in Jesus, Crucified and Risen, but to insist, as true ‘keepers of the truth’ — so they call themselves — on the best way to be Christians.

Beware, Your Holiness, lest you fall into the same trap of the Evil One…

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Liturgical Wars

I have not commented on the recent reports about Pope Francis wanting to restrict the older Roman liturgy in opposition to the legislation of his predecessor Benedict XVI. It is not my war, but I am ready to listen to those who have a balanced and evidence-based judgement. One such person is Dom Alcuin Reid who has published some of my own work in the T&T Companion to Liturgy. He has just published an article On liturgical wars and rumors of wars.

Dom Alcuin begins by saying that a level of concern exists in the traditionalist Roman Catholic world. I am now very out of touch with this world, even in France where there was the most resistance to the liturgical reforms of the 1960’s and 70’s, especially that of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his Society of St Pius X. The Fraternity of St Peter and the Institute of Christ the King have been most successful is assembling people of a conservative mindset who bring up large families. Many of those people go on retreats to the various religious communities and monasteries of the same general tendency that often colludes with far right-wing political opinions.

Like in the political world, the traditionalists and the diocesan establishment have placed themselves in quite rigid ideologies. We are fifty years on from 1971 and the apologists for the liturgical reforms still talk of “renewal” and “return to pristine sources”. The situation in most parish churches outside the cities reminds me somewhat of the eighteenth century in England against which the first aspirations of Methodism and Anglo-Catholicism reacted. One big problem in the Roman Catholic Church is its rigid authority structure, something like Erastianism in England in the days when Ritualist vicars were sent to prison for non-compliance to the 1662 Prayer Book. The ideological parallels continue.

I appreciate Dom Alcuin’s reflection on sectarianism and the ghetto mentality among some traditionalists. At the same time, it is not easy to cultivate tolerance in the face of clerical intolerance of diocesan bishops and bureaucracies. There are problems with the way clergy are trained in some of the seminaries. The implications are quite clear, especially measured by my own experience, when I read the words self-serving narcissism in clergy and content to live in a gilt cage decorated according to the tastes of their preferred century in history. These strong indictments are not only targeted against priests celebrating the Pius V liturgy. I saw it in the faces and manners of some of the cassock-wearing clergy I saw in their little groups at Pontmain – closed to the world.

Dom Alcuin sees things as a monk – One of the first tests of a young man seeking to enter the monastic life is to see whether he is capable of hard manual work without complaint. Monastic life can also involve totalitarian control and breaking of persons. I very much agree, and it is why I appreciate the fact that my Church does not have the resources to pay stipends to the clergy, but that we must earn our own living through work unless we are retired and on a pension. Our clergy are not afraid to be in civil dress when “off-duty” or socialising with people for reasons other than church. There are situations when the cassock is appropriate and when it is not. I have expressed my ideas about clergy training, which is just about what we do in the Anglican Catholic Church – have men do serious studies and be involved in parish ministry for their “apprenticeship”. There are problems associated with married candidates, but this issue is beyond my ability to express myself with credibility.

I do think that were the Roman authorities to restore the status quo of the 1970’s, many would revolt as people kick back against what may be excessive Covid lockdown measures in the countries where we live. Such measures against the old liturgy would undermine their authority. Blind obedience is no longer a part of the Roman Catholic ethos.

The article is interesting but struck me by its irrelevance to my present life. I am no longer in that French traditionalist world, but I am isolated as an Anglican in a place where there is no interest in Anglicanism. One can’t have it both ways. Thus you will see our clergy as much in suits and ties or casual dress as cassocks, and celebrating ancient forms of liturgy and referring to other times in history when Christianity meant more in the world. We socialise in a world where “churchy” things put people off because of the negative associations. Should there arrive a real persecution of Christianity in the future, we need to be able to become scarlet pimpernels and live in the catacombs.

One day, things will become clear to us whichever institutional Church we belong to.

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Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi Christian University

We often read about drifts in the great Universities of Europe and the British Isles. Some are not true as official policy, but some professors have been influenced by Woke and its desire to “cancel culture”. We do have to be careful about what we believe and adopt a prudent attitude in the absence of real evidence.

Perhaps on the other hand, we should be aware of the influence of some fine philosophers in the task of education of school children and university students alike. As I discovered the German Romantic philosopher Novalis, I read about his notion of Bildung in German education. Novalis was not the only one to express such ideas, but I think this is a good mind to approach. Another was none other than Newman in his Idea of a University.

The Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi Christian University exists to teach us to think and be purposeful, not go along with some ideology of mass humanity. Novalis was very close to Fichte who was deeply influenced by Kant. Philosophy aims to bring us to know ourselves.

True idealism, Novalis claims, is not opposed to realism, but only to formalism.

A proper account of the self, in its relation to itself, should consider the self’s development in and through history as well as its externalizing of itself in the encounter with other minds and nature. Novalis did not invent Bildung – education in and through culture, but developed it. It brings the student to become mature and self-understanding. It brings a capacity to make a reasoned judgement. Novalis’ Romanticism consisted of bringing ourselves to a state of critical self-understanding. We cannot do this work alone but in a spirit of commitment to the wider community in a tradition of history, science and art. There is a traditionalist dimension, but one that is tempered by critical reasoning and a desire to understand history. Another dimension of Bildung is the dialogue with the other’s point of view, not the usual way in our days of opinionated persons shouting others down in a narcissistic rage. It is designed as a remedy to prejudice and bigotry.

A real understanding of education is a challenge to authoritarianism, to dead letter and formalism. The Enlightenment is needed to challenge excesses of traditionalism and Romanticism is needed as a counterweight to dry and formal rationalism.

In the website of this recent academic foundation in America, the emphasis given by the Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi Christian University is on the notion of a community of scholars. This University is explicitly Christian, believing in human persons as spiritual beings and the profound dignity and worth of all human persons. The Christian humanism is plain. The love of beauty, truth, goodness and justice is Platonic. The thought of Fr Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi comes exactly from the era of German Romanticism and Idealism. As Novalis had said, Idealism is not opposed to Realism but formalism, the fixed and fossilised mind. I find here a philosophy of education than pleases me.

The existence of this University is real and it has shown its favour to the Anglican Catholic Church by awarding Bishop Damien Mead a Doctorate honoris causa. Fr Jonathan Munn, with his doctorate in mathematics,  is also a graduate in theology with his Masters degree. As a community, we build each others’ credibility and esteem for our talents in study and thought. This University was only founded recently but is not a “degree mill”. It is allowed by the State of Florida to award its own degrees in a certain range of studies, but it does not award secular degrees like medicine or law. It is honest about not having the same kind of accreditation as many of the older universities. Perhaps such a status might be obtained in the future, but what is important to me is the philosophical foundation of this educational institution.

Why study with this University? For me personally, I am 62 years of age and have no ambition to a career requiring a degree. I do believe that I do have some things to “prove” so that I can get the community interested in some of my own concerns, including my little Sarum group in England which has been put on hold because of the Covid pandemic. There needs to be a very different kind of liturgical science than nit-picking ancient fragments and using them to decorate make it up as you go along contemporary “expressions”.  That is the point on which my own tutor at Fribourg and I disagreed, even if I was too a priori and set in my traditionalist ideas. I do believe that academia needs new foundations and new philosophies to challenge the formalism and authoritarianism of the old universities.

I think I can help in a small way to put this University on the map. Another thing I like about it is its European ethos despite being an American foundation. There is a lot to build on.

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