New ACC Website

The promised new ACC website has arrived. The Anglican Catholic Church. This site covers the entire Original Province, whereas Anglican Catholic Church, Diocese of the United Kingdom covers that territory.

In particular, The Trinitarian can be ordered in paper copy and digital format through the site. This is particularly valuable in parts of the world where postal services are slow or unreliable. This is the main source of news about our Church.

I have now received my canonical licence as a priest in the Patrimony of the Metropolitan, which places me under Archbishop Mark Haverland’s direct jurisdiction. However, I continue to participate fully in the life of the Diocese of the United Kingdom under its Bishop, the Rt Rev’d Damien Mead. This change in my canonical situation is warranted by my living in Continental Europe and not in the UK, and was brought about by letters dimissory from Bishop Mead to Archbishop Haverland.

I express my gratitude and admiration for those who are responsible for this new website and organ of communication. They deserve our hearty applause.

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Insanae et vanae curae

Insanae et vanae curae invadunt mentes nostras,
saepe furore replent corda, privata spe.
Quid prodest, O mortalis, conari pro mundanis,
si coelos negligas?
Sunt fausta tibi cuncta, si Deus est pro te.

Frantic and futile anxieties invade our minds; they often
fill our hearts with madness, depriving them of hope.
What is the use, O mortal man, of striving after earthly things,
if you neglect heaven?
All things turn out well for you, if God is on your side.

I have known about this piece of Haydn from the chorus Svanisce in un momento
from the Oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia for many years. This piece is an amazing exercise of harmonic dissonance and suspense in an intense piece of classical counterpoint. I have selected the version sung by the choir of St John’s College, Cambridge.

Frantic and futile anxieties invade our minds. They did at the end of the eighteenth century and continue to do so now. I am no exception as one of millions of human beings living in the face of death (we all have to die of something) and adversity through the accidents of life or our own decisions.

They often fill our hearts with madness, depriving them of hope. Over the years, I have learned a few elements of modern psychology and mental illnesses. Some illnesses are caused by diseases to the brain or neurological malformations. This is highly specialised modern medicine of which I know nothing except some books I have read on autism. Probably the most common mental illness is depression. It may be partly due to chemical imbalances in the brain that can be treated with drugs. For me, it is largely due to our attitude in life and our capacity to understand the mechanics of depression. One of the best approaches I have come across is the Clinical Depression Learning Path. Insofar as I endorse this advice to anyone suffering from this malaise, I am bound to say that people should follow the prescriptions of a qualified doctor or psychiatrist. That said, we have the choice of doctors depending on whether they have a spirit-soul-body concept of man or simply the idea of a “biological machine”. We also have the choice of distinguishing the medical profession from psychologists, psychotherapists, priests, spiritual directors, wise men and women in general. Only doctors can diagnose and prescribe medication, but everything else is within the reach of non-doctors. One example is this site. One major characteristic of this illness is that it makes us go round and round with repeating thoughts and obsessions. The more we get obsessed with negative thoughts, the more they fill us with bitterness, resentment and – in the extreme – thoughts of self-harm and suicide. The person who wrote this text in the eighteenth century was extraordinarily advanced in his knowledge of psychology. Remember that these were the days of Bedlam and the most obscurantist and inhuman ways of treating people suffering from depression, schizophrenia, other forms of psychosis, autism, catatonia and various ailments causing delusions. Here we have a sign of empathy for those who suffer.

I spent six months as a working guest at the Abbey of Triors in 1996-7, and the experience was truly a catharsis for me. The idea was that of my old superior as a condition for my being reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church as a cleric. I will not go into the conduct of this cleric after my time with the monks. One thing I learned was the capital importance of silence, not just the absence of noise but a real Ungrund within our souls. This is something I try to put into practice when entering my chapel and putting on vestments to say Mass. The frantic and futile anxieties must be left outside, symbolised by taking off our shoes, so that we can enter the sacred space. Please listen to this amazing talk by Alan Watts – What Happens If You Stop Talking To Yourself.

This seems to be the major condition of Zen meditation as well as monastic Christian meditation. We learn to shut the hell up – and then enter God’s presence, our own presence. We can control that machine of our repeated words and thoughts. The amazing thing is that many things attributed to mental illness can be controlled by the will so that the mind can be cleared for positive things and peaceful thoughts. I am convinced that depression is mostly caused by this interminable chatter in our minds and our inability to shut up. Certainly, the psychiatrist’s pills can be helpful – temporarily, only for the time that is really necessary. If we can stop or limit these thoughts, then we can avoid going mad!

What is the use, O mortal man, of striving after earthly things, if you neglect heaven? Heaven is within us. It is the ultimate Romantia of all our desires and hopes. The present pandemic puts us face to face with death if we are elderly and suffer from illnesses that most people over a certain age suffer from. Covid-19 can “take advantage” of these ailments and bring our life to an early conclusion. We no longer have those “borrowed” months or years. Sometimes, rarely, the disease gets young people in their twenties and thirties. It can happen. Forgetting about the inevitability of death will not abolish it. We are mortal, but we have hope of what we Christians call heaven. Heaven is that domain of consciousness that is not subject to the illusion of matter. It is spirit, beyond our super-ego and limited experience. Some have speculated. Others have had altered-consciousness experiences and have received knowledge. Most of us hope for something we cannot understand, the Mystery. Earthly things are an illusion created by energy and nothingness, whether they are things money can buy, or our hopes of excelling ourselves.

All things turn out well for you, if God is on your side. God is always there beyond us and within us to bring peace and beatitude. If God is “on our side”, that notion implies that we face an enemy. The devil and evil spirits are real. So are our unredeemed spirits until we side with God, beauty, goodness and truth. Our life is a spiritual combat as we fight these obsessive and diseased thoughts that drive us to the hell of insanity. Insanity is truly an image of hell. Many will never escape – Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate, said Dante Alighieri. Some can escape though hope in God and firmness to conquer their addictions and obsessions. Trust me, I am not being simplistic.

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Modernity and Christianity

THREE things today ring the alarm bells in my mind as I try to understand a civilisation from which I am about as distant as a monk! I always receive Dr William Tighe’s e-mails with frequently interesting links. The two that attracted my attention most were Italian Philosopher: What if Francis Were the Last Pope of the Roman Catholic Tradition, & a Different Christianity Were Being Born? and the specifically liturgical article on NLM, Is Modern Man “Incapable of the Liturgical Act”?

A third thought was put into my mind by an interview about “wokeness”:

The most important thing is to avoid getting emotionally involved with many of these obsessions. A year ago, I found myself writing intemperately about Brexit and finding that I was becoming emotionally engaged. Just a couple of days ago, I had to force myself to disengage from discussions about Covid, lockdowns and various scientific questions presently being debated. This is how Woke works. It encourages us to switch off our rational faculties and to become emotionally obsessed about a particular issue, be it the role of women in society, the legitimate combat against racism and other “buzz” issues that call for simplistic and dualistic emotional reactions.

First of all, only a small minority is engaged with all this stuff and its ideologies. Is it generation-based? I don’t have enough information, but I do know that I personally have been brought up in the Judeo-Christian tradition and the heritage of the Enlightenment. I am very committed to the values and ideas of Romanticism, but I always return to the Thomist principle of the primacy of reason and the imagination as a rational faculty at a deeper level. There has to be a fine balance in the human spirit, soul and mind.

Is the Church able to give a credible response to this dissipation of humanity and humanism of the Age of Reason and the Renaissance? In my previous article, I mentioned the criticism made by Alan Watts of Christianity in 1947, Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion.

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.

One might be tempted to dismiss Watts as a sort of “proto-hippie” or an apostate Anglican priest. Reading through the book, I am discovering his belief in a profoundly mystical kind of Christianity along similar lines as the Baron von Hügel (Mystical Element of Religion, London 1927) or George Tyrrell. Decidedly, the Roman Catholic Church in the 1900’s failed to make a distinction between such mystical aspirations and the secularising trends of many of the “modernist” thinkers. Watts surprises me by his depth, and his thought reminds me of my discoveries at the traditionalist seminary as I read Russian philosophers like Berdyaev, Soloviev and Dostoievsky and the “modernists”. His work confirms my intuition about two reactions from the stuffy establishment, namely secularism and mysticism.

This distinction will enable us to understand many of the things being said by the present Pope. We are confronted by a notion of a “different Christianity”. Which one? I find Pope Francis very difficult to follow, especially because I have had so little motivation and interest since his election in 2013. It would seem that Francis’ vision in Fratelli Tutti is quite secular, the Church’s mission being essentially social and political. This is not something I can affirm, not having read the encyclical but going only by the article whose link is at the head of this posting.

I remember a slogan “the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man” which is taught by Freemasonry. However, before we get carried away by conspiracy theories, I will attempt a remark. I have never been a Freemason, but my grandfather was at the head of his local Grand Lodge. I have several friends who are Freemasons. As far as I can understand, it is not a war against God or the spiritual, but an extremely ritualised and symbolic fashion of teaching certain principles of belief and morality. There are various obediences. The Grand Orient represents the most atheistic and anti-clerical stream, but the Scottish Rite and the Grand Lodge are much more respectful of Christianity whilst diverging in specifics. Is the Pope a Mason? I would very much doubt it. This is something I needed to clarify. This slogan is associated with Christian Modernism that is seen more in its German liberal Protestant dimension rather than the mysticism of Tyrrell and Von Hügel. It is important to study Modernism in its historical context, that of Positivism in science and philosophy at the end of the nineteenth century. It is abusive to call anyone a Modernist today, because the context has changed. Is it really the intention of Pope Francis to “give birth to a different Christianity” in which “Jesus were nothing but a man?” I need to prepare myself for some very boring reading to make up my own mind!

This capital distinction is therefore not between Church orthodoxy and heresy in the form of secularism and the denial or neglect of the spiritual, but between this secularism and the spiritual life. Jesus is clear in the Gospel that acts and gestures of humanity and love for others is a vital condition for spiritual life, but also a consequence of the spiritual. Science itself has changed from the era of Positivism to the primacy of consciousness over energy and matter. The goalposts are no longer the same, and I see secularism as obsolete and passé, not something of the future. However, the vast majority of our contemporaries are outwardly materialists, and fast asleep in terms of living at a level different from this world.

From the article:

Transcendence is not denied, but is increasingly ignored. There is no need for explicit denial if the matter becomes irrelevant.

Like Watts, I partially blame the institutional Church for this shelving of the spiritual. I don’t think there needs to be an opposition between transcendence and immanence. If we take non-dualism as a base, the immanent God within us is just as transcendent as the image of יהוה in the Burning Bush. Transcendentalism as a form of dualism has been a problem in both Catholicism and Protestantism. There is room for a healthy pan-en-theism. Watts wrote this in 1947, eleven years before Pius XII died:

What do our more wide-awake churchmen propose to do about the state of Christianity? Some would have the Church launch out boldly into the field of “progressive” politics, and sacrifice every doctrinal difference for the sake of Christian unity in a purely ethical bond; others would adapt the Church’s teaching rigorously to modern thought, or provide for a more effective vocational training of the clergy, equipping them with the tools of modern psychological science; yet others would have the Church increase in numbers by any means possible and then dominate governments by pressure groups and political chicanery; these are among the more superficial and tiresome proposals. Wiser heads confine themselves to a few less flighty and more difficult demands. They ask for a ministry of higher intellectual power, familiar with modern thought and skilled in apologetics; for a vigorous campaign of instruction, explaining Christian belief in terms understandable to the modern mind; for an improved worship as to the nature of which both Catholic and Protestant liturgical reformers are in considerable agreement; and, more important than all, for saints, for Christians of deep faith and moral heroism who will do more for God, for man, and for the Church than any number of thinkers, teachers and liturgists.

Is this the Pope’s “different Christianity”? Was Christ the first teacher of Wokeness? The thought is revolting, because it drags the most sublime to the level of street ideologies. We are in 2020, and Watts saw it in 1947 and certainly much earlier.

Francis is proficient at talking about poverty, war, weapons, the environment, solidarity, immigration, unemployment, and so on, but when is he going to get around to talking about the salvation of souls? 

I think we are all concerned about these social issues. But, frankly, they are not the job of the Pope but rather of secular governments, philosophers and people who work in this world with so much more professionalism. This was the essential message of Benedict XVI’s teachings as Pope, as a Cardinal and as a simple priest and teacher. Decidedly, there could not be any greater contrast between Benedict XVI and Francis!

Similarly, in the domain of the liturgy, lucid people saw it coming as far back as the 1930’s. Is modern man “no longer capable of a liturgical act” as Romano Guardini asked? Indeed, should we all become Quakers or atheists – stop outward religion altogether and busy ourselves with secular concerns or silent individual prayer? The real question is whether the Church’s spiritual work (Opus Dei) has to be adapted to secularism or whether man should learn and be progressively initiated into the mysteries through liturgical symbolism. What is the purpose of the Church? I understand why many people have left it to seek a spiritual life elsewhere.

The NLM article insists on the notion of education, not merely in the meaning of the liturgy, but a complete mystagogy. Going further, I know that it is “fashionable” to fustigate against modern schools, but we do find that young people are no longer articulate in their speech, writing and logical reasoning. We live in a post-rational era and need to return to the trivium in schools: grammar, logic and rhetoric. In classical education, there was then the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. There is little hope of that in our post-humanist era. The liturgy has more of a chance of meaning something to a properly functioning human being. On that intellectual and cultural basis, perhaps a person can have the idea of entering into a sacred space, another world, where chatter yields to silence and wonder. Catechesis needs to be added to this solid base of Bildung as the Germans call a particular notion of education from the Romantic era.

Liturgy is hard work. I lived through six months of the full Monastic Office, every Hour being sung in full or monotoned. I easily become saturated, and suffering from the liturgy is truly suffering. It is important to learn and study all we can about the liturgy.

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An Underground Church

This recording of an interview between Damian Thompson and Dr Gavin Ashenden has struck me profoundly at the same time as my reading the book Alan Watts wrote way back in 1947, Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion. I quote a paragraph from his introduction:

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.

See Is it time for Christianity to go underground? and listen to the audio recording. It is worth the time.

The conversation in this light is extremely enlightening, contrasting the collaboration between institutional churches and secular regimes, a new form of Erastianism. One idea that emerges is the “health and safety” culture. How does a Christian community separate itself from the bureaucratic and toxic bishops and diocesan structures? The example given is the present pandemic crisis and how far should we go with prescribed precautions.

The problem is not one caused by events in the western churches over the past fifty years, but go back much further. I was struck by the fact that Watts was writing just after World War II, a period we can imagine to be a high point of recent church history. This is not a place to discuss all the implications of his thought as it colludes to some extent with that of Bonhöffer in the face of Nazi evil. Everything seems to come together from such diverse sources.

The question is the future of the institutional Church, the liturgy, bishops and priests, dedicated church buildings. I dread the idea that there will be a wasteland and Christianity will go into hiding and perhaps end up like the cults of Mithra and Isis & Osiris. My thoughts and feelings about western civilisation are deeply inspired by thinkers like Berdyaev: the night is at its darkest just before the daybreak.

New cultures do not emerge from vacuums ex nihilo. Two candidates seem to be in the breech to replace what we have known in the west: Chinese Communism on the way to re-assimilating Confucianism – and Islam. It is easy to extrapolate with paranoid speculations, but I have read some very articles about China in the light of its way of coping with the present crisis and creating a collectivist culture. If that is the new secular “normal”, then we face the need to go underground.

What would that mean? Worship services in private homes? Perhaps, but the Promised Land is within each of us, where no Thought Police could ever reach. The Lord will provide for a future which is not ours.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

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Alan Watts

YouTube has an uncanny ability to monitor the kinds of subjects that are of interest to us and suggest relevant videos to watch. I have developed a prudent interest in Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts, two men of the “greatest generation” who were to an extent at the origin of the 1960’s reaction against western conservatism. The former is much better known in terms of his phenomenal output of written work, and Alan Watts is more known for his lectures and “philosophical entertainment”.

I have listened to a few, and I feel quite overpowered by the volume of words and ideas, combined with an eastern culture of which I am completely ignorant. I have Perennialist leanings myself and have great respect for the world’s spiritual traditions. I am also of the sentiment that every great spiritual inspiration can be found in Christianity too, especially in its mystical dimension. One has only to think of Meister Eckhardt and Jakob Böhme among many other saints and mystics.

Watts lived from 1915 to 1973, his life shortened by heavy smoking and alcoholism. He married three times. These facts make us recoil and seek out information about his life and sincerity in his teachings. Some Asian spiritual teachers asked how he could teach so much about their philosophy without their degree of meditation and asceticism!

Here is his criticism of conservative western Christianity.

I find much of it highly cogent as I myself cannot identify with fundamentalism and literalist Catholicism. Some of his ideas about the Genesis narrative remind me of the Irishman Dave Allen’s jokes on his show in the 1970’s, particularly about the idea of a talking snake.

Underneath, these beings and events are of allegorical and symbolic value. Genesis is a simple myth that illustrates a history of the universe and humanity that is forgotten except in the parallel myths of every religion on this earth.

Watts came from the English public school tradition, as many of did. He exaggerated the role of stoicism and corporal punishment a tad, but he was not wrong in substance. Here, he gives an enormously long lecture on Aldous Huxley:

I have since ordered a copy of Huxley’s Island, and I will see how well I can relate to its ideas. We studied Brave New World in English literature at school, and our anxiety about some aspects of modern life are deeply inspired by Huxley and Orwell. Indeed, we often encounter the slogan “Make Orwell fiction again!” as if we were already in a fully dystopian world. I do believe that as the world population increases, we will inevitably move towards a world where humans will come under the control of technology, a hell on earth – unless something happens to change that prospect.

The 1960’s came from such thought as it laboured to burst the bubble of post-Victorian conservatism. I felt its influence at first-hand, especially around 1971 when I revolted against the idea of social order being determined by convention rather than a truly philosophical notion of a higher good. One difference between my parents was that my mother would tell me to do something. “Why?” I would ask. She would answer “Because I told you so“. It was an argument of authority. My father became aware that I needed answers, so if he told me to stop reading in bed by a certain time at night, it was in order to get enough sleep, stay healthy and be able to work at school. Such an answer was more satisfying than a mere argument of authority.

Similarly, the purpose of religion is to “re-link” the human with the divine. Obedience to authority is only a means to that end, an idea that is emphasised in most monastic rules. This question of the individual person in relation to authority has became a subject of criticism in the context of Nazi and Communist totalitarianism in the twentieth century. It seemed that authoritarianism had lost its intended meaning and became a tool for control by evil people.

These lectures might be a little difficult for those of us who are brought up on “realist” philosophy and materialistic “common sense”. There seem to be hundreds of them on YouTube on all kinds of subjects. After only one or two, I feel quite swamped, but you, my reader, might relate to them differently.

I wondered if he had been some kind of narcissist. Perhaps he was given his married life and other bizarre things about him. He didn’t seem to take himself too seriously. Though he claimed to be no more than an entertainer, he had a very deep knowledge of the world’s philosophical and spiritual traditions expressed in the various religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Whether or not we remain within our own Christian tradition or try to embrace another, he encouraged his listeners to think freely and as individual persons, hardly the attitude of a sect guru.

Like Oscar Wilde, he loved paradoxes and ideas intended to shock. One was “The biggest ego trip going is getting rid of your ego.” It was something like Wilde’s solution for temptation – giving in to it.

I do think that we can remain Christians but in a different way, and also differently from the “new orthodoxy” of the way most mainstream churches. Certainly, Christians and all others with a philosophy of life above materialism and nihilism have much to learn from this voice of challenge and contradiction. Now that he is no longer of this world, Watts can only be judged on his many constructive ideas. It is for us to read or hear his words and be critical and selective. One thing he did was to cut through the hypocrisy and claptrap of most institutional religions. His language was plain and accessible to ordinary people. We do need to remember that he was an ordained Episcopalian priest and had received classical theological training.

Many conservatives claim that the 1960’s are dead insofar as they represented a reaction against totalitarianism and the flowering of the human spirit – when the basic issues were understood rather than being imitated in their externals. Watt seems to be gaining in popularity in spite of his being dead for nearly fifty years. Rather than rejecting religions, he sought to extract their most profound truths and teach them.

I love this little quote I read on him that just about sums him up:

Alan was a pioneer, sweeping away the grey post-industrial hangover created by lingering Victorian values. He wedged open the door for the 60’s to come rolling in. He was a maverick, a rebel, he was one true voice amongst a sea of dulled mediocrity. He offered a glimpse of freedom from the woes of the Western mindset.

He hit the tobacco, alcohol and LSD quite hard. I have heard that in the right conditions, LSD can do a lot of good in the same way that hallucinogenic drugs were often used in some traditions for the initiation of shamans. To be frank, it would be wonderful to be able to have a trip under medical supervision (to make sure I didn’t jump out of the window thinking I could fly!). Many have found LSD trips to be life-changing experiences. Unfortunately, not only is it forbidden as a “recreational” substance, it is also forbidden to the medical profession. Perhaps it is too effective in helping people with mental illness! Aldous Huxley had LSD administered to him when he was about to die from cancer. None of us will ever know what that did for him in the afterlife.

I wrote in my recent book Romantic Christianity:

“The main hallucinogenic drugs in the 1960’s were LSD and “magic mushrooms” (psilocybin). The dangers of LSD are controversial, with some researchers doubting that this drug would cause permanent personality changes. In research by William H. McGlothin, all the subjects reverted to their normal selves and personalities when they were off the drug. There was no permanent damage. Dr McGlothin found that there was a change of values in those who were given a dose of LSD. Their system of values was changed from the conventions of family, corporate employment and material wealth to the desire for a contemplative style of life, broad-mindedness and creativity. The drug obviously lowered inhibitions to allow some persons to express innate feeling and talents which had been suppressed by ambient culture and conformity. Their philosophy was less dualistic and they came to believe in an essential unity to everything. They came to doubt notions of time and the ontology of evil.

It seems to me that LSD could be very useful in a properly supervised hospital context. The lives of some very unhappy people could be changed for the better. We find here a notion of the alteration of consciousness, which can also be obtained by special techniques of meditation, which are not illegal. This alteration seems to be an essential element of any “conversion” or life-changing experience. The ultimate of such experiences would be the near-death experience (when the brain was so low in activity that unconsciousness should have been total) and those who had mystical experiences.

The idea that LSD was made illegal, perhaps because it made persons who would become unpredictable and rebellious against the materialist and authoritarian order, might be the stuff of a conspiracy theory. You stop being politically correct when you take that stuff! Whether there is any truth in such an idea is anyone’s guess, but it is illegal and dangerous if used “recreationally”.”

I am of the mind that drugs should be decriminalised, removing the source of income from criminal organisations of dealers and mafias and, more particularly, teaching rather than punishing. Most “hard” drugs like heroin and methamphetamine are horrendous, and should not be taken without medical supervision or in some kind of special centre. Alcohol and tobacco are still sold freely, and addiction to both causes serious health problems. The Americans tried prohibition in the 1930’s and all it did was to provide a rich growth medium for the Mafia. It ought to be possible to have a medical prescription on medical or spiritual grounds for an LSD trip in a special clinic to ensure a correct dose and safe conditions.

We can appreciate or reject this man and his works. That is our free choice. Was he a sage or a charlatan? Now he is dead, we can judge only his words. I see the parallel with Oscar Wilde as he committed homosexual acts that were severely punished in the Victorian era. As he languished in prison faced with the prospect of dying painfully and in obscurity in a Parisian hovel, he wrote:

“People point to Reading Gaol and say, ‘That is where the artistic life leads a man.’ Well, it might lead to worse places. The more mechanical people to whom life is a shrewd speculation depending on a careful calculation of ways and means, always know where they are going, and go there. They start with the ideal desire of being the parish beadle, and in whatever sphere they are placed they succeed in being the parish beadle and no more. 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.”

Naturally, his use of the word “mask” was in the meaning of a false personality rather than the precaution we have presently to take against Covid-19. Wilde left England for the country where I am living. Huxley and Watts went to live in California. I don’t think they would like the place if they were alive today! The system breaks a number of us, something that gives us a sense of foreboding about that mortally boring subject of the no-deal Brexit, a country that has drunk and will drink again. Those of us on the outside wait and are ready to observe what changes will come about in the years ahead.

Scoundrels? Charlatans? Fools for Christ? L’enfer, c’est les autres! We live in a tempest of words and ideas, all meaning different things to different people. I think his essential message was – Let us be ourselves and let others think as they believe to be right. There really is nothing else to say.

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The Human Soul in Paradise

I received an e-mail telling me about Hélène Nicolas, known as Babouillec, a 34 year old woman diagnosed with a severe autistic deficit and who never attended school. She has, in her own words, “never learned to read, write or speak”. She does not have access to speech, yet after twenty years of silence, she manages to write using cardboard letters on a blank page. Her books Rouge de soi and Algorithme éponyme are published by Payot et Rivages.

I have attempted a very imperfect translation of a brief text on her Facebook page Babouillec Sp.

…..”I am deeply touched to be intimately heard. Thank you for your very encouraging compliments. Through Julie Bertuccelli’s film a portrait of the author is highlighted. One can read my difficulties in resembling you between the lines, and especially my lack of desire to belong to this world of mental order.

To be born with supercharged neurons often means disconnecting from the connection of humans in boxes. It is also possible to be in a different connection phase as is my case. In this system of hyper connection, I write with cardboard letters and I hyper connect with the celestial roof, the antennas of the universe.

We are childish beings. We pretend to be connected to information invented by ourselves and we don’t know how to reproduce a living cell, our identity code.

I am happy to have remained trapped in the egg of conception where the apocalyptic resonance with the big picture is played out. Let us not get lost, because the invisible big bang inhabits our brains and our bodies. Let us remain attentive to the light of the beings clinging to the lantern of the world that swings between earth and sky”.

It might seem a little strange to our rationalist use of language and thought. I am much less deeply affected than this young lady, and I was educated in the traditional way. I had no problem of speech and I was reading and writing fairly fluently at 4, even before going to school. Still, I resonate with this “other intelligence” and experience as an alien to this materialist world of noise and deceit. She certainly has someone to help her with the technical aspects. The above text was taken from this page. Watching a documentary about her, she seems little more like an extremely retarded imbecile. On the contrary, her intelligence is intact, but her problem is communication as well as the usual sensory issues of autistic people.

Even by the slow and laborious method of placing cardboard letters onto a piece of paper, she has somehow learned to write and communicate. This is astounding. Perhaps in time, she could learn to type, since she does not have the ability to write by hand. It would enable her to express herself much more rapidly, but that would require very special teaching methods and her willingness to use a computer keyboard.

More importantly, she has a conception and experience of another world, another intelligence, as the distinguished Dr Laurent Mottron expressed it in his book L’autisme, une autre intelligence. Blind people can make excellent piano tuners because the acuity of their hearing compensates for their lack of sight. In the same way, when we have less ability to communicate with or “fit in” with the “normal” and “neurotypical” world, we have greater insight into other realities.

This person might not be formally religious, but clearly understands the notion of a higher form of life involving consciousness of oneself and what is universal and something like Plato’s World of Ideas to give a crude analogy. Her work of forming words in such a laborious fashion helps us either to understand the existence of another level of life, or even another dimension in our own beings – the γνῶσις of God.

This is just one more step in my own desire to formulate a “philosophy of autism” or philosophical understanding of this condition, not merely a medical or psychiatric analysis in view to finding a cure or special methods of education. Autism is precisely a problem of communication, of putting experience in words and conventional categories so that everyone can understand. This is where the paradox lies.

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Fr Anthony Cekada, RIP

I refer my readers to the brief obituary in the New Liturgical Movement of Fr Anthony Cekada. I never met him and I have already said elsewhere that sedevacantism is the best refutation of what used to be called the Papal Claims. He has just died at the age of 69 from a stroke.

Fr Cekada’s career is well known in the USA and I have no need to repeat it here. He wrote several books supporting the sedevacantist theory and criticising the modern Roman liturgy of Mass and Holy Orders in particular. See Absolutely Null and Utterly Void. It is the reductio ad absurdam of condemning Anglican orders as invalid. There are references to other articles on the same subject in Unholy Orders.

What caught the attention of Dom Alcuin Reid was his book Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI, Philothea Press, West Chester, Ohio 2010, 445 pp. Dom Alcuin Reid wrote this important article Book Review: Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI, Anthony Cekada. Fr Cekada’s important contribution was to offer criticism not only of the Novus Ordo of Paul VI but also of the reforms of Pius XII in the Holy Week ceremonies and the 1962 revision of John XXIII. The “Naughty Nine” who left the Society of St Pius X in 1983 refused Archbishop Lefebvre’s orders to adopt the 1962 missal, so they returned to their native America and formed the Society of St Pius V. There was a later split between Fr (now Bishop) Daniel Dolan and Fr (now Bishop) Clarence Kelly who obtained episcopal orders from a source other than Archbishop Ngô Đình Thục. Fr Cekada remained with Bishop Dolan. The two main issues separating these priests from Archbishop Lefebvre were the pre-Pius XII liturgical rites and the alleged invalidity of the post-conciliar Church’s sacraments.

I am an Anglican, so have no sympathy with scholastic theology and this paroxysm of counter-Reformation Roman Catholicism. The comments to Dom Alcuin’s article from a conservative American Roman Catholic point of view are just as horrendous. Also, I do not use any form of the 1570 Roman rite of Pius V, so this controversy is not mine. I use Sarum.

Nevertheless, I praise Fr Cekada for his intellectual integrity and reasoned writing, which can only provoke independent enquiry and criticism. May he rest in peace.

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About a month ago, a friend put up a posting The future of blogs…

I read the posting and sent in a comment. I tried to be constructively critical even though I was surprised to read his negative reactions to the western liturgy now that he has converted to Orthodoxy. I hope he has found his spiritual home rather than a new brand-name, a mask, a πρόσωπον, a term properly used in theological work De Verbo Incarnato, the study of Christology, but which also seems to correspond with the persona or super-ego of Jung. A convert usually arrives at is decision to embrace his church of adoption having expressed disdain, hatred or revulsion in relation to what he is leaving. That can lead to tragic consequences.

This fact of a big change in life involves emotional drama as well as a rational process of seeking truth and fulfilment of one’s sense of vocation. I am living through such a turning point in my own life, not one of going from one church to another, but closer to home. Some of my readers know what I’m talking about. Others can be content with confiding me to God in their prayers. Hatred is that cancer of the soul that will destroy us – unless we can uproot it and replace it with a quest for our own vocation and meaning in this world, coming to terms with our strengths and weaknesses in a journey through the night.

I have noticed my own postings becoming rarer. About the same number of people come each day to read recent posts or search for old articles. Fewer send comments. I have my old faithful friends who have known me in my younger days. What makes the difference for me is working in a spirit of service to others, a ministry of education and pastoral care through expressing some ideas that wouldn’t occur to other priests. This is something that has to pull us out of ἀκηδία (sloth and not caring) and resentment. It is all about bouncing back from the edge.

I too write less about the liturgy. I wrote my book A Twitch on the Sarum Thread in the same spirit that I have been writing blog postings. I become more philosophical in my interests, still in the Romantic and Idealist way of thinking, and see this as the only way to survive the death of institutional Christianity as a spiritual human being. I believe very strongly in the need to preserve and foster what we can in a hope for better days and fairer weather.

My thoughts about the future in the western world are mixed and sceptical. We can be tempted by conspiracy theorists according to whom we are heading towards a dystopia like Communist China or Orwell’s 1984. Covid-19 has brought us close to this as we are assailed by illogical, incoherent and unlikely claims by the press. It is like the Nazis jamming the radio communications of the Allies during the war, as Göbbels pumped out his garbage propaganda. The bullshit-o-meter hits the red! All these insults to our intelligence seem to put everything in the basket of the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. We live in an extremely polarised and dialectical world, increasingly violent and fanatical. It is vital to take a step back, find ourselves and our homes, and build a new and peaceful world. Our religious practice and spiritual longing have to be pulled out of politics and rebuilt from within. I have no certain knowledge about the pandemic, with only basic notions of microbiology and disease. All I can do is to wear the damned mask and disinfect my hands when I go into town – as little as possible! Already, we have a decision in France that if we do have contact with an infected person, the quarantine time is no longer two weeks but one week. They say that people will be going to hospital in droves in two weeks’ time – we will soon find out. The pandemic does a lot of harm to our notion of time, so we need to note things, keep a diary or just note essential markers. Think of Robinson Crusoe marking the days and weeks so that he could calculate how long he had been shipwrecked.

As mentioned, liturgical rites and church culture are important, even if only as a subject of study, private prayer and the life of a priest alone at home. We can only do what our forebears in the nineteenth century did: research, writing and publishing. Sometimes, we can get the message through to bishops and synods in our various Churches and show a cultural dimension that can help with that church’s ministry to souls. I had a hard time accepting my marginalisation from the Institute of Christ the King in the 1990’s and the consequences of my decision to leave it. The emotions calmed many years ago and I hardly recognise the “old place” or some of the older priests who are still with them. Every day is one of dying and being reborn elsewhere.

I have established a private list of a number of clergy and laity of different institutional churches. Our project of a meeting in England has been frustrated, this autumn like last spring. Hopefully, the crisis will be over next year and we will be able to travel and organise in advance. I also hope by the same time that other things in my life will be clear and resolved, or at least on the way to resolution. I would hope we would create a sort of “mini-university” and publishing house. Some of this work is already being done, an example being Dr William Renwick in Canada. I believe that we should not be narrowly restricted to a particular rite or local tradition but rather a cultural expression that breaks from the tired old polemics between Roman Catholics and Protestants since the sixteenth century. Men like Fr Louis Bouyer fought for a ressourcement, an appeal to the Patristic era. He was not wrong, but it depended on nobility of spirit that was lacking in the Roman Catholic reforms of the 1960’s and 70’s. This is why I insist on the philosophical context and undertow. Otherwise our work too will become kitsch and shallow.

I have no personal experience of the Orthodox world. I spent many sleepless nights in discussion with Dr Ray Winch in Oxford, and learned much about the pitfalls. The use of the western rite (Roman, Gallican, Anglican or Sarum) in Orthodoxy has often been shallow in cultural terms and clashed with the endemic culture of the Byzantine and Slavonic diaspora. Orthodoxy is not a substitute institution to accommodate the ideologies of counter-reformation Roman Catholicism or Continuing Anglicanism. The best thing for Orthodoxy is to protect it from our own emotional and spiritual diseases! We do best to build from the best of our souls and aspirations for something much higher.

Probably the truest and purest way to find our vocation is to pray our Office, say Mass if we are priests (with or without assistance) and live our lives in peace and nobility. Live each day as if it were our last…

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I have found references in several places to an article written by a Franciscan friar in 2007 – The Life and Death of Religious Life by Benedict Groeschel C.F.R. I was particularly impressed by the notion of liminality. There are many explanations in terms of religious anthropology, which are not easy to follow. One meaning of liminality is the sacredness of a place like a church or a temple. It is sometimes called a twilight zone after a popular TV show. It can be a place or the state of a person who experiences the revelation of sacred knowledge or γνῶσις. It also describes the sacred nature of liturgical prayer and actions, and its power to transform and reintegrate the worshipper.

Fr Groeschel describes the notion of a liminal personality as in the saints and mystics of monastic and consecrated life.

Following the example of such saints as Anthony of Egypt, Paul the Hermit, and Pachomius, an ex-soldier of the Roman legions, men and women took up the pursuit of the vowed life. An important but frequently overlooked variable of that life is a quality known as liminality—the state of being an outsider to the establishment of any society, even one with strong religious characteristics and values.

Liminality derives from the Latin limen (which means threshold or edge) and refers in this case to people who live beyond the accepted norms of the establishment. Obviously chastity, poverty, and obedience to a spiritual master or superior take a person out of any establishment where family life and inheritance are the norm. Such people as St. Benedict, St. Francis, and, in our time, Mother Teresa of Calcutta are obvious examples of liminal personalities. In fact, Turner spends much time on the study of liminality in the early days of the Franciscan Order.

Liminal people stand in sharp contrast even to virtuous members of the establishment. This dichotomy is not a bad thing, although there must always be a degree of liminality in any follower of Christ. We see this in the saintly members of royal families: St. Louis IX of France and St. Elizabeth of Hungary, for example, who wore the Franciscan habit beneath their royal finery and served the poor with zeal and joy. Anyone familiar with religious life at the time of its collapse knows that liminality was almost entirely lost—and remains lost, except for the new communities and a few older ones that have remarkably held the line.

If we ask, “What could have gone so wrong and caused such a decline in religious life?” we realize that this is a dull tale extending over a period of more than forty years. Yet it comes as no surprise to anyone who knows church history and understands anthropology. You cannot go against the laws of human nature reflected in psychological anthropology—even laws such as liminality that apply only to a select few—without disastrous results. The current tampering with family life and marriage is another example of foolish intervention into the laws of anthropology. Such endeavors are like trying to grow figs from thistles.

The decline of liminality, the sense of the sacred as a partial explanation, is one reason why institutional Christianity is dying, why monasteries and friaries are dying and leaving their buildings to profane hands. Churches are turned into bureaucracies and administered in terms of corporate management. Originality of personality or so-called “eccentricity” is pushed aside and excluded. All that is left is something that costs a lot of money but has no purpose.

This subject strikes me in particular as I make progress with a new book loosely in the style of a Greek dialogue on utopianism and its expression in this term liminality which I have only just discovered. It is the condition of (some?) autistic people, of losing in social terms what is gained in personal and individual insight into the higher and metaphysical reality. I will include this subject in my work. It all begins with three men and their boats in a little creek up a river in Brittany. I will keep the title and plan secret for the time being.

In the end of the day, I wonder if we are simply talking about the Salt of the Earth

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Christianisme Romantique

Voici mon livre que je viens de traduire en français. Christianisme Romantique est un essai sur une autre place du christianisme dans les esprits de notre monde. Ce livre se situe entre trois points essentiels: la tradition liturgique, le christianisme ésotérique et le romantisme sorti du tourment révolutionnaire au XIXe siècle.

Son prix est très modique à 15€ plus les frais du port depuis chez Lulu.

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