Young Fogey is writing on a favourite theme, trying to prove that only Roman Catholicism is viable enough to foster and continue the Catholic way into the future. One by one, he proceeds to trash the alternatives.
The disillusionment of Anglicans is held up as an example – ‘I really do think the dream of a non-papal Catholicism is just that: a dream’, quoted from Anglican Bishop John Hind. The Eastern Orthodox are no good because they don’t have a firm line on contraception. One by one, the branches are lopped off with a summary wave of the hand at Old Catholicism, including the PNCC. I can’t say I exactly disagree when viewing the Continuum as “a little gaggle of squabbling sects”. The simplistic conclusion: the Pope’s the only one who makes sense, and he has a world presence, teaching all nations.
Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus – great, and nothing will survive. Perhaps it shouldn’t.
Triumphalism indeed. The apologists project their notion of the “true church” onto what seems to be a Platonic idea. The Church they try to convert us to is not my local parish, or even the local RC diocese, but a romanticised idea of the Church from the 1870’s which no longer exists, or perhaps never did exist. How can one “convert” to an idea? Certainly, it is an idea to which we all aspire, but it is the Communion of Saints, not some institution here on earth whose image of the Eternal Church is tarnished. The reality here in Europe is sobering. The Roman Catholic Church looks like being another candidate for Young Fogey’s trash list! It’s a bit bigger than all the other non-viable entities, but the logic is the same.
In my student days, a friend of mine in London came across a couple of very original ladies who produced a little printed magazine called The Romantic. Google has found me their website. They also produced cassette tapes of amusing “news” from the Great Invisible Empire of Romantia. The cassette was to be put into a tape recorder hidden inside the shell of an old 1930’s wireless set. Imagine listening to the hissing cassette and hearing a precious female voice imitating something like the Queen but pronouncing the “r” as a “w” like children in the 1920’s in aristocratic families (as in Be vewwy quiet: I’m hunting wabbits), saying: “This is the News of the Imperial Home Service, coming to you from somewhere in the Great Invisible Empire“!
The implication is that you imagine that you are back in the days of the British Empire, namely the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I found it all very funny and amusing – until. It turned out, according to something I heard, that these two ladies set up a “school” variously in Ireland or north London, where teenage girls could go and get an “old-fashioned” education with corporal punishment – which seemed to have sado-masochistic overtones. They have a site at Aristasia and it all still seems to be in the wrist! Obviously, those two ladies are outrageous eccentrics, and my friends and I took it all as one big joke.
It is tempting to apply the same kind of psychology to the Church, living as if Pius IX was the Pope and adopting the kind of rhetoric characteristic of Cardinal Pie of Poitiers or Manning of Westminster. It is simple stupidity, yet people get taken in. I too like 1950’s cars, hats and cut-throat razors – but times have changed, and their modern equivalents are so much more practical. I’m not so sure that people were more virtuous in the 1950’s. I remember most of the 1960’s and that was in the 40-50 years ago, long enough ago to be the good old days. But, were those days so good? The fantasy of living in a Platonic idea is little more than the delirium of the Klu Klux Klan!
Reality in 1962 – fifty years ago – was bleak, and we faced the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. We are now in 2012 and the threats to our life are different. We were as bad then as we are now. There have been prophets of doom and nostalgics throughout history.
The churches in Europe are closing down, now at a rate that rival Anglican and non-conformist church redundancies in England. The buildings are sold for business premises or conversion into prestige homes. The buildings of greater artistic merit are reused as banks, museums, concert rooms and libraries. What all those churches have in common is – Ite missa est. So the problem is secularisation and the inexorable ebb of faith and belief. The closing down of churches in Europe is nothing new. In the days of the French Revolution and anti-clericalism in the nineteenth century, churches were turned into farm buildings and military barracks. Nothing new.
Church buildings are expensive to maintain, and there are too many of them. One thing that is painful for the few Christians left is that very few people care about those buildings. Their disappearance would make no difference to them.
I was discussing the question of relevance of the Church in our society. That relevance is the existence of parishes and the dioceses doing what is necessary to ordain priests and provide a full sacramental life for all the faithful. The clergy blame the laity on secularisation because of materialism, the “good life”, material security, well-being, health and so forth. Perhaps a good war would bring everyone scuttling back to church! But, to what? The problem is one of the clergy, clerical culture and increasing elitism. They alienated the working class in the nineteenth century, the bourgeoisie in the 1950’s and now the rest of us. Why go to church? What will we find if we go there? A locked door?
Until the question of priests is solved, Papal Catholicism – just like any other kind of Catholicism – is going the same way, nowhere. Just one more bit of trash… I could go further: Europe’s present is America’s future.
We are faced with bleakness, uncertainty, our own agony in trying to reconcile our fixed beliefs with a reality outside ourselves. Does the world fall into chaos without Christianity? Of course not. Every prophecy of the end of the world has failed, as will that of the 21st of next month. The world existed before Christianity or the present Papacy on which the conservatives are pinning all their dying hopes. The world will continue without it. It looks as though Christianity was a worthless illusion from the first.
In human terms, there is no sense in any of this. Thinking men have agonised about all this for decades. What is said now is little different from what was said a hundred years ago. Evola recommended that Christianity should be abandoned, but for what? Guénon converted to Sufism, but does that spiritual way do any better to reverse the trend of western civilisation’s terminal decline? We continue to seek a philosopher’s stone.
I could end this reflection in complete nihilism, but there are signs. In one of the most secular countries in the world, monasticism is thriving and young people seek further than materialism. Some resort to various forms of conservative politics and project their ideology onto their belief. Others seek a way that no longer contains the seeds of its own destruction. One thing is for sure – that we are at the end of history or the beginning of a new era. And this will continue to be our Advent…
* * *
Update: One of my readers has been sending out e-mails to several persons including myself and Bishop Roald Flemestad concerning alleged weaknesses in the Polish National Catholic Church and reflecting the latest postings of Young Fogey. Convert to Roman Catholicism or die!, as seems to be implied.
From a friend: I asked a prelate of the Polish National Catholic Church how they continued to resist women’s ordination and the other assaults of the modern world, and he said that this is how their people voted. I asked then, if their people had voted like Episcopalians, or if they did so next year, would the truth be changed? He didn’t like my question.
The good Bishop replies:
As you have included me among the recipients of this email and refer to the PNCC in the text, I suppose you are soliciting a reaction.
Firstly, your anonymous friend’s comment appears condescending to me. Is he of of those blinded RC triumphalists one meets every now and then?
In that case, tell him you need a looking glass to find Roman Catholics who do not accept the ordination of women. The hierarch himself stated in his first interview after his appointment that he was in favour of women priests. As it caused a stir, he later came out saying that he was misquoted. Fortunately, there are more traditionalist currents among the clergy.
As to the PNCC, the ordination of women is explicitly rejected in the Declaration of Scranton of 2008. It was prepared by the doctrinal commission, accepted by the clergy conference and promulgated with the signature of all the bishops as expression of their teaching authority.
Somehow it seems doubtful that the Roman Catholic Church nowadays could muster that kind of broad consensus. Time will show but it is perhaps not so convincing to present the RC as societas perfecta et communio hierachica – as least not at the expense of other churches.