The Dream of Non-Papal Catholicism

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.

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43 Responses to The Dream of Non-Papal Catholicism

  1. Simone says:

    There is also the “traditionalist” option; after the breaking of talks between FSSPX and Holy See, the former seems on the way for an ultra-conservative old-catholic path (humanly speaking, I don’t realistically expect a “conservative Pope” that could resume negotiations after BXVI in next century). Their issues, though, is that one can’t pretend undefinitely to live in the ’50s without ending in cognitive dissonance (I talk by experience) and “Pastor Aeternus” vs “collegiality” is still a central point in their history and foundation, but on reverse side with respect to Old Catholics. Traditionalist – minded realities are indeed growing, but their pastoral weaknesses are there to stay and I tink that this growth is more a revolving door than a steady increase in numbers.

    • The problem is that it is Fr Z’s “brick by brick” in the elite parishes and religious communities of the mega cities – with frustrating slowness. Everywhere else, all that’s left is the church buildings and a few old books and mouldering tat. That seems to be the pastoral weakness of the rest of the Church. No priests and the laity won’t go to Mass, and no laity and the clergy have no money. Vicious circle, and it’s all going one way – nowhere.

  2. Dale says:

    Although I rather enjoy reading the “Young Fogey” (Perhaps because I am now an old fogey?), but I think his remarks regarding the possible ordination of women in the PNCC is both harsh and unfair. The insinuation that the laity will support the ordination of women simply lacks creditability; and one should remember that it was the laity and not the bishops and clergy who recently voted against women bishops in the CofE. One could state, as do many Byzantine Orthodox, that in the Roman Church the ordination of woman could just as easily depend upon the opinion’s of a single individual, the Pope. And in retrospect, I would rather depend upon the good graces of the laity on most issues than the clergy, who seem far, far more influenced by modernism than the laity.

    Also, so many of the problems infecting western Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, including banal liturgies, pop-theology etc. are in some measures simply adaptations to Vatican II. Michael Frost makes a good point about the Catholic liturgical directions taken by certain Lutherans, all of which was lost in the tide of liturgical revolution instigated, not by Protestants, but by Rome.

    One correction to his article concerning Byzantine Orthodox acceptance of contraception, they have also more or less caved in to abortion as a “right” as well. And until Mr Frost, or someone else, can actually present information regarding a change of heart on the part of their ecumenical Patriarch, we must still accept as his normative stance that women have a right to abortion without interference from the Church.

    And finally, I now live in a very rural, isolated part of the United States. The 1950’s? we are not anywhere near reaching that period yet! 1930’s perhaps, but certainly not the 50’s!

    • Michael Frost says:

      Dale, I was with you nearly 100% of the way until you veered off course and crashed into the ditch regarding contraception and abortion, neither of which is related to liturgics, in general, or our discussion of comparative liturgics, in particular. The smearing of the Patriarch is pretty low.

      As regards woman and abortion, we both live in USA, where abortion is legal, as per the legal mandate of the State. So, what are you doing personally as a believing Christian to “interfere with her legal right to abort”? What did the early Church do to interfere with abortion in the officially pagan Roman Empire? What do we as believing Christians expect our Church to do today to interfere with her legal right? Here maybe Luther’s two swords theory works well. Christians, as individuals (not as politicized churches) work within the political system to undo the mandate, and at the same time work within their local churches to change the hearts & minds of individual women, so she doesn’t abort her child?

      I’m glad you realize that it was Rome’s liturgical innovations in the 1960s that destroyed the ongoing liturgical recover/rediscovery in USA. Notice how the modern ECUSA, LCMS, and ELCA liturgies are so similiar overall to the Vatican II New Order liturgy. And I don’t just mean the 3-year lectionary. They used Rome’s new liturgy as the foundation for their model and then incorporated some specific elements from their tradition (for example, LCMS likes to use only Words of Institution and no specific Eucharistic Prayer/Canon).

      • Dale says:

        Michael, I was simply adding to the Young Fogey’s remarks regarding official, ecclesiastical acceptance of contraception amongst the Byzantine Orthodox; if one does in some way believe that ecclesiastical leaders are expected to be the voice of the position of the Church, then one is indeed forced to accept the present Ecumenical Patriarch’s open support for abortion rights; this is most certainly not smearing the Greek Patriarch, I can, and have, posted his own words on this issue. Frightening reading.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Dale, I don’t remember you posting a single word from the Patriarch, as Patriarch. And what little you posted was from a long time ago, when he wasn’t Patriarch, and was very vague in nature. You have your own unique understanding of his mind, both then and now. And as for Orthodoxy “officially” doing anything in this area, I think “officially” you’d have to look at the Ecumenical Canons. They are crystal clear on abortion. And opposed. Going back to the Apostolic Age. Don’t forget, the Patriarch is not over and above the Ecumenical Councils or Canons.

        As for birth control, I love the fact that a RC married couple can intentionally and deliberately use “natural family planning” to remain childless and that would not be sinful (though it may annul their marriage if either spouse so requests of a tribunal, and the entire idea of annulment is morally repugnant to me when done on the new grounds of relative immaturity or psychological inability to be in the right state of mind on the day of the marriage). So unlike all other sins, which start in the heart with intention, limiting family size is only wrong if done less than naturally (though all of the daily work and effort behind NFP seems more than a bit unnatural). (But this is not unlike the bizarre language about masturbation in the RC CCC, at para. 2352. I guess, normally it is highly immoral except if you started when you were young and thus you were and are immature. But oddly, if one starts stealing or murdering or fornicating at the same age, those adult RCs don’t get the same “affective immaturity” or “force of habit” moral passes?)

      • Dale says:

        Here is what he said whilst still Metropolitan, and he was still elected as Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek denomination:
        ”generally speaking, respects human life and the continuation of pregnancy,” Bartholomais said, the church also ”respects the liberty and freedom of all human persons and all Christian couples.”

        ”We are not allowed to enter the bedrooms of the Christian couples,” he said. ”We cannot generalize. There are many reasons for a couple to go toward abortion.”


        And unless you can post anything showing that he has distanced himself from this position we shall have to accept that it has not changed. Using the charade of “was from a long time ago”; something you use whenever you dislike anything is not acceptable; please post his retraction.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Dale, You are interpreting words based on the 2nd-hand reporting of others and your own biases (you see what you want to see). You are entitled to your opinions. But just because you believe something doesn’t make it so. I assume you’d allow a pregnant woman to have an abortion in order to save her own life? Does that make you pro-abortion? No. And, often when the Church looks at things she does so with pastoral, rather than juridical, eyes. Do sinners who abort give lots of reasons for their actions? Yes. Do they often raise them to justify their actions? Yes. Can the plight of others make us sad? Yes. And wish they’d choose another course? Of course. So, as the then Metropolitan said, the Church “generally speaking, respects human life and the continuation of pregnancy,” and ”We cannot generalize. There are many reasons for a couple to go toward abortion.” A key is notice he doesn’t say “legitimate” after “many” and before “reasons”. And he never says they’re making a proper moral decision.

        When it comes to marriage and marital sexuality, I agree with St. Paul. I’d refer you, for example, to 1 Corinthians 7-40, esp. at 1-9. St Paul certainly stays out of the bedroom and is silent about how a husband and a wife specifically interact sexually. And I agree with the Book of Tobit, esp. Chpt 8, which is also silent on the specific beauty of marital sexual relations. So if the Patriarch agrees with St. Paul and Tobias’ prayer, and it appears he does, then I guess all three of us want to stay out of the marital bedroom. So I fully concur with the Metropolitan that the Church ”respects the liberty and freedom of all human persons and all Christian couples” and ”We are not allowed to enter the bedrooms of the Christian couples.” Notice the key words, “Christian couples”! Christian couples should know enough about their faith to behave properly in their own marriages.

    • Dale says:

      Why then does the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese grant the title of archon of the Patriarchal See to pro-abortion Greek-American politicians? We are not speaking about simply accepting abortion to save the life of mother, but openly pro-abortion up to the moment of birth? The funniest one was Dukakis of whom Archbishop Iakovos declared to be a “Greek Orthodox in good standing,” even though, besides his open support to the moment of birth of abortion, but was also a communicant member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. It would seem that ethnicity trumps the Faith in Byzantinism far, far too often.

      I do not believe that the Roman Catholic Church has ever advanced a pro-abortionist Catholic politician to be a knight of the Roman See.

      By the way, those pieces in my last message that were in quotation marks are the your Ecumenical Patriarch’s own words, and not “2nd-hand reporting of others.” If you can simply post his retraction, I will accept it, until that time I must accept his own words as stated.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Dale, I noticed you didn’t opine on whether you personally approve of abortion to save the life of the mother? And if so, does that make you pro-abortion?

        If I only had a quarter (25 cents) for every pro-abortion Roman Catholic politician and judge who has pontificated at length over the past 30 years…I’d be rich! And I’ve seen so many accolades from various RC prelates and organizations over the years to all the dogma-denying and CCC-rejecting politicos that I’m…numb. In my little midwestern State we had pro-abortion and pro-homosexual RC governors for 12 years straight. The pro-abortion and pro-homosexual agenda is protected and advanced in our legislature by an RC Senate Majority Leader (who has near complete unilateral authority in his house).

        And if you’re going to bring up that loser Dukakis… In a similar vein: Sometimes I forget if the “RCs in good standing” Kennedy Family is the RC Church or just its political backbone in the USA? I’d love to see how many annulments they’ve gotten. I felt sorry for Teddy’s wife when she lost the annulment battle. But money and power gravitate to money and power. How come I could believe someone like Sinatra might’ve said something like “The RC Church is the best one…that money can buy?” 🙂

      • Michael Frost says:

        Dale, Please look at the November 2012 issue of The Word, the official publication of the Antiochian Archdiocese (USA). See page 22. There is the complete text of the “Message” from the “Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and South America”. It is addressed “To our beloved Orthodox Christian faithful throughout North and Central America.” It is signed by forty-three (43!) Hierarchs! Comprising 11 Archbishops, 9 Metropolitans, and 23 Bishops. So this is pretty much our entire ecclesiastical “firepower” for N. & C. America officially gathered en mass! Their “Message” specifically mentions areas to:

        “Let our Orthopraxy attend our Orthodoxy. In this respect:
        – We must safeguard the sacrament of marriage…and the sanctity of the family as the fundamental nucleus of a healthy society. …
        -We must strive to ELIMINATE THE VIOLENCE PROLIFERATED AGAINST against innocents of every kind, particularly of women AND THE UNBORN. …” (capitalization emphasis added)

        So if you’re looking for some recent statement about abortion from “Orthodoxy” this is a good place to start. This, as you well know, is the historical, perpetual official position of Orthodoxy!

        [If you note the photo, looks like 42 of the hierarchs are wearing complete black attire. One has white headgear. There is always someone different! Many could fit right into American band ZZ Top, beard-wise, though facial hair is a changing for us. 🙂 ]

      • Dale says:

        Michael, obviously this is simply window dressing, no one has broken communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch over this issue have they?

        When I was teaching Sunday school, many, many years ago in a Serbian parish, I made contact with some very good pro-life youth clubs run by both the Romans and Protestants, I went to the pastor of the parish and asked if we could hook up with these groups, it would give our children contact with other young people who were interested in the pro-life position. The pastor told me that abortion was not an Orthodox issue and that Orthodoxy embraced freedom on this issue and was “free” choice. This man in now an Orthodox bishop.

        Of course, in this parish, eventually all non-Serbs were told they could no longer be members because of their nationality; that Serbian parishes existed only for Serbs.

        It is interesting to note that only ONE Greek bishop in America even bothered to sign the Manhattan Declaration.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Dale, I give you the official publicly expressed position of SCOBA and 43 hierarchs and you call that “window dressing”?!?! The official position of the Serbian Orthodox Church worldwide, including the USA, is emphatically pro-life/anti-abortion. Why not check out and report on their official declarations?

        And then you claim to report some incident that happened in some unnamed parish on some unnamed date (“many, many years ago”) involving some unnamed priest? Why the lack of specifics? Why not give us the name of the parish & priest, and the date of the event(s)? The lack of specifics makes me wonder what, if anything, really happened. Please elaborate. Maybe someone from that parish or even that priest might disagree here with your statements? What may or may not have happened far, far away, many, many years ago involving someone, anyone isn’t even worthy of being called “window dressing” when compared to a 2012 official statement by 11 Archbishops, 9 Metropolitans, and 23 Bishops.

        I’m sure I can find a number of RC clergy–priests, deacons, nuns–who have said and are saying pro-abortion comments TODAY. Does that mean RC ecclesiastical leaders officially support abortion? No. So please don’t conflate the ignorance of those who don’t make “policy” with official policy.

      • Sorry, both of you, I remember my mother’s old housekeeper Molly giving me a 1930’s gramophone with some 78 rpm records. I remember the one of Elgar conducting his own Pomp & Circumstance March 1. It was a very old record because Elgar died in 1934. The record hissed and cracked as it spun round, but the music was remarkably clear. I played it again and again until I started hearing the same 3 or 4 notes playing over and over again. The needle kept jumping back into the part of the spiral groove of the previous revolution. Three possibilities, find the bit of muck making the needle jump back every revolution and very carefully clean it out, change the needle or listen to another record. What was sad was not being able to hear the Elgar again until I got my very own LP record player some years later!

        He who hath ears let him hear! 😉

      • Dale says:

        St Simeon’s, Las Vegas
        Fr, now Bishop, Nicholas Soriach


    • Dale says:

      Michael, could you post some pro-abortionist statements from the Holy Father?

      I am also troubled that whenever glaring defects in your own denomination are pointed out, your only response is to say, “Well Rome does it too.” I not convinced by such arguments.

      • ed pacht says:

        Dale, I am a bit concerned at your refusal to hear anything negative about your church while feeling perfectly free to point out what you consider defects in others. Perhaps the only proper response to such accusations as yours is to point out that all churches are made up of fallen human beings and are thus riddled with abuses. If there is not one flaw, there is another. Fr. Anthony has asked us to avoid proselytizing on this blog. I would think that efforts to “prove” the superiority of one church over another would be in violation of that request, especially if that involves such a constant effort to show up other churches than your own as flawed. Please calm down before our host finds it necessary to close off comments in order to have some peace.

      • William Tighe says:

        I was under the strong impression that Dale is not, in fact, a member of “the papal communion.”

    • Dale says:

      Dr Tighe, you are very much correct. When Roman Catholics also play the triumphalist game, I can, and do, point out defects. But the Byzantine Orthodox are past masters at attacking the “West”; and because so many western Christian still have a positive view of Orthodoxy (well it is cute and exotic) that they often accept Byzantine attacks as if they had validity; whilst Byzantium is just as full of horrors, just as Ed said. We all have problems. But when the Byzantines portray themselves as paragons of “ancient” virtue, well one has to say something!

      • Thank you for this. Indeed we all have problems. No one institutional Church can claim to possess the truth – the Christian Mystery lies beyond and that is the true Church. This is where I would apply Platonic philosophy. The Ideal or Eternal Church is the Communion of Saints, and each institutional Church – yes there are several as we can all see – is an image of the Eternal Church. As I have said, that Eternal Church is not a kind of “ecclesiastical Romantia” of the 1870’s, but the Universal Idea of Church. That is why neither Roman Catholics nor Orthodox can afford to be triumphalistic.

        Imagine a hologram. It contains an image. Break it into pieces, and the whole image is seen in each broken piece. The broken Churches on earth all participate in the one Church.

  3. Matthew the Wayfarer says:

    If memory serves, the run of the mill Roman Catholic supports and uses contraception at the same rate as everyone else. As for abortions, Catholics have them at just under the rate of others. So, just because the Catholic Church is against both doesn’t seem to influence the people. People with free choice will choose what they deem best for their own lives not what some large organization says. Those days are long over and that train isn’t coming down the tracks ever again.
    The times they are a’changin’!

    • Dale says:

      But there is a wide difference between what people do, with the concept of freedom in most modern societies, and what the Church should or should not accept as morally permissible. One may take the issue of adultery as an example. Do many, many people commit adultery? I would venture to say, yes. Does this then mean that the Church should remove such actions as a sin? Or embrace change, because everyone is doing it? I would hope not.

  4. Brian M says:

    Reading YF’s page, one might be forgiven in thinking that he was always a trad Catholic, and always saw the non-Papal alternatives as non-viable; what he seems to have sanitized from his archives is the fact that he started out Anglican, then submitted to Rome, then returned to Anglicanism, then submitted to Orthodoxy . . . then returned most recently to trad Catholicism. He posted rather vociferously at various points about the viability of Orthodoxy and the merits of its “folk Catholicism” in the face of the failures of the Roman Church, in a manner that is simply transposed in his latest missive. And, as Fr. Chadwick ably suggests above, if the situation in the actually existing Roman Catholic Church deteriorates, it is easy enough for YF and others of his ilk to mentally adjust their Platonic form, find another church on which to project it, and act like that is the church to which they have always belonged and to which we must all submit, just like he did . . . six months ago, just before he deleted the paper trail on his blog.

    • Jim says:

      Re: Brian M and the YF

      This is an ad hominem attack and is unworthy of this blog.

      • Brian M says:

        Mr. Coffey, with all due respect, it certainly bears on Mr. Beeler’s critique of the various instantiations of non-Papal Catholicism that he participated in several of them up to the very recent past, and may well return to one or more of them again in the near future. Caveat emptor and all that.

  5. Paul Goings says:

    There is a certain sort of religious dilettante who enthusiastically and unconditionally extols his or her current ecclesiastical allegiance as the embodiment of the ideal church, and usually with the same fervor you’d expect from a doubleplusgood citizen of Oceania exclaiming that they’ve always been at war with Eastasia! I can say from experience that Mr Beeler, who rather wishfully styles himself the Young Fogey, is a perfect specimen of that type. Having converted to a broad Anglicanism as a young man, he later found Anglo-Catholicism and modern Roman Catholicism by turns, and, having found both of them wanting, ended up for a number of years as a communicant of Russian Orthodoxy, which, it so happens, didn’t prevent him from spending time as a regular at an Anglo-Catholic parish of the Episcopal Church. And now he’s on to traditionalist Roman Catholicism, having turn’d the cat in pan again as the old song goes, and everyone else needs to immediately follow his lead, no matter what. How long will that last? Who can say, but it is an indisputable fact of life that no church, local or institutional, can ever live up to the Platonic idea that Fr Chadwick refers to, and so it is almost inevitable with such people that some aspect of their new faith community will eventually fail to live up to their expectations, and they’ll start looking again, find something new, and then that will be the ne plus ultra of the christian and catholic religion.

    I go into all of this history as it provides a context for the sort of “Convert to Roman Catholicism or die!” mentality which one finds too often on the internet, where our interlocutors can (pseudo-anonymously) hide behind their keyboards, with no concern for the real people that their admonitions will affect, and without any accountability to anyone. Perhaps some people find this sort of thing helpful; I certainly don’t.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Interesting thoughts. Reminds me of a saying I think I read a long time ago from Philip Jacob Spener (the “founder” of Lutheran Pietism, which, I guess makes him a crypto-Methodist Lutheran?): Better a good Roman Catholic than a bad Lutheran.

      The endless “searcher” is all about self and searching. That is his desire and goal. Peace comes from finding and remaining. If only Christians would find a home that brings them true inner peace. Once you do, stay there and be the “best” XYZ within that tradition that you can be.

      • ed pacht says:

        I’m afraid I have to insert a little caveat here. While it is good to find a home and to stick with it as far as possible, the fact that it seems to bring me peace, or that I am convinced of its rightness is actually quite irrelevant. Such claims are also about self and about a need for certainty. Humility requires me to recognize how poor my understanding is, even of those things I understand best, and to recognize that it is the very nature of things in this fallen world that I am seriously mistaken in some part of what I fervently hold, and seriously deficient in my grasp on that in which I am correct. The lifelong quest of a Christian, then, is not really for comprehensible ‘truth’, but rather for Him who IS the Truth. For myself, after years of seeking for identifiable truth in various fellowships, I have found a decidedly imperfect home (in my case an Anglican church), recognize its imperfections and failings, and am only now learning to reach out to the One who Himself is the answer to all questions and the cure for all imperfections.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Ed, I think we’re both talking about serious, mature, contemplative, humble Christians who are being honest in their faith journey. And we all know the Church and church is filled with imperfect sinners, ourselves included, so it can’t be fully perfect until it is perfected by the Risen Lord at the end time. If worshipping in a given faith group doesn’t bring you a certain amount of peace, comfort, or assurance, then…you likely know something is “wrong” for you. I think every Christian in a faith group should attempt to “be the best of that faith group” that s/he can be, certainly before contemplating leaving it. (Which reminds me a bit of what Luther said about his own experience as an RC Augustinian?)

    • Jim says:

      Re: Paul Goings and comments about the YF

      Another ad hominem attack that appears to me to be pure vitriol. Also unworthy of this blog.

      • Paul Goings says:


        In what way are my comments an ad hominem attack? And in what sense is it vitriolic? I have known Mr Beeler for a long time now, and my knowledge of his checkered ecclesiastical career is entirely relevant to my analysis of his admonition du jour. No one makes imperative statements about what others’ churchly allegiance should be without some sort of context, and in his case, one must look at where he has been, and where he might go, in order to understand just how facile his command to “Convert to Roman Catholicism or die!” is.

        One might hope that he would come here and defend his position, but I also know from experience that Mr Beeler has no taste for anything other than the sort of one-sided conversation that he can control from his ‘blog, with you and Dr Tighe as the last remnants of his “amen corner.”

  6. Stephen K says:

    The title of this post “Non-papal Catholicism” is very interesting. In several posts, Father Chadwick has essentially attempted to explore what constitutes “Catholicism”, given that many groups lay claim to the name for their self-descriptor or legitimacy of tradition. And, for my part, I have increasingly become conscious of the disparity between the literal meaning of the Greek ‘katholikos’ – which someone very kindly analysed as deriving from ‘kata holos’ – and the essentially territorial provincialism of every group, even the largest, the Roman Catholics. The discussion on “Young Fogey” between YF and Chris Jones, that touched on the question of the 1054 schism between East and West, highlights for me the tendency people have of confusing or conflating Catholicism with just their own version.

    For it is a deficient way of looking at things to simply reduce a reality to the way one sees it from a particular standpoint: A tree, for example, presents many aspects and facets to someone standing on the other side of it, and vice versa. Thus, where the great split between East and West is concerned, both sides are effectively “in schism”: they have each broken from each other or from a whole. Romans are inculturated to see the Orthodox as in schism (as they see Protestants as in heresy); but the Orthodox I am sure see it exactly the opposite: that the Romans broke away. In fact neither can lay proper claim to being kata holos. They are now kata meros – merely of the part.

    So, is there such a thing called “Catholicism”? If it is, it is going to be something that reflects an approach that seeks to embrace or engage with the “whole” as opposed to perhaps being an approach that seeks to diminish or purify or restrict. If we characterise it this way, we can readily see that those elements within the various Christian theologies and liturgies and ethē which seek to encompass and absorb the whole of creation etc are not dissimilar to some elements that can be found in other religious traditions, even New Age. What things am I thinking of here? Colour, rather than greyness; floral lyricism rather than plainness; male-and-femaleness, not simply one or the other; ecologism and universalism rather than anthropomorphism; custom eclecticism rather than narrow scripturalism; subsidiarity rather than totalitarian centralism; mystery rather than arithmetic; sacramentalism rather than engineering, and so on.

    I am sure other dichotomies could be identified, but I think you get what I mean. I recently formed a view that perhaps Mariology and Marian piety was also a distinguishing feature of this spirit called Catholicism, insofar as it expressed an attempt at psychological balance, to ensure that the Feminine principle is expressed to complement the Masculine principle that dominates theological and cultural discourse and liturgy. In other words, Catholicism – or the Catholic person – deep down wants a Goddess as well as a God. A core distinguishing element of Catholic Christianity may be its recognition of, and hunger for, the feminine, the female, as source or conduit of power.

    This may be why we recognise confusing signs within Romanism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism of what we call Catholic or non-Catholic elements. It is not simply a case of counting copes and candlesticks, but taking into account what is being said and done in and out of the liturgy. Francis of Assisi was most Catholic when he embraced lepers and preached to the birds; to succour all in need without ranking by status or creed is a Catholic thing to do. To burn heretics at the stake for their beliefs is profoundly uncatholic. And so on. To insist that Catholicism must be papal is a limiting and excluding position that fits int the same category, in my view.

    I don’t know what other readers think of this minor thesis. I think there’s considerable force to it. How else to explain why we may feel unrepelled even by the allure of exotic ‘pagan’ mysteries (so-called) found in Oriental religions or even Wiccan or Druidic ceremonies and philosophy but repelled by rabbinical or scholastic dissections of law and metaphysics in which one Scriptural text is used to condemn another? But I’d be interested to hear what others think.

    • Michael Frost says:

      As regards “perhaps Mariology and Marian piety was also a distinguishing feature of this spirit called … Catholicism – or the Catholic person – deep down wants a Goddess as well as a God”… Back in the late 1980s or early 1990s in the USA during a round of Orthodox-Lutheran ecumenical dialog on the topic (and I think they’ve said the same to the RCs in their dialogs), the Lutherans posited that they thought Constantinople and Rome both built up Marian piety and dogma in light of a less than full Pneumatology. They opinined that a recovery of a full Apostolic Pneumatology would work as a corrective. I think there is some truth to that. Keeping a proper perspective on first things is always important. The Trinity is God in Three Persons. The power of the Holy Spirit is infinite. Mary and the Saints are never divine (though they are divinized by theosis). Of course, the Orthodox responded back to the Lutherans that one must also be clear about what Mariology and Marian piety is and is not, just as with icons and iconography. It isn’t worship. And how we differ from Rome on certain areas (Immaculate Conception and Assumption as promulgated mandatory dogmas). And it can be abused in the minds of the common man or woman. So it is up to the Church to educate her faithful on these issues.

    • Michael Frost says:

      I forgot to mention the impact of our respective East-West Trinitarian perspectives. With Rome, the doctrine of the filioque leads to the subordination of the Holy Spirit to the Son, with the Spirit in a real sense being “dependent” upon the Son. This has potentially serious Marian ramifications, given what all Rome says about the relationship of Mary to her Son, and it changes the relationship Mary has with the Spirit. We see this especially in the (ongoing heretical) push (by some/many) to make Mary a co-mediatrix of salvation. While I don’t think that automatically makes Mary a goddess (God forbid!), it does conflate who she is and who God in Trinity is). So Constantinople would tell the Lutherans (and Rome) that a proper Trinitarian understanding goes along with proper Pneumatology and Mariology.

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear Michael, I find myself very responsive to your comments about a proper Pneumatology, which I take to be the theology of the Holy Spirit. A propos of this theme about whether the properly Catholic spirit must somehow incorporate the Female, I had already come to a realisation that the Holy Spirit is sometimes co-opted into the Feminine Principle role (particularly in mystical and Gnostic-influenced schemas). However, I thought that doing so does not easily find its place in the usual dynamic expressed in filioque Trinitarian doctrine: namely, that the Spirit is the fruit of the love between Father and Son. What seemed to me to be clearly missing, analogically, for this particular version of Trinity is a “Mother” and it is Mary, rather than a proceeding spirit, that seems to be able to better fit this role, insofar as she was Mother to the Son. Though official Catholic theology is always careful to stress she is not divine and thus not to be worshipped (cf. Lumen Gentium 66, 67), there are always going to be risks for the unwary in terms like “Mother of the Church” (LG 53, n. 262) or “Mother of God” (LG 63) with the result that the hyperdulia sanctioned for an important person for faith often resembles to outsiders (and may sometimes be confused in the devotee) the latria to a Goddess. (I think the terms theotokos or Deipara i.e. “God-bearer” are therefore safer).

        In that sense, I think the Roman approach to Mary potentially conflicts with its characterisation of the Holy Spirit.

        A corollary to this theme of “The Female” as a fundamental element of Catholicism is the question of how is “the Female” to be perceived? The tradition has been to emphasise Mary as virgin and mother. Is Mary only important as a mother? In one sense, yes, for if she were not the mother of an Incarnate God, we would not be having this discussion. But this emphasis has problems from the very limitations of maternal symbolism. Because of the historical bias towards masculinised language (in the West) perhaps not enough men appreciate the importance of gender in the construction of our religious sensibilities and fervour. We do not have to anachronistically project modern consciousness onto previous centuries to accept that today the model of a veiled virgin and mother may not speak positively to many people. We all have mothers but we are not all virgins or mothers, and the problem is not that we all have ever been (for we have clearly not been) but that many now either desire to work out religiously spiritual life in other roles or recognise that they have to. This, I believe, is why the question of womens’ ordination is fast becoming less an unacceptable theological hypothesis as an obvious theological imperative.

        You may be very right here, that what is missing is a competent and coherent Pneumatology, in which some of these problems or tensions might be resolved.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Knowing my own limits, I find myself at the end of my limited abilities to pursue the issue any further in depth. I find that any detailed discussion of the Trinity, the relationship of the 3 Persons, the depth of Christology & Pneumatology, and the relationship of Mary to same…usually leads one to start taking on water and eventually foundering. That includes Nestorians and hyper-Chalcedonians. And great minds like Luther and Calvin. And even Patriarchs (e.g., Cyril Lukaris). I fear to tread where so many bishops, monks, and theologians have come to grief. So I have to default…to Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church, where, for fleeting moments, I find I can make some limited sense of the breadth and depth of these fiendishly complex issues. (I think I feel a bit like Charlie in Flowers for Algernon; Lossky helps me understand things but unless I stay focused on them, I find them slipping back into the recesses of my mind.)

        But I will reiterate that the filioque mutates the Trinity in serious ways that do great damage to a fuller understanding of these issues. That damage includes the West’s understandings about Mary. For the West, a proper Pneumatology starts with the correct understanding of the Holy Spirit and His relationship with the Father and the Son. (Whether one uses a clover leaf or pyramid, for the base triangle, the Father is at the apex and the Son and Spirit are at the base, resting on solid ground, so to speak; the filioque has the Father and the Son balanced precariously on the point of the Holy Spirit, so to speak.)

      • Michael Frost says:

        Besides Lossky, I also rely heavily on Jaroslav Pelikan, the great Lutheran theologian who coverted to Orthodoxy. I can’t recommend enough his magesterial 5-vol. history on the Development of Christian Doctrine (written while Lutheran), as well as his separate, but highly related, two books on Jesus and Mary through the centuries. He, too, brings great temporary clarity to these complex issues, esp. as regards the disputants’ various respective positions in time and across time.

      • Michael Frost says:

        As regards Mary, the feminine, and mothering…I think the East’s position on both the filioque and immaculate conception makes things both clearer and brings out the reality of the Trinity. [The Father is the eternal font. The Father eternally begets the Son. The Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. The “masculine” Spirit, in time and space, then “comes upon Mary and the power of the Most High overshadows her” (per Luke). The Father sends the Spirit like a dove to baptize the Son after the Son is born of a virgin, and the Son dies for our sins, being our only mediator and savior, and rises from the dead.] In regard to first principles, Mary’s role is properly delineated and limited, to the Incarnation and her ongoing relationship with her only Son, without any confusion within the Trinity or between the 3 Persons.

        But once you “add” the filioque and the immaculate conception, then things Marian get “messy” within the Trinity and between the Persons.

  7. Sparrowhawk says:

    I came across all this by chance. I too was associated with Romantia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I still have many of their publications. ‘Discipline’ was always a small part of it, and they would argue that it was an aberration of Late Patriarchal western society that saw it as having anything to do with sex. Romantia was happy to include men, though the early publications have overtones of a more Sapphic nature, and include references to ‘blondes’ and ‘brunettes’, the two female genders. Also, before The Romantic, the same group (who originated at LMH, Oxford in the 1970s) produced Artimis magazine, which was avowedly lesbian. Some copies can be found in the BL.

    What to make of it all? They certainly invoked Guenon and the Traditionalist School. In their current state, they would not interest me. Guenon (and Aristasia) however do make some good points about modernity

  8. Craig says:

    I wonder if your attention to the Romantic Ladies’ sites broke the link. 😉 They don’t seem to be working any longer.

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