A Couple of Articles

I got the heads-up this morning in my mailbox.

I find this article of little interest, as I have found many analogies of little help. I think of the Ordinariate Christmas gifts for impatient children, warm Tiber water and all that sort of thing. Now the Church is compared to a person suffering from depression and having to be treated in the old-fashioned way – electric shock treatment. Indeed, Frankenstein science (Luigi Galvani) from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries left its legacy in this method of “rebooting” the human brain with electricity and saving lives by restarting hearts with a defibrillator. It seems just to be another red herring analogy.

The first assumption is that the Pope would have abdicated as a “shock tactic”. The announcement came suddenly, but many of us saw it coming. We will see if future Popes have to resign at a set age or after so many years in office, and perhaps this is something I don’t care about.

The Catholic identity being something less of interest as time goes on. I can’t speak for others, but there are so many Catholic identities as to become something as nebulous as the touted Anglican patrimony. As far as I am concerned, if it is being one of the Pope’s fans or parishioners, forget it. If it is a way to live the incarnational mystery of Christ through the Sacraments and the liturgy, like the Orthodox in their parts of the world, then there’s something interesting all of a sudden. Catholicism is said to be growing in Africa, but what kind of Catholicism is that? If it is the phenomenon of personality cults and mass hysteria, that is of less interest.

I would agree that Rome and the Papacy have been made into a personality cult. It is a part of our modern culture and part of human nature. The Church always offered examples to imitate by canonising saints. Some people like mass religion and large numbers of bustling people. I don’t. I would prefer to go and spend a few days in a monastery than go on pilgrimage to Lourdes. I like the Church in its intimate and family-like dimension.

Perhaps a lesson to be learned is that the Church suffers from the top-heaviness of its bureaucracy and institutional inertia, but those are hardly the fault of Benedict XVI. He tried to improve it, not make it worse. I would like to see the Papacy itself fade into a lower profile and for church life to be based in parishes, monasteries and alternative communities. Orthodoxy cannot be enforced. It has to be embraced lovingly and through enchantment. That is a theme on which Benedict XVI has always insisted, and he is right.

It’s interesting that this author refers to Pope Novus, because many of us would spontaneously add Bogus. Why is it so important for priests, bishops and popes to retire? Some people become infirm and incapable whilst they are yet young, and some people grow very old and keep their physical and mental strength. The priesthood is a vocation, and if I were a parish priest somewhere in a parish as they used to be in this country, without bureaucrats wearing me down, I don’t think I would want to retire, but rather to stay on as long as possible. I have lived in presbyteries with priests who went on and on. One priest I knew had a stroke at 82 and died, but until then he did his duties very well. I bristled when I saw him precariously wobbling his way up a stepladder to change the sanctuary lamp – a good lesson to do it before he noticed it hadn’t been done! I am against forced retirement. The essential thing is for an elderly priest to have the help he needs rather than being left by his own devices by people who don’t care but who still want their “consumer religion”.

If they reform the Papacy, they will only make the Church less human and less family-like. They would increase the bureaucracy and number of rules. Then even fewer people would be interested in the new Daughter of Zion as they pass by shaking their heads – is this what men called the perfection of beauty? Indeed – Quomodo sedet sola civitas

This journalist seems to have it all worked out, but he is laying a red herring. Rome’s not the problem. It’s the local dioceses and parishes. They don’t need rules and bureaucracy. They need the freedom to do good as well as do evil, put on beautiful liturgies as well as jamborees with rock bands and projection screens.

Pope Novus sounds so boring, so predictable and so mundane. I don’t need him (especially as I’m an Anglican – of sorts), and he would be an irrelevance to others, even more than the traditionalist and neo-intransigent Pius XIII. The church does not live by popes alone.That is one of the few truthful things this journalist has said, reflected the narrative of the Three Temptations.

This is an interesting historical reflection by Dr John Rao. The comparison is made between the early sixteenth century and the present situation. It is something of a paean of hope and faith, the idea that the Church can transcend the limitations human beings place on it. If this Church is a “pre-reformation” church as in the Renaissance era, then where are the reformers and counter reformers? Is such a comparison possible? Are the elements in place?

I suppose Africa and South America could be taken over by American Evangelical churches and the Pentecostalists, and maybe the “reformers” of Europe are the Muslims. But, are they not just stepping into a vacuum rather than having a mind to reform and restore Biblical values? Where’s Luther? Calvin? Ignatius Loyola? Philip Neri? Antonio Michele Ghislieri? – or their modern equivalents? Can we imagine the circumstances that would lead to the Second Council of Trent or equivalent counter-reforming Council in Rome? With most of today’s bishops?

How can the situation of today compare with a religious world where there was ignorance and corruption but also a deep tradition of piety and liturgy? In my own studies of the liturgy in the Renaissance era, I found that the corruption was not evenly distributed, and that some parts of the Catholic world were healthy and popular – England for example. The Reformation had to be enforced by foreign mercenaries killing people. The people wanted the Mass as before and not the “Christmas game”!

We can believe in the grace of God, providence, his ability to bring the greatest good and beauty from the least likely places. The Redemption was brought about by Jesus being tortured to death by wicked men! Thus Ciaphas and Pilate were instruments of grace…

O felix culpa, quæ talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem! O vere beata nox, quæ sola meruit scire tempus et horam, in qua Christus ab inferis resurrexit!

On the other hand, like in the Renaissance era, our time is one of transition to the unknown, to the darkness of Jakob Böhm’s Ungrund from which light and grace will bloom forth at the appointed time. Studying the history of that era would certainly do us a lot of good and get us out of out temporal insularity.

Popes Pius IV and Pius V dealt with homosexuals by torturing and killing them with red hot pokers, castration and burning at the stake. Is that what we want, when God wills not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn to God and live? That is an aspect of the Counter Reformation that horrifies me. If that kind of thing takes over, and they get their hands on the levers of political power, it is simple for me – I will buy a forty-foot boat, cast off and sail away!

They not only murdered the gays, but also sent wandering monks into slavery and all the card sharps, bushwhackers and whiskey pedlars to the hanging judge like in the old West. We live in a time when crime and punishment are the subjects of ethical reflections. What do you do with psychopathic serial killers? Our natural inclination is to kill them, and then we kill people for stealing a loaf of bread and spitting on the road. The prisons are full and there seems only the option of Botany Bay and Devil’s Island, but in more humane versions. What caused those guys to go bad in the first place? Did we “good guys” have some responsibility? Execution is the easy option, but it is still killing and taking human life. If human life is cheap, then the Nazis were right – and I wouldn’t want to spend a minute longer on this earth!

If love has no place in this world and only force will do what it takes to reform the Church, then it is not the way of Christ. The Counter-Reformation cost lives and plunged Europe into bloody wars, as did the Protestants.

Like Benedict XVI, I believe the way out is contemplative and by rational persuasion on the marketplace of ideas. It might not work in human terms, but it respects freedom and human dignity. Fewer people will belong to the Church, but those who do will be attracted by beauty and holiness.

Dr Rao is right in that we now run the risk of seeing all Benedict XVI’s work undone, a return to the 1970’s and “dogmatic” liberalism. I notice how Brian Coyne on the Catholica Forum claims freedom and goodness, but yet would be inquisitorial on liturgical traditionalists. The French revolutionaries cried death to the enemies of freedom. Was not opposition to a certain concept of freedom itself a form of freedom? Will we find ourselves with a southern cone pope who will write off Europe and leave us to our fate? Will we be returning to polyester vestments, wooden tables and clown masses?

As I’ve said, there is no point in speculating about the conclave. It will be over in a day, a few days, or the people who feed their Eminences will have to say No Pope no food! It all looks surreal in our secular, scientific, technological, informed – and above all cynical world. Perhaps they have stocked up on provisions for months like on a ship.

The terrifying thing is to have no idea about what the solution would be. I do believe that a world without the leaven of Christian faith and culture would be something like Germany in the 1930’s but much worse. The Church has not always been exemplary about the respect of human life, but godless man is even more of a psychopathic murderer. Now is the time to look for God, not the whims of sinful man, for universal consciousness and beauty.

Dr Rao constantly quotes Louis Veuillot, that most ultramontanist of French journalists and Pius IX fans. I have often criticised that kind of Catholicism of the nineteenth century that provoked its nemesis in the form of anti-clerical Socialism and Grand Orient Freemasonry. Had the Church been kinder, following the example of a Saint Philip Neri or a François de Sales, surely fewer people would have turned against Christianity with such pent-up hatred. I would not like to see the Church return to that point – but to come up with something new to transcend both conservatism and “dogmatic” liberalism.

Perhaps the absence of a clear way forward is God’s way of telling us not to make such mistakes. I am confident that we will see the light one day, whether we are Roman clergy or rag-tag priests and folk in “micro churches” like the Anglican continuers and the traditionalist communities. I see no other way.

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3 Responses to A Couple of Articles

  1. William Tighe says:

    “The French revolutionaries cried death to the enemies of freedom.” (Like the men of the Vendee or the nuns of Compiegne, I suppose)

    In the early 1980s the liberals in the Church of Sweden, who had just scuppered what some thought to be the last reasonable prospect of finding some permanent “accommodation” for opponents of WO, came up with the clever phrase of “(we must) exclude the excluders” as a kind of answer to those who inquired how they, who were perpetual advocates of an “inclusive” and minimally dogmatic form of Christianity, could justify taking such an uncompromising “hard line” against opponents of WO. The idea that “inclusive Christians” must of necessity seek to exclude (or at least isolate and marginalize) those who are not “inclusive” subsequently has triumphed in the Episcopal Church, and bids fair to do so in the Church of England as well.

    Cf. the ever ghastily bemusing comments on the blog “Thinking Anglicans.”

    • I have rolled your two comments into one, as you obviously had the intention of adding something on after having pushed the “send” button.

      This is probably the most important thing you have found, and why I see the futility of the dialectics between conservatives and so-called liberals. Louis Veuillot noticed in the 19th century that there was nothing less liberal than a liberal. You have noticed that those who minimise dogma and push for WO are those who are the least tolerant and the most intransigent to those who want the traditional liturgy or simply want to promote the traditional family based on heterosexual marriage.

      I once had a friend in York, a songman at the Minster, who loved to quote: The Woozlum (Oozlum) bird flies in ever-decreasing circles until it flies up its own arsehole. In that somewhat safe but insanitary situation, it showers shit and sarcasm over its pursuer. There are other versions, and Wikipedia has an article on this myth – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oozlum_bird. We Yorkshire folk (I was born in Westmorland but my family’s roots are Leeds / Bradford, York and Scarborough / Whitby) tend not to beat about the bush! Another notion is that the snake eats it own tail. Opposites meet. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

      I’m not interested in conclave horse trading, but I think it will be a miracle if we don’t go back to the John / Paul type of papacy, though I like what I know about John XXIII. I believe that Benedict XVI tried to transcend the war between left and right and present such a spiritual and beautiful vision of the Church that mundus eum non comprehendat – the world fails to understand.

      Such a spiritual vision would of itself be inclusive and universal / catholic at a high level and above man’s politics and murderous instincts. That has to be the future direction of the Church.

  2. J.V. says:

    You certainly have a keen sense of what is at issue, for the the future of the Roman Church. Sadly, most RCs are blinded to such a view.

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