Fourteenth Century Catholicism in a Dead Language?

Yes, I look at the “progressive” point of view as well as everyone else’s. The so-called Enlightened Catholicism blog has done a trashing job on the traditionalists by contrasting the way Benedict XVI hoped to deal with the Society of St Pius X and the “Sorry you feel that way,  see ya’ bye” of Pope Francis. See Pope Francis Talks About The Church Of Living Stones; SSPX Throws Stones.

Before going any further, I am not casting any innuendos against the Roman Catholic church or its Pope, or even giving credit for a blogger who would see her Church go the way of the Anglican Communion and secular society. I have no interest in the Society of St Pius X one way or the other.

What is of significance to me is the reason why the traditionalists are being trashed in this way. Is it because of their anti-democratic politics and nostalgia for twentieth-century totalitarianism? No. It is about the liturgy

I wish them well and hope if they ever figure out how to be living stones by espousing a 14th century Catholicism in a dead language they come back and let us know how they accomplished it.  In the meantime, Francis has one less problem to deal with.

If you take the trouble to read the article, this blogger tars Pope Benedict XVI with the same brush as the SSPX. That the SSPX espouses nationalist and authoritarian politics is of no consequence to this blogger, since she would certainly advocate the imposition of absolute authority and “re-education” for dissidents if she ever found herself with the levers of power in her hands. I would only expect this kind of talk from this blogger, just as I would expect to see leaves on the trees in spring.

So the problem is the liturgy! Evidently not for the vast majority of western humanity to which the Church is no longer a known or trusted entity. In a way, this person is right – the old Latin liturgy will not bring the crowds back. Rather, it is the contrary: large numbers of people are drawn to “mega-church” liturgies. I have nothing against that for those who are drawn to God that way, but some of us are aliens to this type of religion. The common-sense answer would be diversity of “churchmanship” as in twentieth-century Anglicanism. But would it work? Perhaps the other common-sense answer is to get away from institutions and see the Church another way.

It will just bring us to reflect on the real reasons that keep most people away from church. They only ever went because they were forced to by civil authorities under the control of ecclesiastical authorities. How long ago did the Church die? Or rather, how is the Church still surviving far away from the rubble and waste?

As an afterthought, I keep an eye on Patricius‘ blog Liturgiae Causa, in which this young man from the greater London sprawl has written most insightfully. I find myself unable to comment on this blog for reasons of not having the right kind of connection to Google. The conclusion he has come to is sad but is understandable, as we see the dialectics between two totalitarian visions of Catholicism, one “nationalist” and one “socialist” and everything being blamed on styles of worship. Patricius and I sympathise probably more than he or I would care to think. At the same time, I have been around for long enough to know that intemperate writing alienates even one’s friends. I hope Patricius will have the courage to get out of his south-east English existence in a place as dull as Sidcup, to find new surroundings in which he can mature as a person and find fulfilment.

I am determined not to apostatise, but rather to hang on and remain faithful to those little pockets and remnants of Catholicism where they still exist and where they are still Christian as opposed to political. I have written at length on anarchism. Anarchism has always failed in political terms, because it is a-political. It concerns persons and the spiritual life, not yet another way to re-model society, in exactly the way Oscar Wilde claimed to have found freedom in prison. This is the freedom of the spirit – and it is there for each of us to discover.

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39 Responses to Fourteenth Century Catholicism in a Dead Language?

  1. fatheredbakker says:

    Thank you for this interesting post. Although I have never been involved with the SSPX, I must admit that I do enjoy watching a good Trinidentine Mass on Video. E.g from Saint Nicholas du Chardonnet in Paris. I loaded some of their stuff down and burnt to disk so I can play it on the tv set. I love it. Not only the language and the ceremonial , which reminds me a lot of what we are doing but also the devotion of the people, young and old, crowds and crowds of people. Young boys being trained as altar servers. But this is only a small part of the SSPX and it will never bring all the Catholics back to the past. Whilst it might not increase the RC Church as a whole, it does cater for many people, who otherwise choose to stay home and abstain from Mass. That is bad.
    In a way you and I are doing this when we offer the Mass via the Anglican Missal, we do cater for those who were absent before. The 14th century RC liturgy is certain well worth while preserving , just as we preserve the use of the Book of Common Prayer.

    It is sad that there those in the RC Church who skoff at those who attend a Trinidentine Mass ,
    the attitude of some Roman Catholic Priests in New Zealand towards those who attended these services was terrible.

    I personally don’t agree with the policies of the SPXX, i.e. to get Rome to admit that
    the Vatican Council concerned was not correct banning the Latin Mass. They will never do that.
    If you don’t like it , leave and do what is right and get on with it.

    Pope Benedict was a Traditionalist, Orthodox in his approach, he wanted to bring all the dissidents back to the fold. Pope Francis is much more modern and evangelical in his approach, i.e.
    if you don’t like what we are doing , you can move on.

    Fr Ed Bakker

  2. Stephen K says:

    Dear Father, I must disagree with you on one point. I don’t think the trashing of traditionalists within the RC Church by what you have described as “progressives” is not ultimately about the liturgy, or at least not “per se”. It would be more accurate to say that the liturgy is the ‘symbol’ or ‘face’ of what the real clash is about: a metaphysic of human existence and the Church’s nature, and an epistemology of truth and value. Traditionalists, loosely called, are ostensibly attracted to an order in which there are clear collective rules imposed on all, which is a reflection of a view about truth as being a fixed objective expression of fixed determinate and determinable realities; the loosely-described progressives are ostensibly attracted to a more individualised state of affairs, which is a reflection of the changes and elusive boundaries in what we think of as nature and experience (e.g. where do nature and nurture intersect/begin?). At heart, traditionalists want a society – both religiously and secularly – above all free of crime, nuisance, and strife. Progressives want a society above all free. Theologically, traditionalists prioritise security; progressives prioritise freedom. Traditionalists speak the religious language of “truth’; progressives speak the religious language of ‘love’. [The irony of course is that traditionalists are no more truthful, and the progressives no more loving, than their respective protagonists.

    Now, in saying that traditionalists are no more ‘truthful’, I am speaking both of their subjective attitude and their objective dogmas. They, of course, would object to the latter if not the former. In saying that progressives are no more ‘loving’, the same applies. The thing is that no-one can avoid dogmatising their faith: if we say that love overrides truth, that itself is a dogma. The only way out of this internecine dynamic is to adopt a view that reality can never be encompassed by what we say or think we know, and that religious truth is utilitarian, not absolute.

    We must never underestimate the power of our aesthetic formation and our emotional dispositions where religion is concerned: some of us like x form of spiritual worship and others y. Each has its results and consequences, culturally and mentally. If one believes that the core of the Mass, for example, is the memorial immolation of Calvary in the form of the “Supper of the Lamb”, then both the Tridentine Mass and the New Mass are equal, to the extent that they both incorporate at their heart the anamnesis over the bread and wine. All the surrounding prayers and gestures – in both – do not affect that sacramental core. What is thus fought over so bitterly is the style and theology of the Church: hieratic or communal; esoteric or vernacular; etc.

    The struggle is not therefore primarily over the liturgy but over lebensraum; who gets to decide what. This is not necessarily in the forefront of people’s minds but I think it is at the subconscious level.

    The other mistake being made here is the progressive attack on the SSPX, as if they epitomised or represented the traditionalist cause. I rather think that the SSPX have evolved, not in their own minds perhaps, but in the minds of the many self-identifying traditionalists in the RC Church: they are now something ‘other’, marginalised, not simply from modernists and progressives, but also from these traditionalists as well. Progressives should not be so irked by the SSPX who have arrived and constructed their own subliminal solution to the question of faith but should fear more those who remain within the official structure of the RC Church.

    If the Tridentine Mass was not so firmly in the hands of priests who strutted around in conscious cassocked clericality, who by and large relegated works of charity and social justice well behind the number of rosaries recited, or was not so associated with conservative politics, it would not be so resisted. The same applies in reverse: the New Mass is trashed without quarter in a million blogsites by those who see its attendees as unenlightened or insincere, not to mention worse. In my view, the real battleground in the RC Church is only secondarily over Sacrosanctum Concilium, but primarily over Dignitatis Humanae.

    Father, you are a person who understands and inclines to the preservation of religious worship handed down. But you do not, as far as I can discern, share or display any of the rigidity with which many who so self-identify in either the RC or CofE Churches apply to their understanding of faith, religion, reality, truth and salvation. So, are you a traditionalist or a progressive? I think you are neither, just a thoughtful Christian.

    • Little Black Sambo says:

      Progressives want a society above all free.
      Not in my experience.

      • Stephen K says:

        LBS, I may have been as overly-generous there as in saying traditionalists want a society free of strife. Irony abounds!

      • Stephen K and Little Black Sambo. Indeed life is full of irony. I remember a line from a James Bond film when someone said to Bond “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter“. Bond replied – This particular one has no interest in other people’s freedom.

  3. fatheredbakker says:

    Stephen , a lot of Traditionalists are not necessarily rigid in their practise of their Faith. Progressiveness can be rigid in the area of the RC being the only place where one can obtain Salvation. Progression whether you label it as ” love ” generated has not necessarily been a good thing. I am not quite sure that in this day and age one can be a stand alone Christian as good as it may sound. You are a Catholic Christian or an Orthodox Christian or a Pentecostal Christians, but all of us are Christians.

    Fr Ed Bakker

  4. ed pacht says:

    I’ve long found traditionalism/fundamentalism on one side and progressivism/liberalism on the other to be strikingly similar. Each is rigidly condemnatory toward the other. Each has the sole and only “true” understanding of how things should be. Each is, it would seem, unwilling to love the other and reach out toward those of a different view. So it generally is with “isms” and “ists” of any stripe. No one has a monopoly on truth, nor has anyone cornered the market on love. If we truly can’t agree, then we are obligated to contend, if we must, but to do so with love and respect, and to listen in the course of the conversation to those we consider adversaries. Perhaps we shall discover a beam in our own eye that needs to be tended to.

    • Stephen K says:

      Yes, ed, yours is the destination we end up in if we recognise the incompleteness of any religious stance or attitude. As infants and children religion adopts us; later, we adopt religion. We should maintain the relationship only so long as it continues to make us more conscious of our own failings and spur us to greater love and wisdom. We can’t say how that plays out – interiorly, I mean – in anyone else but ourselves.

    • I’ve long found traditionalism/fundamentalism on one side and progressivism/liberalism on the other to be strikingly similar.

      I call this one Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They are both exactly the same.

  5. Stephen

    Like Fr Anthony I am an ordained Priest – do me the courtesy and call me at least Fr Ed. Don’t be Like a former blogger Ioannes!

    Father Ed Bakker

    • Stephen K says:

      Dear Father Bakker, I think my record shows I would never have paid you any discourtesy: my reply above was actually to co-reader ed pacht. It was coincidental that both of you have the same name, but thank you for pointing this out to me so that I may in future make clearer to whom I refer.

      • fatheredbakker says:

        Hello Stephen,
        Yes… you are quite right. Apologies for the misunderstanding.
        Have a good week.

        Father Ed Bakker

  6. Neil Hailstone says:

    I have read the article on ‘Enlightened Catholicism’ and then reread it to make sure I have fully understood what the writer is saying. Likewise with Fr Anthony’s blog post. I come at this as an Anglican Catholic using the Novus Ordo. Personally I approve of the use of modern language liturgies and most churches in the Society of which I am a member follow this practice. We live out our Catholic Christian lives in accordance with Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition adhering to the faith of the Undivided Church with such usage of Anglican patrimony as is compatible with this belief and governance.

    We are fully involved in the task of Evangelism and I think it beyond doubt that the use of modern English in both Bible and Liturgy are very helpful in doing so. Indeed we see the fruits of this work for which Thanks be to God.

    My view is that there is, and should be, a place in the Holy Catholic Church for Christians who wish to use older and indeed ancient liturgies including those in Latin. I have just one word of caution for those who prefer these forms of worship. Whatever else you do – Do not become a reenactment society in robes with incense looking in upon yourselves. The Great Commission applies to you equally.

    • You might be right – a modern “show” type of liturgy might be best for the religion of the masses, though it is said in America that mega-church religion might have less of a future than some think. Your comment reflects the way things are going under Pope Francis.

      I personally don’t relate to extroverted and noisy Christianity, but I won’t trash it because it brings people into God’s presence. As things work out, traditional-style liturgy is more for monasteries and defined communities of folk who know enough about that kind of liturgy to relate to it.

      I take exception to “Do not become a reenactment society in robes with incense looking in upon yourselves“. Vestments and incense are used in the Novus Ordo too. Was the reform not radical enough?

      Perhaps you are right, and Christianity is a kind of entertainment for extrovert masses and Facebook users! The Great Commission? More blaring advertising and marketing over what we get from people selling us their wares. There seems to be more rhetoric on this subject of “muscular” or “masculine” Christianity than any real hope for anything other than survival in the Catacombs.

      Some of us want something else, but we don’t like to be moralised at, patronised and belittled.

  7. Dale says:

    ” progressives speak the religious language of ‘love’.” Had to laugh out loud at that one!

    Having, as a traditionalist, to deal with this “language of love” on more than one occasion, I can assure you that the power is held by these so called “progressives” and “love” is the last thing on their minds.

    • Stephen K says:

      Indeed, Dale, the point of my post was to suggest that it was incorrect to posit the principal issue of difference between the two camps in the liturgy, but in the worldview that would want one liturgy rather than another and vice versa, and attack one or the other. In trying to encapsulate this, I thought that the vocabulary and emphasis used in discourse by both camps revealed something of this opposition. In that sense, I don’t think it can be denied that traditionalists often insist on a particular characterisation of religious truth – hence their rejection of what they see as false ecumenism – and that progressives often insist on a particular characterisation of religious love – hence their rejection of what they see as harsh orthodoxy. This is the kind of difference that leads one “group” to wish to pray using one style, and the other to pray using another style. I was not suggesting – I think I even inserted a caution – that either group always lived up to their language. And here, I think it should be evident, I am referring to the language of the theology behind the stance and not to conversational diatribes of individuals. If I open my copy of Karl Rahner’s “Grace and Freedom” (1970), examples of the sort of thing I had in mind include an entire chapter entitled “The theology of freedom” with sections such as “Freedom – the capacity of Love”, “The risk of Love”, “Love has No Measure”, “Love of One’s Neighbour”, “Freedom is Subjectivity”.

      Part of the problem is the short shelf-life or inadequacy of our labels. If we dig a little we soon come to recognise that “progressives” may wish to arrest religious development at a particular point or idea and that “traditionalists” may similarly wish to arrest the origin of religious tradition and select several from amongst many. I realise that conversation would become ridiculously cumbersome and babel-esque if we tried to replace these convenient labels with descriptors reflective of individual differences, but the labels certainly seem to help drive us into sweeping animosities. Your observation that progressives have power without love on their minds is one that regrettably may be applied in all directions. As our co-reader, ed pacht has pointed out, no-one has a monopoly on truth or love, and indeed it may be salutary to continually question whether we ourselves possess either in any significant measure.

      • Dale says:

        Hello Stephen, please forgive some of us who are old and have been in this battle for many years. In the 70’s (I know for many of you that is so many years ago; but those are the years I was in seminary), those of us attached to the old rites were bitterly maligned, sidelined and brutally mistreated; often mistreated by those who then turned around and professed that unlike us, they loved. I personally know and knew good, pious priests who were removed from their parishes and had their reputations ruined for things so important as refusing to give communion in the hand or refusing to give communion to individuals who came to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord chewing bubble gum.

        I think that some of you here would be shocked at some of the things said, one suspects in “love,” against those who stood firm to the tradition whilst the rest of the Church seemed to be going mad. This happened not only in Roman Catholicism, but in Anglicanism as well. The vicious and unwarranted attacks made by the present Episcopal Church against anyone not caving into not only the new, new liturgies, but the theology and morality that seems to accompany these liturgical monstrosities is an example; it is not pretty, and it is most certainly not inspired by “love.” When all that many of us wish is to be simply left alone in peace. Lawsuits, personal vendettas, and innuendo liter the ecclesiastical landscape and the traditionalist have neither the time or the money to carry on these assaults, but especially in the United States, the attacks against traditionalist is unrelenting, and comes almost exclusively from so-called progressives.

      • Stephen K says:

        No worries, Dale, I remember only too well what you are referring to. There is nothing to forgive. I take your point and understand. But my perception is not only that years later the shoe is in places on the other foot, but also that from a hindsight reflection of what all our historical religious passions have achieved or not, we might more accurately identify and grapple with the underlying ideas to which various camps are so attracted and discern the truth and pitfalls behind all of them for a better religious humanity. Now I can just hear some decrying such utopianism but that’s what I think we need more of.

  8. Neil Hailstone says:

    Fr Anthony,

    Yes I understand, at least I think I do, with regard to your response. In no way whatsoever was my own post intended as a criticism of anyone involved in traditional liturgy. The church where I worship would probably be regarded as’ over the top in’ some circles. We have many Holy Icons, candles, incense, statues, Stations of the Cross and A large Crucifix positioned close to the Altar. Our doctrine is entirely commensurate with the Undivided Church. Please trust me on this: nothing I wrote here was in any way an attempt to patronise or belittle anyone else. If that is how my post appears to any other member of the Holy Catholic Church then I do apologise without reservation. Personal limitations of powers of expression rather than any intention to offend anyone.

    • Thank you for this. You have always been very kind. I have to be as careful as anyone else about what kind of words I use. The more we are delicate with each other, the more we can expect the joy of liturgical and spiritual diversity in the future.

  9. Neil Hailstone says:

    I really would not wish that the readers or regular contributors to the blog would conclude that I am against those who prefer older liturgies. For the record my own church and others in the vicinity of similar persuasion associated with the same Society to which I belong do fairly frequently have the choir singing Latin Hymns.

    I have reviewed my original post and I freely admit, that on reflection, it could have been worded much more sensitively. I so totally do not decry the liturgies used by previous generations.

    In fact being well aware of the history of the Catholic Church here in Cornwall, a particularly honourable history I have to say, I pray daily for the souls of those believers here in the Duchy who across the centuries have departed this world in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.

    • Stephen K says:

      I did not infer any negativity towards older liturgies in your post, Neil. On the contrary, your posts show religious thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

  10. Stephen K says:

    I came across this article by a priest at
    I think he makes valid points, but the fact that he felt he had to make them is the most telling point, just as those priests who felt suborned in earlier times by other values, as Dale referred to.
    I think here is an opportunity to consider what someone, whom some might otherwise dismiss as an “opponent”, has to say and the “truth” within it, and be inspired to seek a truer agape. Can anyone honestly be satisfied with discourse that perpetuates the religious equivalent of the Western Front?

    • ed pacht says:

      In this case, I have to shake my head at the priest’s viewpoint. ALL the points he makes as to the comparative content of the English versions reflect the fact that the ICET forms in use for the past decades never were a fair translation of the Latin, and convey a theology rather different from the Latin. ALL Father’s theological complaints are disagreements with the theology of the Latin Novus Ordo as authorized.. He is right that words matter. It is because words matter that I’ve mostly avoided attending English language Novus Ordo Masses. The “translation” was not honest but was engineered to present a far more “modernist” theology than that of the Latin. Father’s attitude shows a commitment to a theology that Rome has not endorsed and a disapproval of what it has.

      • William Tighe says:

        I think you meant to write ICEL, rather than ICET, ed. The latter, IIRC (which I may not), was a variant “English English” translation of (?Mass propers ?Collects, etc.) that was in use for some time (?In the UK) alongside ICEL, but eventually had to yield to the latter.

      • ed pacht says:

        That I did. Sorry for the oops.

    • Dale says:

      I was especially troubled by his rejection of “And with your [thy] spirit” for which he makes no real, theological, reply as to why he is only comfortable with the rather pedestrian, “And you too” (or whatever the modern form actually is). His theological leanings on this one issue are obvious; he simply fails to understand that the priest at the altar is no longer Fr Joe, but takes the place of Christ,and the Latin form, as in ALL ancient liturgical rites, addresses that indwelling Grace that comes with Holy Orders. That is why St. Paul addressed St. Timothy (a bishop) in that way (2 Tim 4:22). Even in Kione Greek, it is not a normal way of addressing people; in the end his position reflects a modernist Roman Catholic rejection of a specific, sacrificing priesthood and the ontological change that happens when a man receives Holy Orders. He is not, according to his position a priest, but a minister.

      Yes, language does matter; as does liturgy and rite.

      It will be interesting to see how long the shelf life of this new, and improved, English translation is going to be. With this new Pope and his more Protestant liturgical leanings, I can only imagine that it will be soon shelved for a return to the pedestrian language that is so loved by the ilk of this Irish priest.

      I am very happy to hear that no members of his congregation seem to be “great” sinners.

      I remember an English canon once said to me about the novus ordo funeral service, “It’s great if one is only burying saints, but what is one to do for a sinner? And most of the people I have buried were not saints.”

      • Stephen K says:

        Dale, setting aside all disputes about traditional and modern liturgies, and at the risk of stirring up a hornet’s nest, can you explain to me why the notion of a sacrificing priesthood must entail “an ontological change” in the person receiving Holy Orders? Is not the ministry, the commissioning, the concept of grace, sufficient? What kind of change occurs in one sacrament that does not occur in the others, above all Baptism, or Confirmation? Can you explain to me what you want to mean by “ontological” change? To my mind, this concept has at its root led to the conceits and clericalism that helped facilitate the complicitous ways of dealing with abuse within the Church, if nothing else. How much, one might ask, does it lie at the root of inappropriate docility on the part of laity, narcissistic or superiority tendencies in priests and the often disordered concern of bishops and superiors for public reputation above all else?

        We may be talking about words, which we all seem to agree matter, again. Consider the difference in language between Pius XI’s 1935 encyclical “Ad Catholici Sacerdotii”: “And thus the ineffable greatness of the human priest stands forth in all its splendour, for he has power over the very body of Jesus Christ….” and “These august powers are conferred upon the priest…they are stable and permanent…” and the Vatican Council’s “Presbyterorum Ordinis”: “By their vocation and ordination, priests of the New Testament are……set apart in a certain sense within the midst of God’s people. But this is so….that they may be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord has raised them up.” You can go on to read these works in their entirety, but a difference in emphasis is discernible. The conciliar decree appears concerned to emphasise obligation and ministry, not power or degree.

        All that said, it seems clear that the nuances can be lost in the “translation” so to speak. Traditionalist seminary formation is bent on perpetuating the theology of ontological difference; mainstream seminary formation perhaps considerably less so. My argument would be that respect for priesthood, for the sacramental and sacrificial ministry, does not or should not be grounded in any notion that the person ordered to do so is different in nature, spiritual or otherwise, and does not depend on it. As a corollary, I would suggest that if any psychological or character change – within the bounds of, and not outside of, common human ontology – occurs, it does not happen in an instant but over time, so that it begins in seminary but ends more largely at death: a priest may thus be more a priest after 50 years of ministry than he was on the day of his ordination.

        I won’t insist here on my own view that priesthood is better understood, and operates better, as a verb, an action, rather than a noun, a thing – not merely that a priest is as a priest does, but that priesthood emerges and is manifest only when ministry occurs. But you may wish to comment on this as well.

      • We have already had discussions about this subject in the comment boxes of Mass without congregation and Priestly Training.

        In particular, I mentioned Dr Cyrille Vogel of Strasbourg University in Reflections about ‘vagante’ clergy and independent churches. The title of the book is Ordinations Inconsistantes et Caractère Inamissible, published in Turin in 1978. I don’t think it has ever been translated into English.

        One application of this way of thinking is to separate the notion of priestly ministry from narcissistic clericalism and abuse. Another is to deny the existence of the priesthood in those who are “outside the church” or “canonically irregular” – episcopi vagantes for example. This is one area where the Roman Catholic Church has had to be intellectually honest and consistent. If its own priests have an objective and permanent “character”, it is difficult to deny this same quality in priests outside a “normal” canonical situation. This is essentially St Augustine’s teaching against the Donatists. Roman Catholics will find it difficult to contest the Council of Trent (If any one shall say that in three sacraments, viz. Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy orders, there is not a character impressed upon the soul, that is a certain spiritual and ineffaceable mark [signum] whence these sacraments cannot be iterated, let him be anathema (Concil. Trid. Sess. ult., can. vii).

        The Orthodox are often (sometimes) closer to the Donatist position or that of St Cyprian, crudely expressed as saying that there is no grace outside the canonical norms of the Church. Dr Vogel found examples of former priests being truly considered as no longer being priests, to the extent that they would have to be reordained if they were admitted back into the priesthood. This being said, the belief and practice of different Orthodox Churches is not exactly the same.

        The problem is clericalism. How do we resolve it? Abolish the priesthood as some of the Reformers did? Guillotine the entire clergy and do away with Christianity in the name of liberté”, égalité, fraternité ou la mort? I think there are gentler ways, and I myself would be concerned to separate the so-called “clerical state” and the deepest meaning of the priesthood. It needs a lot of study. I think priests need to be trained and to live deeply in the ordinary life of people like the worker priests and “non-stipendiaries” of the Church of England. We Continuing Anglican priests are nearly all non-stipendiary.

        That being said, there seems to be a profound attachment of many lay people to clericalism. They like to be told what to do. A priest who isn’t a “proper cleric” is often looked down upon. Is he a “proper priest”? Many laity support the compulsory celibacy of their “little tin gods”. When the spell is broken, they apostatise from Christianity like the Irish Catholics did.

        Something we could be concerned about is the growth in dioceses and parishes of a new form of clericalism of “super laity” who are not priests. I can think of nothing uglier than a church with that much more reinforced clericalism, but yet stripped of all beauty and consolation. That is the danger if everything is blamed on the sacramental “character”. That is at least my thought.

        The Franciscan movement was one of the greatest things to happen to the western Church, and this should be a sign of hope. Clericalism is a part of worldly wealth, and camels will pass more easily through the eyes of needles than for that lot to give up their prerogatives. There I see the importance of the figure of Pope Francis (I still have many questions). Is the liturgy also a part of this worldly wealth or an icon of God’s Kingdom? I prefer to think the latter. I assimilate the notion of priesthood to the liturgy. Perhaps, this will guide our thought more than anything else.

      • I am very happy to hear that no members of his congregation seem to be “great” sinners.

        Perhaps this fellow should be made a prison chaplain! 😉

      • ed pacht says:

        I do believe that in Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination there is an indelible mark placed upon the soul. In some deeply ontological sense the recipient is a different kind of being from what he was before the sacrament was given, and the rite need not, should not, cannot be repeated. However, it is equally true that this mark (whatever precisely it might be) has no effect independent of its proper use.

        If a baptized person “backslide”, rejecting the Faith, that person may be formally a Christian, but is not in any real way a part of the household of faith, and has to be treated as are the unconverted. One might say that the mark received is as much one of potentiality as of reality. An infant baptized but not raised in the Faith may have been made a part of the Body of Christ, but he or she will not be an effective Christian until converted.

        When one is ordained a priest, one is heir to a wondrous potentiality. At the altar, in the confessional, he is joined to the ministry of Christ in such a way as to be an alter Christus, doing in His name what only He can do. Does this make him different from other men when he is doing the same things they are? I think not. He may be a priest, but that priesthood is of little import when he is going about the same daily tasks as other men. This is how an unworthy priest may be laicized, something that, regrettably sometimes must be done. He does not cease to be ontologically a priest, but the potentiality that is in him is inhibited and in every visible sense he is merely a layman among laymen, but if reinstated need not be ordained again.

      • Thank you for this fine expression of standard Catholic teaching. Once a priest, always a priest.

        What Stephen and I are doing is discussing the possible points of views and the problems brought up by a speculation designed to limit the root causes of clericalism. I sympathise with Stephen’s suggestions (I won’t say “position” as that would be more cut-and-dried than what he clearly intends), though I see them causing more difficulties than what they would solve. I am grateful to him, a most thoughtful person and friend of this blog, for bringing up this challenge.

        I think we need to go further than standard Church teachings even if we assent to them or willingly believe them to be right. We need also to read and think – as theologians. We should rise to the challenge and read what various modern and contemporary theologians wrote and see how they present their references and authorities.

      • Dale says:

        Stephen, I think that this issue has been well answered by both Fr Anthony was well as by Ed; but I would like to add that even in churches that have no concept of a priesthood, there still exists the issue of clericalism, it is most certainly NOT tied to a Catholic understanding of priesthood at all. I think you are indeed mixing apples and oranges.

  11. ed pacht says:

    What I was reaching for and trying to express, perhaps unsuccessfully, is that, though one “is” a priest when performing priestly functions, there is no justification for clericalism as such, in that, when not performing those functions, he is just another man. Our thinking needs to start, not with the ‘professional’ leadership of the Church, but with the equal dignity possessed by every active Christian. The “mark” of ordination simply does not produce an exalted class of humans.

    • This is precisely what I was trying to get at in my article – how to live the priesthood without being puffed up with clerical pride. There are many examples among the Saints – the Curé d’Ars, St Vincent de Paul, St Philip Neri, just to mention three from the Counter Reformation era. There is also a theological aspect.

      We Anglicans tend to be less “clerical” than some Roman Catholics (cf. the various things Pope Francis has been saying), but the old spectre rears its ugly head in our own milieux.

      I agree with you in the idea that clericalism is not to be blamed on the priesthood, but is purely a human and moral problem shared with many in the secular professions such as doctors, surgeons, lawyers, bankers, company directors, etc. We can’t abolish clericalism by force. We just have to be good priests, surgeons, lawyers, etc. with empathy for our clients and those with whom we mix in society.

  12. Stephen K says:

    Thank you Dale, Father, and ed for your comments. I really appreciate them. You have all said and pointed out things I think are sensible, cautionary and corrective. Yes, I can see a sense in which, as ed points out, Orders, Baptism and Confirmation can be all “permanent character-changing” sacraments. (Although then I ask, does this mean other sacraments only have a “temporary” character-changing effect?) I find ed’s discussion of potentiality and reality makes a lot of sense. Yes, with Dale and Father, I agree there is an important difference between “clericalism” and “priestliness”, and that analogously, various secular professions all may constitute the latter and suffer from the former. I absolutely agree that the Franciscan reform was the best thing that ever happened to the Christian Church. I agree that it seems to be natural or at least widespread phenomenon to have “little tin gods” and be told what to do, though I would maintain that that does not mean it is right or salutary. I also agree that a “super-laity” is hardly a solution, since for all intents and purposes it amounts to a mere substitute and changes nothing. I agree, with Father, we have to think like theologians – and, I would add, less like canon lawyers, of whom there appears to be a suffocating and desiccating surfeit. And I also think the point about the model of the worker priests or the Victorian slum priests very compelling. I really think they point to a healthier model of secular priesthood, especially for our times. (Though I am also mindful of the idea that in the Father’s house there are many mansions – no individual is a replica of another, and the same applies to those who are called and ordered as priests. Every person brings different gifts and limitations and thus there should be room for different apostolates).

    I do think this issue is an important one with implications for other significant theological and spiritual questions. The fact that “clericalism” can occur in other contexts is no excuse for tackling it in the religious sphere. Perhaps, on paper, the idea of an “indelible” priestly character is not intrinsically pernicious but it is often presented more crudely than helpfully. It is a double-edged idea that has cut both ways – it may have acted to inspire many priests as they work and struggle to live their calling; but it has cut the ground from under the feet of the hierarchy as their reliance on infallible authoritarianism has proved in the eyes of many disaffected and disillusioned laity to be founded on a whited sepulchre of common sin, frailty and deceit. On the other hand, I think Father strikes the right note about separating the clerical state from the deepest meaning of priesthood. They ARE different.

    So thank you, Dale, ed, Father. I’m always edified and instructed, and you always provide me with food for thought.

  13. Tyrell says:

    I wonder, Fr. Anthony, whether you’ve ever read Ivan Illich’s essay on the priesthood. The title escapes me, but he attempted to tackle the problem of clericalism. I by no means agree with all he said, but I found it extremely stimulating. As a convert who’d never experienced clericalism (to any great degree), I’ve found accommodating myself to the clericalist attitude extremely difficult.

  14. ed pacht says:

    Perhaps at the root of clericalism is a misunderstanding of the nature of authority. We look to Our Lord as having supreme authority and to the Apostles as being entrusted to bear some part of that authority in the Church. But the Apostles were not very good at being under authority during His life, were they? James and John begged for preeminence. Peter frequently mouthed off and then denied His Lord. Thomas doubted. All but John ran away and hid during His greatest need. Judas actually betrayed Him. Jesus exercised His authority over this difficult little band by kneeling before each one and washing their feet, after which he gave up his life for them. Paul began by persecuting the Church and never ceased to proclaim his own sinfulness, finally yielding his own life, as did all but John.

    Is authority the right or power to control others? Or is it perhaps the obligation to proclaim the Gospel from a position of servitude? Yes, the master is master, but Jesus’ example is one of deep humility. St. Francis knew that, as have many others of the saints, but how frequently we see clergy placing themselves above their flock! That is not their calling.

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