Christian Country?

Update: I am grateful to read this article inspired by mine. The article is courteous and shows respectful disagreement with my tendency to reject the Throne and Altar Alliance out of hand. I recommend reading the article, as this will provoke discussion. The end of the article reads “It is time to start again, but why reject the past?” I do not reject the past, but I see the seeds of the present decay and death in what seemed healthy in the past. We should not reject out of hand, but keep a critical attitude.

I understand the temptation to use political power against persecutors. The prime example is Spain during the 1936 Civil War or Mexico at the time of the Cristeros. Christ said at Gethsemane that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword. In a situation like that, the only thing to do is go underground, pray and suffer – or emigrate. It may sound simplistic, but history shows that Christians who defended themselves by violence became oppressors in their turn.

I for one will be sad to see the last churches secularised, demolished or turned over to other religions – but it seems inevitable. A sinking ship can only be left to sink, with all the lovely carved furniture – and the priority is to survive, get back to land and start again (with lessons learned).

* * *

Thank you, Fr Jonathan, for Post-Christian Britain and “Wishy-washy” Christianity. Fr Jonathan was in the Church of England much more recently than I (I left it in 1981 in my misguided Tiber-swim, or the crossing of the part of the Rhône that flows past the seminary of Ecône). I was never very involved in parish life outside choral and organ music. I probably learned more about Anglicanism after getting wet than before.

As I left London last Saturday after having dinner with a couple of friends, I took the Embankment and headed for the City and the East End, finally through the Dockland development and the Rotherhithe Tunnel. I no longer recognised Lewisham as I drove on under the guidance of my GPS set on Canterbury via the M2 and A2. Some of the sights during this short journey filled me with foreboding.

Whatever may be said in praise of modern architecture, the impression on me is one of those dystopian science fiction films. The medieval church and pre-war office block are dwarfed by the new monuments to Mammon and the abolition of humanity.

Here is one of the Gherkin soaring in the distance above buildings next to Liverpool Street Station:

Is this the iconography of a Christian England? In fact, it isn’t even most of England, just the financial and business empire of the City. Where is the Church? It is crushed and dwarfed, buried under the weight of history and a world that has moved on towards something to which many of us would prefer death! The way of Christ is within us. It does not need political power, whether at the beginning of the Church’s history or now.

What does the notion Christian country mean? These are old questions going back to the Peace of Constantine and the establishment of the Church in the Roman Empire. Ever since then, kings, emperors and popes have vied for power and ultimate control over their people. The question of disestablishment goes back to the French Revolution, otherwise known as separation of Church and State. In France, the final act of disestablishment took place in 1905 when the Pius VII / Napoleon Concordat of 1801 was repealed. It was an anti-religious act perpetrated by atheistic socialists like Emile Combes, Jaurès and Ferry. Many Christians and even priests like Lamennais had campaigned for it since the early nineteenth century. How can you tolerate the Church being dominated by atheists and anti-clericals who hate it? The response of Gregory XVI was to keep establishment and work for the restoration of the old régime. Some of the traditionalists still dream of restoring the French kingdom with notions of the social kingship of Christ (a fascist junta would do).

Our English experience of Erastianism is another example of how political power corrupts the ecclesiastical structure from within, abolishes the spirit and just leaves the institution intact. We can all see through it. Whilst we have establishment, it is only natural that the institutional Church should simply obey the hand feeding it and keeping it afloat financially. The alternative is what is happening to the French Church as more dioceses go into serious financial difficulties and find themselves with no priestly vocations.

I am grateful to belong to a small Church that has no more ties to any political authority than the Methodists or the Roman Catholics, or the Unitarians or Plymouth Brethren. Our religion and faith are not built on political authority but on God’s Word and Sacrament. Our churches are our own, built with our own hands and / or money, and are tailored to our tiny numbers. We become again an intimate family of priests and people knowing each other. We cannot impose our ways or morals on others in society. All we can do is set an example and live in the light – so that others may be illuminated by it and come to experience love and beauty, not repression and violence.

For us in the Anglican Catholic Church, as with all “dissenting” and “non-conformist” communities, we can rejoice in our freedom and the common religious freedom that is guaranteed for us by the law by virtue of fundamental human rights. We are free from persecution, and our place is humble. We should see this as an opportunity. No one is going to persecute us for our faith and our religious practices, only for interfering in politics and trying to impose our principles on others. It is time to retreat, take stock and find spiritual strength through spiritual means, and rebuild the Church anew amidst the ruins of the old.

In history, the greatest inspiration has always come from individuals. All art and philosophy are the work of individual persons. The Christian Gospel is no exemption. Genius is the work of the spirit, of persons who soar above Leviathan. I leave it to others to blow up abortion clinics and campaign against homosexual “marriage” laws, and get arrested for it. The world will go its way in history, probably towards some new form of Nazism – and there is nothing we can do about it. We may have to suffer horribly and bear our passion in prayer. We will certainly not see the Promised Land at the end of it all.

Christ’s teaching is simple – one day at a time. Take what comes and remain pure within ourselves, help the sick and needy, the victims of man’s inhumanity to man as much as we can. I can think of no better way to die, in prayer and tending someone in need and giving my own life…

Who needs State Churches? I don’t.

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4 Responses to Christian Country?

  1. M says:

    Extremely good article – I wish I had written it. Fr. Michael

  2. “Whilst we have establishment, it is only natural that the institutional Church should simply obey the hand feeding it and keeping it afloat financially.”
    How is the C of E fed & “kept afloat” financially? It would be better off under the secularized French system, with the State maintaining most of the church buildings.

    • That system worked quite well in France until recently. Now, even in Paris, churches are no longer maintained. St Augustin near the Gare Saint-Lazare is crumbling, an awe-inspiring building where Eugène Gigout was organist in the 19th century and Charles de Foucault found the faith and went to confession. Many other churches have safety nets to protect people against the risk of falling masonry. Others still have been closed and increasing numbers are being sold and demolished.

      This is a reality we have to face, even with medieval buildings.

    • caedmon says:

      My impression is that English cathedrals and churches are much better cared for than French ones. I noticed that as far back as the 1970s.

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