Sincerely Searching Priest

This would have escaped me if I hadn’t been looking at my statistics page and the sites that link here. There is a very “extreme left” forum based in Australia by the name of Catholica, which seems for the most part to argue from the point of view of the crisis caused by sex-abusing priests and the response of the Australian authorities. The line embraced by some on this forum is deconstructionist – reduce Christianity to a purely moral and ethical message without any sacramental or mystical content. It seems like something from the late nineteenth century (eg: Harnack and Bultmann closer to our own times) against which the Modernists like Tyrrell and Von Hügel sought to develop a new system of apologetics.

All the same, there are some interesting views and I remember how they commented on Archbishop Hepworth’s accusation of certain Roman Catholic priests for having sexually abused him many years ago.

There is someone called SMK, whom I suspect is a highly sympathetic person who comments on this blog. He writes in a thread concerning Cardinal Pell:

At a blogsite by a sincerely searching priest [ ] who has travelled and continues to travel the path of existential oneness before the mystery of God, he puts it this way:

“The search for the “true church” <>.

I have a lot of respect for the humanity and insightfulness through human experience, one not dissimilar – in at least some respects – to my own, of the author, Father Chadwick. I don’t want my encomium to embarrass him : he would no doubt have different beliefs in significant respects from me).


There is a brief reply by Ian Fraser:

Thank you, SMK, for giving us the reference to this blogsite. I, for one, was unaware of it, and your excerpt alone is sufficient indicator of the quality of content to be found there.

SMK replies:

Thanks, Ian. Discovering Father Chadwick was a breath of fresh air. He seeks to preserve a sense of continuity with the religious symbolism that makes sense to him and has formed his life and values but sees the pitfalls of dogmatism and the horrors of the turf wars of religious zealotry and tries to encourage those who would just like to pray and worship in peace.

I am persuaded that at the heart of much religiosity is not so much intellectual conviction but aesthetics and instincts about harmony and balance. We import these notions through the media of sound and sense and colour. We can unlearn and re-learn but as we grow older it becomes harder as we become less plastic: this is why what happens to children and the young has such moral and psychological significance, for good or ill.

He goes on to describe his own experience with ideologies and fanaticisms. It is not difficult to understand someone going so far down a path that the end of the road is reached and the fallacies appear in the light of day. We can just burn ourselves out and discover that all that is left is what Evelyn Waugh called “a handful of dust”. All is vanity, as the Wisdom texts of the Old Testament say. Can innocence be regained when the apple has been bitten? I think it can be, but by untrodden paths. Perhaps charm and beauty have been our undoing, but they alone confer meaning to our pilgrimage.

Is there anything left? Any real cause to work for, for the future of mankind and the natural world? This is what we live for in preparation for the paradise that lies beyond our bodily death. That is the way of the artist, the composer, the lone traveller and those who work to conserve our planet and what little has not been destroyed or poisoned by man and his lust for money and power. Hope is whittled away, but there must remain something…

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14 Responses to Sincerely Searching Priest

  1. Well put.

    The few surviving Catholic liberals are replaying mainline Protestantism’s liberalism.

    I try to tell the truth about our liberal high-church cousins dominant in First World official Anglicanism such as the Episcopalians: as credally orthodox and almost as liturgically conservative as we are and unlike Catholic liberals, but theirs is a man-made church of their own fancy, based on what they think are self-evident truths about women’s and homosexuals’ rights. The trappings of the church – again, they love our Masses – are fun but, as they believe about apostolic succession, not necessary.

    I’ve thought of this regarding the Anglican Catholic Church, founded in my country by conservative ex-Episcopalians largely reacting against Modernism, but some even in conservative Anglicanism seem to believe in a sort of “Anglican theological freedom” vs. Rome’s magisterium. So… is the latter-day Modernism a feature or a bug of Anglicanism? Did Cranmer and Hooker inadvertently beget some of the Modernism? Is Anglicanism “conciliar Catholicism” or Cranmer’s and Hooker’s reformed religion?

    That said, I appreciate that they give you both the credentials and the freedom to have the Sarum Mass (the real deal, in Latin) in peace, just as the Episcopalians helped teach me pre-conciliar Catholic liturgics, after Vatican II.

    Finally, a thought that a commenter online has given me: true religion is about loving and serving God and neighbor; false religion, left or right, is always self-centered. Anything from loving your tribe or country to zeal for doctrinal purity to loving the aesthetics of church, all good in themselves, can become an idol, cutting you off from God and his church, his community; the devil’s sneaky that way. When that happens, ultimately one is worshipping with a mirror.

    • This is a thoughtful comment, John, but I am critical about your first assumption about the “few surviving Catholic liberals”. The present establishment continues to allow them expression in the official Church – even though some of those who put stick their necks out get them chopped off. I have read in many places about the tendency of young people to be seeking conservative Catholicism. I see little evidence of it, except those people in an urban context who seek authority and direction. They tend to be the same as those attracted to right-wing politics. They want their way to be everybody’s way – no tolerance for dissent or difference of perspective.

      The longer I live, the more I can see the roots of what some call “liberalism” (when it is not the mirror ideology to right-wing authoritarianism – the old Tweedledee and Tweedledum). There is something very appealing, the return to smallness and “sociocratic” tribalism, the consensus of people who know each other and have a real human relationship (friendship, being on talking terms, cooperating in work, etc.). In such reduced human societies, there would be various dimensions of life like the family, work and culture.

      You and I don’t mean the same thing when reading or writing the word Modernism. When I use it, I mean it in the way of making traditional religion credible to modern people like ourselves. I don’t mean the liberalism of Harnack, Bultmann, Spong and others which is deconstructionism and the denial of the spiritual in favour of the material. Modernism concerns the relationship between faith, reason and science, essentially something from the eighteenth century forwards. It is an anachronism to apply the notion to the sixteenth-century reformers.

      Love of God and neighbour. Yes, I agree with you. The quality of our religion will be judged by our relationship with the world at large and our care for other people. The style of that care comes in any number of variants, and we can’t all work for the local soup kitchen or the handicapped children’s home. We can work for the good and future of humanity in different ways, and this question preoccupies me at this moment. That is the fruit of our life of prayer and the liturgy. One part of being concerned for humanity is beauty and culture, qualities that elevate man from materialism to mysticism. Of course, anything can become a fetish of narcissism, and we all have to examine our conscience. There is no one “thing” for all. This is where the notion of vocation comes in. Most people never find their way and bumble through life pointlessly propped up by addictions of various kinds.

      I write this blog to try to keep the embers alight…

      • Catholic liberals still run many things but they’re all old now; unbelieving young people just leave the church. I’ve seen the conservative turnaround among religious young Catholics for 25 years. And I’ve seen ignorance and narrowness among them too.

        Smallness and sociocratic tribalism are great – the church is best as the church local, as I quote the Anti-Gnostic – as long as they’re in communion with all the other tribes holding essentially the same faith, so no to sectarianism. As you’ve probably read from me, I see the Catholic faith as a set of essentials, with old-fashioned high liturgics as their best expression: God, Christ, Trinity, hypostatic union, Mother of God, bishops, the Mass, and optional images (you don’t have to use them – the Nestorians don’t – but you can’t believe they’re heretical). I see Rome, the Orthodox, and the Anglican Catholic Church for example sharing that set (thanks to the Affirmation of St. Louis, instead of the Thirty-Nine Articles: conciliar Catholicism – Anglicanism as envisioned by ’50s-trained high-church Episcopalians), and the Pope doing nothing doctrinally but defend it, so I can’t justify being anywhere other than where I now am – nothing against Greeks, Russians, or ex-Episcopalians/ex-C of E folks in the Continuum; it’s not trying to be petty by denying somebody’s orders, etc. Rome even has all the old liturgical forms I like, though in many places they’re hard to find. (In England 25 years ago I found that – Catholic high church – because I was looking for it; a little easier than back in the States then. Now I have it every week.) So the way seems clear: Mama Church.

        Your description of the good kind of liberalism, not to be confused with real Modernism, sounds like the literal meaning of Vatican II. I don’t have a problem with that.

        Regarding “the sixteenth-century reformers,” isn’t the loss of faith among mainline Protestants an unintended consequence of their founders/framers’ principles but still a logical result of them?

        1 Cor. 12:4-6: Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all.

        Nada te turbe, Padre; God’s in charge.

      • Smallness and sociocratic tribalism are great – the church is best as the church local, as I quote the Anti-Gnostic – as long as they’re in communion with all the other tribes holding essentially the same faith, so no to sectarianism.

        I would go further. There needs to be a relationship with the world at large, even if it is little more than trading. “Communion with” usually means being in the same ecclesiastical jurisdictions, clearly not an issue with non-religious based communities.

        You can’t read later developments into earlier situations, like saying that Hans Küng was condemned by Boniface VIII! There may be Protestant roots in some versions of theological liberalism, but 16th century Protestantism was not liberalism. Sorry to be pedantic, but even as a neurological typical person, I like some rigour in using words and defining concepts.

      • “I would go further. There needs to be a relationship with the world at large, even if it is little more than trading.”

        Wasn’t that supposed to be Vatican II’s point? I think we didn’t need the council because Catholics already were successful “in the world,” from Fr. Flanagan of Boys Town to Phil Rizzuto and other New York Yankees. The immigrants who went from steerage and tenements to middle class in a generation.

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      The English Reformation can look not unlike a ‘rediscovery’ of Orthodox ecclesiology, perhaps not least ‘auotcephaly’. But what are its debts to the conciliar thinking in the context of the Western Schism in its recent past?

  2. Chris says:

    I wish a moratorium could be imposed on the use of the word ‘modernism’. Ever since the Pascendi travesty, it’s been used in a way that has next to nothing to do with what Fr. Tyrrell and Abbé Loisy actually wrote.

    • Interestingly, anti-Modernists weren’t just reactionaries like Action Française but, I understand, “liberals,” ecumenists such as Cardinal Mercier. Dorothy Day was no heretic either.

      • Chris says:

        I can’t help but laugh at the supreme irony of today’s “anti-Modernists” in traddieland, who are discovering that post-Vatican I papal totalitarianism had a major hand in laying waste to the Roman Rite. Their howls of outrage at the popes’ placing themselves above Tradition look like poorly disguised plagiarisms of Fr. Tyrrell’s reply to Cardinal Mercier.

      • Yes, all rather ironic. 😉 My 15 years as a Roman Catholic were instructive. Now, I’m getting on with life.

      • Blaming papal totalitarianism was partly how I tried to sell myself on Orthodoxy nearly 20 years ago; that and trying to look cool, anticipating Rod Dreher’s “crunchy” opting out of the public square, making religion exotic AND private and harmless to the liberal status quo. (Purely private religion isn’t Orthodox, by the way: it wasn’t that way in Byzantium and it’s not that way in Russia, or Greece or other Balkan cultures.) You can say the ultramontanists were hoisted with their own petard. But I’m not ultramontanist and neither is Rome; ultramontanism’s just an opinion in Catholicism, one that Vatican I limited. Fr. Hunwicke explains that on his blog. If one cares that the Roman Rite was laid waste, then one believes Western Catholicism has grace and thus one should not become Orthodox.

      • Some of these labels stop dialogue and thought. I recommend reading my article on the Sodalitium Pianum, and especially my primary source by Emile Poulat on L’Intégrisme. The whole thing hinged around the credibility of Thomist scholasticism in the 1890’s and 1900’s in the face of modern science. The issue had to be addressed. You can’t brush that sort of thing under the carpet. Otherwise it really is all a load of bosh!

    • Either that or accurate definitions. Even amongst the Modernists of the 1900’s, there were vastly different “lines”. Loisy had more in common with Harnack’s deconstructionism than the mystical approach of Tyrrell and Von Hügel. It would be safer as a historical term. Ideological labels are dangerous. It is better to define and describe the content and use a label word in “” to say “for want of a better term”.

  3. The best of Von Hügel comes to us through the writings of Evelyn Underhill in whom credal orthodoxy and Catholic sacramentality coalesce with a practical mysticism. She is still greatly under-valued.

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