Tra le sollecitudini

The title of this post came into my mind, Italian for “between concerns”. It was the title of a piece of legislation by Pope Pius X about church music. Though I am concerned about church music, I am also concerned about things that can cause worries. We are living in an uncertain world. Many of us see the current events in the world leading to a new world war, because they go far beyond the immigration of Muslim populations into the formerly Christian western world. Ukraine is heating up and tensions grow between the NATO countries and Russia. I am no expert on these events, and readers are advised to consult blogs written by specialised journalists and analysts. The war will not only be military, not excluding the possibility of nukes, but also financial.

There is a lot of junk on the internet written by religious fanatics, and I am quite amazed by the many “prophetic warnings” issued by Evangelical preachers of every kind. It seems to be the modern equivalent of an odd type I once saw in Oxford Street in London wearing a sandwich board saying The end is nigh. We need to learn healthy scepticism and the critical faculties recommended by such as Voltaire in the eighteenth century. We might not know much about everything, but some things seem more plausible than others. Experience of life often teaches us that things don’t go with a bang, but are damp squibs that go with a whimper. We need to seek the inner meaning.

I have already mentioned blogs that claimed in some way to “out” me from some dirty little secret. Anyone who searches for my name on the internet will find traces of my religious life of before my joining the TAC ten years ago, and then the ACC a little less than two years ago. After leaving the Roman Catholic Church, to which I had belonged by conversion for about fifteen years, I was ordained a priest by an independent bishop in France (1998) and consecrated a bishop two years later (2000) by another independent bishop in Belgium. It seemed right at the time, but I gave up the episcopate as I “reverted” to Anglicanism and my priesthood is now regular.

Several bloggers and commenters would like me to go into some of the more controversial subjects here on my blog. I was struck by the atrocity in Paris early in January this year and wrote what I believed to be measured reflections. I began to get a number of near-troll comments, and this rocked my own certitudes. It was better to take the whole lot down and give it all another think-through. Such would also delete the comments that seemed to be at the borderline between trolling and legitimately expressing an opinion. I was also motivated by the consideration that a blogger is legally liable for comments written by others which offend against the limits of the freedom of expression (promoting racial hatred, defending terrorism or crimes against humanity, etc.).

I refuse to move into a simplist paradigm according to which immigrants in western Europe and other countries have to be expelled or even killed. At the same time, I recognise that there is a problem with large populations of people who will never do an honest day’s work or try to assimilate into the country that has accepted them on humanitarian grounds. They are a burden to the Social Security system and the taxpayer. Those who are violent represent a real problem of security, which the police finds difficult to keep under control for the sake of public order. You will find these problems debated between politicians and in the media. You will also find extreme suggestions of solutions. These matters can be discussed without hatred. It is very uncertain ground for me, as much as for any discipline in which I am not well informed.

As a priest, I am not inclined to become politically committed in any way to extreme or “mainstream” politics. My life as a priest is a lot less clerical than when I was a Roman Catholic deacon in a seminary or on pastoral assignments. I am married, self-employed as a technical translator and spend my entire life with ordinary folk. I live in a country where I am allowed to live and work on the basis of being a EU citizen (that might not last if the EU breaks up), but I remain a foreigner in many ways. I would never be able to move back to England on account of the prohibitive cost of real-estate or even of rented housing. I have no sympathy for the French political establishment, in remote terms going back to the Revolution and the Jacobins and having gone through all the historical transformations from the two empires and the five republics. It’s a confusing mess, the present system essentially going back to General Charles de Gaulle and France’s liberation from the Nazi occupation in 1944. Things have changed and the French way is very different from my own English cultural and political references. For example, French socialism is something very different from the Christian socialism of Victorian England and the Anglo-Catholic slum priests. In France like many other countries, the State is everything and the human person is very little, though admittedly a little more than in National Socialism or Stalinist Communism.

I have read very little on the one party in France, the Front National that might please some of our Confederate American friends, but which might displease them on account of its essential Socialist and Statist manifesto. I am not interested in it and I a fear that that cure might be worse than the disease! They might win in the next Presidential Election (2017), but again they might not. My wife and I were deeply disappointed by the last Sarkozy term that seemed so promising at its beginning, and François Hollande has gone down like a lead balloon. Politics is all about money and the richest and most corrupt keeping what they’ve got. Whether the lolly belongs to the State or private multinational big business, it’s all the same for us ordinary folk. They are sucking us dry! But, for the moment, those guys are pulling the strings and are stronger than any of us.

I have been fascinated by the history of the twentieth century since having had a very good history teacher at school who gave a series of lessons on the rise of Nazism from the Versailles Treaty. It is bad taste to compare everything with Nazism, and often entirely inappropriate, but some patterns are repeating themselves. The most significant is scapegoating. All society’s problems have to be blamed on a particular group of people. Hitler seized on the ambient anti-Semitism of the early twentieth century with its roots going back many centuries in Europe. Hitler made it the core of his ideology, together with cranky esoteric and “philosophical” ideas to justify the single issue. This is why I am sceptical about blaming Muslims for everything, even though some Muslims commit terrorist acts. Many others do too, including Christians. American right-wingers tend to go for blacks, though segregationism is now a little out of fashion among most decent people. These are valid points of comparison. Scapegoating and hatred are not the way to promote the future of humanity.

I am only an individual person, and my views are insignificant. Something will happen over the next few years, and I fear the possibility of a world war or an interconnected series of civil wars. Many will die. Perhaps I will be one of them. May God receive my soul in his mercy!

There may be something in theories of critical masses of immigrant populations. The “white” status quo is hardly Christian or something to die for! Europe is no longer Christian, even though many of us try to keep our Christian faith and life going. We are a very small minority and hardly in a position to declare war or a crusade against anyone. The idea is absurd.

Like most people I read articles and books, and watch documentaries. I try to understand the issues as best as possible by attempting to find what opposing viewpoints have in common. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis according to the dialectical method of Hegel. The voice of truth and common sense is difficult to discern amid the noise and hubbub of those clanging their weapons and baying for blood. My role as a priest, other than pastoral ministry properly speaking, prayer and the Sacraments, is to seek the basis on which peace can be built and a new way for humanity to seek grace and good for all. We priests do so, not by fighting and killing, but through our knowledge of philosophy and history and our seeking for wisdom.  Our role is not political, but philosophical and any tiny bit of good influence we can bring.

We may be facing the “big one”, World War III, or something much more subtle. Will they use nukes and kill us all? Will they fight a war they believe they can win? Who are the “goodies” and who are the “baddies”? I fear that I live among the “baddies” and this time, we are the Axis and the “others” (Russians, Chinese, etc.) are the Allies. Could this be so? Would I be prepared to fight for a “side” in whose cause I did not believe? Many will ask these questions – if it is not a matter of the two opposing sides pushing the red button and it all being over in ten minutes!

My thoughts and emotions this week have been like those who faced war in 1914 and 1939. How can a good God allow such evil? War destroys faith in God and humanity or brings us to draw near to God to see a way over the present anguish. May God grant us courage and faith in the tribulations ahead, and above all let us pray and work for peace and justice.

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9 Responses to Tra le sollecitudini

  1. Stephen K says:

    Dear Father Chadwick, your post resonates with me, although not necessarily the way you or others might think. If I had to identify what I thought was the fundamental postulate (for me) it would be that all our personal perspectives are worthy of consideration, but none of us know – as they might say here in Oz – ‘jack sh-t’.

    The very fact that I, you, Dale, ed, and others, have very different views about how society should be, is in a sense a proof of the above. When I went to Econe in 1973, I was filled with all sorts of immature ‘fascist’ ideas. They did not really coalesce with my subliminal cultural personality (I am a democrat) but they were influential. In later life I came to reject those particular ideas.

    Forget the details. Suffice it to say that today I believe that religion does not inform our politics; rather, politics informs our religion. We value certain things; this inclines us to practise religion – our attitude to God – and interpret how we should do it – a certain way.

    I am a socialist: I believe – ultimately – in the notion of the Fall. I believe that because the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, societies must frame policies that build the weak, even if – perhaps especially if – it means the restraint of the strong.

    No doubt some of your readers will want to stomp all over such a position. I simply ask them – as indeed I ask you – to ask why or how could someone who retains a conservative religious sensibility reject the conservative (or traditionalist) theological, liturgical and ecclesial programme? Is it a case of stupidity, pride or a real problem with the traditionalist programme?

    I don’t expect any conversions to my way of thinking. I just wanted to express a sincere and personal response to your recent posts. Here in Australia, people are rejecting the idea that they are mere economic units, disposable according to what is curiously being described as “neo-liberal” theory (but which I would call “neo-conservative”). They still have a consciousness of something that goes by the name of “the common good” – the “Commonwealth of Australia’ – even if they wouldn’t articulate it the way I would. Like the people of Greece, many – (unfortunately not all) – Australians reject the Hayekian theorems of economics and polity.

    My personal sadness is that the aesthetics of traditional Christianity has become politicised, and that it has been populated and commandeered by crypto-fascists of all descriptions. I have no option then but to live with liberals and progressives and new-agers.

    • Many thanks, Stephen, for these profound reflections. Not all who are of a mind to disable or destroy the weak to give the world to the strong are Christian or even religious. I am constantly haunted by this passage by Troy Southgate concerning the way Julius Evola (Italian Fascist and traditionalist philosopher) considered modern Catholicism:

      Evola notes that certain individuals and groups have sought to incorporate the more traditional aspects of Catholicism within the broader and far more encompassing sphere of Tradition itself. Evola’s French philosophical counterpart, Rene Guenon, for example. Catholics, however, are far too dogmatic and would merely seek to make Tradition “conform” to their own spiritual weltanschauung. This, says Evola, is “placing the universal at the service of the particular.” Furthermore, of course, the anti-modernists who are organised in groups such as The Society of St. Pius X and the Sedavacantist fraternity do not speak with the full weight and authority of the Church. They are, therefore, powerless because “the direction of the Church is a descending and anti-traditional one, consisting of modernisation and coming to terms with the modern world, democracy, socialism, progressivism, and everything else. Therefore, these individuals are not authorised to speak in the name of Catholicism, which ignores them, and should not try to attribute to Catholicism a dignity the latter spurns.” Evola suggests that because the Church is so inadequate, it should be abandoned and left to its ultimate doom. He concludes by reiterating the fact that a State which does not have a spiritual dimension is not a State at all. The only way forward, he argues, is to “begin from a pure idea, without the basis of a proximate historical reference” and await the actualisation of the Traditional current.

      A little earlier:

      Evola tells us that “the decline of the modern Church is undeniable because she gives to social and moral concerns a greater weight that what pertains to the supernatural life, to asceticism, and to contemplation, which are essential reference points of religiosity.”

      Some of the men with whom I have had to deal have come to the point of rejecting Catholicism or even Christianity. One is a convert to Orthodoxy, another is perhaps a former Episcopalian, former Orthodox and now Southern Baptist (I am unsure). If Christianity has betrayed its calling of asceticism and contemplation, the salt has lost its savour and is no good for anything. The problem is when asceticism becomes the call to kill other people and hate because love is discredited. I quote the person who wrote about Evola to show a philosophical root of that conservative attitude we are confronting. It is a challenge for us Christians.

      Should we dump Christianity and seek another principle of tradition? If so, which one? Another religion or something like Evola’s Fascism based on theosophy and various late 19th century crank philisophies? No, we should keep Christianity but rediscover its inner meaning, the most authentic Tradition and the ascetic and contemplative basis our critics find missing. That would seem to be the lesson.

      Unlike Maurras and Evola, faith and contemplation have not to be subjected to political criteria, but rather, Christianity must go deeper into the human soul, back to its ascetic and contemplate roots. The Church cannot be like the Fascist state, crushing personality and humanity, for the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath – and therefore needs to assimilate a true humanism into the fundamental spiritual content.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        We (including Ray Winch – though I cannot remember details of his contributions to the discussion!) once had an interesting talk at the Oxford Lewis Society by Roger Griffin (of Oxford Brookes) on Evola and how, among other things, he attempted to hijack the works of Tolkien for his nefarious purposes. C.S. Lewis has a still-interesting little essay (from 10 Jan. 1941, reprinted as “Meditation on the Third Commandment”) about how Christians need to avoid a situation of having to “be ‘loyal’ to infidel parties” and of adding ” ‘Thus said the Lord’ to their merely human utterances”, in which he also recommends attention to Maritain’s Scholasticism and Politics (which I have yet to read).

  2. Stephen K says:

    By the way, I have read this motu proprio. I had interest as a choir director. Let me simply say, that as a musical person, it is spiritual reality or desire – not dogma – that counts or inspires. The making of beautiful singing (or organ or harp etc) has less to do with theological “categories” but much to do with a psychological sense of being penetrated by God.

  3. ed pacht says:

    Well, Stephen, your view looks precisely backwards to me. I start everything, including politics and aesthetics, from theology. I see humanity as dreadfully flawed – ‘fallen’ is the theological term. I see history (“tradition”) as a testimony to God’s entrance in Christ into time to bring about a radical renewal, a redemption of an obviously dysfunctional creature. I see the Sermon on the Mount as a radical, mostly unrealized, and currently both impractical and impracticable blueprint for what humanity is supposed to look like. It is the attempt to aim for such a goal that informs all my political and ethical thinking. Neither politics, nor ethics, nor morality is a set of rules, but rather a call to inner transformation. It is with this kind of look into myself that I enter into the ‘secular’ world and its politics and operation. Thus I can’t really be either “conservative” (in its current sense) or socialist, but can only see both as clumsy and partial attempts to move in such a direction. The question, then, is not so much one of how to run the world, but of what kind of persons we need to become in order to make our attempts at running the world. And that question is ultimately one of theology.

    • Stephen K says:

      One of the things I love about your responses, ed, is that you always provide a salutary corrective to my propositions even if your own needs some adjustment or fine-tuning as well. [We seem to connect in a kind of dialectic – from your antithesis we have the makings of a synthesis.]

      In saying our politics informed our religion rather than the other way round, I was mindful of how it seemed to me that in so many cases our religion appeared to follow our ‘political philosophy’. Of course the truer position might be that the causal sequence might be much more complicated than that: it may be viewed phenomenologically, very ‘chicken-and-egg’. We do have to get our political or philosophical views or values from somewhere and religion (and theology) do appear to inform them. But it works both ways (or so it seems to me).

      • ed pacht says:

        I hope this isn’t too much of a rabbit trail, but the Hegelian proposition of thesis-antithesis-synthesis keeps coming up. I find it a very inadequate proposition. One is frequently (and especially in theology) presented with diametric opposites, both of which are true. I like to draw attention to the Trinity, to the dual nature of Christ, to the primacy of both free will and predestination, to the slippery relationship between faith and works, and to an uncountable number of other issues. What becomes more and more obvious to me is that consideration of these issues simply does not produce a tenable synthesis – that every such attempt has fatal logical problems, often thornier than the original opposition. It is humbling to realize that the human mind simply has its limitations, and that, no matter how hard we try, there are many mysteries that we are simply incapable of penetrating. Most of the classic heresies arise from the assertion of a (tentative) synthesis as having captured and explained the mystery when it has, in fact, raised worse problems than it attempted to solve.

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear ed, you have often made this point about the ‘both/and’ nature of truth, rather than an ‘either/or’. It is a very attractive point, because in one fell stroke it offers a solution to the unsatisfactoriness of insisting on things ‘just so’ to the exclusion of all others, as well as a reflection on the limitations of human thinking and imagination – another point you frequently remind us. In framing my delight in the things you say about problems in what I say, I am perhaps not so far from you. My ‘synthesis’ is a term for a better version of what either I or you say, for, in correcting my own proposition(s), you are not always embracing or acknowledging the ‘both/and’ but fine-tuning or proposing something that is at least a little different – an antithesis of sorts. Perhaps the problem of the Hegelian dialectic is not that it is not a working model but that it is not a universal model, i.e. one for all things. Or perhaps the recognition of the truth or validity of both a thesis and its antithesis – the ‘both/and’ – is nothing more than just one kind of synthesis. After all, synthesis does not have to mean any kind of compromise, or any separate equation in a different direction, so to speak. And, to illustrate – give flesh to, so to speak – the truth of your ‘both/and’ rejection of the Hegelian dialectic, let me propose that both the Hegelian dialectic AND your ‘both/and’ approach are in fact closer to the truth of the process that we humans sense, use but may not always understand, in our limitations. I always look forward to your responses which never fail to illumine me.

      • ed pacht says:

        Perhaps the problem is something like this: We are created as thinking beings, with a powerful thirst for knowledge and understanding. This is a given, and is a large part of what it is to be human. However, we are also created as finite beings, therefore limited in what we can accomplish.

        This seems to lead to a conclusion that we should certainly be seeking for understanding, but, at the same time realize that we cannot really claim to have achieved understanding, humbly recognizing that whatever understanding we seem to have is, by its very nature, inadequate and will need to be corrected amended, or even discarded. Thus any synthesis (at least those that are capable of expression) will be in itself inadequate and will fail truly to explain anything.

        I tend to see this principle as a central one in theology (as richly demonstrated in Church history), in science (as the very basis of the ‘scientific method’), and in politics where perceived answers seem ordinarily to be the foundation of subsequent problems.

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