Interesting Observations

For some time now, we have been treated by John Bruce of Los Angeles to a long season on the Ordinariates. It would seem to me that he loves doing down anything that is not under the mainstream bureaucracy or where the English eccentric may thrive. American Catholicism seems so corporate! Perhaps that has its advantages like European Union regulations on the shape of carrots or health & safety in corporate buildings in our cities. It’s not for me, but my perspective has little importance.

He has been recently comparing the American with the English ordinariates. If it isn’t big, corporate and “establishment”, get rid of it… The ordinariates are not my concern, and I don’t keep informed about what is going on in them. However, what would appear is that they are about as small and marginal as us Continuing Anglicans, and have little relevance. The observation is also made that most of the founders of the English ordinariate were Anglo-Papalists using the English Missal or the Novus Ordo.

Fr John Hunwicke writes an interesting blog, and I look at it most days on my morning round. I think he looks down his nose at me, but I have nothing against him. I was Establishment until the age of 22 but not a very “successful” one at it. I left the Church of England as a layman and made the error of not believing that to be a good cleric, you have to been of the type of personality that fits into a corporate and bureaucratic structure. Elsewhere, I have heard that the eccentric English clergyman was made possible by the benefice system, which I believe has now been abolished by the Church of England. He is an eccentric. I am a late-comer in the Baby-Boomer generation and underwent many of the same influences as the “liberals” and “progressives”. He is Oxford educated. I went to a red-brick university that is not even in England! Anyway, all that is of little importance.

Anglo-Papalism is an odd phenomenon – the desire to copy everything the Roman Catholic Church but doing it with the hope of joining it as a married clergyman. I remember seeing the Roman Novus Ordo in Anglican parishes in London in the 1970’s and wondered what the point of it was. The architecture of some churches in London and on the south coast is quite surprising. There is a story of an Italian going to Mass for many years in an Anglican church in London before finding out that it was not Roman Catholic!

This is what has brought me to make a clear distinction between Catholicism without any other qualification and the state of Catholicism as it reacted against the Protestant Reformation and embarked on its own programme of reform and regulation. High-church Anglicanism, from about the end of the nineteenth century, began to copy Italian Roman Catholicism as it expressed itself in the refounded English RC Church of 1850. For a time, from my Tiber-swim in 1981, I followed the movement – all the way to the “guilded mirror” of Gricigliano. After that point, my religious-cultural “reference” has been French Benedictine monasticism and aspects of the English “neo-medieval” movement of about 1890 to the outbreak of World War I. Paradoxically, I was interested in Sarum liturgics and medieval English and Norman churches throughout the time.

Eccentricity and limit-pushing can become excessive. Where is the line drawn? Should the Church be characterised by greyness, boring routine and conformity? Should it be adorned by colourful eccentrics? Is eccentricity a consequence of smallness and the state of being marginal? Perhaps. In the Anglican parishes I have known as a teenager, vicars and parsons could be themselves because they were practically their own bishops! Roman Catholicism provides no such security of tenure to its parish priests. Step out of line and you’re out! France is another case, if the priest is supported by his flock. I have known French priests who almost vied with Victorian Englishmen for their individuality and character, and I’m not thinking of Fr Montgomery-Wright who was in a class of his own. In France “everything is forbidden but everyone does it“. American grey corporate conformity would not go down well here. Nowadays, it’s much more difficult to get through the seminary system unless you buckle down and conform, at least until you get ordained.

Being eccentric and individual is an instinct that keeps some of us alive. Too much of it can make us horribly unpopular. In the end, it isn’t something we “put on” but which is a part of us. The idea transpires that the essence of Anglican Patrimony is this kind of eccentricity and priests being themselves and unhindered by the less intelligent aspects of social convention – going against the grain and using different liturgies from the status quo. This is something very English, and both Italians and Americans will find it difficult to comprehend.

Since the Victorian era, England has changed and the Church no less. The Church of England is no more welcoming to rebels and anarchists than the RC Church! No corporation can be, but small communities can to an extent assimilate them if an effort is made to find a modus vivendi. Some of us thrive in small communities, where we become alienated and sick in big corporations. Many people do better in large and disciplined units, whether in their spiritual lives or at work. Far from me to judge them! It is a question of temperament. I have had to discover a mechanism of survival!

I was disappointed to see the English ordinariate founded on the basis of Anglo-Papalism, but not on account of eccentricity. It was a lazy way of stopping up a hole so that normal ecumenical relations could be resumed between Rome and the mainstreams of Anglican slush that converge at Watford Gap and are served up as soup! Rome was obviously disappointed that the TAC was being led by someone with the profile of Archbishop Hepworth – and so had to bring the older Church of England based movement in to cover over the embarrassing cracks. There are different interpretations, and none of us has ever quite got down to the bottom of it.

John Bruce has his way of seeing things, and his work on the blog makes him stand out from the amorphous grey mass of humanity attending the parish where he goes on Sundays. He has uncovered many aspects that others see from a different perspective or brush under the carpet. I think the ordinariates will continue what they are doing in a similar way to that of the Latin Mass Society or the Fraternity of St Peter. They seem to be doing good as we all try to do. Mr Bruce’s message is obviously the dissolution of the ordinariates and pressure on those concerned to conform to the Novus Ordo system in place. That might be the most logical thing for those who have become Roman Catholics unless they go to some Tridentine Mass group or the Eastern Rite. It is easy to forget that each person has freedom of choice – and a conscience (at least outside the Orwellian dystopia).

If we consider things from a “business” and “marketing” point of view, Christianity in general has precious little future. Secularism and materialism seem to fulfil a human need at least to some extent. I already said in another posting that any Christianity that does not mean any more than its visible and institutional dimension means nothing at all. The churches are increasingly empty and the modern world has no use for them, nor does it wish to continue paying good money to maintain them. The corporate vision is the death of the spiritual life. Just close it all down and be done with it! There are more effective ways to control people via policing and electronic surveillance!

I am uncertain of the future of my little ACC diocese, but I do everything I can to help it to continue, grow and increase in stability. If there is a market for religion, it is for the simplistic notions promoted by Islam and Evangelical fundamentalism, the very kind of instincts that made the German people follow Hitler in the 1930’s. Only a very few will see a more mystical, symbolic and spiritual element – and it takes an instinct for individuality and rejection of the “world”. It is the ancient drama between Gnosticism and the Church of Constantine and the Ecumenical Councils.

We have only to be true to ourselves

* * *

Two quotes from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four:

We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instance of death we cannot permit any deviation . . . we make the brain perfect before we blow it out.

There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent there will be no need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.

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6 Responses to Interesting Observations

  1. Ecclesial Vigilante says:

    I cannot speak for the English Ordinariates (though I hear they are very Anglo-Papist), but I have been to three separate Ordinariates in the great nation of Texas. The first was equipped with a priest and two deacons, borrowed an beautiful old RC church in a run-down area of town, utilized fiddleback vestments, and celebrated a beautiful liturgy that amounted to mostly the Tridentine Mass in English sung in an Anglican style. The second had their own church built like an English Gothic stone temple, utilized true Medieval vestments, had a decent ensemble of both priests and deacons, and celebrated a liturgy both very Roman (in an almost pre-tridentine sense) and very Anglican. The third was in a wooden interior church made to look like a Medieval parish church (complete with a rood screen and little nooks in the building) and felt more Anglican than the other two, but there was a definite sense of trying to hearken back to pre-Reformation England.

    Altogether, what impressed me about the Ordinariates was a vibrancy and love of Liturgy that is all too lacking in the legalistic stagnancy of FSSP/SSPX parishes or the mediocrity and triteness of Novus Ordo parishes.

    • For your second paragraph, I can well believe you. There is a conscious love of the liturgy as in the monastic tradition, where the RC traditionalists are more politically conservative. There is a pronounced “Ratzinger” (as in the pre-Vatican II German and French liturgical movement) ethos about those churches in ordinariates using something other than the Novus Ordo. My point of divergence with Mr Bruce is exactly as between Romanticism and Classicism. For him, the Church has to be corporate and perfectly rational and unwilling to admit “eccentricities”. For me, such “eccentricity” is the stuff of saints, artists and other inspired souls who bring colour and love to the world. Long may this leaven endure regardless of which Church it is found in.

      • “Long may this leaven endure regardless of which Church it is found in.”

        As an eccentric myself, I second that. But I think I am yet to bring any love into the world. I cannot do so through my liturgical musings, hence the start of my new blog, which is rather slow starting.

      • You should read St Aelred of Rievaulx’s two best-known works – De Amicitia and the Speculum Caritatis, which are available in the original Latin or in English. Without love, there is nothing to live for. But, what is love? St Paul struggled with it, as did Augustine and so many others. Yet, it is a part of our lives, even for monks and solitaries. It occurs to me that you might be more “successful” in your new blog if you isolate a theme (based on Tolkein and modern Romanticism / Gnosticism) to which people can relate even without having read Tolkein.

        I had many ideas for my blog. When I was in the TAC, it was English Catholic, but that became embroiled in the ordinariate polemics. Then the famous quote of Bishop Giles of Bridport about the Use of Sarum alongside my theme of rebel “New Goliard” clergy. This theme allowed me to avoid becoming too narrow in my focus, and emphasises a notion of freedom and lack of care for certain “conventions”.

        You need to find that theme which is really you, not liturgy and not Tolkein, but you. You can be intellectual but not purely cerebral. Your humanity needs to come through, and then people will find your writing refreshing and relevant to their experience. This is what I try to do.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Patrick Sheridan,

        I like your focused yet flexible emphasis on ‘Legendarium’ and your first Necromancer part very much! After 23 years, I am finally catching up with Tolkien’s Notion Club Papers (in Sauron Defeated, the ninth vol. of Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle-earth [1992]), and am finding it fascinating. Professor Bruce Charlton has a blog with it as point of departure and focus, with which I am getting better acquainted, but that should not preclude your considering saying something about it, given its attentions to memory, consciousness, drama, storytelling, language, and wordless experience. It’s not exactly easy going, but very rewarding and thought-provoking.

        Father Anthony,

        I wonder if it would be to your taste – and would be interested in your impressions, should you find occasion to try it.

  2. Jim of Olym says:

    I follow John Bruce as I was originally baptised and confirmed at St. Mary of the Angels back in the ’50s. It was quite a thriving parish then. It might not survive the current legal and financial situation.

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