Update: See When Christianity is at its best. Does anyone know of such ideal communities?
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I have had quite a number of reactions on my posting about trying to play the violin as a wind instrument or bow the valves of a trumpet. Some perhaps suggested that ceasing to discuss archaic liturgical forms would favour the work of engaging the modern world with the Christian faith and witnessing among unbelievers. Perhaps. It seems a good argument, and it is obvious that there are several billion Christians in the world, but probably less than twenty persons in the world are remotely interested in Sarum. I attempted a response to an English conservative Roman Catholic who is satisfied with the modern Roman rite and advances the usual conservative arguments. I suppose I should exclaim that I had “never thought of that” and go to my local parish church, served once a month, go through the canonical process of laicisation then perhaps persuade the brave people of our village who are not terribly interested in religion to become model urban conservatives.
I have to admit that I am somewhat “out of it”. I see little of the world living in the countryside in a dormitory village and consulting a fraction of a percent of the Internet. It looks like I am irrelevant. The modern clash and bang of “pop” and rock “music” shocks and frightens me, though it often comes blaring out of car windows as my wife and I go to town for a concert or do some shopping or sort out serious stuff at the bank. I am glad to get home to the cows and apple trees, and better still, get out to sea – the ultimate desert. The reflection keeps coming into my mind: Relevant to what? Everything has been tried and the Christian ideal is utterly incompatible with everything round us.
This came up today, and expressed things so well: The culture war is lost – now get on with being counter-cultural. That seems quite a mouthful. We have French bishops deciding to challenge laïcisme, which is obviously atheism as an official “religion”. Give up engaging in politics and there is no further point to anything. That is quite an epitaph! The liberal left is more resilient than what most conservatives would like to believe. Liberation theology gone all the way! Christianity is no more than a load of empty words with no meaning except a twisted one taken from some ideology based on Marx, Nietzsche and Darwin.
I don’t have to give a précis of JD’s article here, but there is an idea that emerges from the thick London fog. The culture we are in is a manufactured culture as never happened in the past. That notion is extremely far-reaching.
Christianity’s natural home is: a) in defiance of the dominant culture (which often tacitly endorsed a morality Christianity openly rejected) and b) along the borderlands of law, always walking the line between questionable legal status and outright illegality.
The trouble is knowing what Christianity is nowadays in terms of churches. Institutional Christianity seems to have become an image of the current situation in France: a governing party calling itself Socialist but manifestly serving the oligarchs and the elite, and a workers’ union representing ideas that were discredited in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. The weakest will collapse, but the stronger will not necessarily be right.
I am reminded of the much-bandied idea of Josef Ratzinger about the remnant church, something like the underground churches in the Soviet bloc at the height of the persecution. But, in the west, I see little evidence of their existence, whilst there are brash, noisy churches in the cities with lots of people and with no opposition from the political regime. The traditionalists tried to fulfil that role in the 1970’s and early 80’s, but they were eager to join the respectability club and get their justification from political groups. Only the monasteries seem to have something of that gratuity of Christianity as a spiritual way and a philosophy of life. Even then, too many monasteries remind the observer of the barracks! Too many pinched faces who don’t exactly exude the joy of the Resurrection!
My little chapel and my eccentric quirks hardly seem to herald the future. In worldly terms, what I value and represent is dying, as it did at the onset of the Reformation. In historical terms, I will soon be a thing of the past, forgotten and obliterated by the needs of the living. I say this but I am not depressed, just starkly realistic. Blessed Charles de Foucault was shot dead in 1916 by a group of Islamic zealots, and all he did was to live a contemplative life in a desert that was as barren in geographical terms as in human terms. He was not forgotten, but was totally irrelevant in his lifetime and did not convert a single Muslim to Christianity. In worldly terms his life was a waste and a failure.
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
I read that same piece you linked to and it resonates with me for sure. There’s a part of me that thinks perhaps it’s a good thing that the so called Constantinian Church is a thing of the past. I’m beginning to think that Eucharistic Ecclesiology and churches built on a smaller more conciliar model ( like the ACC and some Orthodox churches) are the way of the future. We always have our freedom.
The church exists wherever there are true believers, sacraments offered and a bishop. Of course we must also have the Faith. These days I see it’s the Faith of the 7 Ecumenical Councils and the shared Creeds.
Somehow we should rejoice that we are somewhat powerless. We can act as small leaven in the larger culture, having one foot in the world and one foot in eternity. We can act as ambassadors and icons of a kingdom that is ultimately not of this world.
The death of the Constantinian Church also means the death of Roman Catholicism ( especially it’s high Ultramontanist and triumphalist variety) and the death of an Orthodoxy that would put the Church at the service of the State. Neither the Social Reign of Christ the King or the Symphonia model mean anything anymore, the Church must retreat to the margins.
Or perhaps modern Rome has adapted by becoming pretty much an NGO with a charismatic CEO that no longer speaks of abstractions and dogmas but instead speaks of worldly things. Maybe the triumph of the banal and lowest common denominator in modern Catholicism is itself the work of the Spirit. I tend to think otherwise since if it is it seems to point to Tradition being utterly meaningless, but I’m just thinking out loud so to speak.
The triumph within Catholicism of the banal and the utter overhaul and overturning of almost every last iota of the externals of the Faith at the hands of the popes and bishops make both the papal claims and the whole traditionalist narrative about as believable to me as the existence of a literal Santa Claus. Outside sedevacantism ( which is at least logically coherent and consistent) the trad narrative is sheer bunk and tilting at windmills.
In a way these are exciting times. We have all that we need at our disposal to live good holy Christian lives, but we must find somewhere to fit in, where we can be authentic. These days for me it’s basically being Orthodox, but still having love for the Western Patrimony( including churches like the ACC.) .
The big churches will have to get smaller. The diocesan juggernauts will have to die. I don’t see how there can be a shred of authenticity or true Christian community in the midst of a faceless bureaucracy like modern Roman dioceses. Don’t get me wrong, individuals might find it, but the institution itself needs to be cut down to size.
If you’ll permit so young a person to suggest this, father, but I would say stay exactly where you are, doing what you’re doing, maintaining the faith in your own way, in your own church, without reference to central bureaucracies that put the word “apostolic” in front of everything. What’s the alternative, where you are? As you say, a local church served once a month whose only claim to authenticity is shared communion with a foreign dictator who is fundamentally a fraud.
Don’t worry about me. I expressed things rhetorically, not literally. I have no intention of doing anything other than staying put. Should it ever happen that the ACC fails, I still won’t go “anywhere”.
I echo you and Patrick. Stay where you are, bloom where you are planted. Flourish here on the internet while it lasts. You and Patrick and your ilk are a model for us all in the hustling of the world.
Charles de Foucauld is a problematic figure: apostle to the Muslims of North Africa (politically incorrect) or Christian witness by example only (politically correct)? I’m a big fan of his but whether he will be canonised anytime soon…… I doubt. If he had been active in a leper colony like St Damien of Molokai it would be a no-brainer.
Have you ever thought of setting up your own blog?
Apologies, I’ve outstayed my welcome. I’ll give you a rest now!
Well, Fr Damian of Molokai and Benedict Joseph Labre (a true western God’s idiot) will suffice.
Here’s a nice little article on St Benoit Joseph Labre. His story is one of the most poignant, convincing and edifying.
With genuine respect to Perceptio, and/or to Dreher, the Benedict option or speaking in terms of ‘the Church’ (or Christianity) becoming counter-cultural, appear to me to be still thinking in terms of the same paradigm, one in which these ‘counter-cultural’ enclaves are simply new re-casts of the same problem – making Christianity an empire.
I don’t think, after reflecting on the general discourse about what’ wrong with this or that Church, with this or that approach, that Christianity should be conceived as any kind of ‘system’, not even any kind of ‘culture’, counter or otherwise. Naturally, people will want to and will tend to band together – in communities of all kinds, including intentional ones – for we all like to be assisted and encouraged, but the danger is we create just another sect, or division, or a something we “belong to” (opposed to anyone or everyone else).
Isn’t the essence of this thing we call “Christianity” trying to imitate “Christ”? Isn’t what Jesus was saying was ‘you, love-like-this!’ (i.e. me) – a call to metanoia that is personal and extreme, i.e. knows no limits? That is, there is no-one who is not to be encompassed by the love which such metanoia entails or entrains? Isn’t the signal failure of so-called Christian culture the fact that for the most part its devotees or nominal adherents make it separate because they (we) do not love universally?
I think encouraging people to make Christianity ‘counter-cultural’ or thinking it works best when it is is to miss the point of the whole spiritual journey or task which Jesus, as far as we can discern, at second hand, from the Gospels, was signposting. He was not the only one to have pointed out the inadequacies or even perniciousness of our usual way of thinking and operating, and this must tell us something. More than ever, as we see all around us the crumbling of empires – religious as well as secular and economic – do I think we, each individually, have to go back to taws, so to speak. Spiritual wisdom and good living and focus on God and the Good is not the property of any “system” and it may mean we even have to give the words ‘Christianity’ or ‘the Church’ a long-overdue rest to help re-calibrate our personal focus.
Stephen, I’m sympathetic to your views, but at the same time see a whole raft of problems. Is Christianity indeed primarily an attempt “imitate “Christ”? Or is it perhaps, as I see Paul, the other NT writers, and Jesus Himself as saying, a being joined to Christ and to one another? The Christian Way has never been seen in traditional circles as an individual thing or as an imitation of what a Leader showed us, but as a supernatural joining of a flawed humanity to the only perfect man, the incarnate Son of God. This is described as the Kingdom, the Church, the Body of Christ, all of which are strikingly corporate terms, and believers are not referred to as ‘brides’ of Christ, but as THE Bride of Christ, again a collective. Yes, we are told to love universally, even our enemies (!), but there is always something special about love of the brethren, always a clear distinction between ‘in’ and ‘out’, always the desire that those ‘out’ be welcomed ‘in’, and, yes, always the recognition that some of those ‘in’ will find themselves ‘out’.
All of this falls far short of the kind of bureaucratic and centralized structure that Rome (and, if truth be known, all the other denominational structures) try to impose, but this corporateness and separation are so central a part of the historic Christian witness that they simply have to be a part of whatever manifestation the church may have in the difficult times to come. Rather than imitating Christ in what we think Him to be, we are called to become Christ by becoming more and more fully united in Him. You and I can’t do this, nor can any pope or council or whatever, but as the Holy Spirit manifests in His people, he will bring it to be — and it will surprise us.
I understand what you are saying here, ed, and of course the Christian idea is that we are called that we may be one; we do not act out Christian life in isolation, it implies necessarily another, as an object of our love etc. Even the anchorite must love another – the ‘neighbour’ can be a hundred miles away or right in front of us. And yes, I can accept that the Holy Spirit manifests in people.
But what I am suggesting is that we have perhaps become too wedded to the idea that a thing called a “Church” is the cause and not the effect of Christian living. The result is we become pre-occupied with structures, and lose sight of the fact that there is no “Church”, no grace, no divine presence, no kingdom, where there is no love, generosity, humility, compassion.
Some will insist that ‘the Church’ (under whatever brand) is infallible or that Christ is always ‘with the Church’. I think it truer to say – or to foster the kind of thinking – that Christ is always ‘with love’. The stark thing we could do well to recognise is, I think, that we live much of our lives, not in Christ’s kingdom, but in Hells of our own making, and for so many the Churches have become or represent pits of corruption, ritual judgment and prejudice and ignorance no better than any other institution. Accepting more of the same model is a very dispiriting prospect. More than ever I find myself agreeing with Krishnamurti that religious organisation, particularly organising others, is generally and ultimately poisonous to the spiritual path. That doesn’t stop us, however, looking out for, or cherishing, those genuine encounters with people whose qualities and outlook can transform us for the better and who invariably shame us into realising that for the most part we are not even in the running. That’s why I find myself realising that I have to start with myself.
Thank you, both Ed and Stephen for your reflections. I think we’re all trying to learn and make progress, and find some constants on which to base thought. Some of the reality I find: people stick to the mainstream churches or revert to some private philosophy of life. A very few join things like continuing Anglican churches. They are self-conscious. As human persons, we are all different, though some “typing” is possible, distinguishing people who are perfectly integrated in the group or wider society and those who seek a more individual way because the life of the group leaves them dissatisfied.
Churches are made for those who are part of the group, who have never discovered in themselves any aspiration to do anything else. They are certainly happier to follow fashion and the ways of “orthodoxy” whatever that be in a particular time and place. Churches cannot cater for the untamed “Romantic” temperament or for those who have a different level of consciousness and knowledge: artists, adventurers (in the noblest meaning of this word), those of us produced by the 1960’s and the Baby Boom era. Those of us in this latter category are seen to be sinful, proud and disruptive. Anglicanism was always able to tolerate the eccentric clergyman and accept his quirks in the general scheme of comprehensiveness. Some of that has rubbed off onto the continuing churches, especially our little flock in England.
Organised religion works well for most people of what Berdyaev called the “democratic” type, those who follow fashions and get on on the world as it is. Their place is the established church, whether it be Anglican, Roman Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox in any given country. Such people can adjust to any modification of church policy, whether it be women priests, church services based on popular entertainment, homosexuality, gender questions or whatever.
You can’t make a church out of eccentrics and rebels. At this level, each person has to find his own place in the world and manage on his own without seeking a following, or at least a large following. This is the tension between the institutional church and the way Christ challenged the established order between official Judaism and the Roman occupation. Christ calls us to challenge and the Church calls us to submit and conform. The choice has to be made unless we have a Church that can cope with varying degrees of eccentricity.
It’s a lonely life, unless we agree to bridle our personalities and conform to the established order and its changes as they occur in time. One thing we can’t do is to project our own desires and fantasies onto the established order. It doesn’t work. The choice has to be made.
I’m not sure I see it quote that way. I thoroughly dislike the phrase “organized religion” — that leads to a stress on the nuts and bolts of which the organized group is built, and ultimately to something much like Rome. I pastored for some years in a Pentecostal group that was structurally Rome writ small. It is “religion” (or better, spirituality, or even better, relationship) that provides organization to the rebels and eccentrics who find God. The Early Church does not appear to have been built upon mere followers, but upon an astounding variety of such rebels and eccentrics, like that crazily heterogenous group called “Apostles. Perhaps it is like herding cats. Ine certainly can find a group of cats that stick together, care for one another, and exhibit a large degree of commonality — it’s not discipline that forms such an entity, but rather it is an effect of their catness — and cats indeed do the darnedest things. Prediction doesn’t work well. Christians are also kind of weird, but their nature as Christians does indeed form churches. If that is not happening, I am convinced it is a symptom of something undesirable — just as much as is the ossification of many ‘churches’ into mere machines. As in all things balance is essential. I hope this is less confused than it sounds to the author, but I’ll leave it here.