The Blue Flower

In the light of my postings about Dr Ray Winch and the old Gregorian Club, a correspondent suggested that I might set up some kind of quarterly journal which I would set up and publish in a pdf file. I would invite contributions by PayPal without charging a fixed sum. Any money collected would be used for buying books or other expenses involved in finding information in libraries and websites requiring payment for subscriptions.

What is important is the overriding theme. It has to be wider than promoting the Sarum liturgy or a particular institutional Church. It is like going up in a rocket from a single house and seeing a picture that becomes bigger and bigger. I am increasingly convinced that one influence and one influence alone allowed the revival of Catholic Christianity in blood-drenched Europe in the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth. It was Romanticism, which gives the reason for this title of the journal. We discover that the blue flower (Blaue Blume in German) is a central symbol of the Romantic movement. It represents desire, yearning and love of the eternal and unattainable – not just pretty girls but a spiritual and mystical aspiration! It is also a symbol of hope and beauty. It is central in the famous expression in many of our liturgical prayers: doceas nos terrena despicere et amare caelestia. We are aliens and exiles on this earth, and our longing is for something we will never find here. If that is not Sehnsucht, I don’t know what is!

Not all Romanticism was very pious or even moral, and some of the English poets of this movement died tragically, slept with just about anyone and were close to atheism insofar as they espoused the ideas of the French Revolution. Another movement in the same main themes of Romanticism sought an ideal of Christian living and spirituality that left behind the ashes of the old regime and yet rejected the excesses and barbarity of the Revolution and the Terror. Romanticism began in eighteenth-century Germany and England and formed a basis of a new Christian and Catholic revival.

My own aspiration to revive the medieval uses of England and elsewhere in Europe coincided with my attraction to the ideas expressed by Romanticism and the various artistic and aesthetic movements that arose in reaction to excessive rationalism, industrialisation, the exploitation of poor people, the destruction of the natural environment for greed – and in favour of art, craftsmanship and integral Christian living. How many poor East-End and South Coast parishes had the benefit of holy priests nurtured in this movement when they were at university?

Red Dreher’s ideas have not escaped me with the idea of adapting some mitigated form of monastic observance for lay people, families and secular priests. Perhaps such a movement might be formed with the approval of the present-day Roman Catholic Church bureaucracy, as was Opus Dei in its time. I am certainly not attracted to expressions that can all too easily become regimented cults under the aegis of a powerful and ambitious person. That is the way Roman Catholicism works, and some are happy with such a way of life. Rod Dreher’s writings merit careful study, because many of the themes concur with what I am trying to offer, even if from another cultural standpoint.

Romanticism has become the centre of my aim and meaning of life, because it underlies everything that has been good for Christianity over the past two hundred years. It founded the deepest Sehnsucht of the Oxford Movement, German Idealism, the great Russian philosophers like Khomiakov, Berdyaev, Dostoyevsky and others, the French monastic revival and the noblest elements of Liberalism and Modernism (the terms being understood in their strict historical context). Our own Ritualists, ecclesiologists and slum priests all came under the influence of the most profound longing of Romanticism for a medieval and spiritual world, at least something other than grim factories, grotty houses, long working hours with dangerous machinery and the Protestant Work Ethic.

I don’t know whether any kind of community of people living according to such ideals would ever “work” or get off the ground. Human sin usually gets in the way, and democracy and personal freedom in a community are very difficult things to work out. There have to be some safeguards, as any “intentional” community has experienced, whether its purpose is tree-hugging, veganism or some ideal based on Tolstoy or the Hippies in the 1960’s. If the basic design is right, then perhaps it might work – but it won’t happen overnight.

What can be brought into being right now would be a journal that would be more far-reaching than blog postings that are characterised by spontaneity and laziness from proper academic methodology. Topics could be extremely wide and varied, from classical and romantic (the words being intended in their wider and analogical meanings) philosophy, a more mystical and spiritual meaning of the Church beyond formal membership or this or that institutional Church. I am utterly convinced that we much transcend denominational polemics, otherwise Christianity is over for having lost all meaning and relevance. Newman did become a Roman Catholic in 1845, but he saw the tendencies that would make him increasingly unsettled. He saw the problems in the remnants of Georgian Anglicanism, and the need for something both new and old. Keble, Pusey, Neale and others remained Anglicans, but their real aspiration was elsewhere, far beyond the politics and squabbles of their day.

The conditions of our modern world are quite analogous with the chaos of the period from the 1790’s to the defeat of Napoleon. Industrialisation is replaced by advances in science that seem no better for man’s welfare than the idea of sewing bits of dead bodies together and “galvanising” them with electricity in 1816. The attraction to the “dark side” has its parallels in modern cinema and art. The Romantic movement underlies the aspirations of many of our young people and those tempted by post-modernism and nihilism. These instincts and yearnings could be channelled if someone knew how to understand what is going on in their minds at a philosophical level.

Perhaps under the symbol of the Blue Flower, we could unpack and understand what this vast movement tried to give humanity and the world, partly through Christianity and partly through atheism or neo-paganism. Articles on the liturgy would be welcome as part of this wider vision, as would pieces on history, philosophy, theology, personalities of the period over the past 250 years or so. I invite readers to offer ideas about putting such a project together and keeping it going for years. Perhaps it might be possible to have a conference in a rented part of a convent or something like that, but that would be exceptional for reasons of finance and practicality. The Internet offers us a means of communication we have never had before. This blog has now passed its sixth birthday, and that is pretty good going. Electronic information storage, however, is just as fragile as that library in Oxford where the reader may not kindle flame or fire!

A journal in pdf form will be available for a wide circulation, and people will make their own hard copies of complete issues or the articles that interest them. I would like the articles to be properly researched and worked on with proper academic methodology citing references and authorities. That will be as much a challenge for me as for anyone else who had been to a university. My correspondent suggests a book review, a substantial article and perhaps a blog-like reflection from different authors. I invite anyone interested in helping with such a project to contact me (write a comment on this blog and I’ll have your e-mail address) and contribute to the “design” and planning of this project.

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6 Responses to The Blue Flower

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Hurrah for your correspondent and for your taking up the suggestion in this way! A very attractive prospect!

    • I think we should attempt a first issue for the summer of this year. As you will surmise from my most recent article, I would like to write Ray Winch’s proposed Daily Worship in an English Medieval Parish Church. I have Duffys The Stripping of the Altars, but also a good number of other books and internet-based sources on medieval parish life. It will be a collation rather than a piece of original research and a précis into a more compact form, something like my chapter in Dom Alcuin Reid’s Companion to liturgy on the 1570 Roman rite. I am confident that I could do such a piece of work in the spirit that made Ray dream and ramble. I will ask for a book review and various other things like the general planning of “The Blue Flower”.

      I am confident stepping into Ray’s shoes, in the same way as the musician Colin Davies composed “Elgar’s third Symphony” from the fragments and scraps Elgar’s descendants and trustees allowed him to use. I have precious little from Ray, so I will use his themes for a plan and do my own work.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Tidying up, I just came across a clipping noting a Dutch translation by Ria van Hengel of Heinrich von Ofterdingen published in 2006, with an afterword by Dr. A.J.A. (Arnold) Heumakers, professor in the Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen,Capaciteitsgroep Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen of the University of Amsterdam – under the title, De Blaue Bloem!

    • Indeed, my title is not original. It is a little-known symbol of the Romantic Movement, coming largely from “Novalis” Von Hardenberg. It appealed to me immediately. I don’t think anyone else uses it currently?…

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        As far as I can discover, it has only been the name of particular (literary) works – though Wikipedia also tells of a “Danish pop band” named “Blaue Blume”. There is a Blue Flour Bakery, which name does not seem to come from the use of blue corn (or Hopi maize) flour, but whose website does not (so far as I can see) explain why they chose it. (Joytime Ministries has a note as to why they changed their logo from having a red flower to having a blue one, under the influence of C.S.Lewis’s reference to “the Blue Flower” in Surprised by Joy.) So, it looks like a name which is free to use and will confuse no-one, and may ring a bell with some who know the symbolic tradition starting with Novalis.

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