John Bruce’s “Discernment”

This is an interesting little post – Discernment. I am inclined to try to take it up in positive and helpful terms. John Bruce has been banging a drum about the Ordinariates for a long time and how the various weaknesses and scandals might suggest that the Anglican project be discontinued and brushed off as “Protestant”. My own intuition is that he is flogging the wrong horse because the Church he embraced is in a state comparable to the eve of the French Revolution! The mainstream Churches have made mistakes in selecting and “screening” (that fingernail on the wire netting of the sieve!!!) their clergy. I don’t think that Pope Alexander VI or Bishop Talleyrand (la merde dans un bas de soie – as Napoleon called him) were very edifying gentlemen. They should have been scrrrreeeened out of the selection process and prevented from being ordained.

I don’t know John well enough to give some much of an idea about the future of his blog. I know what it’s like to arrive at the end of a line and take off in a new direction as thoughts become deeper and diversify. This comes through reading and resisting the temptation to be obsessed about a single issue. That’s me. He must function in a totally different way depending on his cultural references and capacity for thinking “outside the box”. So far, his writing suggests a strongly rational and Cartesian notion of the Church, a perfectly functioning machine that processes and produces the desired thing. Theology is more mysterious than a subject of logical demonstration.

John seems to be most concerned with the formation of the clergy, which is a legitimate concern. Myself, I have my views on this subject, and perhaps my ideal standards of cultural, philosophical and theological education would be higher than his – not in terms of regurgitating at examinations what they have been taught, but their capacity to think, to criticise pure reason – and to feel as human beings. I approach these matters as an Idealist and a Romantic, and certainly not in terms of modern corporate conformity. The present system in the “mainstream” Churches, the C of E as well as Rome, perhaps more so, is designed to screen out originality and difference (and I’m not talking about autism) and produce standard clones. This is more so in the religious orders like the Legionaries of Christ or the Jesuits, but also in dioceses. Perhaps someone who shows his capacity for original thought will be easier to trust with the priesthood than the one who has ticked all the right boxes in the standard form and not been noticed during his time in seminary.

I agree that “instant ordinations” would be most imprudent. The question is knowing whether anyone has truly been instantly ordained without at least having been known and trusted from his (Anglican) days. When I was at seminary, I saw men ordained very quickly because they were judged to be ready for it and needed. Others went through the full cycles of spirituality, philosophy and theology because they were raw laymen and were not known quantities. The full shebang is no guarantee of priests of integrity. Psychopaths and narcissists hide their games extremely well. I have seen model seminarians who were as priests arrested and tried for sexual abuse of children! You can keep them in the box for years, and the reality will not be seen until it is too late. On the other hand, trusted men pushed more quickly through the system can be very good. There is no hard and fast rule, and I have for a very long time been quite hostile to the seminary system. Men should go to university, and then be trained in a parish. That would be more of a test than the kind of gilded baroque seminary I went to.

I now consider his opposition to “Anglican Patrimony” in the Roman Catholic Church. From my days in the TAC, I did not return to the RC Church, because no good would have come out of it, neither for myself nor for anyone else. I joined the ACC, which adopted a very firm position early on about trying to form a kind of “Anglican uniate” movement in the Roman Catholic Church. As for the Ordinariate, I will form a more informed opinion when I go to the conference in Oxford next month, where I will listen to and meet clergy from the Ordinariate, the Church of England and some smaller bodies like the Nordic Catholic Church and the Free Church of England. Anglican Patrimony is hard to identify and define, but my study of idealist philosophy and Romanticism is very revealing in questions or plurality and diversity. The Church of England was in a hell of a mess in the late eighteenth century! That situation brought the rise of John Wesley and the Oxford Movement. What it boils down to is not so much what is Anglican but what is truly human and transcendent, contemplative. What is bad in the RC Church is its bureaucratic and corporate structure, its worldliness. No institutional Church, large or small, my own included, is perfect.

For John to be taking so much interest in priests and the method of their training and selection, I suspect he might be a former seminarian himself. So were Dzerzhinsky and Emile Combes, one of the most virulent anti-clericals of early twentieth-century France. If I were a layman, I would take much less interest in les histoires des curés and more in studying philosophy, theology and church history. I would also read about art and science, poetry and the humanities. You are never too old to learn, as I find with my Blue Flower work at some distance from my own priestly calling. Does John want a job with the Congregation for the Clergy or the Doctrine of the Faith, so that he can go witch-hunting for potential bad priests? There are better ways of being a good Catholic layman.

For a long time, his blog has been all about the problems at St Mary’s Hollywood (no one thought of making a movie about all this!!!) and trashing the Ordinariates. This is not what would make me or anyone I know want to become a Roman Catholic! My advice to him would be unorthodox but honest – drop religion altogether and take an interest in something else – arts and culture, sciences, technology, hobbies, humanitarianism. Perhaps he could discreetly go to worship services in Orthodox and Protestant churches, mosques, synagogues, Buddhist and Hindu temples. Go and discover – just for a time! Travel… Read loads of books of philosophy and literature, find out something about Neo-Platonism, Biocentrism, rise to a challenge of tackling transcendent materialism (whatever that means). What makes you believe you won’t finish up like a broken-down computer on the rubbish heap as Stephen Hawking believed? Screening priests won’t bring you to eternal life or hope beyond everything that “sucks” in your present life.

There has to be something higher and more elevated than cleaning gutters!

I don’t think my present piece will make any difference, but I do try to keep from banging the same drums and to diversify life for the sake of my mental and spiritual health. I seem to have a little bit of a break from my translating work. The weather has faired up a little bit – so away from my desk and let’s get my hands dirty in the garden!

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3 Responses to John Bruce’s “Discernment”

  1. RSC+ says:

    That particular blog is a cesspool of bitter innuendo, rumor mongering, and confirmation bias. It saddens me that he would rather tear down his fellow Catholics than do something constructive with his time.

  2. Little Black Sambo says:

    “Formation”: how I dislike that term! I began joining the Ordinariate, and it was the formation that decided me not to continue. “Formatting” would be a better word.

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