The poor old dear is having another go, and indeed, methinks he doth protest too much. We should begin by imagining the ideal world of this fellow. The entire planet is a suburb of some great American city in the 1950’s, every clean and in order. It is the collective society in which everyone followed the same curriculum through college, high school and university and joined the same grey lines to the rat race. The tensions between the churches – Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant and fundamentalist – largely follow the kind of cars people have and the plants they display in their windows. In England of the 1930’s, it was the aspidistra.
The churches of that time were well-oiled financially because people attended them. They could afford to sieve the large numbers of aspirants for the priesthood and religious life. Human life was cheap and plentiful among the fortunate men who returned from World War II and the last fatal push against Nazi Germany. Individualism only began to enter the scene from the late 1960’s when the post-war order was challenged for its baseless certitudes.
What was “conversion” to Roman Catholicism? I went through it all myself as a young man of 22, partly under the influence of a zealot in London who now claims to have invented a perpetual motion machine (!) and some unpleasant experiences in the “spikey” scene in London. It seemed to me reasonable that I should begin with the catechism and a summary of the doctrines the RC Church believes. On the surface of things, it was not far from what the “spikey” churches of central London believed, but with much less discussion. We had to come to terms with authority and infallibility. So that’s where people like Hitler and Mussolini got it all from, except that the Church had not killed anyone for centuries except the odd execution here and there of a condemned criminal on Vatican territory or within the Papal States! Above all, it is not so much what is written, but a general ethos. The RC ideal is the collective. The person is as nothing compared with the collective. This is particularly pronounced in the monastic and clerical life. Take a step back, and all this is extremely shocking.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, my instincts and sense of identity clashed very strongly with the totalitarianism of the Society of St Pius X, and the official Church in England was no different. Only the rite of the liturgy was different. The old clericalism and leaven of the Pharisees remained. My break came as I began to study theology at Fribourg and take on a more critical view of Catholic theology and ideology. I found myself in the flow from Thomist realism to Idealism, and from Idealism to Russian and German Romanticism. At one time, I was tempted by Orthodoxy, but saw the same snares and traps as in Roman Catholicism. I went to Gricigliano, which in its infancy, showed a more Italian (sympathetic to English sensitivities) spirit. The show was run by French priests but who had been in Italy for many years. The spirit was quite Oratorian in some ways, and this gave me a lot of hope. Italians are “natural” Roman Catholics. Americans are caricatures, and John Bruce’s notion of selection and screening candidates for orders is a notion that is entirely soaked in the American corporate management ethos. In a small Italian diocese, a man is recommended by his parish priest, accepted by the Bishop, and then sent to Rome for studies, finished off in a parish and ordained. It is more like an apprenticeship than a modern corporate process.
He does have a point in that Anglicans usually make poor Roman Catholics, because we have a totally different ethos – which is nothing to do with dogmas and catechism articles. It is like expecting an artist to serve in the army or the civil service. Values and sense of identity are totally different. Some Anglicans like Fr Dwight Longenecker, Cardinal Manning and some others were able to erase their Anglican experience. Others like Fr Montgomery-Wright transposed their Anglicanism onto French country parish life. It was picturesque, but the local Bishop tolerated it and French people have a taste for the exotic. Each found his way and stuck at it. I didn’t. In the end, I wandered off into “vagante land” and found my way into the TAC and then to the ACC. I think I understand Bruce’s reasoning about not converting unless you’re going to “do it properly”. It is a big decision in life, and I paid very dearly for my own poorly founded conversion.
What is really necessary is for institutional churches to stop alienating their own faithful and clergy. But ideology prevails and the only option that remains is to go the way of “schsim-atic” groups like the Old Catholics and continuing Anglicans. I don’t think many of us believe that only our “little group” has “got it right”. No human institution is perfect. We are where we are because we have no alternative and wish to continue as Christians rather than surrender to the atheist-materialist world. Perhaps some of our earlier bishops had something in common with cult gurus, but those days are over. People don’t follow a bishop because he has been validly consecrated, but because a Christian community elected him and asked a Church to consecrate him. This is now the difference. The G4 are now showing the characteristics of a Church: college of bishops, each bishop with a diocese (territorial or “personal”) containing priests and parishes (even if they number only “two or three gathered in my name”). When those criteria are met, we are in the presence of the Catholic Church – no need for Roman totalitarianism!
Whether we live or die is in God’s hands. Each of us will die one day, and our faith and life ideals will give that event some sense in the afterlife for which we hope and yearn. I would prefer what I do in this life to serve humanity in a hundred years’ time, but I doubt it will. Things will be situated at another level, and I believe that this world isn’t the only one. There will be seven or seventy heavens or levels of universes that we cannot imagine in this life. This is the limit of John Bruce’s corporately managed church, a body to which I would not aspire to belong – any more than convert to Islam!
John Bruce yearns for authority and infallibility. I don’t. I yearn for the transcendent and the divine which is in me and in everything I know. This is what sanctifies and perfects what is faulty and defective in what we know. Many of the French Romantics were precursors of the Ultramontanist movement – but not the Germans or the English. The Oxford Movement had some things in common with Bonald and Le Maistre, with Dom Guéranger, and yearned for the infallible Pope. Newman did not, and ascribed primacy to the informed conscience.
I too notice the anomaly in the English Ordinariate in that some were aping modern Roman Catholicism (with a little less tackiness) for years, and that prayers from the Book of Common Prayer are something “new”. I met them in Oxford, and they were courteous or even friendly in my regard. If they are working in the Lord’s vineyard, who am I to judge? In the non-English RC world, there are plenty of different religious orders, traditionalists, SSPX, seminaries like Wigratzbad and Gricigliano, right-wing political groups, various philosophical ideas, and diversity has become a fact of life. There are plenty of these groups to which I would never belong, any more than the Orthodox convert scene, but some find their way in them. Diversity and freedom are a fact of life, and I am thankful for it.
The G4 and the PNCC? We will see what happens in time. Perhaps some bishops are already busy with “horse trading” and exchanging proposals for intercommunion agreements. It is a start. For John Bruce, it is all about men my age trying to tie up the loose ends to get a good retirement or an alcoholic in full delusion. Maybe with some. My own prospects are bleak (for retirement), because I am a non-stipendiary priest and work as a translator. But, at least I am not an alcoholic!!! I prefer to believe that I have some spiritual ideals. The PNCC has a very different ethos from our own. They are quite 1970’s Novus Ordo with a bit of Polish popular piety. We tend to be a little more medievalist (and it’s not because of the goddam trains – choo! choo!) but I hope something can be worked out in a paradigm of diversity. Bishop Flemestad and the NCC is much closer to our medievalist paradigm through their Bishop’s having been a Lutheran pastor.
Carry on, Mr Bruce, I don’t understand you completely, but you certainly encourage me to reflect on many of my own ideas, and comprehend why it all went so wrong for me personally. We are all indeed called to discern spirits, and St Ignatius of Loyola had some great ideas like being peaceful and in prayer in order to judge whether something is right and whether we are deluded by the Evil One. We need to be challenged, and this is why I don’t pass off this old curmudgeon as a crank (he calls me a crank) and ignore him. He laps up my writings like the cat with a pot of cream, so perhaps some good is being done.
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Update: Ordinariate Stew or the American Melting Pot.
John Bruce ends this article by saying that I and others in Canada and England (it is not difficult to imagine who is being aimed at) misunderstand the American way of life. Do I? I always believed that the continent that became independent from the British and French empires was designed to be a new world, a part of the world where Europeans escaping persecution could find freedom and a new way of life. The American Constitution was largely based on the French declaration of human rights of 1789 and English statute law. It was (is) a republic that is in itself a secular and religiously neutral entity, whilst respecting the freedom of all religions within the bounds of public order. It doesn’t seem difficult to me.
Knowing something of human nature, the strongest would prevail over the particularities of the hundreds and thousands of ethnic groups immigrating into America from the beginning. Though many ethnical groups have retained a strong sense of identity, most became absorbed into the secular system and economic liberalism. The USA resisted socialism for a very long time, but it is gradually taking over. The result is and will become even more so a reproduction of the old Europe and the new world order (whatever that means). Culture has to disappear, as must learning and the old humanist tradition, to prepare a world resembling the dystopian novel of George Orwell.
I have been to the USA four times, the first time in 1998. Perhaps the first time gave me more of a view of mainstream American life in Maryland, Washington DC and a visit by hired car to Amish country in Pennsylvania. Official America gives a sense of foreboding, and ordinary people give a sense of friendliness and welcome to the foreigner with the funny British accent. The contrast is striking. In a supermarket, they will put your purchases into a bag for you. Here in Europe, there is more of a sense that they just don’t care about anything. I can see how religion survived that little bit longer, and differs between the Yankees and the Confederates.
What are the implications for religious questions? As far as I see it, there is a choice:
- Complete diversity of culture and ethnical identities. The break from Rome by the PNCC was caused by the lack of respect for Polish culture.
- Complete levelling and the abolition of diversity to form a mixture of all cultures by abolishing culture itself.
We in England tend to take the mickey out of Americans by talking of their lack of culture and general ignorance, in some cases not knowing that England was separated from the European continent by the English Channel! American tourists in England are the butt of many jokes. John Bruce seems to confirm this idea by promoting a kind of sterilised Catholicism without any diversity or cultural freedom. It is a corporation like any other, or like the secular authorities, and the only important thing is its pragmatic viability, money, numbers. Fine, good luck to him. I would not want to live in America.
Thankfully, I think there must be some Americans who think differently, who refuse The Matrix or some of the other nightmares imagined by movie producers. I have known Americans who have spent time here in Europe to study and learn about our cultures. Perhaps John Bruce understands less about America than I do, even if my knowledge of that nation’s Constitution is only notional. Many Europeans have been to America, like Tocqueville, to learn about how the Enlightenment and doctrines of human rights can be made to improve our world and the human condition. I would say that one of these intuitions has been true religious freedom.
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Update: Oh dear! What would the Fathers say? – said a former Provost of the London Oratory if he found something not quite in order. I seem to have stirred quite a hornet’s nest here, going by his reaction – as evident in his writings (he accurately states that I am not in a position to psychoanalyse him – no need).
There is nothing of substance in this article named Late-Stage Schism And The Law Of Gravity. He seems to have fallen quite low himself. Perhaps he feels in need of psychoanalysis, but really, I would advise him to go to someone more local, qualified, and above all expensive. He’ll only get what he pays for.
I am all for American life being extremely diverse, but the same goes for religion. I don’t know how things will turn out for the G4 and the PNCC. I hope and pray for the best, but it might all come to nothing.
Best to get to a place where you can find sound teaching and valid sacraments.
He could apply Apostolicae Curae to the most unlikely ordinations, and conclude that nothing is valid anywhere.
Our friend should now engage men like Fr Anthony Cekada – or forever hold his peace.