Weltschmerz oder Sitz im Leben

I have given further thought to old John Bruce, even as recently as yesterday:

I think the CDF has never fully appreciated the social implications of Anglicanism, or Anglo-Catholicism. According to Guelzo’s history of the REC, the opposition to Anglo-Catholicism in TEC from the 1840s through the 1860s was based in part on suspicion of Catholic immigration from Ireland and Germany. On the other hand, Anglo-Catholicism itself represents a “sanitized” version of Catholicism acceptable to the old American establishment, which could explain how it gained such popularity in the same period, compatible as it was with the medieval romanticism associated with the elites who felt threatend by industrialization. Mark Twain made fun of those enthralled with Sir Walter Scott.

I have finally nailed the problem. I think most of my more cosmopolitan American readers will agree with me that Anglo-Catholicism largely grew out of Romanticism in England and then by extension in the New World. Industrialisation was a major concern in the Romantic era (historically speaking) because of the human suffering it did not resolve. Romanticism was a profoundly humanist reaction from greed, materialism, atheism and all the other sins of the era which are reflected in our world today by analogy. It has taken a while to notice that John Bruce is particularly opposed to Romanticism. It is understandable: the matter-of-fact working man sees only the “reality” of the material world and his part in society, his neighbourhood and his family.

What Bruce is presuming seems to be the social integration of the church community, and objects to what he perceives to be the aloofness of Anglo-Catholics and those who formed the Ordinariates in England and America. The only basis of church life is parochial, collective and based on the ambient culture, which in modern life might prove challenging. Being a Christian necessarily demands a collective and community approach to life, the surrender of personality and individuality and “group think”. Perhaps that is Bruce’s way, but I would love to know how he gets on with other parishioners and how well he conforms to the collective mind.

A short while ago, he used the term Sitz im Leben a German expression roughly translated as “setting in life”. Its origin seems to be situated in the form of biblical criticism and historicism – something only exists in its historical context. The expression also refers to the social and cultural setting. It is considered as a key of interpretation, because a text taken out of context loses its meaning, or is given another meaning. We truly find ourselves in a discussion of the relationship between religion and culture. As I mentioned yesterday, two approaches are possible, with a third: engage with contemporary culture (in its diversity between corporate and business culture to the various forms of dissidence in post-modern sub-cultures), build a sub-culture with a philosophical basis (as I am advocating) or conceive the possibility of Christianity outside any cultural expression (anti-art, buildings devoid of form or beauty, abolition of symmetry, etc.).

In the Christian tradition, there have always been the romantics and the idealists, for whom the “realities” of the material world can never satisfy the aspirations of the mind. The martyrs and monastics of the early Church expressed weariness with this world, as did St John and Christ himself. Another German term from the Romantic era emerges: that of Weltschmerz meaning world-pain or world-weariness. I suppose that the insensitive philistine might tell someone of such a disposition to go ahead and enter a monastery. With my short experience as a working guest, I can think of nothing less Romantic than a monastery – which is the most radical expression of communism and collectivism I have ever come across.

Any form of Romanticism or even cosmopolitanism is going to go badly with parish life. I spent time recently with a friend who is vicar of a large Church of England parish within the bounds of the London commuter belt. We concurred that these large Forward in Faith parishes represented the last remnants of Christian civilisation in its natural state. I saw the group of handbell ringers going into the vestry for their weekly practice. The church has a choir led by a good musician. The place is full of activity, and I am sure they are good folk. They seem to be happy. In every community, you are  going to get the type who is made stupid by education, full of opinions they do not understand. They claim to have the key of knowledge, but cannot use it, and they prevent others from having any access. Group think is characterised by inaccessibility, dull respectability, worship of status and success, materialism and an inflated sense of self-esteem. I have had other experiences of parish life, but always in the French RC equivalent of Forward in Faith where old parish priests kept a happy mix of local people and traditionalists who came from some distance away. It was closer to the “natural” parish than the traditionalist Mass-centres, but some measure of compromise was necessary. The present day parish is contrived and reformed in a self-conscious way. As the number of priests continues to decline, parishes are attached to team  ministries or collected into pastoral sectors – and the parish is a thing of the past, the church buildings closed and rotting away through disuse and neglect.

Over the decades of the latter half of the  twentieth century, churches have tried to respond to sociological changes, especially cosmopolitanism and mobility. People no longer have stabilitas loci to the same extent as in the past. Former working class areas became gentrified and houses are decreasingly affordable. The big Victorian churches stand out as so many dinosaurs in a changing landscape as Islam enters the scene in suburban areas. Perhaps the parishes in America are continuing to thrive like city-centre parishes in London, Paris and elsewhere. Church, like many other activities, is associated with where people work, not where they live. Lunchtime services during the week are very popular, and people will commute in on Sundays as they do during the week for the office.

I no longer speak for the mainstream church bodies, since they lie outside my experience of life. It might seem unchristian or unpriestly of me to wash my hands of the world of parishes. Is it because  I am unsuccessful at getting French bums into my pews? No, because I have never had the heart to go explaining something to local French country folk that they will never see as something other than eccentric and foreign. I would have to be fake Roman Catholic and imitate the French style, and then I think the local RC authorities would have something to say. I am not interested in that kind of polemics! My vocation lies elsewhere. John Bruce has never understood English Anglo-Catholicism and its Romantic roots. Unlike the strongly Republican tradition in America, the English clergy headed towards the most deprived areas of English cities and the South Coast and built up a quality of parish life somewhat akin to rural Italy and France. They served the poor and brought them beauty and consolation.  That aspect of  Anglo-Catholic pastoral outreach has largely disappeared with the invention of television.

Where parishes exist, they should be maintained and propped up as much as possible. Once they are gone, they will not return. I see my own ministry as a priest as post-parochial, something quite difficult to define, but something geared towards the future. I have often spoken of an elite form of Christianity – and the temptation is to some form of arrogance and unpleasantness. The Christian  mystery school? The temptation is one of sectarianism, heretical gnosticism and something that looks like Freemasonry. Over the years, I have developed and transmitted ideas that are not secret, to the contrary. I am not attracted to ritualism over and above the Mass and Office of the Church’s liturgy. We are called to study and to present  Christianity in philosophical terms, appealing to the  intellectual and the original thinker.

The inspiration of monastic life is important, but not the way it is lived in most monasteries today. It is vital to encourage the imagination and the way of the heart, man’s desire to create through art and poetry. Contemplative Christianity needs to be redefined and made the bedrock of our new life. I still need to read The Benedict Option and refine ideas for the European context and the minds of aspiring souls. My take on Rod Dreher’s ideas will be something for another time. We need something for the future, what parishes cannot or will not cater for, and which will appeal to the alienated.

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17 Responses to Weltschmerz oder Sitz im Leben

  1. Ryan says:

    Maybe I’m misreading, but there seems implicit in his words the assumption that, while the elites felt threatened by industrialism, everyone else was/is just fine with it.

    • I would have thought the other way round: the elites made the most money out of industrialism. The ordinary people needed the factory jobs because they were better than starving. The Romantics saw industrialism the same way as we see artificial intelligence and trans / post humanism today.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I went looking to see what I could find about and by Bishop Charles Chapman Grafton… This, for instance, from Pusey and the Church Revival (1902), “Parish houses, workingmen’s clubs, schools of all kinds – night and industrial – Church homes, penitentiaries, refuges, guilds, religious orders, deaconesses, sisterhoods, all the machinery of the modern parish came into existence. More churches were restored and built during this century than since the time of Queen Elizabeth, lives, talents, position, wealth have been consecrated in home and foreign missionary work with such self-sacrifice and abandonment as recalls the fervor of Pentecostal days. The Church is all aglow with enterprises ameliorating the condition of labor, making all classes, rich and poor, feel their interdependence, and their duties one to another. This great Movement has been especially, not only a clerical, but a layman’s work”. And note chapter five of his A Journey Godward of a Servant of Jesus Christ:


  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Mark Twain was also very appreciative of that deliberately Anglican Romantic, George MacDonald – they even looked into collaborating on a book together (I wish it had worked out: it would be fascinating to see what it was like – and it might have helped Twain escape some of his sillier misreading of the Gospels…).

    • Decidedly, that model railway buff seems to exude his cultureless ignorance. I fear that if he visits England (even if he stays away from Fr Hunwicke) as a tourist, he is likely himself to be the butt of jokes. Same thing if he goes to Thailand:

      Here, disguised as Clint Eastwood, he goes and sees a Romantic medievalist who blames everything on trains.

      • On a more serious note, he has written Anglicanorum Coetibus And Lack Of Seriousness.

        There are various facets to Anglo-Catholicism — most recently I’ve been looking at medieval romanticism, but I still keep coming back to Fr David Miller’s remarks in my TEC confirmation class, that Anglo-Catholics want the prestige of calling themselves Catholic without paying the dues real Catholics have to pay. To what extent is Anglicanorum coetibus trying to appeal to a market of unserious people?

        I would like to see John Bruce’s criticisms of Romanticism from a philosophical point of view. His work might merit a review in The Blue Flower. The Ordinariate priests I met a few weeks ago in Oxford seemed serious enough to me, apart from the odd smile at coffee time. So it goes on…

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I am not Brucean scholar enough to know (nor Milleran) – does that “want the prestige of calling themselves Catholic without paying the dues real Catholics have to pay” extend equally to (the members of) the various autocephalous Orthodox and non-Chalcedonian Churches? It would seem unavoidably so, if “the dues real Catholics have to pay” means (largely) the ‘Roman’ understanding of the Papacy as refined over the past 148 years, e.g., (I speak under correction) the Pope as the equivalent of, and indeed, superior to, an Ecumenical Council.

        But, again, it is one Pope so understood who has so heartily promulgated Anglicanorum coetibus – presumably not with the devious intent of “trying to appeal to a market of unserious people”…

  4. RSC+ says:

    You’re far more patient of Bruce than I am, Father. I find his lack of self-awareness astounding, in that he constantly belittles Anglo-Catholics in and out of the Ordinariate, to include Bp Lopes, and then audaciously accuses both of snobbery. All of this, he expounds upon with a pretense of it being a gradual conclusion carefully reached, but he has been consistently negative for five years–half a decade of confirmation bias better spent building up instead of tearing down with innuendo and rumor-mongering.

    • By now, he is completely discredited. He has no idea what he is talking about. What you say is evident. He is a caricature of himself.

      • People used to say the same about me, and discredited my sound arguments because they were expressed in a shrill, fanatical way. I know it’s a trite saying but one does mellow with age! Or I did, anyway. How old is Mr Bruce? At a guess from his profile picture I’d say over 70.

      • It isn’t only age that mellows us. It’s also experience of life and learning to relate our own unique personalities with the bleak and merciless world of “other people”. John Bruce has become like one of those aged cranks in the SSPX Mass centres. You also have a completely different attitude about the way of getting the message over, and also questioning your own certitudes (at least in the details).

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        That’s always a – or the – or one of the most demanding – challenge(s), to read someone’s content (as appropriate) despite his style, looking for the sound arguments and resisting improper reductio. I’m not widely enough read, but that is something I find excellent about Richard Hooker, that lucid sifting…

      • Dale says:

        Patrick, you and this Bruce fellow are not even in the same train carriage; you are not even on the same train.

        Although I will admit that ofttimes in the past you may have come across as a bit shrill, your arguments were always concise and timely…and true.

        Bruce, on the other hand, reminds me of a ranting Byzantinophile konvertzi of the worst order trying to sell a tradition that is not even his own.

      • Oh dear! If you travel by train, you’re definitely not a Romantic medievalist! Seriously you (Patrick) always had an interest in the integrity of the liturgy. John Bruce only seems to be into Roman Catholic nihilism. I’m looking forward to his reasoned criticism of Romanticism. Perhaps he is an empiricist in the English tradition or into Descartes. Hmmm.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I love all the Gothic Revival elements in railway stations… sadly, they’re tearing down a lot of them, here in the Netherlands – at least in my Romance of the Rails experience/perception: maybe eventually they will only survive in model railways, and places like Madurodam.

      • Dale says:

        But Fr Anthony, some of us are Romantics of the Romantic period! I love trains, and very out-of-date automobiles. I am more moved by a Comper recreation parish church than by an actual medieval one. An altar Missal produced in the Morris style of the 19th century is far more attractive to me than an actual one from the middle ages, and far more useful on the altar as well.

        I am old enough to remember when everything that was Victorian and Edwardian Gothic was simply considered old, out-of-date, and needed to be razed to the ground. I remember traveling with a teacher of mine and going to one of those Victorian railway stations that David mentioned, to which his only remark was “It does help to have wars.” Implying that this pile of Gothic tracery should have been blown to pieces.

        Perhaps it is because the world of middle ages is simply too far in the historical memory to be a living reality for me, whilst the world of my grandparents is not.

      • I have a few memories myself, though I was born 14 years after World War II. Sailing boats are more my “thing”, though I admire some of the great steam locomotives like the Mallard and the Flying Scotsman that are kept at the Railway Museum in York. I have always been fascinated by machines and geometry. My brother is more into old cars than I am, but I drove a Morris Minor belonging to a parish priest in the 1980’s.

        About the “real” Middle Ages and the Romantic version, read Novalis’ Der Christenheit oder Europa and you will see the period portrayed as a parable, and idea, and not what probably actually happened in history. It is poetry compared with prose, art compared with photography (though photography is a form of art too). Apart from using modern technology, I certainly have something in common with those brave souls from 200 years ago.

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