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.