Fr Hart, an American “Thomas Mann”?

In days gone by I had some quite serious differences with Fr Robert Hart, mainly because I defended my former Archbishop (John Hepworth) and what he was trying to do, namely bring the TAC into communion with Rome as a kind of “uniate church” using Anglican liturgical forms. Fr Hart was extremely critical of Archbishop Hepworth and of all who continued to be loyal to him. I believe in loyalty – as long as the person and the cause are just. Finally, what happened happened. The Ordinariates as established by Pope Benedict XVI were based on Forward in Faith bishops who had been in dialogue with Rome since the 1990’s. Some TAC clergy applying to Rome or their local Ordinaries were selected according to normal canonical principles and joined the Ordinariates. It has become a world apart.

Archbishop Hepworth dropped off the edge of the earth, figuratively-speaking. He has been seen recently at the church of St Mary of the Angels in Hollywood and St Agatha’s, Portsmouth. Someone I know said that some think of him as the great pioneer of the Ordinariates and that he was prepared to be some kind of “martyr” by throwing away his priestly vocation. At the same time, he still styles himself as an Anglican archbishop. So, I will let the reader judge for himself.

I joined (or re-joined) the ACC in 2013, and Fr Hart and I are fellow priests in full communion. The cause of the previous difference has ceased, and I have had to recognise that my loyalty went beyond a reasonable point. I believe in a priest’s loyalty to his Bishop, but this relationship is ordered to its finis operis – the good of the Church and the raison d’être of both priest and bishop. Fr Hart is more Prayer Book and 39 Articles than I am. My own sympathies are known, but they are not counter-Reformation Roman Catholic either. Fr Hart suffered from the polemics, as I did. Both he and I have moved on. I admire his assiduity as a parish priest and his plain-speaking sermons. He continues to post these sermons to The Continuum, and also writes his own reflections.

I would like to draw your attention to Kittels and Quislings. As an amateur of C.S. Lewis, Fr Hart loves playing with the English language and showing the need to say what we mean and mean what we say. Fr Hart is an American, and lives in that country where too many Christians would like to take the route of having the State act as a civil arm to enforce the Church’s moral principles.

At this very moment of history we are witnessing something that distinguishes people of conscience from the common herd.

I have the impression of reading Thomas Mann facing the rise of Nazism in the 1930’s or Rob Riemen right now in his books that I have already mentioned in this blog: Nobility of Spirit and To Fight Against this Age. The one unique thing about Christ, as expressed in the Canonical and the Gnostic Gospels, is that compassion for the weak is the true mark of our valour, not the capacity to dominate the weak and make the most money from them. Yes, indeed, I see a photo of a baby born without a brain and somehow is alive, but totally disabled and dependent. A part of me would euthanise the child and a part of me would heed the implicit teachings of Christ and see the child as a human being and whose life is sacred. What about the child’s mother? I am left sad, confused and even angry that such things happen to some people. To write what he has written, Fr Hart is a Christian humanist, and it is a great reassurance to read his reflections.

Now, we English and Americans share the predicament of our new Prime Minister, and their President, both men with messy blond hair – and with similar populist views. I am not going to return to political polemics in this blog, but I will not hide my concern.

If you are overly loyal to a political party or to a candidate eventually you will find yourself arguing to defend injustice and atrocity.

Never was a truer word said. I am as afraid of what populism can become, its potential for developing into a monster. Read Thomas Mann and his heart-rending words in the face of the beast! Riemen describes the way a journalist of Russian origin, Leone Ginzburg, is interrogated and tortured to death by the Gestapo during World War II. The words put in the mouth of the torturer are reminiscent to those of Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. The Beast has indeed been with us for a very long time. Just a few quotes:

You are so high-minded where your beloved truth is concerned and, yet you do not countenance authority. Why this absolute need for freedom and democracy? Why? I do not understand that.

What if Columbus or Copernicus had put the discovery of America or the turning of the earth to the vote?’ Well, any comment? And Plato, our divine Plato, was he not prophetic when he predicted that all democracy would end in tyranny? People cannot handle freedom; it makes their lives too difficult. When it comes to this, Dostoyevsky, in his books, merely copied Plato. Didn’t it all come true? Did you see how millions cheered for our great leaders, precisely as the immortal Grand Inquisitor described it? Give the people freedom and it will lead to rampant misconduct. This will be followed by more clamoring for ‘values and norms,’ and the very next leader who is nominally gifted in the art of rhetoric will be idolized again. You yourself have seen it happen. What makes you think things will ever change?

“Why do you despise Fascism? Is your democracy really that much better? Will its leaders be any better than those of our Fascist Utopia? I’m not stupid: we’re going to lose this war. Another year, maybe two, but then this adventure is over. I have no problem with that. Our ideas will remain, people will learn from what we know. Mark my words: ‘democracy will be restored across the globe’ with a great sense of drama. And then what? We are the ones who invented the power of propaganda, of images, and the intoxication that comes from being part of the masses. We are the ones who have understood that people are more interested in appearance than in substance. Do you really think that even one political party could survive if it were able to ignore this truth? Do you really think that a politician who wants no part of this can still be successful? Pretty pictures and rhetoric—that, my friend, is our legacy, and no one will escape it.

“What I truly don’t understand is how you can possibly think that democracy and your culture can coexist. The masses are not interested, because their heads want no questions and their bellies want to be fed. Politicians are not interested, for their power depends on the stupidity of the masses. And the truly powerful, those who have the money, are not interested, because culture costs money. Have you ever been in America? I have—nice people, nice people, but no culture. Believe me, fifty years after the restoration of democracy across the globe, culture will be banned. Commerce and money will reign supreme, and unless something is market oriented, democratic, and efficient, it won’t exist. Your publishing house, your books, and your journal will be the first victims. And there, where books can still be found, they won’t be read. Everything will have to be new, sexy, and appealing. That’s what sells, that’s what people want. Would you please just admit that democracy and culture cannot coexist? It was predictable, it was tried anyway, and it failed. So be it.

The tormenting thing is that the Gestapo torturer with blood on his hands offers a tempting message with which we can sympathise, at least on the surface. That is our attachment to high culture that can only come from an elite. But the price is high, astronomic – human life and the dignity of the person. We have to read the small print at the bottom of the page.

Perhaps Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are not fascists. I could venture to surmise that the Fascists and Nazis had an ideology, but these two men have none – other than money and their personal interests. Powers of the darkness of this world? Then our weapons can only be spiritual, and this is why I have ceased to commit this blog to any political cause. We have to rely on the power of prayer, but we still have minds to analyse and understand the dangers and sophistry of the same old arguments that try to return and seduce us.

Sobrii estote et vigilate: quia adversarius vester diabolus, tamquam leo rugiens, circuit quærens quem devoret: cui resistite fortes in fide.

* * *

Just to add an idea or two since I wrote this little article, we tend to get worked up seeing one side of a dialectic or binary situation. This is how politics works. One thing I have noticed since the 2016 referendum is the absence of discussion of previous burning issues like Islamic terrorism. Has it gone away? What happened to Al Qaida and ISIS? Lone killers driving their vehicles into groups of people? Mass immigration of refugees from war-torn Islamic countries and economic migrants from Africa? The “replacement theory” according to which our European culture would be replaced by an Islamic theocracy?

I see nothing good in national populism and the simplistic ideas blaming single issues for the evils of the world. The opposite tendency is something else we bewail, the various kinds of political correctness we sometimes attribute to cultural Marxism or the Frankfurt School “critical theory”. The truth is that we all find something appealing in both “sides” representing a single authoritarian and collectivist ideology. We seem to be living amidst oscillations of history between the consequences of World War I, the grinding poverty of the Depression, the rise of fascism (in its broadest meaning) in Germany, Italy, Spain and to a lesser extent in France and England, the defeat of totalitarianism and the Trente Glorieuses, the disillusionment of the 1970’s and the Thatcher era, and so forth. It represents the thesis and antithesis theory of Hegel. It represents the movement of history to which we in this present life are subject. We can only fight it within ourselves.

I have the impression, that, if anything, the present absurd situation in England will shake up many certitudes and people who feel entitled. Nothing can be understood literally, since Johnson lies like he breathes. Isn’t that what politicians do, like chickens laying eggs? There is something underneath. For me, the essential message is to be independent from the obnoxious politics of both right and left – and to learn to be free.

I finish by quoting the Epilogue of Rob Riemen’s Nobilty of Spirit:


And what about us? Are we still searching for the nobility of spirit?

Don’t look for it in the world of the media, the world of politics, the world of noise. The spirit was never there. Don’t go to academia. They have expelled the spirit. And the churches? There is a reason they sound hollow. The world of fame? There we would go astray.

In an old European city, the poet, ninety years old and shackled to his bed but with a mind that is still clear, hears that his dearest woman friend has died. Czeslaw Milosz writes:

What did I learn from Jeanne Hersch?

1. That reason is a great gift from God and one should trust in its capacity to know the world.

2. That they were mistaken who undermined confidence in reason by enumerating its determinants: the class struggle, libido, the will to power.

3. That we should be aware of being imprisoned in our perceptions but should not therefore reduce reality to dreams, illusions, produced by mind.

4. That truthfulness is a proof of freedom and falsehood is typical slavery.

5. That the appropriate attitude in the face of existence is reverence, and this is why one should avoid the company of those who debase it through sarcasm and who praise nothingness.

6. That—even if this shall lead to an accusation of arrogance—intellectual life governs itself by the rule of a strict hierarchy.

7. That the addiction of the twentieth-century intellectuals is le baratin—chatter devoid of responsibility.

8. That in the hierarchy of human activities art shall be placed higher than philosophy but that a bad philosophy can corrupt art.

9. That there is objective truth; out of two conflicting statements one is true, the other false, except in the cases when contradiction is legitimate.

10. That independently of the fate of natural religions one should conserve a “philosophical faith,” e.g., the belief in transcendence as an important ingredient of our humanity.

11. That time condemns to oblivion only these works of our hands and minds that do not help—century after century—to build up the great house of civilization.

12. That in our own lives we should not despair because of errors and sins; the past is not closed, it receives meaning from our present actions. (Translated by Adam Zagajcwski)

For us this is a didactic poem, a paean to the nobility of spirit. An eccentric woman. She would never be queen. She was a true philosopher.

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10 Responses to Fr Hart, an American “Thomas Mann”?

  1. Caedmon says:

    I think it needs to be said that the democracy that Plato thought would end in tyranny was very different to our own. It was participatory democracy limited to male citizens, I think over thirty years of age, with women, slaves and resident aliens excluded. I can’t see how it could have involved much more than about 10% of the adult population of Athens. Plato’s assessment of that kind of democracy was probably correct. I don’t think what he says is applicable to modern Western democracies.

    • I am quoting the hypothetical Gestapo inquisitor described by Rob Riemen who denies all forms of freedom as well as democracy (Weimar Republic as it was until 1933) in favour of the collectivity, the State and authority. It is not my opinion or conviction.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I still have not read any whole works by Rob Rieman – which is this from? It seems well crafted, and provokes lots of thought – e.g., the “hypothetical Gestapo inquisitor” gets various things so pointedly wrong – “fifty years after the restoration of democracy across the globe, culture will be banned”, “Your publishing house, your books, and your journal will be the first victims” – and complexly so: Wikipedia tells me “Founded in 1933 by Giulio Einaudi in Turin, this […] became one of the most significant Italian publishing houses of the twentieth century. […] it was the publisher of Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. It was acquired by Mondadori in 1994.” Why select Leone Ginzburg – I know too little about him, Giustizia e Libertà – and how murderous (or otherwise?) their involvement in the Spanish civil war, the Partito d’Azione, the contours of Natalia Ginzburg, née Levi’s involvement with the Italian Communist Party, how they variously viewed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, etc.? – but now want to know more!

      • I have no sympathy with Marxism or Communism, or any form of collectivism. That said, the majority in France during the war who joined the Résistance were Communists. The Spanish Civil War must have been dreadful! It is interesting to know that George Orwell went to fight in 1936. Franco and his regime were dreadful, but the Anarchists and Communists murdered nuns, sacked churches, killed indiscriminately. I can understand how people look after themselves and clam up when things go bad. I would probably do the same and not be a hero!

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Within a hour of writing about ‘culture’ “fifty years after the restoration of democracy” – or, indeed, 70-some years – someone drew my attention to this – a fascinating presentation of a superb combination of modern technology and the aspiration to recovery of 16-17th-century music making:

      • Of course we can find the “Gestapo inquisitor” ‘s evaluation of culture under democracy quite absurd. In every age, there have been cultured and uncultured people. I don’t think the uncultured mob in the 18th or 19th centuries were any more cultured than their equivalents today. The only difference is that they have more money and technology.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    In contrast to having had the pleasure of making your acquaintance in person (some 30 years ago – as improbably long ago as that seems to me!), I have been variously enjoying things online written by the three Hart brothers for a decade or so, now, without ever meeting any of them. So, I was pleased to see this – and then more disappointed having followed the link by far than by any of the many things by Fr. Robert Hart I have ever read. By way of contrast with various aspects of it, I offer something by someone else I have read online with interest for about as long:

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    This also offers a contrast to some of Fr. Robert Hart’s (to my mind surprisingly uncritical and unpersuasive) assertions:

    • It is very unfortunate that people lie and misrepresent facts about such matters. We all have to follow the rules when we live in a country where we weren’t born. Such is the case for you and I. We both had to get our papers in order and go through proper channels. Otherwise there is only trouble.

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