A comment from Patrick Sheridan (who is open about his identity) brought me to look at his blog where he writes only rarely. I quoted the Naval officer on the subject of excessive punishment of sailors and its negative effect on morale onboard His Majesty’s ships. I also thought of the caricature of Hitler from 1940 by Charlie Chaplin ranting in gibberish that superficially sounds a little like German. Indeed, I have mentioned this film when describing what looks like a purge in the Roman Catholic Church of traditionalist milieux and diocesan bishops who have accepted them into the mainstream.
Patrick became Orthodox and has often expressed his frustration with some of the less coherent aspects of the traditionalist scene. I too left it to return to my native Anglicanism via the Continuum. As a priest, I do not use the Roman rite but rather the Use of Sarum from a version based on several sources from the 1520’s. My position in regard to the RC traditionalist scene is less severe even though I suffered from it. I have tried to see things a little more positively and in terms that transcend human vengeance and Schadenfreude.
I am still quite perplexed to see traditionalists attempt once again to reconcile the discredited doctrine of Papal infallibility with the way Pope Francis is conducting his ministry. Some traditionalists are criticising the motu proprio from a canonical point of view or one of auctorias. I studied the Roman missal of 1570 at university, and a pared-down version is published in Dom Alcuin Reid’s Companion to Liturgy.
I understand what has happened to Patrick: information overload. Many years ago, I met a student at Durham University by the name of Stephen Bicknell. He was just as passionate about the organ as I, working as I was at the time as an apprentice with Harrison & Harrison. He went on to the organ building world but down south, in London and with Manders. Rather than the usual way of doing a lot of woodwork and passing tools to the organ tuner on his round, he went in for organ design. His career was remarkable and his many creations include St John’s College Cambridge. He expressed a very positive opinion about the London Oratory organ designed by Ralph Downes and built by Walkers. After a time, something went very wrong with him, in his soul, and he left the organ world. I understand, because professional musicians and instrument makers can be a bloody-minded lot! He worked in some other line of technical work. I will not comment on his personal life. It sufficed to say that he contracted HIV and suffered from it for the rest of his short life. He was found dead at home at the age of 49 years.
The Church Fathers speak of the spiritual sickness of acedia, and the mental health profession speaks of depression. Perhaps. I have lived through seminary at Gricigliano where I didn’t do too badly, and then on pastoral experience in a parish in la France profonde, I became very discouraged. I could easily empathise with the story in the Journal d’un Curé de Campagne by Georges Bernanos – My parish is devoured by boredom... After the failure of my marriage which also had its effect on my priestly vocation, I have had to learn to keep the right distance in order to avoid acedia on one hand and bitterness on the other. These are things we have to sort out ourselves and have the will to overcome them.
For Patrick’s fixation on the question of the 1962 version incorporating the Pius XII Holy Week among other things, I observed even in my own time at seminary that there was a tendency to resuming some of the older rites of before Pius XII. Our protagonist for this question was the late Fr Frank Quoëx who was a seminarian at Ecône, went through a sedevacantist phase and ended up at Gricigliano before transferring to the Archdiocese of Vaduz in Leichtenstein. Perhaps had he lived longer than his 38 years, he might also have become saturated and molten down. Someone like Evelyn Waugh was particularly sensitive to these very human issues as is evident in Brideshead Revisited. I really do wonder what is traditional. Does everything in Christian life have to be traditional? I ask this question whilst I use a rite that is extremely archaic. At least Sarum gets me out of all these fixations centred on the Roman rite and its various versions since 1570.
What I have seen of the French traditionalist scene, after the various cranks and nutcases at St Joseph & St Padarn in Holloway Road, was mainly characterised by hard-line right-wing politics. Either Dieu et le Roi! C’est tout! – or a second best being some modernised half-baked form of Fascism. At Gricigliano, it was less political and less influenced by extremely twisted forms of popular religion. Was it narcissism or a Roman Catholic version of the Biretta Circle in southern English Anglo-Catholicism, the sodomites with unpleasant accents, quoting Evelyn Waugh again? There was still a heavy dose of caudillo-style politics, such as organising a meeting of the Front National in a village where the Gestapo had tortured and shot a number of young men fighting in the Résistance. There are some things you just don’t do! Please, a bit of tact…
If anyone had a reason for being bitter about the tradis, I would. The years have gone by and I have let go. L’amore fa passare il tempo, et il tempo fa passare l’amore, as the Italians put it. It is an illusion to think that Francis’ reason for getting his own back on the tradis was a question of the 1962 version, the Pius XII Holy Week or the 1911 Breviary of Pius X. It was ideology that had nothing to do with the liturgy. There are plenty of Novus Ordo communities that are just as caudillo as the tradis!
I see Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum as an attempt to settle differences that were not really liturgical. Thus we have ordinary use and extraordinary use, which have no analogy with the uses of Sarum, York, Paris or Rouen. C’est du bricolage! It was a pragmatic step by someone who is an intellectual and would know better in terms of church history. This was an attempt to defuse and soften the polemics, and it was successful to a great extent. Traditiones custodi reignited the old polemics from the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Patrick goes into an argument of Pope Francis making a distinction between the “unreformed” Roman rite and the 1962 version which would have been abrogated on the basis of it not being the traditional Roman rite. Maybe there is merit to this argument, but it is certainly not the reasoning of Pope Francis.
I too think that Roman Catholic traditionalism is untenable. Is Orthodoxy or Continuing Anglicanism any more tenable and viable in time? I know that each one of us is mortal and no one will care a toss when we are gone. With what is going on in the world, I really wonder. We still have the Covid epidemic. The Taliban has taken over Afghanistan and we can be expecting more export-a-terrorist to kill people where they feel like it. There is also climate change, which is up for discussion in the scientific world. People all around us are soaking up the Woke ideology and are speaking and thinking in terms that were unthinkable in the 1960’s and 70’s. Some speak of the collapse of western civilisation. Surely, the living would envy the dead! As an Idealist and a Romantic, I go along with the idea that reality comes from our consciousness, and that the quality of our spiritual life can change everything. If the tradis would take more notice of the ideas of Rod Dreher in the Benedict Option, there might be more to hope for. Everything has to be based on a high quality of Christian living and worship, and not on politics, ideologies or aggressive slogans.
As a convert to Orthodoxy, Patrick emphasises the need to abandon Papalism. I as an Anglican would agree. Our consciousness can only associate Papal infallibility with Orwell’s Insoc and Big Brother in his prophetic novel 1984. The Vatican is now at a level of corruption unrivalled since the time of Alexander VI and Lucretia Borgia. The credibility is gone. That much I agree. Perhaps Patrick would say “You now know that your Church has no credibility. Therefore, convert to Orthodoxy“, perhaps not. I have expressed my own forebodings many times. If I didn’t actually believe in the truth of Christianity, I too would have given up, as many have done so. Yet, atheism goes nowhere and satisfies no one.
If anyone can give an example of a future for Christianity, it is the monasteries. This is one reason why Dom Alcuin Reid has a powerful voice, not as a polemicist or a politician, but as a contemplative monk. Rod Dreher wrote his Benedict Option, but in an American cultural perspective. I myself wrestle with my own life and vocation and circumstances leading me to the hermit’s life. If being a hermit is being a recluse shut in somewhere, I see no point in it. Covid and separation have made me too much of a recluse, and I need to make the effort to have outside activities and some social life – for my mental health! Some do live such a life between their intense life of prayer, yet a contact with the world without imposing any kind of ideology. I think of Fr Charles de Foucauld who was a “traditional” hermit, but yet the “little brothers” inspired by him who were heavily involved in the Worker Priest movement in the 1950’s. We have to be a leaven in the desert. I see no other future for Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.
I don’t like the Society of St Pius X any more than Patrick does. I found them very sectarian and invasive, rather like the notorious archetypical narcissistic personality manipulating and gaslighting their adepts. I have also observed even more extreme caricatures like Palmar de Troya, Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ – the latter two being in the mainstream Church and using the new rite. Palmar de Troya is still going and has not been forcibly dispersed by the Spanish police as would happen in Jacobin France. Laïcisme or its American counterpart Secularism are not such bad inventions, even when there are laws that violate or contradict Natural Law and Christian moral teachings. Even with the risk of dérives sectaires, I would not take repressive action against the Society of St Pius X whether as a high political figure or the Pope. Perhaps by calming the polemics, it would be possible to recognise the good in other Christians mutually.
Ironically, Jorge Bergoglio is open to question about collaboration or involvement with the Junta in Argentina until 1982. Pope Francis: questions remain over his role during Argentina’s dictatorship – article from 2013. It is something quite easy to understand: Cuius regno ejus religio. The Jesuits were always good at this kind of thing. The book Mission by Robert Bolt or the excellent film provide us with a parable of this kind of duplicity with anti-Christian powers. Bergoglio’s motives are not pure, any more than those of any other political leader. If that is all the Church is, then it is no longer a question of rites and liturgies!
Perhaps we could invite the newly-victorious Taliban in Afghanistan to come and sort it all out for us! I think we would regret it….