I spent a moment today listening to Damian Thompson being interviewed on the subject of Pope Francis’ ideas of synodality, the same talk-shop and hot air as in most Churches.
Who, apart from professional bureaucrats, would have the least interest in such a Church or its message? Institutions, all institutions, are acting for their own sakes and no other objective. They become sterile and godless, as do political institutions and the mediocre and insincere claptrap. When the salt loses its savour… Why are those people still getting money from somewhere?
Today, this depressing interview was put into question in my mind as I read Rewilding the Church by Michael Martin. Wildness is a part of the Romantic mind, as expressed by this remarkable author. What I was doing last week was part of my childhood dream of sailing on the sea. Only this time, the gathering was planned and we kept ourselves safe in the very open waters in which we found ourselves. Love of nature, the great outdoors, the countryside, mountains and the sea are also a part of the Romantic mind. Nature is not the property of man, but we are a part of this world that is totally indifferent to our ideologies and sophistries.
I seem to have touched upon this theme as I contributed my share to the discussion of clericalism. La mer nous apprend la modestie, as an old priest and skipper said to his crew (I was a member of it) back in 2011. The sea teaches us modesty, humility, as all of nature does. You don’t climb a mountain unless you first of all respect it.
I don’t think humanity will ever be rewilded, but will continue to live in cities and consume. I too had to go into town today and do some food shopping. We cannot deceive ourselves, but we should be aware and tend towards another way of life. Survivalists go to remote places and build their citadels like in the many apocalyptic films over the past few decades. I have not gone so far. I live in a remote village in the Mayenne. Like the survivalists, life is fragile and vulnerable if push should come to shove. We have lived through the Covid pandemic – but imagine a pandemic that was as contagious as the common cold but as deadly as Ebola! Imagine a third world war or a meteorite hitting the earth! We have to be sober enough to know that we are all going to die of something one day in the near future. That is inescapable. What matters is the quality of what we do in life. Now what about our relationship with the Church? Can we go on with popes and bishops who are no more virtuous than our prime ministers, cabinet ministers, presidents and bureaucrats?
Michael Martin sees the issues in terms that strike me as similar to those of Rod Dreher in his Benedict Option thinking. Not that the Church is exclusively composed of monasteries, but with lay people and families sharing spiritual characteristics with contemplative monks. Jesus and his disciples were country folk and fishermen. Christianity became urban as it began to be used for political purposes.
Continuing Anglicanism, like many independent expressions of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, goes a part of the way away from big political and bureaucratic institutions. I have already written about the so-called independent sacramental movement. I have mentioned its most noble aspirations and also the shenanigans of charlatans and frauds in their pretensions to imitating institutional hierarchs. I have corresponded with two American bishops. One was John P. Plummer who wrote The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement, Berkeley (Apocryphile Press) 2006. The originality of John Plummer, even if his teaching might be somewhat at variance from conservative churches, involves a different approach from the narcissism of many men in that world. The more discreet and modest of them truly form an underground Church.
The author of the article mentions his predilection for Celtic Christianity as something far removed from the influences of those wielding power in some distant urban empire. I know of a Celtic Orthodox Church in Brittany that I would love to visit. It is essentially a monastery in the Morbihan countryside with a ministry to people attending the Liturgy.
The bureaucratic and political models are destroying Christianity and corrupting it at the core. Of course, as I have said elsewhere, we do have to manage finances and be organised as a body of clergy and laity. My Church has a notion of management, but for a precise purpose, not of inflating egos of those thirsting for power. The dividing line is very fine. The problem comes when powerful people hide their unethical acts and attitudes behind the jargon of corporate management, and escape all responsibility or accountability.
Institutional Christianity is dying. Christianity as a faith and contemplative way of life, the Mystery and Sacrament of Christ, cannot die. This is the Church of Christ. Et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam. There is the distinction and a different notion of what the Church is.