The Sign of Contradiction

I awoke from a dream this morning in which I was approached by some priests I knew in the 1990’s, all dead now. They suggested that my canonical situation in regard to the Roman Catholic Church could be “sorted out” and that I could become a parish priest here in France – with the cassock and the old Latin Mass, running the parish according to my own initiatives. In the dream, I was already deeply sceptical and wondered if it would be desirable if it actually happened.

In 1995 I left the Institute in which I had been ordained a deacon. My attempt at reconciliation, involving six months as a working guest in a Benedictine abbey, come to nothing in 1997 and 1998. That was even with the support of the parish priest of Bouloire who was later present as archdeacon at my priestly ordination by an “uncanonical” bishop of the Ngo-Dinh-Thuc succession. I was again faced with the agony about ten years ago when Archbishop Hepworth of the Traditional Anglican Communion was telling me that “everything would be all right”. His vocation as a priest or a bishop, or someone with any responsibility for souls, foundered on the rocks. I was sceptical all the way through the process, even though I believed in loyalty to one’s bishop as a priest. I took a lot of stick from the various continuing Anglicans involved with the move to the Ordinariates. Archbishop Hepworth fell as a lightning bolt from heaven, and I joined the Anglican Catholic Church after a decent “cooling-off” period for prayer and discernment.

I awoke this morning spiritually drained. What is a priestly vocation? I often write on the subject and seem to come up with answers. One thing I know is that I will never be a country parish priest, un curé, here in France or anywhere else. The realities are such that no bishop would appoint me to a parish – not only that but I am not a team player, having endless meetings about meetings, an exercise of self-importance for narcissistic personalities. The reality of the Church in France and many other countries is grim. A new anti-clerical movement has emerged from the clerical paedophilia scandal. The writing on the wall indicates a church without ordained priests, merely “committed” lay officials and pastoral workers. The purpose of such a church is not spiritual, but propagating the latest ideological, political and social issues. I see it, feel it, as big as an elephant.

Tout est grâce, the dying words of the young priest in Bernanos Journal d’un Curé de Campagne.

These melancholy thoughts came into my mind following that vivid dream and having read Reflections on “Going to Rome” – a Measured continuing Anglo-Catholic Response. This article was obviously inspired by Bishop Nazir-Ali swimming the Tiber. He has just received Roman Catholic ordination to the priesthood. Now what will they do with him? It is obviously his problem, not mine. Usually converting to “true churches” involves a kind of Sehnsucht for spiritual peace and the end of contradictions. As Umberto Eco’s Franciscan priest said to his young pupil “How peaceful life would be without love, Adso. How safe. how tranquil. And how dull“. Welcome to the Church of Jesuit Pope Francis!

Institutions. That’s what it is all about. We yearn for them, but we are too aware that they have failed. They have succumbed to human sin and corruption.

Some who believe they have a grasp on music say that, after a musician marries, the compositions are no good. It’s the kind of subjective general statement that is hard to prove, but one can see the point. The point is this, creative art comes from tension. Music is, essentially, tension. So is theology.

They say that 50% marriages end with divorce. I bought the flashy second-hand car and had a serious case of buyer’s remorse. I don’t think that what I went through was any different from thousands and millions of other men who suffered being “cancelled” and losing their very purpose for living. Their wives (or wives’ husbands – I am not sexist) have become like cancerous tumours and unbearable weights. Surely I should have known before I too joined that particular institution. Being “mainstream” has its price, which is exorbitant.

One thing I really appreciate about this article is the notion of tension, the dialectics of German Idealism. The alternating opposition of magnetic poles in a generator produces electrical energy. So it happens in the suffering contradictions cause for us. The pain brings forth our ability to write, compose music and enter into true friendships. Indeed, the saints lived in tension with the institution, and came within an inch of being condemned as heretics. Genius feeds off of tension and relishes it and the Holy Spirit knows it.

I am a priest. What good would come of my denying it or pretending it didn’t exist? I occasionally attend offices in monasteries and devotions in pilgrimage churches, in civil dress so as not to attract attention and indiscreet questions, and go away with an intense feeling of sadness. I was not part of a community, but simply an outsider who came and went away like a ghost. My presence in the Anglican Catholic Church is spiritual. I live far away from its parishes, and I am prevented from travelling by the pandemic crisis and continuing restrictions. Am I suffering from self-pity? No, rather from a dose of reality as the dream brought home to me.

I remember the moment of learning about the Modernism of Tyrrell, Von Hügel, Duchesne, Loisy and others. I was taught that it was the greatest threat to Catholic orthodoxy, indeed a synthesis of all heresies. I read about it, and saw a number of highly diverse personal histories and views, far from being a “conspiracy” against the Pope and Thomism. We find a kaleidoscope of persons trying to defend faith and doctrine from their own conflicts and incoherence. Mysteries are above human reason, not against it. Eventually, another kind of modernism was engineered and institutionalised, and this is what we have in the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and the American Episcopal Church. Everything eventually becomes institutionalised and deprived of life, subjected to conformity and stereotype, killed stone dead.

The Church I belong to still accepts spiritual and intellectual diversity and eccentricity. It is a Church in which I can live and justify that vocation that the RC Church would cancel without even a human thought about the matter. Deus ex machina indeed!

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
  By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
  Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
  The brave man with a sword! – Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol

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6 Responses to The Sign of Contradiction

  1. an tAthair Críostoír says:

    May the blessing of almighty God, Father, + Son, and Holy Ghost, descend and remain ever with you. You are a good man, Father Chadwick, and you are not alone.

    • Thank you. I have just celebrated the Mass of the 22nd Sunday after Trinity with the commemoration of the Vigil. I spent some time in prayer and reflection before putting my vestments on. The Hymnen an die Nacht correspond with this season of entering the darkness of winter, the eschatological theme of these final Sundays after Trinity and Advent. It is a time of hope in the Second Coming that will take many forms for each of us. We must go on in the dark and underground, because the alternative is nihilism, the noise and hopelessness of this world in the cities.

      No I am not alone. I persevere in the priesthood and as a Christian along with many others who seem to have been defeated by the institution.

      The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery, And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace. For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality. For God hath found them worthy for himself. And in the day of their visitation they shall shine. They shall judge the nations, and have dominion over the people.

      • an tAthair Críostoír says:

        For my Mass, today was Christ the King with a Commemoration of the XIII. Sunday after Pentecost. I was the only member of the Church Militant present but all the Church Triumphant and Church Suffering were there at my tiny chapel.

        We carry on in faith, hope, and charity.

  2. Timothy Graham says:

    I have the strong impression, from what I know of Bp Michael & from what I have heard since he made this decision is that it was a somewhat pragmatic and not at all an idealistic move – he has decided that in the Ordinariate he can keep enough of his Anglican heritage to have continuity, but gain a catholicity that he feels is slipping away from the Anglican communion.

    I feel that the problem is how we sort out the new Jerusalem and the spotless bride of Christ that John sees in the Apocalypse from the institution we inhabit, the paradox being that we know our institution too horribly well but yet have to believe that the Holy Spirit is within and active. Obedience at some level is necessary, but not our complete psychological assimilation – I think we need clear headed obedience in essentials with detachment from institutional spirit (small “s” spirit). There is the tension.

  3. Timothy Graham says:

    As a postscript to the above, I don’t mean to ignore that people do run up against cold and inhuman ecclesiastical bureaucrats that treat people’s particular circumstances as irrelevant. They will, I suppose, have their reward. I don’t think that one is bound to accept their decisions as the voice of “the Church” in their sanctimonious terminology.

    However I do have some reservations (naturally enough given my affiliation!) about the original article. One can, if one wishes, make a psychological diagnosis of some kind of attachment disorder in Bp Michael because he moved to the Ordinariate. I would simply point out that there are interesting theological questions that could be discussed without assuming psychological balance in one’s own position as part of one’s argument. Part of the point of the Ordinariate (as I see it) is to bring the tension of one’s Anglicanism into Catholicism, in direct juxtaposition and contact, something I think BXVI envisaged, and to see what kind of theology emerges. And I have witnessed first hand how uncomfortable the hierarchy are with this.

    • You bring up a fascinating point. I became RC in 1981 via the Society of St Pius X. Very quickly, I began to see French Catholicism as a “place” for a transposed Anglicanism. The example at the time was Fr Montgomery-Wright in the parish of Le Chamblac in the Diocese of Evreux. He also had the fighting spirit of many French country priests belonging to Opus Sacerdotale, a very different kind of traditionalism from post Lefebvre traditionalism. There are still a few priests trying to keep the same way of running a parish, but it is a losing battle against “team ministry”, endless meetings and the extreme feminist ideology taking advantage of the paedophile abuse scandal in the French Church.

      This form of “Gallicanism” has deeply influenced my mind and way of looking at Anglicanism. My Anglicanism is quite “French” in many ways, hardly surprising since I live in France. I lived through many years of French Catholicism and the traditionalist world, and I never found my roots anywhere. Perhaps this gives rise to my melancholy and nostalgia for the Romantic view of a bygone era.

      Benedict XVI, a German Romantic in his own way, certainly saw this importance of dialectic tension, something the Hispanic-Italian Bergoglio could never understand other than an obscure part of philosophy that is stereotyped. I remember the Angelicum in Rome and Gricigliano, and am thankful for my time in Fribourg. My own Anglicanism transposed itself onto an old vision of European Catholicism going back to the Council of Constance. These reflections bring me to a better self-knowledge, to unravel the maze.

      I wish Bishop (now Father) Michael every happiness and fulfilment in his choice and search for the vocation the Church of England denied him.

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