From Despair to Light

I read something yesterday which turned over in my mind, but at the same time I felt quite revolted about it. It was someone’s opinion about his refusal of all notion of God or meaning to life. He was not merely absurdist like Albert Camus but a true nihilist. According to this view, we are alone as living creatures in a vast, cold, dead and hostile universe. The person expressed his idea that suicide was a legitimate way out of the depression and utter boredom of it all, or at least inventing our own meaning based on pleasure and getting what we can get out of the world whilst we are still here. The more we think of it, the more this nihilism is offensive and conducive to madness.

We are confronted with the mystery of death, and the nihilist’s conviction that nothing lies beyond it. We pass from existence to inexistence. The thoughts wandered through my mind as I wondered if any other philosophy of life than nihilism was an illusion, wishful thinking. If anything, materialism is an illusion. Matter is only the product of consciousness and energy, and some branches of science come close to proving this when moving away from Newtonian physics to quantum theory.

I was on the verge of letting this subject go and not writing anything, when I discovered Michael Martin’s Romanticism, the Nones, and the Future of Christianity. My own attraction to Romanticism and Platonic metaphysics long predated my discovery of Mr Martin’s site centred on the theme of Σοφία, often symbolised by Mary the mother of Jesus and Θεοτόκος by virtue of the Communication of Idioms, the principle of the theological discipline of Christology that establishes the divinity of Christ. The Holy Wisdom is much more than even Our Lady.

This article reflects so many of my own intuitions over the past few years. The first is that Romanticism is not dead. Michael Martin, like myself, sees an almost perfect analogy and comparison between the period 1790 to 1830 and the same years two centuries later. We are concerned about the same anti-human forces in this world, the nihilism I described above, and that love which is expressed in beauty, art, poetry and the sublime degree to which human beings can come into communion and symbiosis.

He goes into the influence of Jacob Böhme’s mysticism on Nicholas Berdyaev, Novalis and Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin among others. We also find a convergence of Sophiology and Gnosticism.

Some of the Romantics denied Christianity and the God of churches – but not all. This is why I have focused my own attention on William Blake and Novalis. It is impossible to discuss these two men without bringing Christianity into the equation.

There is meaning to life and we are not “biological machines” with no soul. Michael Martin finds little of interest in the institutional churches, most of which leave me with a strong feeling of nausea. Churches are crumbling like all institutions like education, politics and business. Groupthink is incapable of appealing to idealistic and noble minds!

Romantia Christiana is here, and I have given this name to my YouTube channel. I am a priest and I serve the small Anglican Catholic Church under the direct jurisdiction of its Metropolitan, Archbishop Mark Haverland. The lovely thing about a small Church is that it lacks top-heavy bureaucracy and the death-wish characteristic of the so-called “mainstream” Churches. I try to give another dimension of Christianity through music and a philosophy of “universal love” shared between the teachings of Christ, Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddhists call loving kindness Metta, an attitude of universal love that is radiated to all living beings in the world without discrimination. I cannot but suggest that the future of Christianity belongs to minds influenced by Romanticism and the Platonic transcendentals of beauty, truth and goodness, three components of perfect love.

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Validity of a Church’s Orders

There has been a recent scuffle on the internet about the validity of Orders in the Anglican Catholic Church. The person concerned is a priest of one of the American continuing Anglican Churches and seems to be drifting towards the position of radical Roman Catholic traditionalism. For those people, putting it simply, there are no valid Orders anywhere, except possibly in the Orthodox Churches. Even that would be doubtful because the Sacraments would be deprived of validity through the changes in the rites (cf. Apostolicae Curae) or the lack of the power of jurisdiction from the Pope. If there is no Pope, hard luck!

This is certainly a caricature that does not reflect the position of most traditionalists and sedevacantists. The reductio ad absurdam would seem to invalidate the claims of all sacramental Christianity. Either Christianity is all bunk or the Protestants were right. It is not my intention to write an apologia for the Orders of the Anglican Catholic Church. Nothing would change the belief of a person who is convinced of the contrary. The matter has been discussed recently, and Fr Jonathan Munn expresses a desire for help to get his ideas together on this subject. I think he has done very well for himself as he has written on his own blog article DUK Birthday Preparations. He feels daunted not so much by the questions of Donatism, St Augustine and St Cyprian but the tangle of canon law. One problem with the traditionalists is ontologising canon law, making ontological reality out of conventions and laws in spite of principles of interpretation like ἐπιείκεια (the principle in ethics that a law can be broken to achieve a greater good.) and salus animarum suprema lex. Canon law cannot be used (or interpreted) to “suicide” the Church. This diabolical dilemma of choosing between validity or liceity is nonsense. The machine has a dead-man’s handle and a pressure safety valve.

Roman Catholicism traditionally follows the anti-Donatist theology of St Augustine, which would make it theoretically possible for a bishop to use his sacramental powers to ordain and consecrate bishops and priests of nothing (episcopi vagantes). Eastern Orthodoxy follows the Cyprianic position according to which such wantonly irregular ordinations are not only illicit but invalid, lacking any sacramental power. The most extreme position I have found expressed by a serious theologian was Cyrille Vogel in Ordinations Inconsistantes et Caractère Inamissible.

In his preface, Vogel approaches the Roman Catholic position very critically. This contested position is resumed by saying that any bishop or priest, even under excommunication or other canonical sanction, who confers an ordination using the rite of the liturgical books and with the intention of “doing what the Church does”, does so validly. Usually, the Church will not accept and canonical effects of such an ordination, and will receive a repentant person in the state in which he left the Church. Thus a priest having received an illicit episcopal consecration would be received back as a priest, but generally in practice as a layman. The immediate consequence of this doctrine is the multiplication of episcopi vagantes and priests without a canonical title or mission. Frankly, why would we care in our world of absolute religious diversity?

This principle depends on the conferring of a metaphysical and ontological “character” in the recipient’s soul. “Once a priest, always a priest“. This character is deemed to be indelible or inamissible (word not to be confused with inadmissible). Vogel’s thesis is that such a doctrine is foreign to all the oriental Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian Churches. It is also foreign to the Old Catholics of the Union of Utrecht and the Churches of the Reformation including Anglicanism. For Vogel, if a priest or a bishop loses the canonical exercise of his ministry, he also loses the very quality of his ordination and lapses back to the lay state. I know of no translation of this book in French into English, but its methodology and use of authorities and quotes is impeccable. It would be a difficult one to refute.

Roman Catholicism has tended to declare the ordinations of “heretical bodies” invalid, not for canonical reasons, but because the rites had been modified manifesting a “positive contrary intention” (I don’t intend to do what the [Roman Catholic] Church intends). Apostolicae Curae of 1896 promulgated by Pope Leo XIII is based on this principle. Similarly, the traditionalist priest Fr Anthony Cekada wrote these pieces to use the principles contained in Apostolicae Curae to conclude the invalidity of ordinations and consecrations conferred in the Roman Catholic Church but using the rites promulgated by Paul VI.

I am not endorsing this position but merely showing that it exists and needs to be approached critically. It almost concurs with the reply to Apostolicae Curae by the Anglican Archbishops in 1896, Saepius Officio in which this observation was made:  In overthrowing our orders, he [Leo XIII] overthrows all his own, and pronounces sentence on his own Church. It is also striking that the Anglican Archbishops affirmed belief in the inamissble character of ordination. If you go to the crankier elements of the sedevacantist world, you will find ideas like SSPX being invalid because Archbishop Lefebvre was consecrated by a Freemason! The end is nigh!!!

He also wrote, perhaps approaching Vogel’s position, at least partially. Episcopi vagantes in the USA are a real problem for the traditionalists and sedevacantists. Many are indeed quacks and charlatans, and discredit the more serious among independent clerics.

The following is another study on untrained traditionalist clergy. (1) Canonical criteria for determining fitness for priestly ordination. (2) Sinfulness of conferring orders on the unfit. (3) Orders conferred by the unfit enjoy no presumption of validity. (4) The unfit may not exercise their orders. (5) Objections and answers.

All that gives a lot of information about these questions of “us and them”, how “we” have valid orders and can claim to be or represent the true church, and how we can arrive at the certitude of “their” orders being invalid. Therefore, “their” church is false, a counterfeit, a forgery, a deception against which the uncritical faithful – like children – have to be protected.

If my readers are interested in this question, I invite them to open the above links and read the available literature. I haven’t the heart to go into all this. It makes me quite nauseous. However, I am prepared to be helpful by asking the question “Have you thought of …?

There are several parts of the question about Orders in the Anglican Catholic Church.

The first is Anglican Orders in General. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches re-ordain clergy who convert to them. Most Orthodox Churches also re-ordain Roman Catholic clergy who swim the Bosphorus. Sedevacantists re-ordain priests who were ordained with the Pauline rites. I suspect that the SPPX does the same thing. The big question is Valid for whom? Do we have to be approved of by the Roman Catholic Church? Are they the judges of everything, even more so given that there is a case against their own orders?

I am brought to the dilemma of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado opera saying that the village executioner may not cut off another’s head until he’s cut his own off! Self-decapitation is both difficult and dangerous (ouch)! I am tempted to approach this problem of each-other’s ordinations with the same flippancy.

Even though we do not use the 1568 Roman Pontifical, our rites do express the intention of doing what the universal Church does. From the beginning, our Church has constituted a College of Bishops. This constitutes a Particular Church which is not the Universal Church but participates in the Universal Church. When receiving clergy from elsewhere, our Church often uses the sub conditione solution for re-ordination. The SSPX explains conditional ordination in scholastic and canonical terms. I too received conditional ordination from Bishop Damien Mead when I came to the ACC. I had been ordained a deacon regularly in the Roman Catholic Church (to boot, in the traditional Roman rite from Cardinal Palazzini who had been consecrated in the old rite), but to the priesthood by a bishop who had been consecrated by the flamboyant +Clemente Dominguez y Gomez, himself consecrated by Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngo-Dinh-Thuc. The conditional ordination simplifies a lot of potential polemics: I am valid for the Church to which I belong. I refer to my original ordination of 24th June 1998 for my anniversary celebrations. That is standard practice.

Post-Reformation Anglicanism has other ways of dealing with irregular ordinations. To this day, the Church of England will not accepts priests it has not itself ordained. I would be on shaky ground trying to deal with that point of view. This short article Valid but Irregular sheds some light on how things are judged by Church of England authorities. The title Valid bu Irregular suggests a similar position to that of the Roman Catholic Church, definitely not Cyrille Vogel’s position!

One problem evoked is episcopal consecration by a single bishop or at least less than the usual three. Many Roman Catholic consecrations, especially in missionary or persecution situations, have been allowed to be conferred by a single bishop. When Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops in 1988 for the SSPX, he had one co-consecrator, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer. Rome condemned the consecrations for their irregularity but affirmed them to be valid. There are certainly extraordinary situations when regular Anglican consecrations were conferred by only one bishop. If anyone can find examples, I would be delighted to hear about them. Would the ACC lack validity because it was not founded by a canonical act of the Anglican Communion “in communion with Canterbury”? The question seems absurd. Being in a state of schism or dissidence has never affected validity except for the Orthodox. At least in practice, all Anglican Churches subscribe to the inamissible character of ordination. Only the very low church people would deny that ordination is a Sacrament.

The cleric who started all this asked Archbishop Haverland to “let him go” quietly as a condition for not kicking up a fuss. Someone else tells me that he is very near to some quite cranky traditionalist or sedevacantist groups in America. It is a classical move: “burn up” one’s old church before making a move, which justifies the person’s “unstable” move and change of allegiance. In spite of my Archbishop’s reasonableness and respect of the cleric’s desire to make a move, the cleric has made a big fuss after all.

It is plain that the Anglican Bishops who conferred the Episcopate on the ACC acted with the intention of continuing their own Church in the context of a crisis situation making objectively schismatic acts necessary and justifiable. I have no problem with the validity and liceity by epikeia of such an act.

Like Fr Munn, I remain committed to participating in the priestly ministry of the Anglican Catholic Church as a whole and I continue to participate actively in the Diocese of the United Kingdom as a priest in the Patrimony of the Metropolitan. For the others, all I can say is Bien faire et laissez braire! Let us do good ourselves whatever noise others make like braying donkeys.

* * *

Addition from 28th January 2022. This article by Sarah Wagner-Wassen (wife of one of our priests) has just appeared, which is a brief history of Apostolic Succession in the Anglican Catholic Church. The bestowal of episcopal orders — the case of the Anglican Catholic Church

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The Ungodly Dystopia

A friend of mine who is a scientist wrote this on his Facebook:

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“The Church has degenerated into factional disputation. As Paul VI said it is “engaged in a process of self-destruction.”

The Magisterium equates “love” with “romance” and “sexual bonding.” The only relationship that the Magisterium is interested in is marriage. The Magisterium has little interest in what Jesus says is the greatest love: friendship.

Modern catechesis is empty of content. My Godson and his younger brother both lapsed after deciding that Catholicism – as it was presented to them by a top-notch Catholic school and a “vibrant” progressive parish – made no sense whatsoever. I know of many other decent, deep-thinking, people who have lapsed over the last few years because the Church has failed at a profound level to nurture their faith, but rather has done one thing after another to erode it. When they asked for bread, they were given lumps of rock. When they asked for a fish, they were given a serpent.

The Vatican is obsessed with pandering to the inhumane ideologies which are Islam and the totalitarian tyrannies of Russia and China. The papacy is betraying the Chinese Roman Catholic and Ukrainian Greek Catholic churches.

The hierarchy is obsessed with protecting its reputation by covering-up financial corruption and sexual misconduct. This has (and will continue) to back-fire.

The two things that were most wrong about the Church in 1960 were, first: that it was too focussed on sex and gender; and second: that it was too authoritarian. These were the ONLY things that did not change as a result of Vatican-II. In fact, both of these problems were compounded.

Modern preaching is – at best – trite, undemanding and complacent. At worst it is heretical.

John Henry Newman said that he wanted an educated laity; but is in the interest of the hierarchy that the laity be ignorant: and rendered passive by being brain-washed into the belief that they should simply believe and do what they are told. As a result, there are very few laity who have any competence in theology, philosophy, scripture or liturgy.

The state of priestly (and diaconal) education is abysmal. It seems that the purpose of seminary “education” is simply to brow-beat candidates into brain-dead “yes men”. A young man I know of, who as a lay person had had an active intellect, returned from seminary with the attitude: “its OK to exercise your human reason as a way of amusing yourself; but when it comes to religion one should simply rely on authority and never think for yourself – that is Protestant!”

The Church is too clerical. Too often an ignorant priest tells a well-informed lay-person: “I know what I’m talking about because I am a priest, and you don’t know anything because you are not ordained.” Too often, laity do what clergy tell them merely because they are systemically conditioned to respect clergy and never to engage their own powers of discernment.

The Church is too focussed on obedience; but obedience is only demanded by the Liberal establishment from the Conservative faction. Obedience is never asked from the Progressivist faction – and if it were to be asked, it would be withheld, of course!

Change and novelty is pursued as an end in itself. This is the Progressivist agenda, poorly disguised as a concern for justice. It is opposed to any concern for right-belief – orthodoxy – and right-behaviour – orthopraxy. It has no interest in Gospel Truth; but only what is compatible with a Secularist, Socialist, Globalist, and Permissivist narrative.

Modern liturgy is tedious, dull, impoverished, casual and uninspiring. I want to worship “with reverence and awe”, not attend some low-key informal get-together. I want – and demand – convenient access to Traditional Catholic Liturgy: the Latin Mass, or one of the substantially intact and “unNovusOrdoed” Eastern Rites. I refuse to accept the Mess of Paul VI (even when celebrated in best accord with tradition – which is rare indeed) as normative, wholesome or pastorally effective. By its fruits I know its nature.

The papacy has arrogated much too much power and prestige to itself. The pope is now seen as the embodiment of the Church: on the lines of “L’Estat est moi!” as a French monarch is supposed to have said of himself. Rather than the pope seeing himself as the servant of the Gospel and merely the stand-in deputy for Christ, he presents himself first, as a celebrity to be adulated; second, a creative instigator and innovator; and third, as the “Custodian of Tradition” – behaving as a prison guard strictly constraining the life of his captive”.

* * *

This is not the first time I have expressed this kind of thought about institutional Christianity or quoted others. I speak of Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and even parts of Orthodoxy, any community engaged in nihilistic deconstruction for ends known only to themselves.

My friend has expressed himself many times about love as friendship, of the kind described in St Aelred’s Spiritual Friendship. I remember reading that St Philip Neri’s ideal was to create a community of priests based, not on authority, obedience and constraint, but on friendship. Such a notion has been encouraged very little in the history of the Church. Love in friendship far surpasses that in marriage, which is analogous with religious vows. It is understandable given the stability needed for family life and the good of the offspring. Friendship between men has been associated with homosexual relationships, but this is not always the case. Many of the most noble friendships, as has been my experience, are completely “Platonic”.

Most ordinary people have a very shallow view of religion, which is not entirely their fault. The kind of Papalist infallibilism I have discussed leaves us with an absurd view of the whole.

Decades ago, Catholic bishops and priests collaborated with the Nazi tyranny in Europe, as mentioned in the story of Leone Ginzburg when faced with his old friend and colleague who had became a Nazi and trying to persuade him that human freedom was a futile delusion. In our own days, the Erastian relationship is with Islam and Chinese Communism – and generally with the world of big money.

What about Newman’s desire for an educated laity? Pray, pay and obey! Most people I see in churches are on the brink of lapsing through indifference and a nihilist / materialist view of life.

Like modern politics, churchmen are obsessed with obedience, and a one-sided version. It is like cancel culture which calls itself liberalism but is not concerned for man’s freedom. It is truly what C.S. Lewis called The Abolition of Man. When man is cancelled, so is God.

For the liturgy, I am content to be a priest, but we are not priests for ourselves. I am rarely in church for Mass or any kind of service, because I have everything at home in my chapel. Not everyone has, and my friend expresses himself as a layman. It is essential for the isolated priest I am to have empathy for those who are spiritually starved by the thin tasteless gruel they will find in their parish churches.

I very much identify with my friend’s lamentation. I say this as a priest of the ACC, which is a small independent Anglican church. What can we draw out of it? The first thing that comes into my mind is self-reliance and avoiding the general slide into Chinese Communism and dystopia. My separation and a life of near solitude for nearly a year have taught me many things. Concentrate on what you CAN do about all this: write books, organise talks and social get-togethers, counselling for people on the brink of losing faith and hope. For us to be inventive and let the bastards know that we don’t need them and that they are only good for the big shut-down. Also work hard at writing and art – Beauty will save the world.

We have to react with a new way of living the Faith. In our time of despair and learned helplessness, we need to take ourselves in hand and find out what is the most essential. I encourage people to read – real books, and learn about what Christianity has really meant in history. It cannot be allowed to die because it got an unjust trial! I think many of the traditionalists will capitulate and comply, or adopt extreme and radical positions. Others will find ways to survive in a new Church of the Catacombs, the new Recusants.

We are called to be self-reliant, not wait for God to work miracles or ecclesiastical institutions to change their minds. It is down to us. I am a very little man, a fool for Christ – and I do what I can through writing and music. Each of us according to the charismas we have received from God must decide to act and persevere – and be brave.

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Homage to Francis Jackson (1917-2022)

I have just done a video in homage to Dr Francis Jackson. I have had a little correspondence with some of the old York people I knew in the 1970’s – those who are still alive and remember that “community” centred on church music and friendship. There are some very interesting groups on Facebook, and FJ’s children are on some. The funeral will be held in York Minster on 3rd February and I understand it will be streamed. The most talented organists will be there and playing the newly rebuilt Harrison organ.

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Be Brave

I was reading Rob Riemen’s little book Nobility of Spirit last night, which I have already read several times. The book is divided into several narratives to illustrate the main question of the human soul and the real meaning of freedom. As the book draws to a close, we read about the trial of Socrates for his refusal to acknowledge the city’s official gods. Finally, the book ends with the story of the Italian Jewish writer and resistant Leone Ginzburg in a Nazi torture chamber. I was reminded of the close of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four with the chilling epitaph of humanity, “If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever“. Winston is also tortured on the rack and with a cage full of starving rats over his head. The last shred of humanity is wrenched from Winston’s soul as he is forced to say that he loved Big Brother.

Ginzburg was dying under torture by the Nazis, who probably concluded that physical pain was not enough to break their victim. They brought in a priest, a fellow intellectual and former friend of Ginzburg, who had become a convinced Fascist and Nazi. His job was to try to persuade Ginzburg intellectually to accept totalitarianism, to bow to authority.

What is particularly poignant in this narrative is how easily we can be knocked away from our beliefs by the knowledge that the system we support is so imperfect. The solution of authority and the “unwashed masses” having their lives decided for them can seem almost appealing. Is it not the destiny of democracy to 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 clamouring 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?

We seem to be introduced into a kind of determinism. This had to be. There is nothing we can do other than “suck it up”. Those who did not commit suicide because of their crushing defeat in 1945 thought there would be a way to revive the ideology. It has certainly returned in our own time.

We are the ones who have understood that people are more interested in appearance than in substance.

The annoying thing is that he is right. They preach to us that culture is futile, and indeed should be “cancelled”.

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.

Everything will have to be new, sexy, and appealing. That’s what sells, that’s what people want.

What is the use? Why not give up now? Someone like Zemmour here in France is making the same promises that he will combat degeneration of society and uphold traditional values. It is very tempting at such a short time from the Presidential elections. For the first time, I will have the right and duty to vote in this country. Do I vote for Zemmour or try to find a candidate who believes in democracy and the dignity of the human person? So, no perfection can be found in this life and compromises need to be made. Which ones?

I see the glaring inequalities caused by economic liberalism. The oligarchy and the multi-billionaires, and then the very poor having to choose between food and heating – when they are not homeless. The Nazi priest continued:

You want to improve the world. Did you ever notice that once they are in power, all revolutionaries, whether they are Jacobins or Marxists, want one thing only: more power? And did you ever notice that as soon as the poor of this earth acquire any money, they want only one thing: more money? More power, more money; more money, more power. People never have enough.

How can we argue against something that has blighted the lives of us all. Would Zemmour or Le Pen put all that right? Is human nature intrinsically perverse as Calvin believed?

If the world cannot be improved—and surely these last decades will, I hope, have shown that this will never happen— then only one conclusion can be the right one: obey the ruling power; adapt, and try to amass as much power for yourself as possible. Doesn’t it amaze you that a Catholic priest like myself is now wearing a swastika? Isn’t the Roman Catholic Church the best institution to teach absolute obedience and the art of adaptation? Would a real priest continue speaking when the Holy Father says ‘Silence!’? Could Fascism ever have had such an astounding success in this country if we priests hadn’t been there to teach it to the people? There aren’t that many substantive differences between Catholicism and Fascism. The Germans overdo it with their anti-Semitism. Judaism is not something that we have a problem with—I certainly don’t. On the contrary, I’ve always greatly admired your intellectual tradition and your sense of being the Chosen People. I recognize myself in that. . . . Possibly, after the war, you’ll secure your own state after all—finally, your own country. And you know what will happen then? You’ll want more land! It’s quite understandable to me, actually, although from a historical perspective, the thought is a bit backward. A modern country doesn’t want more land; a modern country wants new markets. All foreign people deserve respect as long as they buy our stuff. Economic power—that is the power of the future, my friend.

What cynicism, and that attitude is far from dead. It is designed to seduce, but it silences the highest inspirations within us. Finally we are reminded of our own powerlessness. We are made to feel alone, irrelevant, useless, a fool for Christ. How much are we prepared to suffer for something that seems so weak and futile, precisely the issue Nietzsche found with Christianity? What a contrast when we read:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

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Dr Francis Jackson (1917-2022)

I have just found out that Dr Francis Jackson, organist of York Minster from 1946 to 1982, passed away yesterday at the age of 104 years. He was one of the greatest inspirations to me as a schoolboy and it was a great privilege to be allowed up to the organ loft to watch him play. He was one of those unforgettable characters, more than many others in England’s cathedral organ lofts. May he rest in peace with his beloved Priscilla and in the company of heaven.

A quote from Simon Lindley (Leeds Parish Church):

The results of such early zeal are a speaking voice which makes for compelling listening, and a turn of verbal phrase always exactly reflecting his feelings. FJ is an inveterate correspondent – with a glorious italic script as clearly focussed as his musical manuscripts. He is not insensitive to the potential of mimicry afforded by his voice. Songman John Rothera [another real Minster character] had it off to a tee.

You have to have known him to know what this was about. This will give an idea:

I also give you this link with Sir John Betjeman’s homage to the city of York. I begin to feel the same way as when my mother died in 2013, a part of my life and my youth gone.

I have just been playing Mendelssohn’s third Organ Sonata on my house organ, not well enough to record. I first heard this piece played by Francis Jackson in something like 1974 as a voluntary after Choral Evensong. I went up to the loft to see him play. Such virtuosity and fluency with his interpretation of the music… I so much wanted to learn this sonata and persuaded my organ teacher at St Peter’s, Mr Keith Pemberton, to teach it to me. The only thing limiting me now is my one-octave pedalboard!

I have shed a few tears on his death, but I am thankful that he is released from his frail old body of 104 years, hardly able to play the organ any more (he had a two-manual house organ). He lived in Malton, almost next door to where my grandparents lived. We shared the same Yorkshire roots. York Minster and St Peter’s School were very much one in the Church of England and the service of God through music. Dr Jackson is a final part of York from the time when I was there. Now it is a new city full of vitality, but without those of us in those years. I played the Mendelssohn as a prayer for him faced with his eternity, and I hope he will forgive me my modest playing technique.

What a great man and what an inspiration for a youth of tender years in the 1970’s! May he rest in peace and be rewarded by the music of heaven.

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Epiphany 2022

What can I give him?
Poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would give a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
But what I can I give him
Give him my heart

I can also offer my modest music…

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Happy New Year 2022

I would like to wish all my readers a happy New Year 2022 with my prayers that this world might become a better place for us all. After some thought, I have adopted a new name for my YouTube channel: Romantia Christiana.

As I explain in the video, the word Romantia has been used for some quite absurd things, but the people concerned adopted another name for their “thing” and since have disappeared from view. With its adjective Christiana, I very much imply the allegorical use of the name Jerusalem used in the Old and New Testaments.

These verses of Psalm 137, Super flumina, summarise the spirit of Romanticism like the idealisation of England in Blake’s Jerusalem.

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept: when we remembered thee, O Sion.
As for our harps, we hanged them up: upon the trees that are therein.
For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody in our heaviness: Sing us one of the songs of Sion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song: in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem: let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth: yea, if I prefer not Jerusalem in my mirth.

In this way, Romantia seems to represent a kind of world of ideas, an unattainable paradise at a spiritual and ideal level, Cockaigne and dreamland. It might seem futile to the realist of our day. Christianity is both a yearning for the Kingdom that is both beyond and within ourselves. A part of our mission is to bring heaven onto earth in the ways that are within our ability. Thus, Christian Romanticism as an “ideology” and as an alternative name for the biblical Kingdom of God.

I am particularly concerned for a more refined ministry through beauty and music. I am not in a situation to be able to build a mission or a parish in an increasingly church-weary population. I am not interested in political activism. Many have expressed the notion that Beauty will save the world or that the only read apologia for Christianity is the lives of the Saints and the beauty of sacred art. That is very much my calling as a priest.

I will be building up and improving my “vlogging” skills this year with the use of editing software. I also have some sailing projects this year on the Golfe du Morbihan and the Rade de Brest, perhaps also the gathering in late July in the bay of Douarnenez. My friend Roger Barnes has given me a lot of advice about doing sailing videos with short sections and voice-over rather than subjecting the viewer to wind noise in the microphone.

I have a video camera on order with a protected microphone. It isn’t the best or most expensive, but it should serve me well.

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The Bergoglian Blitzkrieg

The more I read about the present rififi between the Pope and the traditionalists, the more I am taken back to that story from 1973 about a monastery in a remote place on Ireland’s Atlantic coast on which I wrote in Catholics, the Paradox. The film is remarkably faithful to the book by Brian Moore, which I bought and read. I was particularly concerned about the account of the Abbot’s loss of faith and his fairly easy capitulation to the priest sent from Rome to ensure the community’s compliance to the “new ways”. The book brings the story to a tidy end, but the film leaves a little more suspense and non-resolution. I noticed in the early 1980’s that there was no resolution and that it was fruitless for me to keep searching for something that probably never existed.

I am troubled by the renewal of Paul VI’s hostility to Archbishop Lefebvre in 1976 in the present decision of Pope Francis to curtail the ministry and work of the traditionalists (not the SSPX and sedevacantists which are at least in material schism) but the Fraternity of St Peter, Gricigliano and various other clerical societies and religious communities. At the same time, I am worried about many of the things I read and especially at the level of Facebook comments.

I am Catholic and Roman, I attend only the real Holy Mass, I reject Vatican II (you accept it) and I am very happy. Soft traditonalists in communion with modernist Rome would think about taking a more clear position towards modernism.

On one side, I would sympathise with the coherence of leaving the Roman Catholic Church and joining something closer to one’s convictions. Soft traditionalists and hard ones? I looked at the old video footage from 1987 of traditionalist militants breaking into a church from which they had been evicted by the police with a battering ram, and bawling Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat! Perhaps those men did the only thing possible, otherwise the church would now be a carpet warehouse or – something else. However, the scene of such mob rage does not bear witness of the love of Christ, unless we think of Jesus chasing the money-changers out of the Temple. Even then, the reaction was measured and proportionate.

Likewise, the Irish monks had a peculiar way of talking about the liturgy, showing a very rudimentary knowledge of the catechism and popular religion. I notice this kind of anti-rational obscurantism in talking about the dirty word modernism. I baited my correspondent on Facebook. What was his understanding of modernism (with or without the capital M)?

He wrote this:

Modernism is the suppression of transcendence in favour of immanence, what means that holy doctrine or holy rites are variable or depend on the trends of every time. According to modernists sacrality is everywhere, not upon you and conferred to you but intrinsically within you whence the offices turned towards the “assembly” etc.

Of course, the words transcendence and immanence. For me, they describe the relationship man has with God, who is both absolutely beyond our grasp, but at the same time is the consciousness within us. My correspondent uses the words to describe how the institutional Church would attempt to make doctrines and rites more relevant by things like Mass facing the people. Perhaps a certain analogy is possible, but not in this kind of mind. I suspect the problem of modernity having different layers of meaning between its dialectic opposition to tradition and its being used to describe the humanism of the Renaissance after the fall of the medieval Christian imperium.

Modernism is an an extremely elastic word which can be made to mean just about anything.

The architects of Vatican II were modernist but their work opened the way to the postmodernism. If truth is variable, so one day we shall attack also the natural order and will consider it as something plastic or unjust or imperfect. Deconstructionism is an offshoot of modernism.

We are unclear whether this is about general human culture or metaphysics and epistemology. Surely, believing that the Truth is our property is a denial of the very transcendence the traditionalists claim. Another aspect offered here is immobility contrasted with variability or evolution. He has seized on the hermeneutic of development as in Newman’s mind and the scholastic immobilism of Bossuet. See Owen Chadwick, From Bossuet to Newman, Cambridge 1987.

Our friend then blamed Modernism on German idealism. He directs his attack against critical-historical methods in biblical studies and anti-foundationalism in epistemology. There are hazards in both. The first can lead to the secularisation of the biblical message, the denial of transcendence and miracles, finally to materialism. The second can lead to the denial of all language and knowledge, the cancelling of culture. It can also remove the basis of political tyranny and totalitarianism, enable us to think for ourselves, enquire and progress in our knowledge, in short have a purpose to life as we all seek. He advocates Christian integralism, perhaps something on the lines of Salazar’s Estado nuovo. Perhaps this kind of right-wing regime was more benevolent than Fascism or Nazism, and it does require study. I have already written on theocracy in Christian Integralism and Humanism and Flogging made a bad man worse, and broke a good man’s heart. If this person pulled off a coup d’état, we can only imagine what his political regime would look like.

I have already quoted Bernard R.G. Reardon on Modernism:

The use of the word Modernism in restricted reference (hence the capitalization of its initial letter) to a movement of a theologically “modernizing” or liberalizing character in the Roman Catholic Church at the turn of the twentieth century has already been alluded to. But it should at once be said that to describe Roman Catholic Modernism as a movement at all is somewhat misleading, as it had little cohesion, and those to whom the designation “Modernist” has usually been applied do not in any sense constitute a school. As the most famous of them, Alfred Loisy (1857–1940), expressly stated, they were only “a quite limited number of persons” who individually shared “the desire to adapt the Catholic religion to the intellectual, moral and social needs of the present time.” But the exact determination of their overall aim differed from one writer to another, according to his particular interest. Thus the only satisfactory way of studying Modernism is not to attempt to impose upon it a schematization like that of Pius X, by whose encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis it was condemned in 1907, but to examine and assess each author’s contribution to the cause as a whole. The countries where Modernist tendencies were most in evidence were France, Italy, and England. Germany, rather surprisingly, was less affected, and in the United States it had no real following at all”.

There was no conspiracy. On the other hand, a lot of ink has flowed about L’Intégisme and the policies and actions of Pius X to combat Modernism. They turned the Church into a “spiritual police state” until the world had more serious concerns in 1914. Here are some articles of mine to avoid repeating myself here.

From the integralist point of view, postulating a Modernist conspiracy (Freemasonry, Bill Gates and the Moofia?) – no, seriously, here are books from a couple of French authors:

François Ducaud-Bourget, La Maçonnerie Noire ou La Vérité sur l’Intégrisme, Niort 1974.

Jean Madiran, L’Intégrisme, Histoire d’une Histoire, Paris (NEL) 1964.

Tit-for-Tat

The traditionalist world as I knew it was very mixed. Most clergy and laity would deny being in the stereotyped category of being rigid or politically fanatical. There is as much diversity of human personalities as in any other religious context. There are theories about why Pope Francis decided to “cancel” the traditionalist world, at least the part of it that was partially reintegrated into the official Church under the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. What seems to be the most probable is that Roman Catholicism was going the same way as the Anglican Communion under Paul VI. Whoever was responsible for getting Bergoglio elected in 2013 wanted a return to the 1970’s and Paul VI. The period between 1978 and 2013 has to be airbrushed out of existence. That represents thirty-five years of a conciliatory approach to the more moderate and “soft” elements of the traditionalist reaction.

What does the neo-Montinian papacy want? It seems to essentially political, in the same way as the traditionalists would revive El Caudillo and His Most Catholic Majesty. The antithesis is essentially Chinese Communism, since Russian Communism collapsed under Gorbachev in 1989. To the extreme extent, the Pope would be something like Xi Jinping’s “chaplain” like the Deutsche Christen in 1920’s Germany. For the time being, the money and the power are in Beijing. It is yet another Peace of Constantine. In the end, there is little difference between one kind of political Catholicism and another. The pendulum swings one way and the other.

* * *

My own experience of life shapes what we perceive in the Church. I write as an anti-foundationalist and a sceptic. Truth is transcendent and above human understanding or desire for possession. From one person to another, there is no real communication, and language is disguised by so many layers of meaning that there is more confusion than understanding. You, reading this, will be unable to imagine remotely what might be in my mind. Perhaps I should stop writing and close down this blog. I don’t because some people show signs of appreciating it and finding something positive in it. One thing that is important is that I was a Roman Catholic only from 1981 (received by the SSPX) to 1997 after a failed reconciliation with my former superior after a miserable year with the Anglican Catholic Church under Bishop Leslie Hamlett. That was a total of about fifteen years. In all honesty, I spent the entire time in a state of nostalgia for Anglicanism and the pre-Reformation Church. I detested the We possess the truth attitude. I discovered Idealism, Romanticism and Ressourcement when I was up at Fribourg from 1986 to 1990. Even though I was accepted by Msgr Wach in 1990 to be a seminarian at Gricigliano, the “softest” traditionalists around, there was always an inner tension between my outward orthodoxy and my secret search and yearning.

In a way, the traditionalists “met their Waterloo”, their Karma, as the very principle of their authority decided to shut them down. The choice is between denying one’s very principles and reason for being – and becoming schismatic. That dirty word defines a fate worse than anything. It is the keystone that keeps the building standing. This is the Achilles Heel of Roman Catholicism. Modernism was actually an attempt to propose a new apologia for a Christianity that had become absurd. Mysteries are above human reason, not against it. The Päpstprinzip (a neologism based on Führerprinzip, absolute and unquestioning obedience to Hitler) gives a version of Christianity that has been morally rotten and intellectually absurd for the better part of a millennium.

In my Romantic view of life, I could not reject it all for the grimness of materialism and nihilism. Fortunately, I have a reasonable knowledge of Church history. There were elements to sought to separate Christianity as a way of life and a sacramental Mystery from man’s lust for power, money and sexual domination. The transcendentals of beauty, truth and goodness were always upmost in my thought and experience, even if only implicit. The World of Ideas sometimes expresses itself in the Cave in which we live with our shadows. As a student in Switzerland, I sought my own soul through the writings of Jung and those who were inspired by his work. I had to reconcile opposites and become the unique person I am, on pain of going the way of death of most of our contemporaries. Such a view of life is not compatible with either kind of Roman Catholicism, Marxist or theocratic along the lines of Tradição, Família, Propriedade. We are not human beings, but collective units to be bought and sold by the wealthy and powerful.

For as long as it was about beauty and oneness with God, I believed I would find my way in Roman Catholicism. I was warned by my own family and friends that it was little better than a cult. It is better to be an Anglican and not take it seriously! A prelate in Rome (Msgr Camille Perl) even advanced the idea that I was “unstable” because I made the change from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, “swam the Tiber” as many Anglo-Catholics call it. Yes, it completes the absurdity and nihilism of the entire paradigm. However, the message of Christ and his continued existence are too good to be thrown away with the trash.

* * *

Why now? The usual reason offered is that it was an error of Benedict XVI to remove the restrictions on the old liturgy. Summorum Pontificium would have backfired because of the radicals. Mainstream conservative intellectuals were expressing themselves like Archbishop Lefebvre. His biggest problem was religious freedom. We have only to read the Parable of the Great Inquisitor from Dostoyevsky. So, shut it all down. Either way, the traditionalists lose their keystone of legitimacy. They either have to admit they were wrong or go into formal schism. How many laity would follow in either case? My own feelings are mixed, because I abhor the political right (just like the left) in its collectivism and corporatism. It all comes to politics. Another problem is that men like Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano and Bishop Schneider are onboard, and their discourse is very radical and conspiracy theorist. The problem for our Peronist Pope is that trying to rein in the traditionalists will cause increased radicalisation and a larger schismatic movement in parallel with the SSPX. We see the example of the Old Believers in Russian Orthodoxy or the Recusants in sixteenth-century England. Come rack and rope… Perhaps some traditionalists could distinguish themselves by a different style of writing and expressing themselves.

Is Church unity that important. Should we all go along with the Pope whatever? The history of the Church is such that there were splits because of human corruption, and then the dissidents also succumbed to corruption, sectarianism and radicalisation. Unfortunately, Christianity hasn’t much of a leg to stand on if it depends on these considerations. Ecumenism has softened many of the old polemics, but has also highlighted the impossibility of “diversity in unity”. The weak have to conform to the powerful. How should the Church be? There seems to be no answer.

Who is going to win or lose? Bergoglio and “Padlock” Roche? The traditionalists? Either way, the old Constantianian arrangement is closing in on itself. Which is it to be? Peppone or Salazar? Is the state going to accept theocracy or is the Church going to knuckle under in a new form of Erastianism like the good old Church of England? Beijing and Rome are very close together by plane and electronic communications! Has China asked for the elimination of the traditionalists? I doubt they would be interested as long as they are not in China.

One big problem is the role of the liturgy in all this,something which means a lot more than many people think. How does the Church in its dimension of a Christian “world of ideas (εἶδος) relate to human beings in this world? It is through the liturgy. The idea of liturgy is extended beyond the prayer of the Church to any kind of ritual unifying people and an idea. The Nazis had their pagan rites at Nuremberg, Berlin and elsewhere. We have all seen the films of processions of nuclear missiles in Red Square in Moscow with all the red flags. Capitalism has advertising and marketing. The keystone of Vatican II was not about the Church or the Word of God, but the liturgy. Without the liturgy, the Church is meaningless, even if some elevated souls in the Quaker Society of Friends achieve this meaning by silent prayer.

What will Bergoglio achieve by having only the many variations of the Paul VI rites whilst recalcitrant traditionalists are pushed into schism? For one, religious freedom is gone, one of the tenets of Vatican II that was most contested by Archbishop Lefebvre. It is ironic, almost as if two opposing versions of intégrisme were trying to cancel each other out. Surely, the Pope would have been advised that the traditionalists would form a number of entities like the Society of St Pius X and that more people calling themselves Catholics would be outside than under his jurisdiction. Would there be a small and faithful Novus Ordo remnant, the “one true church”? Would Xi Jinping be interested in something so winnowed down? What about the Pauline rite itself? It is 73 years old. Perhaps he should just shut everything down in one big lockdown until Padlock Roche comes up with a new and pristine liturgy.

Like in other times in history, Catholicism is becoming quite hateful like the secular world and its politics. The Oozelum Bird flies in ever-decreasing circles until it disappears up its own arsehole. In this somewhat safe but insanitary situation, it showers shit and sarcasm over its pursuer. Another version, less vulgar, suggests that it flies around in ever-decreasing circles until it manages to fly up itself, disappearing completely, which adds to its rarity. Whichever you prefer…

Many of my readers express their confusion and heartbreak. Perhaps this is an opportunity for traditionalism to reform itself, become more contemplative and mystical, closer to Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, less concerned about being the “true church” or controlling other people. Also I remember a time in the late 1980’s and 90’s when the traditionalist question was hardly discussed. It was just normality, and I was being informed as a seminarian by men like Msgr John F. McCarthy and Msgr Wach about what was happening in Rome. It is almost as if we were waiting for some controversy to give us all a new shot of energy. Traditionalists now have an extraordinary new burst of energy in the face of a situation like the stand-off between Archbishop Lefebvre and Paul VI in 1976. The next thing to expect would be Archbishop Vigano and Bishop Schneider getting conditional consecration (see the traditionalists’ very own “Apostolicae Curae”) from the SSPX bishops and consecrating a whole load more! I gratefully display a photo of Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục on my wall, since my priesthood came from his episcopal succession.

* * *

An expression often used in our days is the rad-trad, the radical traditionalist. It is something I left behind when I returned to Anglicanism by way of the Continuum and the Traditional Anglican Communion and then the Anglican Catholic Church. Everything had changed since the conflict in the ACC episcopate in late 1997 and the departure of Bishop Hamlett to the foundation of a new ecclesial body. The ACC recovered and some more serious men were raised to the Episcopate. I am grateful for the stability I now find and the serious level of theological knowledge in the clergy.

We have a certain amount of liturgical diversity in the ACC including the 1570 Roman rite which with the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer forms the basis of the Anglican Missal and the English Missal. My Archbishop allows me to use the Sarum liturgy which is not currently on the official list of approved liturgical rites. We tend to be conservative in terms of politics and moral influence, and this is more pronounced in America than the UK. One thing that is thankfully absent is the problem of the “all-or-nothing” communion with the Pope. It is a little like the Liberals in 1830’s France (Lamennais in particular) campaigning for the separation of Church and State. How can the clergy live and minister under hostile civil authorities. I see separation from Rome in the same light, not as act of damaging the Church’s unity, but simple survival.

Ironically, Pope Francis has laid emphasis on synodality. Probably what he means by this word is anonymous bureaucracy led by men like Roche (“Terrible news that the horrible Arthur Roche will be prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. One of the most ambitious, pompous and ruthless operators in the Catholic Church. Yuk.” – Damien Thompson) and Cupich (Archbishop of Chicago). In many of the Orthodox Churches and in the ACC, we have provincial and diocesan synods. Typically, they begin with Mass and a time of socialising. The meeting proceeds according to an agenda including reports and motions which are proposed, seconded and voted upon. It is partly about accounts and other practical matters, but more spiritual matters are brought up as needed. The Bishop gives his own report and anything else of note. We usually go home with a feeling that it has been an expression of our unity but also the dignity and existence of each of us as persons. I cannot imagine that traditionalist organisation don’t also have meetings and discuss important matters to be decided collegially or by consultation. Perhaps Pope Francis would like it all done by artificial intelligence while he goes off to play golf with Roche and Cupich!

The traditionalists need to earn our respect by taking responsibility for their own mistakes. I think they can learn from the example of Archbishop Lefebvre and continue to run seminaries and ordain priests, take steps to ensure the ministry of bishops. They need to be more collegial and synodal, ideas coming from persons and offered as inspiration for corporate decisions. They should accept the principle of separation of Church and State and live in secular society with the Faith as a sign of contradiction and witness.

I have no simple answers for such a complex world as the traditionalists and the radicalism that can enter and possess any religious or political idea. At the same time, we have as Christians to take responsibility for our world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said “If you are neutral in situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor“.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

This was written by Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who initially supported Hitler’s Nazi ideology. He became disillusioned and joined a group of clergy opposed to Hitler. He nearly ended up like Bonhöffer but was liberated by the Allies. I hope and pray that the traditionalists will come to such nobility of spirit. And this is why I speak out for the traditionalists even though I know they would despise me for my instability and Modernism!

* * *

Just after publishing this post, I read the article of my brother priest Fr Jonathan Munn Blogday 2021: Seen and not heard in which he describes the situation he lived through (more recently than myself) in the Church of England. This situation is just where the Roman Catholic Church is going. Such is the need for Continuing Churches. It is a beautiful testimony.

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Christmas 2021

My reflection on Christmas is fairly unusual in that I spent this great feast of the Incarnation of the λόγος alone. I was about to say for the first time, but it was also the case when I was living in a very difficult situation. I was then also in a state of loneliness. I would celebrate the Vigil Mass and the three Christmas Masses even though there was no congregation. Would such solitude “ruin” Christmas?

I was not alone. This array of cards shows loving care from my family, friends and from Bishop Damien Mead. I had many more e-mails and greetings on media like Facebook.

Many themes in the liturgy of Christmas filled me with gratitude and thanks to my caring sisters who helped me move to my new home. Christmas is not only physical presence with one’s family, especially when such is impossible because of the present pandemic restrictions on travel. Also, a choice is imposed between a secular Christmas and the liturgical Mystery which requires my little chapel. I am grateful for this solitude all in caring for those I love, and also praying for those who are alone because of age, illness, being in quarantine, at sea, exiled, destitute. I am thinking about millions of people who live in worse conditions than the Stable of Bethlehem! I have a home and my translating work enables me to earn an honest living. Gratitude is everything, along with humility, just being little and in God’s hands.

It is too easy to virtue-signal about secular Christmas – parties on Christmas Eve, the Réveillon as we call it in France, pieces of foie gras on toast and champagne, laughter and gaity around the Christmas tree. When the family is united (not ideologically divided), it can be a very fulfilling time. Some families make it their business to go to church and begin Christmas by what it really means, before the baubles, tinsel and things that pass like a puff of smoke.

It is very revealing that political authorities talk of “saving” Christmas, as if Christmas was reduced to that big family get-together, eating and drinking (perhaps to excess) and the ritual of presents, many of which are not appreciated by the recipients and have to be returned to the shops that sold them. The Incarnation of the λόγος is buried.

How many of us follow Advent and those illuminating Prophecies of Isaiah? There shalt came forth a Rod out of the Stem of Jesse… These words are symbols, and will be unintelligible to those who are ignorant of Old Testament Judaism and the Messianic tradition. Institutional churches reduce liturgical services to the level of entertainment instead of bringing back the disciplina arcani and initiating the faithful through catechesis in the knowledge that most do not have the interest, motivation or spiritual readiness.

The entire Christmas message is arcane and esoteric. Do we imagine that a star moved to lead the Magi to Bethlehem any more than Eve being tempted by a talking snake? These are symbols that express a mystical reality than cannot be expressed in words. One or all of the Magi or Wise Men were astrologers, and were guided by the constellations and positions of the stars in the signs of the Zodiac, or whatever system they were using. The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were also symbolic. Jesus was not only the Messiah of Israel, but also the hope of all nations and peoples on this earth who received the primitive revelation and moral law. Spending Advent and Christmas in study and meditation are infinitely more precious than family get-togethers that often rankle of hypocrisy and ideological tensions.

Christ first revealed himself to the humble, to shepherds and farming folk, to wise astrologers who sought the Light that promised to re-create the world and humanity. The Virgin Mary is also a sign, not only that gentle and loving mother protecting her new-born baby, but also the Wisdom of God, the new Eve, who would care for the Church. Here I don’t mean the institutional Church and the Pope, but the communion of all the faithful and the Communion of Saints. These signs open our minds and lift the veil (II Corinthians iii. 16). See the expression in its context:

And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

This veil remains in the hearts and minds of all those who refuse the World of Ideas outside our materialistic view. This is also the case with many who call themselves Christians, seeking to reduce everything to worldly concerns. Existence without God or having “cancelled culture” lead the nihilist into the ultimate loneliness of life without purpose or self-understanding. This is something that the Covid lockdowns brought out and drove many into despair and depression. Social life needs to be about what we can bring to others, and not the construction of ourselves from the consciousness of others. The whole difference is there. Living alone in this village of northern France, I am not lonely even though I live in solitude. That solitude is a precious gift that cannot be obtained by most people.

I wish all my readers a blessed Christmas Octave and the unfolding of these great mysteries through the Epiphany and the events leading to the Holy Triduum.

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