De spiritali amicitia

It is quite a while since I wrote Aelred of Rievaulx and Friendship on the basis of the famous dialogue by Aelred of Rievaulx. Fr Hunwicke has just written two articles in this vein with the problem of homosexual “marriage” in mind – Newman’s sexuality and The demise of Friendship. I am at the same time surprised and not surprised to find others reflecting a subject that has long fascinated me in this adventure of life.

My own experience of marriage has shown me the limits of “romantic” love – and I have always been attracted to the Romantic outlook on life, the reaction from the excessively rational in favour of the heart and emotions, the love of nature and a mystical view of spirituality and religion. In any relationship, the “in love” aspect withers away, as usually does the desire for sex. After this stage, either the relationship dies for want of a deeper basis, or transforms into what amounts to a friendship. I find myself in this watershed, waiting to know what the best things is.

My own relationship with a woman in marriage has shown that it does not have the quality of friendships between two men without sexual activity. Fr Hunwicke’s knowledge of the Classics shows that love was not understood in the same way by the Greeks as by post-Romantic moderns. One thing that often mars marriage is jealousy, and I talk generally, when the spouse is not totally absorbed in the relationship to the exclusion of all friendship or love for things that are not shared by both. Relationships are also harmed by the feeling of being imprisoned in some kind of cooking pot with the heat turned all the way up, in such a way as defects of both persons grow out of all proportion. At least in a monastery, a monk can have his moments of solitude. That is also true in my marriage, when my wife goes to town to work, and I sometimes get out to sea in my boat or I go for a bike ride in the country. A relationship cannot live unless there are these times of solitude. My wife also feels the same way, describing the way she would sometimes spend time alone in her grandparents’ country house near Blois. Perhaps a new phase is on the horizon.

Outside this peculiarly modern concept of the relationship in marriage and the demeaning of friendships (its ultimate extent expressed by the notion of the Facebook “friendship”), earlier periods had other notions. Marriage was essentially something pragmatic and geared towards procreation and the nuclear family within a tightly-knit local society. That didn’t happen with my wife and I, because we were unable to have children. We have a reasonable degree of social life outside home and work, particularly in singing and music. I have my contacts with people who love boats and the sea. Friendship, whether with a person of the same or the opposite sex, is entirely at another level – often triggered by a common interest or hobby.

We do well to return to St Aelred’s book to revise our understanding of friendship and its character that goes much deeper than our marriages and nuclear families. Friends are more than just “mates” or “buddies”, and we make but few of them in the course of our lives. Losing a friend to some ideology or change is a cause of great suffering as I have found in my life.

Perhaps it is a dimension that might convince us that humanity is, after all, not a failed experiment!

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Article about “20th century Sarum”

I have already mentioned St George’s in Sudbury in this blog. See Sarum in contemporary Roman Catholicism and Sarum in the Roman Catholic Church. The Rad Trad blog has just published Major Fetish in the Boutique: Sarum in the 20th Century with some interesting photos of this church and solemn masses celebrated therein. I visited this church in the 1990’s in the company of some friends, before its “wreckovation”.

There is also an article Memories of Don Franck Quoex (Guest Post). I too have my memories of him at Gricigliano and his combat for the Roman liturgy faced with sloppiness and legalism. This is a fine article that portrays this priest who died so tragically young.

Sometimes, one comes across visionary souls like these priests, others like Fr Montgomery Wright in France and Fr Jacques Pecha whom I befriended in 1991 after he asked me to find and install a pipe organ in his church. They are all dead now. I go on celebrating the Use of Sarum, mostly alone, in my little chapel – and even the liturgically-minded seem to be indifferent. It has ceased to be a cause of anxiety for me. I am trying to get back to my old project (which ran out of steam through discouragement and other concerns) of a Sarum Gathering. I need to refine the idea, together with Dr William Renwicke who has been supportive and enthusiastic. 2015 or 2016? Where? Following what agenda?

There have been waves of interest in reviving Sarum as a local use, something like the few local rites and uses that remained after the Tridentine “industrial revolution”. In particular there was the movement issuing from nineteenth-century Romanticism, and briefly in the early twentieth century parallel with the Arts and Crafts Movement extending into the 1920’s in spite of the end of our civilisation which began in 1914. I am only too aware of my isolation and lack of influence. I continue, knowing that anything I do will be forgotten at the very moment of my death. Such is life – vanity of vanities.

I am grateful to Rad Trad for keeping the memories alive, and the fact that there is another view of traditional Catholicism. He is in communion with Rome and I am not. I am spiritually and emotionally alienated from my fifteen years in that Church. I am grateful to Bishop Damien Mead and the English diocese of the ACC for having given me a spiritual home and tolerance to go on with my lonely pilgrimage. Our Diocese has continued the “Tridentine” tendency within Anglo-Catholicism, and that is the way it is. It strikes me when I go over there and participate in our Synod and Council of Advice meetings as well as Sunday Mass in Canterbury. English Anglo-Catholicism has a strange mix of Roman and English trappings in churches, compared with the garish taste in French churches and the sumptuous baroque of the European Continent.

As I found with Fr Montgomery, the French also had local liturgical traditions, having “resisted” Tridentine reforms until the mid nineteenth century in many places. Normandy had many aspects that showed the origins of Sarum as an essentially French and Norman usage. Many of those uses were heavily modified in the eighteenth century and the ordo missae brought into line with the Franciscan-Roman tradition. The “industrial revolution” globalised the Roman liturgy and the Pauline rites of the 1960’s and 70’s only went further in the same direction with its stereotypical altars facing the people and pseudo-modernity.

The bottom has most certainly dropped out of the “establishment” churches, and we clergy and faithful of small independent churches have no cause for triumphalism given our fragility. If “establishment” churches ever regenerate in the west, it will be on a secular political basis and support rather than anything else – as it has always been. I see the parallels in secular life, increasing polarisation between the mass of “controlled” humanity in an increasingly Orwellian world and marginal people who have made the break and achieved sufficient “critical mass” to create alternative societies. Such communities have no use for “mainstream” religion, but might be open to spiritual expressions based on experience of love and beauty. That would be the seed of a new Christianity based on something other than political power and human aggression.

I am aware of the fact that medieval liturgical uses depended on a cultural context that is gone from today’s world of electronics and instant communication, of people in a hurry and alienated from each other. That is why it is futile in human terms and the temptation is to try to build up some kind of repository or museum. Ultimately, all liturgical and ecclesiastical observances are alienated from human life and are meaningless to most of our contemporaries. Perhaps some kind of regeneration is possible among the marginalised, as is the case for me having kicked the world of power, money and competition in the teeth. The thriving nature of monasticism is evidence of my thesis of the human, cultural and social context, but most monasteries are run on the basis of authority, obedience and the surrender of personality. I am struck by the disdain of beauty in many communities like the Trappists and an almost “military” culture.

Men like Fr Quoëx and Fr Clement Russell, as many inspired souls stemming from Romanticism, had no place in the world in which they lived. I would never compare myself with such men, but have felt that I had something to give. I do so via the blog, which is such a limited way. Love and beauty alone seem to give meaning and bring us to contemplation of the transcendent. At least, that’s the way I see it. I may be wrong, and should be concerned with power and competition, but I can only be the way I am.

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Taking the Flak

During World War II, many bombers carrying out raids in Germany and other Nazi-occupied territories got shot at by anti-aircraft guns. Those bullets and shells were collectively called flak. Pilots had to have nerves of steel to fly into the hail of lead as they aligned their bomb sights on their targets. It is unsurprising that priests who get unabated criticism from their own faithful and clergy of other churches think of flak as an analogy. The hail hammers away and the blow succeed each other. Mostly, as with anti-aircraft fire, the ammunition would miss its target – but occasionally, a bullet would hit home, a critical component of the aircraft or a pilot.

Being a priest nowadays, and in just about every other period in history, doesn’t involve getting killed unless you are in some Islamic caliphate and liable to get your throat cut by some sadistic Englishman converted to Islam! Mostly, it is criticism and name-calling. That kind of flak undermines the morale and can bring a sensitive person to the brink of depression. It often happens. Having the love and support of other persons is a fundamental human need.

My Bishop reports on Facebook:

Recently I have been told that my presence in Canterbury has been dismissed by some of the local ‘mainstream’ clergy as simply playing dress-up. Since I have very little to do with the local Churches or clergy – other than to occasionally nod at each other in the street and say hello in passing – I don’t really know from first hand experience. It’s all very silly if it’s true, but the problem with second/third hand information, rumour and speculation is that it is so ‘willow-O’-the-wisp’ like, it bears no close scrutiny or, for that matter, cause to worry about it – but I have decided to throw my hands up and admit it’s true … well part of it any way … “dressing up”? They don’t know the half of it! lol

He then shows a photo with a number of frames showing his different ways of dressing, from his Bishop’s choir dress to a smart suit for working in the shop or going to town. I used to think that a priest should always be in clericals as a testimony to the world of the priest’s vocation and availability for ministry. The French Church after World War II was not wrong. We may be devotees of traditional Catholicism, but we have to live in the modern world. I too lived in the cocoon of Gricigliano, but realities awaited us after ordination and being sent to a parish.

I am not suit-and-tie like my Bishop, rather someone who has reverted to the ways of the early 1970’s and boyhood. Most of the time, I dress in casual clothes, and my hair is now shoulder length (about John Wesley’s length) – and growing… I wear my cassock and clerical suit for diocesan business in England and the very rare occasion when ministry in France would warrant it. Most of the time, the cassock is counter-productive and wakes up all the old prejudice against priests and the Church, which the paedophile priest scandal has hardly alleviated! All the same, I don’t hide my priestly calling. My fellow students and teaching staff at the musical school know I am a priest, as do the brave fishermen and sailors at my sailing club.

I take inspiration from my Bishop, by the way he adapts to all circumstances of life. Of course the ‘mainstream’ Anglicans would accuse him of being a fake bishop! I suppose that in a couple of hundred years, they will be as kind to our Church as they are to the Methodists. Let them fire their flak, and they will end up running out of ammunition!

Here is something my Bishop posted on Facebook. It needs to be reproduced here:


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The Epitaph and The Pit

Young Fogey has written Almost our epitaph here: the true cost of the Catholic abuse scandal.

By way of digression, he has also been writing about speech in More Anglophilia, from the past? The mid-Atlantic accent and My accent. I would say tongue-in-cheek that it is an American version of my Speech and Pronunciation – British “received pronunciation”. That is another subject from what I really want to comment about today.

John’s article centres on the sex abuse scandal and the Archdiocese of Boston in particular. This discussion seems to be sparked off by the closure and sale of Holy Trinity Church in Boston, something of a nineteenth-century monstrosity in my view, but an iconic building. I often wonder if its fate should resemble that of Hitler’s house at Berchtesgarten, turned into a restaurant or demolished like the homes of executed serial killers. Maybe such angry thinking is unjustified, and I need to take a more detached attitude, namely – it’s not my problem.

What caused the extent of priests engaging in pedophilia and sexual abuse of other vulnerable persons? It is too easy to blame it on celibacy as an institutional requirement. That is until we discover the extent of the same kind of rot in the BBC, the British Government and, more recently, in local town councils in northern England. I am not even sure that this has anything to do with with post-war liberalism and the 1960’s and the “liberation” of sex. I am no expert, but I suspect it has something to do with authority and power over large numbers of people.

I also notice it happening in non English-speaking countries, and the perpetrators belonging to unaccountable elites. I may be over-simplifying, but there seem to be three purposes or motivations for sexual activity – procreation and physical pleasure. The third consideration would be power and domination. A victor conquers a country or a town, and the first thing they do is rape the women among other atrocities. The Americans (and, yes, the British) were no better in Normandy and Paris in 1944 than the Russians in East Germany, or the Nazis as they marched into Poland in 1939. To the victors go the spoils of war. Raping a person means destroying that person for the sake of total domination. This is a characteristic of the alpha male and the psychopath who has no moral conscience or empathy for others. The sheer evil of it knocks most decent folk backwards, especially when such beasts become priests and hide behind a façade of pastoral care and compassion.

Do sexual abuse and rape occur in smaller societies like Indian tribes and modern communities of less than about a hundred people? Perhaps readers could comment with information and intuitions in their possession. Of course, the same things do happen in authoritarian cults, whether in “recognised” churches like the Legionaries of Christ or some of the more “autonomous” communities.

We have to be able to question authority and empower ourselves through knowledge. One news site I find interesting is Signs of the Times News, even if some of their postings are wildly conspiracy theorist, anti-Semitic (or justifiably critical of Zionism – what people do and not what they are) or lacking in common sense. I have been studying intentional communities and some of the reasons behind them. It seems to be a discipline within the generic category of sociology or anthropology. We humans are hard-wired for a way of life, even if we are to an extent adaptable to other ways of life like the State, the city and the isolated family. Another idea comes in, provoked by our disillusionment with authority and the “real” world, The Pit as some call it, that of Sociocracy as a means of running a small community. It seems to be a cogent alternative to complete anarchy which tends to leave the community to the mercy of the most powerful alpha male of psychopathic tendencies. In the absence of law, it is the terror of tyranny – as in the first years of the French Republic!

I would like to explore some of those communities and discern whether there is a new medium for human life and maybe an application of Gospel principles of love, forgiveness and toleration. Could sacramental Catholicism find in this a medium for regeneration as in the early medieval tribes of Europe? But, go into a modern eco-village with traditional missionary methods, and the person responsible for such silliness would be told to leave the premises in short order! These communities, which I thought had died with the Hippies, are thriving and firing imaginations.

I couldn’t imagine men getting away with raping children in such a situation!

For further reading and perhaps a discussion in the com-box, I suggest:

It might seem shocking to most of us used to city living and the consumer society (a world in which Christianity dies), or even in the country but still dependent on employment and money in a world that doesn’t know us and which we don’t know as human beings. The human cost and adaption skills for someone thinking of going that way would be tremendous. Monasteries only go part of the way, and they depend on total authority / obedience and the surrender of personality. With my “Goliard” way, and with experience of community and outdoor life, it is all extremely thought-provoking.

Affaire à suivre…

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Sincerely Searching Priest

This would have escaped me if I hadn’t been looking at my statistics page and the sites that link here. There is a very “extreme left” forum based in Australia by the name of Catholica, which seems for the most part to argue from the point of view of the crisis caused by sex-abusing priests and the response of the Australian authorities. The line embraced by some on this forum is deconstructionist – reduce Christianity to a purely moral and ethical message without any sacramental or mystical content. It seems like something from the late nineteenth century (eg: Harnack and Bultmann closer to our own times) against which the Modernists like Tyrrell and Von Hügel sought to develop a new system of apologetics.

All the same, there are some interesting views and I remember how they commented on Archbishop Hepworth’s accusation of certain Roman Catholic priests for having sexually abused him many years ago.

There is someone called SMK, whom I suspect is a highly sympathetic person who comments on this blog. He writes in a thread concerning Cardinal Pell:

At a blogsite by a sincerely searching priest [ ] who has travelled and continues to travel the path of existential oneness before the mystery of God, he puts it this way:

“The search for the “true church” <>.

I have a lot of respect for the humanity and insightfulness through human experience, one not dissimilar – in at least some respects – to my own, of the author, Father Chadwick. I don’t want my encomium to embarrass him : he would no doubt have different beliefs in significant respects from me).


There is a brief reply by Ian Fraser:

Thank you, SMK, for giving us the reference to this blogsite. I, for one, was unaware of it, and your excerpt alone is sufficient indicator of the quality of content to be found there.

SMK replies:

Thanks, Ian. Discovering Father Chadwick was a breath of fresh air. He seeks to preserve a sense of continuity with the religious symbolism that makes sense to him and has formed his life and values but sees the pitfalls of dogmatism and the horrors of the turf wars of religious zealotry and tries to encourage those who would just like to pray and worship in peace.

I am persuaded that at the heart of much religiosity is not so much intellectual conviction but aesthetics and instincts about harmony and balance. We import these notions through the media of sound and sense and colour. We can unlearn and re-learn but as we grow older it becomes harder as we become less plastic: this is why what happens to children and the young has such moral and psychological significance, for good or ill.

He goes on to describe his own experience with ideologies and fanaticisms. It is not difficult to understand someone going so far down a path that the end of the road is reached and the fallacies appear in the light of day. We can just burn ourselves out and discover that all that is left is what Evelyn Waugh called “a handful of dust”. All is vanity, as the Wisdom texts of the Old Testament say. Can innocence be regained when the apple has been bitten? I think it can be, but by untrodden paths. Perhaps charm and beauty have been our undoing, but they alone confer meaning to our pilgrimage.

Is there anything left? Any real cause to work for, for the future of mankind and the natural world? This is what we live for in preparation for the paradise that lies beyond our bodily death. That is the way of the artist, the composer, the lone traveller and those who work to conserve our planet and what little has not been destroyed or poisoned by man and his lust for money and power. Hope is whittled away, but there must remain something…

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The Thick Façade of Civilization

I have just discovered this wonderful article:

It comes as no surprise to find out that the author is a man of the sea and sails a yacht. Bernard Moitessier anchored his boat in French Polynesia and only returned to France to die.

I will be reading more of Ray Jason’s writings.

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Emerging Totalitarianism?

This seems to be a balanced article – Orwell, Huxley and the Emerging Totalitarianism. It is a subject that preoccupies me. I have read both 1984 and Brave New World, and have read William Shirer’s monumental The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a History of Nazi Germany. I have a profound sense of foreboding about the world we live in, and a feeling that things just won’t carry on in the same way. I know zilch about economics, but I do know that what passes for money these days is no longer value, but debt. National debts run into the kind of figures that we just cannot comprehend – something like the number of matchsticks needed to build a structure as big as a skyscraper or a modern aircraft carrier. Something is going to crack.

We see the threats in front of us: big money and complicit governments, Islamic organisations like ISIS capable of taking over whole countries and making them into a living hell. The term borrowed from Orwell – political correctness – is now used in mainstream commentaries by the press and people who notice the ever-increasing curbs on free speech. I am careful what I say on this blog, making a careful distinction between what people are and what they do.

I understood much more about the psychological dimension, apart from the habitual historic approach, when I read Political Ponerology (A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes) by Andrew M. Lobaczewski. This book is difficult to follow, and I have no way of discerning how much of it is quackery or pseudo science. The theme of psychopathy is cogent, if it is not seen as removing the subject’s moral responsibility in evil acts. A bunch of bad eggs, like the Nazi war criminals (including those who committed suicide and avoided judgement), were capable of poisoning an entire country and much of the European continent. We seem more or less to have the mechanism of a totalitarian hell. Hitler and Nazism were not alone. There was also Stalin’s Soviet Union, and many other dictators since then. In earlier times, it was men of the Church and the Aristocracy who were doing then what ISIS is doing now in Iraq and Syria: killing, enslaving and exploiting.

Are we also going to get it in the neck in our “democratic” countries, in the USA, England, Europe, Australia and many other places? We have had a cushy ride since 1945, and I wasn’t born then. I’m a baby boomer and had an easy time, and if there was another war and a call-up, I’m probably old enough to get put in the Reserves, Dad’s Army or something of the sort! I probably wouldn’t even have to cut my hair! That would be on the assumption that we are citizens of the country in the right and not belonging to the Axis of Evil. In the current situation with Russia and the Ukraine, I begin to feel about my native country as a German would have in the 1930’s. It’s all about big money and the west’s staggering burden of debt. Drug addicts get desperate when they don’t get their fix!

On the other hand, many prophecies of doom have failed and continue to attract derision and scoffing. I try to get information from “alternative” as well as “mainstream” sources, and I know no better because I have an innate mistrust in everything. The way things are going, I begin to draw inspiration from Bernard Moitessier and the freedom of the sea. Orwell and Huxley were not prophets. They simply observed their own times and extrapolated into the future. If it goes on the way it is doing, the result will be… The same process has been going on at least since the mid eighteenth century with the Industrial Revolution and the Machine. We may loath machines, but we use them. The system is a part of us all. Tyranny has been around since the dawn of history, and the Church was once as bad as the bankers, big businessmen and politicians rolled into one. Atrocities in Spain in the fifteenth century were no different from their counterparts in Iraq today. We secular and democratic moderns are merely looking at the stark reality of our own middle ages and our human bestiality.

Should humanity cease? God seems not to have reached such a decision. The nuclear holocaust we feared in the 1960’s and 70’s didn’t happen. No significant meteorite has ever hit the earth at least since the era of the dinosaurs. Hitler was beaten in 1945 and Soviet Communism collapsed in 1989. Anything collapses in time, as did the Church and the French Aristocracy. Many of us look forward to the collapse of capitalism and the possibility of a new beginning, painful as that would be to our way of life. Most of us would not be able to adapt to returning to eighteenth-century technology and farming! History teaches us about the plagues, wars and revolutions that separated the conventionally named eras.

If our world goes totalitarian, we will not have long to suffer. We internet users, intellectuals and thinking folk would be the first to be picked up and promptly bumped off. There would be no resistance, given the technology they have (and even what is accessible to most of us with computers, cell phones, etc.). We are deluded if we think we can escape.

Perhaps we can break out now, sell our homes and run away. There used to be places to go. Perhaps there still might be. We would still be confronted with ourselves and be seeking meaning to life. People in other parts of the world don’t want the people who once colonised them. We are left with the idea that we are better off where we are rather than elsewhere. We remain dissatisfied and break our hearts searching for meaning. God shows little inclination to change things.

If totalitarianism comes, whether it is the big money bunch or those who would have us return to the days of the Spanish Inquisition (with the boot on the other foot), there won’t be much we can do about it. That is where we thank God for the finiteness of our terrestrial existence and that something better awaits us elsewhere after “weeping and wailing in this valley of tears“.

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