Arnold Harris Mathew

Arnold Harris Mathew (1852-1919) was an enigmatic figure. I first discovered this character through the “usual” source, Peter Anson’s Bishops at Large. Anson portrayed Mathew as an unstable and vacillating person, perhaps even deceitful in regard to the Dutch Old Catholic Church from which he received the Episcopate. He has come up quite a few times in things I have read over the years. Peter Anson had his own axe to grind as a convert to Roman Catholicism, and thus I think that Mathew needs fresh consideration.

I have sometimes been criticised for giving some measure of support to “independent” Catholicism and those bishops who came to be called episcopi vagantes or bishops at large. My “conciliar” view of Catholicism has given me a soft spot for Old Catholicism as it has been expressed in some places and what came to be known as Old Roman Catholicism to distinguish it from Swiss and German “liberalism” (against which Modernism reacted, but that is another subject). The ideal is not very far removed from Anglo-Catholicism and the positions we uphold in the Anglican Catholic Church.

What is unfortunate is that the various Old Catholic and Old Roman Catholic movements reacting away from the “liberalism” of the Union of Utrecht tended to fragment and split apart at the drop of a mitre. We have had the same problems in Continuing Anglicanism due to clericalism and petty jealousies between men who were clearly unsuitable for the Episcopate in any Church or Christian community.

Old Roman Catholicism, which seems to be best represented currently in England by Archbishop Jerome Lloyd, but not exclusively, is quite post-Tridentine in its ethos, where I have come to be more “medieval” in my tastes and the way my experience has marked me. Old Catholicism (without the Roman) seems to have another ethos, that of trying to recover the Church of the first millennium or explore affinities with modern liturgical movements and forms of Evangelical Christianity.

We see three “strands” of an attempt to perpetuate “conciliar” (based on the communion of the Bishops rather than on the person of the Pope) ecclesiology, between medievalists, those with a Roman Catholic ethos or those who reflect the reforms in the Roman Catholic and Anglican communions over the past forty or so years. It can seem confusing, but a study of the history of the movement’s progenitor is very helpful to make the distinctions that have to be made. There was also the influx of Gnosticsm in the form of late nineteenth-century Theosophy and Liberal Catholicism, representing the more mystical side of Modernism. Mathew himself had sympathies with Tyrrell and the Modernist movement, condemned by Pope Pius X. The drama and chemistry of these movements need to be understood and studied with sensitivity and intellectual rigour.

I think it is a very good idea to learn about this important figure of English Old Catholicism, despite the various drifts of Liberal Catholicism and other departures from strict orthodox Catholicism. I here link to Arnold Harris Mathew and the Old Catholic Movement in England 1908-52. The site hosting this article represents the work of Bishop John Kersey who is also an accomplished musician. I personally feel uneasy with chivalrous orders and principalities, but that should not be taken as a judgement on my part for or against them. I find the work on Archbishop Mathew highly interesting and instructive. I would recommend my readers to go down this avenue of discovery, whether or not they sympathise with the Old Catholic or Old Roman Catholic ideal.

This article includes an opportunity to buy John Kersey’s Arnold Harris Mathew and the Old Catholic Movement in England 1908-52 or to read it online.

It’s all food for thought wherever we are as Christians and clergy in the various Catholic traditions of the past couple of centuries.

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Life on Mars and Religion

Does the credibility of our Faith depend on there being no life anywhere other than the planet Earth? See Methane on Mars: does it mean the Curiosity rover has found life? Some of the comments ask this very question, and are fascinating for this reason. I was asked this very question this evening by my singing teacher. My intuitive replay is that what is in the Bible is symbolic of a forgotten or unknown history of our beginnings. The Scriptures of the three monotheistic religions expound the myth of the creation in six days, Adam and Eve, the Fall, etc. Gnosticism has another narrative of Sophia and the emanation called the Demiurge, who would have been parallel with the cruel and bad-tempered Old Testament God Yahweh. I don’t know enough about the Hindu and Buddhist holy books, but I suspect that there are many convergences. The real facts about genesis history are forgotten, or were not passed on otherwise than in the form of symbolic myths. Not very long ago, I wrote a post on Original Sin and similar questions.

If it is proven that there is life on Mars, or there has been in the past, I would imagine that there is nothing to prevent us from speculating that there might be other genesis events on other planets. That doesn’t exclude the possibility of God. There is also the idea of multiverses existing in parallel so that different times can co-exist on the plan of eternity, like different radio frequencies – only one of which can be listened to at a time on a wireless set (now I’m being old-fashioned – perhaps it is the Imperial Home Service). We can’t prove any of this with materialistic science, except – perhaps – quantum physics about which I know just about nothing apart from a few articles, documentaries and fictional films.

If life is discovered somewhere else, perhaps this would debunk Fundamentalist religion, and good riddance! The Bible is obviously a part of Revelation and true in its own way with the right ways of reading it: historical, allegorical, tropological, symbolical, etc. But it isn’t the whole truth. Much of Revelation is also found in Traditions (the plural is deliberate), both inside and outside formal Christian Churches and other ancient world religions.

I don’t think a discovery of life on another planet would debunk Christ and his mission, but I keep an open mind and would welcome comments.

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New Facebook Group on the Use of Sarum

Facebook, despite its containing a lot of abysmal drivel, is a quick and easy way of discussing with short comments and having something “autonomous” requiring little attention from me. I also found that my Use of Sarum group on Yahoo Groups has stagnated for too long, but I am leaving it there for the sake of its archives going back to the spring of 2008.

I have therefore set up a Use of Sarum group on Facebook, and I welcome all who are interested in this subject. There is no moderation, even less than on this blog. I hope each member will be a responsible and positive moderator to make the group something of value.

All are welcome.

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The Abbot’s Lodge

I have just set up a new page on this blog that is open to comments. Before doing so, please read The Abbot’s Lodge. This is in response to a few comments of those who feel isolated, alienated from parish life and who live hundreds of miles away from the nearest monastery.

I don’t think on-line Offices are appropriate. I am old-fashioned and prefer books. Books can be found second-hand via on-line bookshops. It is best to have a little chapel or shrine, a little prayer corner. It helps us to focus. I would like the diversity of rites of breviaries and prayer books to be respected. We live in different time-zones, so anything synchronised is just not going to be practical. I recommend the Monastic Diurnal in English. There is a separate book for Matins. These two books give you the complete Monastic Office in classical English like the Anglican Prayer Book.

We are secular clergy and lay people, not monks or Oblates. Naturally any monks who read this blog are welcome, as would be their wisdom and experience. We have our lives and we do what we can. I don’t want to edict any rules or timetables – it just wouldn’t work.

This post is not open to comments, so that you can go over to that page and get the ball rolling with your comments. Be free and share your wisdom and spiritual vision with us all.

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John Beeler wrote another well-reflected posting a few days ago – Pessimism about Catholic traditionalism is unfounded in my opinion – in response to my A Sobering Article.

Whilst John tries to find a way to distinguish ideologically-motivated traditionalists from ordinary Catholics living and worshipping in the days when they had those wonderful big cars of about the time when I was born, there are still things for which he cannot be blamed because he is an American conservative (albeit with many nuances). One is a “this-worldly” vision of Christianity as a force for governing society. It is a mild form of some of the ideas of Charles Maurras in the 1920’s. The Wikipedia article describes the thought rather well – authoritarianism.

We still seem to be in the liberalism = bad, authoritarianism = good paradigm. This is the main characteristic of French intégrisme and American neo-conservatism or the aspiration for a theocracy. It only differs in degree. Liberalism needs to be studied lest the battle be over the meaning of words – as usual. I tend to associate the word with the movement of reaction away from the rationalism of the French Revolution and for separation of the Church from an anti-Christian state. It is also the basis of modern democracy and definitions of human rights including freedom. Nowadays, it tends to be an idea of freedom from all moral constraint. There may be points in common between the two (or more) definitions, but clear distinctions do need to be made. Had I lived in the 1830’s, I would certainly have been a Liberal, and a Modernist had I been in the 1890’s to World War I. Each time, it was freedom from an intolerable situation in intellectual terms. John says it: “liberalism” is about women priests, and probably also about abortion, contraception and homosexuality – to which he opposes the “good” conservatism or authoritarianism.

What should I be optimistic about? Bishop Fellay of the SSPX being made a Cardinal or Pope and a resurgence of two-bit dictators to enforce orthodoxy in their countries on pain of the garrotte or the firing squad? Joking apart, we do wonder whether we are moving into a new period to parallel the 1830’s in a cyclic vision of history. The Church in countries like France did remarkably well from old Napoleon I once the anti-concordataires were got rid of. The churches from the 1850’s or so are a witness to that apogée, like Saint-Clotilde in Paris or the restoration by Viollet-le-Duc of Notre-Dame and many other French cathedrals since the revolutionary hecatomb. France had Lacordaire and Guéranger, liberals before they became Ultramontanists. England had Newman. The thing is, even though I have Romantic tendencies in terms of my philosophy of life, I don’t think it’s going to happen in our twenty-first century sliding down into an Orwellian nightmare. I would love to think otherwise, but nothing is impossible with God as we read today in the Gospel of the Annunciation.

Maybe the young conservative elites are something like La Chesnaie where Lamennais and Montalembert worked out the future of the world. There are plenty of buzz-cut young men around the SSPX, the Fraternity of St Peter and Gricigliano. The years of Benedict XVI seemed to be heady days, but he is no more traditionalist than his successor. He simply had sensitivity for beauty and the liturgy. That is what endeared him to me. The assumption that the “liberals” will die out and be replaced by conservatives seems to me to be a fallacy. If Christianity survives in Roman Catholicism and elsewhere in the west, it will be in the Evangelical-Charismatic form which will be as authoritarian and morally conservative as fundamentalist Protestantism. Yes, mega-churches and blaring loudspeakers with more from “The Machine”…

Justifying the Novus Ordo simply because Benedict XVI improved the English translation just doesn’t wash. It could be reverted back to the old ICEL gunk, but that is the problem of Roman Catholics. Francis doesn’t seem to care one way or the other, which is understandable since he doesn’t seem to think too much about the English language (even if he speaks it a little). Most people couldn’t care, even when they live good upright, moral and law-abiding lives. Also, the western world isn’t just the USA. It is also Europe, and the USA in terms of getting rid of Christianity is running very closely up behind. If any country keeps the faith, it will be Orthodox Russia, but that will be off-bounds for westerners or at least made difficult by the cultural and language barrier.

As for Africa, India, China, South America, etc. being the salvation of traditional western Catholicism, I am not well informed and would appreciate comments by people really in the know. From what I see, the people in those countries don’t have the European culture on which the Roman and French liturgies are based. Why should they? Unless they want the French or British Empires back? It seems unlikely to me. They want liturgy based on their popular cultures, and the Novus Ordo is perfect for that. They don’t miss what we miss.

Perhaps I am indeed pessimistic in terms of the “this-worldly” Church. I remember the Ratzinger Report of the 1980’s in which he discusses this question of optimism and pessimism. This got Cardinal Ratzinger branded as a pessimist and a reactionary. It all depends whether we have a view of the Church that includes the Communion of Saints and the souls still undergoing purgation or healing and needing our prayers as well as those of the Angels. In a purely “this-worldly” context, I don’t as yet see any sign of the flowering that began to happen in the early nineteenth century – unless we ourselves are those signs and cannot see them.

I haven’t defined any dogmas. I’m open to something that would make me change my mind even if I suffer from the disease of not being American! ;)

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Great Article on Church Bureaucracy

Hat tip to Fr David ChislettThe Church Bureaucracies Have to Go – David Mills

The article really concerns the Church of England, but the same bane is seen in all churches. I thank God that I belong to a Church with the bare minimum of what is needed to run the Diocese in the way of finance, “who does what” and giving the clergy a characteristic of professionalism. There needs to be some organisation and paperwork, but we try to make it serve the essential mission of the Church which is prayer and the pastoral ministry to souls.

The article needs to be read, and this, not liturgy or doctrine, is where the Church needs a thorough reform. It is good to see the subject brought up and the institutional bullshit challenged.

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A Sobering Article

There is a blog on which fewer posts are put up, but when they are, they are well thought out and often profound. One is Gathering a Sense of the Lay of the Liturgical Land : The contemporary context.

I share many of these reflections, to a large extent through my own experience in the parishes of Quarré-les-Tombes and Saint Léger Vauban in the French Archdiocese of Sens-Auxerre. It was once of those badly calculated efforts to “mainstream” the Tridentine liturgy in an ordinary parish in the French countryside. The priest was hurriedly ordained in Rome as the opportunity arose. I was later sent there as a deacon to help the inexperienced priest. As time wore on, by 1995, the depressing reality became obvious. If you want to be Roman Catholic, you have to accept the Novus Ordo. That message has become that much clearer since the abdication of Benedict XVI.

True, there will remain traditionalist priestly institutes and religious communities as legislated by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Under Pope Francis, they will receive no support or encouragement – and perhaps restrictions may be on the horizon if the Argentinian Pope can be bothered. We have to face the fact that it is over in Europe. American Catholicism becomes less conservative, or at least less liturgical, and Africa is a whole different world. Even traditionalist Anglicans are using altars facing the people and probably rites close to the Novus Ordo.

We have our own choices to make, go in a different direction that may have a future, or be prepared to die with our liturgical traditionalism. I have often felt pressure in my life to conform for the sake of evangelism. They say that the page has to be turned. It seems like the eighteenth century in Lutheran Germany when the Catholic ways were abandoned in favour of Pietism and low-church services. Perhaps that is the way it has to be, and it brings me to ask very profound questions. If all we have known and loved has to go, why was it there in the first place? For some of us, the choice seems to be between going on with it for our lifetimes and let go for any consideration for what will follow our deaths. We have nothing to offer the youth, but they don’t go to any services anywhere. The old fallacy of twanging guitars to get the young people back to church is worn out and trashed. The other choice under the pressure of the sheer indifference is “if you can’t beat them join them” – give up and become non-religious people. The existential questions and the emotional scars remain…

My reaction has been to try to find inspiration in monasticism but in a way as can be honestly lived by those who don’t have a monastic vocation, who live in the modern world, are married. Perhaps we just have to cross that one out too, or try to make something of the idea. It worked quite well in nineteenth and early twentieth century French parishes. In our days, we have idealistic young men who adopt the liturgy and old religious observances as a kind of “hobby”, and acquire a degree of knowledge about liturgical history, theology and ceremonies that matches or even exceeds that of priests. Even these men are too individualistic to act in their own best interest and found some kind of community or regular celebration of the Office. That takes a lot of self-discipline, and many of those “romantics” just don’t have it.

In 2019, the Novus Ordo will be fifty years old and that is more than enough time for the Tridentine liturgy to be as forgotten as the Sarum Use that attracts liturgical historians and romantic enthusiasts. The pontificate of Benedict XVI raised expectations, but the hammer blow came with the abdication of February 2013 and the election of Cardinal Bergoglio.

Many of these things went through my mind in my many divagations between high-church Anglicanism in its London version (as I was exposed to it in the years 1978-81) and traditionalist Roman Catholicism. Exposure to the “normal” Church was cruel and bitter, since I have to admit that my being attracted to liturgical Christianity was primarily aesthetic before acquiring the theological and spiritual dimensions. I noticed that monks in monasteries were living in totalitarian societies and sacrificed their very personalities, like in a cult. Have choices to be made?

Catholicism is growing in the world outside Europe and North America, but by assimilating the externals of evangelical Protestantism and pietism in the form of charismatic pentecostalism. It is the same thing with the Anglican Communion in those countries, even when they are conservative in terms of sexual ethics and doctrine.

The great advantage of the Anglican Catholic Church and other continuing jurisdictions is the relative flexibility due to our being less institutionalised than the “official” Anglican Communion or the Roman Catholic Church. We have a vernacular liturgy. I celebrate in Latin when alone, but in the vernacular (English or French) when there are some souls at Mass from my in-laws. Most priests in my Diocese use the Anglican Missal, and I have expressed my willingness to use it in a pastoral setting with lay Anglicans accustomed to it. My choice of Sarum goes back to about 2009 when I clearly disassociated myself in my mind from the Roman Catholic traditionalists. I was at the time in the TAC and still used the Tridentine missal until early 2008. I celebrated the Novus Ordo two or three times (London Oratory style) and found there was no point in it, at least for me. It made no difference. I found the various Anglican attempts to twist around the Prayer Book rites in the old Ritualist and Dearmerite tradition unconvincing. Sarum was a liturgy I didn’t have to do anything with – just use it as in the book and be a part of the historical Church. It enabled me to settle emotionally and spiritually.

There is the argument of culture and art in the question of using Latin, especially musical settings which would otherwise be confined to concerts and recordings. Few churches have choirs and competent organists, so the question is academic.

Many Roman Catholics have opted for the Society of St Pius X, but they find it is not like the parishes in the old days (for those born before 1930 or 1940). It represents traditionalism that is self-conscious. Continuing Anglicanism is also self-conscious, but perhaps a little less so. There are small sedevacantist communities, some of which have acquired some measure of stability and others that bear many vagante characteristics. I can’t help noticing that most people are not interested in religion. Most of the minority are interested for the wrong reasons (political ideology, family reasons, etc.). Many of the “elect” with the “right” reasons are too unstable to perpetuate a sustainable community.

In the end, Roman Catholicism implies the Papal ecclesiology that goes back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, codified in the nineteenth. The Roman Catholic Church will never go back to the old liturgy, and the criticisms of the new liturgy are valid but increasingly irrelevant. This brings Roman Catholics to a clear choice: go along with the mainstream wherever it goes, become Orthodox, become continuing Anglican or give up.  To be honest about the Anglican Catholic Church, it became so messed up in the 1990’s that it is very difficult to re-establish its reputation as a serious Church and its stability. We are working on it and men like Bishop Damien Mead have obtained wonderful results with very little money and little in the way of a “big picture” view among the clergy and people. We are still at a balancing point. I am aware of our fragility and the fact that western liturgical Christianity is presently on its last legs. Tridentine, Sarum or Prayer Book, we are made to feel like museum pieces with a limited shelf life. There is the Orthodox option, but conditions in that Church (or collection of churches more or less in communion with each other) seem to indicate the possibility of the kind of blow-back that happened in Roman Catholicism in the 1960’s. They are ethnical churches and are not interested in western converts with the same kind of “romantic” outlook as converts to Roman Catholicism in the nineteenth century. None of us can afford to be triumphalistic because we can so easily saw off the branch from under us.

I think the essential thing for us is to live in the world as best as we can, responding to everything with Christian love but by keeping ourselves to the Catacombs in terms of stereotypes. It was the reaction of many French priests after World War II in their desire to reach out to the people where they were – at work, at home, engaged in hobbies, sports and culture. I don’t seem to have found a better idea, except that I stay out of politics. Christianity is a religion of self-sacrifice and abnegation – some would say we have to go with the majority – others will see things more profoundly and prepare for obscurity and death, terrena despicere et amare cælestia – the formula we find in many of our prayers in the eschatological view of our faith. We care little for our own lives, following the teaching of Christ, because something better lies beyond our bodily death. That is a dimension of Christianity that is largely forgotten in the “happy-clappy” parishes with which we cannot relate without malaise and bitterness.

The Church is facing this death, to be resurrected in this life or another. To those of us attached to old liturgical forms and the theory of the liturgy expressed by Orthodox theologians and German Benedictine monks, we live another life and an anticipation of this Paschal mystery. Perhaps a few of us can go on through the dark tunnel of sadness, yet of hope, and do what we can for a better future. It isn’t without reason that I continue to refer to New Goliards, the drop outs and “hippies” of the middle ages who were marginal clerics who saw the world through humour and satire. Many of us are not made for the mainstream or for the way things are going. We can’t claim to be the only “true” ones to be “saved”, but we can continue to be ourselves as we seem to have been made. Marginal people can also be ministered to, and Christ came above all for them as for sinners and the sick. Perhaps our pain will bring us to a more radical view of the way Christ gave us, and to a deep spirituality a vision that goes beyond the usual fare. I can only hope so…

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