Post-Modern Goliards

The theme has fascinated me for a long time. I feel profoundly dissatisfied with the development of conservative mores. I notice the fascination many of my contemporaries have for the generation born in the 1920’s and 30’s who lived their youth in the 1950’s. The post-war period in America and Europe were marked by the beginning of consumerism, buying a house, a car, a fridge and a stereo player. The old Soviet bloc lived through the same discovery in the 1990’s onwards. Materialism and consumerism are the panem et circenses of the political and social mainstream. As technology develops, this return to authority and order would seem – if unchecked – to be on the way to the archetypical totalitarian dystopia or Orwell or Huxley, hard or soft. Both Orwell and Huxley were writing in the post-war period when it was feared that the dead Hitler would be replaced by much worse. That is how it was developing in the Soviet Union with Stalin and Beria, in the USA with the “anti-commie” inquisition of Senator McCarthy and conservative England.

The effect of World War II, the Cold War and the Vietnamese war were extremely profound both sides of the Atlantic. I have been reading about the so-called Beatniks (contraction of the Beat reaction and Sputnik, suggesting that anti-conservatives were covert Communist agents), and I find much of the underlying philosophy fascinating. Out of the Beat set came the Hippies, Woodstock, the drugs and “music”, sexual deviancies that went far beyond the idea of replacing marriage and the nuclear family with some kind of tribe or commune. In the end, many of these subcultures became new conformity fashions and something extrinsic to personality or philosophy of life.

I am not a sociologist, but I recognise many of these themes in my own growth as a child and teenager in a sheltered family and schools in the north of England. My brother was more influenced by the “with-it” stuff than I, but my school reports from when I was 11 and 12 years of age mention my not finding the Prophets and the Gospels as being sufficiently “with-it” – modern, anti-authoritarian and in fashion. My two terms at Wennington in 1971-72 brought me into contact with tie-dye clothes and long hair on men and boys. I have noticed observations made about me at seminary that my attitude was too “bohemian” and not urban and conservative. I began to listen to the criticisms and ask myself where it was all coming from.

In my own life, I have been divided between the radical philosophy to which I was exposed as a boy and my love for church music, churches and medieval culture – which led me to a Christian commitment. The trouble is that most radically-minded people are not interested in formal liturgy and conservatives are not interested in other people’s freedom. That’s enough about me, because it’s my problem, nobody else’s.

As I looked into this generic category of counter-culture, I noticed a whole series of historical movements: Romanticism from the 1790’s to about 1840, the Beatniks of the end of World War II to the first hits of the Beatles, the Hippies of the 60’s and 70’s and finally the flotsam and jetsam of alienated urban youth of our own days.

Counter-culture seems to be a notion of opposition against mainstream politics, business, social status determined by money and warmongering. The Romantics had fairly clear philosophical ideas of opposing excesses of rationalism and organisation, laying the ground for modern ecology (the intrinsic rights of nature independently of its usefulness to mankind), pacifism and opposition to capitalism. The Beat Generation still had fairly clear ideas in what they wrote in books and articles. After then, it began to be all about sexual promiscuity, drugs and “music” that would imitate tribal rhythms and manipulate crowds. Eventually, the mainstream would identify the key ideas and assimilate them in order to maintain a predictable and docile population.

A counter-culture would typically aspire to a new society or a better life, the idealised utopia, and would eschew party politics and authoritarianism. Other manifestations would occur from the 1970’s like radical feminism and “come-out” homosexuality, two themes particularly opposed by “conservatives”. Orwell seemed to have a good handle on things when writing Animal Farm: the oppressed become the oppressors. Sociologists have found sub-cultures defining themselves in “counter” or negative terms, peaking, going into decline with some influence on mainstream norms and then absorption as young people got married, found employment and settled. The Romantics, Pre-Raphaelites, Bohemians, Beats and Hippies left a lasting impression in mainstream culture. Many marginal cultures remain, much to the distaste of those who are not part of them: Punk Rockers, Goths and those named for their “musical” preferences.

Many themes have been commercialised like clothing, “music”, ecology, the outlawing of discrimination against minorities, the LGBT scene and radical feminism. This hardly seems a victory of the “movement” but rather its assimilation by the authoritarian mainstream to put it all to some other use.

I have noticed in some studies how the internet has been found to be a place of free expression and protest against the “Machine”. In the early days, some people were hacking and doing damage to what they perceived as “the enemy” (government, business, banks, politics, etc.). Less anti-social elements would use e-mail, build up a web site and more recently move on to blogs and social media like Facebook. More and more of us appreciate the freedom of the internet and being able to transcend geographical limits and the cost of travel to socialise along the lines of common interests. We also find the theme of anarchism which is more or less nihilistic and perverse in terms of respecting other human beings and their freedom.

Though I am a product of the 1960’s and reaction against post-war conservatism, and sympathise with many aspects of the underlying Romantic-based philosophy, I have no time for psychedelic drugs, crowd hysteria, noise blaring out of loudspeakers and instruments like electric guitars, drums and screaming voices. I don’t think I would have liked Woodstock, but I do enjoy the big sailing gatherings in France like the Semaine du Golfe, which is centred on traditional Brittany seafaring culture, not the same thing.

I am quite fascinated by the theme of alternatives to marriage and the “nuclear” family. As a priest of a Continuing Anglican Church, heavily marked by American conservatism, I have to be careful what I say. I have not seen an alternative involving children that has lasted or worked out for the best. I am told that many children of same-sex couples (adopted or conceived by artificial insemination) have become very balanced persons, free of many of the extreme oppositions between traditional masculine and feminine roles in society. Perhaps some but not all. When families are dysfunctional, marriage and the family become a living hell for the couple and the children. There were no children from my own marriage, and my own experience does not leave me inclined to beat the conservative drum. I know too little about children born into Hippie and other alternative communities, but I intend to do some more reading and watching documentaries. Is the nuclear family essential for a child’s identity and stability as a person? I am not completely sure. As for simple homosexuality without children, it may be against the traditional notion of natural law, but it doesn’t do any harm to others if it is the choice of two persons in a private context. After that, it is a matter of personal conscience in accordance with the persons’ beliefs and faith. Christian conservatives cannot legislate over non-Christians or non-religious people! I have already expressed a highly suspicious attitude in regard to “gender” issues and identifying with the opposite sex. There are scientific articles on “gender dysphoria”, but I am suspicious also about psychiatry. There are many things in heaven and earth… I prefer not to get into arguments with conservative moralists!

There are other themes more or less assimilated by mainstream culture and authority. One is protesting against wars of aggression waged principally by the United States in the name of imperial domination (if we can believe alternative news sources). The threat of nuclear war is now returning for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Who can win a nuclear war? Apparently, there are men of politics who really believe that they can win a nuclear war or want to “suicide” the world!

Other themes include opposition to racial hatred, often manifested by conservatives and police forces. I agree that racial hatred is unacceptable in our society, and a study of history will reveal that there have always been ethnic minorities at the margins of every society. I have lived in Marseilles in the 1990’s wearing the cassock and walking around Moroccan and Algerian neighbourhoods without feeling threatened. I have lived in London’s East End (35 years ago) and didn’t feel threatened by black people, Jewish people and Muslims. Radicalisation is the real threat, but the problem is defining radicalisation. Christianity as expressed in the Gospels and the life of St Francis of Assisi is radical – but is doesn’t commit terrorist acts or kill people. Our world is becoming an ever-more dangerous place, and conservative warfare and policing are not solving the problems.

Christianity has become counter-cultural because its conservative tendency is rejected by the mainstream that assimilated and recycled aspects of the counter-cultural movement. If you like, it’s a reaction against a reaction against a reaction. Perhaps a good reading of Antonio Gramsci (cultural Marxism) and the Frankfurt critical theory school would shed light on what is going on. Being counter-cutural will do Christianity a lot of good after centuries of being in bed with repressive and authoritarian regimes. At last, Christianity becomes a manifestation of freedom and love instead of population control and hatred. This notion is central to my New Goliard theme.

Why does counter-culture has to be so tightly associated with “music” like rock, techno or rave? What is needed is another movement associated with the music of Bach, Mozart, Schumann and some of the twentieth century and nineteenth century composers. There was a little group of composers in Paris between the wars called Les Six, probably quite closely associated with Bohemians and Existentialist philosophers. I am very fond of Francis Poulenc who was one of the six. Much has been done to remove good music from the monopoly of the Establishment!

A good expression of Romantic Christianity would do much more good than a lot of the New Age and neo-pagan stuff that has been going around and making pots of money for charlatans. It needs to be separated from establishment conservatism, rigid moralism and brought to appeal to spiritual aspirations and sensuality.

Many of the excesses of the movement have died, leading to triumphalistic assumptions by conservatives. Historical parallels teach us a considerable amount from the Goliards to the Franciscans, Wycliffe and Hus who heralded the Reformation against excesses of clericalism and popular superstition. Many heresies were born of repression and corruption in the ranks of the ecclesiastical and political Establishment. As the Reformation became repressive and taken over by those with power and money, movements arose to oppose them. Christianity is called to find out what it really stands for and then it might attract the interest of the sorts of people Christ came to heal. I would say that Christianity now has a chance before it gets assimilated again by the “Beast”.

An opportunity, a challenge? Whatever. It seems to be a blank sheet of paper waiting for us to write on it – and enjoy the freedom whilst it lasts.

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Weird Symbolism

I don’t know if we have any medieval experts looking at this blog. Have a look at this:

goliards-perhapsI am rather intrigued by this group of dissolute-looking folk gathered around a book of music. I am brought to think of the famous Goliards, the monks and priests who floated around and didn’t take the Church very seriously. We should note that before about the seventeenth century, secular music was written in something very similar to Gregorian notation on a four-line stave. Modern editions of Renaissance music are transcribed into modern notation to make it easier for musicians used to reading G and F clefs.

The whole group appears to be sitting on what looks like a giant egg with a hole broken in its shell. At the bottom-left, a demon playing the lute and a man holding out a bag of coins. The man wearing a funnel on his head would a dunce or a fool. The owl represents wisdom in contrast to foolishness. We have a dead snake hanging from a dead tree and a couple of bats flying around. The magpie would represent good luck and the stork, perhaps the coming of a baby if such symbolism existed then. Two crows are feeding on a dead and plucked bird, perhaps a chicken, in the iron pot. A person at the back of the group is wearing some kind of building on his head, a lighthouse or a semaphore for guiding ships on the sea.

I haven’t been able to find the source of the image except for this blog posting on medieval music. This posting features a Youtube video with recordings of medieval music that might be of interest to you.

A penny for your thoughts…

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The Meaning of Life

Yes, indeed, the title of a somewhat dumb Monty Python film from 1983 featuring the exploding Mr Creosote. My subject is that eternal question of our times and the whole of human history for as long as meaning has been an issue. Is it an issue in “primitive” tribes and cultures? I wonder.

This has come in from an Orthodox priest: You Don’t Mean a Thing. I greatly appreciate this look at our existential question: Are we just animals that live and die without any purpose or meaning, or is there a meaning of our existence, a notion of vocation? I suppose that the question itself is one of modernity and man’s attempt to dominate and own everything.

I thought about this while running some errands in my van. It’s not what we try to project onto ourselves but finding out who we are, where we come from and what we are called to be in our inmost depths. Some seem to have an easy answer: they became a doctor or a teacher or a lorry driver – or married and had children – or entered a monastery or became a priest. For others, it might not be so easy, and the questions continue throughout life.

Yes, we need to see what we have been given, the Parable of the Talents. It is not what we do or have, but what we are. I recommend reading Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and the final speech of Sydney Carton, the dissolute lawyer who sacrifices his own life to save the man who married the woman he loved. In that final moment before going to the guillotine, he redeems his life with the words:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

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Pre-Tridentine Catholicism

Searching for the Long Lonely Road to Pre-Tridentine Catholicism

I heartily recommend this highly lucid article.

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Mega Churches

mega-churchIt is an American phenomenon above all. It’s rather frightening. The mega church (or these two words joined together) is a term used to describe a Protestant, Evangelical or Pentecostalist church of more than a couple of thousand worshippers at regular Sunday services. Recent research lists about fifty churches in the USA with more than ten thousand each Sunday, up to forty seven thousand in one case. It is a developing phenomenon in the US and South Korea, where one church has more than 830,000 members. The Roman Catholic Church as a whole, or in the USA, is not considered a mega church because it is not Protestant.

Some mega churches have been known for “cultish” practices, and they generate enormous amounts of money.

Here is a short video about a mega church imported into the US from Australia, led by a thirty-five year old pastor:

Does this bring people to God? Perhaps, but I find it too distasteful. It is as alien to me as its secular archetype – the rock concert. A fix for addicts? I really wonder.

I know what brings me into the presence of the Transcendent:

Perhaps there is room for both, and we should be tolerant about the cultural “vehicles” Christianity uses to win people’s hearts. I have no experience of mega churches, but I have of York Minster!

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Website Up and Running

My website As the Sun in its Orb is up and running after its recent ruthless haircut (be assured, I still have my hair!). The links are restored, updated or deleted because the subject matter is no longer in existence.

The site consists of four main pages: the title, an introduction, a page on the Use of Sarum and a page on the liturgy in general. There are html files accessed from the Sarum and general liturgical pages. Each of those files have a link back to their referring page. Only the four main pages link to each other.

If there are still problems with links not working, missing photos or other inconsistencies, please post a comment and let me know. I would also welcome suggestions and links to update the site and improve it as a reference resource.

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Romanticism and Traditionalism

A major article has just appeared on the Orthosphere blog – Romanticism & Traditionalism. It is not a new article, but the blog acknowledges the source. The themes given here have resounded with me ever since my university days in the late 1980’s. Here, we see the rapprochement between Romanticism and something called Integral Traditionalism. The latter term has been largely taken over by right-wing reactionaries reacting against late nineteenth-century anti-clericalism and the so-called Modernist movement. Integralismo is full of suggestions of Franco and the Garrotte. Intégrisme, the French term, opposes compromise with La Gueuse (the French Republic) and theological Modernism as condemned in 1907 by Pius X. Integral traditionalism or perennialism refers to the work of René Guénon (1886 – 1951) and others. The problem is that Guénon came from the French Right, even though his thought developed away from strict Roman Catholicism. Sometimes, distinctions are not easy to make. Julius Evola (1898 – 1974) was another proponent of this kind of thought and was close to Mussolini’s Fascist party even though he was never formally a member of it. Both Evola and Guénon progressively distanced themselves from Christianity in their search among other religions for a constant traditional reference.

The description given of Romanticism is the one I have come to believe, namely the view that seeks to correct the classical tendency in the Enlightenment period of reducing everything to reason and convention. The Romantic seeks the natural order of things as opposed to imposed or conventional order. Do we not recognise this idea extending to the life of the Church, allowing some disorder and quirkiness instead of everything being codified and micro-managed to the last detail. The dialectic is already found in the differences between the Franciscans and the Dominicans in the middle ages, the Jansenists and the Jesuits in seventeenth-century France. We have here the interplay between reason and feeling, mind and heart.

What is this Traditionalism (standard pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic explanation)? It is not Archbishop Lefebvre, right-wing ultra-Catholic movements in France and America, the muscular phalange. It is a subject studied in the traditional scholastic discipline of Natural Theology or Theodicy, or what is usually called Fundamental Theology these days in universities – fides et ratio, a frequent theme of the teaching of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. How can God be known by man: by way of rational proof or experience and consciousness? This is the traditionalism of Chateaubriand, Bonald and Le Maistre. Scholasticism has always eschewed fideism on account of its denigration of reason. Traditionalism emphasises faith in tradition as a means of divine revelation. Here we find the later Modernist theme of continuing revelation as opposed to the cut-off point being at the death of the last Apostle. Here, there is less of a distinction between Revelation and Tradition (faith or spiritual knowledge), and the two are allowed some kind of περιχώρησις (I use the Greek term by analogy). The big problem is knowing what is Tradition as opposed to Papal authoritarianism.

An interesting tendency arose in the late nineteenth-century, at a time when spiritually-minded people were getting really restless. We find a new impulsion of the Romantic movement in the work of René Guénon in his remarkably clear criticism of the modern world and the “reign of quantity”.

For Guénon, the modern world “is anti-Christian because it is essentially anti-religious; and it is anti-religious because, in a still wider sense, it is anti-traditional.”

To a great extent, theological Modernism sought to escape from the excessive rationalistic methods and philosophy of Scholasticism in order to rediscover the transcendence and mystery of God and the spirit. Parallel with Guénon, we find the great Russian philosophers Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948) and Vladimir Soloviev (1853 – 1900). Modern man has lost the sense of going beyond the boundaries of what we call the material world, and only quantum physics seem now to offer a way out, since its rational terms speak to modern man of things that escape our habitual rational and scientific categories. Belief in the survival of consciousness and even personality after bodily death is becoming increasingly a subject taken seriously by science. But, by the by, our world resembles the eighteenth century at the level of the dialectic between reason and transcendence.

The notion of modern man as a “consumer”, a passive spectator of history, was known to Wordsworth and reflected in Guénon’s thought. Berdyaev is not always easy to follow, but his ideas are haunting and attractive. Neither God nor man can be reduced to epistemological categories, but are both transcendent.

When Berdyaev brings “grace” into his discussion, he echoes the original Romantics, whose version of grace was the epiphanic vision, the event answering to a crisis that brings about the conversion of the fallen subject and sets him on the road to true personhood.

Some aspects of Karol Wojtyla’s existential personalism manifest similar themes as he sought to combat Marxist totalitarianism not by political polemics but by the transcendence of the human person made in God’s image.

The forces of materialism have for a long time been seen not to benefit humanity or personhood, but rather to oppress and destroy it. This has been seen in the various Socialist totalitarianisms of the twentieth century and the ultimate dystopia portrayed by Orwell in Nineteenth Eighy-Four. Marx and Engels has nothing better to propose to humanity than capitalism and the work ethic. Nor have the cultural-Marxist “politically correct” “liberals” of our own day. Berdyaev saw the roots of the abolition of divine transcendence and personality in the Renaissance. In the beginning, the Renaissance stood for humanism and creativity, and ended with the Ubermensch supervising gas chambers in Germany and Poland.

For Berdyaev, the principle of modernity is “envy of the being of another and bitterness at the inability to affirm one’s own.”

This is the principle of modern Socialism, the very ideology that is presently suffocating us all in Europe and America. In human terms, the only presently available way to break its stranglehold is through so-called “right-wing” politics – before resisting against it in the name of humanity, personhood and freedom like the Résistance (who were mostly French Communists) during World War II. Is that really what we want?

The spirit of Romanticism lives on as it adapts and changes, seeking the transcendent over the rational and material view of the world.

The Romantic, knowing that he can never achieve perfection in this world, shies from utopian projects that inevitably become coercive and globalizing.

This notion is extremely far reaching. Romanticism has its built-in checks and balances unlike the opposing forms of materialism. We know what we long for, but know that it is not in this life. The England I love and long for is not what I would find on disembarkation in Dover! The lyrical melodies of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Parry and Purcell point to heaven, another world as “through a glass darkly” as St Paul would have put it. I rejoin Plato’s notion of the World of Ideas of which the particular is only a symbol, and manifestation, an image or a shadow. That World of Ideas is universal consciousness, a notion now recognised by some scientific disciplines.

Thus “a romantic incompleteness… characterizes Christian art,” which takes as a premise, among others, the conviction “that final, perfect, eternal beauty is possible only in another world.”  That the Romantic often succumbs to the frustration inherent in eternal longing, Berdyaev duly notes; but the Romantics themselves knew their vulnerability in this regard well and were wont candidly to diagnose it, as Wordsworth does in “The world is too much with us.”  Berdyaev saw in Nineteenth-Century Romanticism the last pause in the steady descent of the Western world into materialism, utilitarianism, and nihilism, the equivalent of Guénon’s Kali Yuga or Dark Age.

Those of us who become conscious of the Romantic or the Traditionalist within ourselves face an unfulfilled and frustrating life. We tend to see things become worse and worse, yet the “reboot” never seems to come close. Such dissatisfaction, reflected in that epic poem of Walt Whitman, Passage to India, drove man to explore and seek out a new world.

Down from the gardens of Asia descending radiating,
Adam and Eve appear, then their myriad progeny after them,
Wandering, yearning, curious, with restless explorations,
With questionings, baffled, formless, feverish, with neverhappy hearts,
With that sad incessant refrain, Wherefore unsatisfied soul? and Whither O mocking life?

Mankind has discovered everything except other planets and the bottom of the oceans, but we individually still have everything to discover. I remember that feeling in the August of 2009 on approaching the Glénans Islands in a sultry hazy blue as several hundred young people and myself were carried by a small passenger ship to our sailing courses.

The Last Frontier is what we fear the most – death – our transition from the life we know as we leave our very bodies and all our possessions behind. Only there will we begin to find what we only found partially in this world. Perhaps Romanticism gives something of a “sneak peek” into that other world, bringing us into contemplation of the divine and the beautiful, to creating and doing the best with what is left of our earthly life.

I found this article admirable, and I can only encourage my readers to read it with the attention it deserves.

As an afterthought, I wonder whether tradition and traditionalism is truly a part of the Christian message as opposed to a radical remake of the human mind and existence. Did Christ really intend a liturgical and sacramental cult in the manner of Temple Judaism and many pagan mystery religions. Christianity is attractive to the senses as a mystery religion (cf. Dom Odo Casel), but one that rises above Isis and Osiris in Eygypt, Mithra in Rome and Zoroastrianism in Persia and Arabia. This was always be the essential difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism on one hand and Protestantism on the other.

* * *

Tuesday 13th September 2016. I have given this matter further thought, and can but say that one of the most fatal errors of our day is to use self-descriptive labels. I have come to be strongly suspicious of “perennialism” or “integral traditionalism” as a system, or anything else as a system of thought and praxis. I was quite attracted to some of these themes in the 1990’s and was in contact with some interesting people. Eventually, their interest fizzled out and they turned to other matters like baroque music or heraldry. It was quite an “in” thing in the 1990’s (in a very restricted circle) and is forgotten today.

For this reason, I am quite opposed to associations or groups. Human nature being what it is, you need to be a manipulative guru to keep things like that going, and that is exactly what I’m not. When it comes to relating to other people, the best is the blog (or the old-fashioned book) that is offered to them without any commitment in return. We need to be realistic. You can’t base a Church on such ideas, because churches are exoteric and addressed to the mass of humanity.

What I can do, as I have always done with this blog, is offer thoughts and ideas that may be useful to others but not always so. I have often found ideas by looking at the blogs of others, but without agreeing with everything. Make of it what you will…

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