The Republic of Venice

doge-palaceI am reminded of the dotty “Romantic” ladies in England and the Great Invisible Empire to be contemplated whilst looking at a British flag and burning joss sticks before it! They had a “school” in England for a while, where young ladies could get their bottoms whacked with a cane. Then came Aristasia. I leave that subject without further comment.

I was looking through YF’s blog a few moments below and saw the final sentence of Catholic vs. classic Anglican debate:

It’s Rome or the abyss, folks. By Rome I mean our doctrine, not Catholic churchmen’s opinions, even the Pope’s.

I sent in a comment saying: This seems to suggest some very strange metaphysics. What happened to Bellarmine’s saying that the Church is as visible as the Republic of Venice? If the Church can subsist independently of the men and institutions in Rome, this idea is indeed far-reaching.

How indeed does one uphold the idea of a “true church” whose present authorities and institutions do not uphold it, nor even any Caudillo sending his critics and opponents to the garotte?

It is a long time since I had anything to do with the Society of St Pius X. They like to think of themselves as the “true church” whilst not being so at the same time. When I was at university studying philosophy, one principle of Aristotle’s epistemology was that of non-contradiction. Nowadays, we call it cognitive dissonance, someone holding onto a belief they know is not true. It’s something like the Workers’ Paradise in the days of Stalin, so beautifully portrayed by Orwell in his famous dystopia. You don’t think – you just obey the leader. In the light of twentieth-century European history, it is monstrous. The true church is its doctrine, but anyone can teach it or read it in books. Read this book and you will be saved! The atheists are laughing…

Oddly, the situation in the Roman Catholic Church and indeed all the mainstream institutions has brought about this dilemma. If we want to be ruthlessly logical, going from this assumption the idea of the Church is unmasked as a scam and a lie – or the Church consists of more than an institution. Therefore it subsists in more than one ecclesiastical institution, including Anglicans, Orthodox, Old Catholics, etc. – but such an idea is anathema to a conservative Roman Catholic apologist. I also came across this way of thinking with the sedevacantists. A typical case would be a priest having got Orders from an independent Vilatte or Mathew line bishop, and then he goes and claims to be a true Roman Catholic in contrast to all those he calls heretics and schismatics. His biggest problem is being canonically irregular through illicitly receiving orders. Such shenanigans have been going on for decades. Those who took the “true church” paradigm to the uttermost end of its logic are (or were) the home-aloners, lay people who reacted in the same way as the Безпоповцы Old Believers in the seventeenth century. It is one consideration that made me “cut the crap” and return to Anglicanism via the Continuers. Our situation is far from perfect, but we do what we can to do the work of Christ’s Church – whatever Christ meant.

Julius Evola made the point that such traditionalist groups do not have the authority to speak for the universal Church and the authorities of the same Church have poured out the baby with the bathwater. What is left? For Evola, there had to be another spiritual principle, a kind of lost “perennial tradition” – which like the Philosopher’s Stone has never materialised.

Should we dismiss it all as bunk and be materialists? Should we seek authentic spirituality and intelligence outside Christianity? Should we have a fresh and honest notion of the Church that relieves our cognitive dissonance? I don’t think any two human beings will have the same answer. All I can advocate is to make progress.

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The subject of that odd square hat that goes on round heads has come up in the blog of my dear brother in the priesthood, Fr Jonathan Munn in Get a hat, get a head! I still have the birettas I wore at seminary. Most of us wore them with a pom-pom, but some of us went like the Oratorians, more romano, with a tiny loop of thread instead of the pom-pom like on the Cardinal’s red biretta. We were in full reaction against Gallicanism and our MC encouraged us to go the whole hog. Romanità!

I very rarely wear a biretta these days. I suppose I have grown slack like the French priests of after World War II. I returned to Anglicanism and adopted more of a pre-baroque aesthetic. Many of my Roman things have remained like “fiddleback” vestments. My lace albs are retired and I have a couple of good English plain albs. Nevertheless, I belong to a diocese in the ACC where many of the Roman customs of my old seminary days are observed. I think that diversity in such matters is a good thing. At Synod Masses, I have not as yet been asked to function as deacon or subdeacon, so have generally served in a lesser capacity which involves not wearing a biretta. Idem when I play the organ at my Bishop’s church, I wear a surplice and put on my stole for Communion. I have nothing against the biretta, but it just no longer seems to be part of my ecclesiastical dress.

Another aspect has made a difference to my coiffure – my long hair. I tie it up into a ponytail when in ecclesiastical dress, probably not unlike the fashion of the eighteenth century. That would not exclude the wearing of a biretta when celebrating Mass in one of our parishes in England or functioning as deacon or subdeacon. Liturgically, it is worn when the cleric is sitting (and by all clerics in choir for the Office) or by a priest on his way to the altar and on leaving it to return to the sacristy. For my hair, I use a simple black elastic hair tie, since the old black ribbon as was worn with a bag wig would look absurd these days. I only wear my three-cornered hat when on boating events like the Route du Sable, which of course has nothing to do with my priestly life.

The biretta has also been worn with outdoor dress in Italy: the cassock without a cincture and a cape, as can be seen in the Don Camillo films made in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. It was generally a mark of being a member of the clergy in one’s own parish, and the capello romano, the Roman hat, was worn elsewhere. Some of us wore our birettas round seminary, but found they quickly got grubby and wore out. It would seem to be an abuse for seminarians to traipse around in birettas. They are better worn in chapel for the Office and Mass only.

I can’t imagine a Canterbury cap being used liturgically. As Fr Jonathan explains, it is floppy and soft, and takes both hands to put it on and take it off. It is really part of a cleric’s street dress. I ought to do some research into liturgical head dress in pre-Reformation times. The Orthodox “stove pipe” might give us some idea, but it can’t be put on and taken off in the fashion of a Roman biretta as the clerics cover and uncover (for example for the Gloria Patri at the end of each psalm). Some of the Oriental Churches have their clerics wear special hoods or even turbans.

The four-cornered (horned) biretta is a part of academic dress, typically for a doctorate in theology or canon law. Allegorical interpretations and numerical symbols are interesting, as is the explanation Fr Jonathan gives. In England, there is the academic “mortar board” that has quite a lot in common with the Roman biretta, but I have never seen it used liturgically. Another part of academic dress is the university or college hood. At one time, the hood could be used to cover the head. We could conclude that medieval clergy, like monks, used a hood when sitting during Office and Mass.

Wearing a hat for a gentleman has always been the done thing. Working men in the early twentieth century wore a cap. As a schoolboy, I wore a cap with the school’s arms like on my blazer pocket. At St Peter’s in York, headwear had been done away with when I was there (uniform was a brown jacket and dark grey trousers, a white shirt with a brown or sports tie – best suit on Sundays for chapel), but the usual public school hat is a top hat or the straw boater. The bowler hat was de rigueur for bank and other office workers in the City of London until very recently. My Bishop is very fond of his trilby. I have never been much of a one for hats, though I appreciate a hoodie with the hood up when I am in casual dress in cold weather. As mentioned, when in clerical dress, I tie my hair up into a low ponytail and am either bare-headed or might wear my Roman hat.

Many things from my old seminary days have dropped out of use. I never had buckled shoes. I gave my feraiolo away to a friend who wanted it. I can’t stand the Roman collar, and would like to wear something softer under the cassock collar, perhaps a very simple jabot. Given the choice, I would go fully eighteenth century, but one does not have the right to draw one’s priestly state into ridicule. There are limits! Many were quite outraged by the way some of us dressed at Gricigliano. It is important to be simple and unselfconscious. It takes courage to wear clerical dress in public, so our style needs to be simple and plain. Being plain is also a part of spiritual asceticism, and I see a considerable amount in the example of John Wesley, the Curé d’Ars and others.

Fr Jonathan approaches another subject – the Bishop’s mitre. In liturgical Churches like ours, it is important to retain the mitre. It is the symbol by which everyone recognises the Bishop. All the same, there are rules governing its use. It is not worn outside liturgical services or with street dress.

Anachronism? In secular life, I am far from being a dapper! I wear a suit only reluctantly and when necessary, either with a clerical shirt or collar and tie. It is rarely necessary in my life, since I do my secular job at home. Where I live in France, the cassock is seen as a symbol of traditionalist clergy with right-wing ideologies, and the clerical suit as a conservative priest from a Roman Catholic diocese like Versailles. I occasionally wear the clerical suit, for family ceremonies where I am expected to be seen as a priest but behaving very discreetly. The long hair helps to set me apart from the hackneyed stereotypes!

In an ideal world, a priest is a gentleman and looks after his attire. He behaves with courtesy in society, knows how to hold a knife and fork and covers his face when sneezing or coughing. Such was my upbringing at home and at school. In the world as it has become, we are much of the time in the catacombs – obliged to be discreet and show our priestly character differently. Sometimes we have to be hidden to serve God and his people another time and in another place. I am very conscious of this. Also I am married, and I was too naive to believe that a lay woman would have any real understanding of the priestly vocation or sympathy with it – in spite of protestations to the contrary. One has to be very careful, and know how to wait and discern.

I’m not much of a “biretta man” but I have nothing against their appropriate use.

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Trying to revive a corpse

frankensteinI was slightly amused on reading YF’s posting on the new Ordinariate missal, The ordinariate missal and more. We see the handsomely bound book and one of its pages. All rather exciting, one would think. I haven’t had access to the texts of the ordinary and the proper, and I am not in the Ordinariate, so I have no intention of treading on their toes. Fr Hunwicke’s spot is a better place to go to get the latest titbits.

I don’t expect any different from YF’s comments, based as they are on lay Roman Catholic apologetics as well as the experience of his life.

What becomes apparent on reading the various things that have been written about the Ordinariate missal (I imagine the book will be impossibly expensive to buy, and I’m not interested in acquiring it) is that it is a patchwork made up of the old Roman rite via the English Missal, bits of the Novus Ordo and the Prayer Book. I would be curious to know whether Septuagesimatide has been restored, or whether the Sundays after the feast of the Trinity are “after Trinity”, “after Pentecost” or “Ordinary Sundays”. It is possible that there may be a Sarum fragment here and there.

What did amuse me is that someone wrote a comment suggesting that the Ordinariate should have adopted the Sarum missal in English (of which two translations are available). YF answered “Not heretical but it would like like trying to revive a corpse“. Perhaps, but it is a rite without “options” and “tweaks” to reflect the diversity of liturgical usage in English Anglo-Catholicism. I assume the Ordinariate priests will simply toe the line and use what’s in the book.

Either way, you have a rite that has only been in occasional use since 1549 or you have another new missal that will hardly reflect what most Anglo-Catholics who went over to the Ordinariate had in their last Anglican parish (Church of England or TAC). Interestingly, the Sarum Use didn’t originate in Dr Frankenstein’s lab!

Anglican patrimony is indeed an ambiguous terms, when it is out of the context of the Established Church and parishes that have not gone “modern” in their usage. We in the ACC (at least in my Diocese) tend to use the Anglican Missal as preceded the use of the Novus Ordo in “advanced” parishes. My Bishop often uses the 1549 ordinary as is a choice in the Anglican Missal. My use of Sarum is unofficial and tolerated on the basis of it being a traditional Catholic rite among many others. I don’t have many people coming to Mass, which would be the same whatever rite I used, but I have no more idea of “reviving a corpse” than if I used the Tridentine rite as I used to or the Anglican Missal with its fusion of the Roman rite in English and the 1549 Prayer Book.

All the same, YF has some interesting reflections to share with his experience of the Eastern Church, both in communion with Rome and not.

Then again, by now, just about every Anglican who really wanted to be [Roman] Catholic now is.

Granted. I don’t think we’ll read the rhetoric of 2010 to about 2012 portraying a spiritual analogy of Syrian refugees arriving in Germany. I appreciate being far away from “true church” claims and cows enjoying the greener grass.

If Sarum is a “stiff” laid out for burial, then Anglicanism is hard to define in today’s world. Some of the Americans have tried it with “Classic Anglicanism” in its Arminian and Calvinist versions, which is odd considering that English bishops were sending priests to prison for “ritualistic” practices like wearing vestments or using the “eastward position” as late as the 1860’s. Had the deal of November 2009 simply been one of straight conversion to Roman Catholicism, only a few would have gone for it. Everywhere we look, there only seems to be lots of round pegs and square holes, plenty of cognitive dissonance and attempts at self-justification.

Perhaps there is no justification. We just continue as best we can in an imperfect world. There is no need to play other people’s games in places where we have never been. Life in this world is too short. Some of us have got together for the purpose of doing the work of Christ’s holy Church, however imperfectly or unworthily, but with the intention of refusing to bow down to evil and human sin.

YF is a good fellow. He likes old cars in the same way as I like old boats. He writes well, since writing is his job. We do need to be committed to Christ and the Christian way of life without worrying whether everyone else is doing it too. I wish him a holy Advent.

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The Gathering Clouds

I try to avoid writing too much on the issue of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL, “islamic state”, etc.) and those who might be supporting them financially or in terms of logistics. I do read alternative news sites, knowing that I might be badly misled by “conspiracy” thinking. On the other hand, more and more people are breaking with the propaganda put out by the mainstream press. Naturally, this doesn’t absolve the blogger from being careful what he writes and trying to be as truthful and intellectually honest as possible.

It is now several months that I have read about Daesh being a useful tool to the western world for the purpose of various agendas. I have several times expressed my reserved interest in Mr Putin and the combat by Russia against both barbarianism and complicity for money and political agendas.

This one seems to be quite a game-changer, because the source is mainstream and the author is an academic. Here’s the link: Research Paper: ISIS-Turkey List by David L. Phillips. I don’t have the independent knowledge needed to fisk this piece or give informed opinions.

The questions remain in my mind. To what extent can we trust the governments and political personalities of our own countries? I chuckled yesterday about the play of words on Turkey – the large bird that is eaten on Thanksgiving in the USA or on Christmas Day in other countries, and the country containing the ancient city of Constantinople. Perhaps the Turkey is indeed stuffed and roasted! Since seeing the film Midnight Express, I have never had any desire to travel to that country (by the way, I do not smuggle drugs).

Has the USA, England, Germany and just about everyone else got fingers in this particular pie?

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid… and elsewhere:

Take heed, ye unwise among the people : O ye fools, when will ye understand? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear : or he that made the eye, shall he not see? Or he that nurtureth the heathen : it is he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he punish? The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man : that they are but vain.

Wars usually happen because of the lies and deceit of those in power. Justice was done in 1946 when Nazism was judged at Nuremberg. I pray that I do not find opportunity in following an evil leader in a country that is not on the side of good! Patriotism and love of our native country has this limit, as has our duty to obey orders if we are in the Armed Forces.

Pray that this does not lead to war, which would kill us all once it goes nuclear. On the other hand, may the secret designs of the wicked be rooted out and brought to justice and may the barbarians be defeated.

Κύριε ελέησον

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The Dark Side

The expression is hackneyed, between the rasping breath of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker ready to save the universe once again with his light sabre. The Dark Side of the Force… Yet, Star Wars was based on human mythology and many themes that would make this extraordinary series of films exciting from the cinematographic effects to the familiar ideas within us all.

Experience of life reveals the struggle within us all, even when the darkness only remains at the level of thought, and not of words and deeds. Darkness and death are part of the medieval soul as it was of the Romantics. I have been rather occupied with the subject myself. I recently wrote about a poem by Lord Byron  in Byron’s Darkness. It is a harrowing post-apocalyptic vision that finds its reflection in modern cinema and popular “music”.

A controversy has sprung up in France about the chaplain of La Fourvière in Lyons being suspended by Cardinal Barbarin for some very out-of-place speech comparing those who were killed in the Bataclan concert hall with the terrorists who gunned them down! The story, for those who read French, is reported in Polémique autour du prêtre qui avait qualifié les victimes de «frères siamois» des terroristes. The text in question is Les Aigles (déplumés) de la mort aiment le diable !

Indeed, there are two points of view about an Eagles of Death Metal event. To a materialist, it is a harmless concert of some very noisy rhythms and melodies. To a religious person, it may almost be an act of Satan worship. If the latter is so, did the victims of the atrocity deserve what was coming to them? I saw a video on the internet that had recorded the last moments before the terrorists opened fire. The noise was certainly an ungodly din to my ears, but did those who liked it deserve death? Were they simply exercising a right to listen to what they liked? Harmless entertainment?

The priest wrote (my translation):

I go further. Too bad for sensitive readers. Look at the photos of the spectators a few instants before the drama. These poor children of the hippie generation, in ecstatic trance, « young, festive, open, cosmopolitan… » as says the “daily press of reverence”. But these are living dead. Their murderers, these haschishin zombies are their Siamese twins. How can we not see it? It’s so obvious! Same detachment from roots, same amnesia, same childishness, same lack of culture… Some gorged themselves on Christian values that had gone crazy: tolerance, relativism, universalism, hedonism… Others, with even crazier Muslim values in contact with modernity: intolerance, dogmatism, hatred of cosmopolitanism… Some wear the shorts of the PSG – “Fly Emirates” by effacing the cradle of Louis XIV, and others profit from the same money to buy themselves an exploding belt. One minute before their death, everyone was holding his smartphone, as if suckling the milk of their mothers. It is not the return of the Middle Ages, unlike what the cretins say. It is postmodernity in all its absurdity. The drama of atheistic humanism, which loves the Devil, death, violence, and we can say it, who dies from all that! The sign of death and chaos doesn’t only float over the streets of Paris, one cursed Friday evening. 130 dead, it’s awful! And what’s 600 dead? It is the figure of abortions in France in one day (Ministry of Health – let’s thank Orwell !). Where’s the true horror?

My American conservative readers would probably say that this priest should be applauded for bringing back Christ’s Social Kingship! What is shocking in Europe goes like a letter in the post in America. Am I supposed alternatively to applaud western consumerism, relativism and liberalism? It is for this kind of reason I seek elsewhere for light. I think the ravings of this priest are just as bad as the object of his condemnations! His Archbishop was wise to send him for a long retreat to a monastery. I assume the monks insist on silence!

What do I make of much of the stuff I see in our era? I don’t see much of it, only occasionally on the internet or passing by somewhere when I happen to be in town. The Death Metal people seem to be pretty sinister, and I have heard of the term Heavy Metal. If you feel courageous, you can click here to find out what it sounds like. I imaging the two are related in their “musical” origins. Its adepts dress in printed tee-shirts and “bang” their heads, swinging their heads violently on their axis in circles or backwards and forwards. Many young people have suffered strokes and permanent brain damage in this way. It is all sinister, and the lyrics of their songs often extols the “dark side”, devils and demons, the evil instincts. Even with all that in consideration, should the Church advocate their deaths? My view of Fr Hervé Benoît is that he expressed himself hastily and lacked compassion. He is not God, nor is the true God a vengeful being in the business of killing sinners. Justice is somewhere else and not of this world.

Does this penchant for the dark side come simply from lack of faith or worship of God? What are its roots? Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein and Byron was writing his dark poem in 1816 in the wake of the French Revolution. We have horror films now, sometimes combined with science fiction. Which of us is not caught unawares and made to become fascinated by such things? It is a part of us all, including Fr Benoît.

I suppose I would see in modern youth culture a kind of “Romanticism on steroids”, something gone very wrong and which repels me. Perhaps it is something that needs to be channelled, which would involve getting people off the noise and the drugs. Those people need humanity and beauty, music and harmony, a light to chase away the darkness. I don’t know how that can be done – certainly not be sending them to the “purifying flames” as some in the past would have done. I don’t know Fr Benoît, but going by his rhetoric, he follows the kind of Catholicism that found Fascism useful in the twentieth century, and turned a blind eye to killing and imprisonment without trial. There is no notion of offering a new impetus to reviving a culture of beauty, harmony, love and peace, a notion of the transcendent and man’s deepest aspirations. Such a priest does not represent the “reality” of Catholicism.

We won’t solve the problem of evil or the plight of people living in lowness and darkness by repressing it. I can’t go up to one of those people and tell them to stop listening to “heavy metal” and start getting to like Beethoven and Bach. But, there may be some circumstances in which an opportunity is found.

Perhaps light is only perceptible in relation to darkness. The old Gnostics had profound intuitions, and Carl Gustav Jung discovered many of them through his research. The little boy fascinated by ideas of people being executed on the guillotine or being hanged would logically become a murderous psychopath, but yet might go to the light in such wise as the evil thoughts become a part of holiness and search for God and light. Only God knows how each of us will grapple with our own demons, the very central theme of the old medieval Ars Moriendi.

I pray for that priest, and for the dead of the atrocity, and for the aborted babies, and for the souls wriggling in the pits of hell among the severed body parts of their victims. I pray for everything that is dark in this world and for what is beautiful and light-filled. We can do so little in human terms, but somewhere in the madness, there is a beacon of light leading us home into port.

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Ars moriendi

ars-moriendiThere are some fine autumn thoughts on Rad Trad‘s blog in I’m Going to Die. He reassures us that he hasn’t been diagnosed with cancer or anything like that. However, he is right, whether it is cancer, a heart attack, getting murdered, a car accident – the list is endless. The stygian gloom of November, All Souls Day, Remembrance Day, the terrorist atrocity in Paris, the deteriorating international situation – all seem to lead to the same point: the gravestones and family vaults of the well-off, the white wooden crosses of the forgotten and poor, that prospect of our earthly dissolution that calls us to the fear (filial respect of a Father) of the Lord and wisdom.

We live in a world full of people who are not always evil, but those who seem to be lost, “banging” their heads to the rhythms of “heavy metal” or “hard rock”, being addicted to whatever mechanically and chemically relieves their pain. We are all anxious to make a mark and contribute, make a difference, before we also join the ranks of the forgotten.

Rad Trad then turns to the theme of Romanticism:

I have always harbored a mild sympathy, but never an affinity, for romantics. Fr Chadwick spends considerable time promoting Romanticism, although I suspect his conception of it and my own differ. The Romantics were soul-searchers who felt that the old social trappings of art and religion had failed them, and who could not accept the modern paradigm of business and material success. Some of them seemingly yearned for a simpler, more adventurous past (considerable American literature in this mode) while others proactively repelled rationalism, all the while too influenced by modernity to embrace the mysticism of the Christian age. There were Christian Romantics; Newman may have been one of them, at least until he went through disillusionment and accepted the reality of the Church. Romanticism was not an explicitly Christian movement, but it may have been the last trend in the West that promoted implicitly Christian ideas about nature, art, literature, morality, and friendship. They were the last genuine soul-searchers before the middle class was born and dissuaded the lost sheep from searching for their Shepherd.

I can’t say he’s wrong. There are as many Romanticisms as there are persons who “tick” in this kind of way. In the same way as a doctor diagnoses a medical condition from typology and what some people have in common, people with certain sensibilities can be loosely described as Romantics. Academically, the term denotes a number of poets, musicians and artists who were born more or less around 1790 and died in the first half of the nineteenth century. The same tendency springs up in an analogical way whenever certain cultural and personal conditions prevail. History is both linear and cyclic, but the same thing never happens twice. I do not “promote” Romanticism, but rather identify with that generic kind of world view. Our friend describes the prevailing symptoms of the “condition”: a reaction away from materialism, blind social conformity and a view of science that deprives man of his humanity, a love of nature and the full use of the imagination and the “heart” in its biblical meaning. Another aspect is the struggle with the shadow, or “dark side” in the words of modern science fiction. The subject of this post is both dark and light-filled, since it is the reality of all flesh.

How would someone like Wordsworth or Shelley react to our present age? I hardly see them in corporate power suits at the gaming tables of the modern stock exchange, as military or political leaders. They might have gone the way of the Hippies or the various subcultures associated with modern popular “music” and drugs, or the poor souls who perished in the Bataclan concert hall a couple of weeks ago. Aldous Huxley was one of the early modern junkies who died from cancer whilst being on an LSD trip at his request. Some of this “stuff” is outrageous and far from Christian church conformity or the flights of mystics in and out of monasteries.

What about Newman? I have often read him without really understanding him. He found his niche in the Roman Catholic Church only with difficulty, via that most eccentric of orders of priests, the Oratory of St Philip Neri. He rode the new wave of Leo XIII’s more “liberal” way of running things than his nutty predecessor who “felt infallible”. The Roman Catholic Church is something else these days, and I’m not clear about its purpose as currently manifested in its corporate behaviour.

No, Romanticism was not a Christian movement, any more than its analogies in the Pre-Raphaelites, Arts & Crafts, the tortured poetry from the battlefields of 1916 and up to the 1960’s rebellion and our own times. It never really has been a movement as such, merely something isolated individual persons have or had in common. It was almost what modern computing would call a “cloud”. Ideas rubbed off onto Christians and non-Christians alike who sought the kind of human qualities they knew they would carry with them beyond the Veil.

Frankly, I could not verbally self-identify as a Romantic. Labels (this one and many others) are harmful and misleading. I do not play at someone who was born in the late eighteenth century, but yet use a computer and other applications of modern technology. That would be silly. I don’t think I have any “identity” problem against which I would feel compelled to compensate. I have my way of living between my priestly calling and frustrating “middle class” existence. I’m not sure I do all that well. I am a mediocre musician and like getting out and about, especially out in the boat when conditions allow.

Then I too will have my thirty years in a municipal cemetery in a marked grave, and then whatever remains would be thrown into the charnel house. Most people are totally forgotten within fifty years of their deaths. For my spirit and soul, I can only trust in God and the Angels to guide and lead me. November indeed!

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Rigid Priests

There is a flip side of the article to which I linked yesterday. I have to admit that I hadn’t yet read the link Fr Blake’s gave to Pope Francis’ “remarks recently about priests of whom he is afraid“.

I was quite surprised. The Pope didn’t seem to be advocating “machine” priests or religious that would have a psychological profile good enough for NASA space training or the Navy SEALS. He seems rather to be underlining the human aspect of the priesthood.

Ideally, a priest would come from a stable Christian family, if such things exist outside the Diocese of Versailles (!). What he really seems to be getting at would be a dis-incarnate image of the priesthood, an “angel” in a cassock, completely perfect in every way. More to the point, it is all in the pinched demeanour of many priests I have come across in France, Italy, England and elsewhere. There is a kind of caricature of priestly manners and recollection, what the French call le balai dans le cul, the broomstick up one’s a***. I have seen this caricature of “holiness”, not only among traditionalist clergy but also in the “conservative” camp.

One might have the impression of neurosis, problems because of sexual repression – or simply the acting out of a caricature. Naturally, the Pope would say that “A priest’s path to holiness begins in the seminary“. Now where have I heard that one before? I think that seminaries are 89% of the problem!

That priests should relate to other human beings in a “normal” way and not as a “rigid authoritarian” would seem to make sense. Traditionalist and conservative priests would seem to see rigidity as a virtue, synonymous with fidelity to truth and a firm moral and doctrinal stand. More often than not, rigidity would seem to betray lack of empathy and humanity. I too have seen too much of that, a kind of cancer that takes over seminaries, any closed community and makes them cult-like, an exercise of power.

Be pastors, not officials“. This would be another clue. If the Pope is really waging war against the spirit of bureaucracy and the very “thing” that closes the gate of knowledge of God, then he is much more subtle than I imagined. The traditionalists are missing the point by saying that these sayings of the Pope promote an elitist notion of the priesthood.

The ideas he expresses of the priesthood are nothing new. They are unsurprisingly  Jesuit and Tridentine. The priesthood is all about selfless devotion and availability to one’s flock. The Bishop should be rarely absent from his diocese, because he is a father and pastor to his priests and all his people.

Then , the Pope comes to the screening process, and this seems to be the most incoherent aspect, since it subjects human beings to what is coldest and most impersonal. The only way to trust a person is to know him. Human intuition is much more accurate than all the scientific testing methods in the world. There have to be standards of physical and psychological health, but Fr Blake made the apposite point that those who do not pass muster for standard parish work might be called, even as priests and / or religious, in different ways. The tendency in the Roman Catholic Church is – if in doubt, throw it out. Tutiorism (follow the safest course) rejects a person if he might present the slightest risk. If the Church is to be risk-free, then it is a first circle of hell like the modern civil service and big corporate business.

When Pope Francis says “When a young man is too rigid, too fundamentalist, I do not trust them [him]”, I fully understand. This rigidity has nothing to do with being staunch and loyal, but rather mean-spirited and lacking in human empathy. I have seen such men at Gricigliano, despite the fact that it was a lot “cooler” in my day than later (as I hear reported). One such priest was caught out in America sexually abusing children, complete with sado-masochism and threats to his victims (keep quiet or else…). Qui veut faire l’ange fait la bête, as Pascal once said. Man is neither an angel nor a beast, and the problem is that whoever wants to act like an angel acts like a beast. The caricature is (or can be) a festering pot of full-blown evil. Things are never what they seem.

I have expressed my ideas about priestly formation. In the Continuing Anglican Churches, we don’t have the resources for seminaries. However, our priests are not ordained raw without any theological knowledge, spiritual formation or discernment. We have our processes which involves accompanying men through their reading, willingness and ability to make themselves useful in a parish and general care for others. Ideally, someone should study at university level, or at least read books on a set list and be examined on the content of their acquired knowledge. Apart from that, they are involved in their parish and we get to know them. About two years is usually enough to discern whether a man can be ordained and whether he is not a flagrant danger to us all. Nothing is without risk, and it is better to be mistaken twenty times than unjust just once. Our process involves consultation with a lot of responsibility being on the Bishop’s shoulders. We in the ACC in England have a Board of Ministry, and I am an examining chaplain with the job of finding out what someone knows, but also of helping him to develop a desire to learn and delve deeper into the treasures of the Church’s tradition and the Fathers.

I would certainly suggest that the Roman Catholic Church could do away with hot-house seminaries, have men study as lay students in universities, and then be initiated gradually into the priesthood in a small community of priests like the Oratory of St Philip Neri or a busy parish with a highly experienced and pastorally-minded parish priest. I have nothing positive to say about the Tridentine seminary such as figured in my own experience. Where I went, there was surprisingly little overt homosexuality, and most of us were level-headed and interested in many things outside clerical and liturgical garb and suchlike. There were some cliques, and something was usually done about it if it went “over the top”. Many aspects of seminary life are plain silly, and we have better things to occupy our precious time!

No Church can ordain just anybody, but more imagination is needed for the diversity of men and women who offer themselves for the priesthood and religious life. I welcome the initiative of the monastery for handicapped women, and men who are “under the bar” can surely be allowed to serve as priests in different kinds of chaplaincies and “niche” ministries. For that, you need a Bishop worthy of his calling in terms of interest in his job and empathy for those he has to look after. It is as simple as that!

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