Death of a Country

I reproduce this poignant piece by Jamie Anderson on our Facebook group, having received his permission to do so. He has a nice plain but educated way to express himself. Maybe, this death of my native country can be averted. The more I watch videos of debates between leavers and remainers, the more I see that the arguments of the former are hollow and only based on the idea that the 2016 referendum was final and binding, and that we have to “get used to” the consequences to ourselves and others. There is no answer to the extremely serious concerns like the revival of troubles in Northern Ireland, the end of free movement and catastrophic disturbances for business and public services. Not a word to provoke thought and dialogue.

I am heartened by the turnout to the People’s Vote March and that there was no violence. We read that the numbers are half to three-quarters of a million. I hope and pray the demonstration will serve to turn the tide. Our political establishment is without credibility and many problems remain if we want to avoid what happens to failed states.

* * *

The Death of a Country

Today is the day of the People’s Vote March in London. As I watch the live coverage on the ‘Independant’ site I can see the comments being made by the many other people watching the same footage. The comments range from ‘Thank you for being there for us – your friends in Spain’ to ‘You lost get over it – OUT OUT OUT’. Those of us who believe in a united Europe are as usual being called ‘Traitors’, ‘losers’ and of course ‘remoaners’. However, I happen to believe that we are British, Patriotic, and wish to see our country prosper in the modern world.

The 2016 referendum was not a football match. However, I realise that the England team normally lose, and that their supporters are therefore normally obliged to ‘get over it’ and so it may seem logical to the Brexit brigade that the losing side should just get on with it and get over it. However, we have a difference here. The England side are still a reality, and will still play because they are part of FIFA. Would the Brexiteers have been so happy to lose the match if losing the match disqualified their team from further World Cup competition ? Would they just ‘get over that’ ? In fact, how would most premier league sides in the UK look if your remove all foreign players ? A bit shorter on numbers I think. And so we start to see the double standards of the Brexiteers.

BREXIT is not a football match. It is the rejection of the United Kingdom’s place in modern Europe, and the rejection of our place in the world. Many years of history have brought modern Europe into being. From the earliest day the British have been explorers and settlers. Overseas trade, power and financial interest drove the rush to build an Empire as it did for most other European countries (even Belgium managed to ‘bag’ a bit of the Congo…) The power of Nationalism and greed over Diplomacy eventually plunged Europe into the two worst wars in history in the early part of the 20th century, and our foreign allies were called in to help us not only in ending the war, but in rebuilding Europe afterwards.

Today, London continues to be an important Financial hub, the Monarchy remains at the head of the Commonwealth, European investment in our industries (Renault/Nissan) provide us jobs, and the very construction of the Modern EU reflects the British parliamentary system with an upper and a lower house. The UK has been an important part of the EU, using it’s influence to form EU legislation that helps us and using it’s right of veto when necessary to exclude us from reforms that we felt were not to our advantage ( for example, the adoption of the EURO). The UK has never been ‘dictated to’ by Europe as the UK is Europe. This modern Europe has become a powerful and stable force in world politics and world trade and it has enabled small countries rather like the UK to compete with and trade with and be protected from large countries whose interests may be predatory. This modern Europe has enabled UK citizens to move freely throughout Europe, to live and work where they like, and to enjoy health cover and safety wherever they like. This modern Europe was fought for and built by our Fathers and our Grandfathers and is something to be proud of, not something to be thrown away by Cheap Jack politicians hell bent on remaining in power by rabble rousing.

The 2016 referendum was flawed from the beginning. Was it advisory or was it a definitive vote? Regardless, why were the 5 million UK citizens who live overseas not able to vote in it ? Many were ‘not eligible’ as they had lived overseas for too long. Other like myself were unable to vote because our papers simply didn’t arrive in time. How can you have any form of referendum if those who are most affected by it are unable to have a say ? How many people were unable to vote ? Estimates range from 1.3 million to 8 million. The more important fact is that no one should have been excluded – but we were.

The claims made by the leave campaign have now all been exposed as lies. Why are these people not now being fined and arrested under electoral law ? Their funding was illegal, yet we are treated to these bigoted imbeciles daily as they are still allowed to broadcast. Why ? We have had over two years to investigate but the authorities seem to have walked away while chanting ‘Brexit means Brexit you loser…’ These of course are the same authorities that failed to implement EU immigration law in place since 1994, and then claimed that the EU was the cause if the immigration problem. These are the same people that failed to claim back the costs of Healthcare from member states under reciprocal agreements, then claimed that the EU is bankrupting the NHS ; the list goes on and would fill pages.

Today a huge number of people have made the journey from France and Spain to London in order to make their position known. The flights back to the UK have been full as UK citizens return to the UK to do what they can to stop this arrogant band of second rate politicians from sacrificing our precious freedom to live our lives as we want, where we want. If being British is about freedom, then it has to be said the the EU and what it stands for is entirely British. I thank all those who have made the effort to go to London – you are not losers, you are not ‘remoaners’ you are not traitors. You are British people fighting for our rights to freedom of movement, and a place in the modern Europe that so many fought so hard to create.

BREXIT is a cheap con trick brought about by the self interest of those who have no interest in the well being of the UK or its citizens. The fact that they succeeded in 2016 is already a failure, but also a symptom of a greater problem in the same way that the election of Donald Trump is a symptom of a greater problem in the USA rather than the cause. This is where rabble rousing and sound bytes replace common sense, where racial hatred and division replace harmony and integration. This is where mob mentality replaces reality, and where destructive politicians bolster their careers. This is where our country ceases to lead the world in our struggle for a cleaner, peaceful and prosperous multi cultural place to live, and descends into the deepest recess of its own arrogance.

BREXIT is very simply the Death of a Country.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Name on a T-Shirt

Here’s a group of British expatriates living in France who are on the People’s Vote demonstration in London today. My name is written on one of those t-shirts, as are many others who could not be present.

My prayers go with those people who want to get the message over with no violence. There will be hundreds of others living in other countries, and the overall figure mentioned by the BBC is about a hundred thousand. Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major is committed to this cause.

If that doesn’t get the message over, then God help help us and our country!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Use of Sarum in Oxford

David Llewellyn Dodds posted a comment about an upcoming event in Oxford. I have deleted the comment because it was off-topic in the thread in question, but of sufficient interest to turn it into a new posting.

Fr. John Hunwicke has posted

I gather that, this coming Saturday, October 20, there is a free Conference in the Queen’s College about the Sarum rite, and particularly the Lady Mass. Coffee 10.15; Opening 10.50.

“3-4.30: a performance of the Lady Mass (including Nicholas Ludford’s Saturday Lady Mass). The publicity does not make clear whether this is an actual Eucharistic celebration; nor, if it is, what the status of the ‘celebrant’ is!

“Those planning to attend should have emailed owen.rees@queens.ox.ac.uk by last Saturday, but I expect…

Commenters there have more information and links, e.g., “Their website says

“Please note that the Mass is open to all and you don’t have to register for the full study day in order to attend.”

Some of the comments on Fr Hunwicke’s posting give links to the study day and the Mass, which will certainly be celebrated by a Church of England priest.

I’m afraid I will not be in England this weekend. Had I been, I would have had to give higher priority to the People’s Vote demonstration in London. All the same, there it is, and it is good to see interest in the Use of Sarum continuing in Oxford.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

People’s Vote March

I encourage British readers to consult the site People’s Vote and The Independent March for the Future scheduled for 20th October in London. All details about locations and logistics will be found on the page. It is an opportunity for large numbers of people to demand a second referendum on Brexit to undo the present deadlock in negotiations and the real threat of a no-deal Brexit. I would go myself, but I don’t have the money, given that I need to travel next month for a Diocesan Council of Advice meeting.

When the referendum occurred in 2016 I was disenfranchised from voting by the British law that says that anyone living outside the UK for more than fifteen years no longer has the right to vote. A revision of this law is presently going through Parliament, but it will take a long time. I don’t know how I would have voted at the time, given that the EU was being blamed for everything. It is only now that people are becoming informed that the promises at the time over Brexit were deliberate lies and that the present process towards a no-deal Brexit will be catastrophic both for the UK and Europe.

Anyone who reads the news, not only from the mass media but also in blogs, will see how complicated it is all becoming. The Tory Government and its far-right extremists are behaving like a blinkered horse. A no-deal Brexit seems only to be of interest to obscenely rich and powerful people. See this sober analysis.

As I have mentioned before, Brexit is a black cloud over us British who live in European countries. Just as EU citizens living and working in the UK, we are living in paralysing incertitude. My parents and grandparents lived through World War II, and we know that the European Union was about stopping wars for good and working together for the common good of all the countries. Now, with this gamble by the bungling David Cameron who ran from it like Blofeld knowing that James Bond was going to give him his dues, families are divided.

I write as one whose situation in France is assured by French law on account of my uninterrupted living here for years and my being in the French social security system. I am applying for French nationality, something I should have done years ago, because I fulfil the criteria for citizenship by declaration and not by decree. The situation of many other British people here is much more delicate. Will retired people get their pensions? Will British banks still be allowed to send money to the Continent? Will our driving licences still be valid beyond next April? Will people still have health coverage on British schemes before going into the French system (which is not that easy)? Dreams will be shattered and newly renovated houses will have to be sold at cut-down prices. Some people might have to go back to England with nowhere to go and a long wait to get benefits.

Those of us here in Europe can only prepare for the worst by applying for the residence permits provided for presently under French law for EU citizens (we still are until 31st March 2019). Those who have been here for long enough and have the right papers can apply for citizenship and recover the right to free movement we presently have.

I am aware that many British people who read this blog probably voted “Leave” two years ago. I might have done so too at the time, given the propaganda about there being so much more money for the ailing National Health Service. It must have seemed the patriotic thing to do, in the spirit of the old days of the Empire and national pride. I am convinced that leaving the EU without a deal will cause a catastrophic recession in the UK, worse than the 1970’s, poverty and inaccessible health care for poor people. We will be poorer culturally and closed to the input of people from other cultures. Unless the country becomes a full-blown totalitarian dictatorship, there will still be people from India and Pakistan, from the West Indies, many fanatical Muslims – but Europeans would be penalised and stopped at the borders.

I believe our patriotic duty is to do everything possible to stop the madness of something that is a human invention. It is not inevitable or predestined from the foundation of the world. It can be stopped, preferably by the same people who put it in place, and our country given time to re-evaluate our relationship with other countries speaking different languages and with other cultural references, time to challenge aspects of the EU that need reform and more accountability. I once believed the old cant about the EU being a blind bureaucracy, an Orwellian monster – until I saw the old totalitarian demons in some of our own British MP’s and Cabinet Ministers. I give my voice to the “Remain” campaign, without any hatred in regard to those who voted “Leave”, but so that sanity and reason may prevail.

Nothing is graven in stone, and every human institution and law needs to be adapted to the historical context and the needs. Certainly, with the UK in the EU, greater progress can be made in realising the aim of the EU which is the fostering of peace and human rights. I would prefer this work to be done in the context of the present status quo rather than having to return to the EU in ten years’ time with a begging bowl.

For the sake of many people who may find themselves out of a home and livelihood, in the name of God and human decency, I ask you to protest against this black cloud and ask for an end to this nightmare. If you can go to London next weekend, give your heart and voice for our Queen and Nation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Caste, Class and Determinism

I am beginning work on my article for The Blue Flower, Christmas edition, on the theme of nobility of spirit. I have found this theme fascinating in the work of Berdyaev, a Russian Orthodox philosopher influenced by German Idealism, the Romantics and more recent thinkers like Thomas Mann and Rob Riemen. Doubtlessly, I will refine this part of the article as I expand on the various other expressions of what the Gnostics called the elite pneumatics or spirituals.

My anxiety about my country and the effect Brexit will have in the UK and on people living in Europe has somewhat relativised my understanding of the situation in the established churches. I am revolted by the level of corruption and self-interest in our political establishment and I see the same thing reflected in churches. Most I see about the present state of the RC Church is the mass of exchanges on Facebook – and the fact that there are as many truths as consciousnesses.

It is a temptation to reject any kind of institutional Christianity and seek the Gnostic way as a self-styled “spiritual” above the “plethora of human dross”, imagining our entitlement to all the things we seek. There are many myths about Gnosticism being more human, compassionate and caring about humanity, and I have been quite shocked. I have been doing some research into the “three categories” of people, and I have written this following section of an article. In this predetermined division of castes and classes of the unaccountable elite and the masses of soulless beasts masquerading as humans, we find many of the roots of corrupt Christianity and modern political totalitarianism, of ideologies based on Nietzsche and Darwin – and liberal capitalism.

Christianity is fundamentally the antithesis of the “survival of the fittest”. Its message turns conventional wisdom upside-down. It shows compassion for the weak and human empathy. However, it is a mistake to reduce Christianity to a moral code like in the 18th century Enlightenment. Gnosticism foundered with its idea of the spirituals, the psychics and the materialists, but excelled with the idea that we can find the Ubermensch in ourselves through nobility of spirit and aspiration for the transcendent. It is a world of paradoxes and mysteries.

Any idea of Catholicism being too flawed for it to be redeemed meets the idea expressed by Julius Evola, the Italian philosopher who was not a Fascist, but was near the ideology. He thought that the Church should be abandoned to its fate, but that the State must have a spiritual dimension. The Gnostic temptation is attractive, yet we see from the experience of the twentieth century where it can all go.

Pneumatics, Psychics and Hylics in Gnosticism

The division by the ancient Gnostic of humanity into three categories has always fascinated me, seeing that the vast majority of people we meet are interested in material things, status and money. The highest people were pneumatics or “spirituals”, from the Greek πνεῦμα. The others were psychics and hylics (materialists). The pneumatic lived at a contemplative level of life. The psychics were literalists, intellectuals, legalists, fundamentalists, attached to the letter. The hylics were the materialists, living only for sensual pleasure, perhaps known by the modern term of consumers.

Perhaps the most reputable of those who have studied Gnosticism from historical and theological points of view is Elaine Pagels. She approaches this subject of three “castes” of humans in her book about St Paul[1]. We seem to find the roots of St Augustine’s theory of election and predestination in early Gnosticism, later reflected in Calvinism and Jansenism in that salvation is possible in spite of our free will, or rather through determinism. If we are free, we would choose evil and be predestined to damnation.

From this, we find that the less a person is free, the more he will show the characteristics of the spiritual, mystical and esoteric world view. Those who depend of free will depend of a literalist paradigm regarding morality and fidelity to exoteric religious observances. Valentinian Gnosticism was more subtle in its distinctions and overlapping. Knowledge of Gnosticism developed in the twentieth century thanks to several important discoveries of ancient texts. The Nag Hammadi Library[2] is the richest and is easily available in English translation.

We find notions of three types of humans existing from the beginning, issuing from the offspring siblings of Eve. There were four children of Eve: Cain and Abel, Seth and Norea. The latter two would have been at the origin of a pneumatic or spiritual race, with a greater consciousness of their divine spark or eternal origins. If this is so, a third of humanity descends from that original “pneumatic race”, whilst the other two thirds make up the psychic and hylic races.

The Apocryphon of John[3] goes into detail about the pneumatics who are saved even if they have committed sins of the flesh. The psychics have souls but no spirits, and are repeatedly reincarnated until they acquire gnosis. Finally, the hylics are predestined to damnation. It was not always an issue of races of humans (a subject which strikes fear into the minds of Europeans since World War II) but of levels of consciousness and spiritual initiation[4]. There is a question of self-awareness, which we find in modern psychology. There is notion of a possibility of making a journey from the lower to the higher states, which escapes the old crude determinism. This journey is made through initiation into the mysteries and a long painful conversion. We also find the importance of distinguishing exoteric Christianity and inner esoteric mysticism. The latter was kept secret to protect the spiritually immature from confusion and misunderstanding.

In a person’s conversion, he would firstly be initiated into the keys of good morality, namely empathy for others and knowledge of ethics. Initiation into the life of the spirit came from awareness and experience of the divine in one’s inner spirit. In a certain way, it could be affirmed that the Gnostics were the earliest psychotherapists.

At the lower end, the materialists who had no interest in spiritual things were called fleshly, earthly or hylic, from the Greek word ὕλη. The Valentine Gnostics considered that every person had elements of all three categories, but that one would dominate. Some denied that hylics could climb higher, but not all. The hylics’ only concerns were material pleasures, food and sex, life at the level of non-human animals. They had no souls and faced annihilation at their death. They had no interest in higher things and lacked self-awareness. Reading these ancient descriptions, I am brought to see certain people of our own times. If these beings are not human, the implications are dramatic and unbearable to think about – unless you are one of them with dominant tendencies.

The “middle class” of humanity is the category of those who have souls but are “natural” or “ordinary”. They can commit evil and suffer the consequences, or can rise to the spiritual life. We might see the average decent Christian in this category, following the teachings of the Church and good morality.

This view of humanity is very pessimistic, akin to Jansenism and Calvinism. It is easy to explain, because these two puritan views were founded on St Augustine, who was before his conversion a Manichean. Manichaeism[5] taught a notion of an eternal struggle between the spiritual world of light and the material world of darkness and evil. This ancient religion thrived between the third and seventh centuries, and rivalled Christianity before it succumbed to Islam. Augustine was clearly marked by his past. The idea that the elite pneumatics would be saved regardless of whatever evil they committed, and that hylics could not be saved, seems unfair. We are brought to think of Robert Burn’s satirical poem, Holy Willie’s Prayer in which a religious hypocrite contrasts his self-righteousness with damned babies gnashing their gums in hell. Can we know which category we or our loved ones belong to? Perhaps if we ask the question, we are not hylics, because hylics don’t care about knowing the truth about themselves. Whether someone is pneumatic or not, we cannot know or judge. In any case, my experience in organ building makes me smile at the term, since the least efficient or reliable system that makes pressing keys on the keyboard play the pipes is called tubular pneumatic. Perhaps the knowledge of transcendence is something we search for in life rather than it being a subject of self-consciousness.

Such an analysis of humanity was crude, but it was a beginning of a quest for nobility, elevation, meaning to life. Are there humans without souls? I have mixed ideas, preferring to believe that no one is born without a chance of redemption, a notion at the root of opposition to capital punishment. However, reading about serial killers and men like Hitler makes us wonder. The Valentinian system seems quite arbitrary, and fails to explain why people are predestined to one thing or the other. As I say, it is a beginning to some other understanding, the three categories existing simultaneously in us all. The problem is that such an ideas, allowing for more optimism, is not found in any traditional scriptural text, and some humans are clearly absolutely evil, psychopaths[6] as they would be described in our times. Gnosticism shows its outer limits exactly on this point. We will find ourselves shrinking from their unpleasantness about women or the idea that some people have no souls and can be executed with as little compunction as swatting flies. The idea of the three kinds of humans has its appeal and fascinates us, and most people we deal with in life do show the slightest interest in anything other than their immediate wants and needs. They do not even show interest in literature, art and music, anything beyond the basest forms of entertainment. Do we ourselves forfeit our own souls when we deny the possibility of theirs, being but one step away from genocide, ethnic cleansing, eugenics and sending train-loads of innocent people to concentration camps and gas chambers? This alone will consign Gnosticism to the museum of philosophical dinosaurs and push us to seek something more human and truly spiritual.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the faults of orthodox Christianity, and this is one of the objectives of this essay. The record of or Christianity has incorporated some of those elements of Gnostic anthropology through St Augustine, the Reformers and the Jansenists. We find these notions of intrinsically evil persons in any system of penal law that provides for capital executions and life prison sentences without the possibility of parole. Each and every one of us will continue to be of two minds, unless there is a higher understanding. At this point, it seems to be best to leave the subject of human evil once and for all and concentrate on our capacity to seek and embrace the highest level of life.

[1] Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters, New York 1992.

[2] Marvyn Mayer, ed., The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume, New York 2007.

[3] Ibid, pp 103-132.

[4] Cf. Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, Jesus and the Lost Goddess, Three Rivers Press, 2001, pp 70-73.

[5] See the Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manichaeism.

[6] See Dr Robert Hare’s website on psychopathy – http://www.hare.org/. The main (but not exhaustive) characteristics Hare lists in the clinical diagnosis of psychopathy are a glib and superficial manner, lack of remorse, guilt and moral conscience, lack of empathy, deceitful and manipulative ways of dealing with others.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Continuing Anglicanism in France

There is an official description of my Chaplaincy of St Mary the Virgin, Hautot Saint Sulpice, France in our Diocesan Website. My brother in the priesthood, Fr Jonathan Munn, asked me to write a posting about my ministry in France. Doubtlessly the arrière-pensée, which concerns us all who are British is the current burning subject of Brexit. Anyone who has read the media and various commentaries available with a critical mind will realise that the situation is highly complex and slogans like Brexit means Brexit no longer have any honest meaning. Quite frankly, in my native country, it could be that all the ingredients are in place for a full-blown revolution and civil war. Between the hard-line Tories and the UDP theocrats, the slogans and mantras increasingly leading the country to the cliff edge. I have the impression of something about to break, maybe the killing of the Brexit project, because there is no workable solution, and for the UK to participate in the reform of the EU and its evolution along the lines of Christian and humanist social philosophy.

These matters concern me increasingly, not so much for my own situation in France and Europe, because I am married to a native and have been resident here for years, but for retired couples and families who dreamt of living in France and saved up for a nice house in the country. They may get the short end of a no-deal Brexit stick and find they can only spend three months every two years in France on a tourist visa! There is a lot of anxiety out there, and also among the 1.2 million plus British people living in all the twenty-seven countries of the EU.

There are several groups of British people in Europe, and all are very busy in political action (like the Wooferendum last Sunday in London) and a big demonstration in London planned for 20th October for the UK cancelling Brexit and staying in the EU. If British expatriates suddenly find they have become illegal immigrants and are required to leave the country, what happens to their pets? That is just one symbolic concern in a situation that might never happen, but we are ready for the worst. Our British ambassadors are busy negotiating with the authorities in France and all the other EU countries for the best deal possible to allow us to continue our lives where we have chosen to live, or where a lifetime of circumstances – or God’s Providence – have put us. Michel Barnier has also voiced his concern for us, but much will depend on how the UK deals with the three million EU people living and working there. Everything is as clear as mud! I keep an eye on the Facebook group RIFT – Remain In France Together (Solidarity in Europe), which is a closed group and can be joined on condition of answering three questions. This is to keep the trolls out and maintain a constructive atmosphere. Many are very anxious as we all do the same thing – apply for residence permits and French nationality by getting our papers in order and getting an appointment with the Préfecture to make our applications. The process is very slow.

My ministry at present is to be one of them. I am one person of many of the British diaspora in Europe. Anyone can click on my name on Facebook and see the “corsair” in his boat, but also the fact I am a priest. No one so far has contacted me for that reason, and I remain extremely discreet on the group. It is no place for proselytising. One thing I have discovered about expatriates is that we wanted to be Europeans and cosmopolitan, not narrow-minded bigots with simplistic explanations about everything and a belief that strength, power and wealth are everything. We tend to be a bit left-wing, and that brings me close to the spirit of the slum priests and Christian socialism as it developed before Marx. We empathise with each other. Some are artists with wild minds and aspirations. Others are more ordinary, seeking a sense of wonder and oneness with nature. We are all different, more or less integrated into French life. If we want to be naturalised and have dual nationality, we are expected to speak the language and take an interest in the country’s history and culture!

It won’t bring anyone to the chapel, because institutional religion has all but evaporated and discredited itself. Most will not want to know about little marginal churches, and I have no talent for marketing and proselytism. I am in a world as alien from Christendom as Fr Charles de Foucault living as a hermit among Muslims in the Algerian desert. The modern world is a spiritual desert, and many look for a spiritual life through various alternatives like New Age. The most I can do on the Facebook group is to bring a philosophical reflection to the whole thing. I am unconcerned with things like economics and the nuts and bolts of money and business, but I am concerned with the notion of Europe, the inspirations that brought about the EU as a space of freedom (including movement), of human rights and an end to the wars that have torn Europe apart for centuries. That is a part of my Romantic world view and aspiration to leave a little gift to humanity before I pass away and am forgotten with millions of others. This big picture has tended to relativise my more personal interests and preferences in my life specifically as a priest.

I live in a small village where a few elderly people attend Mass at the parish church when it is celebrated a few times a year. On other Sundays, they can go to Yvetot or Doudeville, where parish life is quite active. It is the modern Roman rite and quite “middle-of-the-road” as French Roman Catholic parishes go. It is estimated that less than 5% of the population go to Mass or have any interest in religion or spiritual concerns. A very tiny proportion would be interested in the alternatives available in independent Gallican and similar churches sharing an Old Catholic theme. There is one in Rouen where roses blessed individually are sold at a higher price than those that are blessed collectively. Eek! I have found that I cannot relate to the independent Catholic scene in France or the Roman Catholic world. It is a lonely existence in one way, but it is liveable if I relate to people as an “ordinary guy” rather than as a priest in clerical garb. Naturally, I would welcome anyone who wants to attend services or asks for some pastoral service from me as a priest, but it doesn’t happen. My own wife has never taken any interest in my commitment to Anglicanism, other than saying that it is more respectable than the French independent churches with their whiffs of sulphur. She has always been free as far as I am concerned to go to any church she wants, but she doesn’t. Religious freedom is a right to be respected!

My ministry is internet-based, and definitely “ethnical”, in English, and unconcerned for the French Roman or independent Catholic scene. It is not my role to imitate modern or traditionalist Catholicism to pull in the paying customers! I certainly sound jaded and cynical, but I know the reality here. I live in France, because I have no where else to go, but also because I believe in the European ideal. I am a believer in “niche ministry”, socialising with people on the basis of common interests, and just trying to be as Christ-like as possible, invisibly like the leaven in the bread.

I have my website As the Sun in its Orb dealing with the liturgy and The Blue Flower. My ministry is essentially one of study and teaching. That’s what many priests do. I also have the Use Of Sarum Facebook Group with nearly a thousand members. It was joined today by the Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford, and we have many distinguished members, clergy and academics. The Blue Flower was inspired by my falling in love with the Romantic movement and a singular world view that has persisted ever since the end of the eighteenth century. That is my little world, far from ideal, but one in which I strive to leave humanity with that “little gift” before I go away when God decides the time has come.

What do I do specifically as a priest? I celebrate Mass and the Office in my little chapel, alone with the Almighty and with the Angels and Saints – just like Fr Charles de Foucault in his desert hermitage. The Use of Sarum fired my imagination when I became a Roman Catholic in 1981, and my dream was nothing other than many Romantic dreamers of the nineteenth century and a few present-day enthusiasts. The very area where I live engendered the Use of Sarum which was largely based on that of Rouen, a city I can drive to in about 45 minutes in good traffic conditions. The Use of Rouen is totally forgotten, even by the traditionalists. A few are interested in the Use of Paris and the Lyons rite. The last of the Norman customs died with Fr Montgomery-Wright. See this charming documentary. I spent several months with him and Christian (the young man with Down’s Syndrome) in 1982.

Celebrating Sarum in Normandy seems as natural as the Ambrosian rite in the Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland and Austria, as one local culture melts into its neighbour. I don’t have to live in Wiltshire! Millions of years ago, what is now Sussex and Hampshire was ripped away from Normandy, and the sea flowed into the cracks and made the English Channel. What lies both sides shares a common culture.

I take pride in my work of promoting the Use of Sarum and getting others interested in it, not only from the point of view of study and “British Museum religion”, but also the idea of reviving a Catholic tradition on a par with the pre-novus ordo Roman rite (reflected in our English Missal and Anglican Missal) but also many other local rites and customs. I think I am at liberty to say that our Metropolitan Archbishop has shown an interest in my work, and my Bishop is definitely positive about it and supportive. This is also a part of my little gift, as I remember a dear friend, Fr François Crausaz, the Swiss priest who died tragically young with the idea that we are here only to sow the seeds, not to reap the harvest, to give and not expect any reward. That is our vocation, to find the knowledge of God and share it with those who are ready to receive the gift.

There it is in a nutshell. I live in a time in which an old Gnostic idea has relevance – of sorting people into those who know and are spiritual, those who are honest, decent and follow principles and rules, and the vast mass of materialists without much more than an animal soul. To those three, I would add the five or six percent of truly evil people, the psychopathic demons who take as many as possible with them to hell. That sounds very hard, but experience of life brings me to understand many things about fallen humanity.

From my sheltered home in the Normandy countryside, in the midst of the cows, apple trees and linen flax fields, I watch the world. I offer my poor prayers for my country that deserves better than what is coming. I live in the same fear as French people in the 1790’s or Germans in the 1930’s or Russians as their empire crumbled under the weight of nihilism and Lenin’s revolution. I may live to see the end of the Monarchy in my country, strife and conflict between the haves and have-nots, the general revolt against a political establishment where the right-wing is identical to the left-wing – all the same old self-interest, lies and deceit. People are angry and only reason according to the principles they learned from their culture or lack of culture. Nothing is certain in this country where we have only known peace and stability since 1945. All I can do is to offer a philosophical perspective as best as possible – and pray. We fight not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against the rulers of the darkness of this world. Those words of St Paul continue to inspire us and give us courage for the spiritual war ahead. Indeed I am afraid despite any number of exhortations to fear not. I am a priest, but I am also one of you, one of them, one of us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Boys from Brazil

No, I am not alluding to the film in which Gregory Peck plays the sadistic Nazi doctor Josef Mengele who “made” nearly a hundred clones of Hitler. I am describing a book about a dissident Catholic church founded at the end of World War II in Brazil by Bishop Carlos Duarte-Costa.

I am presently reading a book by the Roman Catholic historian Edward Jarvis, God, Land & Freedom: The True Story of I.C.A.B.: The Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church: Its History, Theology, Branches, and Worldwide Offshoots, published this year. I am well through it because I was still reading at 2 am in the night. It is the story of a movement rather than a Church, owing to the fissiparous nature of Duarte Costa’s schism from the Roman Catholic Church and its tendency to go the sweet ways of each bishop and micro-church.

I took the photo above in Portugal at a meeting in October 2004 hosted by Archbishop Antonio José da Costa Raposo to work out a project of a Council of National Catholic Churches. The prelate in white was not the Pope but Bishop Luis Castillo Mendez who was until his death in 2009 at the head of the Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira. I went there as a bishop representing two priests and myself with a small number of faithful in France. As things turned out, I had never seen such an unruly mob of bishops, and the row became quite nasty. With my more than limited knowledge of the Portuguese language (I could understand something on account of my Italian and French), there was a bid by Bishop Raposo to take over a union of ICAB-origin national Catholic churches including the Brazilians. There was a row, and nothing was achieved other than a small union of churches in Portugal, Eastern Europe and Canada under +Raposo. We were there for several days, and one feature was a trip to Fatima, and I was able to talk with some of the bishops in a commonly understood language. Some were apparently devout as they prayed at the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. I met Bishop Josivaldo Pereira de Oliveira whose name reminded me of my moral theology professor at Fribourg (Carlos-Josaphat Pinto de Oliveira). He seemed honest and kind, and spoke French. Bishop Castillo Mendez was most certainly on his last legs (he still had five years to go), almost blind, and was still consecrating bishops to the last! I left Lisbon and flew back to Paris as I came, confused and disappointed. I was not interested in the little Raposo group, and my confidence in the Brazilians as a whole collapsed. That was enough for me! I returned home to my little house in the Vendée.

This photo was taken at the basilica of Fatima, where I found myself holding a dove and standing next to one of the ICAB bishops.

This brief encounter with this odd group of prelates in grey cassocks with red piping remained in my mind even after I joined the TAC the following year as a simple priest, having relinquished my episcopate, or at least any exercise of it. It was with this experience in mind that I was quite excited about the possibility of reading this book when I found it mentioned in a posting on Facebook. To begin with, it seemed to be the work of a triumphalist Roman Catholic in a similar spirit to Peter Anson, but as I finished reading the historical part, I began to read the theological and pastoral aspects. Jarvis shows a high degree of intellectual honesty and understanding unlike Anson and Brandreth (Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church, SPCK 1947).

He describes the tumultuous history of Brazil in the early twentieth century and the political struggles going back to the Portuguese colonisation of what became Brazil. Jarvis cites his sources, and his work is rigorous. He is not flattering about Castillo Mendez who was an adventurer, a liar, document forger and many of the shenanigans I have found in other “wooden leg” prelates. I was quite crestfallen, having met that very old man who had been at the head of ICAB for so long. It is all unflatteringly described, with all its warts, but yet the book is not condemnatory. The discussion is open.

The following photo shows Bishop Castillo Mendez with his successor Bishop Josivaldo Pereira de Oliveira on his left, looking intently at something on the lap on his neighbour. The grey cassocks and red trimmings came in because the ICAB were required by the Brazilian authorities to distinguish themselves from Roman Catholics.

Some of the “wooden legs” I have mentioned figure in the book, in particular Atkinson-Wake (aka David Bell) who told an Italian Roman Catholic bishop that he “wore the mitre of Satan”. Traits of a disordered personality like grandiose self-esteem and self-entitlement seem to be detectable in the stories of Duarte Costa himself, Castillo Mendez and some of the hangers-on. What a mess. Castillo Mendez consecrated hundreds of bishops, quite willy-nilly, and left them to their own devices to do their “own thing”. The author of this book seems not to be informed about the state of the ICAB after 2009 (death of Castillo Mendez).

Jarvis shows openness of mind when discussing the decline of institutional Catholicism and the possibility that the future of Christianity is in small “micro-churches”, the traditionalist movement and conservative Anglicans. He is prepared to re-think the Church and relativise the traditional requirements of being in a canonical relationship with the Pope and the diocesan bishops. He discusses many perspectives and does not come over as biased towards traditionalism or liberalism. The view point is clearly Roman Catholic but with enough openness of mind to avoid writing an apologia for his (“true”) Church.

I will carry on reading until I finish the book, but I can say I am impressed by this study. It is a valuable addition to the collection of books we have on marginal ecclesiastical phenomena and independent bishops. Most of us stay away and keep a cautious attitude, but there are lessons to be learned.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments