Roman Catholic Churchmanship

It is not my intention to rant against Rome, because it is an Apostolic Church in direct continuity from the Undivided and Universal Church to which we as Anglicans profess our faith in the Affirmation of Saint Louis.

We repudiate all deviation of departure from the Faith, in whole or in part, and bear witness to these essential principles of evangelical Truth and apostolic Order:

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The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by “the ancient catholic bishops and doctors,” and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.

We read this in Lumen Gentium of Vatican II:

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.

Ideally, there would never have been any schisms, because the bishops of all the local Churches would have lived up to their callings. The evidence of the early Church recognising the primacy of the See of Rome is very strong in the Fathers, and the Popes always enjoyed a singular authority in their ministry. But, things went very wrong and clerics betrayed the nature of the Church. The onus is on Rome to draw us – who belong to Churches that have been cut off from that communion for reasons of resisting tyranny – to take many steps back and accommodate us full heartedly.

Roman Catholicism after the Council of Trent evolved into something quite different, amalgamating the tyrannical clericalism of popes, bishops and priests with a kind of hyper-rationalism that went hand-in-hand with a kind of religion that emphasised morality and social conformity. Vatican II was a ray of hope from the point of view of ecumenism and putting emphasis back on the mystical and sacramental dimension of the Church. Lumen Gentium and Sacrosanctum Concilium were monuments of these aspirations – which in practice went nowhere.

Nearly three years ago, Fr. Dwight Longenecker wrote the article Is Catholicism about to break into three? There is something about that priest I don’t like, but that is neither here nor there. I am no fan of his, unlike my little friend from Los Angeles, but he does come out with some sense. I am not entirely with him in his analysis of various “churchmanships” as we would call them in the Anglican world. I remember in the 1980’s talking with a priest in Paris, suggesting that the RC Church reflected the Church of England in matters of “high church”, “low church” and “middle of the road”. He was quite offended and denied that such distinctions existed. For him, you heeded and obeyed the magisterium – even if it flew in the face of common sense. It was the beginning of the end of my time as a Roman Catholic convert. Evidently, what counts is the Führerprinzip from which the twentieth-century dictators got their ideas.

Whether the RC Church is splitting up along Anglican or Jewish lines, I could hardly care less. What is interesting is some of the descriptions I find of some tendencies. The bit on the traditionalists is quite sensationalist with the descriptions of sedevacantists and groups with their own “popes”. Priests in the “official Church” will often heap contempt on those poor unfortunates without asking themselves any questions about how such a mess occurred in the first place. From the lines of fracture being compared with orthodox, conservative and reformed Judaism, Fr Longenecker brings out the categories of “traditionalist”, “magisterial” and “progressive”. What interests me here is what he is calling “magisterial” Catholics.

“Magisterial” Catholics put loyalty to the authority of the pope and magisterial teaching first and foremost. They are happy with the principles of the Second Vatican Council, but want to “Reform the Reform.” They want to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass with solemnity, reverence, and fine music. “Magisterial” Catholics are likely to be enthusiastic about apologetics, evangelization, and a range of pro-life ministries. They think the Church needs to relate to the modern world, use new media, and connect with the younger generation, but they look to the pope and Church teachings to help them do that faithfully. They uphold traditional Catholic teaching in faith and morals, but wish to communicate and live these truths in an up-to-date and relevant way. George Weigel dubbed them “Evangelical Catholics.”

I have been most intrigued over the past few days with the fascination John Bruce has with Rev’d Allen Guelzo. It is odd that a Roman Catholic would cite a Protestant Episcopalian as an authority. The major of this reasoning would appear to be that if you want to claim to be a Catholic, you have to be Roman Catholic, a convert. Otherwise you have to be a Protestant. Being a “non-Roman” Catholic is in some way insincere and an expression of something false or counterfeit. I have come across this reasoning before, above all at the time when the Ordinariates were forming in 2011-12.

Guelzo was not originally Episcopalian, but was Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), and therefore low church. He was born in Japan of American Evangelical parents. His theological position is a sort of moderate Calvinism. Finding that the REC was giving in to Anglo-Catholicism too much, he became a low-church Episcopalian in 1997 and was ordained a priest. I have other details but I am not at liberty to go into them all here.

What seems to have attracted John Bruce was this “evangelical” Catholic tendency. I am not sure he ever understood the issues with Anglo-Catholicism or RC traditionalism in its spectrum of “positions”. He wants to give the highest priority to the authority and magisterium of the Pope, to clericalism. He would prefer a reverent Novus Ordo, but would accept any other by default. He will be hot on apologetics – get as many people into the “true church” – and put the blame on them if the conversion was not “successful”. He will certainly favour the John Paul II or Francis style papacy with its use of the cult of personality and being “media savvy”. Bruce barely conceals his contempt for Benedict XVI. For him, the RC Church is the ideal “mega church”.

I don’t mind what he prefers. It’s a free world, but we can get a clearer idea of what he wants Anglo-Catholics to adopt after having sacrificed everything that brought them to faith in the first place. Perhaps he gets his jollies out of seeing others suffer in their consciences and spiritual lives. Such people exist – it is a simple matter of evil. Perhaps we can all reflect on what it means to be Evangelical, which etymologically means “of the Gospel”. Unfortunately, in reality, it does not simply mean fidelity to Jesus’ teachings and works in the Gospel, but distinctively Protestant and Reformed doctrines presented in a dampened-down way as to be nominally compatible with RC doctrines. The spirit of it is felt acutely, especially in an American context. It is not for me to judge what is Christian or not Christian, but I know that it would not attract me to Christianity.

As an Anglican (ACC), I believe that we should dialogue with Rome as much as possible without giving in to the whims of sinful human nature. We recognise the historical primacy of the See of Rome, and that unity with the successor of St Peter is the ideal. Centuries have passed by and the issues are not those of mariology, sacramental theology, other things discussed at the Council of Trent – but issues of authority and the authority’s respect for legitimate diversity. Much of the dialogue from all sides has been little more than hypocritical clap-trap and hot air. I don’t think we will get anywhere, but we must always keep hope and goodwill.

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News from the G4

There has been a meeting of the G4 bishops in Connecticut. A couple of scraps have appeared on Facebook. Fr David Marriott reported in the latest Trinitarian that “all is well with progress made towards more formal unity: next Joint Synod in January 2020, in Atlanta – same hotel as the last one“.

Archbishop Mark Haverland replied “Fr Marriott is correct. It was a GREAT meeting, in New Hampshire, at S. Luke’s, Amherst. The ACA were wonderful hosts“.

It isn’t much to go on, but someone might have a little flesh to put on the bones.

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Saint John Hepworth?

This has just been sent to me privately. I have the impression that it is an altarpiece at St Agatha’s, Portsmouth.

Look at the first candlestick to the right of the altar cross. It looks like Archbishop Hepworth next to Pope Benedict XVI, with King Charles I and Archbishop William Laud on the cloud over them.

Am I missing something?

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The Guns of Navarone are retargeted

First it was the continuing Churches, then the Ordinariates, then Anglicanorum coetibus, and now Anglo-Catholicism in general. The old fellow seems to be trying a more philosophical approach, almost on cue.

He would have done better to discuss the situation in England before bringing America into it for comparison. I know a sedevacantist site that calls all Anglo-Catholics Gnostics, which is an absurd accusation. See Anglicans, Rose+Croix, patriarcat et église Conciliaire that affirms that Benedict XVI was in on a diabolical conspiracy (in place since Cardinal Rompolla who nearly became Pope in 1903 instead of Sarto) to extinguish the Catholic priesthood! Perhaps John Bruce laps up all this weird stuff and enjoys it.

I had never heard of Allen C. Guelzo, so I looked him up. He seems to have an impressive academic record as a historian of the Civil War period and Abraham Lincoln. In the passage Bruce quotes, am I supposed to be made to believe that Anglo-Catholics used Darwin’s theories as a weapon against Evangelicals? Is Darwin considered as a Romantic? This is weird.

Anglo-Catholicism is portrayed as supporting nineteenth-century capitalism and high-finance. Perhaps in America (perhaps Dr Tighe would like to comment), but certainly not in England, at least among the slum priests, some of the most selfless men of God who lived in modern times. I am sure that many of my American readers could give a more accurate description of Anglo-Catholicism in America of which I have no experience, being English.

Anglo-Catholicism as “an essentially inauthentic development within Protestant Christianity“? And sure as day follows night, the conclusion is merciless: “This is yet another reason to shut the ordinariates down and redirect the resources, however minimal they may be, elsewhere“. I suppose he might come to an arrangement with Pope Francis, who, until now, has not touched the Ordinariates. I don’t know what the poor fellow has been smoking today.

Perhaps a study of Romanticism might be more apposite, and there is no lack of examiners here who are ready to take a critical look at anything that may be published on his blog. Until now, Bruce’s writings resemble the rants of adepts of SSPX chapels and home-alone sedevacantists, those Безпоповцы (priestless Old Believers) of the western church, for whom no priest is canonically regular.

He’ll have to do better than that.

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Weltschmerz oder Sitz im Leben

I have given further thought to old John Bruce, even as recently as yesterday:

I think the CDF has never fully appreciated the social implications of Anglicanism, or Anglo-Catholicism. According to Guelzo’s history of the REC, the opposition to Anglo-Catholicism in TEC from the 1840s through the 1860s was based in part on suspicion of Catholic immigration from Ireland and Germany. On the other hand, Anglo-Catholicism itself represents a “sanitized” version of Catholicism acceptable to the old American establishment, which could explain how it gained such popularity in the same period, compatible as it was with the medieval romanticism associated with the elites who felt threatend by industrialization. Mark Twain made fun of those enthralled with Sir Walter Scott.

I have finally nailed the problem. I think most of my more cosmopolitan American readers will agree with me that Anglo-Catholicism largely grew out of Romanticism in England and then by extension in the New World. Industrialisation was a major concern in the Romantic era (historically speaking) because of the human suffering it did not resolve. Romanticism was a profoundly humanist reaction from greed, materialism, atheism and all the other sins of the era which are reflected in our world today by analogy. It has taken a while to notice that John Bruce is particularly opposed to Romanticism. It is understandable: the matter-of-fact working man sees only the “reality” of the material world and his part in society, his neighbourhood and his family.

What Bruce is presuming seems to be the social integration of the church community, and objects to what he perceives to be the aloofness of Anglo-Catholics and those who formed the Ordinariates in England and America. The only basis of church life is parochial, collective and based on the ambient culture, which in modern life might prove challenging. Being a Christian necessarily demands a collective and community approach to life, the surrender of personality and individuality and “group think”. Perhaps that is Bruce’s way, but I would love to know how he gets on with other parishioners and how well he conforms to the collective mind.

A short while ago, he used the term Sitz im Leben a German expression roughly translated as “setting in life”. Its origin seems to be situated in the form of biblical criticism and historicism – something only exists in its historical context. The expression also refers to the social and cultural setting. It is considered as a key of interpretation, because a text taken out of context loses its meaning, or is given another meaning. We truly find ourselves in a discussion of the relationship between religion and culture. As I mentioned yesterday, two approaches are possible, with a third: engage with contemporary culture (in its diversity between corporate and business culture to the various forms of dissidence in post-modern sub-cultures), build a sub-culture with a philosophical basis (as I am advocating) or conceive the possibility of Christianity outside any cultural expression (anti-art, buildings devoid of form or beauty, abolition of symmetry, etc.).

In the Christian tradition, there have always been the romantics and the idealists, for whom the “realities” of the material world can never satisfy the aspirations of the mind. The martyrs and monastics of the early Church expressed weariness with this world, as did St John and Christ himself. Another German term from the Romantic era emerges: that of Weltschmerz meaning world-pain or world-weariness. I suppose that the insensitive philistine might tell someone of such a disposition to go ahead and enter a monastery. With my short experience as a working guest, I can think of nothing less Romantic than a monastery – which is the most radical expression of communism and collectivism I have ever come across.

Any form of Romanticism or even cosmopolitanism is going to go badly with parish life. I spent time recently with a friend who is vicar of a large Church of England parish within the bounds of the London commuter belt. We concurred that these large Forward in Faith parishes represented the last remnants of Christian civilisation in its natural state. I saw the group of handbell ringers going into the vestry for their weekly practice. The church has a choir led by a good musician. The place is full of activity, and I am sure they are good folk. They seem to be happy. In every community, you are  going to get the type who is made stupid by education, full of opinions they do not understand. They claim to have the key of knowledge, but cannot use it, and they prevent others from having any access. Group think is characterised by inaccessibility, dull respectability, worship of status and success, materialism and an inflated sense of self-esteem. I have had other experiences of parish life, but always in the French RC equivalent of Forward in Faith where old parish priests kept a happy mix of local people and traditionalists who came from some distance away. It was closer to the “natural” parish than the traditionalist Mass-centres, but some measure of compromise was necessary. The present day parish is contrived and reformed in a self-conscious way. As the number of priests continues to decline, parishes are attached to team  ministries or collected into pastoral sectors – and the parish is a thing of the past, the church buildings closed and rotting away through disuse and neglect.

Over the decades of the latter half of the  twentieth century, churches have tried to respond to sociological changes, especially cosmopolitanism and mobility. People no longer have stabilitas loci to the same extent as in the past. Former working class areas became gentrified and houses are decreasingly affordable. The big Victorian churches stand out as so many dinosaurs in a changing landscape as Islam enters the scene in suburban areas. Perhaps the parishes in America are continuing to thrive like city-centre parishes in London, Paris and elsewhere. Church, like many other activities, is associated with where people work, not where they live. Lunchtime services during the week are very popular, and people will commute in on Sundays as they do during the week for the office.

I no longer speak for the mainstream church bodies, since they lie outside my experience of life. It might seem unchristian or unpriestly of me to wash my hands of the world of parishes. Is it because  I am unsuccessful at getting French bums into my pews? No, because I have never had the heart to go explaining something to local French country folk that they will never see as something other than eccentric and foreign. I would have to be fake Roman Catholic and imitate the French style, and then I think the local RC authorities would have something to say. I am not interested in that kind of polemics! My vocation lies elsewhere. John Bruce has never understood English Anglo-Catholicism and its Romantic roots. Unlike the strongly Republican tradition in America, the English clergy headed towards the most deprived areas of English cities and the South Coast and built up a quality of parish life somewhat akin to rural Italy and France. They served the poor and brought them beauty and consolation.  That aspect of  Anglo-Catholic pastoral outreach has largely disappeared with the invention of television.

Where parishes exist, they should be maintained and propped up as much as possible. Once they are gone, they will not return. I see my own ministry as a priest as post-parochial, something quite difficult to define, but something geared towards the future. I have often spoken of an elite form of Christianity – and the temptation is to some form of arrogance and unpleasantness. The Christian  mystery school? The temptation is one of sectarianism, heretical gnosticism and something that looks like Freemasonry. Over the years, I have developed and transmitted ideas that are not secret, to the contrary. I am not attracted to ritualism over and above the Mass and Office of the Church’s liturgy. We are called to study and to present  Christianity in philosophical terms, appealing to the  intellectual and the original thinker.

The inspiration of monastic life is important, but not the way it is lived in most monasteries today. It is vital to encourage the imagination and the way of the heart, man’s desire to create through art and poetry. Contemplative Christianity needs to be redefined and made the bedrock of our new life. I still need to read The Benedict Option and refine ideas for the European context and the minds of aspiring souls. My take on Rod Dreher’s ideas will be something for another time. We need something for the future, what parishes cannot or will not cater for, and which will appeal to the alienated.

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Isn’t it time to let it all go?

I often come across conversations, things people write and general attitudes asking the same question: why continue with Christianity? – or any permutations of ways to express the question in a similar way.

In my own family, I found a deep yearning for what I have come to name as the “universal consciousness”, a refusal of atheism and its consequences, whilst holding one’s distance from churches, creeds, liturgies and orthodoxies. What about Jesus? He is usually customised by the group or church preaching a message ascribed to him. The Jesus of Faith and the Christ of History is an old subject discussed by nineteenth-century liberal biblical scholars and adepts of Darwinist “realism”. The figure of Christ is claimed by any number of historical churches and reformed groups over the centuries. Each religious group holds its own version of the truth and would be prepared to die for it or kill others for it.

Over the past few days, I have been responding to John Bruce’s postings. His most recent confirms my suspicions: that his ideal of Christianity is the most boring I have ever come across, one that would certainly repel me and many others were it the only one on offer. I am not opposed to a parish having a good and well-organised catechesis programme for “ordinary” families of the kind that watches TV for most of their time home from work and possesses next to no books. As Oscar Wilde said:

Like all poets, Christ loved the unlearned. He knew that in the soul of an ignorant man there is always room for a great idea. But He could not endure dullards or stupid people, especially those whom education and learning had made stupid: people whose heads are full of thoughts which they do not understand — a type which has been largely developed in our own times and which Christ describes as the kind of man who possesses the key to knowledge, but cannot use it and therefore will not allow any one else to use it, even if — in another’s hand — it could open the gate to the kingdom of God!

I think this is the last I will say about this man unless he comes up with something interesting, which I doubt. Why mention him at all? Precisely because of the portrait he paints of himself as one whom education has made stupid.

I was recently in discussion with someone who seemed to be somewhere between agnosticism and atheism, but seemed to be less certain about the idea about everything coming from matter. For him, there is a need for “spirituality”. In such a context I find it difficult to know what such persons mean by the word. However, in most cases, I would assume it means a person spending time outside “ordinary” life in some form of meditation or introspection, perhaps even some form of artistic expression. Most people I come across are deeply repulsed by the “fundamentalist” type of “possession” of a particular truth – usually because it imposes limits to our freedom or self-esteem. Most people seek happiness, to be loved and respected, but there are exceptions, certain types of personalities which are twisted or deformed in some way.

Then we find the big watershed, whether we try to dialogue with secular culture or lack thereof or work at fostering a culture that can provide a fertile earth for a Christian ideal. The first has been tried by churches putting on worship services in the style of popular TV entertainment, assuming that a large number of people would be drawn by this style than any other. When I have been reading âneries like those of John Bruce I can only see them playing into the hands of the “new” atheists.

Will Christianity end up like some of the religions of the ancient world like Mithra, Isis and Osiris or Zarathustrianism? Is Jesus worth “saving”, or should we let it all go? Are there a few grains of wheat to sort out from the chaff of centuries of “junk” religion? What does salvation mean? Some superstition of having a happy afterlife rather than being tortured for all eternity?

What most of us find appealing in Christ is his standing for the weak, sick and humble in this world rather than the survival of the fittest at the expense of the weak. It is not only a moral message, but also one of compassion and empathy, the message of humanism and optimism. Christ as a miracle-worker and magician is more difficult to accept since the Enlightenment, but he still gives a meaning to history, some help to us here on earth. The Church as a Sacrament is a powerful symbol in which the liturgy plays a powerful role. This notion of Sacramentum and Mysterium, though it was a central teaching of Vatican II, is as occulted in much of modern suburban parish life as its counterpart in eighteenth-century Anglicanism.

I recently met a gentleman who likes to express the notion of possibility consciousness, openness of mind where everything is possible. I speak of the transcendent truth to which we all aspire without ever possessing it. Our exposure to notions coming from research into quantum physics teaches us to doubt our previous scientific certitudes, and therefore also our philosophies and ideologies. Anyone who says he can understand quantum theory is mad! – or a liar! We have to accept that we have little or no understanding of things, and keep our minds open. At the same time, we need to be on our guard for explanations that go against reason, things that are made up and become ideologies or superstitions.

For many years, I wondered about the notion of the Redemption. What difference did Jesus dying on the cross make? In the terms of this world, obviously none. How could the essential message of Jesus be detached from the junk to make it credible once again? I don’t think Christianity will ever again be credible to the general population. How do we overcome clichés like “breaking the Good News”, “biblical authority”, etc. Perhaps it all needs to be re-nurtured in a kind of “mystery school” and only then allowed to “leak out”.

There is the moral perspective, Christ as an example for us all in doing the right things in life, being good persons. This is important, because it goes beyond “tit for tat” justice or legalism. Some of us might find a basis of Romanticism in Jesus, as Oscar Wilde did in his time. It takes a special mind to understand things beyond the simple meanings of words and literalism. Christ teaches us to think in a new way.

Perhaps salvation means a notion of karma, not simply action and reaction, getting back the evil you commit in relation to others, but a profound notion of justice and mercy. I haven’t given up on the Church! I am a priest of one. The liturgy and the sacramental life are what makes Christ and the sacramental communities he founded through his disciples and apostles stand out from simple moralism. The answers are already there in the Gospels: the salt and its savour, the leaven that makes bread good to eat and many more images.

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Schsim or Schism?

The poor old dear is having another go, and indeed, methinks he doth protest too much. We should begin by imagining the ideal world of this fellow. The entire planet is a suburb of some great American city in the 1950’s, every clean and in order. It is the collective society in which everyone followed the same curriculum through college, high school and university and joined the same grey lines to the rat race. The tensions between the churches – Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant and fundamentalist – largely follow the kind of cars people have and the plants they display in their windows. In England of the 1930’s, it was the aspidistra.

The churches of that time were well-oiled financially because people attended them. They could afford to sieve the large numbers of aspirants for the priesthood and religious life. Human life was cheap and plentiful among the fortunate men who returned from World War II and the last fatal push against Nazi Germany. Individualism only began to enter the scene from the late 1960’s when the post-war order was challenged for its baseless certitudes.

What was “conversion” to Roman Catholicism? I went through it all myself as a young man of 22, partly under the influence of a zealot in London who now claims to have invented a perpetual motion machine (!) and some unpleasant experiences in the “spikey” scene in London. It seemed to me reasonable that I should begin with the catechism and a summary of the doctrines the RC Church believes. On the surface of things, it was not far from what the “spikey” churches of central London believed, but with much less discussion. We had to come to terms with authority and infallibility. So that’s where people like Hitler and Mussolini got it all from, except that the Church had not killed anyone for centuries except the odd execution here and there of a condemned criminal on Vatican territory or within the Papal States! Above all, it is not so much what is written, but a general ethos. The RC ideal is the collective. The person is as nothing compared with the collective. This is particularly pronounced in the monastic and clerical life. Take a step back, and all this is extremely shocking.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, my instincts and sense of identity clashed very strongly with the totalitarianism of the Society of St Pius X, and the official Church in England was no different. Only the rite of the liturgy was different. The old clericalism and leaven of the Pharisees remained. My break came as I began to study theology at Fribourg and take on a more critical view of Catholic theology and ideology. I found myself in the flow from Thomist realism to Idealism, and from Idealism to Russian and German Romanticism. At one time, I was tempted by Orthodoxy, but saw the same snares and traps as in Roman Catholicism. I went to Gricigliano, which in its infancy, showed a more Italian (sympathetic to English sensitivities) spirit. The show was run by French priests but who had been in Italy for many years. The spirit was quite Oratorian in some ways, and this gave me a lot of hope. Italians are “natural” Roman Catholics. Americans are caricatures, and John Bruce’s notion of selection and screening candidates for orders is a notion that is entirely soaked in the American corporate management ethos. In a small Italian diocese, a man is recommended by his parish priest, accepted by the Bishop, and then sent to Rome for studies, finished off in a parish and ordained. It is more like an apprenticeship than a modern corporate process.

He does have a point in that Anglicans usually make poor Roman Catholics, because we have a totally different ethos – which is nothing to do with dogmas and catechism articles. It is like expecting an artist to serve in the army or the civil service. Values and sense of identity are totally different. Some Anglicans like Fr Dwight Longenecker, Cardinal Manning and some others were able to erase their Anglican experience. Others like Fr Montgomery-Wright transposed their Anglicanism onto French country parish life. It was picturesque, but the local Bishop tolerated it and French people have a taste for the exotic. Each found his way and stuck at it. I didn’t. In the end, I wandered off into “vagante land” and found my way into the TAC and then to the ACC. I think I understand Bruce’s reasoning about not converting unless you’re going to “do it properly”. It is a big decision in life, and I paid very dearly for my own poorly founded conversion.

What is really necessary is for institutional churches to stop alienating their own faithful and clergy. But ideology prevails and the only option that remains is to go the way of “schsim-atic” groups like the Old Catholics and continuing Anglicans. I don’t think many of us believe that only our “little group” has “got it right”. No human institution is perfect. We are where we are because we have no alternative and wish to continue as Christians rather than surrender to the atheist-materialist world. Perhaps some of our earlier bishops had something in common with cult gurus, but those days are over. People don’t follow a bishop because he has been validly consecrated, but because a Christian community elected him and asked a Church to consecrate him. This is now the difference. The G4 are now showing the characteristics of a Church: college of bishops, each bishop with a diocese (territorial or “personal”) containing priests and parishes (even if they number only “two or three gathered in my name”). When those criteria are met, we are in the presence of the Catholic Church – no need for Roman totalitarianism!

Whether we live or die is in God’s hands. Each of us will die one day, and our faith and life ideals will give that event some sense in the afterlife for which we hope and yearn. I would prefer what I do in this life to serve humanity in a hundred years’ time, but I doubt it will. Things will be situated at another level, and I believe that this world isn’t the only one. There will be seven or seventy heavens or levels of universes that we cannot imagine in this life. This is the limit of John Bruce’s corporately managed church, a body to which I would not aspire to belong – any more than convert to Islam!

John Bruce yearns for authority and infallibility. I don’t. I yearn for the transcendent and the divine which is in me and in everything I know. This is what sanctifies and perfects what is faulty and defective in what we know. Many of the French Romantics were precursors of the Ultramontanist movement – but not the Germans or the English. The Oxford Movement had some things in common with Bonald and Le Maistre, with Dom Guéranger, and yearned for the infallible Pope. Newman did not, and ascribed primacy to the informed conscience.

I too notice the anomaly in the English Ordinariate in that some were aping modern Roman Catholicism (with a little less tackiness) for years, and that prayers from the Book of Common Prayer are something “new”. I met them in Oxford, and they were courteous or even friendly in my regard. If they are working in the Lord’s vineyard, who am I to judge? In the non-English RC world, there are plenty of different religious orders, traditionalists, SSPX, seminaries like Wigratzbad and Gricigliano, right-wing political groups, various philosophical ideas, and diversity has become a fact of life. There are plenty of these groups to which I would never belong, any more than the Orthodox convert scene, but some find their way in them. Diversity and freedom are a fact of life, and I am thankful for it.

The G4 and the PNCC? We will see what happens in time. Perhaps some bishops are already busy with “horse trading” and exchanging proposals for intercommunion agreements. It is a start. For John Bruce, it is all about men my age trying to tie up the loose ends to get a good retirement or an alcoholic in full delusion. Maybe with some. My own prospects are bleak (for retirement), because I am a non-stipendiary priest and work as a translator. But, at least I am not an alcoholic!!! I prefer to believe that I have some spiritual ideals. The PNCC has a very different ethos from our own. They are quite 1970’s Novus Ordo with a bit of Polish popular piety. We tend to be a little more medievalist (and it’s not because of the goddam trains – choo! choo!) but I hope something can be worked out in a paradigm of diversity. Bishop Flemestad and the NCC is much closer to our medievalist paradigm through their Bishop’s having been a Lutheran pastor.

Carry on, Mr Bruce, I don’t understand you completely, but you certainly encourage me to reflect on many of my own ideas, and comprehend why it all went so wrong for me personally. We are all indeed called to discern spirits, and St Ignatius of Loyola had some great ideas like being peaceful and in prayer in order to judge whether something is right and whether we are deluded by the Evil One. We need to be challenged, and this is why I don’t pass off this old curmudgeon as a crank (he calls me a crank) and ignore him. He laps up my writings like the cat with a pot of cream, so perhaps some good is being done.

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Update: Ordinariate Stew or the American Melting Pot.

John Bruce ends this article by saying that I and others in Canada and England (it is not difficult to imagine who is being aimed at) misunderstand the American way of life. Do I? I always believed that the continent that became independent from the British and French empires was designed to be a new world, a part of the world where Europeans escaping persecution could find freedom and a new way of life. The American Constitution was largely based on the French declaration of human rights of 1789 and English statute law. It was (is) a republic that is in itself a secular and religiously neutral entity, whilst respecting the freedom of all religions within the bounds of public order. It doesn’t seem difficult to me.

Knowing something of human nature, the strongest would prevail over the particularities of the hundreds and thousands of ethnic groups immigrating into America from the beginning. Though many ethnical groups have retained a strong sense of identity, most became absorbed into the secular system and economic liberalism. The USA resisted socialism for a very long time, but it is gradually taking over. The result is and will become even more so a reproduction of the old Europe and the new world order (whatever that means). Culture has to disappear, as must learning and the old humanist tradition, to prepare a world resembling the dystopian novel of George Orwell.

I have been to the USA four times, the first time in 1998. Perhaps the first time gave me more of a view of mainstream American life in Maryland, Washington DC and a visit by hired car to Amish country in Pennsylvania. Official America gives a sense of foreboding, and ordinary people give a sense of friendliness and welcome to the foreigner with the funny British accent. The contrast is striking. In a supermarket, they will put your purchases into a bag for you. Here in Europe, there is more of a sense that they just don’t care about anything. I can see how religion survived that little bit longer, and differs between the Yankees and the Confederates.

What are the implications for religious questions? As far as I see it, there is a choice:

  • Complete diversity of culture and ethnical identities. The break from Rome by the PNCC was caused by the lack of respect for Polish culture.
  • Complete levelling and the abolition of diversity to form a mixture of all cultures by abolishing culture itself.

We in England tend to take the mickey out of Americans by talking of their lack of culture and general ignorance, in some cases not knowing that England was separated from the European continent by the English Channel! American tourists in England are the butt of many jokes. John Bruce seems to confirm this idea by promoting a kind of sterilised Catholicism without any diversity or cultural freedom. It is a corporation like any other, or like the secular authorities, and the only important thing is its pragmatic viability, money, numbers. Fine, good luck to him. I would not want to live in America.

Thankfully, I think there must be some Americans who think differently, who refuse The Matrix or some of the other nightmares imagined by movie producers. I have known Americans who have spent time here in Europe to study and learn about our cultures. Perhaps John Bruce understands less about America than I do, even if my knowledge of that nation’s Constitution is only notional. Many Europeans have been to America, like Tocqueville, to learn about how the Enlightenment and doctrines of human rights can be made to improve our world and the human condition. I would say that one of these intuitions has been true religious freedom.

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Update: Oh dear! What would the Fathers say? – said a former Provost of the London Oratory if he found something not quite in order. I seem to have stirred quite a hornet’s nest here, going by his reaction – as evident in his writings (he accurately states that I am not in a position to psychoanalyse him – no need).

There is nothing of substance in this article named Late-Stage Schism And The Law Of Gravity. He seems to have fallen quite low himself. Perhaps he feels in need of psychoanalysis, but really, I would advise him to go to someone more local, qualified, and above all expensive. He’ll only get what he pays for.

I am all for American life being extremely diverse, but the same goes for religion. I don’t know how things will turn out for the G4 and the PNCC. I hope and pray for the best, but it might all come to nothing.

Best to get to a place where you can find sound teaching and valid sacraments.

He could apply Apostolicae Curae to the most unlikely ordinations, and conclude that nothing is valid anywhere.

Our friend should now engage men like Fr Anthony Cekada – or forever hold his peace.

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