Christian Communities

Another fine reflection with Desperation. The bottom line seems to be what we do to create an alternative lifestyle so that Christianity can survive in our life. What alternative can we offer to secular society?

The most “intensive” kind of Christian community is the monastery, typically following the Rule of St Benedict and financing itself through running a business, getting tax perks and donations from the few old ladies who are still of this world. Communities for married people and families? There seem to be a number of Evangelical and Charismatic communities dotted around, depending on various institutional Churches and served by their priests and pastors.

It (Christianity) must offer an alternative to the West.

Perhaps there is no room for Christians in the west. If not, where? I have always been attracted to the ideal of alternative and micro economies. The trouble is that many such communities fall victim to malignant narcissistic personalities and become cults. Many intentional communities have democratic systems of government to prevent that happening. Such communities would have to be strictly lay, because having them run by priests would link them to this or that institutional Church and therefore with the said malignant narcissistic personalities. Such an idea implies the basic ecclesial community popular in South America and linked with Liberation Theology.

My own intuition is that intentional communities are better based on practical considerations rather than religion or political ideology. There is nothing wrong with a priest deciding to live that way of life as a private individual and not hiding his priesthood, going to the extent of building a private chapel in or near his lodgings and allowing people to come to services if they want to. Surely, some of us need to get out of the modern world and live at the edges of the “grid”, take people as we find them and be very discreet with our religious and political messages. I am frankly very sceptical about any Christian communities other than monasteries and democratic lay systems. Monasteries are totalitarian and radically communist societies, which is fine if the monks accept that as their way of life and asceticism. The quality of a monastery depends on the personality of the abbot. I’m not sure there were any in the early Church, merely people living in towns and going to services where they were held.

Another way of thinking about this whole thing is continuing with modern life and living in the world, and going privately or secretly to the hidden churches wherever they might exist (priests’ homes perhaps). Forget about changing political and public institutions. Another way is to leave where we are living and go and live in Africa until the Muslims take over the entire continent – but be prepared for culture shock and racial discrimination!

Perhaps the kind of community I could relate to would be non-denominational and would come up with a line something like: We are Christians of different backgrounds and traditions, and only ask for people to be open to the spiritual outlook of life and respectful of those who are believers. Priests who belong to this or that institutional church are simple members like any other and have no authority by virtue of their priestly calling. They may be asked for their advice on the basis of their experience of life and knowledge of things useful to the community. Perhaps something like that might work. I would welcome ideas.

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Orthodoxy and Catholicism

Not intending to stir up old embers for the Blowout department, this is a fine article – Distinctions between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

Many of us Anglicans joke cynically about the “two one true churches”. I really am far beyond having scruples for not being Roman Catholic or not converting to one of the Byzantine Churches, even those offering some kind of Western Rite umbrella to refugees from Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism.

This article does go into some of the deeper issues touching upon human culture and the way Christianity has diversified since its origins. I have been tempted by Orthodoxy, especially in the late 1980’s at the time I met Dr Ray Winch and read about the American Antiochian vicariate. I never got as far as making any serious request. A couple of tentative letters of enquiry simply suggested that I should move to the USA (at my expense) and fit into one of their parishes. Fair enough – they never asked anything of me. It never went any further. The Russian Church (outside Russia) has allowed a number of “refugee” priests to set up groups that are in sociological and financial terms somewhat on a par with Continuing Anglicanism. The difference is that Church of England authorities “recognise” an “official” Church and lend their buildings.

I have already written articles on Western Orthodoxy and published an English translation of Jean-François Mayer’s critical article. It is obviously working out for some people, and I am happy for them. To me, Orthodoxy is a forbidding world. I would only consider it if I were to go and live in Russia or Greece, and attend church as a seeker taking his new world in over a period of several years. Human beings adapt to the changes of life. The expatriate in Greece or Russia, having gone there for reasons of work or life in general, might follow a more secular way of life. I do believe that converting to an institutional church for reasons of believing that it is the “one true church” is the worst possible motivation.

As for being a refugee from Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism, there are plenty of traditionalist groups and Continuing Churches for those of us who stay in our near our native countries. Why become Orthodox unless one is prepared to go all the way and adapt to the receiving community? Even as I ask that question, I have no problem with Western Rite Orthodoxy, but for reasons of de gustibus non est disputandum. Some have a taste for the exotic, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Our author makes the point:

The private praxis of prayer is another matter. It is entirely possible to observe a Western prayer life in the Orthodox Church, and vice versa, so long as it is a matter of private praxis.

This is possible for all of us, whether we have “moved around” or stayed near our origins. We all have our nagging ideas and feelings, and we desire to rise above our church life that only concerns exoteric religion. Our secret gardens with our illuminations and tempting demons concern only ourselves. Many Christians are reluctant to accept this two-level spiritual existence.

It is perhaps in exploring the world within that we accord less importance to our outward ecclesial membership or even our ministries as priests. Both these are necessary and neglect of them is sinful – but there is something deeper and which attracts us, and gives us courage and energy in our “ordinary” life. A word of caution: attempts at institutionalising or even making a community based on that esoteric aspiration nearly always fail and are characterised by superstition and charlatanism. One thing I have learned in life is not to expect too much from a church or even from other people. The world owes us nothing.

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Understanded of the People

The twenty-fourth of the thirty-nine Articles deals with the question of the language in which the liturgy is celebrated and the Bible read. It is a question of using the language we speak in our everyday lives, usually our mother tongue, instead of Latin. The word understanded is wrong in modern English (we say understood), but we should be aware that standard English is something rather recent in our history. See the etymology of the word understand.

Of speaking in the Congregation in such a tongue as the people understandeth It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have publick Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments in a tongue not understanded of the people.

The question was hashed out at the Council of Trent back in the sixteenth century. Luther advocated the use of the vernacular, but he did not impose it as an absolute necessity. Bach wrote a number of settings of the Latin Mass. Calvin’s position was more radical, claiming that the Sacraments had no validity unless the people could understand everything. The famous canon ended up saying:

If anyone says (…) that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular tongue only (…) let him be anathema.
Concilium Tridentinum VIII, 912, 10-13:
Si quis dixerit, ecclesiæ Romanæ ritum… aut lingua tantum vulgari missam celebrare debere … eo quod sit contra Christi institutionem: anathema sit.

A good book to read on the subject is Angelus De Marco, The Church of Rome and the Problem of the Vernacular versus the Liturgical Language, Washington DC 1960. There are certainly many other works that would be useful in a study of this question. The Roman Catholic Church already allowed Mass in Chinese in the new Jesuit missions of the time, and German was used in many parts of that part of the world. Latin remained the norm until the mid 1960’s, but there were many exceptions for pastoral reasons. Whether the use of Latin is offensive to God, none of us will never know – I doubt whether he is really bothered either way! The question came up in the blog of my confrère Fr Jonathan Munn in his blog article “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” Prayer.

I lost my breviary last night and had to resort to a copy of the breviary in Latin which I don’t like doing since, being an Anglican Catholic, it’s important that I say my prayers in English. Of course it was good for me to practise my Latin which is very rusty. However, frustrated after a day of not quite getting the rhythm of the psalms right, I said a prayer to St Anthony and within 10 minutes I found that pesky breviary which had fallen down the back of a table!

In a way, I sympathise, and I often take out the English version I have of the Sarum Use and put the Dickinson aside. Latin strikes me as unctious and solemn. English in its classical idiom, to me, is intimate and homely. The use of Latin has had many apologists over the years since Latin all but disappeared from the Roman Catholic Church to be replaced by the same kind of English as we had in Series III in the 1970’s. “You who…” brought a snigger to many a choirboy because we have a brand of glue in England called UHU. We in the ACC use the older style of our language. I was in a traditionalist seminary, so our liturgy was in Latin. I still pronounce it the Italian way!

I doubt I would have anything new to add to the arguments. Latin, of course, was the vernacular language of Roman people until they started speaking Italian. Greek was used in the early days in Rome, and there are still fragments – the Κύριε ἐλέησον – and the Τρισάγιον on Good Friday. Liturgical languages tended in history to be archaic forms of human languages, and our own Prayer Book English is no exception. The New Testament was written in Greek and not Aramaic, which suggests that immediate comprehension was not given priority. Jesus would have spoken Aramaic and Greek, perhaps enough Latin to get by with the patrolling Romans. He would have worshipped in Hebrew at the synagogue and in the Temple, as many Jewish people do to this day.

Though I usually say Mass and Office in Latin, I frequently do so in English, even when alone. A friend came to my Holy Week services, so I used English with the exception of sung parts in Latin. I do think that English (or the local language wherever that is) is a good idea. Latin is not going to attract people to the liturgy, unless they are traditionalists who really want Latin – and they are hardly likely to come to us Anglicans! On the other hand, liturgy in any form does little to attract people. Do we need to attract people? Good question.

Language is a cultural notion. Even when we are talking in our own language, we would not preach the same way to ordinary people as to students and professors in an Oxford college chapel. We try to bridge the “disconnection” gap, but there are limits to the extent to which we can simplify language.

I have no axe to grind. The ACC normally celebrates in Prayer Book English or in another vernacular language depending on the country where the Church has become established. I have no problem with that. Eccentric university chaplains sometimes say Prayer Book services in Latin on the basis that Classics students can understand that language. A great deal of choral music is in Latin. Pieces like Allegri’s Miserere have been adapted into English, but it is a little like playing Bach on a piano. The music is composed for the text, and most musicians don’t like meddling around too much with what has been written by a given composer. Fortunately, Anglicanism is very rich in choral music written on English texts.

I make a point of being at home in both Latin and English, and ready to celebrate in other languages if the books are available and the translation is good. I often read epistles in German when I was a student in Switzerland. I understood very little, but the congregation understood everything. They even said that I pronounced German with very little in the way of an English accent. I have never had the motivation or real need to learn German properly, but what I read was not totally unintelligible.

There is another very poignant argument. A little baby in his mother’s arms doesn’t yet understand what his mother is saying, but he does know that she loves him. Do we know all the words of our language? Do we always use our language without errors? As a translator, I learn new words all the time in both French and English. Translation is an art.

There is a balance between raison and faith, classicism and romanticism, understanding and adoring the Mystery. We can’t afford to be too intolerant or “dogmatic” about it. Dickinson and Warren both have pride of place in my chapel.

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The Use of Sarum in the Roman Catholic Church

This link has come up in the comments to previous posts, but it merits being given a higher profile. A Case for the Restoration of the Sarum Rite in the Roman Catholic Church by Bernard Brandt. This acutely intelligent person has gone into his subject with sensitivity and dedication.

When I first perused this article, I was overcome with feelings of profound alienation from that Church and its hierarchical structure. I spent too long in it at the wrong time in my life. I left it totally burned-out, and I had the same experience at the time when I was in the TAC as one of Achbishop Hepworth’s priests, inches away from the whirling machinery. My own instinct, based on correspondence and reading any number of articles, is that Sarum has no chance of being accepted ever again in the Roman Catholic Church. Local rites and usages fare even worse than the 1962 version of the Roman rite, which is carefully rationed and marginalised.

There is certainly a good canonical case for Sarum, and it has aroused considerable interest in the Anglican and Roman Catholic worlds of the mid nineteenth century. The interest remains. Otherwise no one would bother.

There are two essential approaches: Anglo-Saxon and continental European. In England and America, we tend to be legal positivists and observe the letter of the law. It is our Germanic way, law and order, and a large place left to trust and honour. In the Latin countries, it is the combinazione, everything being forbidden by law and buried under layers of bureaucracy, but the law can be defied and the legislator worn down by attrition when “Everybody is doing it”. Bureaucracy is rendered inoperative. In France, many parish priests defied canon law and their bishops, used the old rite and stayed in their parishes up to their deaths. I think particularly of Fr Montgomery-Wright in the Diocese of Evreux and Fr Jacques Pecha in the Diocese of Le Mans. There were many others, some of whom got together in Opus Sacerdotale, a priestly association set up in the 1960’s. It was more difficult in Italy, but some priests had enough clout to get away with it.

Fr Finnigan was using Sarum on occasions in England in the 1990’s, but a busybody informed Rome – and it all had to stop. Fr Finnigan obeyed, because his ministry as a priest extended beyond problems of liturgy, and the blackmail was complete. The most vocal of the English Ordinariate, like Fr Hunwicke, have shown no interest in Sarum, even if the good priest in Oxford has written some interesting articles in his blog.

It is not the official rite of my Church (the ACC), but I was already using it when I crossed over from the TAC. Bishop Mead has no problem with my using Sarum, though I would have to use the standard Anglican Missal (substantially the Roman rite with the Prayer Book sequence of Sunday Collects, Epistles and Gospels and various alternatives in the Order of Mass) if serving a congregation. It is a tolerance in our Church on the basis of it being a traditional rite, not of my invention, and appealing to our English identity. But, the ACC is not the Roman Catholic Church.

I have opened a Facebook group to try to arouse interest and “popularise” Sarum. It has 196 members – so much for Sarum being some kind of dusty relic in a museum! There is the argument that liturgical books are hard to find. I have the Warren edition for saying it in English and the Dickinson for the original Latin. The latter is perfectly usable at the altar, though I have printed out a booklet for the Ordo Missae with the jungle of rubrics cleaned out. The chant for Mass and the Office is being published by Dr William Renwick, in both Latin and classical English. The material is available, so the rarity of books is not an obstacle.

Fr Finnigan was doing the right thing in the 1990’s, celebrating it in Merton College chapel in Oxford for cultured men and women. The same chapel has been used also by Roman rite traditionalists. That is a positive step. Few if any priests will ever get official support from their bishops to whom a medieval rite is so alien. The only thing to do is get on with it and legitimise it through usage and canonical prescription. The trick is not to get stopped by force.

The “Tridentine” rite only survived through the “French” approach to law and authority, through the old French priests. Archbishop Lefebvre was no exception in the late 1960’s and 1970’s before the whole thing became politicised and polarised. They defied law and authority and kept on with it, and eventually the movement gained the support of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger / Benedict XVI.

Times have changed and the wind seem to have gone out of the sails. One can only hope for a new breath of fresh air…

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Mass at Sea

messe-duveauI have found this poignant painting on Rorate Caeli by Louis Duveau, A Mass at Sea in 1793 (1864) in the Musée des beaux-arts in Rennes. Click on the image to get an enlargement.

1793 was the height of the Terror in France and the persecution of the Church. Saying Mass at sea was one possibility. The sea looks fairly rough and the two-masted lugger seems to be hove-to judging by the helmsman keeping the boat’s bow into the wind. The sails are doused but are certainly maintaining enough steerage. The priest is in vestments. There are no candles or cross on whatever is being used as an altar. He must be having a difficult time keeping his balance and preventing an accident with the chalice. The painting is remarkably authentic and the artist was observant about the details of the lug rig. The boat looks a trifle overloaded with people attending the Mass.

The image was appended to an article about the state of the Church in Italy. I get tired of reading about prospects of divine chastisement because girls are showing a little bit too much tit! I learned a lot in the 1980’s seeing large traditionalist families – father at one end in the pew, mother at the other end and the six or eight children ranked like pipes in an organ, balai dans le cul. They live in the Victorian era at home and in the modern world elsewhere. The tension must be intolerable. Morality isn’t just about being prudish, but about going much more radically into questions of society. Things like contraception and “gender theory” are merely red herrings. Rorate Caeli maintains a conservative traditionalist Roman Catholic position which has its limits.

The painting is impressive.

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Title Modification

I decided to make a change in the title of this blog to reflect my broader interest in Christian faith in a post-Christian world. I have not lost interest in the liturgy or the Use of Sarum, but I feel the need to have a much wider idea reflected by my Goliard theme.

This blog has nothing to do with the radical left-wing French periodical Golias, and I try to work out a new and unconventional angle of priestly vocation and ministry. The original Goliards were monks and priests who went their way very much like many religious and clerics in the 1960’s. They wrote secular poetry and music, often not very respectful of conventional church life and in a spirit that showed their independence from the local Bishop and the Inquisition. Unlike them, I am a priest under a bishop in an instituted Church body and I am only too aware of the limits of individual freedom. I don’t write dog Latin verses, and nor do I burn old leather in the thurible!

I am concerned about the possibility of a ministry to those who live on the edges of society. I often meet the victims of life in odd places, near boats and the sea, people living with next to no money but yet earning their bread honestly by their work. Many people live “off the grid” for different reasons. Some hold weird conspiracy theories, but most want to be as independent as possible from the consumer society and the pressure to have and spend ever-increasing amounts of money. Sometimes, one finds communities in which there are ideas similar to those of Hilaire Belloc’s Distributism, though perhaps in a less organised version. As I have discussed before, there is the danger of sectarian drifts as someone with the callous soul of the school-yard bully decided to base a base of power and money. Many things cannot be institutionalised without corruption creeping in. It will happen too in my Church, but I hope not within my lifetime.

It is essential for Christianity to be connected with some kind of praxis and culture. Marginal people are unlikely to accept bourgeois and conventional church religion, and this is why so many priests after World War II decided to side with the working class and join in solidarity with their lives. In the spirit of Charles de Foucault, many priests began to live contemplative lives in towns to be a leaven in the desert. Traditionalists and conservative Anglicans often dismiss such ideas as left wing politically and tending towards secularism and loss of faith. This seems to be the place of the modern Goliard, not necessarily working in a factory or on a farm, but living close to those who have declared as much independence as possible from the consumerist and capitalist society and the reign of unbridled technology and the more frightening excesses of science. There is also the example of Fr Guy Gilbert, the Prêtre des Loubards with his long hair and motorcycle jacket working among young people kicking drugs and finding something better in life. The important thing is to have been a Christian witness to people who may never make the step of going to a church service or receiving the Sacraments. If some good is done, I’m sure Christ will in some way fill in the rest…

I imagine that I will continue to write articles on the liturgy and our old English patrimony, but in this greater context of culture and life. In early July, I will be at our Council of Advice in London. I have booked my ferry crossing a day in advance so that I can visit a residential marina on the north bank of the Medway, a place where people live in boats. I hope to learn a thing or two. Kent and the Thames Estuary is a strange place, full of stories of grinding misery related by Charles Dickens – different today but still a world of its own. I would dearly like another time to bring my boat over and explore some of those waters at high tide.

People live in more different lives than we can imagine. Look at any house and we can only speculate what happens within its walls, both good and evil, longing for love and kindness – or for wealth and power. The great unshriven mass of people, the thousands on whom Christ had pity, and our awareness that we, clerics or regular laity, are among all those people with their concerns, problems, illness, grief and everything imaginable. Perhaps then the priest rediscovers his vocation.

I have no real plan in my own life, but a constant idea in my mind moves onwards and forwards, waiting for a time and opportunity to bring it to fruition. So much will depend on so much. Does anyone else here share this kind of thought?

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Global Warming

Pope Francis has just written on the subject, I hope not “infallibly”, because much of what I read on the subject suggests scientific evidence opposing the theory of global warming due to levels of carbon dioxide produced by man.

Whatever you believe, this by Fr Peter Mullen is interesting: Laudato si.

Here is an article that discusses the science of the question What the Science REALLY Says About Global Warming. Whatever we are convinced one way or the other, I am inclined to smell a rat with “global warming orthodoxy”.

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