The Nemo Syndrome

I have occasionally written about Jules Verne’s epic novel Vingt Mille Lieues sous les Mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea). Seeing the 1954 Walt Disney film with James Mason and Paul Luka was perhaps the greatest turning point in my life in the late 1960’s, a theme with many variations in my self-knowledge and relationship with the world of which I am an insignificant part. I was obsessed with this story for a few years, until I came to terms with the reality that building a submarine is an ambitious undertaking (English understatement). Also, did I really want to ram ships and kill people?

The late nineteenth century was a time of great optimism in human progress through technology and invention. The theme of the balance between this prowess and the quality of the human soul was one of the great themes of the Romantics and those who saw the storm clouds coming – which would lead to the hecatomb of World War I. As far as I see things, world war never ended. It simply metamorphosed into the dictatorships of the 1920’s and 30’s and finally the hidden and dark hearts of America, England and other countries with vast amounts of money owned by a small number of oligarchs. Oscar Wilde wrote on the Soul of Man under Socialism, socialism having been manipulated into another form of capitalism in the hands of the richest and most powerful.

It is very easy to blame everything and everyone else for one’s own feeling of alienation from the world. As the years passed by, my view of Nemo turned from seeing him as a hero to a fanatic contributing to the very forces that alienated him. He built the submarine Nautilus with one purpose: that of destroying warships and killing their crews. Secondarily, the ship was equipped with a luxury dwelling for Nemo and unrevealed conditions of life for his officers and crew. Arronax, Conseil and Ned Land seemed to have been reasonably housed in the 1954 film. Nemo’s crew would have been men who would have escaped from the “Gulag” with him. Verne seems to make his character appeal to the Romanticism in ourselves, our deepest yearnings, and then show the ugliness of human nature in anger, revenge and hatred. As Nemo influenced my own life, I have had to fight with these opposing forces of love of nature and the temptation to hate a world that represented something else, another interest, another view of life and the world. It is my “archetype” as Jung would have put it.

In my first contact with Verne’s novel, in the form (the 1954 film) to which I could relate as a small boy, I contrasted the dullness of conventional society, family and school, with their norms to observe and frequently absurd usages against the Sturm und Drang of the wild and unfettered human soul. Nemo had carved something pleasant for himself with the use of immense wealth and technology, the saloon with the pipe organ, the steam punk furnishings and the spirit of the age. Through the window in the side of the submarine, he would observe sea life without getting his feet wet!

The sea does not belong to dictators“, yet he was claiming it. “Only there is independence! There I pay homage to no masters! There I am free!” There is but a thin dividing line between the aspiration to transcendence and the selfishness of the psychopath. Did not Hitler have a love for art, nature and beauty? Yet he slaughtered millions. Our freedom ends with the beginning of the freedom and the rights of others – therefore conventions, laws, authorities, constraints. Freedom is spiritual as so beautifully expressed by Berdyaev.

In reality, freedom is aristocratic, not democratic. With sorrow we must recognize the fact that freedom is dear only to those men who think creatively. It is not very necessary to those who do not value thinking. In the so-called democracies, based on the principle of popular sovereignty, a considerable proportion of the people are those who have not yet become conscious of themselves as free beings, bearing within themselves the dignity of freedom. Education to freedom is something still ahead of us, and this will not be achieved in a hurry.

It would seem that our spiritual aspiration to transcendence is possible, but within certain conditions of our self-knowledge and our relationship with the Other that confers on us the quality of Person in the image of the Trinity. Captain Nemo could have built or bought a ship or even the submarine with the new type of propulsion system (electricity processed out of the sea, nuclear reactor, etc.). He had simply to turn his way of life into a philosophy for the betterment of mankind, no killing or judgement of the world beyond his own life and that of his companions. As the Gospel and fundamental human decency has always taught us, we don’t have the right to kill or render evil for evil – simply recognise evil for what it is, walk away from it and construct a new life built on good. Imagine if Verne would have built his character thus, but we all have our demons and shadows. This is part of both divinity and humanity. Like Frankenstein much earlier in the century, Verne’s novel is a parable, a warning.

I have struggled all my life between the desire for stability and being marginal and aloof from the absurdities. For many years, I have sought to live this balance by living in the countryside. I married with two conditions being made explicit: I would continue in my priestly calling in whatever form possible and I would not live in town. Finally, marriage with a woman with other expectations and values in this perspective is not possible, especially if she represents the values I have always eschewed, and obtains them through aggression and abuse. Had we had children, her way would have been the only way, and I would have had to accept life as a drone in the consumer society where money reigns supreme. There is something very strange about a world that favours psychopathy and the “dark side”.

Returning to the Nemo theme, there are people in this world who fear the consequences of unlimited human population growth, industrial exploitation and pollution, the spectre of societal collapse and the theme of the post-apocalypse film, nuclear war, pandemics. These threats are very real and have happened before. Society reflects the individual psychopath, the downward spiral to hell. We can’t fight all that, so the natural reaction is to flee and seek something beautiful and which confers meaning to our consciousness.

Some have been known to retreat to the woods to live off-grid life in yurts and micro-houses or caravans. Others collect guns, believing that they will be able to defend themselves when the chips are down against police forces of some kind of totalitarian regime, marauders or pirates. If that hypothesis became a reality, there would be a lot of desperate people around, like the thousands of young men pouring into Europe from the shit-holes of the world. Prepping has become an industry in America (to a lesser extent in Europe) and it seems to overrate man’s ability to survive the unsurvivable (nuclear holocaust for example). We will all die one day, and everything will depend on what we believe continues to subsist after the dissolution of the physical body. On the other hand, we have the survival instinct which is very powerful in us, as in all animals. In all conditions of life, we compete. In the Darwinian paradigm, might is right and only the strongest survive. Unfortunately, the strong are not the philosophers, Romantics and contemplatives, but psychopaths and those who have no qualms about killing and eliminating others for power and wealth.

Verne’s Nemo took to the sea, and this is an archetype that has attracted many of us. There are blogs written by men who live in boats, wandering the oceans or hunkering down in a port during the winter to earn a living in whatever way possible. It’s not difficult with an internet connection and a marketable skill. That pays the port rent, food and the maintenance of the boat. After that, we just have to ask ourselves what our purpose is, why we’re here, what God is calling us to be and do.

It is very easy for us to justify ourselves by blaming others, whilst we remain a part of the web of sin. Nemo sank ships, and the rest of us need money and something from the world that tires us increasingly. I have been reading an interesting blog by someone who has taken to living on a sailing yacht and is quite shocking in his judgement of the world, a real Nemo. He is obviously not sinking ships by ramming them with a solid iron bow spike but the judgements are quite hard, almost as if he needs something to justify himself. I wonder.

That we can decide on a life of self-reliance is a matter of our choice. There are always consequences of choices, and advantages and disadvantages to weigh up, so many questions to ask. Some of us are repulsed by many of the things of the modern world that pushed away the Romantics two hundred years ago: violence, injustice, ugliness, shallowness. The cris de coeur of Blake’s Jerusalem and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. If you are reading this, I wrote it on a computer and I have often expressed my fascination with science and technology. The important thing is humanity and our consciousness which must be able to use machines as tools to improve life, not obey them when they find ways to dominate us. It seems obvious to say that if mankind destroys this planet or renders it uninhabitable, a man at sea may have little chance to escape. Perhaps gaining a little time is everything.

Apocalyptic thinking can become the stuff of cults like the ones in which the guru and adepts killed each other or committed suicide – or Palmar de Troya, an ersatz Roman Catholicism à la sauce espagnol which I discussed a few days ago. The essential when reading people’s ideas is to keep one’s critical sense and self-reliance. How do we clean our minds of delusions? How do we attain reality, the reality of ourselves and the reality of the world with which we have to relate?

Will society collapse leaving only the “prepared” in their remote dwellings and boats? There are signs, but nothing is certain. However, I agree that some of us are not made for living in the matrix, a certain illusory form of modern society caricatured by the sight of commuters in a train totally absorbed by their smart phones. I find it impossible to deny that infinite human population growth is possible in a world of finite resources. We may yet be far from the limits. I know practically zilch about economics and banking, but I find it hard to refuse some highly cogent accounts of the possibility of a total breakdown of our system of money and what money is (value of human work, gold, whatever).

Our greatest fear is being enslaved, and this is confirmed when we compare current events with Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World together with other books and films on similar dystopian themes. Dystopias have happened, Nazism and Communism to give two known examples. Logically, they can come about in the future, and elements of this tyranny are already with us. Globalism is ushering in some very sinister things like the possibility of a new form of “Nazism” using mega-cities with “comfortable” conditions as “concentration camps”. Is that really impossible? I have kept out of towns for years because I am afraid of being trapped – but living in the country in the mainstream system of banks, buying things, paying bills, etc. is the same thing. Being marginal is becoming illegal in more and more places. One has the feeling that the pincers are closing.

Paranoia or wakeful lucidity? It’s the choice of each one of us.

I don’t know what to believe about global warming of human origin. One batch of scientific evidence contradicts another batch of equally scientific evidence. One hypothesis shows melting ice caps, and another shows the opposite. If I go to those places myself, I will look for the wrong thing in the wrong place – and get cold in the process! It is obvious that chopping down the Amazonian rain forests are changing the climate, quite apart from greenhouse gases. We humans have made our continents and oceans into a shit-hole, a dustbin and a garbage dump – for money. What happens if the Yellowstone super-volcano goes off? Apart from the real possibility of World War III, have any of us a chance of surviving in some way? We need to have that hope. The blog to which I refer above says:

… there is a wise old sailors’ adage that goes like this: “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst!”

Too right! It is possible that earth will end up like Mars, with not a word from the Almighty, or could there be a tiny remnant of those who are ready and trained for “post-technology” life, a return to the Middle Ages or the revival from the ashes of the Roman Empire?

I have often shown interest in intentional communities, of which monasticism is a type. It’s something you are called to or not. Those communities are not always religious. Some are quite “hippy” or inspired by modern forms of Romanticism and Transcendentalism. I have a great amount of sympathy. However, if the chips are down, those communities will be gutted by marauders and pirates from the cities, starving and ready to kill for something to eat. That is the one limit of communities of “Catholic Amish” or low-tech communities of lovely and innocent people.

Putting to sea, being ready to sail away at a moment’s notice is appealing. Even in our “peace” time, we can adapt to living in boats. Perhaps it might be harder for couples with children, but they are the future. Boats can be attacked and sunk, but perhaps one has a better chance than in a land-based community. Personally, it appeals to me, and learning to sail a big boat is made much easier when you have experience in dinghy sailing and cruising as I have. Big boats react more slowly and are heavier to handle, but they handle big seas better than small boats. As a human being, I am interested in survival, even though faith takes away my fear of death.

Many tribes of humans were able to survive because they were nomads, mobile and able to go where life would treat them better. In Christianity, we have the stability of monks, but also the itinerant mendicant brethren of St Francis. Christ and the Apostles were itinerants as is obvious from reading the Gospel. It can be done on land or by sea.

There are many fanatics out there working on the idea of “prepping”, but I am not inclined to read their stuff about “bug-out” bags and ways to abandon one’s house and set off to the hills in a car. But, they may have a point for many things. I prefer a more gentle and contemplative approach, based on self-reliance, a contemplative life and love of those we can trust.

Can we live long-term like that. It depends on what we expect in life. As things are, we can compromise: work a small business, put money in the bank, avoid debts, spend as little as possible and have what is necessary to maintain the boat, pay port rent and live. With the “system” not working, one can live on dry provision, some types of seaweed and fish caught from the sea. It would be a return to a pre-agricultural world. One can drink rainwater as long as it isn’t polluted with radioactivity or poisonous chemicals. Maybe a tall order in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

There are probably more people living in boats than we think. The boat has to be big enough to live in but small enough to handle safely. I once had the brief joy of being the only one on deck on a 34-foot Dufour, mainsail sheeted in and cleated, genoa well trimmed and steering to the wind. The others were below, but rapidly came out of the companionway when we needed to tack or gybe ship. Dinghy sailing is the best way to learn, and I am confident about graduating to a yacht once I no longer have a house and car to pay for.

The Sea Gypsy blog has some very seductive ideas, but the crunch comes when he starts talking of setting up some kind of community. Obviously, some intentional communities work and are founded on principles involving the freedom of all and a minimum of authority and discipline. Many others fail or become like totalitarian cults. On the other hand, the main purpose of a blog, mine or his, is to share ideas and modify them as others come up with great ideas. I founded this blog on the notion of the old Goliards, marginal priests and monks who mocked the system but continued to be believing Christians and lived their self-reliance to the full. Life at sea can hardly be a way for bums and good-for-nothings, since survival depends on a sense of routine and discipline. How else can we handle a crisis like something on the boat getting broken – and we have to find a solution with what we’ve got? In nine years of sailing, I have never had to be rescued beyond capsizes at sailing school as a beginner. However, our friend Ray Jason does make the point of being there to inspire rather than lead.

Ecology has been seriously perverted and “taken over” by globalism. Anything becomes possible on the pretext of saving the planet. It’s a good idea to sort our rubbish and use low powder light bulbs, to protest against pollution and waste, but we have to ask ourselves what kind of life we are living. How can a vegetarian or vegan use leather for shoes and other animal products we take for granted? What seems to me primordial is to love nature, live near nature and cease to see ourselves as masters of it. We can kill animals for food – and so can they kill us for food! There are plenty of species who will eat humans if given a chance… We don’t have to put our head in the lion’s mouth, but take a somewhat humbler attitude. Apparently, lions can be very nice animals if treated kindly. I would be wary to meet a lion without some protection, but it is the same with many people!

I also agree that we need to see the earth as our partner and our friend rather than something to enslave and exploit. How able are we to live without technology or with less technology? It is interesting to see that indigenous tribes in their native habitats are in much better physical and mental health than we are. Self-knowledge, self-reliance, individuation – call it what you will, keeps us off the drugs against anxiety. I have had to take some of those horrible chemicals myself this year, but am much better without them. I came off Sertraline with a 3-week reduction schedule, to prevent withdrawal symptoms. It is essential for all of us to live without addictions. I still have the same marriage problems, but my philosophy of life is stronger through suffering and self-knowledge.

In the perfect utopia, there are no rich and poor, ruled and rulers, no discrimination against women and people of different races. Our present society favours psychopathy, ruthlessness and brute force, not wisdom and experience of life. Nothing good can come out of it. More and more of us are completed disillusioned with party politics. Some communities come near to the ancient idea of the tribe, but we have to understand ourselves and the essential principles. The smaller the community, the more it might have the chance to remain tribal and not become a system or hierarchy.

Churches and organised religion are not without blame and nor are atheism and other systems that seek to suppress spirituality and transcendence. The redundancy of the “mainstream” churches is a great opportunity for small churches like the Continuing Anglicans – just as long as we don’t imitate the evil we have been brought to denounce. My experience in the Church has brought me to a way of thinking that prevailed in the 1960’s, not of deconstructing and making the liturgy and community life into an imitation of the technocratic system of our globalist society – but rather of building up human goodness in small groups and individuals through return to nature and renunciation of authority. I believe this to be the core of the Gospel message and a new vehicle of grace, not the bureaucratic institution that emulates states and empires. It is the Romantic vision that turns away from latitudinarian civic religion, and its empty moralism. There is something about the motorcycle priest Guy Gilbert and the worker priests of post-war France, at least until they begin to emulate oppressive state socialist systems and half-baked ideologies. Like with Fr Guy Gilbert, there are ways of spreading the Christian ideal to those who are far from churches, whether they are people who have gone wrong in life or people with higher ideals than they would find in the local parish. Various things bring people together, like motorcycles and boats. I only rode a motorcycle briefly during my student life in London, and was never a part of the “set”, but I fit in very nicely in the world of boats, not the toffee-nosed crowd and the Commodore with the big moustache, but the ordinary guys who spend much less money on their craft and do more work.

I prefer to leave the apocalyptic talk behind. I do have my fears about the modern world, but we can keep it at arm’s length. My life has done much to equip me for graduating to a boat in which I could live, and not live in one place but everywhere and anywhere a boat can be moored. My “Nemo theme” was put on a very remote back burner for a long time as I went to work in organ building, and then to seminary and theological faculty. A few events in 2008 re-kindled the fire and I went to to the local sailing school to get lessons, a week on catamarans and some Saturday afternoons over a year or so (spring to autumn) in sports dinghies. A week at the Glénans in 2009 did a lot of good as did a regatta over several days in 34-foot yachts in August 2011 with French Roman Catholic priests and seminarians, even the Bishop of Quimper. It gave me an introduction to large and heavy yachts. Learning to sail does cost some money but less than learning to drive.

Then comes the world of cruising, either in a dinghy or a yacht. It is something liken the spirit of scouting: learning to fend for yourself, yet developing a sense of solidarity and human decency with other persons. I learned many things from Roger Barnes, an English architect who sails a small open fishing boat type vessel. He has written a book and I have sailed with (or near) him several times at large gatherings in France like the Semaine du Golfe. He can teach you all the practical aspects like trailers, launching and recovering the boat, installing a tent to be able to sleep on board, storing and preparing food, the right kind of clothing, safety at sea, repairing the boat and “jury” rigging, navigation, in short – everything the usual sailing schools don’t teach because they prepare people for regattas. Each practical chapter is bordered by a reflection of the sailor whose experience will do nothing other than turn him into a Romantic. Beyond tacking and gybing, righting a capsized boat, the real learning happens this way between friends.

I have occasionally met people who live in boats, in particular a Merchant Navy man with a large ketch tied up and dried out at Plouër-sur-Rance. His wife and two small children were in the boat with him. The openness and friendliness is quite breathtaking. After the nastiness of people driving cars on the road and the uncaring zombies of city life, the man of the sea has simplicity about him, a love of everything good and beautiful, an appreciation of life and every one of God’s blessings. Verne’s Nemo was full of hatred, but there was an aspiration to the divinity of the sea too, an appealing aspect of the black-bearded character. Most men of the sea are modest, friendly and helpful, and above all peaceful. As with humanity in general, not all people of the sea are nice. I have come across some very cantankerous fishermen who despise leisure sailors, and then there are pirates. Modern pirates in the waters of the Persian Gulf and off the coast of Somalia among other areas, quite unlike Long John Silver, are very nasty and desperate pieces of work! They hold merchant ships to ransom, but those ships are much better protected nowadays. Fishermen and pirates can be avoided.

Going sailing for weekends or even for a week as I have done is one thing. Living aboard is another. I couldn’t do that on my present boat. I would need a vessel three times its size. You can find a good Westerly or Hurley in England from the many people who find it more and more difficult to pay for a house, a car and a boat. It’s a buyer’s market. A couple of years ago, I looked over a couple of yachts at Hoo in Kent. It’s an impressive world, laden with many traps for the unwary. Still, boat brokers and surveyors tend to be more honest than second-hand car dealers. It’s a project for the future necessitating certain prior conditions for me.

How long can someone stay at sea? Bernard Moitessier was the first to circumnavigate the globe by the Southern Ocean without any stop-offs or resupplies. That was an incredible feat and he was an incredible man. After so long at sea, he settled on a Pacific island and lived a very simple life. There are three main limits to our ability to stay at sea: physical, mental and the boat. Physically, we need fresh water and food, and an on-board pharmacy to deal with common illnesses and infections. Even in my dinghy, I have ibuprofen and colchinine (gout) and a simple first aid kit. Mentally, we have to be able to deal with loneliness and sheer distance from our origins. It is the ascetic discipline of the Carthusian monk, otherwise you go crazy as did Donald Crowhurst. The sea brings you into contact with yourself, and there is only reality to face. The super-ego counts for nothing. It is advisable to go by stages in this way of self-knowledge and healing. I hope this year to do a sea passage in my boat at about two nautical miles from the coast, perhaps Fécamp to Dieppe and back with a stopover in the port of Dieppe. A twelve-foot dinghy can only do so much! The third is the boat. In spite of the greatest care, there can be horrible incidents – like a yacht in the Pacific Ocean striking a metal container that had fallen off a ship and was just under the surface. Lose your boat and you lose your home, and possibly also your life. Everything must be meticulously maintained from the hull to the spars and standing rigging, the sails and the engine. It is daunting, but a challenge to our attitude in life and the state of our relationship with God.

There are considerations for having to survive a catastrophe in the world. Even in my cruising dinghy, I am equipped with VHF, transistor radio with LW as well as MW and FM and a mobile phone. On a yacht, it would certainly be a good idea also to have a HAM radio and a good transmitter – and learn how to use it. If the mobile phone and GPS go down, radio is essential, as is traditional sextant and chronometer navigation. I still do my coastal navigation in my dinghy with a bearing compass, portland plotter and a chart. For very small areas and small format charts, one can use a 360° protractor and / or an orienteering compass. I would use GPS on a yacht, anything modern for as long as it works. You just have to able to avoid depending on it absolutely. Anything can happen in the Pit.

The catastrophe hasn’t happened, at least in full, and life in Europe and England might remain tolerable for some time yet. But the Nemo Syndrome is not merely an extreme precaution for some extreme event. It is a way of life some of us choose because we are alienated from a world that stifles humanity, freedom and creativity. I have been in a toxic marriage for too long, and the fundamental choice stares me in the face. ‘Nuff said

I don’t know what is going to happen in the western world. I can guess, as can everyone else, but the problems remain. Europe is set to become a Muslim caliphate. It might take fifty or a hundred years, but there is no sign of any reversal. They produce the babies and we don’t. Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans smashing up churches will be nothing compared with what is to come and what has happened in Syria. I am not a prophet and cannot predict anything else. Conspiracy theory or facing up to reality? We face death or a new life. The Pilgrim Fathers put to sea to seek a new world. We might find new worlds in those parts of the earth forgotten by both Islam and globalism. Who knows?

One day I will join the growing flotilla and take with me the Gospel and the gift of the Priesthood…

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Psychotic religion

As a result of my recent posting on Palmar de Troya, I received an interesting e-mail from a former SSPX seminarian who remembers the events in 1975 at Ecône. Namely, a Canon Maurice Revaz (professor at Ecône) went to find a Vietnamese archbishop in exile by the name of Pierre Martin Ngô-dinh-Thuc and persuaded him to go to Spain and ordain and consecrate as bishops a small group of seemingly pious laymen.

I was given this extract of a text:

“In his autobiographical notes, written in 1976, Thuc claims that Maurice Revaz suddenly appeared at his home, saying: ‘Excellency, the Holy Virgin sends me in order for me to send you to central Spain immediately to render her a service. My car is ready for you at the presbytery’s door and we will depart immediately in order to be there for Christmas.’ According to his own testimony, Thuc then answered, ‘If it is a service that the Holy Virgin required, I am ready to follow you to the end of the world, but I must inform the priest because of the Christmas Mass and must pack my bag.’ On the journey, Revaz and Thuc were accompanied by the McElligotts, a married Irish couple who lived in Switzerland.

It was not the first time Thuc and Revaz met; they had talked during the archbishop’s visit to Ecône about a year earlier. In the meantime, Revaz’s interest in El Palmar de Troya was wakened by the McElligotts, who, apart from their Swiss home, owned a property on the Andalusian coast, close to the apparition site. A more concrete reason for Revaz’s interest in El Palmar and his active role in assisting them was related by Thomas W. Case in a series of articles published in Fidelity journal. The author wanted to prove connection between SSPX and groups that he regarded as clearly heretical, such as the Palmarians. In the article, Case wrote about a ‘dwarf … who claimed she heard “voices” and the Blessed Virgin telling her that Thuc should begin a line of bishops through the seer Clemente.’ This woman was the McElligotts’ daughter. According to Case, Revaz believed in her messages and used them to convince Thuc.”

I have only ever met people involved with the Palmar church fleetingly around 1981 and the following year when I attended Mass at the SSPX church in Holloway (north London). There were indeed some very strange characters who talked about their experiences and seemed very distant in terms of ordinary communication. My correspondent mentioned the son of the author Hugh Ross Williamson, and he emerged from the archives of my memory as an odd soul with a “cow pat” wig and odd manners about him. There were some others who claimed to have seen something or heard voices. Palmar de Troya seemed to be a haven for those considered too “far out” for the Society of St Pius X. My correspondent ended his e-mail with this poignant reflection:

There’s a certain fascination in the exotic and sordid Palmar phenomenon but also a baroque horror about it all.

In other contexts, I have read things about various mental disorders related to experiences like sights and sounds not experienced by other persons in the same place. It is risky to explain religious and spiritual phenomena by psychiatric science. Atheists do it all the time to give a simplistic explanation for anything outside materialism. St Joan or Arc would seem to have been a perfect candidate for a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The Freudian school of psychiatry would dismiss all religious belief as delusional, but progress has been made in vital distinctions between faith and pathology. When is something pathological? I don’t think anyone knows. Is it the notion of something being shared by several persons? For example, an event happened at Fatima in Portugal in 1917, when thousands of people saw what looked like the sun spinning and moving around the sky.

My own tendency would be to doubt the conventional distinction between reality and delusion, because of the possibility of parallel universes and that some persons experience more than one at the same time. This would give some explanation to UFO’s and communication with the dead for example. Quantum theory gives ideas about things that cannot be explained by traditional Newtonian physics. I do think that someone can experience something that would not be recognised by other people to be real. Miracles and visions have happened, recognised as such by Churches, and experienced by generally rational people.

It is dangerous for those of us outside the medical profession to venture into psychiatric diagnosis beyond the observation of some typical characteristics, which may indicate one pathology or another, or a co-morbidity of several conditions. I do think that “cow pat wig” was someone whose religion made him unhappy, and who might have benefited from medical care in some way.

Oscar Wilde’s great Epistola in Carcere et Vinculis (complete text) relates the notion of imitation in religion:

And so he who would lead a Christ-like life is he who is perfectly and absolutely himself. He may be a great poet, or a great man of science ; or a young student at a University, or one who watches sheep upon a moor ; or a maker of dramas, like Shakespeare, or a thinker about God, like Spinoza; or a child who plays in a garden, or a fisherman who throws his nets into the sea. It does not matter what he is, as long as he realises the perfection of the soul that is within him. All imitation in morals and in life is wrong. Through the streets of Jerusalem at the present day crawls one who is mad and carries a wooden cross on his shoulders. He is a symbol of the lives that are marred by imitation.

That image of the madman in Jerusalem or the traditionalist cranks in Victoria Street outside Westminster Cathedral has impressed me strongly. Perhaps true madness comes from denying one’s own personality rather than mystical experience. Reading through Wilde’s text once again, I find the name of Emerson, of whom I knew nothing before Walt Whitman lead me to an acquaintance with Transcendentalism. Wilde seemed to have absorbed English Romanticism and the American movement of the era of his childhood, and then added something of his own. We have to be ourselves as Christ was perfectly himself, imitating or conforming to nobody.

I don’t know whether there is a relationship between the suppression of personality and madness. Different specialists in the field will come up with various more or less credible theories, perhaps in some cases with ideological prejudice at the root. I come across characters like “cow pat wig” on the internet, but their personalities are hidden by the lack of anything other than written communication. The phenomenon of the troll is revealing, especially as I experienced the exchanges and discussions concerning the TAC and the Ordinariates, still discernible in the blog St Mary’s Hollywood: The Cold Case File and the turn it has taken fairly recently. Most of the other creeps who caused me to close down a former blog I was running have all crawled back into their holes. Was it something to do with the abdication of the Pope?

How do we keep ourselves in good mental health? Perhaps I cannot speak for all, but I heed the idea of self-reliance being a strong basis rather than conformity to something which is OK for another person but not me. We have a lot to learn from philosophers like Umberto Eco, a healthy scepticism and being difficult to convince. As I have discussed about cults, the essential is our freedom and that of others. The Enlightenment has been frustrating for churches, but was a good thing and gave us the distance we needed to be healthy believers. I do believe that mental health is largely determined by philosophy of life and a balanced attitude in everything. We are not made to be drugged up to the eyeballs just to give the appearance of “normality”.

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My Take on Transcendentalism

This is something that has been going through my mind for a while, but I have felt inhibited by the idea of promoting yet another “label”, closing personal thoughts, feelings and aspirations into yet another conventional category. This is the problem I saw with the question of Aspergers syndrome, although I was very encouraged by hearing a lecture given in Rouen by Dr Laurent Mottron, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Montreal, recently in France. The problem with diagnosis is the vast diversity of characteristics with only a few things in common. A physical pathology is typified and is diagnosed by its symptoms. A person has diabetes or does not have it, and this is ascertained through a blood test. There are some clearly identifiable mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and the treatment given by a psychiatrist varies very little from person to person. Autism is something else. Distinguished from “psychopathy” and schizophrenia in about 1943, it has a number of typical characteristics, but being a spectrum, there are people on the “borderline”, the so-called “high functioning” ones. Dr Mottron’s approach is entirely different, a hypothesis that high-functioning autism and Aspergers represent a difference of personality rather than a handicap. It suddenly struck me that this condition may well be better explained in philosophical than medical terms.

This idea came home to me when I discovered American Transcendentalism, a philosophy originating in New England consisting of ideas from English and German Romanticism and German Idealism, together with other aspects proper to North America. I was particularly seized by the love of nature and the idea of simple living and self-reliance. American Transcendentalism differs somewhat from Romanticism, mainly by its religious dimension in reaction to “dogmatic” Calvinism. The Romantic would be less optimistic about human nature than the Unitarians of Massachusetts and various authors and poets inspired by these ideas, like Walt Whitman and Herman Melville.

Transcendentalism received something of a definition from its “father”, Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“The Transcendentalist adopts the whole connection of spiritual doctrine. He believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration, and in ecstasy. He wishes that the spiritual principle should be suffered to demonstrate itself to the end, in all possible applications to the state of man, without the admission of anything unspiritual; that is, anything positive, dogmatic, personal. Thus, the spiritual measure of inspiration is the depth of the thought, and never, who said it? And so he resists all attempts to palm other rules and measures on the spirit than its own….

“It is well known to most of my audience, that the Idealism of the present day acquired the name of Transcendental, from the use of that term by Immanuel Kant, of Konigsberg, who replied to the skeptical philosophy of Locke, which insisted that there was nothing in the intellect which was not previously in the experience of the senses, by showing that there was a very important class of ideas, or imperative forms, which did not come by experience, but through which experience was acquired; that these were intuitions of the mind itself; and he denominated them Transcendental forms. The extraordinary profoundness and precision of that man’s thinking have given vogue to his nomenclature, in Europe and America, to that extent, that whatever belongs to the class of intuitive thought, is popularly called at the present day Transcendental….”

One of Emerson’s flagship works was Self-Reliance. I am reminded of some of Oscar Wilde’s ideas on individualism. We are not called to imitate, copy or conform – but be ourselves. Is that morally reprehensible selfishness? It certainly can be, but there is a depth of personality where an individual person only can create and show originality. Read the essay and try to pull it out of its historical context, read a modern context into it and try to “rewrite” it in the light of your own experience. That is one possible approach, but I prefer to respect Emerson and his time, and simply extract a few ideas. There are groups of young Americans in our time calling themselves Transcendentalists, which is just as much an anachronism as calling oneself a Romantic (which I have often done, abusively). Sympathising with someone’s ideas, or some of them, does not make me that other person! This is why I opened this posting with considerations of high-functioning autism and Aspergers and Dr Mottron’s methodology of considering the highly variable characteristics without committing himself in all cases to a medical diagnosis.

Transcendentalism is usually tied up with Unitarianism, but that fact should not be used to invalidate and condemn the whole. As an Anglican Catholic, my belief in God is Trinitarian (good thing too, since I am writing on Trinity Sunday…). There are ways to spiritual freedom and aspiration other than denying the Trinity! I am not interesting in conforming to Emerson’s or anyone else’s transcendentalism or any complete philosophical system, but some elements find a profound echo in my own being. This is why I made the link between philosophy and psychology, between personalism / individualism and the varying characteristics found in people called high-functioning autists and “aspies”.

One aspect of Emerson’s essay makes me smile, his comments on travelling. In those days, travel was the preserve of scientists and explorers, invariably with ample financial resources. Nowadays, it is people crammed into aeroplanes like sardines in a tin after having been through invasive security procedures, what look like top-heavy ships for transporting people in differing degrees of luxury and entertainment. People are free to do what they want. I was once sailing my little boat in Les Pertuis near the Isle of Aix, and needed to heave-to to allow a passenger boat past. Ten-foot boats and human flesh and large propellers powered by hundreds of horsepower of diesel engines – don’t mix, understating it a little. As the small ship passed before my bows, I sheeted in my sails again and pulled in the helm. As I crossed the ship’s wake, the smell of people was quite overpowering. Any smell at sea is multiplied a hundredfold. This was the smell of perfume, sweat and cigarette smoke, a wake of humanity. Mass tourism, rather than the individual way of taking a boat out and exploring with only the company of non-human nature. I sometimes find myself on cross-Channel ferries to go to England. I last boarded a plane when my mother died in February 2013, and hated it. There is nothing more dystopian than the modern airport! “Other people”, yet I am one of the same species, and they would see me with the same uncaring eye. A priest’s concern is for persons, not people! Emerson’s point seems to me that we find God where we are, and the grass is no greener on the other side of the fence. Whither, O unsatisfied soul, as Whitman wrote.

The theme of self-reliance struck me deeply, not because of any desire to imitate these gentlemen from the last years before the American Civil War, but because the same thoughts were going through my mind long before I heard that there has been a movement on that theme. It happens to me time and time again. A practical problem so often brings me to invent its solution. The problem is nearly always that someone else invented and patented the device long before I did. I would nevertheless compare his patented version (once I knew it existed) against my own and express preferences according to the practical need. My attitude can only be self-effacing, and respect the patented invention and say nothing about what I came up with independently (because I would have saved a lot of time using the existing invention compared with coming up with my own solution). It is the same thing with thought and claiming to belong to such and such a movement. It was invented more than a century before my birth! This said, it is not a competition, simply an encouragement to develop and refine thoughts – and make progress and grow. Do not imitate or plagiarise. Be yourself and fully yourself. Don’t worry what others think.

Self-reliance may seem to express pride and refusal of obedience and submission to authority. Anarchy does not exist outside the spiritual life of the person. We can be anarchists as individuals, but we have to go along with the society in which we live outwardly. Thus, Oscar Wilde in prison could call himself a “free man”. His spirit transcended the bars and chains of that house of bondage. I am a priest in an institutional Church, and I am answerable to my Bishop. At the same time, much of my life transcends that hierarchical and priestly relationship (though I have developed something of a friendship with my Bishop). I would certainly be less rationalistic and more realistic than Emerson. Even Bernard Moitessier on his second circumnavigation under sail had to put into port sooner or later!

On the other hand, few of us can come to terms with solitude, not only our own choice of lifestyle, but the awareness that other people simply do not care. Why should they unless they’re getting paid or rewarded in some other way. Few of us are altruistic beyond being concerned for the safety of others and saving their lives in danger of death. For many things in life, being alone is the way we have to come to terms with, and make the best of it. After all, Aspergers and high-functioning autism are nothing more than that, being aware of our alienation from society and our need to bring out our own gifts and creativity. Sure, we have to play the game and act “normal”. I am reasonably good at that, being nice to others, courteous, kind, considerate and concerned about people’s health, safety and life. A part of being a priest is to do one’s duty in society, but when the day is over, I need to be alone.

Self-reliance can only come from self-knowledge and spiritual health. This is the secret of hermits and lone sailors. We are faced with ourselves and our divinity and our demons, the light and the shadow. This theme converges with the Gnostics and C.G. Jung, a process of individuation. I have read about these questions since my university days, and have worked at finding the essence of my subconscious being – and that work still continues. The Calvinist paradigm (extreme Augustinianism) postulates the utter and complete alienation of man from God. The Transcendentalist refused that radical separation. However sinful we are, divinity is never absent, and even God (from the evidence of the Yahweh of the Old Testament) is capable of sin and has to live with the duel between light and darkness. It is the condition of us all.

Society brings man to conflict, war, shouting down the other side of a discussion or a debate – as we see all the time in politics. Other people, as opposed to persons, bring stupidity into life. No progress is ever made. No lessons are learned from history. No creation is possible and beauty is trodden down. The individual person is capable of beauty (as well as sin), creates, marvels in the face of nature and the best of other human persons in a relationship of love (a domain in life in which I have largely failed).

As with many things, American Transcendentalism was more self-conscious than English and German Romanticism, and there lays its strength – and its weakness. As with most things American, Transcendentalism was more pragmatic and sought to be understood as a “missionary” movement, where Romanticism remained personal and less optimistic about human nature, more inclined to dark thoughts, the Sturm und Drang I felt as I stood on a Portuguese beach at the age of 12 almost in prayer in the face of a black and ominous Atlantic storm.

I do believe it is a mistake to identify with various labels that have arisen in history, to describe philosophies, mindsets or mental conditions. I recognise myself in some characteristics of Aspergers, as has a psychiatrist, but not all of them that are listed in the manuals. I don’t “stim”, as least visibly – and I can drive a car and sail a boat safely, both of which require spatial perception. Even my theory of mind might be more acute than most people I know. When a person is unpleasant, this causes me an excessive amount of revulsion and suffering. My social awkwardness may be caused, not by failing to understand the non-verbal signals, but being affected by them excessively. Are we seeking to conform to some fashion? On the other hand, we may find in our quest for self-knowledge some characteristics that have been given a name at some time, and this might help us to refine and strengthen our self knowledge and esteem. It is a great moment when we find that something that has always been in our lives is given a word and existence outside our own persons. We may then go and see the differences and the imperfections of any attempt to typify and bring out universal concepts. In the end it doesn’t matter what label we use or even whether we are like other persons even if only partially. Am I true to myself? As I am? As God made me?

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New Book on Palmar de Troya

See My new book on the Palmarian Church is now available by Magnus Lundberg.

Lundberg, Magnus. A Pope of Their Own: Palmar de Troya and the Palmarian Church.

Series: Uppsala Studies in Church History, volume 1.

Uppsala: Uppsala University, Department of Theology, 2017.

ISBN 978-91-984129-0-1

Full-text is available here

In 2018, fifty years will have passed since the first reports of Marian apparitions in El Palmar de Troya in Spanish Andalusia. It will also be the fortieth anniversary of the coronation of the seer Clemente Domínguez Gómez as Pope Gregory XVII, and the consequent foundation of the Palmarian Catholic Church. Still, placing the papal tiara on his head was only seen as a human act of confirmation. He asserted that Christ himself had crowned him just after the death of Pope Paul VI.

This book provides a broad overview of the history of the apparitions at El Palmar de Troya and the church that became its main result. It also includes a more systematic analysis of the church’s increasingly unusual doctrines and rituals. Through the study, I try to answer two underlying questions: First, which factors contributed to the foundation of the Palmarian Church?  Second, how has the church survived and developed through its four decades of existence?

The book can be bought in paper form, which makes study much easier, but Dr Lundberg has graciously provided us with a free pdf version.

Even more recently, in my article on American religion, I discussed what became in the eyes of secular authorities the conventional characteristics of a “cult” or “sect” as opposed to a “recognised” religion that respects fundamental human rights to freedom and self-determination. On reading through parts of this book, I wondered what became of the many bishops, religious and laity who had been a part of this machine. Some returned to the Roman Catholic Church as laymen, others continued as independent traditionalist clergy and others still would have lapsed into atheism or agnosticism. A person in that state usually does not want to be contacted or questioned. It is often the same for ex-seminarians, who have almost become other personalities since their change of life for the better of the worse. It certainly happened to me after my leaving the Institute of Christ the King, which is a legitimate Roman Catholic community of priests and sisters. I still have lurid dreams about Gricigliano twenty-five years later! Such experience in life makes or breaks, bringing us to a certain “self-reliance” and “transcendentalism” or to the mental illness of the hag-ridden.

Palmar de Troya is (and perhaps by design) an absolute caricature of post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism with the cult of the Pope and a whole devotional structure supported by remnants of a liturgical life. Perhaps it is easier for this religiosity to be waved off by someone brought up in the north of England, with public school religion and a rationalist family background. I do tend to be more sceptical than credulous – and this is healthy, but what becomes of the “sense of wonder”, awe and openness to experience?

This book by someone who has studied this Spanish phenomenon, nurtured in the sun-baked sands of Andalusia for years, is illuminating and sensitive. The tone is academic, not polemical, which makes this work that much more cogent and compelling. His blog Magnus Lundberg – Church and Mission Historian needs to be followed regularly, and I have nothing but the highest esteem for this academic, cut from the same cloth as Dr Jean-François Mayer in Switzerland, whom I met many years ago at my alma mater.

Sooner or later, Palmar de Troya will go out with a bang, attacked by Spanish police with guns, or with a whimper in the wake of a massive fiscal inspection. The cathedral will become a museum of the monumento a la demencia humana – or perhaps a retreat house of the Archdiocese of Seville, or a theme park for children eating ice cream. In any case, I empathise with those credulous folk whose lives were ruined by joining something so sulphurous, and on the other hand wonder if they didn’t get what was coming to them for being so uncritical before committing themselves to something that was so obviously a cynical fraud from the beginning. Rome handled it too badly by fulminating canonical sanctions rather than a pastoral approach – but that is another problem.

Coming from a priest in a very small and minority Church, as I am, the message is not so much to stick with the mainstream, but to discern the motivations of the leading authorities in a given Church and their respect of fundamental human rights like freedom and intellectual integrity. We all have lessons to learn, and especially the acquisition of a critical spirit and above all self-reliance.

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American Church? English Church?

Another fine article from Fr Jonathan Munn: Can there any good thing come out of America?

I have been four times to the USA: January 1998 to Maryland, June 2002 and a year later to Tennessee and in December 2003 to Tampa, Florida. It is quite an experience for a European, and we see a long history of integration of different Christian cultures and people of other religious traditions or none. The American Constitution set out to guarantee equal rights for all, freedom for all religions and cultural expressions and the freedom to earn one’s living and put one’s God-given talents to good use. I have seen people as enthusiastic about their guns as I am about boats! The gun has always been a means of self-defence, and we Europeans have to take more care to keep out of trouble if the police cannot be depended upon to intervene quickly enough to save our lives or property from wrongdoers. America has a political philosophy of libertarianism that is almost unknown in our Europe of capitalism and socialism. There are also many things that would keep me away from the USA, like its controversial health system, an inexorable slide down a slope to a totalitarian police state and perhaps the spectre of a second civil war.

I have often wondered how it is that Christianity of a particularly convinced and committed kind can exist alongside the same materialism as we have in Europe, Canada, Australia and the entire western world in which Christianity is dissolving away to nothing. America is certainly going the same way, but more slowly and less evenly. Is it thanks to the radical separation of Church and State or the contrary in the mind of Conservatism in its Protestant and Catholic versions? Churches are more alive, people more committed, and even small minority denominations and dissidences from Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and Orthodoxy are able to thrive, at least more than survive. There is something that remains of European Christian culture that is gone here in Europe.

Fr Jonathan wonders at how he can belong to anything that isn’t British or English. I have lived for many years outside England, and seem to have lost my roots in the morass of a “United States of Europe”. I don’t know whether I’m at home anywhere. I am sure that many immigrants into the United States kept something of their cultural origins, as I have, but melted in with succeeding generations. I haven’t “become” French either. I speak their language, respect their laws, socialise with them, but something remains empty, up in the air. In this I am at one with the old Romantics who aspired to something far beyond this world and what this world cannot satisfy.

Maybe, Fr Jonathan is more conscious of this issue. He has remained more English than I. I am something of a “lost soul” drifting in a world where nothing can become an absolute for me. A couple of quotes from my favourite American poet Walt Whitman:

On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future.
A vast similitude interlocks all,
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time,
All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different,
All nations, all identities that have existed or may exist,
All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spanned,
And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.

and

Down from the gardens of Asia descending,
Adam and Eve appear, then their myriad progeny after them,
Wandering, yearning, with restless explorations,
questionings, baffled, formless, feverish, with never-happy hearts
that sad incessant refrain, – Wherefore unsatisfied soul?
Whither O mocking life??
Ah who shall soothe these feverish children?
Who justify these restless explorations?
Who speak the secret of impassive earth?

Our Church is really no more American than French or anything else. I pray at Mass in union with our Archbishop Mark, our Bishop Damien and Queen Elizabeth II, and I hardly give a thought to the nationality of these three leaders in our faith.

I suppose that the ideal English religious expression is the “mainstream”, cold classical rationalism and the notion of some distant God who has not a care in the world for human beings. There are more very rich people in America than in England, but England seems more materialistic, more pragmatic and more willing to put wealth before humanity. There is something that makes me very alienated from my native country – that being the dark heart of the City of London and Westminster. The English public school taught us to be churchgoers and adhere to moral principles, but above all to eschew “enthusiasm”, piety and a quest for contemplative life, at least outside a formal monastery. Americans are more free to be enthusiastic and pious, and that is something good that comes from their country. Where would we have been without them? Perhaps none of us would be practising Christians and our only god would be money and material things, a mentality that is so depressing in England.

The Americans seem to be more into “marketing” that we Europeans. I find it quite revolting, and incompatible with my way of seeing things. I see Christianity more in terms of a loose informal monastery of contemplative life rather than the modern business corporation. The problem of totalitarian cults is not limited to America. Europe has had and still has its “fair” share, including the murderous Solar Temple that caused people to kill and commit suicide. The word sect is used more in Europe, but the etymology of the word only reveals the notion of cutting away, of separation. It manifestly means more than simple schism from the Roman Catholic Church which claims to contain the whole Church of Christ. Diversity in America is the result of religious liberty, and this is both a good thing and a bad thing. If man should no longer be free, then we confront the parable of the Grand Inquisitor and a goodness of truth that becomes evil and loss of faith. We can only be good if we have the choice and possibility of sinning.

In France and most of Europe, laïcisme is quite different from American secularism in that atheism is the philosophical system that has favour with most politicians and other authorities. That being said, the notion of secte or cult becomes very precise, with a number of objective criteria. Unfortunately, they can also be extended to the State and mainstream politics! The usual criteria are those of “seduction” (appealing to the person’s spiritual aspirations and noble human values), leadership by a “guru”, typically a narcissistic personality wanting power and control over others, “social rupture” of the individual from family, friends and mainstream life, “mental manipulation” by means of brainwashing, getting people to give increasing amounts of money. It is as difficult for someone to leave a cult as it is easy to enter it. Unfortunately, these criteria often apply to mainstream churches and religious communities – and to many secular and non-religious organisations. However, the criteria help us to seek to be different: not go in for marketing, serve rather than to seek to control, encourage people not to break from their families or normal social contexts, above all seeking to make people free rather than prisoners.

I suppose that in terms of organisation and institution, the ACC is an American Church which has spread out into other countries where England had spread its empire and Anglicanism. If we go by the above criteria, we are not a cult or a sect. We have had some odd bishops and control freaks, but no one was ever stopped from leaving. I find that in England, we are no more sectarian than any ordinary parish with its clergy and people. As Fr Jonathan mentions, the ACC is very diverse in spite of common themes like the Prayer Book Office and our Affirmation of St Louis. Some clergy continue to use the Thirty-Nine Articles as a basis of doctrine, but they are not required as they once were in the Church of England for clergy. Some altars have two candles, others have six (or more). We English tend to be more Anglo-Papalist, at least in terms of appointing churches and liturgical ceremonies. I tend to be more “monastic” and use a classical English translation of the old Use of Sarum. Perhaps Gricigliano freaked me out somewhat! I still dream about the place twenty-five years later… The ACC is also culturally diverse. We English tend to be monarchists and love our Queen and Royal Family, at least the institution even if some of the people in question are less edifying than they should be. This diversity is healthy.

My notion of Anglicanism is a little different from that of others. I tend to extrapolate from the notion of French Gallicanism, the Church under Lous XIV. It was the national Church, but which only relativised its relationship with the Pope. The Church of the Tudors was not very different, except that Henry VIII went too far and broke that relationship with Rome. England could have remained like France. Nothing is ever ideal, but there was a sense of national identity that was lost in the nineteenth century after the overthrowing of many of Europe’s monarchies and the Ultramontanist movement leading to Papal ambitions that would seek to fill the gap left by guillotined kings. I see things in a much more European context rather than going into all the usual controversies between Calvinists, Arminians and those seeking to assimilate Anglicanism with Jansenism in the seventeenth century. The collusion between the Oxford Movement and the revival of the monastic life and piety in the parishes points to one thing: it is not about Anglicanism or national culture, but a turning point of history represented by Romanticism and the passing of the old certitudes. Much of the Catholic movement in the Church of England looked to the Middle Ages before the trappings of the Roman Counter-Reformation. There are parallels between Anglo-Catholicism and the Old Catholicisms of Utrecht and Bonn, but the cultural and historical contexts determine each movement in its origins and later evolution.

This diversity of culture is a gift, and it is reflected in the ACC and even within our little English diocese. I cast my mind back to last Saturday and my tiny twelve-foot dinghy sailing alongside ships proudly flying colourful flags and sporting polished bronze bells. We all rode the tide together as we enjoyed every minute from Port Navolo to Vannes. All Churches are on a pilgrimage. There are many things we Continuing Anglicans cannot accept and will not adopt, but we are called to sail forth on our pilgrimage and teach through example and inspiration – the very contrary of the cults and sects in our world.

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A feast of Breton seafaring culture

I love this little slide show with traditional Breton bagpipe & drum music. It is the Grand Parade of last Saturday. My tiny boat is occasionally seen but was far from being the most eye-catching or interesting, among those splendid ships like the Morgenstern, the Pen Duik and the Hydrograaf to name only three. Special honour was given to the fiftieth anniversary of the rescue boats of the Sauvetage en Mer, those heroes who will put to sea in the worst conditions to save lives, and we never know when we might need them.

In an age when we suffer from hearing bad news on the radio or in the media, this is a world of humanity at its best. As an old mariner-priest said to me some years ago when I crewed for him, the sea teaches us modesty.

A little video of the Parade. I’m in it but, again, very insignificant. Have you ever seen so many boats in one place?

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Flattering…

This just came in from my editor, Dom Alcuin Reid. I will give a couple of comments after this review by the Jesuit priest Fr Baldovin.

* * *

T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy. Edited by Alcuin Reid. New York, NY: T&T Clark Bloomsbury, 2016. Pp. xix + 561. $172.

This book is a compilation of twenty-two essays by sixteen contributors. The editor, Alcuin Reid, wrote five of the chapters in addition to the introduction. The aim of the work is to provide an introduction to the study of Catholic liturgy that departs from the usual positive assessment of the post-Vatican II liturgical reform. In his introduction, R. does mention that a number of more “progressive” scholars (I am named among them) were invited to contribute but regrettably did not. For the most part the scholars represented in the volume could be identified as belonging to the “reform of the reform” position with regard to the post-Vatican II liturgy. An exception is Anscar Chupungco, the late Benedictine scholar well known for his work on liturgy and culture. It should also be noted that a welcome ecumenical element, an Anglican assessment, is offered by Ben Gordon-Taylor.

The book is divided into five parts. The first deals with the nature of liturgy itself— in a single essay by David Fagerberg, which articulates a position on liturgical theology that had been put forward by Alexander Schmemann, Aidan Kavanagh and others. This chapter is a succinct and very helpful introduction to a theological approach that has been widely accepted in academic liturgical circles, certainly among Roman Catholics. The second part consists of ten essays on the history of the liturgy. The third part treats the liturgy at Vatican II and after. This is followed by a part devoted to themes like architecture, music and translation. The final part is a single chapter entitled “The A–Z of the Study of Catholic Liturgy,” consisting of a glossary and short (and very useful) introduction to a number of important figures.

As is inevitable with a book of this sort, the quality of the pieces is uneven. Perhaps the most crucial chapters are contributed by R. himself. It is a review of the twentieth-century liturgical movement whose basic tenet is that the early movement’s intent to understand the liturgy of the church as it had been celebrated for several hundred years and thus help Catholics to participate in it consciously and intelligently was hijacked by a Vatican official, Annibale Bugnini (as well as others) in the wake of the council. For R. and a number of the contributors who agree with him, the reform was a radical departure from the organic development and reform of the liturgy that had been called for by the Vatican II Liturgy Constitution (no. 31). Even a pope has no right to change the liturgy radically, as Paul VI did. Indeed R. traces this error to Pope Pius X’s reform of the breviary at the beginning of the twentieth century. A second crucial chapter is R.’s vigorous defense of the use of the so-called Usus Antiquior or pre-conciliar liturgy. In it he accuses the opponents of Pope Benedict XVI’s liberalization of the use of this liturgy of being “positivistic” and assessing the post-Vatican II liturgy as “almost a dogma of the faith.”

This collection is argumentative and sometimes downright polemical. At practically every turn the liturgy produced by the post-conciliar Consilium for the implementation of the liturgy constitution under the leadership of Archbishop Annibale Bugnini is sharply criticized as at odds with the constitution itself. For the majority of the contributors twentieth-century “modernism” is to blame for many of the wrong turns the post-conciliar liturgy took, both in the creation of the liturgies themselves and in their pastoral implementation. Some authors (Robert Hayward and Daniel van Slyke) are very critical of the historical-critical method that has been adopted by many liturgical scholars with regards to the early liturgy. Other contributions, for example, Yitzhak Hen on medieval liturgy and Anthony Chadwick on the Roman Missal of the Council of Trent are extremely erudite. For the most part the bibliographies appended to the chapters are helpful and up-to-date.

To say the least, this collection will not find a welcome among the majority of liturgical scholars who hold academic positions today, some of whom are criticized quite harshly in various essays. This is not a book, however, that should be ignored or lightly dismissed by liturgical scholars and other theologians who consider themselves more progressive, since it contains many arguments that are well worth pondering and invite a reasoned and measured response. On the other hand, those looking for a more balanced and even-handed companion to Catholic liturgy need to look elsewhere.

John F. Baldovin, SJ
Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

* * *

It is inevitable that any criticism of the status quo (the Pauline liturgy) will be branded as polemical. We do find the opposition between the “reform of the reform” under the previous Pope and its reversal by the present incumbent. Fr Baldovin evaluates the various essays making up this book in this perspective. I do remember from my university days that academic work needs to avoid ideology and any polemical tone and concentrate on factual and historical criticism. It would have been very difficult for Dom Alcuin to come up with a purpose of this book. I do agree that the status quo of professional liturgists needs to be challenged, and that the debate should be conducted on a level playing field. My university work, converted into my contribution to this book, stayed in a safe position by discussing a historical subject matter which would criticise the current situation of the liturgy only by analogy. My work has been flatteringly described as “extremely erudite”.

Over the long Roman Catholic period of my life, I became tired of the endless controversies between two positions, neither of which was ever my own. I do not believe that Bugnini’s reform was good, and I discerned the limits of the old post-Tridentine status quo as is the usage of Roman Catholic traditionalist groups. In terms of fundamental theology, I feel more at home with Modernists like Baron von Hügel, George Tyrrell and other historical critics of that period preceding World War I – than with the neo-scholastics and representatives of an increasingly repressive Papal Catholicism. The liturgical life of the Church, in my reckoning is eminently spiritual and contemplative, something Dom Alcuin would understand as a Benedictine monk. The problems in Roman Catholicism are less liturgical than ecclesiological. As a cradle Anglican, I moved to a form of traditionalist Christianity where things are situated differently and with more subtlety.

This book is very expensive, but I do recommend its being read and consulted, at least borrowed from a library. I feel very much as part of a team of academics who have done their bit to challenge certitudes and keep the dialogue going, so that there can be progress here and there. Certainly, my Roman Catholic period has influenced my present thought and life as a Continuing Anglican priest.

I have done little work of the Use of Sarum, since the real research was done by romantically-inclined Anglicans in the mid nineteenth century and up to World War I. It all colludes with the contemplative version of “Modernism”. Most of my own effort has been in “marketing” and overcoming the notion that anything that is no longer in current widespread use must be refused, leaving only Tridentine and post-Bugnini standards. I resist that kind of “bullet in the foot”, a kind of Achilles heel in Catholic Christianity to use the analogy of the same part of human anatomy.

How do we manage freedom and regulation in the liturgy or anything else in life, whether religious or secular? The best I can offer is the idea of challenging certitudes, all certitudes, so that there may always be movement and progress. The work needs to continue.

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