Back to the 1970’s?

The traditionalist blogs are fretting about the possibility of the Roman Catholic Church going back to the 1970’s, airbrushing not only Benedict XVI but also John Paul II. The idea is sobering, but it depends on our idea of the 1970’s and the fact that history does not repeat itself exactly.

How did each of us live the 1970’s in a different ways according to our age and which Church we belonged to? For me, in 1978, when it was still Paul VI, I was 19 and working in a music shop. I was organist at a Church of England parish in York, St Clement’s with a fine Willis organ and worked with a small men and boys’ choir. Our parish was liturgically conservative with Sung Eucharist each Sunday, celebrated facing the east in English-style vestments according to something like the English 1928 rite. We still had Evensong from the standard Prayer Book. Christian commitment? I seem to have been attracted by the idea of prayer and learning something about Christian teachings, but I had other priorities in my like as a young adult.

I cared little about Rome in those days. All I knew about Paul VI is that he was against contraception and had got rid of the old Latin Mass. Someone told me about Archbishop Lefebvre, but a French bishop was of no relevance to me. Back in the 1970’s, many things were changing, but we still had conservative values. We still unkindly called homosexuals queers, poofs and fairies! They were brutal years. New buildings were systematically extremely ugly and we had The Sweeney on the television. It seemed to be a time of exaggerated masculinity. Andropov reigned in the Soviet Union, and like in the 1950’s up to the Cuban crisis, we feared the spectre of nuclear holocaust.

Naturally I don’t look back at the 1970’s like my father would see the 1940’s or my late grandfather would see the time of World War I. It would seem that none of these three generations had much to be nostalgic about when considering their teenage years. There was no war in my 1970’s, but it was a time that alienated me.

Now what is it about the 1970’s that seems so attractive to the progressives? Was it the TV cops and robber shows, Dad’s Army, the pop music which for all its ugliness was more melodic than the present day “rap” or “techno”? We were in financial crisis then under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan before Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives were voted in in 1979. We are in financial crisis now, and we don’t have Thatcher any more. Perhaps our time is in logical progression from the 1970’s, through the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. It is as banal as that.

Is a return to tradition, whether it is a matter of liturgical trappings or general attitudes, a “back to the future” movement? Did the Benedict XVI Papacy really represent the future? I have nagging doubts as to whether he was really the person writing those inspiring books in the 1980’s and 90’s or someone playing an elaborate game. Was he a visionary or a cynic?

I repeat the question: what is it about the 1970’s that seems so attractive to the progressives? The era was before John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It was the era of Paul VI. But Paul VI was a conservative who believed as much in his infallibility as Pius IX when he bashed in the nails of clerical celibacy and outlawing contraception. He was viscerally opposed to homosexuality and, if one reads his encyclicals, he was as theologically orthodox as Pius XII. He was no progressive, but as far as I can see, a man with divided loyalties and who could be pushed around and manipulated as Benedict XVI was.

OK, so Paul VI is not the reference. So, between him and the reactionary Pius XII, there is only John XXIII. There’s a big problem – he was interested in the liturgy and kept the “high church” Papal and liturgical trappings. But John XXIII was late 1950’s and early 1960’s, hardly an era for today’s super progressives. Things were bubbling with optimism in those years, but it was all fleeting.

The 1970’s were an era of pessimism and fear, as the hard line took back control of the Kremlin after a few years of detente. Perhaps this is the inspiration of Küng, Mahoney, Kasper and others, not the openness and optimism of the 1960’s but the “party’s over” hard-line “realism” of the 1970’s. They were the years when Paul VI complained of the smoke of Satan and had regrets that his Church was less disciplined and “in order”.

What those people love about their idea of the 1970’s was the authoritarian side of Paul VI – expressed in his decision to forbid the celebration of the old liturgy. That is really what tickles them, because John Paul II and Benedict XVI went in the direction of including traditionalists. Paul VI was a tight-fisted so-and-so! The vision is that anything goes for the liturgy but everyone must be in lock-step for everything else, especially morals and looking up to the clerical and papal dictatorship. Now that’s just what a nineteen-year old Anglican church organist drawn by beauty and things that inspire would not be interested in. I didn’t even give the RC Church the time of day in 1978, except occasionally playing the organ at St Wilfrid’s church in York where there was a nice acoustic and quite a nice organ up on a very high west gallery.

I am not sure whether the model of Paul VI is that of Pope Francis. Paul VI was a curialist and a diplomat, a Francophile, a European. Francis is something else, and we will need time to put our finger on it.

Do we remember the cynicism of Cardinal Kasper, the railway analogies apart?

We are on good terms with the Archbishop of Canterbury and as much as we can we are helping him to keep the Anglican community together, Kasper said in 2010 referring either to the TAC or the Forward in Faith leaders in England. He snottily added, It’s not our policy to bring that many Anglicans to Rome. This is not affirming the freedom of God’s people but keeping the tin lid on the institutional status quo that didn’t care shit about conscience or spiritual content!

Perhaps Francis would take us back to the 1960’s. The problem is that my childhood years were full of optimism about technology and progress, the end of the Vietnam War, detente with the Commies in the Soviet Union (but they invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968). They were the years of Vatican II and Populorum Progressio – the “first” Paul VI and not the self-hating Hamlet of the late 70’s. They were also the years when the Novus Ordo rites were first experimented with and published. It was also the time when the old liturgy was not yet strengsten vorboten!

Reform of the reform of the reform? Now this is getting confusing. Don’t expect papal speeches and magisterial documents. Everything is going to be in appointments of Curial officials, especially if we find the likes of Kasper and Mohoney being favoured for their bubbling enthusiasm. Watch episcopal appointments in the dioceses and if there are differences in general orientation from those of Benedict XVI. Watch out for the new 12-bishop super-synod! Who’s going to be on that? We can doubt that Francis will ever discuss the liturgy or the incomplete Benedictine legislation for the old Latin liturgy or Anglican “patrimony”. Also, look at the altar where Francis will celebrate Mass, and see if you get three candles at one end, the crucifix on the other end (or on a stand) and a microphone in the middle. That would be the end of the “Benedictine arrangement”. But it hasn’t happened yet.

What’s going to happen to Mahoney and Kasper? They are both old men. Are they going to be gracefully retired, or are they going to make a comeback? Those two need to be watched. Apparently, they have both blown Conclave secrets, but so has the Pope himself.

I have noticed a certain paralysis in the blogosphere, or at least that part of it in which I have been involved over the past few years. The atmosphere and the clouds of deceit are thickening, though the air was never really clear during the Benedict XVI pontificate. Personally, I am definitively alienated from that Church in which I spent only fourteen years as a layman, seminarian and deacon. Prognostics for independent Churches like the Continuing Anglicans differ, but there is an enormous paradigm shift that will bring in a new justification – as lifeboats, like in the early days.

If Pope Francis has misguidedly begun his Papacy in illusion, we will see his spiritual vision overclouded by pragmatism and “realism”, by opaque bureaucracy far exceeding the gay cliques of the Benedictine and Joannine-Pauline eras. Many will be alienated and a few may want to connect with small and bureaucracy-free Churches built on the Episcopate, the Sacraments and the Apostolic Faith. Most will die spiritually from thirst and hunger.

Some of us may yet feel that we have no reason to continue living in the part of the world where we are, and where only emptiness remains after Christ has been rejected or simply forgotten. Move on? But where? We have to realise that this drama is being played out within each one of us, as we agonise over our choices. We just need to know what we want.

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7 Responses to Back to the 1970’s?

  1. Patricius says:

    My grandmother, who was surrounded by them all her working life, said ”we used to call them pansies.” She still does.

    • Thanks. I wish you bon courage with your Jury Service. Take it seriously, for you will be judging a human being and this is a terrible responsibility. Weigh the evidence and pray about it. I will pray for you, that you might receive good discernment and wisdom.

  2. I received this by private e-mail, so I withhold the author’s name as he would certainly want to remain anonymous. I find this a very good reflection.

    * * *

    I think the question you posed on the blog was quite apt: Why do progressives love the ’70s so much? I think the answer is this, at least in the US: In the 1970s, bishops were free to do as they pleased, which meant for them, throwing off centuries of legalism and compromising (or integrating, if you prefer) with the American mainstream. Once they lost the realization that “friendship with world is enmity with God,” they sought to become as Protestant and mainstream as possible. At last, there was no conflict between being American and being Catholic and they could sit back on their laurels, rejoice in their victory of getting Dignitatis Humanae passed, and press for the ordination of women.

    Keep in mind that the RCC in the US is largely Irish ethnically. And, as you can easily imagine, part of being Irish on this side of the Big Pond was suffering in silence and being sick and tired of being pushed around by a waspish majority. The cultural attitude that prevailed was “maybe if we looked and acted as mainstream, protestant, and American as possible, the larger culture wouldn’t hate us so much.” So naturally they rejoiced in the hermeneutic of discontinuity which justified their desire to fit in.

    Part of that mindset as well is a certain relationship to fine art. As an oppressed minority composed of immigrants, American Irish were (and probably are) suspicious of anything smacking of high art. Such frippery wreaked of the Church of the Landed Gentry (aka The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America), plus it costed money which immigrants didn’t initially have. To this day, I am simply stunned by the presumption on the part of most of the American laity that those who work for the Church, especially as musicians, ought to work for free. Thus, the default position of the American Church is that traditional artforms, which we can perhaps call the “churchiness” of the Church, are no longer suitable for modern man. Gregorian chant, polyphony, Latin, and old-world architecture are (or so they think) unable to enable modern human beings to experience the divine and numinous and so must be swept under a rug. Out go statues, high altars, and a musical tradition stretching back more than a millennium and in comes church in the round and a bunch of noise based on Simon & Garfunkel and Andrew Lloyd Weber. In short all the “Vatican II” crap we both hate.

    A few more observations are in order regarding “contemporary” “art.” Strangely, as political structures have become more egalitarian, the art world has become elitist. What passes for art is often so strange and unrecognizable that only people with degrees in art history can understand why it ought to be regarded as art and accordingly funded by governments. Medieval art on the other hand had to be wildly egalitarian, namely because illiterates had to be able to take one glance at a given piece of artwork and comprehend immediately what was being signified. Artists were thus forced to craft works of beauty within the demands of immediate comprehensibility by the largely unwashed masses, which ideally were not only immediately understood but which could also enable said masses to have an encounter with the divine. But this encounter with the transcendent through traditional artforms also reaffirms specific images of God, for example, God’s Fatherhood (as opposed to motherhood) and Kingship, images odious and detestable to post-revolutionary man, be he French or American. What progressives want instead is art which doesn’t impose such images upon people and thus do not teach the basics of the Faith. They want artistic voids in which people can insert any image of God that suits their fancy. And thus, unorthodox ugliness is imposed upon us all, rendering real spirituality impossible. The important thing for our opponents, after all, isn’t Christ, it’s the subversion of patriarchy.

    In sum, progressives like the ’70s, because they’re in bed with the contemporary world and can’t think in any other terms. Thank you for listening to me rant.

  3. Dale says:

    I still have nightmares of the 70’s. Seeing beautiful churches utterly destroyed was sickening. In the seventies my family lived in a small village in Switzerland, the local, very beautiful Baroque parish church (I still like baroque) was simply denuded of centuries of religious art, the interior frescoes were painted over in sterile white and the only altar furnishings was a small, cube, altar lacking even an altar cloth; the old vestments were actually burnt in the church yard (I suspect the statues etc. were sold in antique stores). This happened across the country where the warmth of the old village churches were replaced in like manner.

    I do know that even on this list there are individuals who think that “smells and bells” are nice, but not necessary, I do not support such simplistic rejection of the old rites; the old rites express the Faith, in its fullness, in a manner that the dreck of the 70’s can never do. I did not leave what could have been a comfortable ecclesiastical career because I like fiddlebacks, I left because I refused to bow to the altar being a clerical power desk and the faith simply the personal opinion of whomever was celebrating. The concept of the alter Christi is that the individual of the priest is subsumed in the liturgy, and that the personality of the priest does not become the central point of the liturgy; in the 70’s all of this was lost.

    There are those who can leave all behind and simply become ersatz Greeks in Byzantium, but for me this is as much a bowing to the zeitgeist as remaining in imploding western denominations. I think that what Fr Anthony mentions about our mission to remain true to our own ancient traditions is perhaps what many of us are called to do. I know, personally, too many good and believing priests who were bitterly persecuted for “smells and bells” in the 70’s and 80’s to do otherwise. I am truly afraid that once all the media hoopla surrounding the present Pope is passed we shall find out that unfortunately a form of the liturgical and theologically persecutions of the 70’s may indeed return.

    • Among my vestments, apart from the ones I made, I don’t think I paid for a single one. They were being thrown out from French sacristies by the truckload in the early 80’s. My gorgeous black High Mass set come from Avignon Cathedral. A friend of mine bought my chalice for me for a very reasonable price from the Marché aux Puces. It was made in about 1830 in baroque style. The French traditionalists have done very well to buy up as much stuff as possible to save it from the trash or the fire!

      If you’re in your 50’s like I am, you’ll remember that time with a knot in your stomach!

      • Dale says:

        Yes, I can still remember piles of baroque style vestments in the Paris flea-market that were being sold for nothing in the 70’s. And when I say piles of them, I mean piles, there were hundreds of them simply piled on top of each other. I also, in the Roman flea-market purchased my first chalice, in the hated baroque style, for virtually nothing; there were stalls of church metal plate being treated as junk. Altar stones, still with relics, could be purchased by the dozen. The hatred for tradition amongst the Roman clergy was sickening. The Roman priest who was attached to our school actually had a large painting in his dinning room with a large Gothic church on it, and across it is red paint was written “Down with tradition!” He was later made a bishop.

        Yet, there are so-called Anglo-Catholics who think that this bunch is better than the established CofE? Absolutely boggles the mind.

  4. James C. says:

    Being born in the 1980s, after the Great Flood, I’ve only heard from others about this time—though its consequences obviously played an enormous role in my life and others’.

    I saw a very interesting television film from 1973, with a quite good cast (Trevor Howard, Martin Sheen, Michael Gambon). It takes place some years after 1973, during the aftermath of “Vatican IV”, and follows a young priest sent from Rome to shut down a remote Irish monastery that stubbornly clings to the ancient ways.

    It astonishes me that many people of the time thought that such things could happen in the near future—what a chaotic era, it destroyed my father’s faith in the Church (he’s now a Baptist, insisting that at least the Bible doesn’t change with the wind!).

    Thank God that eventuality was avoided, however much terrible damage was done. There’s no going back to the 1970s. Renewal will come, thanks to Christ’s promise and the Holy Spirit. But all will never be well while we are on this Earth—in some sense the Church is always in crisis, as much as there is always a crisis—a spiritual battle—within each one of us.

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