Smoke and Mirrors

I suppose that like many people, I feel hurt when I am contradicted and manipulated. But I don’t mind a challenge, and many of my most treasured things are challenged. That is part of a blogger’s lot. You either stop discussing the subject and put a taboo on it, or try to reason things out or at least to “use the force” – listen to our intuition.

My intuition is to think of a world in which anything that attracts us is forbidden or not available. When the answer is always “no”, then one ceases to ask. There are domains in life that bring us joy and meaning, far from the cold, dark and empty churches that everybody have forsaken apart from a few old ladies who are not going to be followed by their daughters.

Michael Frost, one of my most prolific Orthodox commenters seems to be a sympathetic and sincere fellow. But, he does keep coming back to the same point. I have read from him the fact that he has been received into Orthodoxy (the Antiochian Church to be precise), but is too far from an Orthodox parish to do other than attending services in the Anglican Church in America (TAC) parish in Iowa of Archbishop Louis Falk without receiving any Sacraments.

I suppose that if I were not a priest, there would have been little point in my joining the ACC as it has no presence in France where I live. Only my priesthood enables me to live anything like a sacramental life in the Church. Otherwise, I would have to choose between what is available. In my area, within Christianity, it would be the local Roman Catholic parish, a free Evangelical community imported by American missionaries or the Jehovah’s Witnesses at a pinch. Otherwise, it’s a long drive to Rouen or Paris to go to some traditionalist place. Check mate – move somewhere else or give up Christianity as something futile and academic.

I don’t think  our friend accepts any possible definition of Anglican Catholicism except a dusty dry, totally irrelevant and narrow reference, that of the seventeenth-century Non-Jurors. There haven’t been any of those people around for a very long time. So, this delving into history to find a reference point ends up as quite subjective. It’s no good if we propose Henry VIII or before but perfectly fine when it’s to Michael Frost’s taste.

Now, I have vented my anger, and try to see things a little deeper…

He does bring up a valid point – that being the fact that doctrine and praxis develop and are never the same in one age as in another. Certainly, the Non-Jurors are more recent than Henry VIII or Cranmer or St Osmund of Salisbury. When I was discussing British light music some days ago and the nostalgia of those of us who have been around for a few years, I made the observation that the “old days” were not so “good”. My parents were in their teens during World War II, and that certainly was not an enjoyable time. I was in my teens in the 1970’s, and I have no nostalgia for that time. When was any period of history a “golden era”. In the seventeenth century, idolised by “classical Anglicans”, there were still gruesome executions and witch hunts, a notion of cruelty and inhumanity in the name of a vengeful God. We have various ideas of the middle-ages. There was great beauty as evidenced in the buildings and illuminated manuscripts, but there was also disease, violence and ignorant intolerance. The Inquisition was in full swing, something like in The Name of the Rose, and the fires were burning day and night. Is anything in this world more than an illusion?

We are encouraged to try to stake our claim to a denominational title for one’s particular religious community or sect, and in doing so, we try to refer to a foundational myth or our idea of a historical period. That’s what the Romantics did in their medievalism and reaction against Rationalism and the Industrial Revolution. They produced pastiche in the form of their art, poetry and architecture – but the sanitised version of what they thought of as “medieval” was in itself something original. When thinking of the fourteenth-century country parish or Salisbury Cathedral in the fifteenth, movements of dissident Anglicans in the eighteenth, Methodism, reactions to the delirium of nineteenth-century Roman Catholicism and just about anything “out of the box”, something original came about. The Renaissance was an attempt to revive the aesthetics and values of ancient Greece and Rome, but it also produced something new.

Old Catholicism had its foundational myth, and in the nineteenth century moved towards liberal Protestantism and reformed itself out of existence. The Dutch Church went into schism because they were too “heretical” for Rome to give them a bishop, and the Germans and Swiss revolted against infalliblism, but evolved beyond eighteenth-century Catholicism. That is certainly not the ACC or anything I would want to have anything to do with. Both Utrecht and Bonn referred to the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church and tried to move beyond it.

The ACC’s reference certainly is not post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism even though the Anglican Missal is a straight translation from the Pius V missal of 1570 with some Prayer Book stuff stuck in. Actually, the Anglican Missal of 1921 is a fine piece of work and the English translation is exquisite. True, we don’t exactly worship Thomas Aquinas, Bellarmine or Suarez.

I am not an American, so the PNCC means little to me, even though it approved the Nordic Catholic Church which has a few little communities in western Europe. There are any number of so-called vagantes bishops who seem to have been consecrated in order to establish a community rather than for a pre-existing community. The ACC is something different. Perhaps we should study Laud, Ken and other Non-Jurors, but their stage of development is far behind what we have discovered from more recent sources. Are the Non-Jurors any more relevant than documents from Henry VIII or the Thirty-Nine Articles – all of interest to historians – but of little use to us living at the beginning of the twenty-first century with our own problems and historical hindsight.

Devout Americans can be so narrow in their criteria and uncompromising that they end up as “one-man true churches”. I have seen this in the more extreme RC traditionalist ideologies. It is through this lens that any reference to a historical period is seen – you have to be exactly like as it was, otherwise you are incoherent at best and hypocritical at worst.

If I am not “Non-Juring” (this concept means so little to me), then, I must be

in the 1870s Dollinger model than the 1700s Jansenists, since this would put you squarely in the medieval scholastic era and Thomas’ Summa as interpreted by all of the medieval RC Church Councils thru the 1510s without accepting either papal infallibility or the Council of Trent as dogmatic in nature.

I don’t reject the Council of Trent, but being “bound” by it is fettering the freedom of our thought and spirit to see that period in its wider historical and cultural context. As I said at the beginning of this posting, I don’t mind being challenged, but I will not be manipulated into being loaded with considerations that are just not an issue for me. Many aspects of Trent cleaned up the filthy bathwater that the Protestants threw out with the baby. Unfortunately, the RC Church was over-zealous in its liturgical reforms and many things that were abolished were ancient and good, like for example the Laetabundus sequence for Christmas and many others. An atmosphere of centralisation and reform replaced something that had been laid back and “natural”, even if there were superstitions and accretions in popular religion to be pruned back. Bugnini and Paul VI only followed the same ideology and procedure in the 1960’s.

Our real reference is our own time, but we have just about nowhere to go. Rome is what it is, essentially like in the nineteenth century but without the pomp, faste and liturgy. Orthodoxy isn’t really interested in anyone but its own people. Modern Anglicanism has gone the way it has gone. Fundamentalist Protestantism is inhuman and unhealthy. Wherever you turn, the answer is “no”. Why should we not give up and be “spiritual but not religious” or explore the other word religious traditions? Many of us would find a lot of good giving things a rest and seeing life and the world from another point of view – if the world is anything more than money, raw power and greed.

Not being American, I see things from the European point of view – the bleak midwinter of our consciousness of our mortality. Yet, light is found in darkness, in that balance between pessimistic realism and hope. I am aware that all is illusion and our spirit never finds rest, what St Aelred called the Sabbath of the Soul. We search for the Philosopher’s Stone like a child after the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow or the fairies at the bottom of the garden. The nearer we get, the further away we are, like Tantalus dipping his head for the water he will never reach.

Historical references can only give a rough idea of things, but they like many other things are but analogies. The past is gone and only the memory remains. That is why so much importance is given to documents. They are all that remain of history as we remain prisoners of the illusion of time. All is illusory and we will not find rest in this world, but we can come somewhere near it, even if only for a short time. We live in our own era (2013, nearly 2014) and we can relate to it more or less well. Personally, I am very isolated from the urban world and the new generations. I am unable to understand modernity and post-modernity, yet that’s where the “church fodder” is found, since a business needs paying customers to keep going. Alternatively, the Church is something outside and above trends and markets.

For this reason, I can only conceive of Christianity in monastic and contemplative terms, the hidden leaven in a world that is hostile to the spirit or seeks a different and new expression.

I commented above on revivals of classicism or medieval culture being pastiches, but yet something new. In the final reckoning, Continuing Anglicanism can be something new and herald a new culture like the Renaissance and Romanticism. We refer not to one time or document, but to anything that seems to promote a break from what is stifling the spirit. It is for this reason that I would like to combat the centralising tendency of modernity from the Industrial Revolution to our own times and herald freedom and diversity. There may be many evils in such freedom and diversity, but the good and beautiful would be allowed to grow and prosper at least for a brief time like the Belle Epoque before the soul of man died in the trenches of World War I.

That briefness of the illusion is the condition of our life. We are born, grow, live and die – and live in hope that the life beyond the veil will give this transitory life meaning. I don’t know if our Anglican Catholic bishops or my fellow clergy would see things in the same way, but this is a part of our freedom and diversity. Thus, we will live in a single Church and see things in myriad ways, far beyond Protestantism or Papalism or whatever else.

I begin to understand the meaning of post-modernism as a new yearning and thirst for what is beyond us and present in our spirits beyond our reasoning. Perhaps it is the “new middle ages” of which Berdyaev wrote in his various philosophical works. We must be going somewhere in our dark tunnel. Perhaps it is this…

So, Michael, I might seem to be hard on you, but I assure you that I’m harder on myself and my own illusions. I keep you and all my readers in my humble prayers, aware of my own unworthiness and weakness, but living in faith, love and hope.

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10 Responses to Smoke and Mirrors

  1. Michael Frost says:

    Father Anthony, I can assure you, I take absolutely no offense. It is your blog and it is good to be King. I think good blogging has much give and take. It isn’t all sweetness and light. (Here I think of the wonderful ecumenical publichation Touchstone where writers write from within their confessional boundaries engaging the world as say an EO, RC, Anglican or Lutheran, and doing so both strongly yet peacefully and with good cheer.)

    My hope for all faith groups today is that each knows its roots and history and embraces it. So for heirs of the Reformation, that means understanding the men and times, and the documents they produced. Doesn’t necessarily mean everything is forever set in stone, but that where one is today has a firm foundation and a historical path one knows. And it often means that within a tradition one identifies more (most?) strongly with a particular historical period, document, or person. They have a special connection or feel for something or someone. So for Reformational Anglicans, one might prefer the 1560s or 1630s or 1660s. The 39 Articles. Hooker. Laud. Non-jurors. Pusey.

    Even outsiders looking inside a different faith group can identify strongly with a particular era or person. So I may not be Anglican, but I can attempt to appreciate Laud, the man and his times. And while I’m not Lutheran, I can say that if I was I’d certainly be a Philippist. Not being Methodist, I can still say I love so much of John Wesley. And though I’m neither Reformed nor a Calvanist I can say there is much to appreciate in Bucer and Bullinger, and that history sometimes judges John unfairly in regard to his actual political influence in Geneva. Often those times and people are those most similar in some specific way to our own faith group. For example, Melanchthon’s ideas on free will. Or the Non-juror’s ideas on the East.

    And for the record, I don’t attend the local ACA parish every Sunday. Most yes, but not all. And I’ve been going there on and off since 1981. They are a wonderful little group, one I enjoy worshipping with, pray for, and wish them all the best. Can’t say I’m a big fan of Byzantine liturgics and certainly not when 60%+ of the service is done in Greek or Slavonic as in my immediate area(neither language of which I know). What can I say, I was born Western. I can’t think or act Eastern with any real sincerity. I can appreciate what they have and do and their history, but at a basic level it is alien to me. Now if I could just get the little parish to cross the Bosporus? They came so close to crossing the Tiber. 🙂

    • Father Martin says:

      Why would you encourage them to “cross the Bosphorus” when, as you stated, “at a basic level it is alien to me.” Rest assured their liturgy would be Byzantinized and the episcopal oversight would be provided by a bishop who neither appreciates nor understands the western liturgies or mindset? I’ve seen this from the inside, I’ve been behind the iconostasis serving for two years as the MC of my Antiochian parish. Unless the ACA parish is willing to renounce its heritage and traditions they will not welcomed and always viewed by the Byzantines with skepticism. They might as well become Byzantine Rite at the start and avoid all the problems of a WRV. If the Anglicans had Greek, Arab, or Russian names it would benefit them immensely.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Fr. Martin, It is just a friendly play on words.

        My particular local experience of the AWRV has not been as you indicate, either in regard to force Byzantinization or hostile bishops (thank God for Metropolitan Philip, Bishop Basil et al). Though nearly all are converts to Orthodoxy from other Western faith groups. (Of course, there are other perspectives. Your’s included. I listen carefully to Dale when he discusses these matters at the Orthodox Blow-Out Department. While he is often most strident, he usually does have a good empirical data. Something I appreciate greatly.)

        As for interacting with these specific Anglicans, I bring my 2009 Orthodox BCP to the ACA parish and it is about 95%+ identical to their American Missal usages. Where it differs (take the modest changes in the Eucharistic canon), I doubt the average parishioner would hardly notice the change the first time and certainly not by the 5th time. I’m not sure I’ve encountered a situation where any strongly disagree with any clear Eastern dogmatics (e.g., the filioque), though talking with Anglicans about dogmatics can be most interesting indeed. 🙂

      • Dale says:

        Michael, even though your denomination has a few western rite parishes not a single one of your bishops has ever bothered to learn to celebrate in that tradition; what is even more bizarre is that regardless of number of well-educated clergy in the western rite there has not been a vicar general who is actually western rite in over forty years…tells one loads about the reality.

    • Now if I could just get the little parish to cross the Bosporus? They came so close to crossing the Tiber.

      Have you ever thought of asking Archbishop Falk and his people? I suspect they have had enough of the up & down and the yes & no over the run-up to Anglicorum coetibus. I suspect they just want to be left in peace. Perhaps if one cannot settle into one’s lot in life, perhaps it is better to be a “none”?

      If we are going to have dialogues on this blog, then we stop trashing each other’s Churches. I don’t trash yours, especially as I have never been in it. Otherwise it’s pointless and the only winners are the atheists.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Fr. Anthony, I wasn’t aware I had trashed anyone’s church. If I have, then I certainly apologize! Mea culpa… I don’t tend to write like Dale. I thoroughly enjoy talking with him and interacting with these extremely nice people. He is quite a good preacher. I try to thank him for every sermon. I periodically have a cup of coffee afterwards and chat with him and their priest. Both have a wonderful sense of humor. He is a vertiable repository of knowledge. And quite the speaker, educator. I loved his Lenten lecture series this past year and look forward to next year’s. I try to help out with their yard work (spring/fall cleaning). I always try to be as respectful and polite as possible. (He did have some interesting, polite comments about EO after the 2012 vote. And I certainly haven’t ever made any direct attempt to evangelize them for over the past 30 years I’ve had the pleasure to worship with them.)

      • I wasn’t aware I had trashed anyone’s church.

        Not directly, but saying that people from one Church should be converting to another is not far from trashing. You have always been welcome to this blog because you have good and interesting things to say. You are naturally free to encourage someone who says “I want to become Orthodox”. I think you and Dale make great “sides” in a debate. Keep up the good work!

      • ed pacht says:

        Father Anthony,

        It’s not trashing at all to say that someone has a good thing but I have something even better to offer. If that’s the way I see things, it’s not even kind not to say so. Michael is full of praise for his Anglican friends (as also for his magisterial Protestant friends) and is not the least bit out of place to suggest that Orthodoxy might be even better for them. As a committed Anglican, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his comments, even when I haven’t agreed.


      • I would agree with you. Michael is a good and interesting fellow. As others have pointed out, Continuing Anglicanism is something difficult to situate and define as distinct from anything else. I think we all know that Orthodoxy or anything is a possibility. We look at the theoretical aspects, but we also have to consider practical issues. People are free to do what they think right, whether to stay where they are or make a move.

      • Dale says:

        I think that what Ed has written is very true.

        I, for one, really enjoy Micheal’s contributions, he is always sane and is by no means a fanatic; also, he is gentlemanly enough to admit when he might be wrong, lessons that I personally could stand to learn on some occasions; all right, perhaps on many occasions.

        To be honest, it is sometimes hard to remember that he is an Orthodox; he simply sounds like a civilized Anglican of the old school. My father was such an Anglican, I, perhaps unfortunately, spent too much time with the Byzantines, and some of their attitudes have rubbed off!

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