Meltdown?

Dr William Tighe draws our attention to Anglican Church in Meltdown. The article is inevitably written by the ever-smug Fr Dwight Longenecker. I could say say all kinds of unkind things like wondering what he’s doing in America and so forth, but I see no point in it. He invites people to join his Tiber-Swimming Team as the fishmonger at his market stall would cry Cockles and mussels, alive-o, alive-o! or the slick door-to-door salesmen of old would ply their vacuum cleaners and floor polishers.

Before bringing the reader to the “inevitable” conclusion, he has an interesting build-up. The “preparation” work for having the reader “make his step forward” is classical. I have no more sympathy for or interest in the goings-on between the Church of England and the American Episcopalians, their various movements and indabas. The one thing I noticed about Church of England clerics and “committed” laity is that they love meetings and lots of verbose claptrap. They just seem to revel in boring people to tears. The way of bureaucracy is to wear down the opposition by boring it to death – the war of attrition. Bravo, it’s the best argument for atheism I have known until now. They beat Dawkins & Co. hands down!

We know the story by heart, all about the ordination of women, same-sex marriage and women bishops. Those people just don’t seem to realise that 90% of the population just don’t care, either that of they just go along with the secular idea that the Church should simply follow the general trends in society. What an admission that the only person in a parish who was opposed to the innovations was the priest! That to me is extremely significant.

He next builds up his selling tactic by pointing out that conservative opposition to the innovations would meet with persecution. This is the constant self-justification technique – say how persecuted one is. It justifies any amount of provocation and nastiness, blowing up cinemas showing smutty or blasphemous films, torching abortion clinics without a second thought. Not being able to have the support of a “Christian” totalitarian state, the persecution line is their only justification.

Either side is just as theatrical as the other – Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Both sides claim to be persecuted, one by medieval obscurantists and the other by secular humanists. Perhaps we should give them American Civil War uniforms and weapons – with live ammunition!

Indeed, the Church of England and the Episcopalians are in a mess, and so are the Roman Catholics. I would like to see Fr Longenecker come over to France and take over a thirty-parish “pastoral sector” in the Archdiocese of Sens-Auxerre or perhaps in the Massif Central. Diocesan bishops were predicting thirty years ago that their dioceses would be dead within ten years. That’s the reality outside the American parishes with pots of money.

It would be easy to suggest that Continuing Anglican Churches were the only way. We are still marginal not far from forty years since the famous St Louis meeting that established our Affirmation of Saint Louis and set up an independent Anglican jurisdiction that scandalously split up. This argument has been used ever since to say that we were no good. It behoves us not to be triumphalistic. To the contrary, I see Continuing Anglicanism streamlining itself, cleaning up its act and learning from its experience. The more cantankerous bishops and rival jurisdictions have withered away and are gone. The more solid and stable have withstood the test of time. As a priest in the Anglican Catholic Church, I am optimistic for our future as a manifestation of the Catholic Church. We may not be the only way, but we do have something to offer. Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy are not the only way. They are an option among several others.

Fr Longenecker is right in saying that no reconciliation is possible between the ecclesial world of Madame Jefferts Schori and that of the conservatives. The kind of Church both represent is over. It belongs to history. The conservatives don’t have enough military juntas to go round to enforce orthodoxy and compliance to the biggest wigs in town. The so-called “liberals” also represent a sinking ship. It’s over.

The most condescending thing about Fr Longenecker’s piece is the sanctimonious cant about authority. We’re no longer in the 1870’s with the word infallibility on everyone’s lips! The Church of Benedict XVI no longer functioned in terms of authority and obedience any more than that of Pope Francis. The more I consider this question, the better I understand the abdication of Benedict XVI and the present run-down by Pope Francis of conservatives and traditionalists. Fr Longenecker might have a conservative bishop. Otherwise, he is just as much an island as when he was an Anglican vicar in England.

Digital StillCameraAs for the Tiber Swim Team, I don’t see many men in the shallow water of that river in the above photo. I have always seen this analogy to be a stupid one. Looking at this photo, we see the opposite bank of the Tiber and the Castel San’ Angelo, which is the side leading to the Via della Conciliazione and the Vatican. The wall is rather high, especially for men wearing no more than their swimming trunks and the only way up is via a narrow stairway. Most of us have more serious things to do in life!

People do become Roman Catholics, and I welcome their freedom to do so. Something attracts them to that Church and they make their pilgrimage in life. It isn’t for everyone. So much for “trashing” everyone to leave them with this possibility alone, just as with Orthodox zealots who claim the same thing for their Church. The more this goes on, the more it becomes clear that there is no “true church” – and the writing on the wall is that Christ’s silence is that same silence he kept face to face with the High Priest Ciaphas and Pontius Pilate.

We won’t find a true church anywhere, and there is nothing to tell us “where” we should go as we flee institutions that insult our intelligence and our very humanity. We might find that we can render service in a Church community that welcomes us and in which we can find something in common with its clergy and other members. That church will be as “true” as we make it through our transformation in Christ. We have to work it out for ourselves.

The moral is simple. Don’t be taken in by the sales patter. Work it all out for yourselves, and simply do what God calls you to do in life.

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8 Responses to Meltdown?

  1. “…the ever-smug Fr Dwight Longenecker…”
    Spot on!

  2. Mark Sumner says:

    I completely agree with Fr Anthony’s assessment of Fr Longenecker’s character. He and numerous others, such as “Fr Z”, are especially tiresome apologists for their particular versions of Roman Catholicism. Some online social networking skills has allowed such intellectual lightweights and their frequently shrill polemics a much bigger audience than they should be entitled to. And I appreciate the irony that my comments could be accused of being of a similar ilk.

  3. Stephen K says:

    Well, dear Father, there’ll be no surprises that I agree with the general thrust of your post. To me, the essence is to be found in your words We might find that we can render service in a Church community that welcomes us and in which we can find something in common with its clergy and other members. That church will be as “true” as we make it through our transformation in Christ.

    I have developed the tendency to try to see what lies behind what we do or say. All of us. I believe there is Truth with a capital ‘T’ but I have come to the conclusion none of us have more than a sliver or two of it, so we should be humble. Even what I’m saying must be but a sliver.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m attracted to religion and religious things, and I’m not likely to jettison all this stuff out of some intellectual achievement. But I am of the view that religion is a man-made thing, that it is for our benefit, not God’s and that the sooner we realise that, the closer God’s kingdom will be.

    I know I’ve said this before or something similar but, considering the circumstances in which I found myself raised in an Roman Catholic family, and sent to Catholic schools, all circumstances beyond my control, and others found themselves raised in alternate traditions etc. I say that to the extent God willed me to begin as a Roman Catholic, then God willed, equally, everyone else to be in their own situation. That means for me that true religion claims are an affront to God. The only logical alternative is that God has set the universe, biology and politics included, in motion, and we are all the random results of God’s Deeper Order, which we will never plumb or understand by conventional means. A pox on all empires!

  4. Columba Silouan says:

    NO!! You have the option of believing in ONE TRUE FAITH spread across a number of true churches, but saying there is no true faith or church is HERESY. You may find the truth claims of Othodoxy and Rome to be an offense, but don’t REACT and fall into error as a result. Catholicism is THE TRUTH even if you locate it in different places.

    • Oh dear! Some people get all excited. That is obvious by your “shouting” in capital letters.

      When you calm down and read the context of my blog in general, you will find that I do not question the truth of Catholic Christianity in general and that some churches are faithful to it.

  5. Tero T says:

    Fr Anthony, you kindly supplied some material about Nominalism to me already some time ago. Have you read pope Benedict’s Regensburg lecture? How much do you think the following describes even actual reality within Roman Catholic Church today?

    “In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which – as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated – unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, “transcends” knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos.”

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/15_09_06_pope.pdf

    • Yes, I have read it, but a long time ago. It makes sense to me in my mind formed in a similar theological vision as that of Benedict XVI (in my case, ressourcement à la sauce fribourgeoise). I think he understands the situation in the Church very well, for the present day is the product of history, even though so many are ignorant of history.

      Like in secular politics, there has always been a thesis and antithesis, as in the famous dialectic of Hegel. The pendulum has swung back and forth between intellectualism and voluntarism, between reason and faith. Like John Paul II (Ratzinger in the wings), Benedict XVI has granted capital importance to this relationship between faith and reason. Irrational faith leads to fanaticism and faithless reason leads to atheism.

      I see many signs in present-day Roman Catholicism (and other churches too, especially Protestants) of both tendencies, one just as harmful as the other. Another thing Benedict XVI tried to approach was the Christian’s way of relating to Islam. In Islam there are as many tendencies, spiritual rules and observances as in Christianity, from the most violent and fanatical to liberals and mystics. We can also suffer from excesses in metaphysics, Nominalism on one side and Platonic ultra-Realism on the other. These can only be analogies for seeking some understanding of things we will never fathom with our limited human intelligence.

      Of course, this is the world of libraries and university faculties. Most lay people only have a very distorted understanding of their catechism and lack the curiosity to go into things in any depth. Likewise, culture is something elitist. It is no more to be found among the “low” people now than in the fourteenth century or any other time.

      Your real question is how much Benedict’s teaching reflects reality in the Church. It doesn’t. The more devout have an emotional attachment to whatever attracts them. Most are attracted by what the Church can do to enhance their personal life (health in particular). The Curé d’Ars said something like if you leave people in a parish for any length of time without a priest, they will adore the beasts. The more spiritually-minded will find their way back to some form of Paganism, and the others will settle for materialism. Fine theological distinctions will be lost on both categories.

      Theology has always been elitist, and it alone will do little. Liturgy, on the other hand, is able to relate to the emotions as well as the rational mind. But, liturgy, not entertainment shows!

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