Why a Sarum Gathering

I woke up this morning to a great clarity of thinking about my project of a Sarum Gathering. Once I get a core group established and we begin work on the academic side, thought will have to be given to the event itself. Nearer the time, I will ask for registrations, and based on numbers, I would need to find the most suitable venue in Normandy or southern England. Yes, the place is important even if Canadians and Americans have to do the travelling.

As has been suggested, it would be possible to put on a kind of summer university to study the Use of Sarum like the Ecclesiological Society. Somehow, there is a nagging thought: Sarum is not simply a monument of history that has no relevance to us other than as historians. Sarum to me represents a way of living the Catholic ideal that disappeared with the Reformation in England and with the Revolution in France. Traditional (as opposed to traditional-ist) Catholicism was destroyed by the absolute power of Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, just as traditional farming, arts and crafts were annihilated by nineteenth century industry and capitalism. This theme brings me right back to the appeal of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Arts and Crafts and William Morris. It hit me like a hammer over the head! The Counter-Reformation Church with its rubricism and legalism, and its hermeneutic of continuity in the post Vatican II mess, is to Catholicism what the Industrial Revolution was to traditional rural life. Truly, modern parishes have, at least to me, the appeal of the dark satanic mills of William Blake. This gave me the key to the spirit I am trying to impart. It isn’t about a rite, but about a Catholic life that has been swept away by mechanisation and legalism.

I believe we can approach religion in the same way those nineteenth-century movements approached human work and art. Western churches like Rome and the Church of England have sought to become relevant to man as he has been formed by capitalism and mechanisation. A healthy society is one in which man has his dignity as an artist and creator. Society is at a human level and persons mean something. The Church has not only alienated farmers and craftsmen, but even the factory workers for whom it claimed to seek relevance. As crafts people take pleasure in their work, there is a certain pleasure to be found in the Church’s liturgy and the life of the parish. Even in the penitential season of Lent, the beauty of the liturgy, like a fine claret, warms the heart of man.

I believe this is a way by which religion can once again become relevant to us all. As persons, we take our place in the liturgical action, and the Church as an impersonal machine loses its meaning with its notion of authority and law. Man finds security in small and intimate communities, and in this, something like the Anglican Catholic Church has more relevance than a modern Roman Catholic diocese and its bureaucracy.

I would certainly like to do further study on this essential keystone, which is eminently pastoral. Seen through this tint of glass, I believe that the rest of our studies of traditional Catholicism and its liturgy will take on a whole new value and relevance. I am also profoundly democratic in my ideas, like the movements that sought to bring great music out of the elitist concert halls to the streets, for example Les Six in Paris between the wars. The spirit of the Goliards seemed to have subsisted a little longer in France. It is still to be found here and there in Paris and the countryside. This aspect also needs to be developed.

I am in contact with some men who I believe share this spirit. They seem not to be addicted to “ecclesiastical authority” and being “in the true church” as some others might feel inclined to be. The Church is a mystery far above human institutions great and small. At one time, one could navigate “between the cracks” and live as human beings do with laws and “getting on” in society. It is a particularly European notion of law and society unlike England and Germany where people form perfectly straight queues and obey the law to the letter merely because it comes from authority.

I am under no illusion about the medieval Church. They had feudalism and the Inquisition, but they don’t seem to have be an all-invasive as modern bureaucracy and the management spirit.

We certainly need a high standard of scholarship to give us credibility and take the emphasis off clericalism and institutionalism. We also need to be Christians and live the liturgy, not as a museum or pageant, but our life-blood like monks in their communities – Nihil operi Dei praeponatur. If this kind of strength is found at the centre of this initiative, it would influence others who attend sessions and gatherings, such as the one we would like to get going in 2015. This is the spirit I am trying to promote, and which will give cohesion to our practical strategy for organising and financing something for August 2015.

This time, here on the blog, let’s forget about practical organisation and “sign me up”. We need to be working on ideas and philosophies, the fundamental inspiration, then the event might actually make a difference.

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7 Responses to Why a Sarum Gathering

  1. Bravo. This strikes just the right tone, IMHO. Unsurprisingly, while I agree entirely with the basic premise of your overview of what the results of the Reformation/Counterreformation, Industrial Revolution, et c. were to traditional society and traditional religion…I (for one) am not so bleak about the possibility of shaking off that inheritance and renewing the institutional Church….organically. But that’s exactly the sort of thing, I expect, that you hope and pray such a meeting as this will lead to discussing. Keep on as you have begun is my advice: you are, and will remain, in my prayers.

  2. James Morgan says:

    Father Anthony, I am resonating more and more with your vision, although I will not be able to attend any sessions in France for various reasons. As you know I am Eastern orthodox and am committed to what it teaches and practices (in the best sense of both) but I don’t for a moment think that all the ‘others’ are not part of the Church. I also believe that we Christians will eventually be left in small parish communities here and there. Europe now, America next. We see a great divide between ‘cultural Christians’ of the evangelical mode and groups of Catholics (or Traditional Christians) of whatever brand moving into smaller communities, some just online, and others in fact and deed.
    Time will tell.

    • A lot of people will find this problem due to distance and the hassle / cost of travelling. There is a Sarum-ish gathering called American Sarum which is run by the Anglicans and Episcopalians. I don’t have the time or the money to travel to the USA, so that is a non-starter for me.

      I have no judgement on this initiative in America, but it seems to make as much sense as holding the event in Africa or China, or in India where people still speak English. The only relevance to this seems to be the way Sarum influenced the Episcopalian Prayer Book, and that is exactly the subject of the American Sarum conference for this year. There will be some Church of England clergy, including a canon from Salisbury Cathedral. Going by the details they give on their website, the cost per person, including catering and hotel accommodation but excluding travelling expenses for this 5-day event would come to $761. That might be very reasonable for establishment Anglicans, especially if they are getting their expenses reimbursed, but a lot more than some of us could possibly afford.

      I clearly want something more “democratic”.

      I am also more interested in something happening over here, as Europe becomes increasingly de-christianised and considered as a negligible quantity by Americans. Europe is the land that nurtured these liturgical and spiritual traditions. Some of us still live over here.

      I will have to resolve to keep things over here, or simply hand the idea over to a North American to organise something over there, and at least I’ll read whatever is produced and see photos of the liturgy. Fine, I am not indispensable, but if Americans and Canadians are the only ones interested, it seems not to be my problem.

      I also have to admit that I hate flying, not because the plane might crash, but because of the noise and hassle in the airports, and the endless security and manipulation of people being processed as they are transported between the two airports – only to arrive in a strange country and spend large amounts of money. Sorry, it isn’t for me either.

      If I am to be involved in my own idea, it might be something to be held less often than every year, perhaps every two years, and in a place that makes it worthwhile for North Americans to travel. Travelling by air is more part of the American way of life than ours! People going from Los Angeles to Connecticut will spend as much money as going to Europe, so I don’t think the dice is loaded by wanting it in Europe (or England).

      A few of us are discussing things like the essential ethos and possibilities of holding gatherings either in France (rural setting) or in England (colleges or universities, etc.). There is also a difference between those used to comfort and high expectations, and those with a simpler way of life. This is another reason I don’t want anything from my initiative in America. People do what they want, and they can organise their events anywhere – but without me, and maybe some persons of value.

      There are still many obstacles, and I may have to abandon the idea altogether.

  3. Boniface says:

    As I see it, the greatest problem with the American event is the inclusion of “priestesses”.

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