It must be the most horrible death imaginable! You’re walking on the quicksands around the Mont Saint Michel in France and other estuaries in the world – and your leg disappears into the ooze. As you try to pull it out, the other leg goes under, and then you begin to sink… You might be lucky and get rescued. Again, you might have been foolish enough to go out alone. That is for the various situations in nature that present a danger for the unwary.
Is there a way to trudge out of the mire? The latest article on that blog presents something of a quandary. Don’t let the atheists get hold of it! For my part, I have agonised for long enough, and did myself a lot of good by getting rid of the infallibilist underpinning that creates the dilemma between Tradition and Papal authority. Read the article for yourselves. What about the conclusion to be drawn?
The article does attempt a suggestion of a couple of solutions. The first is to create a community, but the problem is that many have tried and failed. Firstly, you’re dealing with human beings who might have different ideas and priorities, and secondly you do need a raison d’être other than simply the liturgy. No one has ever founded a “Sarum” community. A rite fits into the life of a parish, a chaplaincy or some kind of monastery (through monasteries had their own liturgical traditions). The second idea is to become Orthodox. For the question of whether a soul might ever find peace in Orthodoxy, I recommend spending a good while studying the comments, discussions and exchanges on the Orthodox Blow-Out Department.
I have read many articles about the Western Orthodox experiment in the USA, but I have no personal experience of it. Some believe in it and others have been as disillusioned with it as with Roman Catholicism. Some of the worst trolls I have dealt with recently on matters of politics have been or are converts to Orthodoxy. I don’t find that exactly encouraging. There is no significant movement to Orthodoxy outside the USA, certainly not in France or England.
I see things differently, an alternative to dismissing Christianity en bloc. There seem to be two other alternatives. One would consist of accepting the modernising movement to “sentimental” Christianity, which might prove to be a useful “moral police” department of the State in countries like the USA. Such “protestant” and non-sacramental Christianity would be split according to criteria of moral ethics. Some people see the point in it. Why not?
The other alternative is the monastic-inspired view of Christianity and tiny communities drawn together by friendship and a desire to continue the old liturgical tradition and a higher view of Christianity. The danger is what some mistakenly call “gnosticism” (because historical Gnosticism was something else) or the “remnant true church” ideology. It is also possible to assemble a small community that remains motivated by Christian love and openness of heart. I am very lucky to have found this desirable spirit in my diocese of the Anglican Catholic Church.
We in our little Churches have responsibility for what we are trying to preserve and keep alive. It is particularly important to ensure the quality of bishops and priests in terms of their serious preparation, their sense of reality and devotion to their liturgical ministry. Continuing Anglicanism has had many difficulties with unsuitable men in the Episcopate and other causes of instability, and has been understood as meaning the continuation of different strands of churchmanship within Anglicanism from strict Calvinism to an imitation of post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism. There is not the unanimity for which some would have hoped. The best some of us can hope for is a certain breadth of tolerance for the old English pre-Reformation Sarum liturgy – celebrated as authentically as possible according to the extant documents of the early sixteenth century. We are more likely to find it in Continuing Anglicanism that anywhere else, short of setting up our own “Old Catholic” church, most of which are abject failures.
One thing that has besmirched the image of the small Church is the phenomenon of the episcopi vagantes or bishops at large. It is incredibly difficult to pursue a high ideal whilst being under flak from jealous mainstream and establishment church authorities. The weaknesses of the bishop or priest in question are exploited to the full as history has seen with the examples of Arnold Harris Mathew and René Vilatte among other less-known men who were ordained by the Dutch Old Catholics or various oriental churches. When dishonesty and impure motives get mixed into the salad, that is generally the undoing.
There aren’t many options. One can of course resort to nihilism or a person’s idea that he is the only true Christian left in the world! Go too far down, this road, and something has gone very wrong. We are brought to consider how square pegs can be driven into round holes. Are we so far from original Christianity that what we see as Christianity today is something else? Has the Christianity of Jesus been smothered? If so, by what? Politics or influences from philosophies and other religions outside Jewish monotheism? You can’t restore what has been lost and we can’t relate to what passes for “modern Christianity”.
What do we do? We can’t control other people or force them. I believe that our job is to work on ourselves and discover the inner self. At the same time, we need to discern what Christianity really means, whether it has become so distorted that it needs to be discarded or whether there is some survival of the Mystery or Sacrament of Christ that made Christianity valid for two thousand years. We are called to prayer and Christian discipline, but also to study.
We approach Ash Wednesday and Lent. Perhaps it is not so much about giving something up but taking something up: Bible reading, the Divine Office if we have been getting a bit negligent, and certainly some good heavyweight theology. Perhaps we might get somewhere…