Et in Arcadia Ego II

It just goes to show… I tend to regurgitate old stuff and add subtle things to old posts. See Et in Arcadia Ego. At my age, I tend to go on with the same fundamental thoughts. I arrived at Fr Montgomery’s presbytery already quite tired on the ways of the $$PX and their dour drabness. He could get away with being an Anglican (canonically a Roman Catholic priest) with “medieval” quirks. At 23, there was no way I could go back to the 1940’s, go to the diocesan seminary at Bayeux and become a parish priest. He was born in 1914, not me! If I wanted to become a priest, it would be through Ecône and then the life of a missionary changing places every couple of years – no continuity of ministry, no differences from the conformity mould, no stability. This is something the $$PX has in common with the post Vatican II Church, the mega-church with all the power concentrated in a small elite clique. It took me a while to understand these issues intellectually, but at the age of 23, I could only “feel” that I was being sold the wrong goods and that conversion to Roman Catholicism was not a good idea.

It isn’t going to be easy to communicate my “feelings” in words intelligible to other people, you readers, but I will try. Many of us Romantics are idealists rather than realists and try to project our own fantasies onto reality. That can bring about artistic genius, or provide excellent material for the nut-house! Reading about Gnosticism, I read about many of the aspects including nostalgia for the life we lived before we were born, a life which was certainly in another universe. That sounds very much like an idea of reincarnation, but may not be. I have experienced this “nostalgia” throughout my life, as if I had known things I could not possibly have known in my childhood. The “feeling” is very blurred. There are no sights or sounds, but something that touches my existence. Maybe, a psychiatrist would say I am suffering from this or that disorder. Others would compare it to St Paul’s For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. Some things and associations bring it on, certain pieces of music, medieval churches, some things I see from my boat whilst at sea. When I read Romantic poetry, I recognise the experience in those men, but who were able to express it in poetry and music, which would be a better communicator than my English prose.

My dear friend Rubricarius wrote a touching comment to my last posting on Fr Montgomery. He seemed to incarnate, to some extent, that archetype I was looking for. The “Sarum” that had disappeared from England and was no longer to be found even in Anglican parishes. Perhaps, there were other isolated parishes and perhaps a diocese. The Institute of Christ the King was originally the result of priests like Fr Montgomery founding the Opus Sacerdotale in the 1960’s. We still had more or less that spirit in 1990 when I joined them, and the extremes of high camp canonial disguises only came in after I left and when the priests running that community were more reassured in their relations with Rome and the Archbishop of Florence. There was also my friendship with Dr Ray Winch (convert to Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism in the 1950’s) in Oxford during my student days at Fribourg. He referred to a medieval chapter of canons that had survived from before the Reformation and had the right canonical privileges to exempt them from every kind of authority outside themselves. Of course, this canonry existed only in his imagination, but it was his arcadia from which he could express himself. I loved the idea, but it didn’t exist, and no ecclesial authority would allow such a thing to be founded.

I think many “mainstream” traditionalists from the Opus Sacerdotale branch rather than the Society of St Pius X (though Archbishop Lefebvre was quite close to the old French parish priest rather than the military model of priestly life) got close to establishing good communities. There are the various Benedictine abbeys in France, though they are highly influenced by the 1950’s liturgical movement. The Fraternité de Saint Vincent Ferrier is an interesting little religious community using the Dominican rite. There is a community of canons regular, the Chanoines Réguliers de la Mère de Dieu (site in English). They helped Fr Wach and Fr Mora to get going in the late 1980’s before the house at Gricigliano came up. The priests of Gricigliano are styled as secular canons, but the whole thing lacks authenticity and is characterised by snobbery and high camp. The bottom line is that someone who thinks he may have a vocation for this kind of life just has to go through normal channels and knuckle down to reality.

I have already mentioned a book that has marked me by the French author Pierre de Calan, Cosmas or the Love of God. Brief review. It is an excellent parable for us all. A young man, son of a veterinary surgeon (as I am) seeks his arcadia with the Trappists, but the reality of monastic life is something else. He never solves the problem and only finds resolution through death. It gnaws away at the soul and will never let go, until a person can come to some kind of a compromise and live his life outside the regimentation of a community. That is my lot, diocesan priest of a minor church of Anglican tradition, but with enough freedom to “do my thing” within the limits of Christian morality and seemliness. Being on the fringe is the price to pay for keeping our personalities, our archetypes and our own relationship with God.

I was quite taken back by my friend’s:

All that remains of any claim to authentic Western liturgical patrimony is being kept alive now by flickering flames on the ‘outskirts’ like yourself Fr. Anthony. Those videos bring home, painfully, how so very much has been lost over the last thirty years, especially galling after the heroic efforts of the proto-Traditionalists who worked so hard to keep things going through the late 1950s and the 1960s only for their contemporary descendants to have cast most it aside.

It is flattering to be entrusted with this responsibility, but I can only do it for as long as I am alive and in good enough health. Then I will go the same way as Fr Montgomery, Fr Ronald de Poe Silk and others. I would like to see this responsibility assumed by my ACC diocese and others, who should have the prospect of surviving the present generation. I would like to see more Sarum, though the standard Anglican Missal (influenced as it is by the Roman rite) is a sound basis with the old Holy Week rites and without many of the innovations from the Pius XII era. The ACC needs more support, not only from ordinary folk looking for a good Church, but also from those concerned for the integrity of the liturgy. We can’t have our cake and eat it – belong to the RC Church or the Church of England and still expect to have a bit of freedom for our quirks and eccentricities! Mind you, we are a Church and not a clique of specialists. The balance has to be kept. I do what I can with only occasional attendance by my in-laws. Otherwise, I’m practically on my own doing everything like old Fr Montgomery. I just have my chapel, not three village churches.

Rubricarius may seem to be exaggerating when there are traditionalist communities and parishes, many more than back in the 1980’s. The determining factor would seem to be the use of the various Pius XII and John XXIII modifications that bolstered the prestige and god-like power of the Papacy. I have published the The “Restored” Holy Week by Msgr Léon Gromier, Papal Master of Ceremonies during the Pontificate of Pius XII – a conference given in 1960. This was quite an acid criticism. My own diocese uses the old Holy Week, in English, according to the Anglican Missal. I use Sarum, which is so “obsolete” that it has had no modification other than translation into English since about 1526. The Warren translation dates from the early twentieth century but is done in “Cranmerese” style. It can also be celebrated in Latin. The cause for taking a critical position in regard to the 1950’s and 1962 Roman missals is still quite marginal, but less so than in the past.

In the end, we can only put in our little bit. I can do that much more because I am a priest. Lay people can pray the Office, or the main Hours of it. We will never find the arcadia in this world, because it is not of this world. We see it through a glass darkly as we gaze on the stones of a cathedral, or when I hear the Variations on Dives and Lazarus by Vaughan Williams, or am transported by some other earthly sign.

This piece for me evokes a lost world, that certainly never existed on this earth, even in the Middle Ages. Paradise is elsewhere, or right here but in a different “frequency” or “dimension”. Sometimes we are privileged to “see” shadows from our Plato’s Cave, but we cannot experience the whole whilst we are earth-bound. Christianity calls this paradise Heaven, and warns us that we cannot even imagine what it is like or the degree of beatitude we will experience if we have aspired the right way during our life on earth. That is where we will find everything to which we have aspired, the celestial Salisbury Cathedral with St Osmund himself celebrating, with J.S. Bach at the organ and everything we could imagine. Perhaps we little ones would be crushed by the greatness of it all.

According to some “apocryphal” sources, we would pass through some dark purgatory and then be rescued and taken to various levels of light and beauty. Perhaps as we let go of our ego, we would become a part of the universal consciousness we call God – an idea that we just cannot comprehend. That is the object of our nostalgia, and is also our origin before we were incarnated into this world. There is the tradition of the Christian Church, and there are the Scriptures, and many things are said. I do not refuse information or ideas from other religions and possibly even private revelations – because they build a bigger picture. At any rate, we will never know the whole truth this side of the grave, unless, perhaps, we undergo a near-death experience by being clinically dead, but not quite dead and brought back by doctors or spontaneously. There are many strange things, and I don’t disbelieve them all.

Whilst we are still here, let us build the dream at least as much as we can. That is why I have my little chapel and the boat to sail out to sea. May these dark windows bring us closer to the inaccessible and more filled with love and beauty, that others may also seek the same spark of divinity within themselves as well as beyond us all in Transcendence.

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