I would seem an odd title, but easily explained. In the same way as I take time preparing my boat for something beyond a brief day-sail, I used to sort out my fishing tackle as a boy. I had several rod and reels: fly fishing for trout, spinning or using bait to catch fish that look for food on the bottom. All these different methods of fishing require piles of different kinds of line, hooks, lures, floats, lead weights – all of which would go into a plastic box with drawers, rather like nails, screws, washers, etc. in a workshop. I labelled one of the drawers, “spinners, lures and fly line“. The three categories of things had to share the same drawer. Fly line is thick and designed to float, so takes up quite a lot of space. That would fit in one compartment of the drawer, and there was still a little space for the spinners and lures. Spinners are curved metal plates attached to the line and hook, and would catch the fish’s eye and provoke the predatory instinct. Lures are more like imitations of worms or small fish. It is quite a world! I gradually lost interest in fishing as I went through school and my mind was taken with other things. The label – Spinners, Lures and Fly Line – stuck in my mind.
This time, it isn’t fishing tackle but three blog entries that may have something in common well under the surface. The first is a posting by my friend Patrick – What is there to like?
I was a little tickled by one of the comments – “Look at Fr Anthony down there in Normandy. Does he bother with Rome much these days, between his new church and his sailing?” Perhaps I am something of a harmless fool messing about in boats. Why not? Most of us live little lives and pass on what little we can to posterity. Perhaps this is precisely the point, that Patrick has something to pass on to posterity. I was rather impressed by his writing, even though it would be dismissed by Roman Catholic apologists.
What is there to like? That seems to be the question. In life we do many things for pleasure and other things by necessity or duty. As soon as I finish this posting, I have to get back to a boring technical translation about quality control in the steel industry. Then I have to go onto my online banking site and get my calculator out! Normally, it’s business before pleasure, but today I’m doing my blog first. Obviously, traditional Catholic liturgy brings pleasure as well as an occasion for the contemplation of God. Most convinced Catholics tend to be much more serious than Patrick or myself – accounts, asceticism and morality before anything pleasurable! We seem to be looking at to the old disputes of the pre-Christian classical world between the Stoics and the Epicurians. Things don’t seem to be so clearly distinguished nowadays.
Some of us do tend to get steamed up with the idea that things could have been so good, but were messed up by things like the exaggeration of Papal authority and positivism in canon law. Patrick writes what he feels, and I tend to make a more conciliatory approach. His writing seems to convey hatred and bitterness (which I don’t think is the case) and I tend to measure these questions of the Church against the wider issues of the modern world: our current slide down the slope towards totalitarianism and a world in which I would not want to live. Going by the probable time scale, that is likely to be the case for me and others of my age! Our world is dominated by very rich people and career politicians who care nothing about the common good and peace between nations. Going by appearances, the current Papacy is trying to fit into that morass in a kind of Erastianism never known to the Church of England. Pope Francis seems to show the bathos of a long history of an ideology that made nonsense of a Christian faith that seems totally forgotten and choked by weeds. In many ways, I agree with Patrick, but I moved on and found a Church with which I could relate and took up sailing. This year, I might take some fishing tackle and see if I can vary my diet on the Rade de Brest with a nice fresh mackerel cooked in white wine on my camping gas burner!
Perhaps we can be thankful to Benedict XVI and Francis for having demolished the mythology of the Papacy, one by resigning and the other by saying things no one would ever have heard from a Pope in the past. I wonder what the world will say when we read stories of two emeritus popes living in former convents in the Vatican gardens and the new guy being a CEO in a power suit or another guffawing extrovert clown keeping the crowds amused. I have read musings of this nature. I have also seen evidence that Benedict XVI has no problem with the present situation. The image some traditionalists and conservatives made of him were only based on appearances and Ratzinger’s taste for beauty. The real problem is not the Popes but conservative clergy and lay people who seek to project a Church that no longer exists on the screen and call it the “true church”. I say – let them do what they want, because I recognise no authority in them.
I bare no hatred, but I do observe that the system has trashed itself if we look at it from a conservative Catholic point of view. However, most of the clergy and faithful have gone along with the “normal” ways: the current political orientations, political correctness and something like the American mega churches. It seems to be the right thing for the majority of western humanity, over which people like Patrick or myself have no more control than over the weather or things moving around at high speed in outer space. We have to learn to let go and rely on ourselves more. For that we have to make our own spiritual and psychological pilgrimages of individuation and integration. In ordinary language – we have to learn to be ourselves and not rely on others. So I have earned the reputation of being between my “new church” and sailing! I could think of worse…
I like Patrick’s reflections on the pre-Tridentine Church. Unfortunately, most of it is illusion and romantic in the sense of filtering out the nasty superstitious and obscurantist stuff away from the rood screens and apparelled amices. Using the vernacular in the liturgy goes back to fifteenth-century Germany, and we Anglicans made a success of it. I have a very fine English translation of the Sarum Missal (Canon Warren) which I use most of the time. The Counter Reformation is beautifully summed up in its effect on the liturgy:
We’re constantly told by apologists of the “traditional Latin Mass” that the Tridentine reforms were minimal, but go into any major cathedral church in Europe and you will not find a Rood Loft or chancel screen, which were all used in divine service before the Reformation. Why? They were mostly dismantled and destroyed following the introduction of the reformed Missal and Breviary, and so any visual continuity with the Middle Ages has disappeared from the most prominent churches on the continent. During the 17th and 18th century a period of liturgical revival against these Ultramontane encroachments flourished in France and elsewhere, misnamed “Gallicanism,” which was soon condemned and crushed by Rome, and then ridiculed by Dom Guéranger, one of the most arrogant and destructive men of the 19th century.
The order of Mass was very little different from the 1474 Princeps edition and the Ordo of John Burchard. What really changed was the spirit of it all, the ultra regulation over the details of the rites like the European Union on the size and shape of carrots! I wonder if anyone has made that comparison before… When that carapace was finally broken, the equal and opposite reaction was the arbitrary and “spontaneous creation”. The parallel movement in Anglican was rather a copy-cat imitation of Rome but without understanding the underlying issues. You will find plenty of “modern” liturgies in the Church of England with altars facing the people – but less nonsense and clowning about. The answer is to stop depending on other people and to take our lives into our own hands.
Unlike Patrick, I am a priest and can celebrate Mass. In one way, I am more independent than a lay person, but I am still a soul in need of God’s mercy and the ministry of my Bishop and brother priests. Complete independence goes against the very meaning of the Church, but the Church is a select group of human beings, people who have a different understanding from the materialist hylics. That distinction was broken in about the fourth century as the persecutions by the Roman Empire ceased. The Church become political instead of contemplative – Ecclesia persecutionibus crevit; post quam ad christianos principes venit, potentia quidem et divitiis maior, sed virtutibus minor facta est (The Church firstly languished under persecution. After this, she turned to Christian rulers who gave her wealth and power, but she thereby grew weaker in virtue) in words attributed to St Jerome. All Churches go that way, because of human concupiscence for power and money and the correlative loss of faith, grace and contemplation. I dread the day of my little Anglican Catholic Church joining the respectability club and the World Council of Churches!
Then, there were two other articles that grabbed my attention. The next one is The World We Have Lost (Redux) written by David Sullivan, one of Patrick’s critics. The theme of the good old days is a temptation for any of us getting on in years and seeing our hair go whiter and our bodies becoming worn out and needing more visits to the doctor and care. I don’t have the impression of the 1970’s like my grandparents had of the 1920’s and 30’s. That fact would indicate something of a real change (not merely subjectively perceived) between the inter-war years and now. They had Hitler and we have Obama, François Hollande and the EU! David Sullivan has noticed something that has brought about that change, a notion he found in George Orwell’s writing:
Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham, under the name of ‘managers’. These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organise society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new ‘managerial’ societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.
We have not reached the end of history when everything is money, nothing else. The process of change is still continuing. I have been criticised for being too individualist in declaring independence. I have ceased to concern myself about where people in the street are going, what clothes they are wearing, what they believe or whatever. To me, they have become ghosts in a world with which I relate less and less. I respect them and just leave them to go about their lives unknown to me. It can be a temptation to look through the windows of someone else’s house – and when we do, what do we see? Nothing interesting. Interior fittings and furnishings of a taste different from our own. What’s the point? Life is too short. People are being gathered up into a mass according to a principle other than a spiritual communion. This is post-humanism, trans-humanism, a future which is not mine. People have become or will become machines, mindless cogs in a mechanism – a dark satanic mill that Blake could never have imagined!
So as not to end on a note of nihilism, I found this study – Why do only some people get ‘aesthetic chills’ from listening to music?
It is something I have noticed in my life, and rather took it for granted. I remember some years ago at a concert at St Ouen in Rouen. The Organ Symphony of Saint-Saëns was on the programme, the organ being one of the finest built by Cavaillé-Coll. I was entirely in goose pimples and my face streaming with tears. It was quite embarrassing for my wife who was sitting next to me. It is not the only time in my life. The article described the minority of people who experience physical reactions to music as “open to experience”.
Studies have shown that people who possess this trait have unusually active imaginations, appreciate beauty and nature, seek out new experiences, often reflect deeply on their feelings, and love variety in life.
It seems to be a perfect description of the Romantic, the sensuous human being unconcerned for “moral respectability”. I found the idea quite flattering. We need to be ourselves, break with things pertaining to mere social conformity. Perhaps this is the real meaning of Nietzsch’s Übermensch, not the Nazi goon of Hitler’s hell, but the person set apart to discover and dare to forge ahead. I think it will be the same with the Church, the reason why many of us have broken away from the spiritual “Brussels” to form smaller and more human units and communities. When these go the same way, then there will be other small communities to carry the flame of Christ and freedom from Leviathan. We have to have the imagination and the will to break away and go where we are called.
It often happens that discouraged people write to me and ask my opinion on things like the Church and their place in the world. I am not a spiritual director. I can’t direct people any more than someone who doesn’t know me can tell me what to do. Spiritual directors in seminaries are as useless as tits on a boar! I have developed the idea of a spiritual retreat from what I experienced as a seminarian to the lone man on the immensity of the sea in a tiny boat. I will spend some days alone on the Rade de Brest in my boat before joining the big gathering from Friday 17th June. The beauty of nature, imperfect and blighted as it is, serves as an icon of God and infinity. My only break will be my visit to Brest for supplies and needs of bodily hygiene!
The essential, whether or not we sail or climb mountains, is to get out and about, balance our minds and spiritual aspirations. Learning is also important – reading philosophy, history and theology. The third important thing is to create, and I haven’t done enough of it: write, compose music, draw and paint – use our talents to the full before our dissolution and bodily death which seems so radical and irreversible, so final and cold. We still have a little time left.
Thus I close the drawer of the plastic box marked Spinners, Lures and Fly Line. One can only begin to imagine what is in the drawers marked Hooks, Weights and Floats. Go, catch a big fish!