Like casting off a boat from its moorings, I launch this blog out into a new initiative, that of fostering a spiritual communion of clergy and lay people committed to a life of prayer and a vision that goes beyond the institutional churches and “public” Christianity.
This is entirely my initiative and not one of the ecclesial body with which I am still linked as a priest under the jurisdiction of a vicar general and a bishop. I have thought up many ideas of “doing church” and none has worked. I have no ambition of founding any kind of independent church even though many such communities inspire admiration and respect. If “public” churches are the only way, a whole dimension of Christian spirituality is lost. There are monasteries, but they are designed for a community living in a physical place under the authority of an abbot. Monasticism is the future of Christianity, but it represents a very particular type of commitment and vocation.
Many of us are inspired by the monastic vision, but do not have the monastic calling. Something in us is missing, and the ideal remains beyond reach. Call it a lack of calling, a lack of vocation. The vocation itself and the institution of monasticism are not to be blamed. Many of us have been unable to live to the ideal required by the Churches, whether Roman Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox. Something within ourselves put the brakes on and said to us that we could not continue in that way. The usual alternative is to be a layman. That vocation also implies a type of personality that is powerful and outgoing, capable of building up a large family and assuming the means needed to support that family. That means a high-powered and well paid professional occupation, which is decided for most people in their early 20’s. The lay vocation is not simply the person who is neither a cleric or in a monastic commitment. It is specific and positive, and not a default state for those considered as unsuitable to be clerics.
The usual reaction of someone in my kind of situation is to “invent” a church. It is easy to fantasise about setting up a diocese or a province and becoming its self-styled archbishop or patriarch, self-styled even if one has obtained an ordination which is sacramentally valid according to “Augustinian” theology. Any kind of community has a mission and a purpose, without which it is merely an attempt to justify a wantonly irregular ordination of someone who was unable to “get” it in the official Church. The first thing we have to do is stop justifying ourselves or proving a point to an indifferent world. We are noted in the world, not for our desires, but for our achievements and contribution to man’s well-being.
Therefore, the mission of New Goliards would be fairly near the monastic ideal, but without monastic externals. What matters is within. It is a notion of an inner church, with an invisible mystical and contemplative life in the midst of this world or in deserted parts of the world such as the desert, the mountains or the sea. The notion of exercising the priesthood is given new meaning as for a priest-monk saying his Mass at a side altar each morning as part of his monastic life.
New Goliards, which is not a self-styled church or the same concept wrapped up in different words, is addressed to people for whom ecclesial life emphasises what Nicholas Berbyaev called the aristocracy of the spirit, creativeness and free expression. We are not left untouched by a certain moderate “gnosticism” as expressed by Fathers of the Church like Origen, Clement of Alexandria and some of the Greek and Cappadocian Fathers. This fundamental notion of the human spirit features in the psychoanalytic theories of Carl Gustav Jung. Knowledge of God and knowledge of self are inseparable, and a good Christian has self-esteem. This knowledge naturally goes far beyond the stuff we learn at university or in seminary – it is the reflection of experience.
New Goliards is not an association or a corporation of any kind. It has no money or property. It cannot accept clergy or students for the purpose of emigration from their country of origin in which they suffer from material hardship and immigration into another country. Similarly, 419 scam messages will be ignored and deleted. Not being a “public” church, New Goliards does not have the worries attached to ownership and official institutional concerns.
There are some principles to which I adhere, and on which I should insist for there to be some unity in this spiritual community:
- The fundamental doctrines we would profess in common would be those of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches without stalling on particular details and systems of theological speculation. Whilst we would have every admiration and respect for Christians of the Reformation, it is impossible to live a meaningful Christian life in the midst of interminable squabbles over doctrine or difficulties of semantics.
- Diversity of liturgical rites for the Eucharist, the Hours of prayer and the Sacraments. Something that should be insisted upon would be the use of liturgical forms from the history of the Church using material that is sufficiently extant to avoid having to invent new rites. Normally a priest would adopt a rite that reflects his ethnical and spiritual identity.
- Love of nature and the outdoor life in the desert, on the sea, in the mountains or forests – using means of locomotion and sustenance of life suited to the age and physical condition of the person. This communion with nature brings mental balance and opens us to experience of the divine.
- Love of art, creation and beauty through family life, music, theatre and cinema, writing, teaching, gardening, practical work around the house, inventing new technologies, practicing the healing arts and all avenues of human industry. The imagination needs to be channelled so that we trade with our world as well as with the “world of ideas”.
- A genuine effort to understand our own personalities and work on self-knowledge, whether through individual work or with the help of a psychotherapist basing his methods on recognition and respect of the human spirit.
These are just a few suggestions for helping us to find balance in a world where the Church has gone haywire and there is no place for us anywhere, because of an “all-or-nothing” policy of bishops and clergy selection panels.
The use of the word Goliard would suggest lack of discipline or respect for rules. Radical freedom is more demanding on us existentially than living under something that takes away our personality and demands us to conform and fit into a matrix. Freedom brings responsibility, and requires asceticism and “costly grace” in the words of Bonhöffer. This would be a group of those of us who have been the hardest hit and wounded by a system that would grant us only annihilation at our stage of life. If we want to survive and live on, it is our decision that no one can take in our place.
Initially, the ordination of new priests would not be envisaged, but New Goliards would essentially be geared to fellowship between priests from various churches – laicised Roman clergy, Anglicans and Old Catholics alienated by excessive progressivism and “authoritarianism of the left” and men in unique circumstances not fitting any common plan or mechanism. What about a priest who has abused children? The situation has yet to occur, but New Goliards would not give any kind of active ministry to any priest, whether he is one who has done something very evil or who has never done anything particularly bad in his life.
We may speak of an “inner church tradition”, which has always existed more or less in opposition to the churches of the “masses”. It is strongly represented by monasticism, but not exclusively, for the monastery is also a reflection of the “public” church. Coming to more practical matters, New Goliards would allow the priest in the most wretched circumstances to value his vocation and fulfil a ministry of intercession and the Sacrifice of the Mass in a legitimate medieval Catholic conception of the priesthood and the Mass. No priest with a fundamentally right intention need contemplate giving up and living according to a secular paradigm he would never be capable of making his own. Many of us live on our own or with spouses with little or no understanding of male spirituality or the “inner tradition”, and our loneliness needs to be sublimated into contemplative and creative solitude.
We should take inspiration from the historical monastic orders and rules, particularly that of Saint Benedict as reflecting a spirit of moderation and common sense, for Qui veut faire l’ange fait la bête in the words of Pascal. If we find a balance in our own separate lives, in our correspondence and prayer for each other, we will find that we are both radical and traditionalist.
Finally, our means of communication should be both simple and private. Therefore, I exclude the use of Facebook in favour of old-fashioned e-mails (my address is anthony dot chadwick at wanadoo dot fr), which allows sending “to all”, and Skype for voice communication. I have designed New Goliards to be completely intangible to those looking for institutions or anything that can procure earthly benefits. The only possible motivation for membership is interior. I don’t care about the “effect on credibility” of a bad egg – they will move on when there is no power or money to be had. There is no need for a superior, though I dare say the New Goliards may one day need a bishop. We will see, if that is possible without starting up a whole new vicious circle.
Indeed, radical freedom brings radical commitment and a true desire for good, beauty and the divine.