Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate

It is the famous quote of Dante, most frequently translated as Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. It is a quotation I often remember when walking up some streets in London with the dark glass and steel office buildings that say nothing of humanity, just money, money and money.

This idea came back into my mind as I read Patrick Sheradon’s new article on Western Orthodoxy. Of course he may be right, as would John Bruce who converted to Roman Catholicism. If you convert to Roman Catholicism, you have no right to anything to which you were attached in the past. You submit and accept everything from the current Papacy and the local bishops. Why not? It all seems to make sense.

I was once interested in the idea of Western Orthodoxy, but I saw the reality before going anywhere near an Orthodox priest. For me, it simply didn’t happen. I saw Dr Ray Winch become ever more cynical and gravitate towards traditional Latin masses in the RC Church, and was buried when he died without any religious rites. I knew him well enough not to see him as an apostate, but someone whose faith and hope was pushed to the extreme.

I suppose it could be said that we Anglicans should use the 1662 Prayer Book or the new services and go along with the latest things coming from General Synod. What becomes of someone who has nowhere to go. That person just dries up, and I’m sure that Christ must be guffawing over the whole thing! Were I not a Christian or a priest, perhaps I would end up like Dr Winch – trust in God’s mercy, but alone. If the Church is where the person must abandon hope when he enters there, surely this is not heaven on earth – – – but the hell of Dante, lined with the skulls of bad bishops and priests.

Anglicanism is far from perfect, but it does allow a certain amount of diversity in questions of liturgy and other preferences in secondary matters. I have been allowed to use Sarum, not because I am some kind of “uniate”, but because I was already using it as a priest and it is an Anglican rite. It was used after the Henrican schism from 1534 and was only abolished in 1549. The rest of my Diocese uses the Anglican Missal, essentially the pre-1962 Roman rite using the Sunday Epistles, Gospels and Collects from the Prayer Book. It is another Anglican rite. A limited diversity doesn’t seem to be a problem for us Anglicans.

Many Orthodox and Roman Catholics will dismiss our Church as “dud” or “bogus” on the basis of their belief that our Sacraments are invalid. The moral of this story is simply to “stay put”, don’t let anyone manipulate us or make us believe that we have to convert to their Church. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves (Mt xxiii. 15).

I would be sad to see my old friend from Kent go the same way as John Bruce on opposite sides of the Tiber or the Volga, or whichever river going through a Patriarchal city. I am delighted to see him find his spiritual home – if it will be in the long term. Perhaps they are right, and we have nothing to hope for. I have a feeling that such zeal may well be short-lived and hides a deep dissatisfaction and inner turmoil.

I think Western Orthodoxy could have worked like the pre-Pauline Roman liturgy in the contemporary RC Church. Perhaps it does work in some places in the USA. I gave up on it thirty years ago. I have seen many empty promises, long waits and secrets being kept – and there was nothing there. Stay with Churches that are in the jar what it says on the label. I am sure there are good and sincere Roman Catholic and Orthodox local communities, but there are good Anglican ones too.

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Conservative Anglicans

I meant to go for a long sail today along the east coast of the Contentin from Barfleur, but the weather started looking nasty already this morning in advance of what was predicted by the forecast. There’s an old saying “When you start thinking about reefing, get those sails reefed right now!” As I saw the anvil-shaped clouds and the curtain of rain, having reefed the sails, the next thought was getting the hell out of this. I started the engine and took down the sails altogether, and then motored back to the mooring. I was safely anchored by the time I felt the teeth of the 30-knot gusts and the pelting rain.

A good seaman knows when not to go sailing. It’s as simple as that. It is also the same when thinking about human storms in both church and politics. That is the reflection that came into my mind when I discovered the article Conservative Anglicans are close to despair. Is the CofE about to split? I have been reading about splits in the Anglican Communion and schisms in the Roman Catholic Church for years. This stuff is simply rehashed banality. I frankly prefer the wind and rain that keeps my boat tied up to these futilities that drive me further and further away from the “world”.

The “liberals” come up with more and more sell-outs to modern secular systems of ethics and collective personality disorder. The conservatives, generally Evangelicals, are appealing to the “good old days” of the 1950’s, hanging or electrocuting criminals and caning unruly and disobedient children. Is that really what we want? The meme goes round saying that if we don’t get back to old-time religion and the associated social status quo, radical Islam will come and do it for us. Perhaps true, perhaps exaggerated. I do agree that our world is becoming increasingly hostile, anti-humanist and influenced by those with psychopath personalities. Would these Evangelicals bring a juster and more human world, or yet more bigotry and intolerance?

This article comes from a Roman Catholic source, and we get more comments from those promising new homes to stray Anglicans. We read all that during the Benedict XVI pontificate. They now have Pope Francis almost at the end of his de-ratzingerisation programme, and we have the old curmudgeon in western America doing down the Ordinariate. So, Anglicans have to become good corporate RC’s and knuckle up on pain of losing any claim to a principled position. At least the fellow is honest, and his diatribes are a salutary warning against any illusion someone might still entertain. Fortunately, there are alternatives for a few – those of us prepared to be marginal and not care about the “respectable” mainstream. After all, Christ’s mission was all about the human flotsam and jetsam of his era, not the Establishment in Jerusalem that got him killed by the good offices of the occupying Romans.

These stories leave us with a sense of emptiness and grief. Those of us of a certain age have memories, not of a perfect world, but something we loved and found familiar. The familiarity is gone. All that is left is to move away, cast off the moorings and seek the love of God in the most unexpected ways. That is not something the “conservatives” will give us, whether they are Anglicans or Roman Catholics in full cognitive dissonance.

The only way out of all this Scheißewetter, as the Germans call shitty weather, is transcendence. We need a more spiritual and sacramental understanding of the Church in the way Christ probably meant ἐκκλησία, a word analysed thousands of times by exegetes of all churchmanships. There plainly has to be some form of community whose members come together to pray and decide the best way to live together according to its principles. I belong to our diocesan Council of Advice, and it is always an experience of communion in Christ. But, from the little community and assembly to some big anonymous and unaccountable bureaucracy, we have at least an inkling what Christ would have approved or disapproved.

Fewer and fewer of us have any meaningful common life in the Church, and many have to go it alone, become marginal and work out a whole new philosophy of life. I ceased to care many years ago what they do in the Church of England, except empathising with the good clergy I know in Forward in Faith – doing what they can in less than ideal circumstances. The Church of England is crashing like the British Empire over the few years following World War II. The house has burned down and all is lost, which is what sent the Russian pilgrim on his way.

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I have been using Facebook moderately over the past couple of years as light banter or to share my good times and outings in the boat, that sort of thing. I have a page and have set up a Sarum Use discussion group

I occasionally participate in (my favourites):

Some of these groups are “closed groups”, which means you need to ask to join them. The Use of Sarum is one I started myself and it has 563 members. There are often discussions of quality and interesting input.

Facebook can be a minefield of bitching and trolling, but it has its good uses. I always try to take the moral high road and avoid getting into conflict with nasty personalities, sometimes known as trolls. Light banter is possible on one’s own timeline. My Bishop often uses his page for discussing things like his lovely little dog Tobie, rubber ducks and journeys he makes. All that catches attention and affection. We often exchange jokes based on puns and plays on words! He often comes up with a good spiritual word and something of inspiration. It is good to use this medium to communicate and enjoy oneself. I tend to be somewhat more “serious” in my style, like on this blog. We are all free to do what we are good at and what seems best.

Many are afraid of Facebook or see only the “bad” side. For me, it has largely taken the place of the old Google and Yahoo e-mail groups. It is more graphic and eye-catching. Why not?

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New Blog

My old friend Patrick Sheridan has set up a new blog Ad meliora advocatus…

He is obviously taking his time getting used to the WordPress system and is also figuring out what will be the “golden thread” that will give him a message to put out and make the blog last for years.

We all tend to be sensitive to antics of bullies and narcissistic trolls on the internet. Presently I notice some very nasty arguments being waged on Facebook about everything from politics and how Christianity should respond to issues like transgenders in the clergy.

Patrick has become Orthodox, and is growing a beard! His chin hair is even lighter than mine, but he is free to attempt what he wants. I hope he doesn’t go and Russify or Graecify his name! The important thing for him is to learn about their liturgy and spiritual tradition, and it will take many years. I hope he will seek the essence of what he is looking for rather than the mere appearance. I have long hair, which is untypical of the Church I belong to, but that is my free choice rather than some kind of acculturation. I once thought about Orthodoxy myself, when I was a student at Fribourg, through my friendship with Dr Ray Winch and Dr Jean-François Mayer – but it never happened.

I wish him luck and a sense of purpose and coherence. Before, it was a desire for the old Roman liturgy of before the various reforms from the 1911 Pius X breviary to the Pius XII Holy Week of the 1950’s. It is a theme I have shared with varying nuances, with friends here in France and the late Fr Frank Quoëx who was our MC at Gricigliano. Patrick was always unable to deal with conflict, as I am to a lesser degree. Finally, for him, the entire western tradition could only be discarded. Fortunately, he didn’t come under the influence of some quarters of the European alt-right for whom Christianity in general has to be discarded because it is not a viable political system!

I hope Patrick does find this “golden line” and a title for the blog. My own was inspired by the idea of promoting the Use of Sarum, which I found was not enough, when my real golden line is more philosophical, as a priest belonging to a legitimate Church, under the jurisdiction of a Bishop, but marginal in many ways. I discovered the link with the old medieval Goliards who were a weird species of wandering priests and monks who protested against the way the Church was going in those tumultuous days. Patrick’s theme will be very different. I do ask my readers to support him and give him ideas, but he will have ultimately to rely on his own resources, since no one else can do that for him.

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Watch out for the Hun in the Sun

I received a phone call late last night from someone I hadn’t heard from for almost thirty years. I was quite sure he was dead after so many years without the slightest trace anywhere. Some years ago, there was a story about a young German who arrived in England and who had forgotten who he was through some mental or emotional problem. He was taken into care, and played the piano in the establishment. They called him the Piano Man (story in English), but it was not Michael Bartling. In the 1980’s, Michael and I were students together at Fribourg University. I lived in a couple of religious houses for a reasonable rent and then had a room in an old lady’s house in the Rue Marcello very near the library. Michael had a less usual arrangement for a university student, living in a small hamlet outside Fribourg in the German-speaking part of the Canton, in a small farm at Maria Hilf. I still have vague memories of the Brülhardt family and that farmhouse straight out of the nineteenth century!

Michael came from Wolfsburg near Hanover, the industrial town in northern Germany where Hitler established the first Volkswagen factory. The factory is still there and producing vast numbers of road vehicles of that brand. I think his family background was very unhappy, but I shouldn’t be talking about that here in public. When he was in Fribourg, he always dressed in black and his hair was unevenly and badly cut – he cut it himself. We both attended Mass in the “Schülerkapelle“, a former warehouse and workshop being used as a traditionalist chapel, and served by a former SSPX priest by the name of Fr Aurèle Maillard. Norbert Schüler ran the chapel at the time, and it was attended by perhaps thirty or forty regular faithful. The ideology was sedevacantist. Germans are radical people, and you can hardly call them luke-warm! When they believe in something, or when they are convinced by someone like Hitler… I say this as a Germanophile, fond as I am of German music and the language (I’m not very good at it), and their Romantic philosophy. It is a paradox how such a cultured European country could fall into such barbarity from the 1930’s until the utter ruin of that country in 1945.

Fribourg is full of Germans. Both French and German are spoken at the University, and most of my friends were Germans. In particular, there was a little community of a priest and two seminarians trying to set up something based on the Oratorian idea. The priest was Fr Martin Reinecke, formerly SSPX and incardinated in an Austrian diocese and doing his Licentiate in liturgy with the same professor as myself, Fr Jakob Baumgartner. The two students, Markus and Andreas, were also studying liturgical history in the wake of Msgr Klaus Gamber’s vast academic output. The three had also studied at Paderborn and Regensburg. This is Ratzinger country, whilst the former Archbishop of Münich was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. John Paul II was still Pope then. I was in the French-speaking section of the theological faculty, but some of the German-speaking professors, including Fr Christoph von Schönborn (now Archbishop of Vienna) also taught in the French section. It was quite fluid according to what we could understand of either French or German. The odd young man in black came to many of the French lectures and seminars since the doctrine was somewhat more orthodox and in accord with traditional Church teachings.

Michael tended to follow me about, and both of us owe many things to Herr Schüler in the way of finding cheap accommodation. Michael and I had a room each for a time at the Salvatorkolleg in Schönberg, the German-speaking side of the river in Fribourg. It was cheaper than the room I rented from the Conventual Franciscans. The Salvatorians had a 1950’s chapel with a reasonable little organ, which both Michael and I played in our spare time. From about summer 1988, Michael moved back out to Maria Hilf and I found my digs in the Rue Marcello. It was also during my time at the Salvatorkolleg that I met a friend by the name of Roman Zajaczek, a Pole whose family lived in Mainz (Germany) and had been educated in England. He and I went to climb mountains and spend enormous amounts of time together. Last night, Michael reminded me of Roman’s surname, which enabled me to find him working as a parish pastoral assistant in the Appenzell canton. Still in Swazzyland as we called it! I hope he will answer my e-mail!

All the memories came flooding back as Michael remembered every detail. He must be an aspie or a savant autist! He rattled on and on, but it was all fascinating. After university, Michael outstayed his welcome in Switzerland and got into trouble with the law for illegal immigration. He is now living in Münich, in his own country, but in Catholic Bavaria. I have really enjoyed Bavaria and a visit to Münich and Altötting back in 1999 together with a trip over the Austrian frontier to Salzsburg. I still have the little bust of Mozart I bought there. One reason for this visit was the radical traditionalist community down there, with such names as the late Bishop Günther Storck, Sister Gertrude, Dr Eberhard Heller and the periodical Einsicht. There was a Spanish bishop there by the name of Rafael Cloquell, who has since completely disappeared from circulation. From many of the things I have been hearing last night, the German sedevacantist scene makes Continuing Anglicanism in the late 1990’s look like the epitome of peace! I have never known such sectarianism based on raw ideology, who can shout the loudest and the idea of an ultra-pure Church (Donatism – the validity of the Sacraments is denied when the accompanying faith is not entirely orthodox or a bishop or priest has in some way betrayed the Church). It is a truly nasty world. This whole mentality was not invented – it came from late nineteenth-century Roman Catholicism.

Michael got me to look at a website of a bishop in Münich who was trained for the priesthood in the USA in a sedevacantist seminary and was ordained. There was some kind of scandal, and he was no longer allowed to stay in America. He returned to Germany, and now gives speeches in the streets for an anti-Muslim organisation. Some other character, a failed art student, loved ranting in Münich in about 1923, that city where they have the Oktoberfest involving the consumption of vast quantities of beer and the less refined gentlemen pissing under the tables, sometimes without even opening their fly! Michael was not enamoured by this raucous prelate, and is seeking another bishop for his little community. He had read on the internet that I was in correspondence with a Bishop Franco Munari, but I had to tell him that this is not true. I have never met the Italian traditionalist bishop in question. Having returned to Anglicanism, I could be of no help to Michael, but I pray that he will find peace and his vocation somehow.

Michael reminds me of the young Trappist novice in Cosmas or the Love of God by Pierre de Calan, a book that has haunted me over the years. There are some vocations that just don’t fit into the usual channels of churches, communities and seminaries. I fitted in a little better than Michael, making it to the diaconate and then to the priesthood through less “kosher” channels. Michael could never fit in anywhere, but the fire never went out. In the book, the young novice found dead in the woods was described thus: “The fact that our Brother Cosmas died when he did reveals the Lord’s infinite mercy. . . . He died when he was on his way to La Trappe yet again, and thus gave further proof of his fidelity; but he died before he had to face his weakness yet again“. Perhaps he has found his way in Münich, even if he is never ordained. This is the way of the fool for Christ, my own way as a broken vessel. Some lived their vocation that much more radically like St Seraphim of Zarov or St Benedict Joseph Labre in the streets of Rome.

Evelyn Waugh understood this notion of holiness in the most unlikely of souls, in his best known novel Brideshead Revisited in which Cordelia describes her brother Sebastian:

Then one morning, after one of his drinking bouts, he’ll be picked up at the gate dying, and show by a mere flicker of the eyelid that he is conscious when they give him the last sacraments. It’s not such a bad way of getting through one’s life.

I thought of the youth with the teddy-bear under the flowering chestnuts. “It’s not what one would have foretold,” I said. “I suppose he doesn’t suffer?”Oh, yes, I think he does. One can have no idea what the suffering may be, to be maimed as he is – no dignity, no power of will. No one is ever holy without suffering. It’s taken that form with him…I’ve seen so much suffering in the last few years; there’s so much coming for everybody soon. It’s the spring of love…”’

I saw the same suffering in Michael Bartling. It was easy to make fun of him, but less easy to have a Christlike understanding of humanity at this level. I am unable myself to be a part of the mainstream, and I will probably meet many wandering souls in the future. You will find them just as much around boats as churches, or any common interest that confers a sense of identity and being to a soul.

Like Cosmas, I thought Michael was certainly dead or perhaps interned in a mental hospital somewhere. After thirty years, friendship is reignited, and I left the phone conversation completely bowled over. Was this the judgement of my life? A call not to conform but to find my innermost being and God’s transcendence? Perhaps this is where we will meet Christ in those precious moments of reading the Gospel narrative, and also a Christ who lives in each one of us and the Eternal Church.

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Pocket Symphony

I went to a concert yesterday evening in the public hall of Veules les Roses (where I often go sailing), where La Symphonie de Poche played some arrangements of classics and a few Bourville songs from the 1940’s and 50’s, and a few pieces from the 1920’s. It was quite exquisite. Here are some little clips I found on YouTube of this small ensemble featuring a harp and an accordion among other instruments. The effect is most appealing.

You can find more videos on their website.

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French Sailing Gatherings

My old friend Roger Barnes has produced another fine video on the joys of sailing in France, Brittany in particular.

I was at the Semaine du Golfe, and would have loved to join him for the Challenge Léger, a smaller gathering of boats, but with more seasoned and experienced skippers. I am shortly to be planning a challenging passage (depending on the conditions) from Fécamp to Dieppe and back in some three to four days stopping off for the night in either Saint Valéry en Caux or Dieppe. It’s the open sea, so beaching is not very practical.

Roger describes it all beautifully.

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