August 2011

Referring page



Overflow from the Anglo-Catholic

I base my reflections on Deborah’s first-hand knowledge of the ACCC, the Canadian part of the TAC. History is being re-written to make the world believe that the TAC is a nest of villains and crooks. One reads about this kind of thing in Orwell’s 1984. We expect the Church to be a loving Mother, full of empathy, not Big Brother’s torture chamber! Is that unreasonable?

The usual venom from the usual people – ad maiorem Dei gloriam, without a doubt!

What can I say? I am just sick of it all, and indeed I missed my vocation. I should have gone to sea! No wonder no one goes to church anymore!

I am at my brother’s house in England, and will try to write something calmer and better reasoned when I get back from France. I celebrated Mass yesterday on the tailgate of my van with my travelling Mass kit in sight of Whitby Abbey, and I prayed for you all. May the Lord bring serenity and light to us all.


Bandwagons, Party lines and Alphabet Soup

One blog I have neglected is that of my dear friend Jonathan Munn, O cuniculi! Ubi lexicon Latinum posui? Some of you may know he has recently joined the ACC from having been a lay reader in a Church of England parish. Circuits in the Swimming Pool has caused me to write an extended “comment” in the form of a posting on this blog. He responds to an anonymous comment left on his blog showing sincere dismay at what the person found at an Ordinariate pilgrimage to Walsingham some time ago. Jonathan Munn goes on to explain his choice of joining the ACC rather than going over to the already-established English Ordinariate.

I see an implicit observation that certain persons on the internet are whipping readers into a kind of ‘party bandwagon’ and believing that being ordinariate-bound is an unconditional requirement, and that it is ordinariate or bust. Such a viewpoint may turn out to be right, as some moderators and commenters on a certain blog would affirm. The present party line as expressed on some blogs just doesn’t feel right to me!

Obviously, the visible unity of the Church in communion with the Successor of St Peter is the ideal, but perhaps it could be that presenting this ideal as an absolute imperative in the current circumstances may yet be relative. Our condition as Christians has been to live in separated churches and other kinds of communities for years and centuries. The historical schisms and breaks are not our fault, and they cannot be repaired in a heartbeat. Many of the issues that caused the schisms between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and with Anglicanism, Lutheranism and various types of Protestantism, have not substantially changed, and are compounded by human fear, ignorance and prejudice. Ever since the first historical split away from Roman communion, it has always been possible for individuals to return as penitents, and occasionally as communities with their own patrimony and dignity. By and large, the tendency of Christianity in general is to divide and fragment rather than unite on any significant scale. Perhaps some may be inclined to dispute me, but I can only go on historical evidence and observation. I wish it were otherwise.

Unity with Rome may be the esse of the Church and not simply a bene esse, something that would be “good idea” but not essential. Did not Christ say in St John’s Gospel – that they may be one? Roman Catholic apologists often claim that their Church was never at fault for any historical rupture. Good people turned bad, so they claim – wicked heretics and schismatics – and the true and pure church became that bit smaller. It is unfortunate that the infallibility of the bishops in general councils and the Popes has been so misunderstood as to mean that no one could ever be wrong in anything, and they need to back-pedal in order to make the kind of corrections that would make reconciliation possible. I believe that anyone who says he is entirely right and his adversary is all wrong is questionable. My father used to say six from one and half a dozen from the other when my sister and I had a quarrel. There is always fault from both sides in any conflict.

One thing that causes trouble in a Church institution every time is to introduce reforms or changes in parish life, liturgy, the way priests exercise their ministry and so forth. You introduce major disturbances in people’s spiritual routines, and expect them to go along with it all because some heavy-handed authority said it was all for our own good. Adults ask questions. This has been going on for decades in all western Churches, whether Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Old Catholic or whatever. Perhaps instability and disturbance of tradition and routine is good for the soul – who knows? Contradiction and cognitive dissonance seem to be the lot of many Christians these days. This has been the subject of so many polemical arguments over the last forty years or so, and yet more ruptures all round. I would imagine that most of us are not opposed to change and improvements in the way of doing things, but would think that they should not be compulsory and dealt out by heavy-handed authoritarianism. There was no need for the Pope to abolish the old Latin Mass in the 1970’s, and changes in the Anglican Communion like modern-language services and women priests have alienated thousands. How all that ties in with the aspiration to the reconciliation and visible unity of all Christians under a single authority is a little confusing to put it mildly.

Something else being put about is the notion of the non-viability of continuing Anglican bodies. Are these small churches viable in historical terms? The usual argument put forward is the age of clergy and laity, that there are few young families. We have to admit that this has been an argument for decades, and generations of balding and greying people have died and been replaced by others of the same age group. As an argument for non-viability, I become sceptical. Being in the ‘diaspora’ in France, I am not in an easy position to judge the Continuum, be it the TAC or the various church bodies whose bishops have always said that they were not interested in the ordinariate proposal, or at least reserved their judgement until they saw how the ordinariates would turn out in practice. But I do read different accounts and try to form my own global idea of reality.

Obviously, the first thing to live with is balancing being in the kind of church that offers a ‘traditional’ kind of spiritual and liturgical life and being marginal. There is an advantage to being in a small jurisdiction: it is more family-like and human, but one is under greater scrutiny for ones shortcomings. These are things we have to weigh up. There is something attractive about the idea of being in a small Italian diocese in the “old days” with a fatherly Bishop, but what if the Bishop was some kind of narcissistic control freak you were stuck with for decades? Where are the checks and balances? There aren’t any. It is all dependent on fickle human nature that changes like the weather at sea!

What is a viable expression of the Church? Little jurisdictions and groups often persist for years, and there is a splinter group in France called the Petite Eglise that is still going despite not having had any priests since about 1830. The Orthodox have their Old Believers. The Catholic Church has its traditionalists and conservatives – some in and some out. We are all fairly good at identifying problems that cause dissident groups to sub-divide and bolster up the claims of the apologists – join the big Church and you will be away from those problems. The only thing is that one package of problems is exchanged for another. Cognitive dissonance still dogs the shipwrecked sailor! Our good friend points out that Continuing Anglicans have the humility and straightforwardness to admit the situation, know that it is far from ideal and even begin to implement steps to remedy the situation. There is evidence that the challenge thrown up by the ordinariate project has provoked a positive reaction among those who feel it is wrong to join the Roman Catholic Church unless it revises some of its teachings. Some of the fragmented groups are making moves to come together, and recognise that much of the problem is in the quality of leadership – the bishops. Some of us might scoff at that, but our ordinariates do not yet exist, and the one that exists does not yet concern the TAC or any part of it.

One of the main problems for the continuing Anglican bodies is defining Anglicanism. Is it Roman Catholicism without the Pope but with married priests? Is it a return to the pre-Reformation Church in a kind of “English Gallican” vision? Is it defined by the Prayer Book, the 39 Articles and the post-Reformation and Caroline divines? Can comprehensiveness still be admitted as in the Church of England over the past hundred years or so? All this is hacked out on the blogs, and everyone claims to have a clear answer, yet all the “single clear answers” are different, and one feels that little progress is made. I have to admit being on extremely fragile ground. At the same time, we have something that is different from what is generally understood to be Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy or Protestantism.

The Ordinariate solution is not sufficiently established to command the trust of all, and these ghosts will continue to haunt our blogs and inward thoughts until the difficulties are seen by all to be resolved in an open and honest way. We can only wait and see, and no one should be made to feel any compulsion to this or that commitment. Likewise, the projects of repair work in the continuing Anglican world have yet to show their fruits and have lasting results, presumably through a more “professional” profile in the Episcopate and influential clergy. On the ground, people need stability, and the state of flux that has been maintained over the past four years has become unbearable in emotional and spiritual terms. Many of us are worn out, and perhaps even tempted at times by the possibility of abandoning Christianity altogether…

It is said that Rome “thinks in centuries”, and that we must be patient. I would reply that if what is being proposed is of interest only to our great grandchildren, it is of no interest to us. As things stand, people of our day and age require authorities to be accountable to their subjects and transparent in their administration. The religious authorities have to remember that they no longer have coercive power, and people can just get up and leave, which they do. That is just an observation of fact that no one would dispute.

I believe that each solution has its potential, whether it is a matter of going to Rome with the hope of keeping as much Anglican baggage as possible or going into some kind of holding strategy until things are more favourable in historical terms. I presently see very little to give hope (there may be hopeful things I am not informed about), and am inclined to believe that each one of us is responsible for our destiny and our spiritual lives in spite of the failings of our institutions. The Church may be divinely instituted, but there is nothing divine about the institution itself – that is if we wish to believe that God himself is truthful and free from sin!

A thought that comes into my mind is that churches are a part of the society in which people originate and have their roots. The grass may seem to be greener on the other side of the fence, but one does not move from one spiritual tradition to another without cost in terms of spiritual and emotional life and alienation from ones roots of origin. It could be that we would have been better staying where we were and disregarding considerations of doctrinal truth. Being in a Church is something more connected with social life and society than anything else – cultural Catholics, cultural Orthodox, cultural Anglicans, Lutherans or whatever else. Once that original bond is broken, it is extremely difficult to be anything other than alienated with all the consequences on everything that makes us human. This is the agony of the convert who was looking for the ideal, the Platonic universal idea, but disincarnated from his emotions and social roots. This is the drama caused by authorities implementing changes that alienate and destroy, rather than unite and improve in respect of the freedom of God’s children.

Many Roman Catholic clerics I have come across do not encourage conversion, but rather that people should stay as they are and help their native churches and communities to dialogue with Rome and work for unity that way. Many converts are despised because they gave up what they should have kept – their stability!

Many of us are still hopeful that lessons are learned. We are extremely heartened by many of the words of Pope Benedict XVI that show a self-critical attitude and honest recognition that some ecclesiastical policies have alienated people and failed to be conducive to reconciliation and visible unity. Such words and utterances are already something, but the difficulty is convincing Curial authorities and local bishops to get over their own prejudices and implement them. Otherwise, we have pious thoughts and good words, but nothing actually makes a difference. We still hope, but we are afraid we will grow old, sicken and die in the same hopes…

We do not have the right to give up, and most of us can do something. Other than prayer, the most important thing is to become lucid about reality and deal with truth rather than illusion. We have also to form social bonds of friendship and a feeling of kin and family. We must overcome our alienation, because we cannot go back to where we were before. We have to find new roots, and it is on this basis that new communities may be formed, whether under the authority of a Catholic bishop or in an independent “holding” community of some kind. That is probably the hardest part. We can repeat doctrines and truths, and say what the ideal is. That is easy. The hard part is to be human and live in community, developing bonds of empathy, love and friendship in which Christ can infuse the grace of ecclesial communion. This is the nerve to be touched and the issue to be faced.

We have also to take our own responsibilities and eschew everything that drains away our adulthood and reduces us to the level of children. (Christ asks us to be like children to enter God’s kingdom, but surely he refers to candidness and innocence rather than giving up our sense of adult responsibility and freedom.) This is the lesson of the twentieth century and the ruins the dictatorships left behind when the various tyrants were beaten by those who were determined to claim freedom and even give their lives for it. I hope each reader will react away from bandwagons and party lines and claim their freedom and right to have emotions, humanity and roots – and then take his or her destiny in hand.

I have no easy solution. We hope for the ordinariates, since they seem to be the most ideal of what Rome is prepared at this time to offer to “shipwrecked” Anglicans as a pastoral gesture. The way things have shaped up, I have every reason to believe the attitude of Pope Benedict XVI is something like the following. We continue to dialogue with the Anglican Communion in spite of the various problems like ordaining women, normalising homosexual relationships and becoming vague doctrinally. We believe a solution will be found so that the unity dialogue may continue. However, it is our duty at the same time to extend a special provision to those who cannot in conscience remain in the Anglican Communion – thus Anglicanorum Coetibus.

It still remains to be seen whether Rome recognises the TAC (and other continuing communities) as an Anglican body because of its rupture from Canterbury going back many years – and if this is so, the choice is between interpreting and adapting Anglicanorum coetibus to this application, creating another pastoral provision as with communities of Lutheran tradition, entering into a long ecumenical dialogue or assimilating us to episcopi vagantes sects that nobody takes seriously. I have the impression that there are still discussions over interpretation at the different levels, between the local delegates (Bishop Elliott, Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop Collins, etc.), the CDF in Rome and the Pope himself. Things do need to become much clearer.

I respect continuing Anglican bodies that decide to get their act together and be seen to be implementing steps to that end. I don’t think we should trash anyone or be triumphalistic, since we have nothing to be triumphalistic about. Everyone is trying to do the will of God in one way or another. Sin does mar with its blackened brush, and narcissistic ambition unfortunately enters the picture, but I think most clergy and lay folk are well-intentioned, and we should give them credit for that. There will be many rooms in the Father’s mansion for some time to come.

Many of us will lose hope before all this is over, and allowing one single ram, ewe or lamb to be lost or wasted is a crime. I appeal as much to men in authority as ordinary people on the ground. I am told that clerics working for the Vatican read our blogs and inform themselves about those clergy who have directly or indirectly made some kind of application to be Roman Catholic priests. My appeal to them is intended to be respectful but truthful at the same time. I have to be honest and admit that my own spiritual life is ebbing away and I am afraid about not having enough courage to go on for long enough. I pray each day for strength, but feel weaker than the day before. All this is affecting not only ourselves, but also our loved ones. Others have perished, spiritually or even physically, from broken hearts, alienation and hopelessness. By the appearance of things, I seem to speak also for others who are more reserved about what they say for fear of “rocking the boat”. Being a sailor, I know that the way to stop a boat rocking is to fill the sails with wind, set a course and get under way – and not for the crew to huddle together amidships and not do anything. There is nothing more unstable than a drifting boat!

One thing we can all do is to stop triumphalistic “trashing” and bashing, and we have at least to tolerate and understand those who react to the situation differently. If something positive comes out of waiting for Godot, it will be tolerance and kindness. We would be better Christians for it!