Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The future shape of the Church

"...The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.
She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members....
It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualised and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death...."
As many have pointed out, this is a stark and daunting vision but, as we would expect, not one devoid of hope - these are the remarkably consistent thoughts of Pope Benedict, originally published as a series of lectures as long ago as 1969 and available now in 'Faith and the Future' [here] It is  clear that he has had no cause substantially to revise his assessment of the necessary future direction of the Church.
It would seem from our experience in the 'separated' Anglican provinces (which can now barely lay claim to the designation 'Communion,') that the choice for the Church is to conform to the surrounding culture and face a slow death by assimilation, by offering no distinctive vision, or to embrace our marginalisation as the price of remaining faithful, and, as Pope Benedict argues, "to start afresh more or less from the beginning."
We have tried the route of eagerly (or even reluctantly) embracing every passing fashion in order to remain relevant and accessible; the temptation to be both 'in' and 'of' the world has led to precipitate decline and an unprecedented degree of demoralisation of clergy and laity alike. 
Perhaps the time has at last arrived to acknowledge the need for affirmative and radical Catholic orthodoxy. But in the peculiar circumstances of Anglicanism in the west, with our hierarchies fully and irrevocably signed up to theological and ethical revisionism,  this 'return to the sources' can only begin from the ground up, that is at parish or 'pastoral area' level, and in the face of a great deal of opposition from all quarters. We could do worse, making allowances for the rapid way the world has 'moved on,' than begin here or even (or do I mean most particularly?) here.


  1. Thank you for the link to the bio of Fr Lowder. We can only pray that the Church will be blessed with more priests like him ... and that the priests she has will be inspired by his example.

  2. Words written at desks or proclaimed from pulpits are fine, but they are not enough.

    Ever since crazy Jeremiah bought his pot and wore his yoke it has been essential for the preacher/prophet to act as well as speak.

    If only I were convinced that the sons of Lowder and the admirers of Newman could today put into practice that ‘thirst for souls’ of which you remind us.

    As long as they refuse encouragement to come and work in parishes like these; as long as places like Merthyr Tydfil have to be re-advertised; indeed, as long as the energies of the inheritors of the Anglo-Catholic movement are channelled into arguments and regrets concerning ‘the way the Church is going’, then there will be no energy among them to thirst for souls, and they will not do it.

    What you are writing is indeed an excellent wake-up call. Wake-up calls are not lacking. More than ever today the Church needs people who will put their lives where their mouth is, yet I just don’t see the modern-day Lowders, at least not among his sons. Perhaps I am wrong and you can correct me?

  3. Actually, I don't disagree with you. The current crisis is a 'wake- up call' to all of us to re-examine our priorities and our values. On the other hand, for those of us who are not now ministering in urban areas of multiple deprivation (as they are somewhat patronisingly called) to adapt Newman's famous put-down of Mgr Talbot, country people have souls, too.
    And, in terms of the dilution of the energies of those who are resisting some of the more regrettable trends in the contemporary Church, silence can never really be an option if one believes in the essential link between orthodoxy and orthopraxis. You are spot on, however, when you point out the need to concentrate on the latter a bit more!

  4. Oh yes; country people have souls: I have tended them too in my time. My concern is what ACS still describes as the ‘poorest and most populous’ parishes, where once priests of SSC and others would follow in the steps of Fr Lowder.

    Orthopraxis? Not if it is restricted to carping about personal morality and separated from that passion for souls at the heart of all effective mission.

    At the risk of being boring, I will repeat that I think people of goodwill and of all shades of doctrinal views and traditions have a common purpose in ceasing to fight with each other, instead devoting their energies to rebuilding and renewing the Church, which in the UK will soon resemble Josef Ratzinger’s prophecy if we do not.

  5. Well, yes... But how, in Anglicanism - to take an example close to home - does one begin the process of rebuilding and renewing when many disagree about such fundamental issues such as sacramental validity and even the content of revelation? I say this particularly when it appears that those who are pressing for even more radical change are intent on imposing their agenda. How?

  6. The clues lie not-so-hidden in the passages you quote: Ratzinger’s ‘church of faith’ and the description of Lowder: “He showed them his Master, Jesus Christ. He told them to come to Jesus, but he also showed them how to come, and when.” Because he did this with gentleness and not with judgement they gradually came to him and through him they came to faith

    The point – especially for Anglicans – is in recognising what we share rather than what is in dispute. When all, including ourselves, are possessed of a perfect faith, then we should start worrying about the imperfect or even the downright defective. There is little to be found in the Gospels about the matters that cause division in today’s Church, and within tradition such matters do not bulk large. That does not diminish their importance, yet it does suggest the huge field of commonality we share.

    It might even start with a common point of repentance, with the core (Anglican) admonition: “Judge therefore yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord.”

    And it does start here and in small ways. I have just returned from attending a funeral in another church (not Anglican) where there was not ONE SINGLE reference to the Resurrection. So that is where I must start… And I suggest at our various levels we get on with making sure the Church has a welcome place for all.

    1. Yes, we have to begin in a small way and where we are. That seems to be the message of Lowder and the Saints themselves. We may differ as to how we rebuild and renew but not as to the imperative itself. Many thanks for these comments, please keep them coming.

  7. Father, you link to Fr Lowder's bio has piqued my interest in him. I've found a copy of a biography by him called 'Charles Lowder a Biography' by Maria Trench, written in 1881; you wouldn't know, by any chance, if it is to be recommended? Thanks.

    1. Yes, it's a good straightforward life of Fr Lowder if,as they say a bit 'of its time.' Try to get hold of Lida Ellsworth's 'Charles Lowder and the Ritualist Movement'(1982) as well.

  8. How much I agree with Abervicar - I cannot see the Lowders or Dollings among today's clergy. They put Jesus to the fore and loved the poor, with no account of the damage to themselves.
    Among the Evangelicals in Wales may I commend the 18th century Daniel Rowland, Curate of Llangeitho and Nantcwnlle and a colleague of William Williams Pantycelyn.
    What all these have in common however, was that they upset the heirarchy of their day. We cannot expect to be any different if the Kingdom is to be built.
    Mike Keulemans


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