Saturday, 31 October 2009

Reality bites!

Bad manners!

A Welsh bishop who is also a “player” in international Anglican terms (the Bishop of St Asaph) has gone on record saying that the Pope is guilty of “ecumenical bad manners” in his offer of refuge for Anglican Catholics. Unwittingly, he has summed up the situation wonderfully well: for the Anglican establishment, ecumenism has become a matter of “good manners” rather than anything of real theological substance. Speaking the truth in love (something for which Pope Benedict is particularly noted) is obviously an enormous ecumenical faux pas.
At the same time as trying to give the Holy Father (this Pope!) a lesson in cosmopolitan urbanity, the same prelate let the cat out of the bag as regards Welsh traditionalists: despite recent discussions and a promise to reconsider our requests there will, in fact, be no renewal of episcopal provision for those opposed to women’s ordination. I really wish I could say I am surprised.
So – the Pope is criticised for offering assistance to those who have appealed for it, yet the Welsh Bench persist in refusing the one thing they know traditionalists actually need in order to stay and occupy that “honoured place” the bishops say we are accorded. Obviously It would be less ecumenically ill mannered of us to accept our fate and die out gracefully, but thankfully not all bishops see things that way. "Tu es Petrus, et hanc super Petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam. et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam."
Frankly, I’m puzzled – more than puzzled – in reality I’m deeply saddened: this is the way the power structures of the world operate. Aren’t we supposed to do things differently? Perhaps I’m being naïve. I know I'm being naive. Yet I didn’t expect this from those we have hitherto regarded as our fathers in God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

"And if one asks him, `What are these wounds on your back?' he will say, `The wounds I received in the house of my friends.'" Zechariah 13.6

UPDATE: These comments from the Midwest Conservative Journal are worth reading as they say everything that needs to be said on the comments reported above.

All Hallows Eve?

I used to regard Hallowe’en as a harmless bit of fun. Perhaps when it was confined to bobbing for apples and a few small-scale children’s parties it was fairly innocuous.
But now I’m not so sure. Having returned from the local town centre and supermarket I noticed that virtually every shop front had its own Hallowe’en display; the tawdry masks and other merchandise seem to be becoming big business – almost every young child and every shop assistant was dressed up as something scary. For business it’s just something to tuck in between the summer and Christmas in a desperately competitive retail sector. In terms of faith and values, the free market is quite blind – amoral in the strict sense; society’s ethics have to come from another source altogether.
Everything contributes to setting the moral tone and ethos of a society. What are we to make of a revived “pagan” festival of ghosts and ghouls and spookiness? Whatever else Hallowe’en is, it isn’t the hispanic Day of the Dead or a kind of popular protestant alternative to All Souls Day; conspicuously lacking are the serried rows of chrysanthemums one sees in such vast numbers in French supermarkets and florists, graves remain unflowered. This isn’t about honouring and remembering the dead or a way of mourning them, this is commercially driven neo-paganism as mass entertainment. It is a curious commentary on the state of our culture that Hallowe’en has become so popular whereas “Christmas” (in its religious sense) is fast becoming the great unmentionable - not, of course, among people of other faiths themselves, but among the semi-literate apparatchiks of multi-culturalism and those who follow like sheep.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Welsh updates

Fr Alan Rabjohns SSC, Chairman of Credo Cymru, speaking at the Forward in Faith Assembly this weekend, said that traditionalists in Wales had been in recent discussions with the Welsh Bishops about a restoration of their episcopal provision. Essentially, the Bench were going to go away and think about it!
It was during that meeting that Fr Alan was told by the Bishop of St Asaph about the Vatican announcement of the Apostolic Constitution.

The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt. Revd. Gregory Cameron, has also now been quoted in the Sunday Telegraph today as saying the following in response to news of the Pope’s initiative:

"Rowan has worked very hard for unity both within the Anglican Communion, and with Rome, and I suspect he may feel that what has happened is little short of a betrayal, not by the Catholic Church, but by some of those in his own ranks."
"He is likely to be saddened that they felt driven to seek such a radical solution and that some of them now feel they have to go."
"Up until now, the Roman Catholic Church has been putting its weight behind Rowan, but now it is appearing to put its weight behind the conservative groups it can most easily win over."
"The danger is that they’ll have every disaffected Anglican beating down the pathway to their door and asking for special treatment."

I’m sorry to be so impolite and so un-anglican, but this is unbelievably disingenuous, even accounting for the Anglican establishment’s modern obsession with having to put the best possible "spin" on every development! The Welsh Bench of Bishops has taken away our “additional” episcopal provision and has steadfastly refused to make ANY subsequent arrangement for traditionalists in the Province.
Loyalty can never be a one way street. This is not betrayal or the wild adoption of “a radical solution”: we have been thrown overboard and Pope Benedict has sent a boat to the rescue. I'm afraid my own sense of loyalty does not extend to allowing myself to drown so as not to upset those who couldn’t even bring themselves to throw us a lifebelt.

Now I’m definitely on holiday!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The most important week since the Reformation?

A little early to tell - but it has all the makings of it!

Notre Dame de la Belle Verrière (c 1150 A.D.) in Chartres Cathedral

Trumpets again, as this is Sion’s twin city
Or city-in-law. Across France the great west
Windows are full of the sun’s holocaust,
The dying blazons of eternity

Secured in mazy lead and bevelled stone.
Outside the glass, pigeons rancid as gulls
Roost in their stucco-dung on the tiered sills.
The candles blur the air before your throne.

Love is at odds. Your beauty has gone out
Too many times, too vividly has flared
Through the mild dreams of Herod undeterred.
His eyes are like the eyes of the devout.

O dulcis Virgo, you are the stained world’s
Ransom, bear its image, live through your
Perpetual exile in its courts of prayer.
‘This is the carnal rose that re-enfolds

Heaven into earth.’ They say you are disposed
To acts of grace: tumblers and holy fools.
Child-saints rejoice you, small immaculate souls,
And mundane sorrows mystically espoused.

Geoffrey Hill from ‘Seven Hymns to our Lady of Chartres’

Off duty for a few days in this school half term week after the Parish Mass on Sunday. Time for some much needed prayer and reflection on the quite extraordinary and truly historic events of the last week. Back for the eve of All Saints

Spring and Fall

to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep & know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (S.J.)

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth!

The Forward in Faith National Assembly can be followed online.
There have been some very interesting contributions to the debate, and there was clearly on display a commendable and truly Christian concern to care for the coalition of Anglo-Catholic opinion reresented by Forward in Faith and to try to provide for the future of all Anglican Catholics whatever their eventual decisions may be as to their future.

I was somewhat less impressed with some of views put forward by one of the keynote speakers, the Bishop of Chichester, who, despite his obvious and deeply held commitment to the Petrine Primacy as being at the very heart of ecumenical dialogue, expressed hopes that somehow the Anglican Communion could once again (once again – was it ever?) be made into a reliable ecumenical partner with Rome and the East.
Many of us would say that that is to fly in the face of our whole experience of Anglicanism over the last twenty years. How could that happen? Will the provinces of the Communion reverse their decisions to ordain women to the episcopate and priesthood? Will they return to a recognisably orthodox moral theology? Will they bring an end to the marginalisation and victimisation of orthodox clergy and parishes? Perhaps not this side of the eschaton!
Many provinces are dominated now by theological modernists and liberals – meaningful dialogue leading to reunion with Rome and Orthodoxy simply isn’t on their radar. We saw last year the complete impotence of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in the face of an utterly intransigent Synod completely in thrall to the revisionist agenda. Where are the indications that this will change?

Unfortunately, we should never underestimate the propensity of some of our brethren to try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and to hold out hope that the tide is about to turn even as the waters rise above our heads. To be charitable I suppose it is an expression of their love and affection for the Church of England that they will believe the best of it despite all evidence to the contrary. But now is the time to stop the endless bargaining and horsetrading and utterly pointless discussion, however learned and however erudite, and introduce a little reality into the situation.

The speeches from the Bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough were, as expected, much more positive and much more realistic in terms of the new prospect before us. Thank God we have them with us!

UPDATE: Saturday morning

Some of the reporting and comment from the Forward in Faith National Assembly has been understandably negative. I hope today's proceedings wil redress the balance and that speakers will have some thought as to how their words come across to the world outside.

So "Lord Carey of Clifton," the former Archbishop of Canterbury has given us the benefit of his experience and wisdom in ("bitterly" according to the BBC) criticising Pope Benenedict for the timing and the manner in which the Apostolic Constitution was announced. It's wonderful to see + George's new found solicitude towards his successsor, but I seem to remember him being at least partly responsible for the mess in which we now find ourselves as Anglican Catholics. Presumably he still feels Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church, together with the rest of us, to be guilty of a most "serious heresy" over the ordination of women.
In the 'Readers Digest' wasn't it?

And now I really will do what the PEVs recommend and take some time for reflection and quiet prayer and discernment. Photos of the countryside and poetry - I promise, honestly!

Friday, 23 October 2009

An unedifying spectacle

Like most of the British nation, I was glued to the television last night to see the first appearance on a nationwide political discussion programme of the leader of the extreme rightwing British National Party. Undoubtedly, the BBC was right to go ahead with the broadcast: the right to freedom of speech in a representative democracy shouldn’t be qualified unless statements are made which are deliberately calculated to instigate physical violence towards others. Open and honest debate is always the best way to expose nasty untruths of all kinds.
Fortunately for all of us, Nick Griffin came across – when he was allowed to speak at any length - as wholly unconvincing, shifty and somewhat inarticulate, quite unable to explain or defend his former thuggish behaviour or his pro- Nazi sentiments when challenged about them by the other panellists or the audience itself. (Including an extraordinary comment about his past relationship with the leader of an “almost entirely non-violent” branch of the Ku Klux Klan – presumably, burning crosses in the front yard but no lynchings!)

However, no one in this debate distinguished themselves in what came over as a “lightweight bear-baiting contest”, as one commentator has described it. The whole spectacle left me feeling doubly uneasy; firstly that our political class couldn’t come up with a better defence of traditional freedoms and our long culture of civilised discourse than was offered on television last night; and also that language about the preservation of traditional Christian values has tragically become the sole prerogative of a group of far right extremists with a neo-Nazi past.
In a country which now prides itself on its pluralism, most mainstream politicians, even if they are practising Christians, shy away from all references to faith, and its vital connection to our cultural and social heritage, for fear of somehow appearing to exclude those of other faiths and none. So they collude in what is effectively the rewriting of history and the collective amnesia which seems to have our society in its grip. Multiculturalism (and, demographically, if for no other reason, Britain now has no choice but to pursue a form of it) can only succeed if one culture and one accepted set of traditions and values, without discriminating against minorities, can nevertheless be regarded as, in effect, the senior partner. Relativistic secularism, the rejection of any common set of core values beyond the merely material, can offer no convincing defence against the enemies of freedom, from whatever quarter they come, whether they are the nationalist thugs of the B.N.P., fanatical islamicists, or the increasingly repressive and self-appointed thought police of the politically correct liberal bourgeoisie.


The Church herself is the multi-ethnic society par excellence; she is truly universal, blind both to colour and social background, transcending national borders and cultural boundaries. One of the many services the Oxford Movement performed for the Church of England is that it restored for a while this vision of the Church as being far more than the English people at prayer, and gave to her a revived vision of universality both in the horizontal and vertical dimension. The Catholic Revival made it impossible to ignore that the Church was wider and broader and deeper than “this realm of England” and that what we see here on earth is only a pale reflection of the reality of the Church in heaven. The Tractarians and their successors would have nothing to do with the narrow, prosaic, one dimensional vision of the Church as a department of state, existing to give a religious expression to society’s prevailing fashions and prejudices.
The modern post-war revival of religious "liberalism" has turned the clock back in this respect and, within the Anglican provinces of the western world, has largely succeeded in reinventing itself (as Edward Norman has described it) as “the ethicising handmaiden of the aspirations of secular Humanism.” But the Church is bigger than the contemporary Anglican expression of it, and we have to thank God that there is a still a place where “the traditional understanding of the universality of the Church survives intact.”

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Fathers; the past and the future...

Nicholas at the Comfortable Words blog (see the link on the right) has drawn attention today to the patristic basis both of the Anglican reformers’ intentions (albeit imperfectly perceived and even more imperfectly realised) and of classical Anglican theology itself from Hooker to Lancelot Andrewes through Cosin and Bramhall and beyond. It was, of course, the study of the Fathers which lay behind both the Catholic Revival of the Oxford Movement and the subsequent conversion of Anglicanism’s greatest gift to the Catholic Church herself, John Henry Newman.

Traditionally, although Newman’s own explorations into the principle of doctrinal development have somewhat robbed it of its force, Anglicanism has eschewed novelty, and what it regarded as innovation, in favour of the tradition of the primitive church and the appeal to reason both read in accordance with the witness of the scriptures. Yet this so called “three-legged stool” of Anglican theological method – scripture, tradition and reason – has become rather unbalanced of late, with “reason,” rather than being itself seen through the prism of Holy Scripture and sacred tradition, having been elevated above the other two elements and interpreted as subjective human experience perceived in accordance with the spirit of the age. It’s hardly surprising that the three-legged stool has for many of us become such an uncomfortable place on which to sit!
After the changes of the last few decades modern Anglicans (of the establishment variety anyway) can hardly use the criticism of innovation as a stick with which to beat anyone!

It may well be that this most patristic of popes has found a way both to recover that lost Anglican patristic ideal or, more accurately, ambition and to reabsorb it into the mainstream of the Western Church. As attempts to square the circle go, it could end up being a pretty impressive attempt!
One of the criticisms of Newman, made by Cardinal Manning and his supporters was that he exemplified “the old Anglican, patristic, literary, Oxford tone transplanted into the Church”. I suspect that from our present perspective (and perhaps from the perspective of the Holy Father himself) that particular complaint may have lost some of its force!

The threat of pastoral care!

This can't go without a mention. The C of E bishops in the Southwark Diocese have sent out the following letter, overflowing with understanding and concern, charity and goodwill towards their Christian brothers and sisters in spiritual need.
Never before has pastoral care seemed so much like a threat. Watch out or we'll send the boys round to give you some ........pastoral care!
What an impressive bunch Anglican bishops are these days!

"The Vatican has announced the approval of an “Apostolic Constitution” which will make some provision for Anglicans who wish to be in communion with the See of Rome. As the Archbishop has said in his letter to the Bishops of the Church of England “it is now up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution;” (the Vatican document has yet to be issued). This will be a matter for decision by priests or individual members of congregations.

We do not envisage our parochial structure with its parish churches changing, and we continue to have the responsibility of care for everyone in our parishes."

Amnesia for breakfast?

There was an interview on BBC Radio 4s Today programme this morning on how the “great thinkers” can help us in the detail of our daily lives….
The predictable and highly selective roll call was then given by an available academic…… Plato, Socrates, Nietzsche & Freud, with a truly bizarre explanation of the latter in relation to waking up and getting on with one’s daily routine. Of course, I waited in vain for a mention of that mainstream western philosophical tradition represented by St Augustine, St Anselm, St Thomas Aquinas and so on, but that would have been just too religious and not multi-cultural enough just before the supposedly faith-centred ‘Thought for the Day’ slot.
I know it was breakfast time, but this degree of banal, blinkered, bigoted, stupid secularism would be laughable if it were not so tragic.
We have lived through a period of a great and deliberate forgetting of our intellectual and cultural heritage. At least 1500 years have been consigned to the dustbin. I just hope that those who are doing the airbrushing will have a “great philosopher” or two at hand when they are lying on their deathbeds………… Nietzsche, Freud…… anyone?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A change in the weather

After the long Indian summer of cool, dry weather, autumn has appeared in the Wye Valley in a more usual form with heavy showers driven on a strong south-westerly wind. The leaves won’t be on the trees much longer.

As a result of yesterday’s news, the ecclesiastical weather has also changed dramatically. After our initial and joyful reaction to Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution, now is the time, as the Bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough have advised, for a period of quiet prayer and discernment. Expect a little less direct ecclesiastical speculation and a few more photos of the countryside on this blog for a while at least!

The world has changed; the options before us are, if not simple, much clearer than they were. I suspect many will immediately take advantage of the lifeline Rome has thrown to us when the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution have been published and the “caravan” starts to move in February. But as several bloggers and commentators have remarked today there will be others, perhaps with the financial responsibility of a family and with children in full-time education, or those whose marital status may be deemed “irregular” according to Canon Law, who will need a longer period of reflection before being able to make irrevocable and far reaching decisions about their future. But ironically, for them the dilemma will be that Pope Benedict’s great generosity and concern for souls in making this provision for an Anglican Use within the Catholic Church may make remaining in their present situations well-nigh impossible. The Church of England and the Anglican Communion generally, if significant numbers leave for an Anglican Use Ordinariate, will be a very different and progressively less hospitable place for anyone (clergy or lay) trying to live a traditional Catholic sacramental life, as liberals and evangelicals continue to wage the culture war for the soul of a now definitively and almost exclusively Protestant body. This really is the endgame now.

Strangely, part of the ending of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy springs to mind today in this context:
“... I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them……” [The Return of the King]

However, even for those who will be, in some way or for some length of time, left behind, yesterday’s announcement of the Apostolic Constitution is a cause for great rejoicing and thanksgiving. The mere fact that it has happened will be a huge source of encouragement; something has now been saved from the wreckage of the Catholic vision of Anglicanism and repatriated into the Western Church. Reunion has been brought about, even if not in the form we had envisaged. God answers our prayers, but very often not in the way we expect. But this should be a cause for rejoicing, that some of the wounds we have inflicted on the Body of Christ are at last being healed.

Pray for all of us, please!

A prayer for discernment.

O Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going,
I do not see the road ahead of me,
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
And that fact that I think
I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe
That the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire
In all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire to please You.
And I know that if I do this
You will lead me by the right road,
Though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust You always
Though I may seem to be lost
And in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
For You are ever with me,
And You will never leave me
To make my journey alone.

Thomas Merton, OCSO

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Thoughts at the end of a momentous day

Not poaching but rescuing the perishing!

There are those whose visceral suspicion of the Vatican is such that they are already queuing up to accuse Pope Benedict of “poaching” traditionalist Anglican clergy and laity. I’m at a loss to understand their logic. For years we have been told, in effect, to leave because we are not wanted in the new “inclusive” Anglican order. Now we hear that we are being “poached” by the terrible scheming, devious Church of Rome. Could it be that modernists know deep down in their heart of hearts that heterodoxy needs even a vestigial remnant of orthodoxy (however much they affect to despise it) to feed off and in some sense protest against, and that without it they fear they will just wither and die? I shouldn't’t be tempted into amateur psychology, but I am convinced that some of our ecclesiastical leaders dream they are still taking part in the student protests of the 60s; it would account for their “blue jeans” version of theology; in their hearts they are still fighting “the establishment,” failing to appreciate that they themselves have become the conventional authority figures they so despise.
But are liberals so lacking confidence in their newly packaged and zeitgeist-friendly version of the faith that they believe the incorporating of another body laying claim to Anglican patrimony into the Catholic Church will threaten the success of their project? Or is it rather that theological modernism in its all-consuming and totalitarian contemporary guise simply cannot tolerate any rival to its ambition of complete hegemony. (Marxist thought patterns didn’t die with the fall of the Berlin wall, they had already migrated west via academia a couple of decades before; they are certainly alive and well in parts of the Anglican Communion.)
So suddenly the Vatican is “poaching” or “fishing in the Anglican lake” and we are told that the Anglican hierarchies are implacably opposed to the offer being made whilst not being prepared to lift a finger themselves (or make any kind of un-nuanced statement) to support the position of traditionalists within the communion.
But today's announcement from the Vatican is not “poaching” or “exploiting Anglican difficulties” or whatever other condemnatory expression springs to mind, but it is part of a rescue mission to unite those who have been rejected, and in some cases – the U.S.A. springs to mind, although there are instances closer to home - even victimised and persecuted, by their own ecclesial bodies for their adherence to a shared Catholic Christian orthodoxy.
Could it be that the Holy Father is now attempting as part of the sacred duty entrusted to him as the Successor of Peter to gather together the scattered fragments of Western Christendom before embarking on the much greater task and far higher prize of unity with the East? Catholic Anglicans, the SSPX, disaffected Lutherans…..? Future generations will view this pontificate as one of enormous historical importance.
Pope Benedict has read the signs of the times; in the battles to come against increasingly militant secularism and the gathering culture of death we need not only to hear Christ’s great command to be one but actively work to bring it about. There has been much Anglican - Catholic dialogue from Malines through to ARCIC and beyond, and much of it has been and will be of inestimable value, but perhaps now is the time to cut through those new obstacles which have been set up in the way of Christian unity and open the doors for those who really do want to come in.
There is much to be said for old men in a hurry; we need them to translate the dreams of the young into hard reality.

Let all the world in every corner sing!

What a turn up for the book!
What the Anglican bishops of the British Isles were unwilling to give to their traditionalist catholic brothers and sisters has been offered in full measure by ............................."the Bishop of Rome!"
Ad multos annos, Holy Father!

Now for something very English (Anglican, even?) and celebratory - a glorious coming together of the words of George Herbert and the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Whatever the future may hold, it sums up my mood today anyway!

Statement from the Bishops of Ebbsfleet & Richborough

"WE WARMLY WELCOME news on Tuesday 20th October of the forthcoming publication of a Apostolic Constitution outlining a fresh initiative in the search for Unity with the Holy See which many Anglicans in the Catholic tradition have prayed for and pursued.
This is not a time for sudden decisions or general public discussion. We call for a time of quiet prayer and discernment. The coming season of Advent and the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas, seem to us to provide a good opportunity for this quiet prayer and discernment to take place, as well as some pastoral discussions. Some Anglicans in the Catholic tradition understandably will want to stay within the Anglican Communion. Others will wish to make individual arrangements as their conscience directs. A further group of Anglicans, we think, will begin to form a caravan, rather like the People of Israel crossing the desert in search of the Promised Land. As bishops we would want to reassure people that, whatever decisions people, priests and parishes make, they will find peace and blessing in following what they discern to be God’s will for them. We have chosen 22nd February, The Feast of The Chair of Peter, to be an appropriate day for priests and people to make an initial decision as to whether they wish to respond positively to and explore further the initiative of the Apostolic Constitution. Many, understandably, will need a much longer period of discernment and we would counsel against over-hasty reactions of whatever kind.

The Bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough visited Rome in Eastertide 2008 and, graciously, were given a hearing in the Vatican. We were becoming increasingly concerned that the various agendas of the Anglican Communion were driving Anglicans and Roman Catholics further apart. It was our task, we thought, to take the opportunity of quietly discussing these matters in Rome. We were neither the first nor the last Anglicans to do this in recent years. Following the decision of General Synod of the Church of England in July 2008 to proceed with the ordination of women to the episcopate, we appealed to the Holy Father for help and have patiently awaited a reply. This Apostolic Constitution, addressed worldwide, feels to us to be a reply to concerns raised by others and by us and an attempt to allow all those who seek unity with the Holy See to be gathered in without loss of their distinctive patrimony.

+ Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet

+ Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough

News & comment from 'America'

This from 'America,' the National Catholic Weekly in the U.S.A. by Austin Ivereigh
The emphasis is mine

"Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster told journalists this morning that the new Apostolic Constitution was a response to various approaches made in the past three or four years by groups in the United States, Australia and the UK. Some were in communion with Lambeth, while others -- such as the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), which claims 400,000 members worldwide -- were not.

The Personal Ordinariates would allow for the pastoral care of lay people, clergy and religious in a corporate body under an Ordinary, but in collaboration with existing dioceses. Their geographical scope would correspond to the territory of a bishops' conference. It would be a "cumulative jurisdiction", meaning that the jurisdictions would overlap -- insofar as the activity pertained to the wider Church, the authority would rest with the bishop of that diocese; insofar as it pertained to an internal activity, it would be a under the Ordinary of the Ordinariate. The process of reception of married Anglican priests would be unlikely to differ much from the current system, he said. Nor would he expect transfers of church property as part of the process of corporate reception.

The new structure allows for the safeguarding of Anglican traditions of liturgy and rites -- but approval of the Holy See would be needed for separate liturgical texts and rites that differed from the Roman norm. Archbishop Nichols said the Constitution was an attempt to achieve a "balance between a corporate identity and the need to be embedded locally", but stressed that the details of this could only be worked out once an Ordinariate were established. In the event of an application being made to establish such an Ordinariate in England and Wales, he said, "we will work very closely with colleagues in the Church of England. It is important that we do this together".
Dr Williams said the fact that he was appearing with Archbishop Nichols this morning "tells its own story". There was nothing to be gained, he said, by working separately on the matter, and stressed that the fact that they were able to cooperate was the fruit of the many years of Anglican-Catholic dialogue.
He said the Apostolic Constitution was entirely a response by the Holy See to requests by specific groups. He had had no input into it, and first knew of it two weeks ago. It would have no negative impact on the Anglican Communion worldwide, he stressed, adding that for more than 150 years Anglicans had entered the Catholic Church in varying numbers, sometimes responding to crises and sometimes not, and meeting a variety of responses from Rome; in this sense, he said, there was "nothing new" in today's announcement, which should not be seen as "a commentary on the Anglican Communion by Rome" -- a remark that met with hearty agreement by Archbishop Nichols.

I asked Dr Williams if the timing of the announcement was related to last year's crisis-plagued Lambeth Conference, when Cardinal Levada, CDF prefect, wrote to Archbishop John Hepworth, TAC primate, to tell him that the timing was not right for a response to Hepworth's request for corporate unity with Rome. Dr Williams would only say that he didn't think today's announcement was "time-sensitive".

Despite this morning's efforts by both church leaders, today's announcement is of potentially huge significance. It is the first time a universal canonical structure has been created that allows for the gradual absorption into the Catholic Church of huge numbers of Anglicans in any part of the world. The impact of this will be highly significant. Many are highly educated, conservative in their theology and liturgy. By creating a parallel jurisdiction which helps to safeguard their identity as Anglicans, Pope Benedict has dealt with many of their key fears -- and allowed for a corridor to Rome which thousands will go through over the next few years, leading to a gradual diminution of the Anglo-Catholic element in worldwide Anglicanism.
The experience of the new emigres will be closely watched by other Anglicans -- and will strongly affect the prospects of long-term Anglican-Catholic unification. History is being made."


Today’s announcement of the Apostolic Constitution is a response by Pope Benedict XVI to a number of requests over the past few years to the Holy See from groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and are willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church.

Pope Benedict XVI has approved, within the Apostolic Constitution, a canonical structure that provides for Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony.

The announcement of this Apostolic Constitution brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church. It will now be up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution.

The Apostolic Constitution is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition. Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this Apostolic Constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

The on-going official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion provides the basis for our continuing cooperation. The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) agreements make clear the path we will follow together.

With God’s grace and prayer we are determined that our on-going mutual commitment and consultation on these and other matters should continue to be strengthened. Locally, in the spirit of IARCCUM, we look forward to building on the pattern of shared meetings between the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England’s House of Bishops with a focus on our common mission. Joint days of reflection and prayer were begun in Leeds in 2006 and continued in Lambeth in 2008, and further meetings are in preparation. This close cooperation will continue as we grow together in unity and mission, in witness to the Gospel in our country, and in the Church at large.

London, 20 October 2009


FiF reacts to Statement from Rome
Oct 20, 2009

It has been the frequently expressed hope and fervent desire of Anglican Catholics to be enabled by some means to enter into full communion with the See of Peter whilst retaining in its integrity every aspect of their Anglican inheritance which is not at variance with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

We rejoice that the Holy Father intends now to set up structures within the Church which respond to this heartfelt longing. Forward in Faith has always been committed to seeking unity in truth and so warmly welcomes these initiatives as a decisive moment in the history of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England. Ut unum sint!

+John Fulham
Geoffrey Kirk

More News

More from Damian Thompson

"The Vatican has announced that Pope Benedict is setting up special provision for Anglicans, including married clergy, who want to convert to Rome together, preserving aspects of Anglican liturgy. They will be given their own pastoral supervision, according to this press release from the Vatican:

“In this Apostolic Constitution the Holy Father has introduced a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony.”

More on this very important story later. But this is clearly a historic gesture by Pope Benedict which will encourage thousands of disaffected Anglicans to become Roman Catholics."

Breaking News?

Fr Z has posted this about carefully timed press conferences in Rome and, it seems, according to Damian Thompson, also in London:

"There will be a briefing tomorrow. Featured is the topic of relations of the Holy See with "Anglicans".
The main speakers will be the Prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, His Eminence Card. Levada and the fomer Sotto-Segretario of the same CDF, now Secretary of the Cong. for Divine Worship H.E. Augustine DiNoia, OP.
This all makes sense if…if… this is to announce that there will be a reunion of Traditional Anglicans with the Catholic Church. This would be in the bailiwick of the CDF. And Archbp. DiNoia would have been involved when he was at the CDF.
However, a group of Traditional Anglicans would also no doubt have the Anglican Use for their liturgy, and therefore having the English speaking Secretary who had been at the CDF, rather than the Spanish speaking Prefect of the CDW makes perfect sense.
So… I suspect this is about the reunion of the so-called Traditional Anglicans."
Fr Z

"And this, from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office:


(not for publication)

You are invited to a press conference with Archbishop Vincent Nichols (Archbishop of Westminster) and Archbishop Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) on Tuesday 20 October at 1000. The press conference will take place at 39 Eccleston Square, London SW1V 1BX.

(Yes, I know it says “not for publication”, but it wasn’t me they invited, so tough.)

I cannot believe that the two press conferences are not directly related."

Damian Thompson

There is a great deal of excitement and speculation in the blogosphere about the meaning of this. There's nothing new about excitement and speculation; we've been here many times before. However, it may be a big deal (something which will be significant in the long term) in terms of the relationship between traditional Anglicans worldwide and Rome, or it may not, but something does seem to be in the air.
We haven't long to wait (and pray) before we find out.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Leisure & guilty pleasures!

I’m extremely grateful to one of my brothers in SSC who recommended to us in Chapter earlier in the year the works of Josef Pieper. I am ashamed to admit that I had never read anything of his before Easter of this year - so much for a rounded theological education! At the moment I’m reading “Faith, Hope, Love,” but in his work "Leisure, the Basis of Culture", Pieper discussed the link between the growth of culture and the existence of a class of people who have sufficient leisure to contribute to the development of the values of a civilisation.

I can’t be alone in remembering when I was growing up the forecast that the western world was headed for a technology-driven leisure society in which the greatest question facing us in the future would be what we were going to do with all the free time at our disposal. Reality kicked in during the global recessions of the 1980s and 90s and the “leisure society” was heard of no more. Recent proposals to increase the retirement age in Britain in the wake of our latest economic crisis have finally consigned the idea to that overflowing dustbin of social predictions which have never come to pass.
For most people these days leisure is at a premium. Apart from the affluent retired who fill their time with university courses, the activities of the U3A and foreign holidays (good luck to them – this is not a criticism!), most of my parishioners here who are in full-time employment simply have no time for anything very much outside their very demanding jobs and equally demanding family commitments. Expectations are very high, and joining community organisations, much less setting aside the time for regular worship, simply isn’t on the agenda. For that reason alone it was good on Sunday at our once monthly Family Mass to see some new faces among the parents of the Sunday School children.
In the countryside particularly, the leisure hours of many middle class parents are increasingly taken up with ferrying their children to one urban-based activity after another. The pressures of this frenetic, non-stop employment and family lifestyle can be very great, leaving precious little time for the reflection, recreation, prayer and worship which we all need for our health and well-being, not only as individuals but as a society. It’s not surprising, then, that, in contrast to the parts of rural France I know well, there is a lack of that sense of close-knit community, shared interests and common values which goes to make up a cohesive and truly civilised society: atomisation is the order of the day.

One of the things we all need – particularly in our curious modern culture which somehow manages to combine the puritanical and the hedonistic in hitherto unexplored ways – is time occasionally to do nothing at all, to take a leisurely walk, meet up with friends and family, read a trashy novel or watch really terrible television.
My own guilty pleasure over the last few years has been reading Harry Potter (I saw the latest film adaptation on the cross-channel ferry coming back from France at the end of the summer). The plot of the stories makes them exceptionably readable, even if the author's prose style is nothing to write home about. The revised comments from the Vatican about the Harry Potter oeuvre being a intensely moral tale about the struggle between good and evil are much closer to the mark than the somewhat knee-jerk and over-literal reaction from some quarters about encouraging the occult and witchcraft. In any case, being a somewhat unrepentant medievalist (or do I mean 19th century romantic? I'm not sure.) I’m not convinced that superstition is always such a wholly bad thing; anything which might help to undermine in the lives of the young the prevailing rationalistic, one-dimensional view of the world has quite a lot to be said for it. I might prefer society's 're-enchantment' to come in a more overtly Christian and Catholic form, but every little helps in preparing the ground for the sowing of the seeds of faith. In this case “he who is not against us is for us.”
As to witchcraft and the occult, in this part of the British countryside no one has the time!

This is Mitchell & Webb's take on Harry Potter _ "Welcome to Hufflepuff!"

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Our Lady on Saturday

Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory,
Pray for all those who are in ships, those
Whose business has to do with fish, and
Those concerned with every lawful traffic
And those who conduct them.

Repeat a prayer also on behalf of
Women who have seen their sons or husbands
Setting forth, and not returning:
Figlia del tuo figlio,
Queen of Heaven.

Also pray for those who were in ships, and
Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea's lips
Or in the dark throat which will not reject them
Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell's
Perpetual angelus.

T. S. Eliot from 'The Dry Salvages'

Friday, 9 October 2009

Considering our position?

Forward in Faith has now responded to the latest proposals of the C of E’s Revision Committee:

“Forward in Faith regrets that a majority of the Revision Committee has not supported the proposal for new dioceses put forward by the Catholic Group in General Synod to make provision for those conscientiously opposed to the consecration of women as bishops. We continue to believe that new dioceses would be both a better and a fairer way forward for all in the Church of England.
Nevertheless, we believe that the Revision Committee’s proposal to make provision for the statutory transfer of jurisdiction to complementary bishops could be the basis for a way forward. However, we will need to evaluate the full details of the proposals carefully when they become available in order to assess them properly.”

All this is of purely academic interest to traditionalists in the neighbouring province of the Church in Wales where episcopal provision and, it would seem,all pretence of pastoral care, has been removed from us. The following is part of an answer given by the Bishop of Monmouth to a question asked at last year’s Diocesan Conference (published in the Conference Report 2009.) It needs no further comment from me.

“The first part of the questions is about ecclesiology, but it implies that the Archbishop of Canterbury has some kind of Papal role which neither he nor the Welsh Bench of Bishops would accept. In reaching their decision not to appoint another PAB the Bench took note of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s views about special provision for those opposed to the ordination of women, but also noted that at the recent meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England over two-thirds of the bishops present did not vote with him. In fairness, the Archbishop has not claimed that special provision is good ecclesiology but that he sees it as being pragmatic.

The Welsh Bench also noted that the Anglican Churches in Ireland and Scotland made no additional episcopal provision when they agreed to ordain women as priests and bishops.

The Church of England has created an anomaly by which some diocesan bishops refuse to ordain women to the priesthood but they commission a suffragan to do so on their behalf and then the diocesan licenses them and even institutes them. He can then claim not to have ordained a woman himself although he has commissioned another to do it on his behalf - and yet what he has commissioned another to do on his behalf, he is deemed to have done himself. This is not consistent ecclesiology.

The second part of the question refers to the commitment to pastoral and sacramental care. I have to say that if a priest cannot in conscience accept the ministry of his or her Diocesan bishop then I believe that he or she needs to carefully consider his or her position. Clergy hold a licence from their diocesan bishop or have been given the ‘cure of souls which is both yours and mine’. It does not mean that they have to accept their bishop’s views on all matters, but they must accept the jurisdiction of their diocesan bishops. Either I am the bishop or I am not. The provision of a PAB was never an alternative provision but simply an additional one.

The Bench has indicated that we shall still be prepared to sponsor candidates for ordination who are opposed to the ordination of women as priests and each Diocesan will make such other provisions as he thinks fit. For example, in this diocese I shall be prepared to ordain candidates separately if they do not wish to be ordained alongside a women. The Bishops have indicated that they wish to care for all their clergy and people but pastoral care does not mean giving in to every demand but doing what we believe to be in the best interests of the Church.”

Thursday, 8 October 2009

So tell me what you want, what you really really want.

Many “thinking anglicans”, including some of those who have gone along with the recent and revolutionary changes in our ecclesial polity, in their heart of hearts would desire nothing more than a return to the status quo ante as regards women’s ordination. In some ways I sympathise with them, but in my heart not in my head.

I talk to a fair number of people, clergy and laity, who in effect say even now, ‘Oh the Church (of England) has had its ups and downs and grave difficulties over the centuries, but the catholic faith has always somehow survived within it. This is just another crisis among many.’ The correct response is, of course, that this is not just another crisis; this is something of a wholly different magnitude. Our Church has gone through periods of heresy and upheaval before, but never has catholic holy order (however compromised by the 16th century schism) been so weakened, if not destroyed altogether, that an orthodox recovery and revival has been rendered impossible. Time travel not being, as yet, a possibility, there really is no way back for conservatives of whatever churchmanship. The die has been cast, the Rubicon crossed. The defining moment has come and gone.

I am not among those who believe that the contemporary Anglican trahison des clercs means that we should regard everything that has preceded it as altogether worthless. There is much in our Anglican heritage which deserves to be preserved and developed, and, God willing, reconciled and brought back into the main current of the Western Church.
But essentially, many of us have come to the conclusion that, such is the advance of secularism and relativism, without the authority of the magisterium nothing of value can survive that onslaught.
The obligation to work towards Christian unity is nothing else than a divine command; perhaps we could afford the luxury of a long process of official dialogue and discussion if the Anglican patrimony were in safe hands. That is manifestly not the case. Many of the leaders of the communion are those who, by and large, now believe the role of Anglicanism is a “prophetic” one (defined according to the latest secular fashion), or that it exists for those who find too much dogma and definition a burden too heavy to carry – in other words, not a theologically respectable and wholly orthodox reluctance to over-define, but a comic book re-interpretation of our tradition as “Christianity-lite.”

What in more settled times could have been a continuation over several generations of the ARCIC process set in motion by Archbishop Ramsey and Pope Paul VI must now happen within a decade (at the very most: ten years may be too late) and the future of that dialogue, if it is to lead anywhere, lies on a much smaller scale with the various “dissident groups” who now represent more faithfully the traditions of anglicanism than do the official representatives of the Anglican Provinces. Anglican theology is now in such a state of decay, and so in thrall to the spirit of the age, that soon what is best and noblest of our tradition will exist only in the form of a few dusty tomes mouldering away in a forgotten library. When I was in theological college I will never forget working in the library last thing at night and discovering (both to my horror &, I have to admit, youthful cynical amusement) that the volumes of Mark Frank in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology still had all their pages uncut, and that in a (then) "Catholic" establishment, with a tractarian / ritualist foundation and constitution; it explains our present predicament to a large extent. Who, today - who for the last half century - studies the classic works of Anglican theology?

(Interestingly, Nicholas at the Comfortable Words blog quotes today from a Whitsunday sermon of Frank’s)

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Our Lady of the Rosary

Three modern Anglican writers on the use of the rosary:

“If I had been asked two dozen years ago for an example of what Christ forbade when he said ’Use not vain repetitions,’ I should very likely have referred to the fingering of beads. But now if I wished to name a special sort of private devotion most likely to be of general profit, prayer on the beads is what I should name. Since my previous opinion was based on ignorance and my present opinion is based on experience, I am not ashamed of changing my mind. Christ did not, in fact, prohibit repetition in prayer, the translation is false; he prohibited gabbling, whether we repeat, or whether we do not. Rosaries, like any other prayers, can be gabbled, and if they are gabbled, they certainly will not be profitable. Devout persons who take to the beads as a way of meditating are not likely to gabble, for their object is to meditate.”

Austin Farrer 'Lord,I Believe'

“The rosary is a ‘little way’, asking of us no more than the simplicity of children, but to those practised in it it offers a rich reward. This, however, may never be seen as an individual possession for it is of the very nature of love to radiate light and peace and joy and to spend itself quietly in helpful and practical ways. It is thus that the life of society is transformed, the leavening of the lump from within working what no government fiat could ever achieve. And so it must be that the witness of the Church will always be to the priority of prayer if its influence is to make impact on society as a whole. It would be foolish to urge that the use of the rosary was more than one of a number of ways, though it is one which is eminently simple, practical and convenient. Those well versed in it need no persuasion of its power to quicken life at its roots and to centre us once more upon God when we have fallen away. For the newcomer, let him or her go forward boldly in faith, allowing experience to teach what is partly beyond the power of words to make plain.”

Robert Llewelyn 'A Doorway to Silence'

As members of the Church, we consider and pray about the great truths of our faith, not as outsiders but as those who are closely united to the Lord by faith and baptism. We Want to live through the events of his life and death with him. this is precisely what Mary did, so she is the type and representative of us all in our relationship with Jesus. When, in the last two mysteries we consider her place in heaven, we think of her as one who has been brought to glory by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. When we pray at any time, we do so as members of Christ, in union with him and the whole Church on earth and in heaven. It is with the prayers of his mother, so closely united with him, and associated with the events of his earthly life, that we especially join ourselves. we western christians are so preoccupied with the Church as a visible society, that we forget that most of our members, and the most distinguished, are not in this part of the Church at all.

Charles Smith 'Praying the Rosary'

Welcome back to 'Anglican Wanderings!' (See the blog roll on the right)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Plus ça change; the prophet Maritain 40 years on...

“But what is most important to notice, on the other hand, is that the frenzied modernism of today is incurably ambivalent. Its natural bent, although it would deny it, is to ruin the Christian faith. Yes, it busies itself as best it can to empty the faith of any content. But along with that, among a good number of its adherents, there is something like an effort to render to this faith a kind of desperate witness. It is certainly with sincerity, and sometimes in the fever and anguish of a fundamentally religious soul, that the leaders of our neo-modernism declare themselves Christians. Let us not forget that they are victims of a certain pre-accepted philosophy, a Grand Sophistry (we know Being, on condition that is put in parenthesis and abstracted out of sight). ……..This permits people to speak intelligently, while playing on our heart-strings, about a whole armload of things which positivism had placed under interdict, and is far more successful than positivism in preventing us from finding the least extramental reality in them, the least that exists independently of our mind. There is nothing left for the intellect to do but discourse on verisimilitudes, the cost of which is borne by what takes place in human subjectivity. To affirm the existence of a transcendent God becomes from this moment a non-sense. Divine transcendence is only the mythical projection of a certain collective fear experienced by man at a given moment in his history. In general, according to the pre-accepted philosophy to which I am alluding, everything that tastes of a world other than the world of man can only fall under the head of the out-of-date…”

Jacques Maritain ‘The Peasant of the Garonne’ (1965)

Monday, 5 October 2009

Damascene or dead end?

I have been sent an interesting archive article written by the late and highly respected Dr Peter Toon, who, even if one sometimes strongly disagreed with his position, always had something pertinent and challenging to say on our present Anglican difficulties. Entitled “ The Affirmation of St Louis and the C of E / Anglican Formularies,” it can be found here
For Anglican Catholics it raises the question which is of great contemporary importance due to the rise of FCA / GAFCON and also the ongoing “discussions” between the TAC and the CDF in Rome (apologies for the plethora of acronyms.)
Forgive me for putting it like this, but the essential issue is whether there can be any long-term future for Catholics, either at present within the structures of the Anglican Communion or in the newly created ACNA, alongside those who wish to reconstruct a kind of “pre-Gene Robinson Anglicanism”, whilst both accepting innovation in the theology of Holy Order and somehow claiming at the same time to represent a “classical Anglicanism” based on the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty Nine Articles. My scepticism is shared by many on this side of the Atlantic, not only as to the long term possibility of this cohabitation but also its desirability: my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.

Certainly most British Anglo-Catholics (& the Forward in Faith position?) would appear much closer to the Affirmation of St Louis in our acceptance of (at least) the first Seven Ecumenical Councils (and the Seventh is crucial in its working out of a truly incarnational theology) and the Seven Sacraments of the Church. From this standpoint the Thirty Nine Articles represent not so much a binding statement of classical Anglican theology as a series of formularies forced upon a reluctant Church by the power of the State and “accepted” or "received" as being an historical document relating to the political circumstances of its time but without any permanent theological or ecclesial authority and, indeed, whatever its originators’ intentions, capable both of a Calvinist and broadly Catholic interpretation.

This would seem to suggest that the future of those within the Anglican tradition will lie in one of three main directions (there will, of course, be for a time an inevitable blurring among them and there will be those “Continuing Anglican” groupings which will continue to go it alone):

1. The increasingly revisionist “official” Communion, represented by Canterbury, the ACC and the Primates, the predictably toothless Anglican Covenant notwithstanding.
2. FCA / GAFCON and the (mainly) evangelical Provinces of the Global South.
3. A Forward in Faith / TAC grouping which will seek union with the See of Peter in whatever time scale is available (leaving groups 1. and 2. above to battle it out for the future of the Anglican Communion,) but which will itself probably die out within one generation if the present opportunity is lost.

The difficulty, known for centuries but pointed out probably most succinctly by Fr Aidan Nichols in his now classic work of the 1990s ‘The Panther & the Hind’, is that each of these three broad traditions can lay claim to being authentically “Anglican”; ours is not a confessional ecclesial body, but an English State Church (with a deliberately ambiguous theological identity) together with the former mainly english speaking missionary territories of a now long vanished empire. The search for one “authentic” Anglican identity is ultimately a futile one and those who engage in it are doomed to failure, and for those of us who have grown progressively tired of studied ambiguity and ecclesiastical horse-trading a massive waste of our remaining God-given time on earth.

Friday, 2 October 2009

The Holy Guardian Angels

'Again: Angels also are inhabitants of the world invisible, and concerning them much more is told us than concerning the souls of the faithful departed, because the latter "rest from their labours;" but the Angels are actively employed among us in the Church. They are said to be "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation." [Heb. i. 14.] No Christian is so humble but he has Angels to attend on him, if he lives by faith and love. Though they are so great, so glorious, so pure, so wonderful, that the very sight of them (if we were allowed to see them) would strike us to the earth, as it did the prophet Daniel, holy and righteous as he was; yet they are our "fellow-servants" and our fellow-workers, and they carefully watch over and defend even the humblest of us, if we be Christ's. That they form a part of our unseen world, appears from the vision seen by the patriarch Jacob. We are told that when he fled from his brother Esau, "he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun had set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep." [Gen. xxviii. 11.] How little did he think that there was any thing very wonderful in this spot! It looked like any other spot. It was a lone, uncomfortable place: there was no house there: night was coming on; and he had to sleep upon the bare rock. Yet how different was the truth! He saw but the world that is seen; he saw not the world that is not seen; yet the world that is not seen was there. It was there, though it did not at once make known its presence, but needed to be supernaturally displayed to him. He saw it in his sleep. "He dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached up to heaven; and behold, the Angels of God ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it." This was the other world. Now, let this be observed. Persons commonly speak as if the other world did not exist now, but would after death. No: it exists now, though we see it not. It is among us and around us. Jacob was shown this in his dream. Angels were all about him, though he knew it not. And what Jacob saw in his sleep, that Elisha's servant saw as if with his eyes; and the shepherds, at the time of the Nativity, not only saw, but heard. They heard the voices of those blessed spirits who praise God day and night, and whom we, in our lower state of being, are allowed to copy and assist.'

John Henry Newman: The Invisible World Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 4

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The ideology of wishful thinking

I happened to walk into a room and catch part of a radio interview this morning and the first words I heard were: “I hate biological differences, and I spend my whole life trying to refute them.” Not being in a particularly sunny mood, my first thought was, “I don’t much like today’s weather either, but I may just have to try to live with it as best I can.”
Yet one can’t help but think after hearing conversations like this one and many others like it, how much of our contemporary cultural life and social discourse is based on a series of a priori, highly ideological premises which rest on little more than wishful thinking. It may not matter so much (although I’m not so sure) when all we are talking about, as in this morning’s radio programme, is the interchangeability of one’s children’s clothes, but when one applies that wishful thinking to the whole of society, given our obsession with state sponsored social engineering, we can expect dire consequences.
It was G.K. Chesterton who pointed out that the one indisputable Christian doctrine was that of original sin, yet our whole public conversation now is based on, if not the perfectibility, certainly the improvability or at least the malleability of human nature. In this respect conservative politicians differ very little from the left in their belief in the effectiveness of legislation to cure our social ills.
The tragic recent incident where a mother was harassed beyond endurance by out of control young people (to the point of her killing both herself and her handicapped daughter)has been compounded by the woefully inadequate reaction of our senior government ministers who, whilst expressing their no doubt genuine shock and sympathy, have largely confined their response to enumerating the legal sanctions (such as ASBOs etc.) which they have introduced to combat anti–social behaviour. Those new measures they have announced this week amount to far too little far too late; they are using sticking plasters to try to hold together a crumbling civilisation.
There seems to be a widespread refusal to address the real issues; instead the response is essentially to reach for the law and treat the symptoms rather than the causes of the social and cultural malaise which is producing more and more innocent victims. And here the victims are not only those who suffer from the rowdiness, bullying and violence of others, but the perpetrators themselves and the wider society.
Conservative politicians, have over last few years used the term “broken society” but they have given very little indication of what they will do (if anything) to attempt to fix it. My guess is that, like many of us, although they can readily identify the problems and their causes, they haven’t a clue what to do next! Who can blame them? Once the common ties which help to bind a society together break down - religious faith, respect for the law, a functioning and disciplined education system, the traditional structures of family and community (all of which have been attacked remorselessly by the cultural left since the late 60s)- there is nothing to prevent the social meltdown that we see beneath the surface of modern Britain, albeit disguised as it has been by economic prosperity and an abundance of material goods.
The widespread anti-social behaviour of young people – and we are not talking about young adults here, but children in their early to mid-teens and younger – is brought about by the irresponsibility of parents. We know all too well (although politicians and many social commentators are afraid to say it for fear of seeming to demonise those also caught up in the wreckage of a once stable society) of the problems faced by those single parents, themselves largely the helpless victims of social collapse, who have completely lost control of their children, largely as a result of the lack of wholesome male influences and the culture of alcohol and drug use which is so widespread and not only in our cities and urban areas.
But that’s not the whole story. Many even relatively well off parents seem not to care (or perhaps don’t have the courage to confront the issue) about what their children actually get up to after they reach a certain age. There has been an abdication of both parental and community responsibility for our young people. Many of us are afraid to intervene to put a stop to the noisy and stupid activities of young people who gather in groups, not simply out of fear for our personal safety but also because we are afraid that the law will be invoked against us instead of the real culprits. The problem is one which feeds on itself; if the silly and stupid things children tend to do when they get together in groups are never corrected, they move on to more and more destructive forms of behaviour.
Many of us suffered in our younger and more liberal days from having to attend smart dinner parties, mainly composed of the well-heeled professional middle classes, where people would whinge endlessly about the stifling social atmosphere of their childhood and adolescence (mainly the 1950s and early 60s) and compete with one another to disparage everything which made that era, certainly compared to this one, such a safe and stable one for those growing up in it. The criticism was largely nonsense; every social system since the dawn of time has inevitably had its problems and its casualties, but our own seems to have sacrificed an entire generation (or two) on the altar of individualism, selfishness and irresponsibility.
The post-war growth of a kind of global “teen culture” (in the past adolescents sought to join adult society as quickly as possible – they wanted to be like their parents) has also resulted in a “ghettoisation” of young people who are then removed at a much earlier age from the culture of the adult world. There’s also a lot of money in it, of course; we should never underestimate the influence of commercial interests in the process of social disintegration in today’s western world. Not only that, but the effects of this have been so marked that, in fact, the adult world itself wants to pretend to be young, hence the ever expanding social reach of mass produced, conveyor belt pop music (it’s no coincidence that one hears so much of the music “industry”), the cult of celebrity and “yoof” culture of all kinds, peddled by a contemptuously superior and out of touch mass media. We have become a society trapped in a perpetual adolescence. We have what we deserve.
Of course, none of that removes that idealism and sense of fairness and altruism which seems to come naturally to many young people: we can all think of shining examples of it; but that idealism needs desperately to be channelled away from the obsessive selfishness of their parents’ and grandparents’ “me first” generation. In this society there are few signs of that beginning to happen, quite the reverse.
The Church has very little influence now, and its work with young people is massively reduced as a result of that decline. Yet we have to find ways of nurture and evangelisation which preserve the values of the Gospel in the new dark age of faith which is fast approaching.