The pope will soon visit England and it is currently hard to tell who have their knickers in a greater twist about the event: the liberals, who have long been disturbed by Joseph Ratzinger's blend of orthodoxy and intellectual credibility, or the conservatives, who are currently suffering apoplexy at the way in which the papal visit is being undermined by hapless organisation and tosh liturgical music. I hardly need repeat the facts which are well known to anyone who follows the Catholic press and the blogs. Personally, I take less and less interest in such matters these days, mostly because I am sick to death of the way in which partisans on all sides insist on daubing their own image on the Church's public life. I'm minded to write an ecclesial version of Guy Debord's La Société du spectacle. I'll call it the L'Eglise du spectacle and it will examine how the exchanges which characterise ecclesial life are commodified by a kind of tribalistic and atomising standoff in which we are all tempted to participate.
Still, who would read it and who would care? Power and rage are such satisfying passions. And such, as far as I can tell, are probably the achilles heels of the liberals and the conservatives, at least when the liberals are in the ascendency. When the conservatives are in the ascendency, well ... it is the conservatives who enjoy the power and the liberals who enjoy the rage. My old master Bernanos was right when he compared these forces to the constipated and the diarrhoeic. Their symptoms could be relieved respectively by prunes and rice. If only conflict were so easily resolved.
But, some say, the conservatives are causing endless trouble with their incessant griping before the papal visit. But, say others, the liberals are subverting the papal visit both by incompetence and by imposing their grotesque version of liturgical practice on the Hyde Park event. Dear friends, but me no buts. Neither complaint will do exactly. What I'm interested in is why one side wishes to use power to bash the papal visit into its own image, while the other side wishes to use truth ... to bash the papal visit into its own image. Naturally, I have more sympathy for the latter instinct. But both parties look like they want to aggrandise their own selves. The proof is to be seen in the ways in which hierarchical power is often exercised without love - and I dare say the Birmingham Three scandal falls into this category - and the way in which prophetic truth is often declaimed without charity (cue more conservative apoplexy as the Holy Smoke page loads).
This is in fact an old story. It is a question of Revolution and Counterrevolution. I remember Dr David Alan White, the literary light of American Traditionalists, saying that conservatives who embraced such conflict were buying into a Hegelian model of the culture wars. But, I believe, the good doctor was wrong.
It is not the synthesis that is so pernicious in the clash of the Revolution and the Counterrevolution - though it is very pernicious - so much as the mimesis of the two parties. What is frightening about the clash is not how very different the parties are, but how unconciously alike they become. The devil succeeds most not when he is the adversary but when he acts as the ape of God. When we learn that lesson, there might be a chance for us to see authority exercised with love and truth declaimed with humility.