Sunday, 24 June 2012

Victoria Mildew is unwell

Long-time readers of this blog might remember an occasional commenter who went by the moniker of Victoria Mildew. Last year I mentioned that she was suffering from cancer and that she was in need of prayers. Sadly, her illness continues and she is due for another round of chemo over the next few months. Your prayers for her and her family would be most appreciated.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Chicago visit

I'm going to be in Chicago for five days in July and staying in downtown Chicago July 6-8.

If any readers would like to meet up, please let me know via the email link on my Blogger profile.

It's fifteen years since I was in the Windy City so I'm looking forward to my visit very much.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Bishop Tissier on that nasty new religion in Rome

You didn't believe my last post, did you? Here's how difficult Bishop Fellay's job is at the moment. I wouldn't blog about this matter but since Tissier's views are all over the net, let's go for it.

In a sermon last Friday at the priestly ordinations in Winona, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais said the following:

As deacons, my dear beloved sons, you are ministers of the Church of God who always ready to fight battles against the enemies in an unceasing struggle. These are the words of the Roman Pontifical describing the Church – the Church always ready to fight battles against the enemies in an unceasing struggle.

These enemies are the modernists and their new religion – a new religion without sin, without contrition, without penance, without forgiveness, without sacrifice, without atonement, without true charity because here below there is no true charity without sacrifice. So against this false religion, the emblem of which is the New Mass, dear deacons to be, you will have to denounce the heretical perversity of this new religion – naturalistic religion. A naturalistic religion!

Meanwhile, our old friend Anagnostis comments on my blog post of yesterday:

How alike, in some strange way, are Hans Kung and Tissier de Mallerais - equally soixante huitards, eternally confronted on the same barricade, equally drunk on their own rhetoric.

Just for the record, let me correct the good bishop on a few points with reference to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, probably the most recent summary of that nasty new religion in Rome:


Tissier said it is "without sin" -

The Compendium says ...

75. What was the first human sin?

When tempted by the devil, the first man and woman allowed trust in their Creator to die in their hearts. In their disobedience they wished to become “like God” but without God and not in accordance with God (Genesis 3:5). Thus, Adam and Eve immediately lost for themselves and for all their descendants the original grace of holiness and justice.

76. What is original sin?

Original sin, in which all human beings are born, is the state of deprivation of original holiness and justice. It is a sin “contracted” by us not “committed”; it is a state of birth and not a personal act. Because of the original unity of all human beings, it is transmitted to the descendants of Adam “not by imitation, but by propagation”. This transmission remains a mystery which we cannot fully understand.

263. What are the effects of Baptism?

Baptism takes away original sin, all personal sins and all punishment due to sin.


Tissier said it is "without penance, without contrition"

The Compendium says ...

303. What are the acts of the penitent?

They are: a careful examination of conscience; contrition (or repentance), which is perfect when it is motivated by love of God and imperfect if it rests on other motives and which includes the determination not to sin again; confession, which consists in the telling of one’s sins to the priest; and satisfaction or the carrying out of certain acts of penance which the confessor imposes upon the penitent to repair the damage caused by sin.


Tissier said it is "without forgiveness"

The Compendium says ...

310. What are the effects of this sacrament?

The effects of the sacrament of Penance are: reconciliation with God and therefore the forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with the Church; recovery, if it has been lost, of the state of grace; remission of the eternal punishment merited by mortal sins, and remission, at least in part, of the temporal punishment which is the consequence of sin; peace, serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation; and an increase of spiritual strength for the struggle of Christian living.


Tissier said it is "without sacrifice"

The Compendium says ...

443. What is the meaning of the words of our Lord, “Adore the Lord your God and worship Him alone” (Matthew 4:10)?

These words mean to adore God as the Lord of everything that exists; to render to him the individual and community worship which is his due; to pray to him with sentiments of praise, of thanks, and of supplication; to offer him sacrifices, above all the spiritual sacrifice of one’s own life, united with the perfect sacrifice of Christ; and to keep the promises and vows made to him.


Tissier said it is "without atonement"

The Compendium says ...

114. How did Jesus conduct himself in regard to the Law of Israel?

Jesus did not abolish the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai but he fulfilled it by giving it its definitive interpretation. He himself was the divine Legislator who fully carried out this Law. Furthermore, as the faithful Servant, he offered by means of his expiatory death the only sacrifice capable of making atonement for all the “transgressions committed by men under the first Covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).

[...] The sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one and the same sacrifice. The priest and the victim are the same; only the manner of offering is different: in a bloody manner on the cross, in an unbloody manner in the Eucharist.


Tissier said it is "without true charity"

The Compendium says ...

388. What is charity?

Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. Jesus makes charity the new commandment, the fullness of the law. “It is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14) and the foundation of the other virtues to which it gives life, inspiration, and order. Without charity “I am nothing” and “I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).


The Church is in a dreadful condition in many places. I'm not denying for a minute that there are many Catholics who are weak, confused or simply heretical on these various points.

But Tissier's view of Rome? Make no mistake about it: he is talking pitch-perfect nonsense, with lashings of falsehood and a few rhetorical cherries on the top.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Truth and authority: what next for the SSPX? (in which Ches predicts the future, desperately hoping he is wrong)

(This is a long one, so buckle your seatbelts and pass the mint imperials).

Well, I did warn you not to get too excited. The epitome of the optimism of the last eight weeks was seen on Rorate Caeli last Wednesday - Rorate have incidentally done a fine job throughout - when we got almost hourly updates about what was happening in Rome. Bishop Fellay had arrived at the CDF. The meetings were still continuing. Bishop Fellay was now leaving. What would come next? My wife and I amused ourselves by inventing an imaginary Twitter feed.

15.00 Bishop Fellay has arrived at the CDF.

16.00 Cardinal Levada has just nipped out for a packet of biscuits.

16.20 Mgr Pozzo has reportedly offered to make everyone a brew (that's a cup of tea in Northern English)

Ahem. You get the message.

And then, after the Fellay-Levada meeting, came the communiqués which made it clear that no resolution was imminent. There was one from the SSPX which stated that 'the desire for additional clarifications could result in a new phase of discussions'. There was another from the Holy See which stated that 'at the end of the meeting the hope was expressed that this additional opportunity for reflection would also contribute to reaching full communion between the Society of St. Pius X and the Apostolic See.' Does anyone believe the SSPX will go forward without talking about the 'errors of the Council' (I wish they would)?This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, n'est-ce pas?


Various theories are now surfacing as to what has happened. Some intimate that the presence of Archbishop Ladaria Ferrer at the Levada-Fellay meeting was decisive. Others are suggesting that this turn of events is another sign of malevolent elements in the Curia acting against the Holy Father. Some blame that pesky gathering of the CDF on 16 May, while others wonder if the leaking of the episcopal letters within the SSPX started to put the nails in the coffin lid. The fact is that none of us has all the facts, and Clio, the muse of history, is unlikely to cough them up any time soon.


In any case, none of these theories do it for me. Of course there are enemies of the longed-for deal within the Curia, but they hardly need to go very far looking for rope to hang the SSPX. The SSPX make the stuff for them regularly. Yes, at this dramatic juncture in June 2012, I suspect that we have come again to the SSPX endgame which I wrote about here and here:

"What was needed from the beginning was an endgame mechanism which both sides understood and agreed upon. If you start moving with no idea of how to recognise the end of your journey, then the likelihood is that you will never get there. Now, as far as we know, neither Rome nor the SSPX had agreed upon the principles by which they could end this process. We can speculate about the exact terms but they appear to be as follows:

- for Rome the endgame is when the SSPX accept the authority and Catholicity of Vatican II [and the New Mass] and agree to refrain from treating their own theological views as the rule of faith.

- for the SSPX the endgame is when Rome accepts that the SSPX's analysis of Vatican II is correct, and when it begins taking practical steps to correct its errors."

In the event, these terms could be modified slightly. It is possible that Pope Benedict might have been able to declare the SSPX's critique of particular Council documents as sententiae toleratae. I think it most unlikely that he could have done the same thing for their view of the New Mass, though something might still have been possible even here.

But, the real question here is who gets the final say. The SSPX essentially try to beg the question, arguing that ultimately it is a matter of the faith. One of the various mental pogo sticks on which Bishop Williamson gets around these days is the distinction between Catholic authority and Catholic truth. Until the Catholic authorities proclaim the Catholic truth, we cannot go along with them, he argues.

But, as I say, this begs the question. One of the fundamental criteria by which we know what to believe - by which thousands of new souls come to Christ's truth each year - is what the Teaching Church proposes for us. We have to keep the paradox as one: one and three, sacrifice and sacrament, God and Man, Mother and Virgin, authority and truth. This is a very practical question. If the Holy See can continue to ratify for decades propositions that are contrary to the faith, then where is the Rock, and where are the gates of hell in relation to that Rock? I hope I make myself clear.

But, say the SSPX, what the Teaching Church proposed for us in Vatican II flatly contradicts what the Teaching Church said to us previously. Moreover, it can only account for the changes by a false notion of living tradition which is essentially an evolutionary (and, therefore, modernist) model of doctrine.

Here (well, not just here) is where the SSPX's analysis goes AWOL. Living tradition is not some doctrinal stitch up by evolutionists and modernists! It is the way in which the deposit of the faith is articulated in any given moment in relation to some ad hoc circumstance or new insight. Some doctrinal articulations are beyond change (notably terms consecrated by dogmatic definition). Others are not. A clear distinction needs making here - and it is woefully absent from the recent analyses of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais - between doctrine and dogma. Permit me to quote from a manualist of the twentieth century:

With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible [and consequently irrevocable] which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (Denzinger 1839). Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 10.

What strikes me in this quotation is not the denial of infallibility to some assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church, so much as the claim that not all are irrevocable. What else can that mean other than that in the Church's Tradition revelation is intertwined with human elements that are corrigible, or that might prove to be of lesser or greater service at any particular moment? And before you say it, don't suppose for a minute that this justifies the free rejection of anything that is not infallibly proposed (and thereby Vatican II). Ultimately, this is a discernment which the Teaching Church must make. That's not arbitrariness; it's the price of the Church's unity. Sometimes the Church does not ratify perfectly good theological theses. Sometimes, as in the case of usury, the history of the question is complicated by restrictions which grow doctrinally narrower (at first usury is only forbidden to clerics), after which accepted practice which cannot simply be classed under tolerance (since we do not tolerate evil in ourselves, only in others) seems to go in entirely the opposite direction. But, whatever the terms of the problem, you still cannot pit your own view against the Church's Teaching Authority simply because there is no infallible pronouncement!

Nobody questions Ott's authority, and what he says makes perfect sense. It makes perfect sense also when we look at the history of the Church (which, moreover, is not linear). When we consider the philosophical apparatus of theology, Aristotelianism came to be preferred to Neo-Platonism, and almost looks like an afterthought when seen in relation to the whole history of the Church. Likewise, the juridico-canonical mindset of the Tridentine period was a world away from the mysticism of the Greek Fathers. On another level, Pope Leo XIII condemned as contrary to God's order and that of nature the practice of slavery, while the same condition is left entirely unsanctioned by the New Testament. Of course, the development of doctrine usually represents a gradual unfolding and a more perfect intelligibility, but every clarification can tend unintentionally to cast something else into the shadows from which it might need rescuing at some point. Not even the most hard bitten Traditionalist can refuse to see that the declaration of papal infallibility led to certain excesses in the twentieth century. Yes, they surely must recognise that.


Coming back to my point, the SSPX have been begging the question of who gets the final say. I say let the SSPX bring a heap of objections and difficulties to Rome. That's fine. It's healthy. The Church has a lot of serious problems, and, yes, the postconciliar period has been a quagmire of theological filth. But the process cannot work as a service to the Church unless there is a recognition that the final word belongs to Rome.

On this point I was struck when reading the papal address to the CDF given in January 2010. It clearly gives the lie to accusations of evolutionism in Benedict's thinking, and it also suggests why the SSPX cannot simply regard their own views as the measure of what it is Rome must be teaching:

First of all I wish to emphasize that your Congregation participates in the ministry of unity that is entrusted to the Roman Pontiff in a special way, through his commitment to doctrinal fidelity. This unity, in fact, is primarily a unity of faith, supported by the sacred deposit whose main custodian and defender is the Successor of Peter.
[my emphasis]

The Bishop of Rome, in whose potestas docendi your Congregation participates, is bound to proclaim ceaselessly: "Dominus Iesus" "Jesus is Lord". The potestas docendi, in fact, entails obedience to the faith so that the Truth which is Christ may continue to shine out in its grandeur and resonate in its integrity and purity for all humankind, and thus that there may be one flock gathered round the one Pastor.

Somehow the SSPX need to reflect on their prophetic role of theological objectors in relation to this reality. While they claim to be the most faithful of Catholics, the way in which they treat their own theses suggests that the potestas docendi is not located in any one minister but rather in the intellect of him who has the best argument about doctrinal continuity (and who is the judge of that? Nobody ever says!). To say, as the SSPX do, that only Rome can sort the Church out sounds like they agree on where the potestas docendi is located. But then ... they question all Roman positions which do not ratify their own theses! The fact that there now seem to be two clear currents within SSPX theology - one claiming that Vatican II is a complete perversion of the mind and the other one claiming that there are simply some errors in the Council) - only makes this situation worse. Fission goes to fission goes to fission goes to ... (you get the picture).

Which brings me to my final point (at last! is anybody still reading? Probably not). The SSPX claim that their positions are simply what the Church believed before the Council. As I have argued again and again, this is not true. All their positions argue from what the Church taught before the Council, concedo! But that their positions are simply what the Church taught before the Council, nego! They all involve deduction, extrapolation, syllogism and conclusion - they all necessarily, therefore, come under the category of theological opinion and are subject to judgment by Rome!

My betting is that until they come to be aware of this methdology, they will persist in presenting their theses to Rome as the measure of the faith, thereby short-circuiting the very nature of the potestas docendi which belongs in the final analysis to the See of Peter. Nobody can provide the ultimate measure of the Faith except this unique ministry which Christ founded to ensure the Church's unity. It does not matter one jot that the pope wants the reconciliation to happen; that assumes that the SSPX are at least prepared to agree to his doctrinal oversight. But de facto, they aren't!

Lastly - hang on, isn't that's two last points? I know, but it's my blog! - the infuriating thing is that until the SSPX do recognise this, they make it all the more difficult for those fighting intra muros to help purify the interpretation of the Council or even prepare the ground for correctives concerning the Council. They make opposition toxic by what is essentially a mutinous modus operandi. They make it look like all opposition to Vatican II is likely to be looking for the complete overthrow of the Council. Rather than hastening what they think of as the necessary reforms, they make them all the less likely.


So, what next for the SSPX (to answer the question in my title)? Let me make some bold predictions (and desperately hope they are wrong).

I fully expect Bishop Fellay's mandate to end prematurely at the General Chapter. Don't tell me a group of clerics who have defied papal excommunication until recently will meekly follow the rules of their Chapter about when and whether the Superior General can be voted out. Supplied jurisdiction: when the faith is threatened, you can legally do what is necesssary! I have no doubt that those who have opposed his latest venture in Rome will be gunning for him. Bishop Fellay's only hope of survival lies in the widespread conservatism of the Chapter's members who a priori have no taste for revolution.

Essentially, I think Bishop Fellay will be made to pay for recent events: the hardliners will blame him for dancing with the devil, while the moderates will blame him not only for getting their hopes up unnecessarily, but also for exposing the divisions within the SSPX and for helping to create a period of confusion and instability. It is possible that even his own supporters will persuade him to jump before he is pushed. If he does not go, the threat that the SSPX's next superior general will be a hothead in the mould of a Fr de Cacqueray is all the greater.

And will there be a reconciliation? No, I don't think so. There will be a long, lingering death to this year's optimism which might last beyond the beginning of July, but it will very quickly become apparent that we are back to Square 1.

Please God everyone plays at 'Cheat the Prophet'! But, dear friends, I fear we are further now from reconciliation than at any time this year.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

LMS conference

After six months away from the big smoke, Mrs Ches, Cheslette and I ventured down to London on Saturday for fun and frolics. My destination was the LMS conference being held on Oxford Street near to Oxford Circus. Fun and frolics, you ask! Mais oui!

It's not the kind of function that I'm normally seen at. Over the last few years it has become apparent that I'm neither a 'joiner' nor an 'attender' of events. This is for much the same reason that I am in no way 'clubable', for in those words of Groucho Marx that I never tire of repeating, 'I wouldn't be a member of any club that would have me!' Still on this occasion I attended, and a very interesting day it was too.

I had missed the first half of the first speaker's talk (Dr John Rao) but was well in time for the address of Stuart McCullough of the Good Counsel Network. He began with some captatio benevolentiae along the lines of 'Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking' but he was fooling nobody! He held us on the edge of our seats for forty-five minutes with tales of counselling pregnant ladies, children who have survived the contemporary holocaust, women who have the most serious of regrets, and how the hand of Providence constantly and consistently intervenes. The take home message was 'Give us prayers and money'. And, dear reader, you must!

After a lunch break in which I was able to catch up with the indefatigable Prof Tom Pink (whose work on religious liberty is changing the ground on which the question has been thus far fought out) and met Mulier Fortis for what proved to be the briefest of exchanges, we had a bloggers' fest of magnificent proportions in the afternoon: Fr Z, Fr Tim Finigan and Rev John Hunwicke.

Fr Z's message was, as always, Save the liturgy, save the world. It was one of those talks where one could put down the pen and just enjoy the argument (while pitying the brave reverend talking through a nasty head cold). He raised in particular the problem of actual participation, noting that Pope Pius XII had seen it being summed up in the devout act of communion. Next came Fr Finigan who spoke about how he had gradually introduced the extraordinary form into his parish life in Blackfen, Kent. He recounted the trouble which The Tablet had tried to cause for him some years ago, and noted that the extraordinary form has most certainly had an impact on the way he celebrated the ordinary form. I'm not sure I agreed with his implications that the influence could not be reciprocal. Many people would concede that an enriched lectionary and Sanctorum, not to mention a wider range of Prefaces, would be welcome in the Tridentine Rite. Of course, for that we must await developments elsewhere.

And finally we had the delightful Rev John Hunwicke, a newly ordained deacon for the Ordinariate. I met him at Magdalen College, Oxford in November when he attended a talk I gave there, and I confess I think he served me better as a speaker than I served him! Framing his argument through the story of Nathaniel Woodard, the founder of Lancing College, he spoke of what the Anglican patrimony, as articulated by the Ordinariate, could do for the mainstream. Let's start with basic reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to our Lady! The points were made humbly but quite justifiably.

My one frowning moment of the day was the talk of Dr John Rao. Rao is an important figure who has done much to continue the post-conciliar resistance work of Dietrich Von Hildebrand in the Roman Forum. Perhaps my negative impresson was because I missed the first half of the talk. His basic thesis was interesting: that history can be plotted along axes that reflect either (1) human endeavours to struggle towards the light or else (2) the efforts of 'word merchants' to keep us all back in the shadow of Plato's cave. Now, even if these axes can serve as a rough guide to history, it is the kind of analysis I am suspicious of, simply because arguments like it are always the preamble of what becomes a kind of tribal divisiveness. More seriously, he clearly intimated - I'm not sure if the Q&A at the end of the day clarified this - that the old liturgy could be seen as driving us towards the light, while the new liturgy draws us back into the cave. There are a number of problems with this - theological and ecclesiological for a start - and not least the historical question of just how formative the old liturgy was when its participants followed it through devotions that were paraliturgical. There are also outstanding examples of holy and religious lives that are nourrished exclusively by the new liturgy. I am not denying the terrible scars of the post-conciliar reform landscape. I am, however, cautioning against reductive analyses.

Still, I will listen again to Dr Rao since the LMS Chairman has had the felicitous idea of posting all the conference talks on his blog. Lastly, I was delighted to see some of my old friends from the Sons of the Holy Redeemer whose time in the canonical wilderness I pray will soon be over. Blessed are ye when men curse and revile ye! Let us pray Bishop Hugh Gilbert gets his skates on and sorts out their situation soon.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Catholic shocker: new blogs abound!

I recommended Ben’s Poʊpəri a few weeks ago and here I am again recommending yet another blog. It is

Catholic Shockers

established by my friend and interlocutor Prof Bo Bonner of the Newman Centre at Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas (I really want to say US of A right now, but I will resist the temptation). He has only just got going but surf over there now and give him a slap on the back anyway. If I know Bo, he will among other things be fighting to keep alive, renew and enrich the intellectual heritage of Dr John Senior (pictured), that mighty analyst of literature and culture, whose work helped spawn a whole generation of Benedictine vocations.

Bo is an insightful essayist and a poet of talent. Here's hoping we get to see some of his efforts on the blog!

Monday, 11 June 2012

A Good Counsel about walking

The unfailingly good humoured Stuart McCullough of The Good Council Network sent me the following missive which is worthy of his well-chosen patron G. K. Chesterton. He is going to undertake a pilgrimage on 14th June along the following lines ...

Dear Ches,

We're off! Well at least Fr Nicholas Schofield and myself are. After last year's Annual GK Chesterton Pilgrimage, some idiot (yes it was me) announced that next year we will be walking to Beaconsfield from Campden Hill, Kensington, London (where GKC was born & Baptised). Now I've looked it up, only 23 miles in a straight line! Training got underway one day in January, and ended the same day...

Some people have, rather rudely, laughed at the idea of me walking 25 ish miles in a day! Ha! If we round-down my age to the nearest twenty-something, I'm only 29! Okay, I'll be 45 in October.


"For what? Oh, 'weight'!" I jumped on the scales - a bit over 12 stone (169lb), but not too bad. Then my Wife said, "Put both feet on the scales". Wow! Who would have thought that my other foot would weigh five stone (70lb)!

At the moment, The Good Counsel Network has no money, so I will do this as a sponsored walk. Good Counsel is having trouble supporting a number of mothers who have chosen to keep their babies and not to abort them.

You can post donations, payable to; The Guild of Our Lady of Good Counsel, P.O. Box 46679, London, England, NW9 8ZT.

Uxbridge parish seems to be about half way between Kensington and Beaconsfield. Fr Nicholas Schofield, the Parish Priest, is happy for us to have an Old Rite Mass in his parish at 1pm on the day for those of us who have walked from Kensington that morning, but all are more than welcome to join us for the Mass. If we find one or two people who can sing, it will be a Missa Cantata. The Church is Our Lady of Lourdes and St Michael, Osborn Rd, Uxbridge, UB8 1UE. After Mass, and a quick cup of tea, Fr Nicholas Schofield will then walk on to Beaconsfield with us. I say with "us" but no-one has confirmed that they are coming yet. Please do confirm this.

Upon arrival in Beaconsfield, we will go to G.K. Chesterton's graveside and recite the prayer for his beatification. We will then walk on to St Teresa's Catholic Church, 40 Warwick Road Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire HP9 2PL where we will have a low Old Rite Mass at 7.30pm, to which you are all cordially invited. Trains to Beaconsfield run regularly from Marylebone Station, so if you are unable to join us for the walk, please join us for Mass.

The day will start at about 8am ("when Stuart wakes up and realises he has slept through the alarm again" - Wife) at St George's Church of England Church, Aubrey Walk, London, W8 7JG, where GK Chesterton was baptised. Here we will read the first paragraph of Chesterton's Autobiography, say the Chesterton Prayer and then march (stroll slowly) off in the direction of Uxbridge looking for a cafe where we can stop for breakfast.

For regular updates on the day see my Twitter account @Stuart1927 . If you are planning to attend, please let us know and even more so if you can sing at the Missa Cantata in Uxbridge at 1pm.

God bless

Stuart McCullough

Unfortunately, I have immovable work commitments that day, but I encourage anyone who can make it to do so. And if you cannot make it, then send Stuart some money for a cause of the highest order. I heard Stuart's mighty address at the LMS conference on Saturday in London (on the same platform as Fr Z, Fr Finigan, et al.) and what they have been doing for fifteen years is extraordinary.

Give us more notice next year, Stuart!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Rage against the Church: Bernanos speaks to the zealous

One of the projects which French author Georges Bernanos conceived late in life was a biography of Martin Luther. A little contextualisation is in order. Bernanos was living in Majorca at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. At first a supporter of Franco, he was so scandalised by what he saw the nationalists do on the island that he wrote a polemical book-length tract, Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune, to denounce what he had seen.

The book is also a kind of jeremiad against the clergy whom Bernanos saw as complicit in the crimes of nationalist soldiers. In one memorable passage, he imagines a bishop having to limp around because of the human skull that had somehow become wedged onto his shoe heel: there's no point shaking it, says Bernanos, it's not going to come off!

The subsequent task Bernanos found himself comtemplating, however, was how to continue believing in the Church when he felt so deeply scandalised by the actions of her ministers. He sketched out much of his response to this dilemma in a fragment which was to have become a biography of Martin Luther - himself deeply scandalised by the Church - but which never saw the light of day until its draught was found among papers recovered from the house Bernanos abandoned when he returned from Brasil to France in 1947.

Here then are some of the juicier quotations. I offer them for those - friends and strangers, old and new - who are currently raging against the Church.

One cannot deny that in the Church there is a form of mediocrity which I've no need to find a name for since it has had one for two thousand years. There are Pharisees in the Church. Phariseeism continues to circulate in the blood stream of this great body whenever charity grows cold [...] Phariseeism is a feverless suppuration, a cold abcess which causes no pain. Doubtless the Church is both human and divine and so is not unfamiliar with any of the human vices, but Phariseeism is a particular kind of crime that cruelly tests the patience of the saints, while merely making poor Christians like me either bitter or disgusted.

But I do not trust my indignation or my disgust: indignation never saved anybody and it has probably led to the loss of many souls. All those simoniacal orgies in 16th century Rome would have been of little use to the devil if they had not brought about this unique achievement of casting Luther into despair, and with him two thirds of the sorrowing Christian world. Luther and his followers despaired of the Church, and whoever despairs of the Church risks - by a curious paradox - despairing sooner or later of Man. Protestantism from this perspective seems to me like a compromise with despair. [...]

Churchmen would have willingly put up with Luther's joining his voice to that of others who were more illustrious and holier and who were constantly denouncing such disorders. But Martin Luther's tragedy was to try to reform them. Let's try to grasp the nuance here. [...]

It is a fact of experience that nothing can be reformed in the Church by ordinary means. Whoever attempts to reform the Church by such means, the same means by which one would reform a temporal institution, not only fails in his entreprise, but ends up infallibly outside the Church. I say that, by some kind of tragic fate, he finds himself outside the Church before anyone has taken the trouble to exclude him. He renounces its spirit, its dogmas, he becomes its enemy without hardly realising, and if he attempts to turn back, each step takes him further away [...]

One can only reform the Church by suffering for her; one can only reform the visible Church by suffering for the invisible Church. One cannot reform the Church's vices except by pouring out the example of the most heroic virtue. It's possible that St Francis of Assisi was no less disgusted than Martin Luther by the debauchery and simony of prelates. It is even certain that they made him suffer more cruelly than Luther because he was a very different man from the German monk. But he did not defy iniquity or try to confront it; he threw himself into poverty, plunged himself into it as much as he could, as if it were the fountain of healing and purity. Instead of trying to rip from the hands of the Church her ill gotten goods, he filled her with invisible treasures, and under the guidance of this beggar, the heaps of gold and riches began to flower like a hedge in April. Can I say - in the hope of being understood better by some readers - that the Church does not need ccritics but poets? When there is a crisis in poetry, what is important is not to denounce the bad poets or even to hang them, but to write beautiful verse, to reopen the sacred fountains of inspiration.