Sunday, 22 July 2012

Valedictory musings: but before I go ...

Houston, we have a problem! Without my hardly noticing it, The Sensible Bond has become a commentary box on the SSPX's situation over the last few months. Your servant has tried hard to keep up with events and statements, offered analyses and predicted likely outcomes. It gives me little satisfaction to think that my caution of mid-April proved too accurate. Skip to the end of this post if you want to know what happens next.

But, as I say, Houston, we have a problem. There is nothing left to say. I have long repeated what I believe to be the only possible endgame to the current situation. The SSPX can maintain their ministry, as long as they accept the adjudication of Rome. For their part, the SSPX continue - as in their latest declaration from the General Chapter - to say that only Rome can provide the solution. That's what they say . In reality, what they mean is that Rome can only provide the solution by implementing the solution which they, the SSPX, insist on. They try to claim that this only involves a return to the Church's Traditions; in other words, it is not their solution but the Church's own solution. The problem here is that we have only the SSPX's word for it. Rome itself positively contests their view of the Council and the New Mass. Nothing guarantees that the SSPX's position is the true representation of Tradition. When I argue this, their members or supporters instantly turn from the methodological question and start trying to prove their propositions one by one. One might as well begin sawing off the branch on which one sits.

Tradition clearly teaches that whatever happens the faith of the Church of Rome does not fail. This is not a principle which justifies the personal theology of any old pope and certainly not of this current one; but it does mean that the essential function by which Peter guarantees the Church's unity cannot be lost. Behaving like vigilantes or mutineers in the present circumstances does not help. But once we have reached this point in the discussion there is nothing more to say. The SSPX refuses to have its arguments adjudicated by Rome. Their only guarantee that they are correct is theological expertise: they claim a more faithful reading of the Tradition than can be provided by Rome. Why we should accept their expertise over anybody else's continues to escape me. Bishop Williamson has been hiding out in the crack he has attempted to drive between Catholic truth and the Catholic authorities. He fails thereby - and no doubt always will fail - to engage with the reality that one of the criteria by which we know Catholic truth is the Catholic authorities. I'm not talking about short-circuiting intelligence. I simply continue to believe that God's Church cannot fail to remain the permanent sign of divine revelation in the world. Establishing another touchstone for the Church's fidelity cannot be the answer.

So, as I say, there is almost nothing left to say. Hmm, but let me just say one thing in the light of the General Chapter's declaration. After denouncing the Council's errors and the New Mass for decades, the SSPX's General Chapter then said the following:

We join with the persecuted Christians in the various countries of the world who are suffering for the Catholic faith, very often to the point of martyrdom. Their blood spilled in union with the Victim on our altars is the pledge of the renewal of the Church in capite et membris, according to the old maxim, “sanguis martyrum semen christianorum”.

I'm sorry, did I miss something? Unless there are communities of traditionalists who are being thus martyred across the globe, the communities of Christians who suffer thus are to a man in union with the very Church authorities with whom the SSPX refuses to come to terms. In which case, even if they are suffering for their consciences, they cannot be said from the SSPX's perspective to be Christian martyrs! Various SSPX grandees are forever telling us that the religion of Vatican II is not the Catholic religion. Judge for yourself the coherence of those who denounce the Church's errors in one paragraph and then proclaim their solidarity with the Church's martyrs in the next.

Pope Benedict's Vatican will continue to seek to bring the SSPX back - and, my goodness, do we ever need them! I sincerely believe it. Note the diplomatic loop hole which the Vatican's response to the General Chapter offered them. The SSPX's communique of 14 July announced that it would soon unveil a 'common statement to Rome'. When this common statement came, the Vatican answered it with the following words:

While it has been made public, the Declaration remains primarily an internal document for study and discussion among the members of the Fraternity.

The Holy See has taken note of this Declaration, but awaits the forthcoming official Communication of the Priestly Fraternity as their dialogue with the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" continues.


This is diplomatic chess. The subtext is simple: you cannot possibly think you are addressing the Holy See correctly in this way, so we will regard this 'Declaration' as an internal document. As for the SSPX, this document is perfectly in line with the position we thought all its members occupied until this summer.

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And that is one of the remaining problems of course. Bishop Fellay's words and actions this spring and summer seemed to expose a serious division in the SSPX and one which cannot be easily papered over. What is his position now? Has he abandoned the views which he espoused in his CNS interview, as Bishop Williamson asks in his most recent circular newsletter? If he now remains in his post as Superior General, is it at the price of adopting the harder line advocated by Tissier, Gleize and others, that Vatican II cannot even qualify as an act of the Magisterium? In other words, has he survived the General Chapter only because his is the acceptable face of the SSPX? Only time, his words and his actions will tell. I have no confidence - zero, zilch, nada de nada - in the prospects evoked by the juggling of personnel at the CDF or elsewhere. The problems are more radical than that.

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Meanwhile, as I say, there is nothing more to say. So, I think, for now, I shall mothball The Sensible Bond. News of developments can be found elsewhere: this has never been a news service. Should there be a substantial development in events, I will no doubt bring the blog out of mothballs for the duration. As for your servant, I shall be seen lurking in one or two places: Fr Z's blog, Clothilde's good food blog, and Fragments and Ruins, a recently launched blog for survivors of the daily grind. Correspondents can still reach me via the email on my Blogger profile.

Good night, Jesus, Mary and Joseph bless you, and God be with you.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Two nations separated by common predictions

When American friends come to England, what they tend to rave about is the history. We rehearse all the standard jokes about the homes of ordinary people there being older than the White House, etc., etc. They always want to stop to photograph the mock Tudor columbage facades and they melt in the presence of ancient ruins.

For a Brit here in the USA, the feeling is not so much of being surrounded by history, as having perhaps just stumbled onto a film set. I just had breakfast in an American-style diner: bacon with pancakes and three tubs of Smuckers breakfast syrup, if you must know.

And having stumbled back to my hotel in temperatures that have topped 100 degrees before 9am, I am contemplating - in what I take to be a pre-diabetic haze - what this all means. Why, when I was sat in my diner, did I half expect Jason Bourne to come thundering in through the doors at any minute, smack the waiter between the eyes with a pepper pot, and then head for the back exit after spilling a slick of Smuckers breakfast syrup behind him so as to slow down any pursuers?

I take it that there is something comparable here to what we do with language. When we listen to a foreign tongue, we know maybe one or two words and then we try to piece together the rest like a jigsaw puzzle. We have a sense of the language's patterns; we can follow body language and facial expressions; we are aware of the context, though not necessarily everything that is pertinent. Maybe when we are sat in the bath of a foreign culture, we do likewise. Our imagination works overtime to interpret and inform us; we try to work out conventions so we don't stick out like a sore thumb; and somehow or other, we try to communicate. I suppose it must be the fact I am a child of the 1970s which means that when I sit in a booth in a downtown diner, my unconscious mind throws up a thousand suggestions about the many times it has seen on screen diners, booths, pancakes and endlessly refillable cups of coffee. And I'm sure that for an American, such outlandish expectations disconcert as much as when an American raves about history to a Brit. That is not to say that the foreigner's eyes are always wrong; sometimes we gain much from seeing ourselves 'as others see us', as Burns says. Still, the diner and the history are as they are, not just as they seem to a stranger's eyes. Our expectations are no more necessarily faithful to that reality than the expression 'Hon-he, hon-he, hon' is a faithful representation of French.

I suppose when our predictions are too much set in stone, that is when we are facing stereotypes. Half the fun of being abroad is the wonderful gap we feel between prediction and reality, between the stereotype and the true type. I must report that Jason Bourne failed to enter the diner. The waitress was polite, the pepper pots went unmolested and no Smuckers breakfast syrup was spilled in the making of my breakfast, unless it was on a pancake.

Friday Night Live in Chicago

I'm delighted to be back in the USA if only for a few days. My romance with America has been a slow-burn affair over twenty years. But a few hours back on terra americana convinced me the old place had lost none of its power.

It is over ten years since I was last in Chicago.
While I note that the weather has not really improved since then - today was the third day in a row of temperatures over 100 degrees fahrenheit - I confess the city has retained all its charms, and indeed offered more than I expected. Tonight I wandered from my hotel on West Adams Street down to the edge of Lake Michigan. American cities have their own architecture or architectural landscape which is distinctively their own. I went by the Chicago Institute of Art which I visited back in 1997 and spied the Willoughby Tower through the arboreal canopy of the CIA's garden.
Last time I think I was hardly aware of Millennium Park, but after a quick look-see at the boats in Munroe Harbour, I sauntered back towards the Chicago Loop and was bewildered to hear what sounded like orchestral music coming from behind a row of tall trees. Closer inspection brought me upon a moment of folk magic such as I had not witnessed since one Sunday morning in Barcelona many years ago when I saw with my own eyes the Catalan people dancing freely near Joan Miro's Lady and Bird. In Chicago, though, the prospect was somewhat different: hordes of Chicagoans sat on the grass in Millennium Park listening with considerable gentility to Strauss and Vaughan Williams.
For one so far from home - 4000 miles at a rough guess - it was a curious melange to find myself standing drenched in sweat and surrounded by extraordinary architecture, watching the Chicagoans soothe themselves to the strains of one of the most iconic of English composers, and all for free! Yes, it was a free concert and people wandered in and out at will. They do this a lot in Chicago, I am assured (have free concerts, not wander in and out).

After these giddy feastings for the eyes and ears, I took myself off to a local hostelry called Bennigans where I tasted a local brew of Goose Island Honkers Ale and nibbled on something nourishing.
There was even a baseball game on the TV in the bar, which rather polished things off nicely, and for a few brief moments, I was almost an extra in Cheers (except it was the wrong city, the wrong decade and I wasn't getting paid!). I'll be back in that area tomorrow for lunch with a colleague, and then I hope to get up the Willis Tower, the highest structure in the Western hemisphere (so the tourist blurb says).

I refuse to give in to the customary carping at America which some Europeans enjoy. I walked only a mile or so tonight and saw beautiful architecture, listened to fine music, saw gorgeous scenery (by the lake) and drank - here's the test of a civilisation - a finely brewed alcohol. Apart from this one mistake ...



... Chicago could not have done me prouder.




Friday, 6 July 2012

Put not thy trust in princes

I fly to Chicago this morning, just as the heavens look like they are going to dump flood-worthy quantities of rain on the UK AGAIN for the umpteenth time this summer. It's 99 degrees in Chicago today - a figure that can only decently be referred to in relation to cricket or ice-cream. Bring on the sun cream. I'm not looking forward to being away from the family, but I am looking forward to some unfettered thinking time: thinking time about research but also about the extraordinary events of the spring and early summer which I have blogged about here.

As I write, the dust is still settling after the appointment of the new head of the CDF, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller. Let's dispense with the niceties. First, we should all pray for any man who has such responsibilities. Second, I am reluctant to come to any sweeping generalisations about the man since all we have seen on Rorate Caeli and elsewhere are short extracts from his works. Lastly, let him be judged on what he does at the CDF; not on what people fear he might do.

As for me, I am utterly horrified. Utterly horrified. There could be an argument and discussion about various points of Mueller's theology that have been highlighted on other sites, but one struck me as crucial and central. Thus, I would like to know who has 'misunderstood' the Eucharist because we refer to it as the Body and Blood of Christ. Some ancient Romans perhaps? Someone looking to create a numbskulled caricature? Yes to both. Nobody else really. I'm not familiar with academic theologians writing in German, so it is just possible that one of Mueller's stupider colleagues thought he was on safe ground denouncing the use of such language.

Anyway, as Scripture says: put not thy trust in princes. The hierarchy are not our favourite sports team or our hope and our salvation. As a bishop, Archbishop Mueller has my respect. As a theologian, he would quite properly reject any criticism which was not based on a proper scrutiny of what he has said when put in context. But as a red-blooded Catholic man, I would happily tell my brother Gerhard he's a fat head if he thinks referring to the Body of Christ is ill advised. And then I would make him say the Divine Praises a hundred times under duress!

Utterly horrified. But then what's new? Put not thy trust in princes.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Rover 1 reporting

Various professional duties took me to Exeter on Monday and Tuesday this week. It is barely three months since we visited the town during our Easter break but I was very glad to find myself back there, in spite of the atrocious weather. It is a curious mixture of the modern and the ancient. The facade of the cathedral is currently covered with scaffolding
but it's medieval grandeur is still apparent.

The town is full of interesting nooks and crannies. Looking from the cathedral, we see some of the oldie-worldie architecture that sets the tourists on fire
but the true religious archeology of the town, as of the counties of Devon and Cornwall lies in the names.

In Devon and Cornwall you encounter saints' names which you never see elsewhere, and it leaves one wondering what the region must have been like during the first millenium. Who were St Petroc (k), St Austell, St Ives, St Endellion or St Mawes? I feel some great mystery is just waiting for me to do some digging.

And so back home and thence to preparations for my trip to Chicago on Friday. I'm looking forward to meeting members of the parish of St John Cantius while I'm there, and to discovering the delights of Wheaton where I will attend a conference.

More when I can find a Wifi spot!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Roving Bond

I'm afraid various duties have kept me away from the blog in the last week. It's a busy time of year for us British academics, as we try to wind up the business of examining students and doling out degrees. There have been a number of tantalizing episodes in the last seven days which have drawn me close to the blogface - no prizes for guessing which ones ... - but devoir oblige.

However, I'm happy to announce that The Sensible Bond is going a-roving over the next few weeks. Tomorrow I'll be heading to Exeter, while Friday will see me board a flight for Chicago. I'll be back in the UK within a few days but will hardly have time to draw breath before boarding yet another flight, this time for Bergen, Norway. I'm looking forward to it all really, apart from my temporary separation from wife and daughter.

The computer and the camera will be with me at all times, and I hope to give readers a flavour of these various destinations, along with my usual brand of customary burbling. Wasn't there an old folk song: Who'll come a-roving with me? Maybe not. There was one called Spencer the Rover, however. This one goes out to the Reading Massive whom I hope to see very soon.