27 February 2011

The Parish Church of the Nation, Benedictine Abbey, or the Central Ordinariate Church?

A while ago, in the context of talking about the 'Royal Wedding', some idiot calling himself the 'Dean of Westminster' referred to his church as the Parish Church of the Nation. I find it difficult to attach much meaning to that daft and pompous phrase. My suspicion is that the custom of having 'National Services' in the Abbey is - with the exception of Coronations - fairly (comparatively) modern. Royal weddings there are probably the most recent of such innovations. I suspect that the status of the Abbey may have received quite a lift when the Unknown Warrior, whoever he may be, was buried there.

In any case, it ought to be pointed out to the silly chap that in fact a great many National Services happen at S Paul's Cathedral, and always have. This happened even in the Old S Paul's; I believe, for example, that Henry VII's son Arthur was married there to Catharine of Aragon. Since Wren's rebuilding, the practical reasons for choosing S Paul's (ex.gr. for the burial of my Lord Nelson and of the Duke of Wellington and for 'Thanksgiving Services' after our periodic national military adventures) have greatly increased and are usually fairly obvious. And perhaps things go deeper than the merely practical: I have often thought that a good examination question would be:

Why are grandiose National Services so much more conveniently held in a Baroque architectural space that in a Gothic church?

In marking answers, I would mark highly those candidates who carefully analysed the differences between Baroque and Gothic concepts of worship.

By the way - going back to the Abbey - it is well to recall that the College of Heralds has long since, quite rightly and entirely legally, accepted the legitimacy of Ampleforth as the linear successor institution of the medieval Abbey of Westminster by allowing the community to bear and use the medieval arms of the Abbey. I think it is high time for the present irrational set-up at Westminster, Dean and all, daft or not, to be sent packing. In my view, the Abbot of Ampleforth and his familia should do a S-Nicolas-de-Chardonnet take-over at Westminster Abbey, and return it to its original purpose.

If they won't do it, well, it would make a good central London church for the Ordinariate.

Send in the heavies. A Fr Ed Tomlinson could lead the way.

A friend recently explained to me that some of my readers don't realise that there is fantasy and irony in some of the things I write. I find it hard to believe that people can be so dippy, but here is a formal disclaimer:
In a little while, I hope to say a little more about the status of Westminster Abbey.

25 February 2011


I have deleted a few comments on a recent post because I do not like their tone (some sensible comments also went because they were comments on the ones I didn't like). I shall be doing more of this sort of thing in future.

24 February 2011


If any brother priests are down to be on a train going through Oxford to the Athens of the North next Monday, and think it would be good to share a taxi from the station there, they could get in touch with me ...


Quite often I get an email and send a reply via the "reply" button, only to get a pompous message to the effect that I have tried to send an "unrouteable" message. I do reply to personal emails - even if only briefly - so if you were the person who emailed me earlier today ...

22 February 2011


Terrible news about catastrophic damage to the Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand; and that there are people trapped in the rubble. I know readers will pray for them and for all the people of Christchurch.

That Cathedral was built by Henry Jacobs, who had been, in August 1848, the first head master of Lancing College. He only lasted a month at Lancing*; the Founder, Nathanael Woodard, was forced to sack him - rumour had it that he was caught with a matron behind a door, but the archives simply reveal a disagreement about auricular Confession. Woodard believed that all his masters and boys should 'go' regularly, but Jacobs had problems with this and tried to make trouble about it with the authorities. He then went out to Kiwi and founded their first English-style Public School before becoming the founding Dean of the Cathedral.

The other 'Lancing' Cathedral is the one at Seoul in Corea. It shows its kinship with Lancing by its dedication - Our Lady and S Nicolas - which is the same as that of Lancing and of the Southern Division of the Woodard Corporation.


*Well, at Shoreham, to be precise. The Folly on the Hill, which you can see in the atmospheric picture at the top of Pastor in Valle Adurni, had not yet been built.

20 February 2011


I have received some appreciative comments about the 'Curwen' series. I should have acknowledged, as a poor classicist disgracefully ignorant about Tudor history, a debt of gratitude to a long-standing friend, Professor William Tighe, whose kindness in helping those who dip into this field is only matched by his encyclopaedic knowledge. I sometimes feel, when talking with him, that I am conversing with a person who was picking up the prosopography and gossip of the Tudor Court only yesterday.

18 February 2011

Summorum pontificum

Well, there's no reason why anyone should be interested in Anglican opinions. But, for what it's worth, I have enthusiastically signed that petition. I am not an integralist but a gradualist; little moves in the right direction are, to my simple mind, a good thing; little moves in the wrong direction are a bad thing.

But I have to say - sorry if this is a breaking of ranks - I would find it hard to condemn (exempli gratia) a clarification which gave the Archbishop of Milan control over the Ambrosian Rite. The Ambrosian Rite is not the Roman Rite. The Bishop of Rome has the right to say what the rite of his Church is; so does the Successor of S Ambrose. Even if the b****r gets it wrong.

I would be a trifle less categorical about (exempli gratia) the Dominican Rite. It is, after all, but a dialect of the Roman Rite. On the other hand, S Pius V gave those older dialects of his rite exemption from papal legislation; perhaps they are morally entitled to keep that autonomy. Dunno.

I am perplexed, as one who takes the long view, about the suggestion that bishops might not have an inherent right to confer orders according to the old pontifical. There would be a quaint irony if those 'liberal' bishops all over the world who have been concerting with each other the expression to Rome of their 'concerns' about SP turned out to have achieved ... a restriction upon episcopal independence of action! Additionally, the Pontifical was the last book of the Latin Rite to be rendered uniform. Until well after the invention of printing, bishops were using manuscript ponrtificals inherited from their predecessors which differed quite considerably from each other. Where is the necessity for uniformity?

By coincidence, I had already prepared, and timed to begin on Monday, a series on the post-conciliar Rite for the Consecration of Bishops. I had a go at the Rite of Deaconing a little while ago.

It's all Go, isn't it?

17 February 2011

Sex Goddesses and Saxon Mercia

As one does, we went to have a look at Birmingham, which we have not visited since the mid 1960s, when Pam, after Oxford, was in management at Bournville. Most of it has been rebuilt; but not the old classicising Victorian civic buildings in the centre ... they're up a little hill, and so it's almost like climbing up to an acropolis.

We homed in on the Staffordshire Hoard in the Museum and Art Gallery - the vast assemblage of seventh century scraps of gold and silver discovered a year or two ago. I remember, just after the discovery, Sarah Foot, Professor of Church History in this University, remarking that they seemed set to bring utter confusion to the work of several of her DPhil students. I gather that we still are not decided whether they are loot from a battle or a jeweller's hoard or an ex voto offering.

To get to them, unfortunately, you have to run the gauntlet of masses of Pre-Raphaelite pictures and artefacts, repeatedly dodging the obsessed and hungry eyes and nightmare lips of Jane Morris. Oh dear, I really don't think it does a girl any good at all being a Sex Goddess ... if Ms Morris were the last woman left on earth, I don't think I would ... er ...... But I did find a deliciously frightening watercolour by Turner of a pass in the Alps (I have faint memories of seeing something rather like it twenty years ago in the Abbey Gallery at Kendall in Westmoreland). If one has to follow Mr Burke in his quest for the Sublime, I'd rather do it in Turner's company than through the 500-page tedium of that demented Mr Wordsworth. Then we had a snack in the restaurant ... rather Midlands food ... which we were just finishing as Mr Mayor came in, chain and all, for fish and chips. Do the mayors of provincial cities live, eat and sleep in their full insignia of office?

Before getting the train back to Oxford, we nipped along for a look at the papist cathedral; vandalised during the Great Disruption, but still unmistakeably Pugin. There - small world - we ran into Bernard Longley, now Archbishop of Birmingham, an extremely amiable bloke whom I think I last met over lunch in the National Liberal Club when he was Doing Time as one of Cormac's London auxiliaries and I was on a FIF theological working party. He rather proudly pointed out that he has S Chad's relics enshrined over his High Altar, and made a quip about recovering the Pugin screen which found refuge in Holy Trinity Reading after its eviction from the Cathedral during the Disruption.

Somehow, I don't think many RC bishops would have expressed pride in possessing the relics of a seventh century Saxon saint, or spoken (even light-heartedly) about reversing the Disruption, two or three decades ago. Things are looking up.

13 February 2011

More on ARCIC

This was back in an age when the Tablet still published my letters; and I was engaged with George Carey, then Bishop of Bath and Wells, in a controversy from which the poor old nincompoop had to retire when Henry Chadwick weighed in and explained to him the point at issue in language a toddler could understand. I also wrote for an admirable journal, The Catholic League Messenger, and one or two other periodicals. I ranted about the fact that the old Reformation differences were being 'solved' by clever people who could agree verbal formulations, while newer problems, which could not be verbally fudged, were ignored. I was, of course, a voice crying in a wilderness.

Not now. Instead of addressing ancient questions which have lost their original biting power, at long last ARCIC III is being required to do what I always said it should have been doing. It will have to solve questions, the real questions, the newly divisive questions, which cannot be verbally fudged. A deft formula cannot paper over divisions concerning homosexual 'marriage' and the 'ordination of women'. Nor, of course, those of Contraception. Or rather, ARCIC is not being made to deal with those questions in themselves, but with the means by which particular churches come to a discernment on such matters. Bingo.

Friends sometimes wonder why I am such an enthusiast for Professor Ratzinger. The reason is that when most of one's adult life has been spent being sneered at for holding unmodish opinions, as mine has been, to have a Roman Pontiff who, as far as I can see, shares pretty well all one's own preposterous mistakes, is ... not so much comforting as exhilarating.

One last point. Rowan Williamson, and others, have attempted to salvage something from the bright ecumenical past which they themselves have sabotaged, by saying that the ARCIC accords are "in the bank" for when they are needed. Rowan is no fool and must know that this is rubbish. In every academic field related to every science and to every humanity, research work, fashions, opinions, external pressures, controversies, assumptions, move on. Theology is not a bit different. In two, three, or however many generations Rowan and the rest of them have in mind, the solemn self-consciously self-pleased accords of the last fifty years will just look quaintly old-fashioned. Not only in minor details; our grandchildren will cry "However could those people in the 1990s have been so blind as to think that this was the real question, when it is so obvious that they should have been thinking about ...".

12 February 2011


... is in the news again; because Grandson of ARIC, alias ARCIC III, is getting under way.

Dr William Oddie is a man for whom Anglican Catholics of my generation have a great deal of respect. He chronicled, accurately and mercilessly, the unfortunate events of the early 1990s, when an English hierarchy - who, of course, are by now mostly retired or dead - was able to prevent a corporate solution to our problems. The kindness and generosity of the present hierarchy and the warmth of their support for Anglicanorum coetibus make this seem like quite another age from the bleak era when a helpless, saddened, Joseph Ratzinger asked "What are the English bishops so afraid of?"

But Dr Oddie is not quite right in saying that Rome - in his view, rightly - never gave a real OK to the ARCIC accords. As far as Eucharist and Ministry are concerned, the process ended in 1994 with Clarifications, agreed by the relevant dikasteries including CDF, to which Rome agreed "No further study would seem to be required at this stage". It is important to correct Oddie on this, because one of the tattered defences employed by shame-faced Anglican Ecumenics to explain the action of the Anglican Communion in walking away from the process is that 'Rome dragged its feet ... people assumed they weren't really interested ... if it hadn't, we would have been able to prevent the Anglican Communion from embarking on new divisive courses of action'. Rome did nothing of the sort. It did keep on returning to particular issues where it thought there was a fudge; but that was quite simply because the process was being taken so seriously. It had to be got right. And methodologically, Rome was (rightly) concerned that, for Anglicans, all that was being agreed was that the accords were within the spectrum of beliefs allowed by Anglicans. Rome wanted to know that what was agreed represented the Faith of the Anglican Communion and was a Faith which, although the language and terminology might differ, really was, substantially, that of the Catholic Church.

Throughout the ARCIC process, I was sceptical. When, in 1987, the accord on Justification was published, I was particularly outraged. This was a time when, in academic Pauline studies, the New Look on Paul, associated with the name of Ed Sanders, was the talking-point in academe. This New Look actually demonstrated that the whole Reformation construct of Justification By Faith Alone was nonsense. Non-Catholic academic scholarship had finally shown up the implausibility of classical Protestant dogma. But not a word of this got into the Report.

11 February 2011

Thank you

... to a kind, anonymous friend who recently sent a most generous benefaction.

I wonder if (s)he would mind it being applied to a current need a little different from what (s)he specified? If not, of course, I will do exactly what (s)he specified.

BMV de Lapurdo

A greeting to all fellow have-been-pilgrims-to-Lourdes who read this; especially to those who were at the last great Anglican pilgrimage there; with Archbishop Rowan preaching at Cardinal Kasper's Mass; the Gospel proclaimed by an Anglican deacon ... perhaps that event, in 2008, was the last occasion when it was possible to indulge oneself illusions ... fantasies? ... about the then ecumenical scene ... as the archiepiscopal arms, pallium and all, flew over the concourse and international pilgrims flocked to communion at the Anglican Masses and the Successor of S Augustine prostrated himself on the rock below the image.

Happy days, thirty long months ago. But somehow I know that, through the intercessions of the great Mother of God Mary most holy, even more glorious days now lie ahead.

Ordinariate, Anglican Patrimony and your Office

(1) The Office Hymn is an integral part of the Western Divine Office. The Office loses something of its integrity without it.
(2) Just singing any old hymn in the Office doesn't make it an Office Hymn. There is a place in Christian devotion for 'affectionate' hymns - I rather like Fr Faber's, for example. But the old Office Hymns are sober, elegant, dignified, biblical, patristic, corporate rather than personal, in the old tradition of the Roman Rite.
(3) If you can't say/sing them in Latin, the best English translations are those by the Anglican Catholic Fr J M Neale (a lot of which you will find in the English Hymnal: not the New English Hymnal which may have excellences but makes no attempt to provide a full set of Office Hymns). I say this, not simply out of loyalty to one of the great, heroic, persecuted figures of Catholic Anglican history, but for a precise and historical reason.
(4) What Neale translated was the text of the hymns in the old English Sarum Office Book. And that text was pretty well the same as the original text. It was also identical to the text in the Breviary of that magnificent pontiff, Pius V. BUT in the 1630s, Urban VIII, who loved the pagan Roman poets, had these ancient Christian texts mutilated so that they would look like something by Horace in metre, grammar, and vocabulary. They stayed like this until Vatican II, in one of its wise decisions, ordered that the ancient original texts, only lightly revised, should be restored to use. This was accordingly done in the post-conciliar Liturgia Horarum. So Neale's translations are closer both to the originals and to what the Western Church now orders than are the translations made in the nineteenth century by RC translators.

Sometimes people ask what the Anglican Patrimony is. And there is sometimes an assumption that it is something largely irrelevant to many people ... Choral Evensong, for example. I believe it is something that can contribute to the mending and the wholeness of the entire Latin Church. A few weeks ago I had occasion to be with 60/70 priests who were saying/singing the Office together. They, each of them, had the English version of the Liturgia Horarum before them; I have never wasted good drinking money procuring this publication. As I followed the Office in my Latin LH I was surprised to find that the the hymn they were using was quite simply not the one in the Latin Editio Typica (neither were the preces). One simple ingredient I, personally, would insert into any preliminary set of liturgical regulations for an Ordinariate would be the facultas to use the Office Hymns provided in the English Hymnal in connection with the vernacular LH.

Actually, come to think about it: the LH Preces are that part of the revised Office which has worn least well. Some of them positively reek of the Sixties. Would there be a problem about an Ordinariate allowing the Prayer Book Preces to be used optionally? The Instructio Generalis Paragraph 184 already permits local hierarchies to allow alternative forms of the Preces; one would just have to add to Dr Cranmer's Suffrages a petition for the Departed at Vespers.

10 February 2011

Finigan's free bonanza

The Hermeneutic blog, happily, enables you to read, free of charge, an article by Fr Tim which has appeared in Usus Antiquior. It provides a good example of the phenomenon of 'ideas in the air'; when different people turn out to have been thinking along the same lines without any one of them being directly indebted to the others. Fr Zed has been delving into what he has called "Mutual Enrichment and Common Sense"; Bishop Andrew Burnham has staked a claim to a place in this discussion; and even I have nibbled at the edges of it. What is all this about? To what extent can the OF be improved by the importation of EF customs at the whimsy of the celebrant? Fr Tim, however, unlike most of us, approaches the matter with scholarly precision. My ensuing comments make absolutely no sense whatsoever unless you have first read his important article and done so carefully.

I love it all. My only adverse comment would be that the article is sometimes a trifle light-fingered when it comes to distinguishing between usages which are praeter legem and those which are contra legem (to use the categories in which O'Connell discussed the question of liturgical law two or three generations ago). Examples of the first: the priest says silently Aufer a nobis and Oramus as he approaches and kisses the altar. Or, as he censes the Altar at the Offertory, he says the old prayers. Or, he says Placeat tibi as he walks back from the Altar. While these formulae are certainly not prescribed in the OF, as far as I know there is no rubrical prohibition against the celebrant saying silent private prayers (or even reciting sotto voce the opening twenty lines of the Iliad or the Three little maids song from the Mikado) as he celebrates. But, on the other hand, double genuflections after each consecration (Ranjith) do, as Fr Tim makes clear, contradict an explicit instruction in the IGMR. They are contra legem. So is the usage I noticed at the Holy Father's Inauguration: joining the hands at Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.

Fr Tim also gives us a section headed "Elements that could be fairly easily allowed". But the first usage he describes under this heading - that of saying the modern Offertory prayers silently - is not only allowed rubrically but (as Fr Tim says) even has pride of place among the allowed options (I explain that roughly every three months on this blog). It is not something that 'could fairly easily be allowed'. It is something that is allowed. However much it might surprise some congregations, it is already the officially preferred usage in the OF. It is neither praeter legem nor contra legem, but completely secundum legem. But the next possibility mentioned - saying silently the EF prayers instead - is (although the congregation would not even notice it being done) definitely contra legem. Or is Fr Tim craftily suggesting that the former secundum legem usage is a good way of preparing the ground for the latter contra legem? The following item Fr Tim lists is the silent recitation of the Canon (which Bishop Andrew Burnham celebrated his entry into Full Communion by doing ... what bravura we Anglicans do display). Here, sadly, Fr Tim does not have a suggestion, crafty or otherwise, as to how secundum legem we could prepare the way for behaving contra legem.

Possibly Fr Tim is reserving for a future article the really juicy, truly fundamental, question: to what extent is it acceptable to follow usages which are contra legem? This would involve a rereading of the old discussions among the manualists whom O'Connell summarises. Perhaps I will take a look into this, even though it is well known that Anglicans are completely ignorant in Canon Law.

9 February 2011

Nasty. Should we blame the Ordinariate?

A story in the Times by Ruthie (how we all enjoyed reading her blog, until her employer made her far too expensive a woman for most of us to afford regularly) confirms a rumour I had heard; that some ecclesiatical lawyers are attempting to bully Romeward-bound clergy to resign their orders (this, of course, is quite a different thing from resigning one's job; it has the legal though not sacramental effect of laicisation).

What I have not so far seen explained is why this pressure, which as far as I am aware, has never been brought to bear on previous generations of clergy who have succumbed to the charms of the Scarlet Woman, is now being applied. Is it something to do with the new Clergy Discipline regulations, or is it, as most people suspect, just a crude piece of anti-Ordinariate malevolence?

My own view is that it is part of a crafty and jesuitical Ordinariate plot. It is designed to tip over into the Ordinariate dithering clergy who think there may still be a future in the C of E. By suggesting the manic nastiness of the Establishment, the Ordinariate chappies clearly hope to get a big second tranche on the move as soon as possible.

As lawyers say, cui bono? Or do they?

7 February 2011


Well, I've looked at Fr Zed's piece on the Collect for this week ... one of, I think, only three collects which survive on the same Sunday from the ancient Roman liturgy into the modern rite. I wonder how they managed it. Did they hide behind the aspidistra as Bugnini sprayed the room with machine-gun fire?

Frankly, I think Cranmer's translation of in sola spe gratiae caelestis innititur as lean only on the hope of thy heavenly grace beats all the papist translations.

Sadly, the old Secret for Epiphany V does not survive. It contains the fascinating request that the Lord should direct nutantia corda. O'Connell translates this as our ['our' is not necessarily implied by the Latin] wavering hearts; the 1933 English Missal as the hearts of those that go astray. The sense of nutare is really to nod; the thing one's head does as one settles into a comfortable chair to listen to a not-terribly-well-constructed lecture after a satisfying lunch ... or as one downs a glass of wine in front of a very warm fire after a busy day.

I find nodding hearts a rather diverting mixed metaphor. I've always had a soft spot for mixed metaphors since we had a head master at Lancing who could hardly open his mouth without unconsciously uttering another example ("we must avoid the thin end of the iceberg" ... the Senior Common Room had a collection book full of them ... I wonder what's happened to it now). As a consequence, I've always liked coining them ... the only risk is that outsiders may laugh at one, not realising that one is making, not being, the joke.

But what does it matter if they do ...

5 February 2011

Back to Bishops

Fr Ray Blake has a good short post on Episcopacy in East and West ('Bishop Bashing') which could suitably act as an endnote to my recent series on Episcopacy.

Am I right in thinking that Bishop Richard Williamson's latest Dinoscopus - particularly his last couple of sentences - suggests that he envisages a continuing 'pure' SSPX if Mgr Fellay does a deal with the Vatican?

God bless their scarlet cotton socks, the lot of them.

Fr H's Winter General Paper, 2011

Question 62
(A) "We have all been brought up on the story of Fr X, at the end of a magnificent procession of Our Lady, bursting into tears and ejaculating 'Won't Mama be pleased'".
(B) "During a procession of the Virgin, Fr Y was enjoying it so much that he said: 'Round the church once again' and an ethereal female voice from the region of the image said: 'Damn!' loudly and clearly".
Suggest, with reasons, (i) who is, in each case, the narrator;
(ii) to which denomination each anecdote refers; and
(iii) the identity of each priest.

4 February 2011

Knowing it by heart

One of the most important perceptions of the document Liturgiam authenticam, by which Rome set a new course in the matter of how Latin liturgical texts should be translated into the vernacular, is the idea that stability in liturgical texts enables people to make an interior appropriation of them so that the texts can then feed their Christian lives. I can illustrate this from my own life. I am nearly 70. I became familiar with the day hours of the Breviary in Latin as a 15-year old. The text I used had the Vulgate psalter in it. Then circumstances found me using a text with the new psalter of Pius XII. Then it became convenient to return to the Vulgate psalter. For the 25th anniversary of my priesthood, I acquired the Second Edition of the Liturgy of the Hours. It contains the psalter of the neo-Vulgate. Three different psalters.

The result of all this is that I can't say any one single psalm (except, for obvious reasons, Judica me and Lavabo), with confidence, by heart. If I try to do so, I find, creeping into my recitation, variants from the other psalters that my memory is cluttered up with. And I get lost. At Benediction, I need to make a conscious act of memory to tell me whether, in the second verse, to sing "laudate"(with the Vulgate) or "praedicate" (with Pius XII) or "collaudate" (with John Paul II). I am sure that hours of learned committee work and gallons of ink led those committeepersons, all doubtless infinitely cleverer than me, to hone and finesse every syllable of their texts to perfection. Sod the b*****s.

I hope that future generations, whether they are using Latin or English, will be spared this problem.

3 February 2011

Fr Tim ...

... has written a very good piece on Initiation (Hermeneutic of Continuity blog) pointing out that all the modern stuff about witholding sacraments until endless catechesis has been done is rather like the puritanical Jansenism of the 18th century. It is a must-read. Somebody one day will have to write a history of the contribution of the blogosphere to investigating the Tradition and recovering its wholeness and bringing new - yet traditional - awarenesses to the attention of the modern Church.

Tesco zucchetto

Continues a series on Episcopacy
Anglican Diocesan Bishops are, formally, the pastors of the congregation which meets in the building where they have their cathedra. But that congregation will in fact only see them on major occasions and at the main festivals. Otherwise, the congregation will be pastored ... not even by the Dean or Provost, who is himself a grand functionary running a large and expensive piece of heritage ... but by a priest sometimes called a Precentor. However, in the case of diocesans, at least the technical proprieties of episkopos, ekklesia, kathedra, are, on paper, maintained.

With suffragan bishops and 'area bishops', even this fictitious memory, this pretence, is absent. A suffragan bishop does not even formally have a congregation of which he is pastor; nor does he have a building in which you can go and look at a piece of furniture which - even if he never sits in it - is his cathedra. I do not find it easy to think of a more corrupt perversion of Episkope than this. No wonder the Free Churches are (except for some of their aspiring bureaucrats) so resistant to it. Unless one believes that, underneath the prelacy, the pompous dysfunctionality, the unreformed medievalisms, the sheer corruption, we Anglicans still do, in Episcopacy, really possess that Apostolic Ministry with which the Lord wished to endow His Church, only a fool would put up with it all. What it amounts to is episkope conceived purely as management; as our own Patrimonial Dom Gregory Dix put it with his characteristically lapidary accuracy, "the business-man in gaiters" [perhaps this could be translated into RC-speak as "the Tesco Area Boss in a zucchetto"]. For the Modern Church, there are senior managers; there are junior managers; there are the managed; and from time to time we ask the question 'How shall we make this management system work better?'

Why is such a corrupt system not reformable? Let me tell you a story ... or is it a myth?

The First Vatican Council gave expression to the ambitions of a centralising papacy; power, both in terms of government and of teaching, was concentrated in the hands of the Roman Pontiff and his collaborators. This needed to be balanced. In fact, it needed to be balanced by the Ordo Episcoporum. So we had Vatican II, which recovered the truth that bishops are themselves successors of the Apostles and not merely Vicars of the Roman Pontiff. Thank the Lord! So we moved into Broad Sunlit Uplands. The bishops returned from Vatican II, their faces wreathed in broad, sunlit, complacent smiles of self-satisfaction. Propriety ... balance ... embodied in themselves and their own perception of their own corporate importance ... had been restored.

Nowhere, as far as I am aware, did the conciliar documents of Vatican II, while they were busily and cheerfully 'balancing' the papacy, show the least awareness that the current expression of Episcopacy, at least in the Western Church, was itself arguably in need of reform. Nor, in the decades since, has there been any substantial movement for rethinking this episcopal system. In fact, matters have in some respects become worse. The aggrandisement of Episcopal Conferences has brought in its wake - people say - bureaucratic structures of Advisers and Committees, vast enough - so I am told - even to rival the bloated bureaucracies of Anglicanism. The old dream of the Bishop as the Man of, the Father of, his own Church ... what has become of that? Indeed, I can't help feeling that it may have been easier - especially before the advent of modern instantaneous electronic communications - to ignore the diktats of a pleasantly, gloriously, remotely, distant and ineffectual Roman Curia, than it is to be one's own man (or rather, the Man of One's Church) when enmeshed today in the structures of an Episcopal Conference. But, as a mere Anglican, I know I ought not to express views on this.

As far as I can see, not many people have any sort of inkling of any endemic weaknesses in the structures of modern Western Christianity. One man does; the man who shared responsibility for John Paul II's document (1998, Apostolos suos) reminding Episcopal Conferences of their very limited nature and status: and, my goodness, how the pair of them were vilified for that overdue and very necessary reform. Curiously, or perhaps not curiously, it is that same Bavarian gentleman who has legislated that the Ordinariates should, in 'episcopal' vacancies, submit their own ternas directly to the Holy See ... rather than going through the Nuncios.

There is a paradox in all this. Undoubtedly - in my view - Churches should choose their own bishops. But is this the historical moment to effect such a change? Perhaps this Pontiff's aim is gradually to move back to a system of local choice, starting with those ecclesial bodies whom he knows he can most confidently rely on to possess and perpetuate a holistic and orthopractic Church life ... such as Ordinariates.

There can rarely have been a more intellectually exciting time than the pontificate of Benedict XVI. The exhilaration I felt on hearing of his election has in no way abated.

1 February 2011

Fr H is furious yet again

I recently listened on the Steam Wireless to some daft woman who's got an exhibition opening at the Tate. She appeared to me to be incapable of opening her mouth without imparting misinformation. I give the gist of her meanderings as I remember them, with my own bracketed comments in italic.

"I collect Holy Water [since she asserts this about herself, I am inclined to give it some credence; although in view of what follows, you may think I am over-credulous]; you get Holy Wells wherever there is Celtic influence [you get Holy Wells all over the place; and, in any case, the whole idea of the 'Celtic' is regarded as extremely questionable in the eyes of a lot of modern scholarship] which were originally associated with a Mother Goddess before being Christianised [I myself know of no evidence for this popular old fantasy]; for example, at Lourdes you can still buy bottles of Holy Water [where in Lourdes can you do this? I saw not a shred of evidence of it. There are a number of rather ordinary taps where you can help yourself to shrine water free of charge; I picked up a discarded plastic mineral water bottle off the ground, gave it a good wash and rinse under the tap, and filled it with Lourdes water which I brought home and subsequently used for the Asperges on Assumption Day. I never paid anybody so much as a Eurocent for it.]".

How is it that Christians, of all people, are suspected of credulity and superstition? It often seems to me that, in a world of twaddle, we Christians are the only folk around who test facts, attempt to be accurate, and try to apply the canons of elementary logic.