July 13 is when Saint John Henry Newman preached, in 1852, his Sermon on The Second Spring: I think it the most devastating and moving exercise in rhetoric that I know, in any language I know. It is not surprising that the Bishops and Clergy gathered for the first Synod of the shiny-new Province of Westminster, were moved to tears. Perhaps this is a day to reread it, to renew the tears.
Soon after the start of this twenty first century, the Church of England freely decided to affirm and to consecrate anew the enforced schism of the sixteenth century, by charting once more, despite all the dishonest, flashy 'ecumenical' promise of the ARCIC years, a course of deliberate divergence from the Catholic Church and from the Truth which is in Christ. During these unhappy years, I have found myself haunted by one passage in particular, in which JHN talks about what happened to the Church of England at the Reformation.
In our third millennium, a church-crawler easily discovers previously 'Catholic' Anglican churches now occupied by women 'priests', or put into 'groups' under liberal management, lonely, empty places, their tabernacles now become the homes of spiders, "Messy Church" on offer every third Sunday. A heritage which had been rebuilt in the Church of England over the decades since 1833, a culture of gradually, laboriously, restored Truth, orthodox teaching and increasingly orthodox liturgical praxis, has once again, in Newman's chiselled, merciless words, been 'disposed of and shovelled away'.
His words of 1852 have assumed for me a renewed pathos:
"The vivifying principle of truth, the shadow of St Peter, the grace of the Redeemer, left it. That old Church in its day became a corpse (a marvellous, an awful change!); and then it did but corrupt the air which once it beautified. So all seemed to be lost; and there was a struggle for a time, and then its priests were cast out or martyred. There were sacrileges innumerable. Its temples were profaned or destroyed; its revenues seized by covetous nobles, or squandered upon the ministers of a new faith ... It took a long time to do this thoroughly; much time, much thought, much labour, much expense; but at last it was done ... the fair form of Truth, moral and material, hacked piecemeal, and every limb and organ carried off, and burned in the fire, or cast into the deep! But at last the work was done. Truth was disposed of, and shovelled away, and there was a calm, a silence, a sort of peace ... "
O quam tristis et afflicta
Fuit illa benedicta
At what her dowry had become...
I can't resist quoting Brendan Behan's rendering of a traditional Irish-language ditty: "Don't speak of the alien minister,/Nor of his church without meaning nor faith,/For the foundation stone of his temple/Is the ballocks of Henry the Eighth" ("Borstal Boy" p 322).
Father, you must leave the rotting corpse behind or you will never enjoy peace. As our great Saint wrote:
“ and then, when I looked back upon the poor Anglican Church, for which I had laboured so hard…and thought of our various attempts to dress it up doctrinally and esthetically, it seemed to me the veriest of nonentities.”
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