31 October 2021

"They have uncrowned Him" Archbishop Lefebvre ... and Eric Zemmour?

On this yummy Feast of Christ the King, I find myself again wondering if a prophet-before-his-time has ever been so justified by subsequent events as Marcel Lefebvre. Here is piece I rote in 2017.

I am reminded of Archbishop Lefebvre's book with the above title. When I first read that volume, I was struck by a great sense of familiarity ... combined with an overwhelming awareness of unfamiliarity.

The familiarity? The understanding of Society which I found on his pages is radically similar to what, for most of its existence since 1559, would have been seen as the distinctive mark of Anglicanism ... yes, even more so than 'episcopacy' or 'Patristicism'. I invite readers to let their imagination take them back to the English countryside before the Industrial Revolution or the Catholic Revival; to the Squire and the Parson (each of them probably 'two-bottle men', or better) drinking to "Church and King" or "Church and State". The understanding was that the Crown defended the Church, and the Church upheld the Crown (a view that 'Gallican' Frenchmen might have shared). There had been a decade of hiatus in the middle of the seventeenth century; but that had become just a bad memory. True, there were ambiguities after the Dutch Invasion; as Squire and Parson raised their glasses together, perhaps the candlelight glinted on some words etched into the glasses ... Redeat Magnus ille Genius Brittaniae ... and perhaps there was a bowl of water on the table ... and perhaps Sophie Western in her lofty bower heard the drunken voices downstairs rise in song to 'bless our King ... soon to reign over us' or to peer into a future 'when the King shall have his own again'. But the implicit ideology, of a Christian state, of a 'realm', lay beneath it all.

In this sense, if you wanted to call classical 'cultural Anglicanism' 'Lefebvrian', people might find you rather eccentric but you could make a strong case for your eccentricity; as long as you made it clear that you were referring to the old 'High and Dry' churchmen more than to the new enthusiasts of the Tractarian and Evangelical movements.

The unfamiliarity? A vivid scene described early in the Archbishop's book: we are inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, where the painter David has been prostituting his skills in the interests of a new ideology, and has turned from oils to papier-mache. Instead of the altare Dei and the August Presence, there is a 'mountain' with a 'Greek' temple, occupied by an agreeable petite danseuse deemed to be the Goddess Reason and surrounded by her associates singing 'hymns'; then a small gathering moves off to the Assembly so that its President can embrace 'la Deesse'. The date? 20 Brumaire, in the Year II. The Capetian uncrowned, the Redeemer dethroned, the very Calendar remade.

British Society has never since 1660 experienced quite such a brutal and total moment of discontinuity, which has marked the whole of later history and has bequeathed such rigidly defined polarities. If Britain had done a deal with Hitler in 1941, Buckingham Palace might very probably have been occupied by Wallace Simpson and a bevy of German Advisers, but EDWARDUS VIII DEI GRATIA REX INDIAE IMPERATOR would have appeared on the coins, the royal standard would still have fluttered from the flagpole, and there would ... I suspect ... have been a continuity of outward forms.

French history, on the other hand, has been marked by repeated discontinuities in the rituals and the forms, so that under Marshal Petain the Revolutionary motto and symbols in their turn give way to coins inscribed Travail Famille Patrie and bearing a Gallique Francisque. And what might a President Zemmour do? 

I am inclined to feel that an Englishman has little hope of understanding Lefebvre (or possibly many other Frenchman) if he fails to understand this.

His Excellency the Archbishop described 'the social doctrine of the Church' thus:  
"Society is not a shapeless mass of individuals, but an arranged organism of coordinated and hierarchically arranged social groups: the family, the enterprises and trades, then the professional corporations, finally the state. The corporations unite employers and workers in the same profession for the protection and the promotion of their common interests. The classes are not antagonistic, but naturally complementary".
You could call this ideal 'Corporatism' and recall with distaste that it appealed to Mussolini; or 'Toryism' and remember that as early as 1749 Henry Fielding was ridiculing it as old-fashioned; but it has broad links with the Catholic High Medieval Society which John Bossy described in the 1980s and the disappearance of which the Anglican 'Radical Orthodox' Catherine Pickstock lamented as the basis of modern, atomised, individualism.

Our more gradual British revolutions and our shyness about disturbing inherited symbols deny us the clarity afforded to Frenchmen by the almost comic abruptness of their own episodic cultural transformations; but have we not now all ... on each side of the Channel ...  ended up in very much the same place?




Fr Edward said...

This is a very beautiful notion of society, and one to which so many good people wished to replicate in the early C.20th, whether they be followers of Adam Smith, William Morris, Eric Gill, Merrie Englanders with their happy packs of merry Morris Dancers enchanting English pubs, which naturally only serve warm beer.

But what happens when those 'little platoons' or the hierarchical amalgamation of trade and professional bodies disappear, or even the Morris dancers dancers and their warm beer are no longer the hight of cultural fashion? What happens when the delights of the traditional city gives way to suburbia, the commute, flats, motor cars and remote working (funny how slums and appalling poverty are never mentioned by those who often conjure up the ideal for us).

"Stoping the building work of the bright apartments, pull the plug of the Wifi, give her a wicker shopping basket, and will someone please find some brylcream for that man's hair!"

Of course the Leonine Magisterium is a true and bold statement. Likewise sentimental images of a middle class yesteryear are charming. And yet the one of whom he referred as "Il mio cardinale" would remind the Archbishop Lefebvre, and anyone who needs to hear, that things change and move on. This is a fact of life throughout the living world. And so doctrine as a living body will of necessity accommodate itself to what it finds, and orthodox truth will be found precisely at that new place and not in the remnants of what was.

It's these sort of disruptive insights that show Newman to be the very radical and divisive figure that he really was. And more power to his sainted elbow.

Jhayes said...

Charles I would have agreed. On the scaffold, he said "I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consists in having government ... It is not their having a share in the government; that is nothing appertaining unto them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things....I shall go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be."

But, today, most people choose democracy - and a share in the government.

coradcorloquitur said...

I notice above the classic false argument of liberals and Modernists---that truth must be accommodated to new circumstances and, as such, becomes a new orthodoxy. It is interesting to note the vagueness of this proposition (very similar to those who talk about the "living Constitution" in the USA), which, of course, is needed to change perennial truth with the false justification of the exigencies of modernity. The description of our Blessed Lord being "the same---yesterday, today, and tomorrow" seems to carry no great weight for the adepts of this presentism. Archbishop Lefebvre did not need reminders of the never-ceasing "need" to adapt truth to changing circumstances because he knew this to be a ruse for denying truth itself---with the resulting destruction and madness we witness (unless you are blinded by presentism) all around us in church and state. Who was it who said (Belloc? Chesterton?) that he who marries his times is soon left a widower. How true.