27 February 2020

Lenten Laughter

Satire and irony are among the few weapons that the Little (and impecunious) Man has. This is what infuriated the Anglican bishops when Dom Gregory Dix used the weapons perfected by Swift and Newman and Knox as weapons against persecution. Did a bishop try to prevent Anglo-Catholics from having the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday? Dix would assure him solemnly and upon his honour that he would certainly not go to the extreme of using a disgusting Peruvian Jesuit innovation called the Three Hours Devotion (which 'moderate' bishops and clergy rather liked). He characterised Archbishop Fisher's creed as "God is nice and in him is no nastiness at all". He made clear how risible the Anglican episcopate seemed to him in 1947 when they sent a Loyal Address to George VI in which they referred to the then Princess Elizabeth with the words "We have watched her growth to ... well-developed womanhood".

He commented that "Even when the stately summer of the Carolines was over, the Whig Grandee bishops of the eighteenth century and the 'Greek Play' bishops of eighty years ago still had something for which the genial energy of a business-man in gaiters does not always quite compensate". When the paranoid preoccupation of many Anglican bishops was to prevent their clergy at all costs from practising Benediction and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Dix wrote "that even the best and most energetic of bishops will one day have rest from his labours, and the lance of his successor often delivers the diocese from the menace of some different windmill".

The Anglican bishops, poor consecrated snowflakes, couldn't take that sort of approach, and his 'tone' was much lamented. Unsurprisingly, an Evangelical opponent wrote, after his death, of his "mischievous, maverick, learned perversity" as "charming, beguiling and bewitching".

Dix had formed two generations of militant Anglo-Catholics. So it was not surprising that we used similar weapons to his when we were resisting the heteropractic innovation of Ordination of Women to Major Orders; we had a rather jolly journal called New Directions in which, under the editorship of the clever and witty Sarah Lowe, the effective weaponry of Satire and ridicule again successfully evoked criticism, from the Great and the Good, of our 'tone'.

In our experience, a good rule-of-thumb is: when people criticise your 'tone', you are almost certainly getting the important things right.

But printed journals require resources. We may not have the wherewithal to print and to publish our laughter; our ironic mockery of the trends of thought, the intellectual fashions, which dominate both the secular and ecclesial worlds. This is where the blogosphere has been a mighty liberation for the Little Man. For example: faced by The Tablet, a powerful, respected, elegant and well-resourced platform on which trendy voices are enabled to show well (advocating Women's Ordination and unsound liturgical texts and the abolition of Catholic teaching about ethical matters and all the rest of the 'liberal' package), the Little Man, in the conditions of thirty years ago, would have had no resource except to write humbly to the Tablet's Editor and hope that, to demonstrate 'balance', his letter might graciously be granted an airing. If he poked wicked fun at the editorial policy of that periodical, calling down a great gale of public laughter upon its solemn and lofty pronouncements, he might expect his letter to be spiked! But now, with manageable financial outlay, the Little Man can write a blog! Those who have 'non-mainstream' views on Liturgy or Vatican II or anything else are no longer silenced or restricted to the smudgy pages of small fanatical newsletters with slender circulations. The grip of powerful hands - whether of newspaper barons or of the Tablet trustees - on the means of communication has been dramatically loosened. People feel free. People are free.

Which is not to everybody's liking, because it brings challenge and exposure to some complacent Tyrannosauri which had been accustomed to roam through the landscape, Rexing unchecked. One priest, who for long enjoyed a regular column in the mainstream Catholic Press, handing down from on high to the hungry masses the pure nourishment of Vatican II, so disliked what a brother priest ... a blogger ... wrote about him, that he threatened to sue him (evidently I Corinthians 6:1-6 is not part of the Spirit of Vatican II).

I suggest that, from Newman's to the present day, through the decades when the satire of Ronald Knox, enlivened our reading, Satire and Irony have been the most notable charism which we from the coetibus Anglicanorum have been able humbly to offer to the life of the Catholic Church.

Dear Reader: if I were your Spritual Director, I would direct you, this Lent, to spend more time laughing at the pomposities of fashionable heretics.


Frederick Jones said...

Was it not Dix who queried trust of anglican fathers in God on the grounds that "the sign of a bishop is a crook and that of an archbishop is a doublecross"?

Fr Edward said...

I sent in a letter to the Tablet a few months ago on matters Amazonian.
It was ironic and gently leg-pulling throughout, attacking the left from the left.
The thing is, it was published. I daren't tell my friends.
I should have signed it 'Teresa Green,'
but I don't think they would have even cracked a smile.

I will recount my April fool to one of my Ordinaries for another time.
It nearly got me suspended.

Let's all please laugh, especially at ourselves.
Again perhaps the Ordinariate and Oratories will lead the way, and make our holy religion fun again.