Sunday, 16 October 2011

Principle and Compromise...

''From high places it is easy to fall low.'' (J.R.R Tolkien).

I spent a beautiful day yesterday with a dear friend of mine, who understands me better than many who are accounted wise, even those who have known me for many years. On my way home I bumped into someone else, an acquaintance from my Traditionalist days. Neither of us had much to say to the other, and upon taking leave of each other I was conscious of two things: that I had verily ''burnt the bridges,'' and that I had done good business having done so. A lot of people accuse me of fanaticism and intemperance; that I spend my time criticizing others about the celebration of Liturgy, whilst I do not actually contribute anything myself in the manner of organising practical Liturgy, conferences, training, research, or whatever. Well, that's too bad. Years ago, when I took an active part in parish liturgical life, nobody took any notice of me, and the only decision I ever got to make was over the choice of one type of Roman cut chasuble over another. My suggestion of Terce before Mass on Sundays fell upon deaf ears, for example, not to mention a host of kalendrial disagreements, ornaments, rubrics, ceremonial and, of course, lace ornamentation.

Heretofore I have let it be known that I am autistic. This was detected by an obscure paediatrician at a child guidance clinic 18 years ago. Be that as it may, my mother would have none of it, and with painfully strict correction (''look at me when I am talking to you, Patrick; LOOK at me!''), I have more or less led a ''normal'' life, and I strive every day not to live under the label, and to live life according to the social and moral principles upon which society is builded. Nevertheless I have my own principles which I will not compromise, nor will I have anything to do with people who oppose them. What was it that Erendis said to Ancalimë? ''Sink your roots into the rock and face the wind, though it blow away all your leaves.'' (I put the sense into my own words because I am sundered from my Tolkien books). This quote may demonstrate the problem.

''As children develop, they become more mature and skilled in the art of persuasion, compromise and management of conflict. They are increasingly able to understand the perspective of other people and how to influence their thoughts and emotions using constructive strategies. Managing conflict successfully requires considerable T[heory]o[f]M[ind] skills, therefore one would expect difficulties in conflict resolution for children and adults with Asperger's syndrome. Observations and experience of conflict situations suggest that children with Asperger's syndrome are relatively immature, lack variety in negotiating tools and tend to be confrontational. They may resort to 'primitive' conflict management strategies, such as emotional blackmail or an inflexible adherence to their own point of view. They may fail to understand that they would be more likely to achieve what they want by being nice to the other person. When an argument or altercation is over, the person with Asperger's syndrome may also show less remorse, or appreciation of repair mechanisms for other people's feelings, such as an apology.'' (Tony Attwood, The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome).

I don't know what it is. Perhaps neuro-typical people have struck some balance between principle and compromise to which I simply cannot aspire. I know from experience that arguments I've had with people always end up with a great degree of resentment or estrangement, on both sides. Whereas I am bewildered by arguments others have had, where later they are seen to be getting on as though nothing has happened.

In the universal endeavour to restore ''traditional Liturgy'' (whatever that may be) it behoves all of us who love Truth and the Tradition of the Church to cultivate various qualities; honesty, patience, forbearance, hard work, etc. I bided my time, waited for a change of days, of dispositions, and prayed earnestly, but came to nothing. This was precisely because I was working with, and praying with, people who didn't desire with their hearts the things of my own. I desired the tradition of the Church unmolested by the will and commands of the pope; they didn't. I desired the spirit and patrimony of the Middle Ages; they didn't. These were Roman Catholics, those Ultramontane types who prefer intellectual assent to the pontifications of a foreign bishop with a bloated office to the actual Tradition of the Church. With many a Sieg Heil to encyclical this, motu proprio that, and it's 1955 all over again. Problem solved! I have reached the stage now where I wish them ill and that all their works perish from this world - that may well be realised when the next pope comes along and renders all the liturgical legislation of the current one void. I tried other communions but to a great extent they just emulated the problems of the Traddies.

The parish church of St Margaret the Queen at Old Buxted. St Margaret is, incidentally, one of the patron saints of this 'blog.

So with whom, exactly, do I work to restore the tradition of the Church, when few seem to agree with me? The restoration of Liturgy is, in spite of the prejudice of the Sackville-Bagginses, an ecumenical affair, as much the province of Anglicans as Orthodox and Roman Catholics alike. Yesterday I was stood in a house chapel, no bigger than a walk-in wardrobe, and I thought then that the Church was verily driven into new catacombs, and that it had gone unnoticed by the great mass of many who claim, or aspire to, the name Catholic. If the Church is indeed to be found at all then I daresay it is in tiny pockets of liturgical orthodoxy around the world. In which case the work of restoration is indeed going to be hard. My friend and I were talking about the history of Liturgy on the way to a 13th century country church yestereve. We both agreed that it was a sad story, ''as are all the tales of Middle-earth,'' as Aragorn said. What saddens me is that most people don't see it, and seem bent on the exaltation of a period and ethos in the Church opposed to the spirit of the Sacred Liturgy. In sooth then did Tolkien utter those words.

The painting (by Ted Nasmith) depicts Maglor, one of the Sons of Fëanor, casting a Silmaril into the Great Sea. It is haunting for me since it depicts the ''end'' of the Elder Days, and I spent a good while thinking about it today. Those of you who remember the terrible oath of Fëanor and his seven sons might glean some similarity with my thoughts...


  1. Patricii!

    As you know, the greater part of my work involves looking after folk who suffer from various mental-health problems. One of the jokes most beloved of our people begins with the question: “What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a terrorist?” The answer, of course, is that one can negotiate with a terrorist!

    Now, I have, for many years, worked with people afflicted with autism and Asperger Syndrome. I cannot claim to have known you for that long; but I can, in all honesty, say that—in my opinion—you exhibit few, if any, of the symptoms associated with those conditions. I, on the other hand, freely admit to suffering from O.C.D. and, what was called in the nineteenth century, numeromania—an affliction allegedly also suffered by my favourite composer, Anton Bruckner.

    My advice to you is to ‘put not your trust in psychiatrists’. I consider psychiatrists to be parasites. Perhaps that is because I have been trained as a mathematician and physicist, and consider all other “science” to be something that one does “if one doesn’t have the maths for proper science”. Have you noticed, by the by, that a disproportionate number of those belonging to that “profession” known as ‘psychiatry’ subscribes to a particular Christ-rejecting religion?

  2. "I desired the tradition of the Church unmolested by the will and commands of the pope"
    Are you so certain such a thing exists?

    "These were Roman Catholics, those Ultramontane types who prefer intellectual assent to the pontifications of a foreign bishop with a bloated office to the actual Tradition of the Church."
    Unfortunately, bloated titles and foreign bishops with overreaching authority are part and parcel of the Tradition of the Church, at the very least in the West.

    " If the Church is indeed to be found at all then I daresay it is in tiny pockets of liturgical orthodoxy around the world."
    Might I suggest that, for those who have eyes to see, the Church is to be found in many places and many configurations, regardless of liturgy?

    Is the Franciscan's charity the less, that he strums a guitar through his Mass?

  3. I relate to your frustration, Patricius. I converted to Orthodoxy several years ago. I've been trying to persuade myself that I'm content, but am finally forced to admit that I'm not. The standard of liturgical performance in most Orthodox churches in America is pretty bad. There is a distinct process of Americanization at work among the Antiochians. The music sounds more like a cheap imitation of Bach than anything authentically Orthodox. Few in the congregation even try to take part in the chant, which, when added to the presence of pews, makes the Divine Liturgy seem more like a concert than the Work of God. The Greeks just don't seem to give a damn. I've attended a couple of Greek parishes, both of them quite affluent, but the people seem content with sloppy, slip shod liturgy. There is a ROCOR parish not far from me which does a beautiful liturgy, but it is almost entirely in Slavonic and the congregation is made up of Russian ex-pats who look right through me. To be honest, Anglo-Catholics still do liturgy better than anyone else in the English speaking world, but at this point what exactly IS Anglo-Catholicism? The Cardinal has given a local parish over to the FSSP, but my feelings about the papacy are almost identical to yours, so that isn't an option. I'm intellectually convinced of the claims of Orthodoxy, but have to admit that most of the time the Liturgy is an ordeal rather than a consolation. And it doesn't look like it is going to get any better soon. Anyway, thanks for giving me the opportunity to rant to someone who at least understands how frustrating it is.

  4. I enjoyed our conversation on the train and am sorry that it has been represented in such a way here.

    I'm never certain whether you want to burn your bridges or not patricius.

    Great shame if you do.

  5. leutgeb, I meant no offence, and I must say I am genuinely surprised that you still read this 'blog. By ''neither of us had much to say to the other,'' I meant that our conversation on the train seemed to be about relatively unimportant things, such as work. For example, I cannot pretend to have been interested in the fact that Mr Zuhlsdorf was the celebrant at the 10:30 Sung Mass since I make no secret of the fact that I dislike him intensely. I expect that on your part you had little interest in house chapels and Anglican country churches in schism with Rome?

    As for burning bridges; it would indeed be a shame. I enjoy your company, for my part, and think that you are a commendable person (much more so than little old me) in many ways; I just doubt I shall ever worship with you again, in spite of everything I said about ecumenism. I'm sorry if you find this disagreeable, but I just can't share your enthusiasm for Summorum Pontificum anymore, or the programme of reform instigated by the present pope.

    And Patricius goes on digging his grave...

  6. Well, you may not like *FATHER* Zuhlsdorf, and that is your right, but how do you expect to help people understand why you loathe him when you casually throw out such insults?

  7. James C, be grateful for small mercies. Patricius has at least done the good Père Zuhlsdorf the mercy of getting his gender right this time.

  8. Lector - My father, a chemist, used to dismiss biology as "colouring-in".

    Tawser - I rejoice in our horrid Greek liturgy! I love every inept, shambolic, tuneless, cluttered, unhygenic part of it. Whatsmore I positively revel in my utter inability to master it. I still can't tell a stychera from a phelonion, and I couldn't care less. I don't what happened to me between my buttoned-up, hobby-liturgiologist, modest-dressing, turgid encyclical-digesting SSPX days and now, but what I can tell you? It just feels right, that's all; "Christian".

  9. I recall that, when I was teaching in a certain English Public School in Yorkshire, a fellow physics master once said to me that “there is physics, and all the rest is stamp-collecting.”

    Perhaps I should extend my earlier quotation from the psalms and add that one should not put ones trust in psychiatrists, “for there is no help in them.” In fact, whenever I have encountered a psychiatrist, I have always come away thinking “Physician, heal thyself”!

    I rejoice that Tawser is “intellectually convinced of the claims of Orthodoxy”. I recommend that he avoid the Greeks and seek the nearest ROCOR parish that celebrates its services in English. There are many such establishments in North America; but I realize that the vastness of that sub-continent means that one may have to travel substantial distances in order to find one.

  10. I love the Russians, but they tend to remind me too much, for some reason, of the Trads. They're terribly buttoned-up, and I just can't put up with any of that any more.

  11. For anyone who may think that the Russians are “buttoned-up”, I can only recommend spending time with a few Russian subdeacons. Their propensity for outrageous behaviour and capacity for consuming vast quantities of alcohol leave most of us “amateurs” far behind.