Tuesday, 21 August 2012

What would the S.B's do?

When I came away from the country church to which I went for Divine Service on Sunday morning I thought how fortunate it was that the church had fallen into the hands of the protestants in the 16th century. How much the ravages of the Tridentine and subsequent reforms were a direct response to the Reformation is hard to say. If the Reformation had never happened, would Roman churches be as degraded as they now are, or was the fall of Rome doomed from when first a pope uttered qui ex Patre Filioque procedit in the liturgical Creed long before the Council of Trent? But I'm not as silly as all that. One word can make a tremendous difference, but I do not personally attribute the liturgical apostasy of Rome to words in the Creed (or not in the Creed as the Orthodox would say). Rome was once a bastion of orthodoxy, so great and so wonderful; but you can see how degraded it has become. To come back to the country church, I thought how ignorant I was when I thought that the most prominent provincial cathedrals and country churches in England belonged to the Roman church, from which the Church of England had become separated by faith and a great expanse of years. But no one has any real ''claim'' to them anymore, except, perhaps, the Orthodox Church, and I would thrust them out if any of them attempted to Byzantinize them. The faith of the Romans is not the faith of our Catholic forebears anymore than the faith of most Anglicans nowadays, and even the Orthodox, which is a peasant's religion in this country, is too far gone.

An altar in St James' church, Spanish Place. It would look rather nice if they got rid of the bloody doll.

If the Romans were successful in their claim, the Church of England having died a hypothetical death, and notwithstanding English Heritage or whatever, what would the Sackville-Bagginses do with all those churches? Since Romans have virtually no taste, seem apt only to trivialise a Tradition they are demonstrably incapable of understanding, and in the process ruining the Christian faith, I expect they would ruin every church they got hold of, in the vile spirit of Popery. Gone would be sober names like St Mary, St John the Baptist and Christ Church, and ''Our Lady of Fatima'' and ''Sacred Heart'' would take their place. Banished would be the surplices and plain altar linens and net curtains would take their place. Away with the Rood Screens, since they block the view of the Chancel, and brass altar rails would be installed. The High Altars would be destroyed, the riddel curtains and frontals removed, and replaced with hideous sideboard-slabs, on top of which would be piled steps, upon which would stand tall candlesticks and flowers in hideous arrangement adjacent to out-of-place tabernacles, obscuring the view of the old reredos' expounding to the congregation the story of Our Lord's Passion (why not destroy that too? Why not destroy the central panel and make room for a space to put a monstrance?), mortifying the stained glass and distorting the scale and size of the Chancel - oh, and don't forget the brass crucifix! Along the walls of the nave would be placed the ''stations of the cross,'' and banners of Joseph the Worker confraternities reminiscent of the upholstery at Aer Lingus. Side chapels would be littered with tacky statues of crowned dolls, representing visions that never took place. Gone would be the glorious tongue of Cranmer and in its place some ungodly, turgid, incomprehensible language, uttering doctrines wholly alien to the them that built the church; or the Latin of the 1962 Missal, intruding sentiments and beliefs which our catholic ancestors would have repudiated. Everything designed to make a grand, religious statement and rubber stamp of popery.

Would such a thing really be welcomed by the martyrs, people like St Margaret Clitherow or St Thomas More? I am reminded of Gandalf's apposite words to Denethor: ''He would have stretched out his hand to this thing, and taking it he would have fallen. He would have kept it for his own, and when he returned you would not have known your son.'' In the same way that the Catholic faith, what was left, was banished from the realm, and yet remained in ways that on the Continent would have been impossible, so a ''return'' of the Roman faith to the churches of this land would be unthinkable -for an it returned we would not have known it, for it would have (and has) become evil.


  1. Ah, if only it was so small and simple. Dante reserved the deepest part of hell for wayward heirs to the apostles. But sin ripples it's way thru space and time.

  2. You seem to be rather romanticizing Anglican churches, as they presently exist. Yes, there's still a lot of very tasteful furnishing, but if you look around, there's a lot of grot, as bad as if not worse than anything found among us Romans. Also, just how common is Mattins nowadays??

  3. I think the SB's would not be so complicated as in the 1930's. They would just take everything out and paint the walls white. And then get an "artist" to make a hideously expensive altar in glass with inset stones.

  4. Not sure why you keep on quoting from a Sackville-Baggins like JRR Tolkien. Perhaps you can find somebody less evil to quote from, in the Anglican tradition (a communion loathed by that SB Tolkien).

  5. David Forster, I don't honestly know, but it was my first experience of choral Mattins in a parish church and not somewhere like Westminster Abbey or St Paul's Cathedral.

    James C, Tolkien (like Evelyn Waugh) was one of the proto-traditionalists of the 1960s and would never have been satisfied with the mediocrity and spuriousness modern-day Traddies lap up and call ''tradition,'' like the three hour Eucharistic fast and evening Mass. The place of the Roman church in his affections was very personal, and he had a more holistic view of Tradition (founded on his knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon world and antiquity) than most of us. And Sackville-Baggins refers to neo-conservatives and Traddies alike, not to well-meaning, sincere Roman Catholics. If Tolkien were alive today I doubt he'd even be a Roman Catholic.

  6. Patricius, you are deluding yourself.

    "I know quite well that, to you as to me, the Church which once felt like a refuge, now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! (I wonder if this desperate feeling, the last state of loyalty hanging on, was not, even more often than is actually recorded in the Gospels, felt by Our Lord’s followers in His earthly life-time?) I think there is nothing to do but pray, for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it."

    It is obvious from his writings that Tolkien was disturbed by developments in the Church in the 1960s and 70s. It is also obvious from his writings that papal primacy was to him was an inviolable principle of church unity, which is largely why he quite rightly considered Henry VIII a monster and loathed Anglicanism, about which you had this to say:

    Patricius 25 August 2009 14:46

    'As Tolkien said of the Anglican ''church;'' it is a pathetic and shadowy medley of half- remembered traditions and mutilated beliefs; and the only real ''foundation'' it has (which is in no way pious, apostolic or orthodox) is hatred of Rome.'


    Tolkien was a pope-loving, committed Roman Catholic, and he would be scandalized at being the "patron" of a blog that hurls such invective at Rome and those who are in communion with her.

  7. P - So what is holding you back from Holy Orthodoxy? All which you say you value has always been in the Church - the fasting regs have never changed, the richest liturgical cycle, the same faith of Holy England before she was invaded by the Normans and "germanized" after 1066, the violent clashes over the calendar - what's not to love?

    Will we "Byzantinize" (said as an heir to that fool Gibbon would) everything? To safeguard the faith once delivered, of course, if it comes to that. Part of the historical impact of the sin of the West is the loss of much, not the least of which is the great western liturgical patrimony. Take up the loss of that patrimony to them that threw it away when they rejected the faith, namely the post-schism Popes and all their heirs, which includes you yourself at present, until you cross the Bosphorus.

  8. James C,

    You need not remind me of stuff I said three years ago. Are you the same person you were three years ago? Perhaps, if you're a lot older than I am, then yes you are, but that's beside the point. If I were in any way embarrassed by Singulare Ingenium I could quite easily have deleted it, only I haven't. It is there, for all the world to see, and I can still identify with some (though not all) of the sentiments expressed there. I have learned a lot and lived a lot in the past three years. My opinion of the Church of England hasn't changed much, where a lot of people (yourself included) seem to think that it has. Let me tell you that I agree with Tolkien on this point 100%. The Church of England is apostate from the Faith and is as a withered branch, fallen away from the Tree - although it doesn't rot far from the Tree. Today I would say, where three years ago I would not, that there are far more sincere Christians of a catholic tradition in the Church of England than there are in Rome. In Rome there are, and have been, some very notable Catholics: Adrian Fortescue was very catholic, as was Tolkien, Mgr Alfred Gilbey, and many others beside. But the institution of the Roman church itself is far from the ancient catholicity of the Fathers.

    To speak of Tolkien and ''loyalty,'' there you err I think, seeing only that which came to pass in the 1960s. Tolkien's relationship to the Roman church was very personal and, in part, took the place of his mother, who brought him (from an Anglo-Catholic environment) into that communion. I think it would be noble if we just left it at that. I'm sure that Tolkien would resent any of us here trying to analyse the import of religion in his life. We know that he saw the worst of 20th century Romanism, from the reforms of Pius X to the revolution in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, but the question of ''loyalty,'' in the sense that he proposes it (as a virtue) is rather tricky, and questions of conscience, history and theology come into it. Tolkien clearly could not, even if his wife and his son Christopher did, abandon the Roman church. I did, because in conscience I could not accept 19th and 20th century ecclesiological and liturgical ''developments'' in the Roman church as apostolic or founded in Truth. To accuse me of disloyalty, or failing a trial of faith or however you see it, is a tad unfair. What would Tolkien say? What would he have said then? What would he say now? No one will ever know. Only God sees all ends.

    Maybe it is as my old tutor Professor Richard Price said to me: ''If Newman were alive today, he'd have joined the Orthodox Church.'' Newman, seen as this great confessor, defender of Rome against the Established Church, Wrong but Wromantic, filled with a Roman fervour, etc. Newman was attracted first and foremost by the Fathers, and the Church of the Fathers is most evidently seen (once you get past the anti-Western, cultural aspect) in the Orthodox Church. Tolkien was a Mediaevalist. The Church of the Saxons, and to a lesser extent that of the Middle Ages (even when some of the rot had set in), was Orthodox. If Tolkien were alive today, which, therefore, would he choose? And would his feelings of emotional loyalty be not put to the test?

  9. Stephen, perhaps I feel nothing at present, who knows? I envy you your faith, and that is all I can say. I would save that which is good in the Western patrimony and preserve it unto the End, if I could, but maybe like the downfall of NĂºmenor it will all be lost, save, perhaps, some dwindling remnant of men of True Faith, lingering in some corner, isolated, slowly to forget and be forgotten.

    Tall ships and tall kings
    three times three.
    What brought they from the foundered land
    over the flowing sea?
    Seven stars and seven stones
    and one white tree.

    As ever, Tolkien is so apposite (although maybe I see things that others don't). He may counsel me in all things, save return to Rome.

  10. The position of a tradition minded Catholic like Tolkien in the 1960s was very different from the position of the same sort of Catholic now. In the '60s, it was still possible to believe that the crisis was temporary and that the church would soon return to its senses. How COULD Tolkien have imagined that the church in which he grew up, the church he had known all his life, was gone forever? But fifty years later it is clear that this is exactly what happened. The Second Vatican Council inspired a wholesale reinvention of the Roman Catholic religion that has now taken root at all levels of the church's life and that furthermore at this point is the only version of Catholicism most living people have ever known. Even if a partial, cosmetic return to something that LOOKS more like the pre-conciliar church takes root in the Ordinariate and in the few parishes that use the 1962 Missal, the acceptance of the conciliar revolution will still be the sine qua non for those seeking refuge in those ghettos.

    For fifty years traditionalists have been holding on to the hope that the revolution could be turned back. But it can't. The Council won. So how would Tolkien have behaved if he had known that? There is of course no answer to that question, but quoting his loyalist sentiments from the 1960s is disingenuous. We live in a world Tolkien could not have imagined and that I suspect he would have regarded with unabashed horror.

  11. Tawser, you speak more wisely than any of us here, calling to mind such things as vast cultural, liturgical, ecclesial, scientific, ethical, legal, philosophical and technological revolutions in the 39 years since Tolkien died. I do not set a very high store by the almost universally-accepted axiom about before the Council such was Roman Catholicism, afterwards we have another kind, but I accept that there are those who do. I agree that Tolkien would look on the the world in which we live today aghast, and I think the Roman church too. Hence my previous observation about whether Tolkien's 50 year old musings about loyalty to the Roman communion would hold water nowadays.

  12. I don't know how wise I am, but I'm definitely bruised. I would agree that the potential for something like Vatican II always existed in Roman Catholicism, particularly after the triumph of ultramontanism in the nineteenth century. Michael Davies used to write about "time bombs" in the documents of Vatican II, but the real time bomb I think was Pastor Aeternus, the definition of papal infallibility. Cardinal Manning and his crew, without realizing it, were signing the death warrant of everything they held dear. It just took a hundred years for the bomb to go off.

    But I would argue that as long as the Roman liturgical tradition, and with it Roman Catholic culture, remained intact, the dangerous implications of ultramontanism could be kept at bay. The Novus Ordo destroyed Roman Catholicism, just as the abandonment of the Prayer Book killed Anglicanism. The only thing keeping either of them alive is the peculiar institutional fetish so dear to Western Christians, the idea that so long as institutional continuity is preserved, nothing else matters, not dogma, not history, and certainly not liturgy.

    I swam the Bosphorus several years ago. I won't pretend that it's the perfect solution since at heart I will always be an Occidental, but for a liturgical fundamentalist such as myself, there really isn't anywhere else to turn at this point.