A reader has left an impassioned plea for tolerance on my part for the Roman Catholic church. I'll let "hisperic" speak for himself:
"Patrick, you gave a very fair-minded assessment of the Church of England in a comment a few posts back:
"'It was never the "true" Church, or even a branch thereof, but it maintained dignified worship down to my grandparents' time, and was a force for good in terms of education through liturgy with the Prayer Book and the King James Bible. Not to mention the towering figures, true men of Christ, in the history of Anglicanism; Hooker, Andrewes, Baxter, Ussher, Swift, and closer to our own time Hope Patten, Frank Weston, Dom Gregory and countless others who shaped Anglican eucharistic and liturgical thought. One cannot forget the historical and liturgical undertakings of the Henry Bradshaw Society, Dr John Wickham Legg, William Stubbs, Dr Pusey, even Newman before he poped. The Church of England has made an enormous contribution to the broader Christian Church that cannot be forgotten or underestimated.'
"This seems very fair. Is the Roman communion so destitute of virtues and laurels that it does not deserve a comparably measured and charitable assessment? Are its liturgical errors so grave that it has been no better than a circus for the last six centuries? Are its doctrines so thoroughly corrupt that it did no good for that duration of Western Christendom in which the Pope was a figure of power? Are its errors so noxious that none of its saints, thinkers, and teachers count for anything? The Roman heritage is complex and variable, and though we can all agree that the overwhelming taste of its modern residue is as bitter as the muddied dregs of an bad wine, we must also recognise that not everything in the history of Roman church had this same evil flavour. I think that in abominating Rome outright you are falling prey to the same absolutism of attitude that leads the traddies you despise to accept its claims outright. I think your approach to the established church would serve as a better model of the right understanding of Rome than your current attitude of vehement hostility."First of all, let me qualify my use of the terms "Papal Communion," and "papist." I don't use these terms in an invidious sense or to cause needless offense but there seems to me to be no other accurate way of expressing the Roman principle that obedience to the pope is the articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae. The fact that schism is defined in Roman canon law as "the withdrawal of submission to the Roman Pontiff," to me, speaks volumes about the centrality of man (and therefore superstition) to this religion. A man who claims the fullness of apostolic power and authority on earth as God's "vicar" (which is Latin for substitute). A man who claims to be infallible. A man who claims to himself full, actual and immediate jurisdiction over you, me, his bishops; every man, woman and child in this world, emperors, kings, imams and rabbis, irrespective of rank or station. No wonder the first English Protestants cried with furor in their new liturgy for the good Lord to deliver them from Popish tyranny! As for me, I look forward to the deaths of popes for the blessed period of sede vacante, during which not a single rational soul in this world claims such authority to himself. The trouble is Benedict XVI has set a very bad precedent. Now there are two old gentlemen in white! One a middle-class, mediocre octogenarian, whose alleged "ill health" doesn't seem to have killed him three years after he resigned for that reason; the other a flippant old Peronist whose many scandalous remarks have conspicuously not been condemned by the other, despite their outward difference.
Now, you may say that I digress but I don't. The Papacy is, besides sin, the one principal dividing force within Christianity. Upon no other person or doctrine rests so much controversy, so much arrogance, so much hubris, so much pretense and above all so much blasphemy. A triple crown, I have heard it said; one for blasphemy, one for schism and one for heresy. There are still apologists for papal supremacy out there, mostly idealogues with rose-tinted spectacles. Fr John Hunwicke is one, who often says that Pastor Aeternus put limits upon papal authority by a farrago of linguistic subtleties and nuances. That may be so but Magna Carta put limits upon the King of England, and history shews that Henry VIII wielded more power than King John. Just as Pastor Aeternus, allegedly, put limits upon the Pope of Rome, so Pius X and Pius XII wielded more power, effectively, than their mediaeval predecessor Innocent III. They may not have deposed kings or placed empires under interdict but their legacy of violence and innovation will outlast Innocent III, and will last for all time. Their reforms, completed by their successors Paul VI and John Paul II, will not be reversed by any future pope or council, as have few ecclesiastical reforms at any time. As for Benedict XVI, what can I say? I am astounded, and I lay awake some nights thinking about it, that this blatantly disingenuous man has achieved such success. Like his old friend John Paul II, he has been the most "establishmentarian," or party-line, pope since Pius XII. The words "Vatican II," and "Novus Ordo" run through him like a stick of rock and yet he has managed to pose, since the mid-1980's when he was the old Inquisitor, as a kind of reticent critic of both these things, with a few off-the-cuff remarks, and a few haphazard gestures not unlike pope Francis; the difference being that, in the form of published books, they seem better thought-out than Francis' verbal diarrhoea. (On this subject, before I forget, it behoves us to remember Cardinal Burke's treatment, a man whose unbelievably shallow opinions and dogmatics run counter to the reforming spirit of the past fifty years and, unlike establishment Ratzinger, he is not promoted to the highest bureaucratic office of the Curia but is exiled to Malta). One day Ratzinger would accuse Gaudium et Spes of Pelagianism, the next day he would celebrate Mass (in the Novus Ordo, of course), ad orientem out of choice rather than duty, in a fine, embroidered chasuble, with the papal fanon and a 19th century crozier. No substance at all, just an arbitrary veneer. I distinctly remember that disgraceful Mass in Westminster Cathedral during the papal visit in 2010 which my fellow parishioners in Blackfen all acclaimed as so wonderful, "reform in continuity," or whatever the phrase is, and they couldn't understand my disgust with it, or the disparity I pointed out between it and the service of "ecumenical" Evensong in Westminster Abbey, which was dumbed-down and abridged and yet was still far superior in standard. What is it about this rancid old queen that people find so appealing?
I could go on and on like this but I really have digressed now. Hisperic asks whether the Papal Communion is so destitute of virtues, that it's liturgical errors are so grave, and its doctrine so corrupt that it warrants no measure or charity on my part. Measure and charity are overrated in dealing with such an institution but I'll do my best. I've dealt enough with the Papacy, which both Napoleon and Garibaldi had the opportunity to destroy but sadly didn't, so where do you start? Well, since it's that time of year, what about Corpus Christi? A feast that not only renders obsolete and irrelevant the Mass of the Lord's Supper in its proper Holy Week context but since mediaeval times has been a scandal, an occasion of superstition, of frolicking about in the summer sun like Bacchus and Silenus, of prostration before a round piece of wafer (like the Sun), suspended in a monstrance in a sun-golden hue, with rays coming from it (like the Sun)...seems very pagan to me. A piece of wafer which we're told contains the full sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood; which profoundly mistaken view, like enforced clerical celibacy, led to a sharper disparity between priest and people than was ever intended by the Gospel. This was only corrected in the Latin Rite within the lifetime of my parents. Or what about the cult, so central in popular Popery, of the "Sacred Heart?" An extravagance and heresy condemned by two Ecumenical Councils. Or the absolute and irrevocable decline of liturgy following the reforms of the Council of Trent, which recognised low Mass as a legitimate form of divine service and not a mediaeval abuse, as it should have done; not to mention the other shortcomings of that disgraceful synod. The maintenance of divine worship in a tongue not understanded of the people, which had Rome authorised the use of vernacular tongues might just have stimulated a renaissance of liturgical piety and devotion in the people, and might even have successfully countered the Reformation. The continued denial of the Chalice to the laity; the transfer of liturgical regulation from diocesan bishops to the Papacy, and thence to a central committee; the setting up of the "Index of Forbidden Books" to stifle free debate. We're constantly told by apologists of the "traditional Latin Mass" that the Tridentine reforms were minimal, but go into any major cathedral church in Europe and you will not find a Rood Loft or chancel screen, which were all used in divine service before the Reformation. Why? They were mostly dismantled and destroyed following the introduction of the reformed Missal and Breviary, and so any visual continuity with the Middle Ages has disappeared from the most prominent churches on the continent. During the 17th and 18th century a period of liturgical revival against these Ultramontane encroachments flourished in France and elsewhere, misnamed "Gallicanism," which was soon condemned and crushed by Rome, and then ridiculed by Dom Guéranger, one of the most arrogant and destructive men of the 19th century.
Fast forward to 2015. On the morning of Sunday 13th September I went into two churches in Ulster, one an Anglican church, the other a typical Roman church. In one there was hearty congregational singing of "The Royal Banners forward go," at a dignified service in honour of the Holy Cross; naughty that it was a day too early but I forgave them that considering what came after. At the other, which had a choir, I was bemused to see a priest in his late sixties struggling to read from his newly-imposed English translation, which his congregation declined to use, and the choir treated us with the "Butterfly Song," one stanza of which began: "if I were a wiggly worm." No prizes for guessing which church was the Papist one. Now, this twenty-minute service is no older in ethos than the 1960's; in text it is, what, five years old? It was spoken (not sung) in a language that is banal, artificial and pretentious. It was said facing the wrong way, by a priest in a hideous chasuble, on his own, except for two altar girls and two lay extraordinary ministers. It was an embarrassing dialogue by a priest using one language with an apathetic congregation using another, without really understanding the meaning, who stand, sit and kneel at different parts as though these postures (except standing) have some significance, who then shake hands with each other, and then queue up to be given the booby prize for turning up, a stale, tasteless, sticky wafer that gets stuck between your teeth, which is apparently the most precious thing on earth. It was, as "hisperic" said, no better than a circus, although I vaguely remember from my earliest days being at least mildly entertained by circuses.
What's the alternative in the Latin Rite? Well, there isn't one in rural Ireland, unless you're prepared to defect to the Anglicans (which my uncle did). In England and America you've got the Lefebvrists, if you like the company of repressed homosexuals, or else some other church, tolerated (perforce!) by the local bishop, as hideous as the church I have just described but in a sort of chipped statue, brick Gothic sort of way; for another said service, mumbled in Latin, &c, &c, and a parody of the pre-Conciliar church. And these people aren't like the majority of Roman Catholics, whom I have always found to be congenial, genuine people; most of them are nasty; they have an axe to grind with the Established Church ("they're our churches, really..."), they're Jacobites, they bemoan the victory of their own country against Spanish aggression in 1588, and they see nothing schismatic or scandalous about having a hierarchy in a country that is already Christian against the hierarchy that was established here in the 7th century. As Littledale says: "they set up altar against altar, deny the rightful claims of the native Church, and endeavour to entice away its members; and that not to a purer religion and a holier standard, but to heresy in doctrine, idolatry, or at least gross superstition, in practice, and an altogether lower level of Christian ethics." If they've really gone they live life as though it is 1955 all over again!
In many ways, "hisperic" complains about an institution that was. Many of the objections I have raised against Rome are out of date. Indeed, many of the objections raised by St Photius the Great, the Reformers themselves, and polemicists to-day are futile, having been perfunctorily addressed by Rome or having simply fallen into abeyance by neglect. Popular religion has taken over completely within the Papal Communion. It has degraded to a tribal cesspool of credulity and superstition. It has very little power left, but like a toothless snake can crawl where it will. Liturgy is no more; Tradition has been legislated out of existence by the "living magisterium." Who now, except the traditionalists, believes in Papal infallibility? And that belief must surely quail at every utterance of the pope! The whole thing is stone dead. There were, aforetime, men of good will and sound mind who took heart against the liturgical wilderness and sought to revive a sense of traditional praxis. Arthur Crumly was one. But their efforts were stopped by philistines who complained to the powers that be (...ordained of God?...) that their actions were schismatic, illegal, and very, very naughty. The whole thing is stone dead. As St Tikhon of Moscow said of Lenin's tomb when the sewage system leaked: "the balm accords with the relics."
As for the many distinguished men and women of the Papal Communion, poets, essayists, liturgists, theologians, historians, philosophers, artists, &c, who am I to judge? I can't perceive with living sight to the depths of their hearts, and who are we to say that their talents would not have been in the service of some other church, had the circumstances of their birth or time been different? I rejoice in the beauty of Michelangelo, Dante and Victoria. But whenever I think of Popery to-day, instead I see Torquemada, I see the Spanish conquest of the Americas, Magdalene laundries in Ireland. Is my attitude of vehement hostility justified, then?