Saturday, 28 May 2016

What is there to like?

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?


  1. "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."

    This. You, sir, hit the nail on the head. "The reform of the reform" is an arbitrarily imposed - or allowed (or not) - farce that makes the necessary elements of Christian liturgy just another flavor that can be chosen... "you know, if that's, like you're thing." It's all so stupid.

    1. Ratzinger used to be a liberal. For all we know he still is!

    2. You 'as dead as a doornail'-ed it!

  2. Pray, Patricius, tell us what you really think.

    1. Bernard, as I said I don't mean to cause offense or to entice away faithful Roman Catholics from their religion, which still gives them warmth and solace in a cold world. For you, I would say that legal positvism has destroyed any chance of a revival of traditional praxis in the Roman church. When you get snotty little pseuds who, as soon as they see Sarum, or pre-1911, or some rubric or ornament not in accord with the "allowed" custom, ring up the bishop, or the Latin Mass Society, or even the Congregation for Divine Worship and complain, and then these powers put a stop to it...what does that tell you? What exactly do these people want? Do they wish people to live in falsehood, and deprivation? Do they wish to make conquest of men's hearts and fill them with themselves? Do they want the cult of death, which for their protesting abortion clinics, to take over? What makes them tick? Because when I was a Roman Catholic I wasn't interested in central legislation, or worshiping in a uniform way with the next parish. What I wanted was transcendent, and to be left alone to get on with it, just as I would live and let live with the next parish that wanted altar girls. Sadly any hope of this is really and truly dead. Why? Who knows but I would guarantee you it is a residue of mediaeval Roman intolerance; Crusades in a new, petty and mean guise.

  3. A marvellous piece; always seem pointless to have any discussions with the Church of Rome as it has so many dogmas of it's own which is cannot change without collapsing up it's own Bull.

    It always suprises me that Queen Elizabeth removed the petition 'from the tyranny of the bishop of rome and all his detestable enormities' from the Litany.

    Still, we have the Epistle dedicatory to the English Bible, unless that too has been expunged from current.

    .... we shall be traduced by Popish Persons at home or abroad, who therefore will malign us, because we are poor instruments to make God’s holy Truth to be yet more and more known unto the people, whom they desire still to keep in ignorance and darkness; or if, on the other side, we shall be maligned by selfconceited Brethren, who run their own ways, and give liking unto nothing, but what is framed by themselves, and hammered on their anvil; ....

    Happy Restoration Day (sadly banned by Fat Vicky)

    1. Well, Queen Elizabeth I did say that she didn't wish to see into men's souls. I can't remember the quote. But it does seem to be a wise principle to me. You can think and believe what you want, so long as outwardly you obey, outwardly you conform. In many ways it is a principle that has been forgotten.

    2. "Queen Elizabeth I did say that she didn't wish to see into men's souls"

      It was Francis Bacon that said it of Queen Elizabeth I, twice: in a letter that he drafted in the late 1580s for the man whose secretary he then was, Sir Francis Walsingham, and then on his own in an essay he wrote some years into the reign of James I. However, he did not write that she didn't wish to make windows into men's "souls," but into their "hearts" (their private religious predilections or preferences), which may be a rather different thing.

    3. Thank you, Dr Tighe, for your erudition. That's the trouble when quoting from vague recollection!

      There may not be much difference between men's hearts and souls, but I defer to anybody wiser who can explain if there is.

  4. "I've dealt enough with the Papacy..."

    A shame that you don't actually mean this. Could you hold yourself to only one spittle-flecked rant against Rome a fortnight? I doubt it. You seem to have more passion about this than anything else. Let this obsession go---it does you no good. If you wish to be Eastern Orthodox, then become Eastern Orthodox. Standing outside the gates of Rome ranting and shaking your fist is no way to live.

    1. Some nights I stay at home (that is, away from this forum), with a...I was going to say glass but let's be honest...a bottle of wine and drink to the good things in life. But I have to say I prefer the time I spend here fighting against this total wickedness and ultimate stupidity, even if it means that I am largely ignored. Because if I didn't criticise Popery from the positions that I do, who on earth would? It seems to me that your position, since my criticisms shake the foundations of your belief in this system, is that it would be better for me to shut up and go away.

    2. I'm afraid they shake nothing. Do you think you're the only one who rails against Rome, for a whole host of reasons? Get in the queue. But it is not good for you. And as a non-communicant of any church today, you only appear haunted by your departure from the church you now hate.

      Find a new home if you hate your old home. Tell us about the beauty and truth and goodness that emanate from your new home. Even tell us more about that stubborn old papist, Tolkien. Look at Fr Anthony down there in Normandy. Does he bother with Rome much these days, between his new church and his sailing?

    3. "I'm afraid they shake nothing." All right then. Are my criticisms invalid? Are they mistaken? Maybe I have been questioning these things under a misapprehension and I have made a serious mistake. Because if not, your position seems tyrannical to me. It is but to say: "you are wrong, you are prejudiced, your misgivings are of no worth whatever."

      If the Bible is reduced to the Roman interpretation of Matthew 16:18, and the Creeds to "I believe in the Pope," fine. But prove it! But I'm afraid I stand by the question that this post asks: what is there to like?

    4. And you completely missed my point. I had said: "Because if I didn't criticise Popery

      *****from the positions that I do"*****

      I can think of a number of atheist, secularist, non-Roman Catholic, &c, &c, critics of the Papacy that would make little of my criticisms, or focus instead upon papal supremacy and how it impacted upon secular things like advancement in science, medicine and philosophy. I focus rather upon how it impacts upon the internal life of the RCc. If you want, I could make a whole new list of past sins and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Roman church when it was dominant in Europe. Secret trials, torture, ghettos, Ireland's theocracy which every bit justified the Ulster Protestant fear that "home rule means Rome rule." And sweet old Ratzinger, the silent assassin of Tradition, who covered up case after case of wicked, paedophile clergy. No wonder he retired to a monastery safe within the Vatican walls!

      I'm sorry but anyone prepared to defend the Roman Catholic church without first falling to his knees and BEGGING forgiveness in absolute contrition for the sins of that church can sod off.

  5. Do you think Tolkien was a blasphemer or just ignorant?

    "I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and re-arising."

    "But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place."

    "An increase in 'charity' is an enormous gain. As Christians those faithful to the Vicar of Christ must put aside the resentments that as mere humans they feel – e.g. at the 'cockiness' of our
    new friends (esp. C of E)."

    "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."

  6. Thank you for your lengthy and thorough response.