Saturday 26 December 2009

A question

Having just read through these 'evangelistic' testimonies of born-again atheists on Richard Dawkins' site, I am struck by the similarity of style in most, if not all, of the contributions.
Does this strike anyone else?
I am sure that Professor Dawkins would not do anything so dishonest as have one person write all these entries!

Tuesday 22 December 2009


Holy Mass will offered by Fr Nicholas Schofield for the repose of the souls of David and Dora Foster at 1245 on Tuesday 29th December in the Little Oratory. David Foster was the founder of the International Summer School for Young Catholics (now renamed Christ the King Summer School). The 29th December is the first anniversary of his death. The Mass of the feast of St Thomas à Becket will be said in the Extraordinary Form.

Monday 14 December 2009

The Eyeglass

Fr Tim the Continuous Hermenaut has blogged about eyeglasses (also known as monocles). It reminded me of a visit I made with a friend to a very remarkable priest in Normandy called Fr Quentin (or perhaps Quintin) Montgomery-Wright.

A convert clergyman, who had served as an Anglican at St Augustine's Kilburn (I think), his home being Mevagissey in Cornwall, on his conversion he had joined the diocese of Evreux in Normandy, and had been made, in the 1950s the Curé of the village of Le Chamblac and a couple of surrounding clochers.

Initially, he had been very enthused by the Liturgical Movement. Well before it was legal, he had turned his altar around and (like a few daring others) was celebrating Mass in French. He told me that his fellow priests in the deanery had accused him of being 'scarcely Catholic'. About 1967, he had found the general disintegration of things uncongenial, and, being told that nobody actually obliged him to celebrate in French, had returned to Latin, facing East on his forward-altar, and never again changed his mind.

He never entirely allied himself with Archbishop Lefevbre, though he was willing enough to have confirmations administered by the Archbishop (and also by his consecratees after the events of 1988). The famous heterodox bishop of Evreux, Jacques Gaillot, had been kind to Montgomery-Wright (no doubt thinking that if his own strange views ought to be tolerated, then so should those of others) and had not disturbed him in his parish, but a change in diocesan boundaries had landed him in another diocese where things were not so peaceable. Nonetheless he was left (more or less) alone until he tragically died in a car crash (he was a truly frightening driver, as I well remember).

His kindness has left an impression on my memory. Not only did he find room for me and my friend for a week in his ramshackle presbytery, but he also found more or less permanent room for a Downs-Syndrome man called Christian. He also sent me away with a bottle of glorious rough Calvados from some local farmer which has set up a taste for the stuff in me which has never since been satisfied by the stuff peddled in the UK, (usually laced with disgusting caramel…don't start me!)

(A ring at the door interrupted my flow: I have just had a most interesting conversation with a woman who lived in Holland during and after the Second World War).

Finally, while I was with Fr M-W, the thought struck me that here in Le Chamblac was a priest who had celebrated the traditional rites pretty continuously from the 1950s until the 1990s. Here, if anywhere, was the 'control' for the liturgical and pastoral experiment of those years. What might the Church have been like had the changes not happened? So I asked him about religious practice in his parish. Had as many ceased to come to Mass during the last thirty or forty years as had done so elsewhere? His answer was that two families had ceased to attend in Le Chamblac, but that they went instead to the French Mass in the next parish. Other than that, all families practised as they had before.

Maybe he was simply a loving and good pastor (I thought that, in any event). But I think that the figures speak for themselves.

[Rather shamefacedly] May I credit Fr Anthony Chadwick as being the source of this photo. I had assumed that, being on the internet, it was a generally available pic, and have found that this is not so from his charitable observation on the Anglo Catholic blog (ref. left). I thank him warmly for his permission to post.

Sunday 13 December 2009


Over on Andrew Cusack's blog (link to the left) I think I have seen my favourite picture (to date) of Pope Benedict.

The occasion was the crowning of the statue of the Immaculata in the Piazza di Spagna.

In this second picture, from the same place, you can see, on the left, a gentleman in very Islamic costume. Puzzling? No doubt he was a diplomat from some Islamic state, but it is a reminder that the Moslems also believe (I am told) in our Lady's Immaculate Conception.

Friday 11 December 2009


For some strange reason, Orwell's Picnic and Australian Catholic have banned me from access to their blogs, despite me having advertised them for some time.
Funny old world.


I'm sorry that many of you who kindly contributed comments didn't have them approved and posted until a couple of minutes ago; for some reason the normal information didn't arrive by email as it usually does, and I wasn't aware the comments were there.
All is now amended and posted (apart from some nasty pornographic advertisements in Japanese-thank you, Google Translator!)

Tuesday 8 December 2009

I think we should be told……

Are the grande dame of Catholic journalism, Mary Kenny, and the other sort of dame, Edna Everage, by any chance related? I think we should be told.

Dame Edna

Dame Mary

(Or perhaps Mary Kenny needs a new photograph in the Catholic Herald.)

P.S. No offence intended. I love Mary Kenny's writing!

Monday 7 December 2009


The LMS is running another course at Ushaw, near Durham, to help priests learn to celebrate the extraordinary form. They have asked me to publicize this, but there seems little point in repeating what is already on other sites, so if you would like to find out more, you might consult Fr Ray's blog here.

Sunday 6 December 2009


This week's Tablet carries two letters, one of which I richly enjoyed, the other I didn't.

Here's a bit from the one I did enjoy:
…I have often wondered why otherwise intelligent people spend so much time and energy writing about an entity that they are sure does not exist. Richard Dawkins, for instance, regales us with theologically spurious treatises on the non-existence of God. He is a brilliant scientist and I am an admirer of his scientific books, but why doesn't he stick to what he knows or believes to be true? Why does he waste his valuable time on things he considers non-existent or untrue? Can we expect a Dawkins book on the tooth fairy some time soon?
(Dr) Frances Dawburn
As they say on the net, LOL.

Here's the other:
While admiring the erudite and theological expertise of Rowan Williams' article in last week's Tablet, ("A gender divide - or not?" 28 November), I still believe that the male and masculine influence does women an insulting, patronising disservice.
The Church [capitalization original] I belong to is in an inclusive "Catholic" tradition with a rich eucharistic pattern of worship, based on the Christian year and fed by a wonderful choral tradition. The parish has a curate who happens to be a woman, and whose sense of priestly vocation is affirmed, loved and encouraged by most of the congregation. Soon another female curate will join the clergy team, and she will experience the same love and acceptance.
[brace yourselves!]
There are no bibilical or theological reasons for denying women in today's Church the right to be called by God to priestly ordination. Those who seek to perpetuate the view that because women happen to be women they cannot be called by God to this ministry are deluded not by theology or ecclesiology but by stubborn prejudice, fear, and other psychological issues.
David Redrobe

Let us be clear; this is an Anglican writing in a Catholic journal about the Catholic Church. I do not deny that there may be some—a few—Catholics who would applaud his words, but for sheer unecumenical jingoistic cheek this takes some beating!

Apparently, every Christian for one thousand nine hundred and fifty years has been deluded by stubborn prejudice or fear, or is a nutcase. Now, it appears, magically as from a deus ex machina, the truth has descended on this privileged group, and it is WE who are the nuts, our views held by the majority of Christendom still and the same throughout all our history, we who have no theology, no ecclesiology, but are simply screwballs!

Here we are, back in the sixteenth century; a new innovation that appears to override all other considerations in the Gospel, a 'truth' that overrides all other doctrines and marginalizes them.
Women can be priests, and those who say that they cannot are stupid, or don't know any theology, or are mad.

I'd write more, but I must go to Benediction.

Friday 4 December 2009

Retirement: Archbishop Kevin McDonald

At the seminary this morning, in between my two hour-long lectures (to the same class, poor chaps), a notice was posted announcing the resignation of the Most Reverend Kevin McDonald, the Archbishop of Southwark, by reason of his continuing ill health. We wish him a happy retirement, and greatly improved health.

Meanwhile, another major see is up for filling………

Saturday 28 November 2009

Selling ICEL

As we begin the first Sunday of Advent, it is not without a certain amount of pleasure that I reflect that by this time next year, God willing, we will be consigning our 1975 ICEL Missals to the same dusty corner of the sacristy that used to house the old Latin Missal. As I begin the collect tomorrow, I shall be comforted by the thought that I will be using it for the last time.
Tactics over the next twelve months, though, will be crucial if there is not to be chaos. There are bound to be problems, but not all of them are unavoidable.
Some undesirable things will certainly happen. Some, perhaps many, priests (and even bishops?) will change the translation into something they like better. 'For you and for many', I can see not being used universally. And some collects and other texts have not been translated as well as they might (I'm told that the collect for the First Sunday of Advent is a case in point). Musical settings of the current translation (or paraphrases thereof) are not going to be dropped overnight.
But I hope that our bishops have learned from what happened in South Africa, where the change was introduced all of a sudden, and caused confusion and annoyance. That could easily happen here, and a widespread revolt on the topic is not impossible.
The Catholic Herald tells us that there is a plan for a phased introduction of the new version. That is a good idea. I understand from another source that the proposed plan involves the introduction, first, of the 'and with your spirit' response, in June, then, every three or four weeks, introducing another element until, by the first Sunday of Advent, the whole lot should be in place. Not a bad idea (though see my suggestion below). Unfortunately, according to a Source Close to Fruitcake House, the bishops have decided against this, but without proposing anything else. They are simply scared of the reaction to the introduction of the new missal, and don't know what to do.
Like many things, the longer you leave them, the worse the problem will become. We are not in 1970 any more, and the chance of a smooth, universally-observed implementation of the new missal is slim. We must be prepared for the fact that there is likely to be considerable liturgical divergence (perhaps even chaos) from parish to parish for a long time. Some parishes will use the new missal straight (I will). Others will modify it a little or a lot. Others will still continue to use 1975 to a greater or lesser extent. But it will settle down eventually, and if the bishops act decisively now, the period of chaos will be reduced.
I personally think that a graded introduction is a good idea. But I would start from the other end, with the priestly prayers, in fact, with the Eucharistic prayers, specifically EP3, which I think is the most satisfactory of the translations. The purpose of this is to introduce the people to the register of the new translations; they will grow to understand what it sounds like, and feels like, before being required to adjust to putting it into practice themselves.
Somebody is producing catechetical material for the introduction; I'm not sure how necessary this is, but I do hope (forlornly) that the bishops will not again put a monopoly for publication into the hands of one company (though I've heard that one applicant for the right to publish has produced an absolutely beautiful altar missal). In particular, during the period of reception, I hope that the bishops' conference will permit parishes to download, adapt and produce their own material without fear of getting into trouble—okay, frankly, what I would like is for the bishops to just let each parish priest get on with introducing the material to his own parishioners in the way he thinks it will work best for the people he knows, the process to have been completed in a year's time.
Finally, I hope that a longer period will be permitted for the introduction of new music: if we have to stop using (almost) everything we use now, in terms of Mass settings, then we will be compelled to either have said Masses, or to accepting whatever stuff is produced fastest.

Friday 27 November 2009

Can I help?

If any Anglican priest would like to speak to a Papist priest in confidence (and be heard with sympathy, as I hope my preceding posts have indicated), they need only leave their contact details in the combox, and I will respond (naturally without publicizing their communication).
I should add that I have no influence whatever with the hierarchy. But I can listen, and may even be able to help.
This is inspired by a third-hand report of somebody who didn't know where to turn to, and who has no experience of the RC Church.

Monday 23 November 2009

Whither Ecumenism?

One is now, of course, left with the important question: what is ecumenism?

There is loud condemnation of Pope Benedict in certain quarters for his ‘unecumenical’ hostile act in issuing Anglicanorum Cœtibus. Mostly these would seem to be Anglican liberals (such as the Bishop of Oxford, as excoriated by Fr Hunwicke), but there are those who feel the same way in the Catholic Church also.

If you have been following this blog, you will know that I take the opposite view, that the genuinely ecumenical convergence that has been taking place since, well, the Assize sermon, 1833, I suppose, and which has been given textual expression by the ARCIC documents, has now been brought to its profoundly ecumenical conclusion. The difficulty is that it did not take account of the other thread that has also been growing over much the same period.I am referring, of course, to the liberal movement within Christianity.

One of the early proto-Christian-liberals was the famous Richard Whately, (1787—1863), Oxford Don, (Anglican) Archbishop of Dublin, and ancestor of Kevin Whately, the actor who plays Sergeant, then Inspector, Lewis on TV. Newman fought him robustly, and was very clear about the danger that liberalism posed: in fact he regarded the foundation of the Dublin Catholic University as being an important continuation of his opposition to Whately. Newman's own attitude to Liberalism is summed up in his famous ‘Biglietto Speech’, after he had received his red hat:

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. {65} Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man's religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.

Liberalism was given a considerable fillip by the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, together with all its attendant publicity. This affected the Church of England far more than it did the Catholic Church, though the latter did not escape entirely (StGeorge Mivart being a good example). No doubt it was the biblical literalism, still a feature in the CofE—the spirit of of Bishop Ussher had not yet entirely departed—, that caused the real loss of faith. This was succeeded by the ‘higher criticism’ of the German biblical schools, which implied that even the Bible could not entirely be trusted as a guide to truth. If the Bible were not self-interpreting, then where were the grounds for faith?

The Church of England and the government made life very difficult for the nascent Anglo-Catholic movement (some clergy were even imprisoned for ritualism), but liberalism met very little opposition. No doubt this was partly due to the national superstition that if one simply maintained outward uniformity (Book of Common Prayer, Authorized Version of the Bible) then what one believed didn’t really matter so much—the CofE had survived for centuries that way. The Anglo-Catholics did not just hold doctrines in common with Romanists (against whom, though, they still defined themselves), but many of them abandoned the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglo-Catholic Missal or the English Missal—simply, translations of the Roman Rite. This was seen as anathema, or at least as close to an anathema as the Church of England would pronounce.

But the tide was now flowing strongly the other way. The first half of the twentieth century saw a steady progression of the Catholic movement in the Church of England, at least in terms of the outward expression of Catholicism. Bishops began to abandon their aprons and gaiters and assume croziers and mitres. But alongside the wheat of Catholicism, and sometimes with it, grew the tares of liberalism. The publication in 1922 of Foundations: A Statement of Christian Belief in Terms of Modern Thought: By Seven Oxford Men (brilliantly satirized by Ronald Knox in Some Loose Stones) sought to promote and explain what the Catholic Church had now condemned as Modernism. It is significant that one of the seven authors of Foundations, William Temple, went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

In the Catholic Church, following the condemnations of Modernism in Pascendi and Lamentabili Sane under Pope St Pius X, liberalism had gone underground; one of its few manifestations (in a rather odd way) perhaps being the work of Teilhard de Chardin (and perhaps that of Annibale Bugnini). But liberalism had not disappeared, because it had not disappeared from the world, and Catholics are not hermetically sealed from the world. We are not Amish. It simply awaited its time.

The Second Vatican Council was crucial in all this. To most Anglicans, it seemed as if Rome finally was answering some of the reasons why they were not Roman Catholics. They had always claimed to be ‘Catholic and Reformed’; well, here was the Catholic Church seeming to accept many of the original (1519) objections of Martin Luther, and finally ending its four-hundred-year-old sulk, abandoning its aloofness and joining the human race once more.

To some in the Catholic Church, the Council was a great opportunity to revolutionize the faith. There were, after all, two councils; one of bishops in the Aula of St Peter’s, and the other of periti and journalists in the bars of the Borgo. This meant that by the time the bishops had returned to their sees, the council had already been interpreted to their dioceses by the newspapers. They were being told what they really meant by what they had actually said. 'The use of Latin in the Western Rites must be maintained' really meant 'Latin must entirely disappear'. And that sudden sense of liberation, of fresh air, of daring to do the previously-unthinkable, inspired the same bishops as they returned for later sessions and caused a wave of optimism whose reverberations have still not entirely subsided. It created a whole new generation of liberals within the Catholic Church who have become increasingly disappointed as the old dogmatic approach lives on and now appears to thrive.

So, you have a partially liberal Catholic Church, with dogmaticals in the driving seat, and a partially dogmatic Anglican Church with liberals in the driving seat. These (or rather, their carefully-chosen delegates) sat down together to thrash out some common statements in the process known as the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, or ARCIC. And because dogma is important to a sense of Catholicism, then dogma must be discussed.

Through all the ARCIC period, Anglo-Catholicism experienced a grave decline from its strong position, its moral high ground being captured by the Evangelicals, but the liberals becoming the strongest element in the Church of England and in other parts of the Anglican Communion. The then-apparent pro-liberal stance and direction of the Catholic Church did a lot to undermine the position of the Anglo-Catholics, who were not quite sure where they stood now. In the 1970s, though, they were not quite dead, and played a strong and enthusiastic role in the ARCIC discussions. Catholic ornaments and style of liturgy were nearly ubiquitous by now, and when combined with a liberal theology, you get the phenomenon now known as ‘Affirming Catholicism’: no longer is there an objection to calling a presbyter a ‘priest’, but the ‘priest’ might well be a woman.

No doubt because of the participation of Anglo-Catholics and a couple of Evangelicals, ARCIC on the whole assumed that dogma is important: liberalism, however, sees it as an obstacle. I'm not sure what part liberals played in ARCIC.

In one sense, liberalism is a natural consequence of a Protestant approach to dogma: if I can decide it for myself, having made prayerful deductions from the Bible and maybe other sources, then it is inescapable that others will differ from me. We can’t all be right! So, perhaps dogma doesn’t matter so much. There will be those who think that we need to maintain a number of core dogmas (no doubt Rowan Williams would be one of these), and others who think that all attempts to approach God are fluid and unknowable, so will cheerfully shade their opinions into those of other religions. And no two sets of opinions will be the same.

This liberal approach, paradoxically, does not free those who hold these views from dispute or argument. But about the only thing they can all agree on is that the dogmatic approach—that there is a real objective revelation that can be known with sufficient certainty to invite the response of faith—is anathema, and people simply quietly holding the dogmatic position can reduce a gentle liberal to the likeness of a red-faced, spluttering fascist.

The hymn writer, Fred Kaan, in his 1965 hymn ‘For the healing of the nations’ expresses the liberal position quite well:

All that kills abundant living,

let it from the earth be banned;

pride of status, race, or schooling,

dogmas keeping man from man. (now, of course, altered to ‘dogmas that obscure your plan’)

In our common quest for justice

may we hallow life’s brief span.

You, creator-God, have written

your great name on all mankind (—humankind)

for our growing in your likeness

bring the life of Christ to mind,

that by our response and service

earth its destiny may find.

It’s hardly Shakespeare, though, is it?

Earth is given a strange status in liberalism; the Creator is replaced by his creation as the focus of our interest and energy, and good causes replace piety. Whether it’s revolution in Latin America, or global warming, or gay whales for nuclear disarmament, liberals express their need for the transcendent in the world here and now. For Christian liberals, God may be there in the mixture, but he is not the focus, rather the one who stands alongside humankind in the battle to make a better world. In a sense, it is the real works-righteousness that classical Protestants hate. The natural allies of the liberals are not their fellow (dogmatic) Christians, but secularists, humanists. It is the dogmaticals who are seen as the enemy.

In any revolution, there are always moderates—those who support the revolution in a moderate way, but still do not want utterly to wipe out all vestiges of the former regime. The revolutionaries are happy to make use of these people, but as soon as they actually achieve power, these ‘running dogs’ are the next to face the firing squad after supporters of the old regime. There were many clergy in Russia who supported the Revolution, but they soon went the same way as the Tsarists. Should the atheist secularists win the day, the liberals should not trust that those they thought friends will remain that way.

'Did we not go on marches together? Did we not condemn homophobes, bigots, pro-lifers with you? Did we not vote Green? Did we not recycle?'

'So what?' Bang!

So where does that leave us? Well, here we are in the world of Anglicanorum Cœtibus. Two groups of dogmaticals have agreed to combine, and it will be a combination that will be highly resistant to liberalism. No wonder liberals are spitting feathers, both in the Catholic and the Anglican communions. To them, ecumenism is the process not of common definitions of dogma, but the eradication of dogma, or at least its reduction to a set of core values, as Rowan Williams suggested in Rome the other day. To most liberals, of course, even this definition would seem too dogmatic.

Is there a future for ecumenism, then? Well yes, there has to be, but I am afraid that for a while it is likely to be a dialogue of the deaf. Future ARCICs will need to be not about the content of our faith, but about the significance that dogma itself has for the Christian faith.

It is my belief that liberalism will now wither quite rapidly without orthodoxy to feed it: in my experience, liberalism is sterile; it cannot reproduce itself. Few people are converted from unbelief to liberal faith; liberals are usually those who have believed dogmatically (to a greater or lesser extent), and for whatever reason, have ceased to profess it with the same energy. This is why the devotion they formerly gave to God is now devoted to causes; it fills the space God used to fill. Their fellow cause-devotees, secular liberals, do not see what God adds to the stances with which they are already happy, so, on the whole, I’m afraid that I can only see accelarated decline now for the Church of England. It is no longer the Conservative Party at prayer, but a spiritual version of New Labour. And we all know where New Labour is going.

Re-reading this, I am struck by its illiteracy. I wrote it (stream-of-consciousness-style) during a busy morning, when I had no time to revise it, and had to post it straight away because of the imminent arrival of a visitor. I think I stand by the content, however, and am not keen to start tinkering.

Vatican Radio

Having just bought yet another iPhone app promising to be able to receive billions of radio stations, I find that it, too, refuses to recognize Vatican Radio, to which I would like to listen. Has anyone out there succeeded in finding an app that will let me listen to VR?

Sunday 22 November 2009


I have heard a few (and only a few) people coming from all corners of the Catholic opinion-scale a certain apprehension concerning the forthcoming flood (or trickle) of new brethren from the Anglican tradition. Those on the more traditional wing might well be reassured by reading this passionate article from the States. I suppose that those on the more liberal wing won't be reassured!
In the end, Anglicans have been free (this deriving from the Protestant part of their patrimony) to find their own acceptable doctrinal cocktail. So the example I have linked to is only one example of what one community have arrived at, their position being considerably leavened with Catholicism. Other communities have their own acceptable cocktail. But the writer touches a very important point. It is the authority of the Church to teach that is missing: the lack of this is what has caused the disunity and the problems. If this is a common feature of our new brethren, then I think all will be fine.
Where there is a willingness to accept the authority of the Church as the living voice of our Lord, ('He who listens to you listens to me' Lk 10:16) I think the rest of the faith will follow in due course.

Friday 20 November 2009

Canterbury and Rome

I have only time for a quick comment on the Archbishop of Canterbury's talk in Rome. It seems to me that this illustrates just perfectly what the real problem is here. He thinks like a Protestant and is unable to grasp why we think differently, or even that we think differently. The process of getting to what we believe is different. For him, doctrine is derived by a Christian prayerfully contemplating the scriptures, using his reason and consulting tradition, and making his mind up on what he should believe. Naturally, one has either to accept that one's co-religionists might differ to a greater or lesser extent, or else one must break away and form yet another sect. Anglicanism has generally preferred the former position of tolerance of others' doctrinal conclusions, and here it is elaborated once more. It's as if Rowan Williams had said:
'Why can't we just settle down into one big family, members of which look at doctrine in different ways; sure, there are doctrines that might be beyond the pale, but I don't see that, for instance, the ordination of women is such that we can't live with our divergent views on it. We all need to grow and learn together.'
But, Dr Williams, the Catholic (and indeed Orthodox) Church doesn't ask what divergent views it can live with. It asks is this the faith that we have received from the Apostles? Is this what our fathers believed? If you can grasp that, then you will understand why we do as we do, say what we say, and believe what we believe, and why we can't live with diversity on issues that impact directly on the Sacraments.

I hope I'm not doing him an injustice; for the sake of fairness to the Archbishop, I should observe that I have not been able to read his whole talk yet, but only extracts. I will try and find time to read it properly after the extremely busy forthcoming weekend.

I've also just discovered that Fr Ray has said almost the same thing!

Thursday 19 November 2009

Crucifix Wars

It seems that Poland, Italy and Greece are girding their loins to take on the EU over the scandalous order to remove crucifixes from classrooms. Good for them!
Read about it here.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Religion and its place in civil society

The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, a couple of weeks ago, delivered the annual Theos lecture, in which he robustly confronted the creeping aggressive hostility towards religion in Europe. It is very well worth a read, and you can find it here (in pdf form). I don't go along with everything, but there is much very good stuff indeed.

I reproduce the talk below: I hope this will not infringe any restrictions—if I have done so, please let me know and I will withdraw it.

The talk addressed three questions:

1. Why has religion survived?

2. What is its place in the liberal democratic state?

3. What are the opportunities and imperatives for the future?

2009 Annual Theos Lecture

Religion in Twenty-First Century Britain

Lord Sacks of Aldgate

4 November 2009


1. Why has religion survived?

Let me begin, not in the twenty-first century, but quite deliberately in the nineteenth, in an encounter which I regard in retrospect as one of the most significant of modern times.

The year is 1830 and a very bright young French diplomat called Alexis de Tocqueville visits America to see for himself this new kind of society, and what he sees astonishes him. He comes from a Europe in which religion is dying, presumed dead - every self-respecting French and indeed Continental intellectual believed that in 1830. Laplace had already said when asked “What is the place of religion in your system?” he replied “Je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse” (I don’t need religion to explain the universe.) and Tocqueville was going to a country which in the First Amendment had made a principled

separation of Church and state. And what he saw when he first went to America was extraordinary. America, he discovered, was a very religious country indeed.

This is what he wrote in 1832:

Eighteenth century philosophers had a very simple explanation for

the gradual weakening of beliefs. Religious zeal, they said, was

bound to die down as enlightenment and freedom spread. It is

tiresome, that the facts do not fit that theory at all.

This year, 179 years later, the editor and the Washington correspondent of The Economist, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, published a book entitled God is Back - in effect saying exactly the same thing as de Tocqueville had said

all those decades earlier. Everywhere, except in Europe, religion is growing – from the mega churches of America to China, where the weekly attendance at church services is far more than the membership of the Communist Party.

So here, despite more than a century of atheism - from Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ to Matthew Arnold’s ‘melancholy, long withdrawing roar of the retreating tide of faith’ all the way to today’s angry atheists, whom I call the intellectual’s equivalent

of road rage – all the way, through all of that, God is back and Europe as a whole still doesn’t get it.

It is our biggest single collective cultural and intellectual blind spot. In fact - and here is an extreme example but it is an extraordinary one - some people today who are most convinced that religion is irrational and altogether outmoded, are

nonetheless queuing up to get their children into faith schools. And they still don’t fully understand the contradiction.

The survival of religion in the twenty-first century cuts across some of our most basic intellectual assumptions. After all, how can anyone still need religion if: to explain the universe we have science; to control the universe we have technology; to negotiate power we have politics; to achieve prosperity we have economics. If you’re ill you go to a doctor, not a priest. If you feel guilty, you go to a psycho-therapist, not to confession. If you are depressed you take Prozac and not the book of Psalms. And if you seek salvation you go to our new cathedrals, namely shopping centres, where you can buy happiness at extremely competitive prices.

So why has religion survived? The answer is – to cut through several volumes of potential literature - that homo-sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal. Alone among life forms we ask the big questions. Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? And to understand why these are religious questions, consider the four alternatives that the last two or three centuries have produced:

i. The market

ii. The state

iii. Science

iv. Philosophy

i. The market

The market of course gives us choices, but it cannot tell us which choices to make. The market fails to deal – or in principle, and I think rightly, refuses to deal - with what are called ‘second order evaluations’. We have wants, appetites, desires, but we are also capable of standing back and passing judgement on those desires; between those we feel that we may or ought to satisfy and those we feel we ought not to satisfy. Economics, in principle, does not deal with second order evaluation. The market tells us the price of things; it does not in principle think of telling us the value of things. The market is at best neutral

toward, and at worst destructive of, some of the fundamental values on which society depends: values like loyalty, and honesty, and responsibility, and social solidarity. And in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008 and the scandal of

MPs’ expenses I don’t think I need to labour the point; there are no meanings in markets.

ii. Politics and the state

What singles out liberal democratic politics from all others, what makes liberal democracy quite different from Athenian democracy (the democracy of Athens in the fourth century before the Christian era) is very simple. In Athens, the citizen

served the state; in liberal democracy the state serves the citizens. In Athens, the state embodied the good, the noble and the true; in liberal democracy the state delivers services in return for taxes. For us, politics is managerial and procedural

and it is built on the principle, again rightly I think, that morality is my business and not the business of the state.

So there are no meanings in liberal democratic politics either. And this is not, incidentally, a failing; I think this is what makes them the great institutions they are.

iii. Science

What then about science? Again, the answer is quite simply no, and that, as a simple matter of intellectual principle. Science studies causes not purposes. And they are completely different ways of thinking. Science, to explain any event, must look back because a cause always precedes its effect. So a scientist seeking to explain something is always looking at what preceded it. When it comes to purposes - meaningful behaviour - always what explains my act is not something in the past, but something in the not-yet-realised future, which I believe my act will bring about or bring nearer. So, they are different kinds of intellectual activity.

Again, to gloss over another few books, my way of putting it - the simplest I’ve come up with – is this: science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean. And that is the fundamental difference between the two. I don’t have any argument with science at all, but they are different kinds of activity and you will not find meaning in science. Of course, some of the great scientists - Steve Weinberg in particular - have been very eloquent on this point.

iv. Philosophy

Finally, philosophy. I have to say that I didn’t begin wanting to be a Rabbi, I began wanting to be a philosopher. I got to know the late Isaiah Berlin quite well towards the end of his life, and I always remember the first conversation we had in our home, he said “Chief Rabbi, whatever you do, don’t talk to me about religion. When it comes to God I am tone deaf!” He said, “What I can’t understand about you is you studied philosophy at Cambridge and Oxford, how is it you believe?” and I said, “Sir Isaiah, if it helps, think of me as a lapsed heretic”. “Quite understand, dear boy,” he said. And that actually is the truth. I gave up philosophy because at that particular time when I was studying it, Philosophy had declared as a matter of principle that the search for meaning is in itself meaningless. And because we cannot, to remain human, give up that search for meaning, I gave up philosophy instead. I might add one particular point – although I still do teach, read and admire it - there is a footnote I would like to add, that I think people don’t fully understand.

As we know, there are some people who believe still in the twenty-first century that God is an old man, with a long white beard and his name is Charles Darwin. Now, people think that Darwin refuted religion. As a matter of fact, Darwin did nothing of the kind. What Darwin refuted was Aristotelian science, on which a great deal of Christian theology, what is called Natural Theology, was based. Aristotle believed that there were purposes in nature, and by studying nature you could discover the purpose in things. That never was a Jewish belief – it happens to be a belief of a certain kind of synthesis between Hellenism and Christianity. So, actually, the new science is more of a challenge to a certain kind of philosophy than it is to religious belief. And I don’t know anyone who has said that.

So, if we search for meaning, we will not in the twenty-first century find it in the market, in the state, in science or in philosophy. It is that principled abdication of the search for meaning by the four great institutions of modernity that has created the space which religion has returned to fill, and which indeed it always did fill. In Stephen Hawking’s words “Religion is about the thing that breathes fire into the equations.” In Karl Marx’s words “Religion is the heart of a heartless world.” It is our last best hope if we seek to find meaning, as people in the Abrahamic monotheisms have always tried to do, in concepts like freedom, justice, human dignity, compassion, love, forgiveness and hope. I think it was Philip Larkin in his very famous poem Church Going - a man who had lost belief, but nonetheless put it best - speaking of the church, as you remember, he said:

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognised, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete,

Since someone will forever be surprising

A hunger in himself to be more serious.

And that is why religion will never be obsolete, so long as we continue to be the meaning-seeking animals. That is why religion survived.

2. What is the place of religion in the liberal democratic state?

Again, the best answer was given by Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville was absolutely fascinated by what gave religion such power in America in the 1830s. And he describes how this was a puzzle to him and he asked people including, above all, clergy. The answer they all gave him – this was 1830, don’t forget – the answer they all gave him was: “Religion has influence in America because it never gets involved in politics.” He asked them why, and they replied, “Because politics is divisive, and if religion ever got involved in partisan politics, it too would be divisive”. And that was true then, and it remains true today.

What then did he see religion doing in the United States? He saw that it sanctified the family, that it created community, that it encouraged philanthropy, that it built schools, that it taught responsibility, that it brought people together for the common good. It created what Tocqueville called “the art of association” and another beautiful phrase, “habits of the heart,” which he described as “the essential apprenticeship in liberty.” He saw religion as the essential counterbalance to what he described – again 180 years ago - as “the greatest danger facing America.” It was a new phenomenon in those days and he had to invent a word to describe it, and the word he invented was ‘individualism’.

He in other words saw that religion was the counterweight to individualism, and because of that it sustained a free and democratic society. In the terminology of today, we would say that religion sustained the third sector that is not the state, that is not the market but it is civil society. Here are two little passages from Tocqueville when he says just this (it’s an eloquent little book, and I re-read it every year), he says: “In the United States, religion exercises but little influence on the laws and upon the details of public opinion, but it directs the customs of the community, and by regulating domestic life, it regulates the state”. And again in the introduction to Democracy in America:

Liberty regards religion as its companion in all its battles, and all its

triumphs - as the cradle of its infancy and the divine course of its

claims. It considers religion as the safeguard of morality and morality

as the best security of law and the surest pledge of the duration of


So, we would expect, if Tocqueville got it right, to be able to test that in practice. If Tocqueville was right, then we would expect any society in which religion declines, in that society, civil society would decline. Families would become fragile, marriages would decline, communities would atrophy, society would cease to have a shared morality. And by those tests, 100 years later, Tocqueville got it exactly right.

Now I am going to do something here which is deliberately provocative, but why should the angry atheists get all the best tunes? So let me give you two very provocative examples; let me begin with the neo-Darwinians. After all, it’s their year – the 200th anniversary of Darwin and 150th of The Origin of Species. I haven’t seen this argument ever presented before; a five step neo-Darwinian refutation of neo-Darwinism.

1. A person is, in Richard Dawkins’ beautiful phrase, “a gene’s way of making another gene”. So forget religion, forget values, forget ideals, its all about reproduction; handing on our genes to the next generation.

2. Europe today is the most secular region in the world.

3. Europe today is the only region in the world which is experiencing population decline. As you know, zero population growth – a stable population – requires an average of 2.1 children for every woman of child-bearing age in the population. Not one European country has anything like that rate today. Here are the 2004 figures: In the United Kingdom: 1.74, in the Netherlands: 1.73, Germany: 1.37, Italy: 1.33, Spain: 1.32 and Greece: 1.29.

4. Wherever you turn today anywhere in the world, and whether you look at the Jewish or Christian or Muslim communities, you will find the more religious the community, the larger, on average, are its families.

5. The major assault on religion today comes from the neo-Darwinians. From which it follows, as night doth follow day, that if you are a true neo- Darwinian believer you want there to be as few neo-Darwinians as possible. QED.

Now, actually, it sounds like a joke, but beneath it, is a very serious point indeed. Parenthood involves massive sacrifice: of money, attention, time and emotional energy. Where today, in European culture with its consumerism and its instant gratification ‘because you’re worth it’, in that culture, where will you find space for the concept of sacrifice for the sake of generations not yet born? Europe, at least the indigenous population of Europe, is dying, exactly as Polybius said about ancient Greece in the third pre-Christian century. The century that is intellectually the closest to our own – the century of the sceptics and the epicureans and the cynics. Polybius wrote this:

The fact is, that the people of Hellas had entered upon the false path

of ostentation, avarice and laziness, and were therefore becoming

unwilling to marry, or if they did marry, to bring up the children born to

them; the majority were only willing to bring up at most one or two.

That is why Greece died. That is where Europe is today.

Now, that is one of the un-sayable truths of our time. We are undergoing the moral equivalent of climate change and no one is talking about it. Albert Camus once said that the only serious philosophical question is “Why should I not commit suicide?” I think he was wrong. The only serious philosophical question is “Why should I have a child?” And our culture is not giving a very easy answer to that question.

The second un-sayable proposition: At the end of his famous 1957 lecture, Two Concepts of Liberty, one of the great statement defences of liberty of our time, Isaiah Berlin famously quoted a statement of Joseph Schumpeter: “To realise the

relative validity of one’s convictions and yet stand for them unflinchingly is what distinguishes a civilised man from a barbarian.” To which Michael Sandel, this year’s Reith lecturer, Professor of Political Philosophy at Harvard University; and

I in the book I wrote called The Politics of Hope, ask the following question, “If your convictions are only relatively valid, why stand for them unflinchingly?” You cannot defend a civilisation on the basis of moral relativism. In a head-to-head contest between a moral relativist and a fundamentalist, who wins? The fundamentalist must win because he is sure he’s right and you are not sure he’s wrong. Or, as they say in America, a liberal is someone who can’t even take his own side in an argument. There’s a wonderful man I love dearly, a novelist from Israel called Amos Oz, and at one time when there was a lot of difference between secular and religious in Israel, I did a big public conversation with Amos, just to show that we can talk respectfully and I think even lovingly. He began with the following sentence: “I’m not sure I am going to agree with Rabbi Sacks on everything, but then on most things I don’t agree with myself.”

In 1989, as the Cold War ended, as the Berlin Wall fell, people thought that liberal democracy was about to conquer the world. Twenty years on - after Bosnia, after Kosovo, after Somalia, and Iraq and Iran, and Afghanistan - does anyone believe that any more? Now after 9/11 many politicians here and in the United States said that the battle against terror is as much a battle of ideas as it is of weapons. Eight years on ask yourself the following question: “Which ideas?” Freedom? Democracy? Autonomy? Rights? Will freedom persuade somebody who believes that submission to God is the highest value? Will democracy persuade somebody who believes that the will of God takes precedence over the will of the people? Will autonomy persuade somebody who believes in obeying God’s will, not my own? Will rights persuade somebody who believes that the first of all rights is the right to obey the voice of God? Not only has the battle of ideas not been won, it hasn’t even been fought.

Liberty of conscience, the peculiarly modern form of liberalism that we inherit today was born not in a secular age but in the most religious age of modern times, namely the seventeenth century. And it was built not on moral relativism but on moral absolutes. Among them, the non-negotiable dignity of the human person, the sanctity of human life, the imperative of conscience and the consent of the governed. All those things are not moral relativism they are what has come

to be called the Judeo-Christian heritage. The idea that you can lose the moral foundations of freedom without eventually losing freedom itself is simply absurd.

All credit to Isaiah Berlin who though he was a relativist, or what he calls a pluralist, actually saw this and said just before the end of the lecture I just quoted:

It may be that the kind of freedom that we enjoy today is only the late fruit of our declining capitalist civilisation; an ideal which remote ages and primitive societies have not recognised, and one which posterity

will regard with curiosity, even sympathy, but little comprehension.

Isaiah Berlin saw clearly that on his own philosophy, freedom was indefensible if it ever met a singularly determined opponent. So to repeat. Tocqueville was right: the place of religion is in civil society where it achieves many things essential to liberal democratic freedom, but two in particular: Number one, it sanctifies marriage and the family and the obligations of parenthood; and number two, it safeguards the non-relativist moral principles on which Western freedom is based. That is why Tocqueville described religion as “the surest pledge for the duration of freedom.”

It may not be religion that is dying, it may be liberal democratic Europe that is in danger, demographically and in its ability to defend its own values. That is the second point, where does religion belong in a liberal democratic society?

3. What are the opportunities and imperatives for the future?

Finally, I end with a simple question – what is the way forward? Does it mean, given all I’ve said, that we have to march back to the nineteenth century or the seventeenth century? Clearly not. Religion is going to grow in strength in the twenty-first century and a very great deal will depend on what kind of religion it is. At the moment, the fastest growing religions in the world are those who take an adversarial stance towards society, religions that challenge liberal democratic freedoms, and that is bad news. Worse than that, sadly, is that in various parts of the world, political conflicts - conflicts that were once clearly political - have now become religionized. And once that happens they become insoluble because compromise in politics is a virtue and in religion it is a vice. All peace depends on compromise and that is why peace comes to seem to some religious groups to be a form of betrayal which is why peacemakers get assassinated. And therefore I believe we have no choice but to articulate an intellectually open and humble and tolerant religiosity as the only strong enough defence for some of the religiosity that is coming our way with the force of a hurricane. I believe the way ahead lies in at least the following three directions:

Number one: I believe that we are ready for a new dialogue between religion and science. I believe almost everything about recent scientific discoveries – whether it be in cosmology or neuroscience or the mapping of the human genome - are awe-inspiring and have deeply religious implications. Not least for instance the discovery of DNA and the genome: we now know that all life on earth from the simplest bacterium to you and me comes from one single source. All life speaks the same language of A-C-G-D – that, as I argued in my book The Dignity of Difference, is what I regard as the fundamental truth about mono-theism. The unity up there creates diversity down here.

Number two, it’s very interesting that while the genome was being mapped everyone was expecting it to come up with this number of 100,000 genes; as we know it turned out – and this was one of the great surprises of the project – that there are only 20-30,000 genes, which means that genes aren’t selfish at all, they’re team players, which I think is quite nice. I always said about the genome, the great miracle is that a whole bunch of selfish genes get together and create selfless people which I think is fabulous. I believe that biology is right now giving us wonderful new insights into the origins of altruism and the universality of morality. The biggest refutation of moral relativism is today coming not from religion and not from philosophy but from science itself. I haven’t got time to talk about this, but I would recommend any of these three books which were published this year, two in America and one in Britain. The British one is a book by James Le Fanu, called Why Us? and the two American books are Dacher Keltner’s book Born to be Good and that wonderful man on primate politics, I don’t know if you’ve read Frans de Waal - you want to understand the politics of the European Union, read Frans de Waal on who’s going to be Alpha Male and all that stuff, it’s great stuff - Frans de Waal has just written a book, published a couple of weeks ago, called The Age of Empathy. Any one of those three books - all written incidentally by non-believing scientists, there’s not a word of religion in any of them - this is the kind of science with which religion can have a serious conversation because it’s enthralling and enormously hopefully about the human future.

Secondly, I believe that the big global issues - like climate change - are crying out for the unparalleled power of religion, nothing else has this kind of power to recruit energies on a global scale. To give you the obvious example, the great global programme of 2000 of international debt relief was called ‘Jubilee 2000’ because it began as a religious initiative - I believe it began in the Vatican - based on the Biblical principle of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” That began as a religious movement and became a political and financial movement of international debt relief.

More recently, two very distinguished scientists, neither of whom is religious, both are atheists, EO Wilson, the inventor of socio-biology and conciliance and Lord May in this country, the former chief scientific advisor to the government and former president of the Royal Society both proposed an alliance between religion and science to combat global warming. And that is exactly what the faith leaders in Britain did last Thursday at Lambeth Palace, we came together to sign a joint declaration on climate change – our commitment to it and to working for it in our constituencies - that will be taken by the British Government to Copenhagen on 9 December.

In general, religions are much more suited to the world of the twenty-first century, than our nation states. The future of nation sates, as I wrote in a book of mine, The Home we Build Together, is extremely doubtful. In the current situation Philip Bobbitt the American thinker believes we have already passed beyond the nation state into what he calls the market state. But one way or another, religions think global and act local. The twenty-first century imperative and they do so better than any other organisations, except the great NGOs. So my second point is not just a dialogue between religion and science, but a major engagement of religion with scientists and with economists on issues such as global poverty, climate change and so on. And that will lead religion in the most constructive direction I can think of.

Finally, religious groups in the liberal democratic state must be prepared to enter into serious respectful conversations with secular humanists, with charities, with other groups in civil society about the nature of the common good and the kind of society we wish to create for our grandchildren not yet born. At the moment we don’t fully have this. At the moment in Britain I would say that religious groups tend more to act as pressure groups or lobbying groups than as conversation partners. But, that conversation is there to be had and I hope Theos will play a part in facilitating it. It is doable.

Just think of this. Every time I do Thought for the Day – I have to say Thought for the Day really appeals to the sadist within me. All these people just about to bound out of bed and enjoy the day and then somebody gives you a sermon and you want to go straight back to bed! - every time I do Thought for the Day, I am speaking to an audience 99.5% of which isn’t Jewish which is a challenge. I tried to find a precedent in the whole of Jewish history – I had to go back to Jonah for the last time! Incidentally, what Jonah discovered is still true; it is much easier preaching to non-Jews than to Jews. If you read the book of Jonah, you’ll find that Jonah said five words to the inhabitants of Nineveh, in Hebrew, ‘In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed’ – five words and the whole population repented! All the other prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah - they spent their whole lives preaching to Jews and nobody listened for a moment! Who is this guy? So there we are. The third thing is we have to be part of the public conversation. Little things like Thought for the Day show how easy it is to do without being a pressure group, without seeking to impose our will on others, just seeking not a vote. Not a veto, but a voice in the conversation.

So, let me be blunt. Either we win, or the fundamentalists win, and that is the challenge. If the fundamentalists win I wouldn’t hang around too long. So, let me summarise my argument.

1. Religion is our greatest legacy of meanings.

2. Religion belongs to civil society and not to partisan politics.

3. All of us, believers, atheists, agnostics, are in this together and we must learn to speak to one another and listen to one another.

I end with this, a very simple story. When I became Chief Rabbi in 1992, I decided everyone was looking out of shape and I decided to organise a Chief Rabbi’s marathon. Being the Jewish community, the run turned into a walk, 26 miles turned into three and in the end we had an extremely slow walk around Kensington Gardens. It was very nice, we had 5,000 people raising money for 110 different charities. The Sunday before, the organiser said “Wouldn’t it be sensible if we did a rehearsal to check for any flaws?” So, six of us got together a week before to do the walk, and within five minutes we had gone in six different directions – this is a Jewish trait which has stayed with us through the ages! They said to me “If six of us can’t walk in the same direction what’s going to happen next Sunday when we’ve got 5,000 people?!” I said “Very simple,” I said, “You see that bridge over the Serpentine at the end of the horizon? Get somebody to stand there with a big megaphone and say ‘Food this way’.”

Friends if we can look hard enough towards the future we may be just be able to overcome the injuries of the past.

Thank you very much indeed.

Saturday 14 November 2009

The Anglican Response

It seems that the Church of England is to decide that any provision to be made to comfort the opponents of lady (& women) bishops will be up to the same bishops themselves. There will be no statutory protection.

Friday 13 November 2009


I think that more than enough has now been said on the subject of the splendid Requiem celebration at St Mary Magdalen's, so I won't be posting any more comments.

Don't mess with me!

Now that's an Abbess! Abbess Benedicta von Spiegel zu Peckelsheim (1874-1950) of Eichstätt Abbey.

Thursday 12 November 2009

On Liturgy and Communion

I have been away for a couple of days, unable to post my own comments but only those of readers (from my iPhone). Consequently, please excuse the bittiness of what follows, written during my absence.

An occasional commentator on this blog, a bishop who calls himself The Cardinal, made some critical observations of the Requiem Mass at St Mary Magdalen’s which I posted about a few days ago. This, as might have been expected, elicited some sharp replies (some sharper, perhaps, than he deserved). He won’t, however, get a sharp reply from me (though I do disagree with him): there have been, after all, plenty of comments on this and other blogs equally (or more) critical of ceremonies that (I imagine) His Eminence might prefer to that Requiem Mass. This is all fair enough; if we mete out criticism, we must also be prepared to take it from The Cardinal and others courteous enough to engage with us—sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander— and, frankly, I’m delighted that now we are able to debate these things in the open. When I was in the seminary, any sympathy for solemn liturgy had to be dissembled; had it been known that I had attended an old rite Mass (even a legal one), there would have been serious trouble. Plus, I think that The Cardinal has been very gracious in some of his later comments, and I am grateful for that.

Unless we are able, as brethren of the Catholic Church, to speak frankly among ourselves about these things, have the proverbial free and frank exchange of views, then things are not going to move forward or even settle down. The near-complete repression of the traditional liturgy was not a good thing: Even were I of the opposite persuasion, I hope that I should have learnt enough from history and psychology that if you try to repress something, you only succeed in making it interesting to a new generation.

Since the Council of Trent, the Western Church has preferred to be pretty monolithic in her liturgy. At times, she has even tried unwisely to impose Roman customs on Eastern liturgies not just from a desire for uniformity and tidiness, but also because the Western customs were believed to be better (and in my opinion at least sometimes are—unleavened bread, for instance). We know that before Trent, even in the West, this uniformity was not the case; rites varied, often considerably, from diocese to diocese, though they mostly belonged to the Roman ritual family. The Tridentine desire for uniformity has persisted right up to our own day (one sad case: I remember reading that Pope Paul VI, when Archbishop of Milan, was responsible for a certain amount of Romanization of the Ambrosian Rite). The cry has been ‘there should be only one form of the Roman rite’. And since the introduction of the Novus Ordo, the cry has been just the same. I want to ask why?

Yes, yes, I know; one can go from Tokyo to Stavanger to Rio de Janeiro and experience the same thing. But can one? Perhaps the basic framework might be the same, but I suspect that a worshipper going from, say, Milwaukee, via the London Oratory, to Linz would wonder whether he were on the same planet, let alone celebrating the same rite. So, diversity exists, like it or not. But up until now, authority has decreed that the one form of diversity not to be permitted (or to be highly disapproved of) was the older form of the Missal, what we now call the Extraordinary Form. It was as if there had been a revolution, and all evidence that anything had ever been different should be destroyed, any sign of regret suppressed.

This was not healthy, and I do not wish to return to this state of affairs. Frankly, I welcome The Cardinal’s comments (though, as I said, I don’t agree with them) because we are having the debate we should have been having in the 1960s and 1970s (and maybe the 1950s), and this time it is not about repression (on either side), but about dialogue. I hope this dialogue will go on for a long time. Then we might get it right.

If it is to be fruitful, though, the dialogue must be conducted with charity and fairness. I can accept that others don’t like to worship in the forms that the Church has used for generations. I can even accept that people may express these views forthrightly. What I don’t like is when such people express unkindly the argument that would seem to amount to ‘I don’t find this style of liturgy helpful, so you hateful people should be forbidden access to it’. Not that The Cardinal was saying this, but others do, and perhaps he pressed buttons inadvertently.

Am I suggesting, then, that liturgy should simply be a free-for-all? Absolutely not, and I am prepared to admit here that where the lines should be drawn is not entirely clear.

The Sacred Liturgy is one of our most important expressions of communion, and this communion is diminished when the liturgy does not reflect it through space (making use of the rites which are being celebrated elsewhere in the world) and through time (making use of the rites that the Church has used through the ages). This tells us, among other things, who we are. A community that seeks to emphasise liturgical rupture, by departing substantially from the rites of the Church, is bringing about ecclesial rupture. The liturgy expresses primarily not how St Disibod’s Melonsquashville sees itself, but how we the Church see God together. Communion, again. The famous monstrance of Linz, the Pitta on a Pole, says ‘we are not like you others; we are not like our forbears; this is how we do it’.

I can see an argument for the Linz thing: there might be a connection of thought to the serpent on the pole in the desert, the Type of Christ crucified, that the wounded people might look on the Saviour and be healed—all very good and theological, but it does not connect. People need archetypes, as Jung taught us, symbols that speak to our deepest levels, and to rupture something so instinctive to the Catholic spirit as devotion to the Blessed Sacrament expressed in a particular way is to, well, rupture, in order to make a point.

The Linz idea is, of course, is a different, intellectual, process to another type of liturgical rupture that has little thought behind it, being being simply a shallow interpretation of the word ‘celebration’.

‘Celebration’ should refer to the liturgy’s ability to reflect and articulate the deepest yearnings and feelings of the individuals who participate. When we talk of ‘celebration’ in the context of a Requiem Mass, this should not be (though often is) a shallow jollity, articulating a joy and happiness that the mourners cannot possibly be feeling. Inane grins on the faces of priests and jokes cracked are no comfort to a widow burying her husband of forty years, making her pretend to be happy about it. Instead, the Church mourns with her, as our Lord wept for Lazarus, but the black is shot through with gold; we can begin to articulate the teaching on the resurrection to somebody whose grief we do not dismiss but honestly share.

The liturgy at its best seeks to engage people appropriately, articulating and transforming their present needs and feelings and turning them into prayer. And the ultimate need that the liturgy lays hold of and divinizes is the human need for union with God. Turning everything into a party is shallow and self-defeating. That is not what ‘celebration’ is about.

The late Christiane Brusselmans’ course for preparing children to receive first Holy Communion is a case in point. In many dioceses in this country (including this one) her course was the only one approved for parish preparation courses. Very few use it now, D.G.. This course made no attempt to even mention the Real Presence, let alone the Sacrifice of the Mass. All that mattered was being nice to one another (important, of course—well, it is) summed up in Holy Communion which is, basically, a party with Jesus. As long ago as 1982, a priest (my university chaplain now become an Episcopalian but at the time a great inspiration to me) said, thinking of a child receiving Communion, and looking at the Wafer in his hand: ‘A party? Some party!’

At a recent Solemn Mass here in the Extraordinary Form, for the sake of those unused to it, I described what they were going to experience as something that was not so much ‘celebration’, but ‘worship’. This was misreported somewhere else as a distinction between ‘liturgy’ and ‘worship’, which is not a distinction I would be happy to make. The former distinction, though, I am happy to stand by. I mean that the Ordinary Rites, which I celebrate daily, engage more with the congregation; the Extraordinary engage more with God.

Let the Church decide, in the decades to come, which will be preferred. Or make the best of both. There’s more here, but I need to think more first.

Let me finally thank The Cardinal for his perseverance in posting on this blog. His contributions have always been interesting, even when I don't agree! These are the ways we grow together.