Thursday, 14 March 2013

Pope Disappointment

I'm just a little nobody in the back corner of nowheresville, and my opinion doesn't count for much.

I cannot, pretend, however, that watching the Habemus Papam yesterday, that I wasn't a little disappointed. Not only did the stream from Balcony-cam seem a little out-of-time and bungled, and the announcement was made predictably without much flair or style on the part of Cardinal Tauran (whom I like very much, by the way), which makes a change; I suppose it doesn't have to be a theatrical performance all the time, although the Extra omnes theatre the day before was absolutely perfect.

My principal disappointment, however, was in the name. There's that half a second or so when you think he just mispronounced Bagnasco (and got his Christian name wrong at the same time), for whom I was rooting a lot, and then you realise that he actually did say Bergoglio. Then you spend a second or two thinking, maybe I think Bergoglio is someone else. Maybe there is a different Bergoglio from the one that came second last time round (maybe). Nope: it's the one you are thinking of. The Cardinals actually chose Cardinal Bergoglio. There wasn't much screaming (of joy) to be heard; certainly not like 2005. The shouts and applause then were rapturous. This time, you could almost feel the sensus fidelium: who?

Then the second disappointment (for me anyway; and given I'm writing it, I'm not expressing anyone else's opinion). The name he will henceforth use. Franciscum. Er...okay. I was thinking maybe, Gregory (Gregory I and VII were great reformers, and holy saints), or John (50 years since his death; I like John XXIII).

Now, don't get me wrong, I like St Francis. But it's not really a papal name. He is the first to use it. John Paul I used a new name, but it wasn't brand new: it was in honour of both his predecessors. The last pope to pick a brand new name was Pope Lando. He died in 914. Though there were a lot of '2' popes in the 12th century; to them, the name might have been very new, I suppose. I suppose I'd just got really excited about being able to write lots of X's V's and I's.

My first thought at the name was: a break with the past. Rupture. Change. Discontinuity. However lovely the name is, and the idea of 'rebuild my church' popped into my head immediately. But picking a brand new name is more like: rebuild my church, but use new bricks and mortar. The dissenters and heterodox are going to love this. In one word, it seemed, all the continuity work of Benedict has been swept away.

There's a few seconds to look him up on Wikipedia (not changed yet), to see what he has said, and what he has done. A bishop, a pastor: that's a good thing, though we must remember that curialists are pastors as well in their own way as well. The best theologians and religious thinkers tend to be good pastors, St Augustine, St Francis de Sales, St John Mary Vianney, Benedict XVI. Jesuit. Erm, okay. First Jesuit Pope. Jesuits haven't had a good press when it comes to the whole pope-obedience-tradition thing (as a rule). Hasn't said anything crazy: against abortion, gay marriage etc (then, really, any man that would realistically walk out as pope will think the same, so that was never going to be an issue). A kindly and simple man, humble, I thought, just like Benedict XVI (who walked to work, lived in an apartment, preferred to go incognito around Rome, fed the cats, ministered to the people - so humble and gracious, in fact, that he was one of those good bishops that always puts on whatever vestment is on the vestment press. Now that's priestly humility). So my Wikipedia conclusion was: okay, not a crazy pope, but a bit of an odd ball.

Then the wait for him to come out. There was that little accidental camera shot on the inside, and the unmistakeable view of resplendent cardinals, there was Mgr Marini wearing that very fetching mantelletta he had got out yesterday. But, what's that: the pope in just his house cassock? No choir dress? Maybe he'll put it on now. No. You can just about glimpst Mgr Marini trying to put on the stole just before the curtains go up. Pope Francis is having none of that, thank you very much. It seemed like a bad omen.

Up go the curtains, here he is. I thought I saw a ghost, as the little white figure looked exactly like John XXIII. Then I decided it looked like the actor Jonathan Pryce, crossed with Jim Bowen.

I was greatly disappointed in the outfit. I know it's not really important; the crisis in the world and the church vastly overshadows little things like that, but, you know, as a little unimportant layman like me, I like my bishops to look like bishops, one way or another. Moreover, he made everyone else look absolutely ridiculous, which I thought wasn't very gracious. I also felt very sorry for all the people - priests and laypeople - that have spent their vocations making everything perfect for the pope; all the preparations, all the effort of the tailors and seamstresses, all the effort of the people, like Mgr Marini, trying to make everything perfect and look beautiful, thrown out the window, along with that continuity stuff that last pope we had - whoever he was - always talked about.

It was cute he decided to wear his own pectoral cross, I suppose, but it wasn't very pope-y. It doesn't make me angry, but just a little sad, I suppose. He just stood there. I liked that. Not all showy and hand wavy. Just himself as he is. I felt Benedict XVI waved his arms about very uncomfortably in 2005; I suppose he had always seen it done, so he had to do it; he's humble like that, you see.

It all looked a bit unreal; space age, even. It was probably the bad lighting - and the shock hormones.

He spoke. He had a nice, gentle smile. Still looks like Jonathan Pryce. I've got enough Italian to make out what he was saying. 'Good evening'. That's nice, but it did make him sound a bit like a maitre de'. He had his hand on the microphone - this is a man who likes to be in complete control of what goes on around him, I thought. 'They went to the end of the world to find him'. He thanks the people of Rome. He will be their bishop, first and foremost. He prays for his predecessor, Bishop (not Pope: another alarm bell went off) emeritus Benedict.

He started to pray; everyone joined in the ol' three. That's a good thing. Making them pray. That's what priests are there fore, I suppose.

I will bless you. Here we go, on the knees.

'I ask you to bless me'. Er. Okay. Well, that's...ok, I suppose. It's always good that the people ask the Lord to bless things and people, but I always get nervous around priests that start to say things like that; it's the same nervousness I get when priests who bless say 'May almighty God bless us' (not you). It demonstrates a sacramentology that's a little skew-whiff.

Then the urbi et orbi wasn't sung (at least he put a stole on; I thought he was going to shun it). But it was said prayerfully, I thought, and it seemed to have a certain effect on the people (not on me, alas my thoughts were decidedly uncharitable at that point); he kissed the cross on the stole when he took it off, which is good. All clergy should do that with their vestments. That's why there is a cross there.

Then he spoke again. He is going to visit Our Lady, and he will see them soon.

My feelings were mixed. A holy, Marian man. Always a good sign. It kind of cancels everything else out. And a man who is bishop-y: 'with you I am a Christian, for you I am a bishop'. Bishops should always know his people, and love them, and, according to his ability, be amongst them where possible.

On the other hand, it seemed a bit odd. Why is he breaking these traditions? It's nice he can walk amongst the people, but he needn't do it with contempt for his institution.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

"With Latin as the common language, we were along the same straight and narrow path" says gardener

I saw the the makers of Cluedo have abolished the character of Colonel Mustard in the latest version of the game for reasons of modernity. Just so you know that I have not been abolished, I thought I'd log back on for a change...

* * *

I was looking through the letters page in Country Life recently and came across this interesting brief:

I was considered a lost cause at school when learning Latin and gave it up at the earliest opportunity. Now older and possibly wiser, I realise what an error this was.

In 2000, studying for the RHS exam, I was told that Latin names for plants were mandatory. I had the difficult task of learning a plant list, in Latin, every day in preparation for the exam, which I subsequently passes satisfactorily. 

I didn’t realise the true value of this until I was taking a group of Russian horticultural students, who spoke not a word of English, around a very well-known garden. As my Russian is non-v, my words on the history (and all other information) of the garden were wasted, but the students’ faces lit up with delighted comprehension when we discussed the plants with their Latin names.

With Latin as the common language, we were along the same straight and narrow path. Long may be it taught in the naming of plants.

This author won the weekly prize of a bottle of Bollinger NV Special CuvĂ©e Champagne. 

Just think, if a common language can be used to unite horticulturalists, how much better would it be put to employ as a unifying language for those of the same Faith in their liturgical worship of God.

Different languages were created by God when Man tried to reach the heavens by building the Tower of Babel. God did this to frustrate Man’s pride

Or, look at it another way.

There were four metaphysical communions at creation:

  1. God and Man
  2. Man and Man
  3. Man and creation
  4. Man and himself

All of these communions were damaged in some way by the Fall - the Sin of Adam (and Eve). And this is symbolised in the accounts that follow the Fall:

  1. Adam and Eve are thrown out of Eden
  2. Cain killed Abel; Man is scattered from Babel
  3. Man toils the land
  4. Man saw that he was naked
So, our diversity of language is a result of Man’s Fall from Grace, and is now a part of our make-up. 

One wonders at situations whereby Catholics of different nationalities are called together to offer the sacrifice, i.e. Mass, why the terrible habit of splitting up the Mass into linguistic sections (African-themed - but actually a Western imperialistic patronising - hymn, ‘Introductory Rites’ in English, Reading in Malayalam, Taize chant instead of an alleluia tract set half-heartedly to a Russian-sounding melody with a very strong bass line, Gospel in English - because 90 % of the congregants are English-speaking anyway - Prayer of the Faithful in Polish, Tagalog, Spanish, Portuguese, Eucharistic Anaphora in the languages of the concelebrants - English, Polish - Our Father each in our own language while holding hands, Pop’d up Agnus Dei in Latin, but with illegal English strophes, the congregation blesses themselves, an old world youth day song to finish before the food: seen that all before, no?), instead of singing the whole of the sacrificial prayer (i.e. the Mass) in a single language, chosen by Providence, to be the uniting tongue of the western Christians. 

We are fools if we think that we understand the Mass. It is a mystery. The Greek word for Sacrament is mysterion, remember.

But surely the vernacular makes us understand the Mass more now than people did before? Any intelligent person with a reasonable grasp of history, or even the lives of some of the saints, would know that this is certainly not the case. People then knew a lot more about the Mass meant than people do now. No-one struggled as much with Latin as did St John Mary Vianney: do we think he knew nothing about the Mass? St John Mary spent hours on his knees before the blessed Sacrament: do people who refuse even to genuflect, because we are grown up now, and we know that Jesus is our brother, think the Holy Cure a fool? Just cast your mind back to the Year of the Priest, and the number of people who complained about St John Mary Vianney being made patron saint of priests. I wonder if there was a correlation between the people who objected to him and his ‘anachronistic habits’, and those people who do not say prayers while kneeling, and those who have subscriptions to the Tablet? Hmm.

I might posit that, with the vernacular liturgies being the norm (rather than a means to an end which is what the vernacular was supposed to be), people now understand the Mass less, rather than more, because now, the Mass is reduced to a fellowship meal, over the counter. And the whole point now about coming to Mass is to understand it (i.e. satisfy our base senses), rather than raising the intellect towards God, and offering the sacrifice. In fact, I wonder how many people at Mass actually have an inkling that it is a sacrifice.

With Latin as the common language, we were along the same straight and narrow path.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Israel and the Vatican Secret Archives

Thanks to Chiesa, we learned “that in 2011, 1,321 entrance permits were granted for the Vatican secret archive, to scholars from 54 countries. The most numerous were the Italians (673), followed by scholars from Spain and Germany (102 each), the United States and France (64 each), Britain (30), Poland (35). Scholars also came from Azerbaijan, China, Syria, Togo, Turkey.” 

What was particularly interesting was the last sentence: “None from Israel.”

The original publishers of the document which provided this evidence, the Secretariat of State of Vatican City, found it important to highlight the lack of researchers from Israel. The Vatican ‘secret archives’ are the place, as his critics would argue, where all the documents pertaining to Pope Pius XII’s involvement with the Jewish people during the Second World War.

His opponents, not least the State of Israel, which has criticised the Church’s hope that the late pope should one day be canonised, have argued that Pope Pius failed to ‘do enough’ to save the Jews, and others, from Nazi oppression during the era of fascism. The fact that Pius, during his time as nuncio to Bavaria signed a concordat (an agreement between the Church - both the Holy See and the local churches - and the civil state pertaining to the activities of the former in the jurisdiction of the latter) with the National Socialist government.

In spite of Pope Pius’s support for the Jewish people, particularly during the German occupation of Rome, and the local churches (largely) consistent opposition to Nazism within the Reich itself (such as Blessed Cardinal Galen) - so much so that his activism was the direct cause of the conversion of Rome’s chief rabbi to Catholicism at the end of the war, something always worth remembering - he is still accused of not doing enough. I, and others, fail to see what, exactly, Pope Pius could have done, without leading to the destruction of his office - and probably his person - as well as increased persecution of the local churches, and thereby exposing the hundreds of thousands of people who were being sheltered, or helped in some way, by members of the Holy See. Even though it is fiction, the scene in the slightly saccharine film, ‘The Scarlet and the Black’ features a scene of Pope Pius (played by Sir John Gielgood) talking to the protagonist of the film, which, in many respects, is like the pope talking to us from beyond the grave.

Infamously, the museum dedicated to the Shoah in Israel, Yad Vashem, winner of the Israel Award and the Prince of Asturias Award for the promotion of concord among nations, displayed its public criticism of Pope Pius’s person, defaming his memory and reputation by doing so. While the title of this display was recently changed from ‘Pope Pius’ to ‘The Vatican’, the State of Israel, which is the owner, and, therefore, corporate curator of Yad Vashem, does not actually care about portraying the truth regarding this matter. The so-called ‘secret archives’ are open to the public. Why are Israeli historians, and the Israeli state, not interested in proving their libelous allegations? There are two answers. Either, they are so obstinate to believe that they cannot be wrong. Or, they know that they are wrong, and would be embarrassed to prove to themselves and the Israeli people, that official state policy is a lie.

Either option is a travesty, and a grave offence towards Pope Pius, the Holy See, the whole of Christendom, the civilised world, and, worse of all, an insult to the God of Truth, Who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

There are many Jewish, as well as Gentile, historians who seek to exonerate Pope Pius’ memory - the slight amendment of Yad Vashem’s display indicates to a certain extent, this was successful - and some have nominated Pope Pius to receive Yad Vashem’s highest award: to be declared Righteous Among Nations.

Still Yad Vashem policy - and therefore, Israel’s - is positively anti-Pius and anti-Holy See. So much so, that, when the nuncio to Israel (the unfortunately named Mgr Franco) failed to appear at a diplomatic event some five years ago regarding Yad Vashem’s treatment of Pius, the State of Israel’s memorial museum protested, and called for the ‘secret archives’ to be opened to researchers.

Well, they are now open, but Yad Vashem obviously isn’t interested.

Pope Pius XII. Santo subito.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A triumph of conscience

I have been experiencing a dilemma recently.

I value the human conscience. We must follow our conscience; it is a very noble and virtuous thing to do. Indeed, I can think of two occasions when I have counseled others to act according to their consciences, even though the result of both actions had significantly negative consequences for me. In fact, I’m still living in the shadow of those consequences today.

The interior senses, which is a Thomistic-Aristotelean concept that many people would probably reject, require the assimilation of accurate and comprehensive sensory data from our bodily senses to function properly. The intellectual senses cannot be properly formed in a person if the in-put data has been manipulated in some way; it causes the will and the intellect to function improperly. 

That sounds very mechanical, but if we apply it to situations, we see that it is the case. If a person has been subject to various emotional or socio-economic hardships, or has been emotionally or physically abused in some way by another person, that is, love has been denied him in some way, he may seek to cause harm to himself or others, or even kill himself or others. Similarly, what a well-balanced person can recognise as fantastical (such as computer game violence), a person who is saturated in the fantasy may not be able to tell the difference between that fantasy and reality, because their bodily senses have been so saturated and numbed by it. This give their interior senses the potential to help form acts of the will in a distorted manner, and the end result may be an act of violent mass murder, in emulation of the fantasy that their intellect has reasoned to be reality.

Not only does this highlight the crucial importance of television and computer-game censorship and parental responsibility (as children, after all, are still developing their interior senses), but it also serves to preface my dilemma somewhat.

I have two crises of conscience at the minute, one of which is significantly more important than the other, from my perspective, at least. 

The first, and less important, relates to politics. 

I’ve always been politically motivated. Even as a little boy, I remember following political stories on the news, and learning the names of the contemporary government ministers, and prime ministers of yore. I later studied politics and political science to graduate level, and was active in the Conservative Party for many years. My great passion was constitutional theory.

I also believe, that it is morally incumbent upon electors in our society to vote at every opportunity, though I prefer to have fewer elections than many, and no referenda at all if one can help it. I don’t believe in the infallibility of democracy.

I feel, however, that when the time comes to vote in the next election, I will not cast my vote. 

I abhor socialism. I abhor the Labour Party, not only what it has done since 1997 (though that forms a big chunk of my aggression), but also for what it stands for. I do not share Labour Party ideals, if they even have any. I’m not rich, and I’m not part of the upper-classes. I didn’t go to a good school, and I haven’t got a successful, well-paid, high-flying job. Theoretically, I should support socialism. But I don’t, because I don’t believe that just because I’m less well-off and of less noble birth than some in our society, doesn’t mean that I should elevate myself to something I’m not, nor bring down others to try to be something they are not. Social class is the fabric of our society, even in socialist societies. Soviet Russia had its classes (mainly the rulers - the rich -and the ruled - the poor), as does Communist China and Venezuela. We cannot escape it, in whatever guise it comes, and I think the English model of class is reasonably benevolent, and is also quite fluidic (which enabled it to survive the era of revolution in the 19th century, unlike the continental systems). The English class members have always had the potential to move between their traditional class, either up or down, depending on their circumstances. To some extent, with the wholesale socialist attempt to erase the class system from our society last century, it has, paradoxically, made it harder to move between the classes, up or down.

I joined the Conservative Party during the Blair-years, because it wasn’t socialist, and it wasn’t liberal (in the modern, rather than the classical, sense), either. I even voted for David Cameron to be party leader. 

But soon, I realised that I had made a big mistake. Ken Clarke would have made a much better job of it! If only we would have known then what we do now. The clinch point for me was Cameron’s comment: ‘I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative.’ An oxymoron if ever there was one. 

Cameron has continued the Thatcherite-Blairite style of government (I yearn for the day when prime ministers would be more like Gladstone again), and is effectively an elected dictator, easily, it seems, imposing his values on everybody else. That isn’t conservatism. I am a conservative, and do not want to vote for what Cameron is trying do (i.e. unwittingly wreck the nation). 

In our constitution, of course, we don’t theoretically vote for our prime minister. We vote for our members of parliament, who bind themselves together into ideological groups called political parties, for voting, as well as electoral, benefits. 

That’s the theory, anyway. Since the end of the second world war, however, this has gradually shifted to what is, in effect, a presidential election. The electors in the prime minister’s and opposition leader’s constituencies actually cast the vote for or against the next prime minister, and everybody else votes for, or against, their proxy straw-men in the shires.

If my MP is a good conservative, who has traditional values, is intelligent (not a common reality these days; I expect my MP to be well-educated and well-spoken: a man of letters) and believes in virtue and hard-work, and takes an interest in his whole constituency, then I’d want to vote for him. He’d probably be a Conservative Party candidate. I live in a rural area. Rural voters vote Conservative; we’d be stupid not to, as all the other parties are urban parties, fighting over urban issues. The Conservative Party candidates are the only party candidates that properly understand rural issues, as a rule (though the party itself occasionally forgets its supporter base; the leadership is urban, after all).

But if I vote for that good candidate, then I am also voting for Cameron, and his liberal leadership and out-of-step values which are opposed to my values, sometimes quite fundamentally opposed to them. 

I have decided that is something I cannot do.

In practice, of course, one vote makes absolutely no difference. I don’t live in a swing-seat (as I said, I’m rural), and so my vote, in practice, doesn’t count.

But still, my vote cast for Cameron’s Conservative Party is a moral assent to the actions of the Conservative Party. I cannot make that moral assent, given the actions of the party in their years in government since 2010. If I vote Conservative, then, effectively, I’d give my support for gay marriage, for example. Because all the other parties which stand in my constituency have the same policy, and also other policies with which I disagree, I cannot vote for them, either. Therefore, in good conscience, I cannot vote for any party at the next election. There is no choice for me; I am denied a free vote.

Now that’s democracy in action. We should be proud of our wonderful, free liberal democracy, and impose it on other nations, by force if necessary.

Second is the more important issue, to me anyway, which is more difficult to define.

There are many things that I disagree with in the life of the Church today, though I do not believe that there was a ‘golden age’ of the Church to which we should now return. Many would argue that point, however, though they disagree when that golden age was: 1850, or 250? Pre-Constantine, or post-Thomas?

I have great trouble, along with some others, with the modern rite of the Latin liturgy, not the abuses that often occur within it (though I don’t doubt that such experiences have eroded my faith in the rites), but the rite itself. I have never been able to come to terms with the forward facing offering of the Mass, which I know is not required by the rite, but it is both permitted and, to an extent, expected, even though the missal presumes the opposite. I cannot bear eucharistic anaphoras written by committees, the lack of offertory prayers - whose replacement was, that’s right, written by committees - the expungement of the last Gospel, the loss of the printed offertory antiphon in the missal, the loss of adequate preparatory prayers at the start of Mass, the option to drop the confiteor, and, when it is used, its common recitation by both priest and people, the loss of the absolution in the penitential rite, the truncation of the thee-fold kyrie, the ruination of the communion prayers after the anaphora, to name just a few. 

New forms of lay participation which are presidential (or outward oriented) in character on the sanctuary is a perennial gripe for many people. When the rites were being reformed, the reformers (a committee) were biased towards (rightly) imposing the council’s will to encourage more lay participation - what, exactly, the definition of full and active participation meant was debatable - and trawled through the annals of liturgical history to drag back elements from the past into the present day, turning back time. (Sound familiar?) Because these elements existed and grew-up in the past, they are somewhat out of context in our present day. So, effectively, even though these elements once existed in the liturgy, their altered form and circumstances make them entirely new elements. I think, for example, of the second eucharistic prayer. This is often claimed to be the oldest eucharistic prayer, older than the Roman Canon, because it was written by St Hippolytus. Not only did St Hippolytus not compose the Apostolic Constitutions where an old anaphora was found, the eucharistic prayer which was composed (by a committee), becoming eucharistic prayer two bears hardly any relation to the historical version. And besides, that old anaphora would have been one of many, and in those times, anaphoras were still largely pronounced ad libitum.

Moreover, this example also suggests the reformers’ distain for perdurance in the liturgy. Who cares these days that the Roman Canon is the oldest surviving, and most essentially Roman, of the anaphoras, and has survived in our liturgy for one and a half thousand years. Does that mean nothing? I fear the reformers rejected Victoriana and the post-enlightenment polemic, and threw the baby out with the bath-water in the confusion.

A half-understanding of history is worse than no understanding. 

What is worse, is that criticism of the liturgical rites is largely forbidden, not by law, but by convention. We often hear criticisms of ‘how the church used to be’, but if we look at what those criticisms are - clericalism, secrecy, hypocritical pontificating - we see that those things have not changed at all. We are left with the misery, and the pleasures and reliefs have been expunged. 

Some even say that the fact that the intricate symbolism and profound meaning of the liturgical rites needed to be explained to people indicated that they needed changing. Change can be a good thing. But look at what we have instead. What are the symbols of our rite saying? Take an intelligent non-Christian friend to Mass, and it is fascinating to discover what he sees through his eyes.

Fearing that I am ranting, my dilemma is that most members of Christ’s mystical body are being consciously denied the entire plenitude of what the Church has to offer them for their salvation. We are still, in places, combatting hostile opponents to the new English translation of the new liturgy, whereas really we should be combatting the profound culture of ignorance and concealment of grace which exists in the hierarchy. We thought we got rid of clericalism after the Council, but it is more pervasive now than ever.

Unlike my previous dilemma, whereby I could simply stop voting in elections, I don’t know what to do with this dilemma. I have a few opportunities to teach others, I suppose, but I cannot vote with my feet. I’m obliged to go to Mass, and the new rite, after all is valid. Just.

The Church of the Bauhaus

We all the know the story.

In the heyday of the industrial revolution and the climax of the liberal enlightenment utilitarianism at the start of the nineteenth-century, a romantic movement across all the arts (and its was principally the arts, as well as theology) sought a rediscovery of old ideals. Man had been de-humanised by mechanisation and the quest for personal prosperity, summarised in Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’. There must be more to life than this? they asked (If one were designing an Olympic opening ceremony two centuries later, however, the answer is a resounding ‘no’). 

Pugin, of course, had his own axe to grind, and not only against the dark satanic mills. Pugin was a little more pragmatic than some of his contemporaries. He had a problem with excess, with pointlessness, with Georgian cornicing which doesn’t do anything, and with Greek decorative statues, limestone pineapples and walls which neither hold up nor divide.  We can look at his principles, namely, that the structural elements of a building should not be hidden, but used to an aesthetic end, in order to dispense with the need for unnecessary architectural appendages. That, coupled with a desire to return to the style of middle ages, both in art and epistemological method, produced the neo-gothic architectural movement: a re-invention of gothic, in the highly decorated style, with the use of modern machinery, not to degrade man, but to enhance his living experience. We can just think of the colossal Victorian ecclesiastical and civic edifices throughout the country to see how they were designed to provide, in a sense, a degree of both entertainment, and satisfaction to man, who worked hard, and had little time for rest in his small and poor home. The neo-gothic movement was wrecked by the pre-raphaelites and the later arts and crafts movement, which inspired so much of the scariness of the twentieth-century.

Gothic is a truly Christian architecture. It emerged out of classical Roman design: the transition from Norman to Gothic in French and English churches, for example, is obvious. Gothic was the first architecture which freely developed in a Christian culture, in a new millennium. It was a science, informed by piety, stories from sacred scripture, and grew out of the day to day life of the Church, in an age when the body and soul were not divided dualistically as they are now. All for the glory of God (and part of that means raising man’s mind to God).

Then we see the baroque movement as a return to an earlier ideal, when gothic was corrupted by the division suffered by Christendom from the end of the Black Death. Baroque was replaced, in time, by neo-classical, with its clean lines and brilliant vibrancy., itself a stage for the colourful velvet-clad theatre of the pre-revolutionary world. Neo-classical was replaced by neo-gothic, and so on. But something happened at the end of the nineteenth-century. We see the nascent murmurings of art deco styles, an early version of IKEA’s 1970s ad campaign, ‘chuck out your chintz’. 

In la belle epoch, we find the development of a scary new movement: modernist architecture, summed up, for me, by the Bauhaus, and the maxim, ‘form follows function.’ Frills should be swept away. The modern era is symbolised by clean lines, stark surfaces, bare, unadorned raw building materials, and the triumph of the machine-made over the man-made. In the inter-war period, it was coupled with the repetitive super-human, anti-Christ like fascist stylistic figure, which is even found in many a church building. This style of architecture is anti-Christian, specifically anti-Catholic, because it denies man’s ability to beautify nature. Who’d have thought that Luther’s problematic anthropology would have given birth to the Bauhaus.

Even many modern church buildings suffer from this erroneous movement. Wanting to appear ‘with it’, when a new church is built, a modern hip architect is picked - not usually a Catholic architect - who builds, basically, a warehouse with a tabernacle in it (to the side, as like an afterthought). Often, they don’t even function as a ‘worship space’. A church should not be machine made. It should be man made; or does man not care about giving his effort to God any more? Isn’t that the point of being a Christian? By adopting modernist architectural styles in new church buildings, we are effectively saying ‘up yours’ not just to our cultural heritage, but more importantly, to what it means to be a Christian. We say, what I do (or what I can get a machine to do) is more important than what I am. Form follows function. We pride ourselves on what we do, rather than what we are. What we do is sin. What we are is the image of God. That is Catholicism.

Subconsciously, modernist architecture is making us forget about God, and forget about our dignity. That is Protestantism.

So next time you’re planning building a Catholic Church, think: I am a Catholic, or am I a Protestant?

When we are a closed community, we can forget we are supposed to be oriented outwards. That means in our lives, not in our liturgical functions. That doesn’t mean that our buildings shouldn’t look like churches, and look like community centres instead of churches - non-Christians expect churches to look like churches; they will see anything else for what it really is! The people who we are supposed to be converting want and need something solid. 

In the Byzantine divine liturgy, before what we would call the liturgy of the eucharist, the deacon dismisses the non-baptised. We attract persons to Christ not by what we do when we are already living in him, but by living as him in the world. It doesn’t mean flooding the sanctuary with everybody. It doesn’t mean conforming our styles to the latest school hall architectural fashion. The Church asks parents to name their children after the saints and Christian virtues. That doesn’t restrict us to the conventions of the nineteenth century, but it does encourage us to see our time as part of a larger whole. We don’t need to copy exactly what has gone before, but we should conform to it. 

Modern design styles does not mean the Bauhaus. It is good that we use what we know now, and our modern abilities and sensibilities in the construction of our churches. Building a church should be a work of art, dedicated to God, not a work of industry, dedicated to pastoral counseling and social functions.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

What St Stephen of Hungary has to say about gay marriage

Today is the feast day of St Stephen of Hungary. When he was crowned, a little over a thousand years ago, his nation was a new member of Christ’s Church.

I always enjoy reading the letter which King Stephen wrote to his son and heir; the Church gives this letter for us to read in the liturgy today, at the office of matins. One is tempted to copy that letter and send it to the Prince of Wales:

I advise and counsel you above all things to preserve the Catholic and Apostolic Faith with such care that you may be an example to all the subjects given you by God, and all the clergy can say that you are truly a Christian. But if you fail to do this you may be certain that you cannot be called either a Christian or a son of the Church. The seeds of that the Church were sown by Christ our head; afterwards they were transplanted, firmly rooted and propagated throughout the world by his members, that is, by the apostles and the holy fathers.

“Ah”, I hear you say, “but Prince Charles isn’t a Catholic.”

Whereas he might not be subject to the canons of Holy Roman Church, he does profess, after all, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.’ And his Church, or, as the actual Church would call it, his ecclesial communion, believes itself to be catholic. To be catholic means more than to be a Latin Rite Roman Catholic. There is one Church, after all, and by baptism, all Christians, whether or not they are incorporated into the visible Church - that subsists in the Catholic Church - they enjoy an invisible, mystical relationship with it.

English kings are crowned, in fact, the only European monarchs who are still crowned since Pope Paul gave away his symbol to bind and loose on earth, as well as in heaven. Like popes, they are crowned in a quasi-secular and sacred ceremony. The king, or queen, wears sacred vestments: a belted-dalmatic, a stole and a cope; is anointed with oil (the Council of Trent determined that the anointing of kings with chrism was not in itself a sacrament, but a sacramental); is crowned by an albeit invalid Archbishop, who also places on his finger a ring, the symbol of the catholic faith. And it all takes place under the lofty vaults of a church.

The ceremony is also secular is flavour (the sacred and secular are not as strictly defined as liberals would try to argue). Before the sacred anointing and coronation may continue, the king is first acclaimed as king by the people; a king must request coronation in our constitution. This symbol of acclamation means, effectively, that the King of England is an elected monarch, in a sense. The he signs the oath to defend the laws and traditions of his realms and the Church. Only then is he crowned, and receives the obeisance of the nobles.

The coronation ceremony is not something to play around with, as Prince Charles would like to do (not to wear the sacred vestments, for example). It is not a multi-cultural ceremony. There is no such thing as a multi-cultural society. Society has one culture; there are many societies on our islands. It is not a multi-faith society. Similarly, a society cannot have more than one faith. English society is not schizophrenic.

Constitutionally, England is a Christian state. It is the king’s role - the Crown’s role - to uphold the Christian religion, as we see St Stephen explaining. Tampering with the coronation ceremony - the essential bits, anyway - surely invalidates the king’s constitutional mandate, and the Crown remains vacant.

Perhaps, considering that the powers of the Crown are exercised by His Majesty’s ministers of state, we should look at the rest of the letter.

After exhorting the heir to the throne to remember his Christian dignity and vocation, the saint talks about the virtues of rulers, which apply just as much to royalty as they do to our political leaders. (Because of the disconnexion with the see of Rome, the Crown, and therefore political leaders, have authority over the state clergy, too. Most of them do not realise this.)

What does St Stephen number among the kingly virtues? Duty, first of all, because by fulfilling our duty, we attain to happiness, which involves graciousness to friends and strangers, the rich and poor, friend and enemy. Be patient with both the powerful and the feeble. Show mercy to those who are suffering. “Be courageous: not puffed up by properity nor cast down by adversity.” Be humble. Be moderate in punishment or condemnation. Act justly (justice, of course, involving equity, not just law-following). Be noble. Do not insult others. Do not lust. Unless a king - or political leader - has these virtues, “no man is fit to rule.”

As queen, what is Queen Elizabeth doing to fulfill her coronation oath? We all talk very nicely about what she has done, ‘working hard’ for our nation for sixty years. But has she actually done her job properly?

What has happened under her reign? Women have been admitted to Anglican orders (further severing the Church of England’s delicate barely visible and delicate relationship with the Catholic Church); prisoners are left to rot in gaol; a person can legally change their gender; abortion has been legalised; homosexuality is positively encouraged; same-sex marriage is on the horizon. The list goes on.

Like society in general, the state has been suffering from a profound crisis of identity. The re-definition of marriage is a perfect example. From whence comes the Crown’s mandate to make such laws? Such laws are unconstitutional. The function of the state is to codify divine and natural laws into socially appropriate situations. The state simply does not have the potency to change natural laws. The state only has authority over civil society, not nature. If such laws are passed, then anyone who claims to the Catholic, and supports such laws, they, effectively, sever their visible relationship with the Church, and, therefore, cease to be Catholic. Moreover, if such laws are passed, same-sax couples who ‘marry’ are not married.

Those Catholics who wrote to the London Times on Monday, including Tina Beattie and Martin Prendergast, whose hands were consecrated with sacred chrism, should beware of their pending self-excommunication from Christ’s mystical body. And for what? To prove one’s credentials to liberal society? Because one has gay friends, and it’s ‘nice’ for them to get married? It’s not a problem or a sin to be a homosexual. Man’s sexuality is an integral part of his creation, which ever way that is oriented. It does mean, however, that God has called the homosexual person to a different way of living his or her life. It is painful for those who cannot participate in aspects of life which a heterosexual person may be called to do (not all heterosexuals get married, or, indeed, are able to get married; remember persons with certain disabilities cannot get married). We don’t push our friends off cliff tops, unless we are mentally disabled in some way. Thou shalt not kill, I think it says somewhere: that involves spiritual murder. Being a Christian does not mean being nice, and being nice like Christ was. Being a Christian means being Christ, through through the grace of adoption, and, therefore, being religiously virtuous. Religion is a virtue, not a Sunday worship service. “Remember your dignity, O Christian soul,” as Leo the Great tells us. A Christian should, first of all, desire to bring all persons into Christ’s body, completing their creation. The Christian should also encourage and support persons in their sacred vocations, and not lead them down the wrong path into error. We should be signs of what is yet to come; not facilitators of earthy lust and sensual gratification.

When Jesus on his judgement seat asks, ‘what did you do to the least of my brethren?’ Will we be able to say, ‘I tried to bring them to you; I tried to pull them out of the muddy ditch of error and death, and comforted them, and gave them a new life for your glory’? Or will we have to say, ‘I led them into sin, and did not help them out of doom they were heading towards, and kept them separate from you’? And in return, will Jesus say to us, ‘then go to hell, because you cut yourself off from me in your earthly life, and you cut off others from me too.’ Or shall he say, ‘you lived a good life with integrity on earth, join me in heaven with our friend you helped to save.’

To paraphrase St Stephen: “if you are in a position of leadership and fail to be an example of a good Christian, you may be certain that you cannot be called either a Christian or a son of the Church.”

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

If I won the Euromillions, I'd buy a train ticket

So far, I've had 43 'hits' from A Reluctant Sinner after he advertised my blog over the weekend. So thank you Mr A Reuctant Sinner. It is very exciting to be able to see where everybody comes from, and how you got here. One viewer lives in Hong Kong. Perhaps I'd best not talk too much about my opinions in that department. As I've been quite busy, I haven't had time to write anything yet, and it looks like I shall remain busy for a few days yet! Additionally, the computer I am using - not my own - is frustratingly slow, and so it can takes hours to do a simple task.

I've been reflecting on the recent £148 million Euromillions win this weekend, especially as the winning pair are not too far away from me at the moment. Funnily enough, I was talking with a few friends over Sunday lunch how we would spend the money if we won it, oblivious to the fact that somebody down the road had just done so.

I have long wanted to travel on the Orient Express. I travelled on sleeper-trains in Russia when I was a teenager, and I remember the experience with great distain. The burley soldier guarding the carriage locked the cabin doors , and, though it was winter at the time, the air temperature was unbearably hot, and the leather strap which operated the 1950s pull-down window was apparently just for decoration. I remember spending most of the night on my way to Leningrad cooling my face with the condensation from the frosty glass-panes, terrified when the train came to a steady halt in the moon-lit taiga forests, as my cabin was illuminated by the unscrupulously inquisitive torch-lights of railway policemen peering through the hazy window, all accompanied by the unsavioury gaseous sounds of my neighbour's bodily functions. When I opened my bag after arriving at my next hotel, all my clothes smelled of the train diesel fumes that I'd been inhaling for the past day or so.

That notwithstanding, I'd still like to try the Orient Express, though I do wonder what one does all day.

I would also like to spend a month, or even longer, if I had £148 million, travelling around Spain on local trains. I love Spain, and I specialised in Spanish history for one of my degrees. I enjoyed reading a recent book by Christopher Howse, called A Pilgrim in Spain. It is quite short, and only took a day to read, but it captured the essence of Spain in a few pages. And the railway is the best way to see a country, after all. Roads, especially in Spain, ignore the local environment and traditional routes of sojourn. Tsar Nicholas I may have called them the malady of our time, but the railway does allow one to experience a foreign culture - even our own culture - in a very unique way. Alas, high-speed railways are the sign of the times: even that little haven of cultural tranquility and nostalgia is being eroded by progress. The Virgin route from London to Manchester speeds through north Stafforshire, for example, allows the traveller to take in the beauty of the environment, and environment which will be destroyed by High Speed Two. At the moment, the zebra-striped train gently meanders beside the shallow River Trent, the ancient English boundary between north and south, spotted with stately homes, villages, convents and mooing cows. If the London executives were to have their way, the cow's melodic moo would soon be replaced by an ungainingly honk.

Am I too nostalgic? Yes, and I'm proudly so. I'd rather have cricket on a Sunday afternoon than more slimey city slickers speeding to and from one anonymous urban sprawl to another, interested in little more than self-aggrandizement and money-making schemes.

Just because somebody says something is progress, doesn't make it is a good thing.

Also, I'm not a train enthusiast.