Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Elmore 2007: The Need for Monastic Vocations

Well, I've had my annual retreat at Elmore Abbey despite the attempts of the weather to prevent my arrival.

I am glad to see Dom Kenneth up and about, albeit slightly more bionic and with a rotten cold.

As usual I am praying for more to be called to the monasteries, since there are only five monks left at the Abbey. These Religious Communities are absolutely vital for the health of Christianity in the West because of their separation from much of the hurly-burly and corrupting tendencies of Western Culture.

I did find this article about the Monastic Vocation which I append here.


The Monastic Vocation
by a Benedictine Monk

(This account of the monastic calling is the translation of a lecture given by Dom Gerard, Prior of the Monastery of Sainte-Madeleine a Bedoin, before an audience of nine hundred in the hall of the Mutualite in Paris on November 24, 1977. With thanks to 'Oriens', magazine of the Ecclessia Dei Society, Australia.)

Dear Friends,
I thank you for coming in such numbers this evening. You are here because we have launched an appeal: our little monastery in mid-foundation needs practical help. You will read on your invitations that this lecture is entitled Facing the Crisis in the Church and a Foundering Civilisation: A Benedictine Monk Bears Witness. His very modest witness seeks to identify the deep meaning of monastic life in the modern world. I shall divide my argument into three parts: first I shall show how monastic life is contemplative, secondly I shall emphasise its apostolic value, and, to finish, I shall say a few words about the little monastery in which you are kind enough to take an interest.

Recently an agnostic, faced with our foundering civilisation in thrall to liberalism ("to every man his own religion", and so "to every man his own morality":- you can see just how far that can go!) and to materialism (a two-dimensional universe without after-life or a beyond) remarked: "You monks, you are the most useful members of society". We retorted: "How can you say that if you believe neither in God, prayer nor heaven?" He replied: "Because we are witnessing a haemorrhage of values, a continuing evolution where everything is questioned, a real collective suicide. Now amidst the general rout you monks are witnesses to the permanence of values. And make no mistake the day you cease to be uncompromising you will interest us no longer".

Dear friends, shall we search together this evening for the secret of an institution which even agnostics regard as an immovable rock in the midst of this rush to the abyss?

Monastic Life is Contemplative

Let us being with an anecdote. Some time ago a celebrated guru from India was asked to visit Paris. They extolled to him the benefits of technological civilisation, they showed him Christianity in the light of its good works, social and charitable. Then he asked the following question: "Works, is that all? But the most excellent work is contemplation. Where are your contemplatives"? Was there not a stinging reproach in that question? The story is not finished: our guru was introduced to a literary circle in which he heard the spirituality of the
Hindu mystics extolled. Then he pulled himself up and remarked dryly: "You in the West have mystics superior to ours. They are called Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Jean-Marie Vianey".

The first incident shows that for many, religion has become a social phenomenon, where activity is what counts. The Second shows that ignorance of our own mystical patrimony extends to looking abroad for what we have at home. And that raised the question of the place made for contemplative life in the present-day Church and the contemporary world. Well, let us say at once and boldly: A very great place must be made for contemplative life. Because it is not the very work of man. God is its beginning and end. God by His very perfection gives rise to the contemplative life. God infinitely merits that creatures surrender themselves, consecrate themselves entirely, forever and exclusively to contemplate, praise and adore Him. That is the truth, that is order, that is normality. Because God, as you know, is infinite in His perfections. He is the Lord, the Absolute Good, sovereignly desirable.

A religion which is not contemplative is unworthy of God. So because he interests himself in God above all, the monk not only points to God, not only testifies to Him, he bear witness to the excellence of God. The God whom the majority of men forget - it is He whom the monk makes the centre of his life. The only thing that interests him, the only interesting thing in the world for him, is God. A monk is thus simply someone who has been ravished by the thought - by more than the thought of God; the monk has been caught up by the very sweetness of God, by the goodness of God, by the beauty of God. So he reaches out to seize hold immediately, in this present life, of what others lose sight of and end by encountering, sometimes too late, at the moment of death, on the threshold of eternity.

This journey of the monastic life, this radical attitude before the All of God, is profoundly logical. I am certain that every baptised person, even if a little dazed by life, by work, by other activities, recognised, in the depths of his being, that interior logic. And I shall suggest a striking example: the story of the conversion of Charles de Foucauld. While still an agnostic, he agreed, at the repeated request of his aunt Mme. Moitessier, to meet the Abbe Huvelin. Begged to make his confession: "But I don't believe in God, Father"! "Kneel down". Touched by grace, the freethinker became a penitent and confessed the faults of a sinful life. Then he got up with an attraction to the consecrated life, and was to declare later on: "As soon as I believed that there was a God, I realized that I could do no other than live for Him alone".

Such is the logic of the saints! Because all questions, in the end, are contained in one: "Will God be adored, loved, served as He deserves and as the first commandment of the Decalogue requires"? On the reply to this question depend the happiness of souls and the survival of civilisations. Now monastic life is precisely the total consecration of human existence to the solemn service of God. And in the civilisation that may rightly be described as apostate, which seeks to build a world without God, this solemn service is a kind of shout, a shout like that of St. Michael's "Quis ut Deus"? (Who is like to God?). A monk's life is no more than a witness rendered to the transcendence of God. God is all, and because He is all, He deserves to be given all. The monk thus witnesses to the relative character, the insufficiency of the goods of this world. God alone is infinite Good. St. Teresa of Avila has recorded a splendid saying which came to her mind. "God alone is greater that the soul". And so He alone is capable of satisfying it. Dear friend, to say that monastic life is essentially contemplative is to define the monk as a man of prayer.

One day, some ten years ago in our monastery in the High Pyrenees, a group of pilgrims were being received. They were shown the church. It was about five o'clock and twilight on a winter afternoon. After a moment one of the visitors approached the choir. He thought he saw there, against a pillar, a statue that interested him. He went up to the immobile form, leaned down, and, embarrassed, immediately withdrew. The reason for his discomfiture was that the "statue" was a monk praying - a still form in the shadows unaware that there were people around. The story became known, and we realised yet again the radiance, the mysterious influence, which prayer exercises on men - on all men. It is this which is immediately tangible in a monastery.

Therefore a monk is orientated towards his principal activity. At an hour when everything round him is shifting, he remains immobile at his post of prayer. It was St. Francis de Sales who said: "The world was created for prayer". And the first impression of anyone making a retreat with us is precisely the atmosphere created by the hymns, psalms, silent prayer which bathe our existence.

Liturgical Prayer
Let us say a few words now about the famous liturgical prayer which makes up the pattern of our days. Seven times during the day, once at night. As you know, the figure seven signifies perfection plenitude. Let us recall that this prayer was settled in the earliest ages of the Church, at a period in which there was a sense of the sacred. In fact it was necessary for the earliest monks to practice, as it were, for eternal life, to give to God that proof of the love of uninterrupted prayer which makes their life a beginning of heaven. Hence the figure seven.

Another characteristic: While modern man since the sixteenth century seems to have shown a tendency to close the shutters and withdraw to a distant room to pray, man of old praised God through the whole of creation; and our whole liturgical office, made up of what are called the Canonical Hours, consists in adoring God and praising Him according to the place of the sun in the sky.

It is this which gives our prayer that noble, spacious character worthy of God. The sun is, after all, the most beautiful image of God, of the god Who is called Sun of Justice. Like the sun, God spreads His benefits and is never poorer for sending out His radiance. This is the order of our Offices, first, at 6.30 a.m. there is Lauds, which is the dawn prayer singing of the victory of light over darkness. Then, a short time afterwards (about 7.30 a.m.), comes Prime, with its reference to the first rays of the sun: Jam lucis orto sidere. Then, before the Conventual Mass, Terce, followed by Sext, which we sing when the sun is at its zenith: Splendore mane instruis et ignibus meridiem - in the heat of the noonday sun. In the afternoon there is None, which marks the setting sun and the vanishing of earthly things in face of the Immutable God: Immotus in te permanens. Then Vespers, the prayer of evening, and finally Compline at sunset: Te lucis ante terminum. We shall speak in a moment of the night psalmody.

These liturgical Offices are made up mainly of the Psalms of David which Jesus sang in the synagogue with Mary and Joseph when he was a child. He gave them their true meaning. The psalms speak of Christ, and it is Christ who speaks through the psalms. We do no more than lend our voices to Holy Church singing, in unison with her Divine Bridegroom, the new canticle of the New covenant. Do you know that these psalms are poems of wonderful beauty? They correspond to all the sentiments of the soul, all the aspirations, all the needs of the spiritual life: adoration, thanksgiving, praise, awareness of our poverty, penitence, supplication of divine aid and the outpourings of a tender, filial piety. The tenderness is palpable in certain psalms as is also love of the law, of the will of God, and a rapt confidence in Providence. Such are our psalms. And Christians have been singing-them since the Church first came into existence.

The liturgical Offices also express something very particular which I shall call the spirit of gratuitousness. You have noticed how modern living is marked by the sign of the useful, the profitable faced with a manufactured object, the first question posed is "What is it for"? or "How much does it cost"? But the most noble activities of man are those which are, by contrast gratuitous'. The Louvre is full of things which are not used for anything. They are nevertheless guarded by alarm signals and a powerful security network, which indicates that man values them above all else. Their 'uselessness' is all their glory. Well, these things are only a pale image on that libation of love poured out for the honour of God. Contemplative life is thus entirely 'gratuitous', in the sense that it is not a means to anything beyond itself. I would even say that it is perfectly useless, if I were not afraid of giving scandal. So ask these young monks, these apprentices to contemplative life in our monastery "Why do you pray"?, and they will answer, with perhaps a touch of malice. "We don't pray for anything"! Understand, we do not pray for anything, we pray to someone. For this reason monastic prayer consists primarily of adoration, admiration and praise.

Dom Marmion said: "A monk's life is one endless Gloria Patri", that conclusion to the psalms at which the monks bow gravely while singing Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto. A perpetual Gloria Patri that suffices, because we are made for it. The creature is fulfilled in acknowledgement of the infinite goodness of God. Dom Gueranger defined the Church as the society of divine praise. He wanted his monks to be "living alleluias". Why? Because God in Himself is above all praise. So the Benedictine spirit expresses itself in a free outpouring of love, in thanksgiving enraptured by the splendour of God. "We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory", as we sing in the Gloria. Andre Charlier, a man to whom we owe much, used to say: "It matters more than anything to preserve the gratuitousness of love". I thing that this gratuitous character of love is best expressed precisely in prayer which is first of all praise; because in praise the soul forgets itself and total forgetfulness of self is most difficult and most rare. And already one glimpses the apostolic role of contemplative life, of which we shall be speaking in a moment, because, anticipating eternity, monastic life is a proclamation of the Kingdom where
perfectly pure and disinterested love will finally triumph.

I would not wish to end this brief account of contemplative prayer without telling you something about the night Office which, with us, begins at two in the morning (or two thirty, according to the feast day). Our Father Abbot founder, Dom Romain Banquet, used to say: "Night with its darkness, its silence, its pure and secret charm from on high, invites the soul and draws it to nterior, luminous sanctifying ascents". Do you know, dear friends, that the night rising is a very ancient custom? It belongs to the beginnings of monastic life. When the first monks, those whom we call the Fathers of the Desert - Paul the Hermit, Anthony, Pacomius began the great monastic adventure, they instituted the night psalmody. Besides, we have a very exalted example: it is Our Saviour, who gave us the first example of night prayer. St. Luke reports that Our Saviour spent nights of prayer - erat permecians in onetione Dei, "He spent the night in prayer to God". In the Acts of the Apostles there is a delightful scene. Paul and Silas are in prison loaded with chains, and they rise in the middle of the night to sing their psalms in front of their guards, who come to listen to them with curiosity.

Holy Church thus instituted the Office known as Matins, and that so that the night should not escape the universal praise of creatures. It too must resound with our singing. And then, you see, by praying night and day the monk sends out a message to his contemporaries, a message to which they are in general very responsive: this message tells them of eternity, the heavenly country which we do not see and towards which we go. Certainly, I shall not hide from you that it is a difficult observance and consequently one which is endowed with a penitential character - and hence a work of reparation. Think, then, of the sins committed at night: that black tide of lust which breaks on the world, the crimes of every kind calling for punishment. The monk must station himself as an intercessory and pray at that time for his brothers. Think too of those lying in hospital, of the sleepless for whom the night is never-ending, of the misery, the nightly anguish of which we can have no idea. Finally, let us think of Christians behind the Iron Curtain who are imprisoned and tortured.

You all know the story, as charming now as ever, told by Joinville. One night at sea a storm broke over the returning Crusaders. Among the passengers there was panic, but King St. Louis cried out: "Don't be afraid, they are praying for us" And the tempest subsided. At one time France, and indeed all Europe, were literally covered with great abbeys, monasteries and monastic granges. Archaeologists find remains of such foundations below the soil every twenty-five kilometres. France was as if held in a chaplet, a network of prayer. Think of those thousands of hands raised to heaven, of those monks and nuns who watched over the temporal cities, who pleased, who called for the reign of God on earth (which is what we too ask). What an immense grace what a lightning-conductor for civilisation! It made the grandeur of the Middle Ages, it makes possible those extraordinary works which are called cathedrals, crusades, order of chivalry, monastic schools, works of mercy, hospices and those monuments of intellectual wisdom which are the writings of a St. Bonaventure and a St. Thomas Aquinas. Think above all of the yearnings for sanctity, of those princesses who went to bury their beauty and youth in the cloisters, of those knights who renounced the honours or the glory of arms to embrace the cross of Jesus Christ, of men and women who set out for heaven.

It reminded men that there is another world, the world of God. The sacred penetrated human institutions. It shaped the piety of Christians, because our West, however sick it is, however decadent because unfaithful to its vocation, has nevertheless received a seal, an impression that has marked it forever: it was the first monks sent out by the Benedictine Pope St. Gregory the Great who completed the evangelisation of Europe. He sent them to England, to the Friesians in Germany, to Spain and as far as Scandinavia. St. Maurus, the first disciple of our Father St. Benedict, had already planted the Benedictine monastic life among the Gauls. These missionary monks were sent not at first to preach, because at the beginning that was impossible, but to live their monastic life among the pagans. They founded monasteries, they lived the Rule of St. Benedict, they taught men how to work. It is good when a man works well, when he does a beautiful piece of work. They taught men to read in a beautiful book which the pagans did not know, the book of Holy Scripture. And, above all they taught them how to pray, thanks to the liturgical river which flows throughout the year and which is the best school of prayer.

In this way, Western Christianity was moulded by the first Benedictine monks. And something of it remains, something not always found on other continents where Anglo-Saxon Protestantism has placed its mark, where temporal success is considered a blessing from God, where luck evidently has its place. With us, it is not the same pattern. In our West, sick as it is (it is perhaps stricken to death), despite our degradation, our surrenders, there is a sense of God, a spiritual quest. Why? Because it is in our blood. It was instilled into us in our cradle. Our civilisation was signed by the Benedictines in the early centuries. They laid stress on the gratuitousness of divine service on disinterested love. And I believe it is this which will
save the world.

Apostolic Value of the Contemplative Life

To grasp what it is which makes fruitful the vocation whose gratuitous character we have been emphasising, it will be enough to state a universal principle. The more a man is at one with a cause, the more he shares in its efficiency. It is quite simple. If one explains to a child, he understands at once. For example: the more the spirit of the disciple is in tune with the master, the better he propagates his doctrine. It is obvious. This is what Christ Jesus expressed when He chose to begin His human existence with thirty years of hidden life, silent life, apart from the world, unknown to man, entirely absorbed in a secret dialogue with God the Father. Thirty years of hidden life for three years of public life!

That is the model set before us by Jesus Christ Who is the apostle par excellence. He began His work of salvation with thirty years of hidden life, in the apparent inactivity of prayer and humility. What a lesson for us! It shows in what high esteem we should hold the interior life, silence, solitude - things so undervalued by the world: the example of Jesus Christ is enough to save the honour of contemplatives.

From all this we can already draw a certain conclusion: the salvation of the world is dependent of the prayer of a few souls in love with God. And now, to demonstrate the apostolic character of the contemplative life, that life of prayer and sacrifice hidden in God, we shall, with your permission, invoke the exemplary character of the life of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. As you know, St. Theresa died aged twenty four, without ever leaving her Carmel. Yet at her beatification Pope St. Pius X called her "the greatest saint of modern times", and Pius XI proclaimed her patron of the missions of the universal church, by the same title as St. Francis Xavier. So we now ask a question: how can contemplative life be missionary?

Two anecdotes will make us understand St. Theresa at the end of her brief life, continued heroically to observe the Carmelite rule. Her sisters recount that shed was sometimes so crushed by the illness which was to carry her away that, returning from Matins, she would climb the stairs very slowly, leaning her hand on the wall to catch her breath. A sister noticed this. As it was then the hour of the Great silence, she waited until the next day and then said to her "Sister Theresa, why do you not ask for a dispensation from Matins? Why do you go on walking like that? You are exhausted". And she replied: "I am walking for the missionaries"! That is the Communion of saints in all its splendour.

That is why Pius XI, who has been called the Pope of the Missions, declared one day that he would prefer to see a monastery of contemplatives founded in a mission country than to learn of the conversion of 30,000 pagans. And it was the same Pius XI who wrote for the Carthusians, who are pure contemplatives, the famous bull Umbratilem, from which I shall quote for you the following passage:

"Those whose assiduous zeal is vowed to prayer and to penance, much more than the labourers engaged in cultivating the Lord's field, contribute to the progress of
the Church and the salvation of human kind, because if they did not cause abundant divine graces to descend to irrigate the field, the evangelisers would draw very scanty fruits from their labour."

The second incident took place before Theresa's entry into Carmel and decided her apostolic vocation in favour of the salvation of souls. We read her account in the History of a Soul. It is the well known Pranzini affair. There was at the time a criminal called Pranzini, a man responsible for several murders, who had been captured and sentenced to death. He was to be guillotined on August 31, 1887. Now the chaplain who visited him in prison had never succeeded in making him regret his crimes. Pranzini received him with arrogance and sent him away without showing a shadow of repentance. The young Theresa heard talk about the notorious criminal, she was moved by compassion (as she herself said) and she asked God for a sign of his conversion. The day after his execution, she, opened the newspaper with, she admitted, unusual haste. And she read the account of his last moments. Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confession, without absolution. The chaplain behind him was holding a crucifix in his hand when suddenly the condemned man turned and kissed three times the crucifix which the priest offered him. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus herself recounts the miracle in her history. Let us hear her:

The lips of my first child went to press themselves on the Divine wounds. What an ineffable reply! Ah, since that unique grace, my desire to save souls has grown day by day"!

That was in 1887 when Theresa was fifteen years old. The following year she entered Carmel.

St. Theresa of the Child Jesus had a very bold doctrine of the apostolic role of prayer. She drew it from the theology of the Mystical Body in St. Paul. She explains in History of a Soul that out of love for the Church she would have liked to take on every role - to be missionary, martyr, doctor, priest, warrior, hospital worker - but she could not, since one cannot do everything: Non omnia omnes passunt. Because of the state of her health, she was not even able to answer the appeal of the Saigon Carmel for a reinforcement of French sisters. Nevertheless, in her autobiography she left a testimony to the illuminating grace which made her understand that if she could not take on all vocations, she could embrace them all. Reading St. Paul, she had grasped that in a body there are several members, but the central organ which drives the blood through the arteries, bring life to each member, is the heart. St. Theresa exclaimed them, in a tone of triumph "I have found my vocation in the heart of the Church, my mother. I shall be love, and because I shall be love, I shall be everything". From then on she practiced the perfection of charity. She said: "One can' save the world while picking up a pin which has fallen to the ground". She was a worthy daughter of St. John of the Cross, that great Doctor of the Church, who wrote in his spiritual Canticle: "The smallest part of pure love IS more precious in the eyes of God, and more profitable to the Church in its apparent inactivity, than all other works taken together".

You see, dear friends, that the contemplative monk may also become a soldier of the Church Militant and a saviour of souls.

Our Monastery at Bedoin

And now, as I promised you, a few words on our little monastery at Bedoin, for which I am asking your generous support. It was founded in 1970 by a Father and a Brother. The Father, who is speaking to you this evening, came from an abbey in the High Pyrenees, where he had made his profession some twenty years earlier. That abbey was then in decline. He could not reconcile himself to having his whole existence unfold in a sense contrary to the Rule which he had embraced with solemn vows. The vows of religion are chains of love which bind you in the depths of the conscience. So he asked his Father Abbot's blessing and resolved to leave, and to continue to live according to the Holy Rule in the strict observance and customs of the Order.

At the end of a year of solitary existence a very small place of worship offered itself. It was an ancient romanesque chapel. Five days after he had carried in his few belongings, a young man came to him asking to be initiated into the monastic life. He received the reply one should always give a postulant: "It is not possible, it is beyond your strength". Moreover I had an excellent excuse: "By myself, how do you expect me to form you in the Benedictine life? There must be a Father Abbot, a Master of Novices, older monks". Then I sent him away - it is our way of welcoming postulants. He came back three months later saying: "If you don't accept me, I shall go and live my monastic life alone in the woods". "No, don't do that, it is dangerous"! And so he stayed. I tried to teach him what I had been taught: the Holy Rule, the Holy Liturgy. He was our first novice. Today he is a priest.

Then, some months later, another young man arrived: he was the son of a working man. I said to him, "You want to be a monk?" "Yes, but I have no education; I am self taught. My father humped grain sacks. I do have the technical certificate". "You don't know Latin"? "No", "What is it that interests you in our life"? "Prayer". "But you don't understand any of it since we sing the psalms in Latin". "I don't understand, but it helps me to pray". He had put his finger on that incantatory value of our splendid Catholic liturgy with its sacred language and Gregorian chant. What a magnificent instrument of prayer! We received the young man. He was made to do half an hour of Latin a day. Now he is able to translate the Psalter at sight.

Some time later a third came, then a fourth. But the whole Office was already being sung, the great solemn office, all the Hours were sung. Oh, it was no concert! It was not as beautiful as at Solesmes. It was not beautiful. It was grand. Because these young men felt themselves to be repositories of a grand tradition and they wanted to be worthy of it. One of them confided to me that without the splendour of the liturgical life, he would not have persevered.

Now they are fifteen, if one includes postulants. And I will admit that what encourages me is their youth (they are between twenty and twenty-five years of age) and their love of the monastic tradition. The 'progressive' Benedictines have chosen evolution. And so they empty their monasteries. It is understandable. For our young men want the solid, the traditional, they love demanding forms, true contemplative life, and not "adaptations". You see, when I ask them - and it is a question I always ask - "Why have you come? What is the reason for your action"?, they reply: "I have come for prayer, for union with God". God, prayer, and let us add, the life of brethren. In the end they come to know that marvellous Benedictine balance where prayer, study, and manual labour alternate, making possible a true harmony. It is a challenge to nature, you know, to make men live together all their lives. It would not be possible if there were not first the grace of the good God and then the miracle which is the Rule of St. Benedict.

Yet please, believe that their wish to imitate the monks of old who for centuries - for fourteen centuries - embrace a life of gravity and recollection does not take away from them their simplicity and gaiety. You should see them on their Monday morning walk as, after good talk and laughter, they come down from Ventoux saying their rosary and singing their Gloria Patri so that it resounds on the evening air before they plunge again into the life of silence: "What can be sweeter to us dearest brethren, than this voice of our Lord inviting us? Behold in His loving mercy the Lord showeth us the way of life" (Prologue to the Rule).

That is what will continue, thanks to you, if your are generous if you allow us, by your gifts by your aims to raise towards the sky of Provence stone walls like those of the beautiful peasant houses, so humble, so noble in their simplicity. Like those churches, those little romanesque monasteries of Provence blend perfectly into the countryside. We desire this for the glory of God and also to help our brothers in the world, to enable them to stay from time to time in the haven of peace which is a Benedictine monastery.


Sometimes a man may meet God there for the first time. There are conversions. They are matters of which one should not speak. But we are among Christians. We know it is grace which does these things. It is not us. And I shall tell you that these conversions are made by the radiance of liturgical prayer. It is the choir of monks in unison day and night which has led certain Protestants to become Catholics, and certain souls who had left the Church or abandoned sacramental practice to return to the good Lord. And that shows to what point Tradition, our holy liturgical Tradition, is a bearer of graces. How good to realise that souls come to know themselves, are touched, come to the truth at such moments. That too deserves to continue, don't you agree?

For it is a whole little world that gravitates round the monastery. It is sometimes even funny to see and officer alongside a student, sometimes a vagabond, priest, seminarian, boy scout. All go to make up that good Christianity which comes to us, which makes with us a single thing round the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At the same time it all evidently constitutes a bastion, a taking root, a guiding mark in the raging sea in which Holy Church finds herself battered by the tempest of revolutionary modernism. Well, there will be islets which will continue Tradition.

A great cardinal came to see us (he was not entirely in agreement with us), and he told us: "Continue, your are witnesses, you are guiding marks and later on it will be known what exactly the great Catholic liturgy was". The name of the cardinal was Charles Journet.

And so, my dear friends, nothing remains for me except to ask for the support of your generosity. In this way you will be taking up again the medieval tradition by which it was once the whole Christian people which built the monasteries. Every man brought his stone, and each monastery built was a window pierced in the sky!

I shall conclude this talk, with your permission, by expressing two wishes. The first concerns you. It is that your generosity towards us may rebound first upon you in graces of personal sanctification, so that we may all walk shoulder to shoulder in the Communion of Saints; then that it may rebound on your families, your sick and your dead. The second concerns us: I ardently desire that the young monks whose charge I have accepted may live a holy life behind the walls that you will have helped raise towards the sky; that they may live there to their last breath in the daily labour of conversion, faithful to their vocation of adoring God and saving souls.

This article was taken from the November 1995 issue of "Christian Order". Published by Fr. Paul Crane, S.J. from 53, Penerley Road, Catford, London SE6 2LH. The annual subscription to "Christian Order" is $20.00. Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN
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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Science and Religion V: Derren Brown and Dawkins

I've been reading Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown. Brown is a very talented and indeed perspicacious individual who does make some very valid observations about how we use our minds. He is of course more famous for being (for want of a better phrase) a psychological conjuror, able to read people's minds, win at Russian Roulette, transfix pop musicians to walls with needles and spook people in faux-séances.

In his younger days, Brown used to be a rabidly enthusiastic Pentecostal Charismatic, and has since apologised for that, regrettably becoming a rabidly enthusiastic atheist along the lines of Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins. His main reason for his loss of faith he ascribes to discovering the non-historicity of the Bible, i.e. he believes that the Bible has been proved to be incapable of accurately describing historical events through editing of Gospels and key texts by various political factions within the Church.

The first thing that I consider is how illogical the "Once saved, always saved" doctrine is. One could argue that because Brown has lost his faith, he never was saved in the first place. But surely when he was a believer, he was convinced in himself that he was saved. If it is possible that one can believe honestly that one is saved and is loses the faith, then where is the certainty of our salvation? Answer: there can be no certainty in knowing that one is saved. One can certainly have hope in the Mercy and Loving-kindness of God that one is saved, but one needs to cooperate with this grace by cultivating the hope that we are given. One can only cultivate hope through the other two eternal remnants, i.e. Faith and Love. These three remain and feed each other.

That's the first aspect of Derren Brown I wanted to consider. The second, and larger aspect, I must confess rattled me. Brown contends that because I am clinging to a system of belief then I am not interacting with the world in its true reality, that I am forcing myself to see things in a particular way and to interpret happenings only in the framework of my belief system. With Dawkins he argues that I can only convince him of the presence of God if I show him some evidence that He exists, and clearly this evidence cannot be Biblical because of his problems with the Bible in its description of reality.

Why did this rattle me? Well, Brown is a very astute student of psychology and knows what to say in a way that will raise doubts in the mind. This I utterly applaud. It is good to have one's faith challenged and I am indeed grateful for the challenge that he provides. However, his main arguments against religion seem to involve attributing patterns to coincidences and not the miraculous.

He cites the behaviour of pigeons doomed to spend their lives in boxes, who end up performing "rituals" which make food appear, despite the fact that the food is administered according to the rules of the scientists studying them. Similarly, people too exhibit the same feature. I myself recognise that, as a schoolboy going to and from school, I used to try to change traffic lights with my mind, and it worked! Except it didn't because I associated the change in the traffic lights with my mental activity, rather than with the necessarily rigid timing system of the traffic lights, and the skilful driving of my father who modified his driving to take into account the myriad number of traffic lights between home and school. So I understand the phenomena that Brown is talking about.

The argument then is that ritual is nothing more than a primitive behaviour caused by the sporadic provision of resources - that the ritual some how provides the cause for an effect. Thus the atheist argument is that the effect that a given ritual is trying to achieve is largely coincidental.

It's true that you only need 23 people in a room for the chance of two of them to share a birthday to be greater than 0.5 (or 50%, but really, we shouldn't be expressing probabilities as percentages).

But consider the following ritual. Pick up a ball in your right hand, stretch out your right arm with the back of your right hand pointing upwards, open your right hand, and lo! the ball falls. (Note: I'm being deliberately precise here. Scientists require precision) Do this several times, and one notes that this always seems to happen, indeed with such a regularity that the fact that I am assuming that the ball falls seems a very reasonable assumption. However, how do I know that this will always happen? How do I know that this is merely a series of remarkable coincidences that have been observed by mankind ever since primitive man picked up a ball in his right hand and opened it? We would be foolish not to see a pattern there, wouldn't we?

My point is that all observed phenomena can be seen to be either the result of some scientific principle in action or as a collection of coincidences. It is how we make the decisions which phenomena are following rules and which are purely coincidental that shapes our understanding of the Universe around us. While Science may prescribe a systematic method for us to make those decisions based on observations, and follow logical reasoning, that very logical reasoning provides neither empirical evidence for a beginning and an end of the Reality it tries to describe. It is not even mathematical, since mathematics has a beginning, namely the objects for study and the axioms which tell us the rules. Science argues from the middle down into the microscopic and up into the macroscopic.

This does lead us onto the observability of God, and the actions that we attribute to His deity. Just how does God work in the world? If God exists, then why is there no conclusive evidence for His existence? Well, I hope that I've answered one idea that conclusive evidence for an omnipotent God would be evidence in the non-existence of an omnipotent God. But Brown does seem to have a point here. Something happens to us - perhaps we heal rather quickly from a serious illness. Now we have a choice, we can:

a) attribute this healing directly to God;
b) attribute this healing directly to the tendency of our bodies to heal itself;
c) attribute this healing to the ingenuity of science to provide a cure for this disease.

Brown rejects (a) because there is no proof that God exists, and thus any attribution of healing to God is speculative and that there is no evidence for the direct interaction of any deity, nor is there any method of testing this empirically. Thus, says Brown, it is foolish to take up proposition (a) since that means we can only be interpreting our healing intrinsically from our belief system rather than extrinsically from the fact that our bodies always make every effort to heal themselves (i.e. statement (b) ), and we have some understanding of various causes and effects that medicines provide (i.e. statement (c) ). However, God may well have effected the healing through (b) and (c) through millions of unobserved influences (i.e. they may have been observable but their significance was not deemed important enough for the time and trouble detailed study) in the universe which have accumulated to the effect that you are now free from illness. In this sense "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test" is not a commandment, but rather a statement of fact. God just doesn't fit into a test-tube!

But I do agree with Brown - there is no conclusive evidence for the existence of God, i.e. evidence which cannot be disputed. The existence and nature of the universe lead me to conclude that God exists, though I recognise myself and my understanding to be far too small to work out how He puts his plans to effect. I have no problem with the scientific explanation that there was a Big Bang, or that I owe my existence to ape-like beings. However, I attribute the responsibility of the cause of these events solely at the feet of God. Nor do I believe that having a religious belief imposes limits on our trying to understand our Reality. There are aspects of Science which are dangerous for humanity - research with human embryos, the race to build nuclear arms to name two - and Science must always be done in a way that holds nothing but the deepest respect for the Human Condition. But ultimately there will always be a mystery to Life which the human spirit is bound to explore and we should be attempting to make our further discoveries for they will always provide something to wonder at, and Christians like me will attribute them to the wonders of God (sorry Derren). God's presence will always remain a Mystery.

But then, this is still not all that Brown and Dawkins are saying! So far I agree with them - scientific evidence for the existence of God is non-existent. But the only conclusion we can draw from that is that we cannot draw any conclusions about the existence of God. That is not what Brown and Dawkins are saying, they are saying "there is no God." They are atheists, not agnostics.

And now we reach an interesting little problem. Scientists demand proof that there is a God. Fine! I can't supply that proof, indeed, that proof cannot exist. That's okay. However, scientists should also be demanding proof that there isn't a God. Now Brown and Dawkins will now have us believe that it is not their responsibility to provide a proof, that the burden of proof is on those who claim that there is a God. But that's not the problem. They have made a definite statement that requires evidence. If Science cannot find proof of God's existence, then that does not mean that they have proved that He doesn't exist.

This now puts Brown and Dawkins into the position of proving a negative.

As a mathematician, I have often proved negative statements. Here's one.

Proposition There is no largest prime number.

For the less mathematically inclined, a prime number is a number that has precisely two unequal factors - itself and 1. So, for example, 3 can only be expressed as 1 x 3.


Assume: that N is the largest prime number.

Now let

M = 2 x 3 x 5 x 7 x 11 x ... x N + 1. Notice that M is strictly bigger than N.

I.e. M is the number formed by multiplying all the prime numbers up to N together and then adding 1.

Now we notice that

- 2 does not divide into M exactly; it leaves remainder 1;
- 3 does not divide into M exactly; it leaves remainder 1;
- 5 does not divide into M exactly; it leaves remainder 1;

and so on until,

- N does not divide into M exactly; it leaves remainder 1.

thus we notice that any prime less than N does not divide N exactly, but leaves remainder 1.

So either M is prime, or is divisible by a prime that is none of 2, 3, 5, ... N.

Thus we have shown that either M is a prime strictly bigger than N, or is divisible by a prime that is strictly bigger than N.


We assumed that N was the largest prime number and we have arrived at the existence of prime numbers strictly bigger than N. This is a contradiction and the only place where our error can have occurred is in making the assumption that there is a largest prime number. QED.

So we have shown that there is no largest prime number. We have proved a negative.

This technique is called reductio ad absurdam. It is a well-founded mathematical technique used to prove the non-existence of certain quantities.

The method works as follows:

1) assume the contrary;
2) using that assumption, make rational deductions until you reach an impossibility which can only have occurred because you made that assumption.

So to prove the non-existence of God, all we need to do is to start with the hypothesis that God exists and logically deduce that this results in a contradiction.

Professor Dawkins and Mr. Brown: there's the method, now off you go...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Anglican Papalism

Fr. Marco Vervoorst had this article on his blog before he swam the Tiber after which he felt it necessary to remove it. Since I am still an Anglo-Papalist I feel that this article by Fr. Brooke Lunn is still important for me. Thus I reproduce it here.


Anglican Papalism
by Brooke Lunn

This article by Fr Brooke Lunn is reproduced from ‘The Catholic League Messenger’, with his permission, and helps to set the record straight after the publication of a recent book which gives a history of the movement ending in 1960. This is the movement which fed the devotion and practice of our Society and which continues to do so.

Anglican Papalism is a movement, from schism to unity, with a clear idea of our starting point, and a definite sense of direction. The movement’s antecedents go back to the schism, and its future goes forward to its destiny – full communion with the Roman Apostolic See. It is the expression, in a particular historical and geographical context, of the desire for unity in accordance with the expressed will of Our Lord Jesus Christ [John 17]

The usage – Anglican Papalism – goes back scarcely a century, though what it indicates, namely, efforts to heal the break with Rome, go back to the break itself. Because of the widespread misunderstanding of it, it is necessary to be clear about its precise meaning.

My dictionary gives:Anglican…(Anglicana ecclesiain Magna Carta) … Of or pertaining to the reformed Church of England or any Church in communion with it. E17 … papalism n. L19. papalist n. & a. (a) n. a supporter of the Pope or the papacy; (b) adj. Of or pertaining to papalism or papilists: M.18.

Romanizer n. a person esp. an Anglican, who favours or adopts the practices of the Roman Catholic church M19.

From the above we may see Anglican Papalism as a movement of members of the Church of England or any Church in communion with it in support of the Pope or the papacy.

Thus Anglican Papalism is not to be confused with Romanizers. The former belongs in the realm of ideas, the latter in the real of phenomena. The phenomena of Romanizers are relatively easy to perceive. The idea of Anglican Papalism requires much more application in order to begin to comprehend it.

Anglican Papalism – essential points

1. Christian unity
Unity is a fundamental concept running though the holy scriptures:

a) The story of Adam and Eve illustrates the essential unity of the whole human race;

b) We are created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity, the perfect society, the model of unity in diversity;

c) The story of Cain and Abel illustrates the social responsibility aspect of the essential unity of the whole human race;

d) The struggle to establish Jerusalem as the centre of unity of God’s people over against the high places, and the focusing of this unity on the Temple, is a central theme of the Old Testament, and is still very much present today;

e) Along with this goes the emergence of ethical monotheism in God’s revelation;

f) Jesus’s concern for the unity of God’s people is expressed in various ways, particularly in John 17: ‘that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me;’

g) Ephesians 1: 9-10 reads: ‘For he (God) has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth;’

h) From this follows the need for Christian unity. The French Catholic priest Paul Couturier, who has become known as the Apostle of Unity, saw in the prayer of Jesus in John 17 the basis of his own understanding of prayer for unity, so he produced for his Week of Prayer the formula that the visible unity of the Kingdom of God may be such as Christ wills and achieved by whatever means he wills;

j) God’s will, as Ephesians says, is to unite all things in heaven and on earth, so unity also means the unity of the whole human race, through amongst other needs, inter- religious dialogue;

k) It also means the unity of the whole creation…ecology, the ‘green movement’, and so on.

Unity is the prime motivation of Anglican Papalism. The understanding of what unity means continues to develop, but the basic motivation remains.

2. Rome
Anglican Papalists are convinced that the fullness of the Church is to be found both in the local Church, the bishop and his people, and in the universal Church, the communion of all the Churches with the Church of Rome, the Apostolic See. It is not a case of either/or, but of both/and. Thus full communion with Rome is not just some optional extra, which might be helpful, but is essential for the fullness of the Church. Rome holds a unique place in the unity of the Church, over and beyond the fact that unity necessarily involves all Churches and ecclesial communities and, indeed, everyone of good will who professes the Christian faith.

Section 23 of the ARCIC Agreed Statement Authority in the Church I reads:

If God’s will for the unity in love and truth of the whole Christian community is to be fulfilled, this general pattern of the complementary primatial and conciliar aspects of episcope serving the koinonia of the churches needs to be realized at the universal level. The only see which makes any claim to universal primacy and which has exercised and still exercises such episcope is the see of Rome, the city where Peter and Paul died. It seems appropriate that in any future union a universal primacy such as has been described should be held by that see.

3. Prayer
Prayer is very much to the fore in Anglican Papalist work for unity. The Church Unity Octave, first observed in 1908, originated with two Anglican Papalists. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity developed from this. Couturier, the ‘Apostle of Unity’, was first brought to England through the efforts of Anglican Papalists. Today, the Catholic League is active in promoting prayer for unity. A special edition of The Messenger of The Catholic League, no. 280 (October 2003 – February 2004) was dedicated to the vision of Paul Couturier as part of the observance of the fiftieth anniversary of his death. Also from the Catholic League comes the Christian Unity Prayerbook.

4. Doctrine
It is fundamental to Anglican Papalism that an essential prerequisite for full unity is agreement in the essentials of Christian doctrine. Until Vatican II this was identified in the Creed of the Council of Trent. Today the touchstone is the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994. The work of ARCIC is recognised as of great importance in the search for unity.

5. Liturgy
Lex orandi – lex credendi – lex vivendi … worship, faith, life…Christianity is all of a piece, and all parts belong together in its wholeness. The Catholic Church, as distinct from many ecclesial communities which express themselves primarily through ‘Confessions’ [Augsburg, Westminster, etc.] expresses herself primarily through liturgy. Thus Anglican Papalists give due significance to their convictions through liturgy. This is not the same as saying that Anglican Papalism is primarily about liturgy. It is not. There are many Romanizers who are most definitely not Papalists; and there are Anglican Papalists who would scarcely merit the description of Romanizer. The difference between Papalist and Romanizer is fundamental, yet there remains much confusion; Yet, indeed, many Anglican Papalists are Romanizers. Issues raised by this are dealt with in a Catholic League publication, Liturgy and Unity.

6. Loyalty
Anglican Papalists have been on the receiving end of much unjust criticism – that their position is irrational, hypocritical, disloyal etc. Where such criticism has been just, and this seems to be very rare, the object of such criticism has been exceptional and untypical of Anglican Papalism. Geoffrey Curtis CR, not a Papalist himself, in Paul Couturier and Unity in Christ [p.163] gave a fair appreciation which questioned the charge of disloyalty. This is considered further below.

One of the most frequent grounds for the allegation of disloyalty is the adoption of practices of the Roman Catholic Church. This ground is refuted in Liturgy and Unity, already mentioned above. Another ground is that Anglican Papalists stress the importance of bishops but then don’t do what their bishops tell them to do. There is more than an element of truth in the waggish observation – unlike most Anglicans, I have a high doctrine of episcopacy, but low expectations, whereas most Anglicans seem to have a low doctrine, but high expectations, and I am the one who is least often disappointed! Put another way, I do not subscribe to a doctrine of the infallibility of individual bishops!

Pope Paul VI, who succeeded John XXIII, and had the task of seeing the Second Vatican Council through to its completion, is almost definitely the Pope with the best knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of Anglicans since the ferment of the sixteenth century. He said at the canonisation of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970 that, on the day when the Church of Rome would embrace firmly her ever-beloved Anglican sister in the one authentic communion of the family of Christ, ‘no offence will be afflicted [sic] on the honour and sovereignty of a great country such as England. There will be no seeking to lessen the prestige and usage proper to the Anglican Church.’ [Rome and Canterbury Through Four Centuries, Bernard and Margaret Pawley, pages 341-342] Anglican Papalists, loyal to all that is of good value in our Anglican heritage, say a heartfelt ‘Amen’ to that.

I now live in retirement in the London Charterhouse. The very first of those Forty Martyrs canonized in 1970 was Saint John Houghton, Carthusian Prior of the London Charterhouse. He was martyred, viciously, on 4th May 1535, because he refused to accept Henry VIII as head of the Church in England. To accuse Saint John Houghton of disloyalty to the Church in England because he supported the papacy would be a manifest travesty. Anglican and Papalist are terms that came into usage later, but Anglican Papalists today look to Saint John Houghton, along with many of his contemporaries, as true witnesses, even unto death, to the conviction which we share with him.

7. England
Anglican Papalists recognise both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in England as rightfully claiming descent from the undivided Church in England before the sixteenth century schism. We do not accept derogatory epithets such as the Italian Mission or the immigrant Irish Church to describe the Roman Catholic Church in England.

One of the powerful motivations of Anglican Papalism is the Christian mission to the people of England, of whatever racial religious or cultural background. We perceive the present disunity among Christians in England as a scandal, a stumbling block to the mission of the Church in our land. It is not just some historical scandal [Henry VIII and all that], but a continuing scandal, an actual scandal, here and now, in which the Churches and ecclesial communities in England today participate. Reunion and unity, for us, mean one visible Church in England, with a common identity, not a stifling uniformity, but unity in an acceptable diversity. What that means for us has been explored in, for example, Liturgy and Unity already mentioned above, and Reuniting Anglicans and Rome – a special issue of The Messenger of the Catholic League (October 1994).

8. Individual reception
Recognising Newman’s dictum about the primacy of conscience, Anglican Papalists see this as applying not least to those Anglicans who enter individually into full communion with Rome. The Catholic League, in recognising this, logically opened membership to all who agree with the four objects of The League and with the doctrinal basis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

9. Ecclesial communities and corporate reunion
Those Anglican churches, including the Church of England, which have formally moved away from the catholic teaching and practice of apostolic succession in holy orders [as taught in the Ordinal with its Preface accompanying the BCP 1662] are now Ecclesial Communities rather than Churches in the proper sense. This leads to a substantial change in the basis for seeking corporate reunion with the Roman Apostolic See. In no way does it diminish the need for reunion. In so far as Rome recognises ecclesial communities, then this reunion will properly be corporate.

10. Unity of creation
Unity includes Christian unity, unity with other religions and life stances, and the unity and harmony of the whole creation. This is added in as a reminder that our own particular motivations need to be seen in the overall context of God’s will for the unity of the whole of creation, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.

Two Classic Texts
I elaborated the above ten essential points from my own personal experience and understanding of Anglican Papalism over more than half a century. It is an understanding at the beginning of the third millennium. Basic to it are two classic texts of Anglican Papalism – England and the Holy See, by Spencer James in 1902; and The Church of England and the Holy See (the CPCU 1933 Centenary Tractates [Council for Promoting Catholic Unity]).

I take a glance at these to two texts below, as they are critical evidence for the true nature of Anglican Papalism. A recent book, and the reviews of it, reveal the extensive ignorance of the true nature of Anglican Papalism, and the prejudice, misrepresentation, misunderstanding and false judgements deriving from this ignorance. The reason why so many commentators on Anglican Papalism who are not themselves Anglican Papalists are so hostile is complex. This is a challenge to Anglican Papalists. This present article merely attempts to throw some light on what Anglican Papalists themselves understand it to be.

Anglican Papalists’ true home in mainstream Christianity
Anglican Papalism is a movement from schism to unity, from the margins to the centre, from a backwater into the mainstream of Christianity. As such it is the very opposite of extreme. So how is it that it is so frequently misrepresented as extreme? Extreme depends on what one identifies as the norm. If you perceive the Church of England to be the Norm of Christianity, with Dissent wandering off from this norm in one direction, and Catholics refusing to come into line with the norm in the other direction, then clearly Anglican Papalists are out of line with this norm. The term nonconformist makes the point, having been used to describe both Dissent and Catholics.

The evidence does not support the view that the Church of England is the norm of Christianity. It does support the view that the catholic Church is the norm. This is not so much because she is overwhelmingly the largest body of Christians, but more because of her faithful witness to God’s revelation down the ages. That there is a gap between the faithful teaching of the Church and all too much of the actual practice, not just of individual members but also of the members corporately, is recognised in the teaching by the model of the Church as the pilgrim people of God rather than as the perfect society.

This proper norm was recognised by the English Church down the ages until the State imposed an alternative norm in the sixteenth century. Yet the arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury to this day incorporate the Pallium, the symbol of authority conferred by the Pope, thus indicating the proper norm. The Gospels of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, probably brought to England by Saint Augustine himself when sent by Pope Gregory, being used at the enthronement of Archbishops of Canterbury, including our present Archbishop, likewise indicate the proper norm. The ARCIC process has helped to acknowledge the proper norm [e.g. Authority I.23]. The second half of the twentieth century has seen much progress in acknowledging the proper norm of Christianity, though there is still much more to be done here.

A key principle in Spencer Jones’s England and the Holy See is that of proportion. Thus, to treat the Church of England as the norm of Christianity is to get things seriously out of proportion. To treat the catholic Church as the norm is to restore a sense of proportion. Anglican Papalism, with its conscious desire and commitment to pursue the expressed will of Our Lord Jesus Christ for unity, and our recognition that this necessarily involves full communion with the Roman Apostolic See, places our true home right at the heart of mainstream Christianity.

Loyal Anglicans
The loyalty of Anglican Papalists to our Anglican heritage is second to none. Spencer Jones’s England and the Holy See is a classic Anglican text, written for Anglicans by an Anglican. The overriding purpose of the Centenary Tractates of 1933 is to demonstrate that the true home of the Church of England is full union with the Holy See – which they demonstrate most effectively. The title of the series is – The Church of England and the Holy See.

The loyalty of Anglican Papalists to our Anglican roots is seen in many ways, of which the following are some:

1. Anglican Papalists have a good knowledge, understanding and appreciation of our Anglican heritage; usually better than that of fellow Anglicans. The two texts referred to above demonstrate this very clearly.

2. Anglican Papalists clergy and laity have a fine record of devoted work, often in the pastorally tougher parts of The Lord’s Vineyard. I note in The Catholic Herald of 11 November, 2005: ‘H.J. Fynes-Clinton, one of the prime movers [of Anglican Papalism], rarely had a good congregation at St Magnus the Martyr. I was a server at St Magnus from 1951 to 1959, when I went off as a student to Trinity College, Dublin, months before Father Fynes-Clinton died. Latterly, I served the 8am weekday Mass, occasionally attended by local office workers, as well as the lunchtime services. I myself worked in Barclays Chief Foreign Branch just up the road. For the 8am Mass Fr. Fynes would catch the underground from St. James Park, near where he lived, to Monument, close by St. Magnus. He was in his eighties. His GP had told him that this was too much for him, and when Fr Fynes-Clinton carried on nonetheless, his GP said: ‘Well, you’re on your own’. A good congregation? City of London parishes were viewed by many as sinecures. Fr. Fynes-Clinton viewed the parish of St Magnus as the very opposite, a most demanding ‘cure’ of souls. Far from being sinecures, City of London parishes are seen by diligent pastors as among the toughest pastoral assignments. Fr Fynes-Clinton led the way in weekday services in the City. Our community of worshippers in the 1950s at St Magnus had a powerful influence on me, for good, as I believe; and the inspiration was Fr Fynes-Clinton. I wish to say much more on this, but now discipline myself; except to say that the comment, which provoked my response I consider to be unworthy, and ignorance is a poor excuse.

3. Our recognition that we are in schism is an honest self-appraisal, not disloyalty. Were St John Houghton and his fellow Carthusian martyrs being disloyal to the Church in England when they took their stand against the tyrant Henry VIII? Was St Thomas More likewise being disloyal? Was St John Fisher also being disloyal? They were not Anglicans in schism. We are. But the issue is the same.

4. A true, thorough, critical evaluation of all that is good and worthwhile in our Anglican heritage is a necessary exercise of the principle of proportion.

5. The willingness to persevere in the face of misunderstanding, unfair treatment and misrepresentation is a test which demonstrated the loyalty of our forebears who were actively persecuted; and continues to be a test for us today.

6. Anglican Papalists, notably Spencer Jones and Fr Fynes-Clinton, expressed themselves very clearly about the responsibility of bishops to exercise a ministry of unity in witnessing faithfully to God’s revelation. They were absolutely clear that the mind of the Church took precedence over the vagaries of individual bishops. For this they have been criticised as inconsistent, disloyal and undisciplined. Yelton, in Anglican Papalists puts it thus: ‘This was a fairly typical attitude to bishops by those who on the other hand sought to uphold church order, displaying one of the ambiguities which has plagued the Catholic Revival throughout its existence.’ Which prompts the question; was Athanasius wrong to confront the Arian bishops? Was Athanasius ambiguous? What nonsense!

When it comes to charges of disloyalty, those who have in our times changed the fundamental nature of our Anglican heritage should become aware that they are in a very vulnerable glass house.

How others see us
About thirty years ago the local council of churches decided to hold the Week of Prayer service in our church. It was their first visit. The secretary of the council came around to arrange things, and I shewed her the church. ‘The Council won’t like this’, she said, as her nose twitched at a suspicion of incense in the air. ‘Shrines, candles…’ – the usual list of aids to worship in catholic churches which so upset the anti-catholic prejudice nurtured in the English since the sixteenth century. ‘But’, said I, ‘the local catholic Church is an active member of the council of churches, and you have held services there?’ ‘Yes’, she replied, ‘but we expect such things of them. We expect you to know better.’

Even to this day we should be well aware of just how deep-seated is anti-catholic prejudice and ignorance. In so far as this has declined, this has coincided with a decline in the place of religion as a whole in our society. So, Anglo-Catholics, and Anglican Papalists even more so, are criticised because we ought to know better.

An appreciation is given by Geoffrey Curtis CR in his Paul Couturier and Unity in Christ, 1964 [p.163]:We are beginning to see that Anglican Papalists have been unfairly judged. Abbé Couturier saw this very clearly. They are accused by English Roman Catholics of failure in logic and by many of their fellow Anglicans of disloyalty. There may be Anglican Papalists who are a law unto themselves and who ignore the force of the ordination pledges and are thus disloyal to our Church and to its bishops. There may well be an Anglo-Roman underworld as there have been Protestant and Modernist underworlds and, for all I know, an Inferno of ‘Moderation’. But the true Anglican Papalists are not of this calibre. They are a small group with a long lineage in our Church, and many are of the salt of the earth. Their particular standpoint many of them have recognised as involving a call to a life of reparation. Contrary to average opinion this small group is notable for its intellectual power as well as for its holiness. Perhaps the books of Anglican theology of this century that have been most widely read abroad have been books by Papalists – Spencer Jones’ England and the Holy See and Gregory Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy; Dr. S. H. Scott’s great work, Eastern Churches and the Papacy, is used by scholars in most parts of the world.

To other Anglicans their position seems neither disloyal to our Church nor, given their convictions, contrary to the logic of charity, but rather sadly disproportioned. We believe that our own Anglican heritage possesses certain Christian values in trust and that these would be jeopardized if we were to submit to Rome as she now is.

That is a gracious appreciation, but I am greatly puzzled that Fr Curtis sees Anglican Papalists as willing ‘to submit to Rome as she now is’ [his book was published in 1964], and so jeopardize our own good Anglican heritage. Submission is the Roman Catholic approach to Anglicans wishing to enter into full communion with the Roman Apostolic See. It is difficult indeed to see how this is compatible with the Anglican Papalists principle of corporate reunion. In number eight of the Centenary Tractates of 1933, Fr Fynes-Clinton has a section headed ‘Corporate Return’. In this he emphasizes: ‘Our schism from Rome was Corporate: the remedy must be Corporate’. Fr Corbould, in the same tractate [pages 25-26…quoted later] lists eight Anglican aspects which might be agreeable to Rome in the cause of reunion.

Fr Curtis was clearly sympathetic to the cause of unity with Rome. This is seen in the biography of Paul Couturier. Also, Fr Curtis was a prime mover in the recognition at the London Charterhouse of the Carthusian Martyrs. What is it about Anglican Papalists that Fr Curtis found to be ‘rather sadly disproportioned’? He is not alone among those of goodwill who seem to misunderstand us. Does some of the problem lie with us, and our possible failure to communicate clearly what our principles are? I remain genuinely puzzled. This is not because I believe that our movement is above criticism. Yet I suspect that some of our critics are more familiar with the fringe elements rather than with essence – not a sound basis for fair judgement.

There is also the phenomenon, still very much with us today, of anti-papalism amongst strongly traditional Anglo-Catholics. Amongst these would be found those content to be called Continuing Anglicans.

A more bizarre hostility is found in a Jesuit reviewing Yelton’s book. His review takes up so much space with abuse of Anglican Papalism that he leaves himself with no room at all to substantiate his false accusations. Briefly damning with faint praise – ‘occasional intellectual brilliance’ – to heaping abuse – misconceived, travesty, dishonest, parasitic, pastorally disastrous…what is it about Anglican Papalism that draws out such unfairness? But one point above all in that review suggests that time should not be wasted on it. ‘For Catholics, papalism is a position which few will understand.’ Recall the dictionary definition of papalism – ‘a supporter of the Pope or the papacy’. A Jesuit whose fourth vow is one of special obedience to the Holy Father in the matter of accepting missions, not understanding papalism? Let’s move on quickly.

A completely opposite and very positive view of us is seen by many Roman Catholics. See, for example, the account of the 17th December 2005 Brugge visit in the February 2006 Messenger. A key ingredient of such good relations is friendship, and an interesting example of this is also to be found in that Messenger, entitled Friendship and Ecumenism.

Fair minded Roman Catholics acknowledge that Anglican Papalism has drawn some of the anti-catholic prejudice away from Roman Catholics. A fair number of Roman Catholics learnt their catholic faith and life in the Church of England. Amongst these only a few ‘kick the ladder away’ or ‘bite the hand that fed them’. The Catholic League, once exclusively Anglican Papalist, now has Roman Catholic members, including Officers and Council members. We are in good heart.

Anglican Papalism since 1960
I take the date 1960 from Yelton’s Anglican Papalism – A History 1900-1960 [p.16]: ‘The real undermining of the Papalist tradition came in the period after 1960, which is not dealt with in detail in this study.’ This judgement is supported by reviewers of Yelton’s book: ‘He has written a study in failure’; ‘A lost cause’; ‘the coup de grace’; and so on. So, given the precise meaning of ‘Anglican Papalism as a movement of members of the Church of England or any Church in communion with it in support of the Pope or the papacy’, consider the evidence.

On 3rd December 1960 Dr Geoffrey Fisher visited the Pope. This was the first ever of an Archbishop of Canterbury to the Pope since the sixteenth century schism. Subsequent Archbishops of Canterbury, including our present one, have visited the Pope. Since 1960 the Second Vatican Council led to great improvement in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations. The Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism said [13]: ‘Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican communion occupies a special place.’ Since 1960 ARCIC was set up, and continues to do valuable work towards unity. Pope Paul VI, from a position of considerable knowledge and understanding, expressed a most gracious and generous appreciation of our Anglican heritage.

The Catholic League took Vatican II totally on board, and subsequently took the Catechism of the Catholic Church [1994] as our touchstone of orthodoxy. The League’s publications, including The Messenger, continue to promote the papalist cause. Notable here are two special issues – Reuniting Anglicans and Rome in October 1994; and The Unity of Christians: The Vision of Paul Couturier in February 2004.

The Congregation of the English Mission was an initiative of The League regarding corporate reunion, whose explorations for three years to 1990 are briefly described in Reuniting Anglicans and Rome. Much of the work and prayer for unity goes on at the grassroots level and doesn’t make the headlines. A good example is the inauguration of the Emmanuel Chapel in the Begijnhof in Brugge. The years since 1960 have seen some of the most positive gains in the search for unity. Sadly, the last few years have seen a significant turning away from unity with Rome on the part of the Church of England.

For several centuries the religious life of England was largely to be identified with the Church of England, hence Anglican Papalism. The continuing marginalisation of the Church of England in English society raises questions concerning the Anglican dimension of Papalism. We may be moving towards a situation where the need would be better expressed as English Papalism. The 1933 text was The Church of England and the Holy See. The 1902 text, England and the Holy See, may now more accurately reflect the situation.

Whether it be Anglican or English Papalism, the movement remains as necessary as ever, new challenges not withstanding. Seeking the will of Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a lost cause. Failure is not an option. The coup de grace? A tradition undermined? Inevitable flaws? A lost cause? Failure? Shades of Mark Twain: Reports of our death are an exaggeration.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Jericho-Jerusalem road.

Sermon preached at St Peter and St Paul’s Church on the sixth Sunday after Trinity, 15th July 2007, based on Deuteronomy xxx.9-13, Colossians i.1-14, St Luke x.25-37.

On the next day,
as he departs,
the Good Samaritan takes out two denarii,
gives them to the innkeeper,
and says to him,

'Take care of him;
and whatever more you spend,
when I come again, I will repay you.'

Just as he is leaving,
the Good Samaritan is accosted
by a rather formidable woman
clearly with a bone to pick.

“Where do you think you are going?”

The Samaritan stops dead,
taken aback by 13 stone
of pure peevishness standing before him.

“I’m going on my way,”
he says, clearly thrown
by this strange demand.
“So you’re going to leave
that poor chap here
are you?

Sure, you pick him up
and patch him up
and bring him here,
but then you leave him.


Why aren’t you staying
with him until he’s better?

Why aren’t you prepared
to travel with him back to his house
and make sure that he is returned safely?

You’ve paid for his bed and board here,
but how’s he going to get home?”

Should the Samaritan have done more?


It is clear to us
that it is the Samaritan
who acts as neighbour
for the victim.

In the Samaritan,
we see one who is willing
to make himself close to the one suffering;

the one who will not allow
distance to become an obstacle
to helping and loving and rescuing.

That’s the whole point of neighbourhood
- you make yourself close
to those folk around you.

But how close is close?


How many people would you say
are within 100ft of you
right now?

Would you say that
you are close
to each one of those people?

Let’s shrink the circle down to 10ft.

Are you close to all these folk?

What about at 1ft?

Are you close to the people
right next to you?

There are folk who
are not here in this building today
who are close to you.

You may even have a friend
a thousand miles away
with whom you are closer
than someone ahead of you
in the queue
at the Distribution of the Eucharist,

but it’s possible that
the person next door
might just as well be
on the other side of the world.

This is a phenomenon
that is affecting our Church.

How many people in this parish
do not actually live in this parish?

How many are from Northfleet,
from Welling,
from Dartford?
And how much
this parish benefits
from these folk!

Even though
they are not resident in the parish,
they are still a part of this parish.

But there is another question
that goes along with this idea.

How many people live in this parish
who are not members of the parish?

That number is rising.

The number of neighbours is shrinking.

What more should we be doing?


For the Samaritan,
his encounter with Jericho’s answer
to Nora Batty is troubling.

Surely there is a lot more that he can do.

Perhaps he ought to go back
and stay with this chap
and see him safely home,

but this takes him out of his next task,
out of his step on the journey.

It takes him away
from the next victim of robbery
on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.

It takes him away
from the next bond of neighbourhood
that he is to forge
as he treads this route again and again.


Meanwhile back at the inn,
months pass
and the victim grows whole again.

He decides to wait for
this Samaritan to come again,
to thank him for the kindness that he shows,

to pray with him
to the God whom they worship
albeit in different ways,

grateful for the love
of one man prepared to cross the distance
to become a neighbour.

And so he waits,
and, growing impatient,
he begins to go out onto the road
between Jerusalem and Jericho
in search of this Good Samaritan.

As he treads the way,
he sees a priest and a Levite ahead of him
passing by a small shape
huddled in the roadside.

As the man reaches it,
he sees that it is another man
and bruised,
left for dead by robbers.

He binds the wounds,
puts the victim onto his donkey
and wends his way back to the inn.

And as he travels back to the inn,
the man realises what he must do now:

he must tread the road
again and again looking for others,
so that he might be a neighbour to them.

A new neighbour walks the dangerous road
between Jerusalem and Jericho.


We too as a church walk on a journey
with a mission
to bring the love of Christ
to the people of Swanscombe.

It’s easy for us to be directed
away from that mission
by things that we feel we should be doing.

We need to ask ourselves,
“how are we forging the bonds of neighbourhood?

How are we closing the gap?”

Invitations into the Church
and various celebrations
certainly let the people of Swanscombe
know that we exist,

but without the bond-making,
the cultivation of neighbourhood,
we lack the strings that bind us together.

And clearly we are limited in what we can do.

If we consider ourselves
close to everyone in a radius of 100 miles,
then that’s just too much for us.

If we consider ourselves close
only to the person within 1 inch
then we are clearly too individualistic.

Somehow we have to reach out,
to as many people as we can.

We need to close the gap
even the gap between people
we cannot stand!

It’s a big ask - a huge ask.
-an ask that’s beyond us!

So how do we do it?

Is there an All-powerful Neighbour
who will help us if we ask Him properly?

So how do we ask Him to help us?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Do I have an "identify" crisis?

Knowing Me by Benjamin Zephaniah.

I don't often get the chance to reflect on something written by a Brummie West Indian and Ethiopian poet. But then I'm not just reflecting on something by a Brummie West Indian and Ethiopian poet, I'm reflecting on something written by Benjamin Zephaniah, and even then that's not enough because Benjamin Zephaniah is not just a name either.

The whole charade of identity affects us all.

We try to become something completely, to mould ourselves to a brand as if in doing so we become perfect. We should not seek to become the best Christian by becoming the best Protestant or Catholic, the best Roman- or Anglo- Catholic, the best Prayer Book Catholic or Anglo-Papalist, the best N.O. Anglo-Papalist or Tridentine Anglo-Papalist. That way we whittle down the groups with whom we are prepared to interact to ourselves, a single point spinning aimlessly in our own solitude.

Nor should we seek to become the perfect Roman Catholic by trying to commit mutilation of the person God created in trying to turn ourselves into a perfect replica of Papa Benedict?

In the West, we each have a tendency to have an identity crisis. This is due to the rampant individualisation which tells us that we are free to become what we want ourselves to be, and thus we try to discover who we want ourselves to be. We mould ourselves with plastic surgery, mindset thinking and soul-cleansing, follow the latest fad of fashion designed to bring out "the real you" and the result? Identity crisis!

As soon as we realise that God created us and that He has set us free to become the people that He created, the better. What He created is truly beautiful and what we do to ourselves is to take the lily of the field, re-perfume it with Davidoff, spray it pink, and carve up the petals with a pair of scissors so that they spell out "this is me"! By carving ourselves up, we make ourselves smaller, less the person that God made us to be.

We need to be ourselves in the context of other people. We need to have an "identify" crisis by looking out for people with whom we can identify ourselves in as many different ways as possible. We need not have friends that agree with us. It is possible for an Anglo-Papalist to have a close friend who is a Prayer-Book Catholic. The fact that a difference in Ecclesiology exists does nothing to destroy the fact that they identify with being Christians together. They are individuals that identify in a broad aspect of faith. Unfortunately this is not the case throughout the Catholic Anglican and Anglican Catholic spectrum.

Differences and similarities between human beings need to be seen together in context. Having differences should not be the seen as the privation of being able to identify with the other. Likewise having similarities should not be seen as a route for the destruction of the individual.

Can you identify with me here?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What if...?

Homily preached at Eltham College on 3rd July 2007

You are standing at the desk
of Deal or No Deal.

You've managed
to whittle the number of boxes down to two.

In one lies 1p,
in the other a quarter of a million.

The banker offers you £50,000,
and then Noel Edmonds asks you the question
- Deal or No Deal?

So what do you do?

Take £50,000
and throw away the possibility
that you could have won five times that amount,
or do you reject that amount of money
and risk going home with only 1p?

What's your decision?


Decision making affects us all.

Would you rather have
a slice of chocolate cake
or a slice of lemon meringue pie?

A glass of cola or lemonade?

Would you rather go out on a date with
Keira Knightley or Jennifer Lopez?

Sorry girls – Dougie or Harry from McFly?

For the most part,
our decisions are either easy to make
or they aren’t devastatingly important.

It’s when the decisions
are potentially life changing that we start to worry.


The problem with big decisions
is that we think to ourselves
“what happens if I make the wrong decision?”
and here begins the dreadful practice
of what-iffing.

“What if I’m choosing the wrong university?”

“What if I find that I’m studying
the wrong subject?”

Of course, it’s a good idea
to get as much information as possible
to satisfy our doubts
in order to make a balanced decision.

But the what-ifs can get sillier.

“What if I don’t make any friends?”

“What if the drinking water tastes funny?”

“What if the room faces west?”

“What if I can’t get the Sci-Fi channel?”

University admissions teams
have heard all these including
“What if the Students’ Union building
runs out of beer?”

as important as these questions are at the time,
they are largely irrelevant.

We are only asking them
because we are actually scared rigid
that we are leaving school for a new place
– a new phase in our lives.

This is a decision that
is approaching some of you
faster than others.

It is a decision
that you 11 year-olds have already had to face,
but you did not face it alone,
because you had your parents to help you
And they made the choice with you.

By the time you’re in the sixth form,
your parents can only advise,
it is only you who will have
to make the choice
and that is scary.

That’s when the what-ifs come in.


The job of the what-if is
to find an excuse not to change,
not to make that life-altering decision.

A what-if sneaks into your mind
like your little brother sneaks into your room
looking for something to pilfer
– your PS2 game,
your iPod
or your something
potentially embarrassing hidden under the mattress.

A what-if hunts around
looking for your insecurity
and when it finds it,
it plays on it undermining your confidence,
building your fears.

The end result is that
making that decision
becomes a source of anxiety and fear.

It is why some of us cannot face making that decision.

What can you do?


There is only one question
you have to answer with any decision
you have to make.

“Will I cope if it all goes Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston”

"Will I cope if it all goes wrong?"

The answer is yes. Always, yes.

If you make the wrong decision in life then,
admittedly, life will become uncomfortable
but you will be able to cope.

You will not face the consequences alone
—unless you choose to do so.
Christians look at the Saints
for their examples of how to live,
and it’s amazing just how many fail.

In fact all of them fail at one point or another.

St Peter denies that he ever knew the Lord
-wrong decision!

St Thomas doubts in the Resurrection
-wrong decision!

St Paul starts off
by making life unpleasant for Christians.
-wrong decision!

But their failure is only part
of their route through life,
and at the end of their lives
– and these three gentlemen
all meet violent ends –
they still shine for us today
from their place in Heaven,
just as God promised them.

We all make wrong choices.

We all embark on a project that is doomed to failure.

But that is life, an important part of life,
a beneficial and fruitful part of life.

Indeed failure is just as much
an achievement as success.

If you work hard and succeed,
then you achieve your goals
and get that high feeling of achievement.

However, if you work hard and you fail
then it is disappointing,
but there is much that you will achieve
through all that hard work.

The benefits of success are immediate;
the benefits of failure can only be seen after a while, but there are still benefits.


No-one likes to fail,
but we cannot let the fear of failure ruin our life
by preventing us from making
a life-changing decision.

In the end, it is all a question of Faith.

It is all a question of belief that somehow,
though life may get difficult or painful,
though the night be dark
and we be far from home,

we will be sustained and helped
and grow from our experiences
and find a greater,
more lasting happiness.

Christians believe that
this is one of the benefits
of having Faith in God.

What is the decision that you fear making most?

What will you do to overcome that fear?