but allow me to be excused
Peter Mullen explains why, despite being alienated by the Church of England’s recent innovations, he prefers to stay and fight his corner
At the inauguration of the Ordinariate in Westminster cathedral on 15 January, Archbishop Nichols said in his homily, ‘The Ordinariate will contribute to the wider goal of visible unity between our two Churches.’ This was the correct positive emphasis, and the perfect antidote to the mumbled protests by some ‘liberal’ Anglicans to the effect that the Ordinariate is a new papal aggression after the style of the re-establishing of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850. It is nothing of the kind. The conception of the Ordinariate demonstrates a marvellously sensitive and generous reaching out by the Holy Father to those members of the Church of England who are alienated by its innovations in theology, liturgy and ecclesiology in recent years.
A war of attrition
I am one of the massively disaffected. My forty years as a priest in the Church of England has sometimes seemed like a running battle, a war of attrition, against the tide of novelty and banality, the relentless surrender to secular values: the substitution of Zeitgeist for Heilige Geist. The prevailing ‘liberal’ – the inverted commas are necessary because those who rejoice in the name ‘liberal’ are actually the embodiments of the very opposite of that virtue – theology in the CofE regards Christian doctrine as an extended series of metaphors for social policy and left-wing political ideology. So the parable of the loaves and fishes is not the report of a miracle, but an example of what can be achieved if only we would all share; the resurrection of Our Lord was not the miraculous raising of his body from the tomb but only psychology – some nebulous sign of new life in the early Christian community.
Liturgically, the revisions have been a catastrophe of iconoclasm. The King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer are the religious register in English. They were written when our language was at its strongest and most supple, but have been viciously discarded in favour of new forms so banal and shoddy as to be risible, if only their universal acceptance were not tragic. The hierarchy of my Church have largely spent the last half-century depriving the English people of their Christian heritage. The greatest ecclesiological innovation of these years was the ordination of women to the priesthood and the decision soon to admit them to the episcopate.
The Pope is offering me beautiful and sacred teachings, unsullied by the poisonous deposits of modernized, debunked Anglicanism. I should be grateful to the Holy Father and accept his generous hospitality without further delay? I would surely then be escaped from the sheer nastiness of the modern bishops and the creepy non-believing political clique which runs the General Synod.
Sticking to tradition
But I have these teachings already. I believe that I was validly ordained. Whatever the hierarchy of the collapsed Church of England commands, I can refuse. I have the real Bible and the real Prayer Book. I have the Sacraments. I have the ancient Creeds. I have the glorious teachings of St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, St Anselm. I do not actually spend one moment of my time attending to the pronouncements and outpourings of the secularized and failed modern CofE.
I study our ancient and traditional sources. I luxuriate in the superior richness of the great Anglican divines: Donne, Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, William Law; and the outstanding Christian men of letters who formed our English life and literature: Samuel Johnson, Coleridge, T.S. Eliot, C.H. Sisson. I worship to the music of Tallis, Byrd, Purcell, Elgar, Britten and Vaughan Williams. And I have my friends, my people – an informed, devout and affectionate congregation.
Besides, it is as hard to find oases of sanity in the Church of Rome as it is in the CofE. For every Catholic parish church like the Brompton Oratory, there are a hundred where one hears only the Noddy language of the inferior modern Mass – celebrated by the priest standing in the west-facing, shopkeeper position – accompanied by music as tedious, banal and infantilized as anything we Anglicans have to offer.
When C.H. Sisson was faced with the problem of what traditionalists ought to do, he said:
‘What then is the position of the theological rump in our now lay, secularised clerisy? There are three possibilities. They can stay and fight their corner, struggling for an intelligibility which might come again, and will come, if it is the truth they are concerned with. They can sit on pillars in some recess of the national structure, waiting for better times. Or they can let their taste for having an ecclesiastical club carry them into one or other of those international gangs of opinion – that which has its headquarters in Rome or that which has a shadowy international meeting-place in Canterbury. In any case it will be a political choice that is being made. For my part, I shall prefer those who stay and fight their corner, content to be merely the Church in a place.’
I wish the Ordinariate well, but I prefer to stay and fight my corner. ND
This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald