Byzantine Catholicism


Many believe in or claim that they believe in and hold fast to Catholic doctrine on such questions as social authority, the right of owning private property, on the relations between capital and labour, on the rights of the labouring man, on the relations between Church and State, religion and country, on the relations between the different social classes, on international relations, on the rights of the Holy See and the prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff and the Episcopate, on the social rights of Jesus Christ, Who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord not only of individuals but of nations. In spite of these protestations, they speak, write, and, what is more, act as if it were not necessary any longer to follow, or that they did not remain still in full force, the teachings and solemn pronouncements which may be found in so many documents of the Holy See, and particularly in those written by Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV. There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism.

– Pius XI

Hamish Fraser once observed that the universal restoration of the traditional liturgy would not solve the crisis in the church. The traditional liturgy was, after all, universally observed before the crisis arose and it did not prevent it. That which was not upheld and which would have prevented the crisis, the absence of which led to the crisis and the restoration of which alone will solve it, is the preaching of the Social Kingship of Christ. However, as Hilary White has recently and eloquently observed the Kingship of Christ exists exclusively for the salvation of souls. When His disciples could not find Him in Capharnaum they found the Lord alone in the hills praying. He said to them “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” As I once heard a very holy monk observe, the word here translated as ‘came out’ is ἐξῆλθον the same word as Our Lord uses in John 8:42 to describe His eternal generation. He went out into the hills to prepare to preach to the people. He came out from the Father in eternity that He might breathe forth the Spirit. He came into the world to save mankind, but that salvation consists in going out from the perishing city as He went out from Capharnaum to share in the eternal processions of the Divine Persons through prayer – the one thing necessary. Only in this light are any temporal benefits (such as the people of Caphernum sought) even benefits. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

St Benedict says “To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.” But he is not addressing would-be statesmen or even the fathers of families, he is addressing would-be monks. The Social Kingship of Christ consists in the reordering and subordination of temporal realities to the supernatural end. Its foundation lies in the recognition of the utterly surpassing nature of that end. Its foundation is in the monastery and the monastery’s foundation is in heaven. Without this all temporal Christian struggle is worthless. The path of restoration proceeds from the monastery through the liturgy to the capitol and back again, but cut off  from its source and destination it will nought avail.

I have had the opportunity over the years four times to celebrate the feast of Christ the King on its traditional date in the United States of America according to the traditional rite. On one of those occasions the Mass was arranged by a lay ‘Latin Mass Community’ who ensured that it was celebrated with gusto. A High Mass with full choir, Blessed Sacrament procession and the solemn intoning of the Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On the other occasions the Mass was offered by the FSSP. Now the FSSP are splendid fellows but the liturgy was not at all celebrated with the vigour and pomp one might expect for the Feast instituted to combat social and political modernism, the consecration was recited in a frankly perfunctory manner (and one occasion omitted entirely), there was no procession and the Blessed Sacrament was not exposed. Most seriously of all there was absolutely no mention made in the sermon of the Social Kingship of Christ on any of these occasions.

Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in order to compel the clergy to preach this doctrine.

[A]lthough in all the feasts of our Lord the material object of worship is Christ, nevertheless their formal object is something quite distinct from his royal title and dignity. We have commanded its observance on a Sunday in order that not only the clergy may perform their duty by saying Mass and reciting the Office, but that the laity too, free from their daily tasks, may in a spirit of holy joy give ample testimony of their obedience and subjection to Christ. The last Sunday of October seemed the most convenient of all for this purpose, because it is at the end of the liturgical year, and thus the feast of the Kingship of Christ sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year, and, before celebrating the triumph of all the Saints, we proclaim and extol the glory of him who triumphs in all the Saints and in all the Elect. Make it your duty and your task, Venerable Brethren, to see that sermons are preached to the people in every parish to teach them the meaning and the importance of this feast, that they may so order their lives as to be worthy of faithful and obedient subjects of the Divine King.

Hamish Fraser famously described the American Catholic as “a Protestant who goes to Mass”. There is, alas, all too much truth in this ungenerous observation. One is often struck by the way in which American Catholics will say “I’m Catholic” rather than “I am a Catholic” as if ‘Catholic’ were one among a number of flavours of Christian. They will even talk about ‘Catholics and Christians’ as if there were some other sort of Christian or as if Catholics were not Christians or as if there were some kind of generic ‘mere Christianity’ approximating mildly conservative Protestantism upon which Marian devotion and five sacraments and the Real Presence are (hopefully) harmless baroque accretions.

Fr Brian Harrison observes:

[R]ejecting papal authority in favour of one’s own individual judgment was a perfect recipe for religious anarchy. And in medieval Christendom it was much easier to see that fact – and also to see that such anarchy is thoroughly undesirable – than it is in modern Western society. Desensitised after several centuries spent under a socio-political umbrella that shelters multiple coexistent Christian denominations, we have now, as a society, baptised this chaotic anarchy with the bland name of “religious pluralism”, and have come to see it as an instance of normal and healthy progress, rather than of pathological decline from the revealed norm of a Catholic polity that recognises the kingship of Christ. (After all, isn’t such ‘pluralism’ a cornerstone of democracy and a guarantee of individual liberty?) Those of us who are converts to the faith can testify from experience that for modern Protestants right across the liberal-evangelical-fundamentalist spectrum, the co-existence of many Christian denominations or “churches”, while theoretically acknowledged as falling short of the biblical ideal of Christian unity, is for practical purposes taken for granted as something normal, natural and inevitable – pretty much like the co-existence of many different countries, languages, styles of music, or ice cream flavours. From that perspective it is precisely “Rome” that appears as the renegade – the black sheep in the Christian fold – by virtue of her “arrogant” claim to be the one and only true Church. And let us recall the full radicality of this Protestant critique. It is not that the Southern Baptists (let us say) object to the aforesaid claim simply because they consider their own denomination, rather than “Rome”, to be the one true Church. That would basically be the same kind of objection that many claimants to this or that national throne have made over the centuries against rival claimants: “It is not you, but I, who am the rightful king!” No, the Protestant position cuts much deeper. It is like objecting to someone’s claim to the throne of England on the grounds that no such throne exists! It’s like protesting that anyone at all who claims to be England’s rightful ruler is ipso facto an impostor and potential tyrant whose pretensions must be firmly resisted! For the common position now shared by Protestants is precisely that no single Christian denomination may claim to be the Church founded by Christ, and, therefore, that no leader of any one denomination may dare claim the authority to make doctrinal or governing decisions that bind all Christians. Rather, it is said, each denomination should respectfully recognise many (or even all) of the others as being true, that is, real, “churches”, and so limit itself to making the modest claim of being preferable to the others in one way or another – for instance, by virtue of possessing what it believes is a better understanding of Scripture. In other words, the different organised “churches”, according to this ecclesiology, are seen as being in this respect pretty much like banks, schools, cars, brands of toothpaste, or any other sorts of commodities and services. It is considered legitimate to promote one or other as being of better quality than the rest; but just as it would be outrageous and beyond the pale for Wells Fargo to claim seriously that none of its competitors is truly a bank, or for General Motors to claim that nobody else makes real automobiles, or for Colgate ads to proclaim that what you’ll get in tubes of other brands is not just inferior toothpaste but fake toothpaste – so Protestants right across the liberal-conservative spectrum consider it theologically outrageous and beyond the pale for any single Christian denomination (read: Roman Catholicism) to claim that it is the one and only real Church.

The analogy of a disputed throne versus ideological republicanism is quite apt. The nonsense that legitimate governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed” goes hand in hand with nominalist contractualist ecclesiology. It is this Protestant vision and only this vision that could make sense of an intended adherence to the Gospel and a simultaneous acceptance of the ‘separation of Church and State’ as desirable for its own sake. The superstitious awe in which the citizens of the USA are expected to hold the Freemasons and Deists who composed their constitution and Declaration of Independence forbids the very idea of taking an axe to the First Amendment. American Catholics are expected to fly the flag of the US in the very sanctuaries of their Churches. This is extremely rare to non-existent even in countries that are or were formally Catholic, but this is the flag of the first western polity since the Edict of Theodosius in 380 to withhold recognition from Christ and which substituted the five pointed star for the Cross on its flag. This secularised banner is often, even in churches, hoisted on a staff surmounted by a golden eagle, the very symbol the Labarum supplanted and which was employed to desecrate the Holy of Holies in 70 AD.

Between the World Wars liberal economics and politics seem tired. The world was torn between totalitarian ideologies that demanded the whole person. The Church thrived in this context with an integral vision of God and man that answered all the aspirations of the human person in freedom and ranged her against “the modern world in arms”. The Leonine formula of indifference to the form of regime but implacable insistence on the conformity of the civil order to the Divine and Natural Laws made vast strides against Modernity. In the wake of the Second World War the USA was left as the hegemonic power and the ideology of its founders has eaten away at the Church. The ‘Boston Heresy Case‘ was a disaster as the quasi-condemnation of Feeney’s garbled version of explicitism seemingly justified the complete surrender of the American church to the spirit of Thomas Jefferson. The United Kingdom, born of the revolution of 1688, has this paradoxical advantage: the sovereign is subjected to a religious test. The Jacobites, like the colony of Maryland, became entangled in the dubious cause of religious liberty. The rectification of the British constitution, upon the conversion of the Monarch and the people, requires only a single Act of Parliament.

Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux!

Advertisements

There was a brief moment in the twelfth century when Manuel I Komnenos considered attempting to undo the Great Schism in grand style by persuading the pope (endlessly troubled by the German emperors) to reverse the translatio imperii and crown the soverign of Constantinople as Holy Roman Emperor. Surely, it was provident and fitting that the first Christian Emperor should have vacated the Eternal City to make way for the Supreme Pontiff. “For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good” as Boniface VIII would say. Looked at this way the Second Rome is no insult to the Elder and the Greater but a fitting seat for the first of all laymen. Perhaps the providential role marked out for Russia at Fatima indicates that the Almighty favours such a reversal of the revolution of 800 (perhaps especially since the Kings of France failed to comply with His earlier requests). As Soliviev famously cried out to Leo XIII:

Oh deathless spirit of the blessed Apostle, invisible minister of the Lord in the government of His visible Church, thou knowest that she has need of an earthly body for her manifestation. Twice already thou hast embodied her in human society: in the Greco-Roman world, and again in the Romano-German world; thou hast made both the empire of Constantine and the Empire of Charlemagne to serve her. After these two provisional incarnations she awaits her third and last incarnation. A whole world full of energies and of yearnings but with no clear consciousness of its destiny knocks at the door of universal history. What is your word ye peoples of the world? […] Your word, O peoples of the world, is free and universal Theocracy, the true solidarity of all nations and classes, the application of Christianity to public life, the Christianising of politics; freedom for all the oppressed, protection for all the weak; social justice and good Christian peace. Open to them therefore, thou key-bearer of Christ, and may the gate of history be for them and for the whole world the gate of the Kingdom of God!

Doubtless the virtual identification of the Church with the Roman Patriarchate in the High Middle Ages was an essential precondition for the ambition and the glory of that greatest of all eras but it was also a stain upon that glory to whose eradication many of the highest deeds of the heroic age were directed. If she does ever rise again Christendom will be breathing with both lungs.

Breathe in here…

Drink deep here…

Period appropriate crusading musical accompaniment…

Triumph_orthodoxy

“For those who reject the grace of redemption preached by the Gospel as the only means of our justification before God, Anathema!”

The joint statement of the Pope and the ‘Patriarch’ of Moscow contains the following paragraph:

It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

This is the ultimate insult to the Eastern Churches and the ultimate illustration of precisely the phenomenon it purports to reject. The authentic Easter Churches, the bishops of the non-Roman rites in communion with the Holy See, are casually insulted and referred to as ‘ecclesial communities’ by the Patriarch of Rome for the sake of a superficial public relations opportunity with a schismatic. Presumably this is how the dissident Byzantines could expect to be treated also if they ever did come back into union with Rome?

This Sunday, in the old rite, part of our Lord’s discourse about the end times will be read or chanted. The first three gospels each tell us that after He had prophesied the destruction of the temple, His disciples came to Him to ask when all would be fulfilled. St Matthew and St Luke simply tell us that “the disciples” asked the questions; St Mark specifies that four disciples asked, namely Peter, James, John – and Andrew. This evangelist was recording the preaching of Peter in Rome, and doubtless St Peter had mentioned the names, so as not to lose the opportunity to honour his own brother, who had first brought him to Christ.

We are familiar with the idea that the first three of these disciples formed an inner ring within the twelve. They were chosen to be there when Jairus’s daughter was raised from the dead, at the Transfiguration and at the Agony. But this is the only occasion when St Andrew is joined to their company: to hear first of the fall of the temple, of the end of the rites of the Old Covenant and of the slaughter of the ancient people of God; and then of that which these things foreshadowed, the great persecution of the Church, the coming of the lawless one, the consummation of all things and the return of Christ in glory. Why was the apostle Andrew chosen to hear these things directly from the mouth of Christ?

Perhaps in part because he is the “first-called”, Πρωτόκλητος, and so had been following the Lord longer than anyone (along with the disciple who was with him when he was called); it was fitting therefore that he should hear of the rewards for those who persevere to the end. Perhaps also because he would become the patron saint of that nation which, more than any other, seems bound up with the Church’s fortunes as she makes her way toward those last days: Russia.

It is now almost a hundred years since Lenin entered holy Russia in his sealed train and since the Queen of Heaven told the three children that that nation would first spread its errors throughout the world and then be made the chosen instrument for their correction. And they have been spread, perhaps beyond the hopes of hell itself. But just as Christ’s words do not pass away, so nor do hers, through whom the Word was made flesh. St Andrew’s nation will be consecrated to her and become a fountain of grace for the last days, perhaps for resistance in that final persecution, or perhaps only when antichrist shall have been overthrown, and the Church enjoys, if this be the plan of heaven, a time of flourishing before the second coming, foreshadowed by the forty days her Spouse once spent on earth between Resurrection and Ascension.

It is not without reason that his feast everywhere is celebrated on the cusp of Advent, on the vigil of December’s kalends. As St John the Baptist from his place on earth prepared all men for the first coming of the Lord, so St Andrew from his place in heaven prepares all men for the second. Nor is his name devoid of mystery, for it means manliness, or courage. When those days come, upon whomsoever they may come, such as have not been known since the foundation of the world, we shall have need of Andrew then.

It’s a day late for the feast, but perhaps some of our small yet select readership might be interested in this poem to St Athanasius that I recently came acros. Despite the archaizing style, it seems from the content to be reasonably contemporary.

‘At Alexandria, the birthday of St Athanasius, bishop of that city, most celebrated for sanctity and learning. Amost all the world had formed a conspiracy to persecute him’ (from the Roman Martyrology for 2nd May)

Athanasius! Thou art living at this hour

Though night has seized and manned each highest tower

Where sons of light in opium’s pleasant power

Lie sleeping still, or ‘wake but speechless cower;

As once across the Alexandrine main

Thou gazed’st and saw’st the world dissolve again

In weakness, whom the true Son’s blessed pain

Had scarce delivered from the unclean reign.

   For Him thou wander’dst then in every land.

   The Gallic snows thou felt’st upon thy face

   And lay’st concealed amid the pious sand

   While Caesar’s thundering armies sought thy trace.

   Five times a beggar, six times thou held’st the throne.

   Father, but once, restore us to our own.

Next Page »