Few things could better typify the modern Church of England and its place in the national life than its response to the Brexit crisis: prayer ‘drop-ins’ with a cup of tea.

Suggestions for intercessions and readings have been put together by the Liturgical Commission, including prayers specially drafted by the Archbishop of York.

The only problem for parish ministers, hoping to join in the fun, will be how many chairs to put out.


As Brexit plays out to what many of us have seen as its all but inevitable conclusion – delay and final abandonment – it is worth asking why the project has engaged such visceral emotions and been so definitively divisive. The answer surely is that it is about more than at first appears.

Remainers have majored on predictions of economic disaster. First Brexit itself, then a ‘hard’ Brexit, has been portrayed as ‘catastrophic’. But they were not talking about the economy. Behind the rhetoric the reality was a commitment to supra-nationalism, and the benefits it supposedly brings: peace in Europe after a century of disastrous wars; greater tolerance of minorities and integration of peoples; advantages of scale and co-operation. Remainers were not simply for the status quo of the last forty or fifty years: they had a vision for the future fuelled by the Enlightenment rejection of the past.  

Leavers have been accused of an obsession with immigration and of an offensive xenophobia. But instead they were talking about democratic accountability and national integrity: the ability to identify with a country in which one takes pride and part. Leavers have an intrinsic distrust of the novel and the fabricated, and instead embrace the enduring and the organic. In short, they are for the Common Law rather than the Code Napoleon.

These differences – necessarily expressed in terms of a treaty relationship recently undertaken – are nevertheless fundamental. More even than the divisions of left and right, which have come to dominate modern politics, they are the real stuff of political strife.  Small wonder that such passions have been aroused.

Small wonder, too, say Leavers, that the European project has been embraced by countries with a largely different experience of twentieth century history from our own.

Those of the twenty-seven which existed before 1945 had their modern identity forged in the crucible of that war – the Germans, after a short but eventful history as a single nation, by defeat and partition; the French by defeat, humiliation and collaboration; the Italians by defeat, subsequent invasion and civil war.

In truth we have little in common with those who have proved enthusiastic for the EU. Dean Acheson famously remarked in 1962 – one year before Britain first attempted to join the EEC – that Britain had “lost an empire, and failed to find a role”. The demise of Empire, however, was an event quite different from the political upheavals in mainland Europe.  It left our institutions intact in a way that is not true of any of the constituent nations of the Union.

The truth, it seems, is that the ill-fated referendum was an encounter between the residual nationalism and patriotism of the English people, and those who have been educated to suppose that such sentiments are outmoded and destructive.

It was bound to be a fight to the death.

Memento Mori…

Cardinal Danneels is dead, and the streets of St Gallen will be empty without him. He who secured the election of Bergoglio and stood beside him on his day of triumph is called away to the final account.

Danneels was a year older than his protégé.   A cold chill has passed over the Vatican gerontocracy.


St Anselm of Canterbury

So imprecise in his statements and doubtful in his judgements is the present pontiff that a whole industry has grown up to explain what he means. You will remember the slim volumes of the ‘Theology of Pope Francis’ which Benedict graciously refused to endorse, and the ‘Lexicon of Pope Francis’, with essays by Tina Beattie and Justin Welby.

Now a new exponent of the dark art has entered the lists, at a meeting of the Roman clergy in St John Lateran.

“Pope Francis practices a translation of tradition,” said Italian theologian Andrea Grillo, who teaches at the Pontifical Academy of St. Anselmo in Rome. “He moves the enemy from outside to within.” (The Professor was speaking in the presence of the Holy Father.) It is a phrase of which Thomas Rosica himself would be proud.

Francis – in Grillo’s view – sees the Church as beset from within with modern versions of the ancient heresies of Pelagianism and Gnosticism. These heresies, says Grillo, manifest themselves in the modern church, in four ways: love of Latin; ‘mummified liturgy’; failure to concede positions of authority to women; and undue reliance on canon law.

Supposing this diagnosis of the ills of the modern church to be accurate, readers will ask themselves in what way this relates to Pelagianism and Gnosticism as generally understood.

Pelagianism, you will remember, is the teaching of a dark age Irish monk that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special divine aid or assistance. Gnosticism is an amorphous body of teaching that claims that the material world is created by an emanation or ‘works’ of a lower god, trapping the divine spark within the human body. This divine spark can be liberated by gnosis – spiritual knowledge acquired through direct experience.

Grillo (and Francis, it seems) has evacuated the words of their useful, historical meaning, and turned them into portmanteau terms for his own ecclesiological bêtes noires. Their use is simply intended to apply a veneer of scholarship and learning to a confusion of naked prejudices.

Victorian Values Again

The lynch mob that is the Australian popular media is up in arms, protesting the leniency of the six year sentence of George Pell. Broadcast on national television, the sentence can hardly have made compelling viewing. Google it and see.

The faltering judge, incapable of reading his own script, added nothing to the majesty of Victorian Law. The Oscar goes to the Cardinal for his dignity and calm.

Laudatory II

As many kind readers have pointed out, the quotation below (Laudtatory) was of Horace Walpole about Pope Benedict XIV (Prospero Lambertini).

Those who thought it was by Fr Thomas ‘Copy-cat’ Rosica about Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) should hang their heads in shame.


“Loved by papists, esteemed by Protestants, a priest without insolence or interest, a prince without favourites, a pope without nepotism, an author without vanity, a man whom neither intellect nor power could corrupt.”

Could this be a description of our own dear Pope?

Answer tomorrow!