As I and my brother hermits stand on the margins of the World in the Hebrides, sanctified centuries ago by such great missionary saints as Columba, Brendan, Kenneth and Aidan we wonder at this strange world. What is this world that we view from the watchtower of the farthermost West? To us it seems shot through with so many contradictory threads. For here gazing at the ever changing sea and skies, ornamenting islands of great beauty yet strangely sad, one sees all humanity caught up in the apparently endless struggle between good and evil where the odds always seem heavily stacked against the good simply because the lukewarm cannot bestir themselves to heroism.
What then of this terrible but wonderful world spread before our gaze, and what of the great ark of the Church which rides upon an ocean whipped up into a colossal storm? What will happen to the World and to us? What hope for the young who are riding into the eye of the storm?
John Paul the Great in his book “Crossing the threshold of Hope” quoted Andre Malraux who reflected that “the twenty first century would be the century of religion or it would not be at all”. This seems to be indeed the case. We cannot continue to destroy millions of unborn babies, keep most of the World in a state of dire poverty, rape the Earth of its resources, pour toxic fumes into the atmosphere, poison our seas and rivers and expect that the world will continue as before. Even more appallingly we cannot indulge in megalomaniac science with cloning and genetic engineering --- we cannot play at God. We have two options; the first is that by our own evil we can unwittingly inaugurate the Apocalypse which in fact is the work of God, for he will deem when the time is ready for the Anti Christ to herald the close of the ages and the second is that the World submit itself to the Lordship of Christ, and change.
It does not seem that the latter is at all possible, and we can despondently or exultantly await the terrors of the End. However before we submit ourselves to a kind of Dies Irae mentality, we would do well to listen to those thrilling words of the Archangel Gabriel at The Annunciation “For nothing is impossible to God”.
Sadly since Vatican II great damage has been done to the whole missionary work of The Church. The unwitting end of the dialogue with non Christian religions is that all you have is an interesting discussion that ends up in an endless exchange of ideas, incomparable courtesy and absolute no conversions to Christianity at all. It remains a talking shop, however intellectually dazzling and alluring it might be. What is lacking is passion, heroism and a willingness to lay down one’s life for the preaching of the Gospel.
Where is the passion of those first Crusaders who took the Cross to rescue the holy places of The Holy Land, and which was no war of aggression, pace our secular critics drenched in the banalities of the Enlightenment? Where is the missionary zeal of those early Celtic and Anglo Saxon monks who converted Europe in the 6th and 7th centuries? Where too is the ardour of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the 13th Century and beyond? Yet again what of the extraordinary missionary vitality of the Counter Reformation and the explosion of religious orders in the 19th century, where men and women forsook safety and security, comfort and comradeship and took the Gospel to the ends of the World that souls might be saved. Where have our blazing convictions gone in this age of the sordid, depressed, and depraved anti hero?
What can be done? We must look at what was and might be again. True you cannot re-invent the past. However you can look forward using the sign posts of the past to help discover what the future might be.
Let us look at one period of European History when there was a cohesion that was harmonious, despite the usual problems that beset the human condition. The Church in 1054 would seem an inauspicious place to begin. For it was in that year that the schism between the Western and Eastern Church began. However, despite this spiritual and ecclesiastical fault line, something extraordinary began to happen. For under the leadership of one of the greatest Popes of all time, Gregory VII, who would have been called great, if another Pope had not had the same name and was called great, an extraordinary renewal of the Church began. Nowhere can one find such a thrilling anticipation of the restoration of the Church than in these simple words of the great Catholic historian Philip Hughes:
Catholicism was, nevertheless, on the eve of a restoration so speedy in its realisation and so magnificent in its scale that, even yet, no one has adequately described it as a whole. The chief figure in that restoration was the monk Hildebrand whom Gregory VI, in 1045, took from his monastery to be his secretary.
Hildebrand as Gregory VII would wrest the controlling power over the Church from Emperors, Kings and Princes and bring it back into the hands of the Papacy. Since the 18th century with such Emperors as Joseph II of Austria, Napoleon, and the Spanish and Portuguese Kings and Queens of this period, there continues the attempt to subordinate the Church to the State. At times, such as in 19th and 20th century France, it appears that the Church is losing the battle, and this seemed grimly clear to those of little faith when the suffocating grip of Communism looked as if it would destroy Faith in the lands of the East. However no-one would have predicted in the person of John Paul the Great another Hildebrand, who like a Gregory The Great, and a Leo The Great rolled into one, was to be the nemesis of the Soviet Empire.
This great Pope has bequeathed to his worthy successor Benedict XVI the task of steering the great Ark of the Church into the waters of Peace, where the Bride of Christ may once again be clothed in the majesty and beauty of her spouse.
Let us return again to the middle of the 11th Century and see the glory and the splendour that might be the Church’s in this the 21st Century.
This period, of just under two and half centuries from 1045 to 1274, and which closes with the Council of Lyons saw the Catholic phoenix rise from confusion, degradation and disintegration. What were the qualities then of this resurrection? They were 1) a freeing of the Church from secular control; 2) a liturgical flowering with the Cluniac Reform, which had begun in the 10th century despite a depraved Papacy; 3) the rise of new forms of the hermit life, most notably with the Camaldolese and the Carthusian hermits; 4) the emergence of the most extraordinary monastic renewal movement that the Church has ever known, namely the Cistercians; 5) The efflorescence of the Canons of St. Augustine, and their life of prayer, hospitality, and charity, and whose finest example would be St. Norbert and the Premonstratensian Canons; 6) The emergence of the new lay movements; 7) The heroic ardour of the Crusades which finds its acme in the orders of Knights Templar, Hospitaller, and Teutonic; 8) The extraordinary rediscovery of Evangelical poverty with the Dominicans and Franciscans and their apostolic zeal; 9) The final flowering of theology and philosophy under Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Ramon Lull, which then would lie dormant until Newman in 19th century, and Von Balthasar in our present age; 10) the appearance of Gothic Architecture;
11) Chivalry; and finally, 12) the greatest poetic reflection of this glorious age in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Here then are the great signposts for our sickened and near dying age. How do we see a new Christendom, but this time spreading across the whole Earth? It would look something like this and would promote:
1) A Papacy renewed by a true sense of collegiality shorn of its more bureaucratic adhesions and consolidated not, by the necessary, and overly bureaucratic Curia, but by true and living Patriarchates centred, not only on Constantinople, Moscow, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria (Antioch could take in the Near East and India, and Alexandria all Africa) but say also on Washington for North America, Mexico City for Latin America, Sydney for Australasia and Oceania, and Tokyo, Peking, and Seoul for the rest of Asia. This would define in a special way the Petrine Office and it would also dignify collegiality and root it in the ancient Church, without impairing the primacy of Peter or the doctrine of infallibility. What would give an added glory to the Church would be the re-emergence of the Holy Roman Empire which would supplant the ailing and doomed European Union, which seems to be a refugee from the Enlightenment, while totally lacking its artistic and philosophical panache. How such an Empire would appear would be beyond the imagination of this present writer, but it would include the ingredients of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries listed above.
The Holy Roman Emperor would be there to guard the freedom of the Papacy and the Church and to do all in his power along with other rulers to encourage the preaching of the Gospel throughout the World, and to see that Catholic Doctrine be protected and that heresy would be dealt with kindly and firmly, while eschewing the worst excesses of the Inquisition.
2) An imaginative rediscovery of the beauty of the Liturgy and resacralising of it. What has happened since the Second World War has been nothing more and nothing less than a secularising of the Liturgy. Such an idea would be utterly incomprehensible to a good Hindu, Buddhist, Shintoist, or even to a good animist. However the midsummer madness concocted after Vatican II must end. It is best ended by Gregorian Chant being reinserted back into the Liturgy, from which it was never meant to depart in the first place and the celebration of the Mass largely ad orientem. This renewal has been greatly assisted by Benedict XVI’s recent Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, which has given the old Rite of the Roman Mass its place back in the Church as an Extraordinary Rite. Seminaries must have courses on Church Architecture andbe told that nothing can be built without symmetry or beauty. A careful reading of Constantinople II may will be necessary for all priests and religious in this regard, and also schools of Church architecture and art should be set up if possible in every diocese, failing that in every Metropolitan jurisdiction.
3) A revival of the Eremitical life and new forms of Monasticism, which is happening at present in a somewhat limited way, which will aid both the revival of the episcopate, the secular clergy and the liturgy.
4) A reawakening of the Augustinian Canons in all the splendour that was theirs in the Middle ages. This will in turn renew the secular clergy.
5) A continuing growth of new ecclesial movements which will feed not only new religious orders, such as renewed Orders of Friars, but may lead to something unheard of and antipathetic to the present age, but possibly utterly necessary for the inert and immoral Western World, namely The Military Orders of Knights such as those in the era of the Crusades. The Church should have been defended against Communism and was not, and so millions of people died, among them the greatest number of martyrs since the beginning of Christianity. The real menace to the West is not Islam, dangerous though it might appear, the real danger to the West is the de- Christianized West, which relishes the day when the Church is destroyed or has become subservient to a Godless humanist state.
6) A rediscovery of the sacredness of the feminine, which was so important in the world of chivalry and the troubadours, and which will enable us to see that the woman of the early middle ages was far more emancipated than we think.
7) A reworking of Theology that is thoroughly patristic and also Thomist and which avoids all the pitfalls of decadent scholasticism, while open to true theological speculation.
8) A resacralising of the arts, which have become the playground of the devil.
It would appear then that such a task is anachronistic and futile. However it could, with the breakdown of technology, which is dependent on oil, be quite possible to imagine knights riding to war, and infantry using bows and arrows. Great civilizations and their technologies have disappeared before, and there is no reason to believe that such a thing might not happen again. After all could our civilization build a reasonably large defensive castle in 12 days as the crusaders did at La Mahomerie in 1098 and which had two towers, two inner works and room for 500 soldiers?
Modern man has little to boast of as he lurches between maddening bureaucracy on the one hand and amazing butchery on the other. His obsession, at least in the West, with health is peculiar as he is making the planet so unhealthy to live in. The democracies that he advertises appear not to be particularly democratic and the monarchies that still exist have little to do with kingship. Our rulers are pale, colourless and too often the unwitting tools of evil. The despots in Africa at least do not bother too much about democracy to which they pay only lip service.
The only hope then for the future of mankind is that the world finally turns to Peter in Rome for guidance. No other force on Earth will bring the human family peace. That is why Christ instituted the Papacy for the safeguard of humanity. The further away Western Man has travelled from Christ and his Church the more rebellious and agnostic he has become. He has also become more and more unhappy, and this has led to unprecendented levels of mental illness, much of which has been precipitated by sin, a guilty conscience, and in many others by demonic possession. An under class of brutal mentality has burgeoned in so called affluent Europe and the patient, Western Man and his satellites in other parts of the World are spiritually dying. A revived Christendom such as envisaged by the Dominican friar Aidan Nicholls is our only hope.
Just imagine a World that was Christian, where every culture kept all that was true and beautiful, all its folk art and folk culture and where the Church encouraged this. Imagine towns and cities where, instead of the impersonal and degrading social services there were once again armies of religious who cared for the poor, the weak, and the infirm and the insane. What would the cities and cathedrals look like, and the different guilds that were so much part of the medieval world? What would the Kings and Queens, soldiers and knights look like? What would the people look like in clothes that were beautiful and becoming and were meant to last? Let your imagination run riot and then pause and reflect; who is the centre of this if not Christ The Universal King? How would he reign but in his Eucharistic presence? The renewal of the Earth will come about
astoundingly in the true renewal of the Liturgy.
In this world the words of the Vexilla Christus inclita would come true, and let us hope sooner rather than later otherwise we will not be singing these words of joy and hope but the words of the Dies Irae.
Christ’s royal banners are unfurled
Triumphant o’er the adoring world;
The King of kings on bended Knee
Let all earth hail exultantly.
He buildeth not with warrior might
His empire, nor with heart’s affright;
But raised upon a Tree for throne
Draws all things to Himself alone.
How blest the land which hath sufficed
The gentle kingship of the Christ!
Which doth those laws alone fulfill
Wherein is writ the heavenly will.
There noise of arms no more is heard,
But peace keep faith and plighted word;
There concord smiles on every hand,
Secure doth civil order stand.
There no light mood breaks nuptial troth,
No evil there blights childhood’s growth;
There gladsome homes and households blest
In faith and virtue find their rest.
O sweetest King, may that blest light
For which we yearn rejoice our sight;
Soon, Thy white peace restored once more,
Thee may Thy subject world adore.
Jesus, to Thee, beneath whose sway
All earth shall bow, all praise we pay;
Which Father and with Spirit be
All glory Thine eternally. Amen