Christopher Gillibrand: Overcoming modern paganism
by The Editor
Speech delivered at the Traditional Britain Conference to the Traditional Britain Group by Vice President Christopher Gillibrand on 18th October 2014 - 'Overcoming modern paganism.'
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, who would ever have thought that I would be the warm up for Godfrey Bloom- as I am a bachelor, I can assure him that my fridge before, behind and insider, is in a perfect state of cleanliness. And also indeed religion and politics are a potent mix which I have long imbibed so, in the hope that like my fridge it will be wholesome, I open with the opening of the soldier’s prayer by the Rev Rees Prichard, sometime vicar of Llandovery, from his book of verse, the Welshman’s Candle, and in homage to Wales, where I live as an Englishman in exile from Lancashire.
O God of might, who dost o'er hosts preside,
Who dost alone the doubtful battle guide, Who dost alone the joyful victo'ry gain, O hear our prayer in this dread campaign!
Here in the crown's, our king and country's right, We, for our lands, our goods, and nation, fight With a perfidious and inveterate foe,
That always seeks this kingdom's overthrow.
Confound, O Lord! each mischievous intent, Each plot and stratagem our foes invent, Their strength diminish, and their pride abate, Assuage their malice, blunt their keen-edge'd hate
For it is not unknown for our country to be under external threat at various times in our nation’s history, which to relate is only outdone by the greatest narration of all, that of the history of salvation. To share in this history is one of the world’s great privileges.
But never in this history has our society been so demoralized, denatured and closed in on itself. Society like that of the Roman, in the words of Pope St Gregory the Great has grown old. Old in demeanour, old in spirit, old as hope fails, poor in means, ragged in to the sight. The nation’s capital has been frittered away by the depredations of socialists, whose outward shows of charity conceal greed and selfishness and above all a liking for the acquisition of other people’s property. Of that they simply cannot get enough.
But it is not just a material decay at the hands of reds, who want to acquire your actual wealth and greens who want to prevent you from acquiring any wealth at all, binding all human enterprise in a web of environmental legislation. They elevate nature but in the end remove any humanity from their dangerous green philosophizing. They call it prudence but like the socialists they are fuelled by hatred.
It is also a spiritual decay. We have lost sight of who man really is as a person and an individual- to make a distinction between the two is a modern error of fateful proportions. We are in fact a unity of body and soul, which should be open to the grace and glory of God. We are not just rational human beings, we are praying human beings, who seek not only God’s grace, without which no human act can be considered good, but also his heaven at the end of our lives and to do his will while we are on the way there. The praying soul will also have a fear of hell and perhaps even also purgatory, for unlike the moderns we will never presume on God’s mercy. The fall is a reality and sin, despite the best attempts of the modern Catholic Church at their Synod to sweep it under a dusty confessional, is ever present. If we attempt to divide the individual from the person, we can chase around for some perfection in a human which has been saved from the baleful effects of original sin… which is like the chase after fool’s gold. Human beings are neither good nor bad but fallen and redeemed.
I have a twin brother- who is an Anglican vicar- just to show that I am perfectly ecumenical. We were both at Oxford together- myself at Exeter, with its glorious Catholic past and he at St John’s whose claim to fame is Tony Blair, who rumour has it is Catholic, as if the Catholic brand had not been damaged enough by the sex abuse scandals.
Walter Hooper, who met C S Lewis at the end of his life and became his literary executor, as well as an Anglican priest, used to go around Oxford, saying “are you the good one or the bad one?” Until one day he met both of us in the porter’s lodge of St John’s. No, I assured him, we were neither good nor bad, but fallen and redeemed. I should add St John’s does have one great boast-that shining light of Anglicanism, Archbishop Laud- that said Professor Collinson, sometime Regius professor of history at a place called Cambridge, said that he was “"the greatest calamity ever visited upon the English Church". I would rather argue that the present Pope is the greatest calamity ever visited upon the Roman Church- but more of him later.
I met Walter some years later when I served Mass at the Oxford Oratory, we both having converted. He was also serving but arrived late. “You must be the good one, because the bad one would never be seen here!”
That said, whoever we are, it is the grace of God that transforms human nature and does not destroy it.
While just having told an anecdote about myself, it is with only the tiniest sense of irony that I go on to state.
Modern men and women, far from being open to the divine have become self-referential. Day after day, year after year, they hold a post-modernist mirror to their faces and become what they want to become without listening either to reason or submitting to the natural law.
Modernism is the twin brother of socialism, post-modernism is the twin brother of liberalism. Indeed they are reflections.
Modern politicians, abetted by the judiciary, are proud in their own conceits. Above them, they think they can defy the divinely given natural law. So even yesterday, the DPP announced that doctors and nurses who help severely disabled or terminally ill people to take their own lives are unlikely to face criminal charges. Beneath them, at the economic level, they think they can defy the iron laws of the marketplace, binding human freedom in regulation- which amounts to little more than the arbitrary decisions not of an elected government but an unchanging state.
These politicians have become par excellence self- referential in this multi-media age, which is nothing other than the post-modernist mirror of humanity writ large. The self-referencing is underlined by the endless constitutional debates whether at national, regional and European level. Before the EU, before Blair’s reform of the Lords, before regional assemblies, we had the most wonderful and unwritten constitution in the United Kingdom. Why, o why did they want to tamper with this Rolls-Royce when it was in no way broken? While the qualities of politicians not least on the conservative side have undoubtedly deteriorated, their number now is legion and all of them telling us how beautiful they are, on precious little evidence. Long gone when the ranks of the Tory benches at least were made up of old soldiers and successful businessmen, and often both.
Modern churchpersons have been self-referential…..of their nature, they should point to Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ….
He must increase, but I must decrease. Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui
As St John the Baptiser said of Our Lord. But then one’s mind turns to the General Synod of the Church of England and the limited capacity of the dear old Church of England for sacrificial witness. One amazing counter-example to this is the Vicar of Bagdad. Let us pause to remember the heroic martyrdom of Middle East Christians- who have been betrayed by the British foreign office- given they have the least capacity to defend themselves in conditions created by our cack-handed interventions, of course Christians must be given first priority at our borders. Only the blindness that comes with self-reference among our politicians would believe otherwise.
In my Anglican days, I flew Synod like the plague. Don Cuppitt, again from that place called Cambridge….what is it about Cambridge wrote a book in 1980 called taking leave of God…. The first and fatal step to self-reference. The progressive Anglicans at the time did not take leave of well-appointed vicarages and cathedral prebendary stalls, they did take leave of the inner-cities. Around that time, I debated the faith in the city report which Synod had commissioned with a red reverend who was a city councilor. I declared exactly this that the number of reports on a problem multiplies in inverse proportion to the increasing distance from the problem. That the Church of England had betrayed the poor of the inner cities in favor of reports produced by time servers. What I had not realised was that he wrote a big chunk of the report, which rather enlivened proceedings.
I finally listened to the proceedings of synod though the quasi-miraculous medium of streaming, as they were passing the vote to permit women bishops. This is an ecumenical disaster for while I would not recommend attempting to ordain a women, for in the words of that admirable Oxford man, Blessed Duns Scotus, nothing happens, vicars, while some are rectors, they do not have jurisdiction. An meaningful ecumenical progress is going to come by the sharing of real jurisdiction among bishops, not in some lovey-dovey, wishy-washy discussion group, where the Anglicans say they feel our pain and do everything they can to inflict it. Yet again, the Church of England chose to be self-referential rather than Catholic in the matter of female ordination and cut themselves off from participating in the main event of ecumenism- that between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches- which itself has been seriously harmed by recent events in Ukraine, whichever side you take in that dispute- although Ukraine seems to be set between the EU devil and the white, blue and red sea of the Russian and under no circumstances should these waters be stirred. It was sad that the churches did not take up prophetic and reconciling roles in the conflict but both come at a price.
As the Church of England was the centre of division from the beginning and now, she herself will eventually divide on the vexed problem of same-sex marriage, which may be a nice arrangement, it is not a Christian one.
Lest anyone accuse me of homophobia my oldest and very dearest friend was a gay vicar, now sadly deceased, who rejected such unions on the basis that they would only permit homosexuals to share in the misery of modern heterosexual marriage.
Indeed marriage has become part of the self-referencing of the moderns- couples looking for the identity of a mirror rather than a true covenant of a relationship which is itself a reflection of the divine covenant between man and God.
How did society fall into such decadence and decay? For this answer to this, we have to plough back into the mists of medieval times to find enlightenment. The modern church is often criticized for being medieval- I rather wish that it was for those were the days when faith and reason were held in a perfect relationship, most particularly in the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas, the Divine Thomas as we enthusiasts like to call him. This had not been achieved without a struggle and in many ways in opposition to the philosophy of St Augustine who had done so much to solidify the post-Constantinian Christian establishment, not least in the willingness of Augustine to use the coercive power, which St Thomas, perhaps with the luxury of a world in which many if not all were in some sense Catholic, thought of as counter-productive. In Augustine faith and reason were united, while in Aquinas they are related but distinct, but with the primacy of faith, once a seminal amount of reason had been used by way of assent.
From then onwards, it was downhill. In those who clung to Augustinianism, faith and reason often exploded apart.
Luther, an Augustinian, par excellence, when asked to justify a translation in his bible- he inserted sola before fide- making justification by faith Alone, gave as his reason it is because I, Dr Martin Luther say so.
So violent was the explosion in Luther, it destroyed all reason.
“Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
The first of the modern self-referrers was Dr Luther. Descartes even had to go inside himself in a desperate search for God…..someone should have told him that God is up there, out there and beyond. He shares this tendency with modern Jesuits, who first find God in all things, and then start diving inside, not least a guy called Jorge, who they tell me sits on the Pontiff’s throne in Rome.
But the more fundamental problem was within the scholastics. Once the high point of Aquinas has been reached, and let us not forget that in his day, he was considered the modern revolutionary against the neo- conservatives – given their taste for heresy quasi conservatives clustered around the Franciscan order, the slow process of the separation began and instead of exploding, evolved down the centuries. The outcomes are that philosophers either tie themselves up in words, like so many of the analytical philosophers of the English tradition, or embed themselves in atoms, as a tributary of science. The worst like Bertrand Russell enslaves himself to both, in his logical atomism. The continentals went for hermeneutics – or interpretation as it is better known. Post-modernist avoidance of questions of truth and falsehood more realistically.
But they have all this in common whatever the path of approach to modernity, they are all self- referential and closed systems. They lead to elites that do not want to justify particular behaviour from an external morality determined by the natural law but to justify their own behaviour.
These people have forgotten that we all face the ultimate judgment of God. Indeed, they take refuge in the alleged intellectual respectability of Cartesian doubt whether anything, let alone God exists. The question is not whether God exists but will you stand in the day of his judgment, for in him mercy, love and justice are met So that the ultimate test of all human actions is will you pass the St Peter’s Gate test? How are you going to explain your life to St Peter, who is Christ’s first vicar. Overarching this is how did you allow grace to cooperate with nature? Dawkins is in real trouble as he only thinks of nature and excludes grace.
There is the story of the three theologians, Rowan Williams, (Cambridge man now, although I will not hold that against him, Karl Rahner, the radical Catholic theologian and Joseph Ratzinger who all died and went to meet St Peter. Rowan goes, nice chat, jolly fellow enters the kingdom of heaven with the bat of his very substantial eyebrows- St peter drawing a veil over his performance for that was what it was as a druid, Karl Rahner, trickier, Jesuit priest with concealed Communist girlfriend to whom a lot of his writings are subconsciously and self referentially addressed, loved all the fame his destruction of the Catholic faith of millions brought him. The conversation drags on but after 12 hours out comes Father Rahner redeemed and restored for reasons best known to God. Finally in goes Ratzinger- a day passes, then another, shouting is heard until angels restore the peace of heaven with their singing. On the third day out stumbles St Peter, “Gracious that was hard, who does he think he is, but Ratzinger has decided to let me back in.”
As events have shown Pope Benedict the great renouncer would hardly be in a position to judge St Peter for his three betrayals.
The Papacy has indeed been betrayed and betrayed into the hands of a man who has the strange idea that the Falklands are Argentinian. A friend was a senior British army officer in the Falklands and on the day Port Stanley fell bought a postage stamp in their post office. Bloody expensive postage stamp, he told me,
Not that Bergoglio would understand. He has never transcended being an Argentinean, self-referrer par excellence…. The papacy for him is a means of projecting his poor man’s Peronism on the Catholic Church. He has imported Peronist methods into the Church not least in the family synod which is now going on in Rome. It is a battle between traditional teaching and the self-referring ethics of the moderns. It is the first synod in history where presentations have to be submitted in advance to see if they meet the approval of the pre-determined Papal line. The rigging has left no room for the participants to be docile to the operation of the Holy Spirit.
Catholics do not need a parody, they need a Papacy, but what greater satire of the Catholic spirit than for Pope Francis to rent out the Sistine chapel no less to corporate sponsorship. Porsche executives dinning under the last Judgment. Selling indulgences would have been more tasteful. The Pope is very good at meeting people where they are spiritually….he goes to the edges to seek out the poor and leaves them where they are materially. He is Supreme Pastor who has let the sheep take control of the flock.
At least we have seen the spectacle this week of bishops and cardinals lining up to beat the Pope back into line- an odd reversal of the situation under the last two pontificates where it was the Pope disciplining recalcitrant bishops.
The crisis in numbers and in faith of the Catholic Church is nothing if not episcopal and that includes the Pope, who is bishop of Rome and appoints the world’s bishops. Attempts to avoid implicating the Papal office in the catastrophe of the modern church are bound to fail for this reason. There is every appearance that Benedict was coerced out of office….invalidating Bergoglio’s election. For the good governance of the Catholic Church, it would be as well that the next conclave takes place on the death of Benedict, not of Jorge. Why Bergoglio, was made Pope, God only knows as he is not a centre of unity, but of division- division which can only be furthered by his plans to give episcopal conferences more power- so they can become a law until themselves in their own countries- self-referencing strikes again. We come therefore to a second test which relates not to our later judgment but to the here and now of the actions of ecclesiastics and politicians, among many others. It is the “what have you done to promote human dignity test”? Or in some case when was the last time you even thought about human dignity.From before conception to the moment of death. We can always here the funeral drumbeats of civilization in the deadly thuds of taxation and regulation, but civilization itself is judged on society’s attitude to human dignity.
And by human dignity I don’t mean by an endless pleadings for rights, granted by the state, and which the state thinks it has every right to take away, which in any case compete or are completely opposed to each other but the fulfilment of our duties, derived from the natural law to ourselves and our neighbor. During our earthly pilgrimage there is no higher calling for it is the essence of charity. Many fail….Christianity privileges human dignity as she teaches we are not mere animals with a mortal soul, but have the potential for a supernatural destiny.
Other religions one has to be rather circumspect about in some cases. An alleged shared humanism is only for the naïve and will not suffice. Not only does human dignity sort the talkers from the doers in the mainstream of politics, it sorts the sheep from the goats and even more extraordinary creatures that are to be found in the European Parliament- I speak from 10 year experience of the heart of darkness in Brussels. One of the few lights in that place was Institute for Human Dignity, whose adviser I was and who promoted the Charter for Human Dignity- which is not quite where I would have started but still it is much, much better than nothing in the ethical and spiritual vacuum of European politics. Mixing religion and politics does not suit all constitutions and indeed enrages many, even to the point of madness. Improperly related, society and humanity suffer disaster, spawning bastard and profligate children. Properly related, the body politic and the national spirit and humanity, in general and particular, enjoy benefits like none-other.
Charter for Human Dignity 1. SOLEMNLY PROPOSES that people form their politics out of their most deeply-held principles and convictions; 2. PROFOUNDLY ACKNOWLEDGES that a society which holds within the very deepest vault of its culture a belief that God’s fullest revelation to Mankind was in the person of Jesus Christ; that he created all men equal, that the central commandment to his people was for them to love one another, that Man is the purposeful creation of a benevolent God; such will have a very different political praxis from one which believes Man to be an accidental and meaningless product of survival of the fittest; the exultation of the strong and the elimination of the weak, nature red in tooth and claw; 3. EMPHATICALLY BELIEVES that although the Christian faith is the historic source of Man’s political dignity, those who do not believe in God lose nothing when those who do articulate the basis for their own dignity; 4. DECISIVELY RECOGNISES that this Declaration is not a vehicle for proselytism, yet there are many legislatures that include MPs who understand that Christianity is not inimical to the principal values cherished by society and that it is in fact the spiritual midwife of them; 5. EARNESTLY RECALLS that such ideas as the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, universal suffrage, the rule of law and equality before the law are specifically manifestations of the Judaeo-Christian tradition; even if individual proponents of these causes were not consciously acting because of religious imperatives;
6. HUMBLY SUGGESTS that as they are accepted today, these qualities have never evolved naturally in any non-Christian society; 7. URGENTLY NOTES that failing to address the basis of the infinite value of each human life, legislatures around the world are currently engaged in a dangerous agenda based on a distorted understanding of the human person which is literally fatally flawed – the precepts upon which human rights are founded are being hollowed out and undermined; and that this agenda continues to corrupt Man’s true nature, eroding the dignity of life and diminishing the humanity of Man; 8. RESOLUTELY DETERMINES that the promotion of human dignity should not be misunderstood as a demonstration of exclusion or intolerance towards other religions, and that indeed, other religions exist around the world quite securely, and their influence in shaping their own cultural and political milieux can be readily discerned and observed; 9. REMAINS KEENLY AWARE that Western Civilisation is a historical collection of countries with strong identities formed and influenced through the Christian Faith; and that it is only through the full, conscious and active participation of this Faith in the public square that recognition of the imago Dei can be most authentically nourished; 10. CALLS ON ALL MEN OF GOODWILL to make explicit reference, always and everywhere, to the fact that the dignity of Man, and the state-conferred human rights that recognise this dignity, proceeds from the image and likeness of God which is within us; and therefore in believing Man is created in the image and likeness of God lies the only sure protection of Man’s dignity (and correspondingly also his rights); 11. CALLS ON ALL MEN OF GOODWILL to make explicit reference, always and everywhere, to the unprecedented danger for a culture which accepts liberties as granted by the State – because that which is the State’s to give is also the State’s to take away; whilst international charters may recognise certain rights arising out of human dignity, no-one should dare to presume that such charters can ever in themselves be the source of such rights; 12. CALLS ON ALL MEN OF GOODWILL to make explicit reference, always and everywhere, to the fact that recognition of ‘fundamental human rights’ in their fullest capacity demands the recognition of their source; that our true rights lie ineluctably beyond, and infinitely transcend, any charter, no matter how well-intentioned the attempt to codify them; and that the pre-eminent ‘human right’ is to have one’s humanity recognised as being made in the image and likeness of God.