January 2, 2010


Alan Sullivan, Dead Souls, Arise!:

Peggy Noonan misses the point again. Our problem isn't failure of institutions. It is excess of institutions, and an excessive disposition to rely on them. How does it avail anyone that "journalism" has come to regard itself as an "institution?" This is the same nonsense as "consensus science." A stale collectivism has pervaded almost every aspect of American life. And not just American. We are the trailing indicator of what Europe has already achieved — a continent of dead souls. Why? Because the entire culture has turned away from the faith that defined it and gave it meaning. That faith came to seem untenable in the face of a new one whose miracles were physical rather than metaphysical. Too few were the thinkers who recognized that the two realms were a continuum, not a dichotomy.

It may seem a long leap from this deep thought to a secret Catholic boy-cult among Boston clergy, but it is just a little sideslip, a dance of ennui. Poor Ms. Noonan, still trembling in dismay. She wants to salvage institutions. Let them fail! Let the grace of individual redemption explode through them. It is not a question of taking responsibility; it is a challenge to walk away with Christ, for those of us who seek him. Or simply to heed God, immanent and unrecognized.

Addendum: And yet I love the Church — its antiquity, its dignity, its vast storehouse of wisdom and art. Let it fail, but let it also be reborn.

"Let it fail, but let it also be reborn." Amen, brother. Truth to tell the Church has failed and been reborn a hundred times, or ten thousand times if you look at local instances. There is no point in her history where you cannot find holy men and women deploring her fallen state, and setting to work reforming and renewing. But what other institution can you name that can renew itself repeatedly for 2,000 years!

...Shall the past be rolled back? Shall the grave open? Shall the Saxons live again to God? Shall the shepherds, watching their poor flocks by night, be visited by a multitude of the heavenly army, and hear how their Lord has been new-born in their own city? Yes; for grace can, where nature cannot. The world grows old, but the Church is ever young. She can, in any time, at her Lord's will, "inherit the Gentiles, and inhabit the desolate cities."...
      -- John Henry Newman, The Second Spring

As an example of renovatio, it's very interesting to consider the Holy Father's new Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, [Link] which allows groups of Anglicans to join the Church by forming personal prelatures, which are something like bishoprics, but not attached to any territory such as a diocese. And to join while keeping much of Anglican liturgical and spiritual tradition.

You could call this an institution-busting innovation. For one thing, the prelatures do not have to obey any bishops within whose diocese they happen to be operating! Wow. They are supposed to consult, but no more is required; they can consult, and then (with utmost respect of course) thumb their noses at bishops. This is surely no accident—Benedict is a deep old file, and has been dealing with entrenched Catholic bureaucracies since I was a little boy.

Also, this is a model that could easily be extended to all sorts of other Christian groups. And if so, if they start to become successful and attractive, the result would be competition within the Church! Prelatures are not supposed to be open to other Catholics, but if they are flourishing it will be hard to keep the others down on the farm. Benedict is a Tocquevillian, and can't be unaware of the greater vigor of Christianity in places where Christian groups compete for souls, compared with the state-church model of most European countries. We could live to see the day when Catholic Bishops have to hustle, and run lean 'n mean sees to keep Lutheran or Syriac prelatures from grabbing market-share!

And this is a possible step towards an Information Age structure for the church. The Anglican Prelatures do not have to have any "locality," except that they are to be formed within a particular conference of bishops, ie: The United States, or Australia. Presumably there will be headquarters, parishes, church buildings, etc. But none of these is required. The whole Chancellery could reside on a laptop.

Of course the whole thing may flop, and the assorted Anglicans may chicken-out and decide to do nothing. But that obvious worry is itself a blow against entrenched institutions, which are always averse to risk. Not B-16; he's just pushed a pile of chips to the center of the table with a smile. Be not afraid!

Posted by John Weidner at January 2, 2010 6:08 PM
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