Saturday, 5 January 2008

Syncretistic Liberal Catholicism

The Liberal Rite, and specifically the European-American University Press, is making available some old but renewed and new publications for those interested in Liberal Catholicism. Clearly one sees much work and effort put in to these projects by its Bishop John Kersey, either in collecting and editing works and in putting together lines of apostolic succession of concern to Independent Sacramental Movement Catholics.

Two of these books are available for free download as well as made available as hardback books. They are not expensive and the free downloading is generous.

The downloads both concern the work of Bishop Charles Webster Leadbeater, and specifically the syncretistic development of Catholicism and Theosophy, and therefore an esoteric (magical) understanding of power in Catholic liturgy and sacraments.

This is somewhat controversial. My own view is somewhat against the esoteric understanding of the eucharistic sacraments, but this is because I am also somewhat against a supernatural view of the eucharistic sacraments.

There is a need for care here, and some fidelity. Real presence in the transformative elements can be supernatural, or magical, or both, or some understanding of semiotics, or all three. If the semiotic only, then it needs (to be effective and transformative) to take account of the social anthropology of ritual as renewing and binding, one to another, taking together language, the body, the material, and community.

This includes what is called transignification: I have also produced the term simulacration, after the postmodern views of Jean Baudrilliard that allow for the collapse of structuralism and the coming and going of linguistic signs - a kind of now you see it now you don't, a both-and of real absence and real presence.

For some real presence has to involve the actual presence of Christ, and this surely must imply the supernatural in one sense of another. Christ it is that gives the ritual power, Christ therefore comes into this ritual in a real way.

This is before we get into such as transubstantiation or consubstantiation.

In real presence the priest or minister acts, and through their actions Christ acts and transforms. Thus a Methodist minister can believe in real presence. However, some maintain that real presence involves an indelible deposit made by apostolic succession at ordination so that power resides in the priest. This is standard Catholic belief, and it has both supernatural and esoteric potential.

I have had this argument with my own adopted (I live outside the parish) Anglo-Catholic parish priest (in a comment here he describes himself as "outrageously conservative"), who rejects the esoteric argument but broadly conforms to the ideas of valid, episcopal, Anglo-Catholic ordination (he has shared, if reluctantly about the details or more, in Methodist Eucharist services). It is this. If Catholic doctrine states that ordination is real, and something ontological happens to the man or woman so ordained, then there is inevitably a power given to that person. He dislikes the implication of power and magic in what a priest does, and that the magic is therefore manipulative. My argument is that this is by the by, in that the power is used in service, as within the Christian liturgy and in the priest's actions: that, for me, the supernatural interpretation does imply a magical interpretation too. (otherwise we have a real presence theology as with the Methodist minister). The priest is granted a power that is given by Christ and his apostles for the use of service, and this is what the priest does. The priest does not "cook up" real presence via magic words, as the power remains relational, and the ability to produce real presence is liturgical and intentional, but nevertheless that power is there. Tis is not about killing chickens to look to the future.

I have not yet read Charles Leadbeater's somewhat occult (that is, magical) view of the eucharist, but now I can. He, of course, did not expect people to agree with him necessarily, and indeed foresaw a liberal Catholic Church that had such as Theosophy and the wisdom tradition involved as purely optional. For him the Catholicism generated the universal grace that facilitated such as the syncretism he developed.

I think my view of Liberal Catholicism is much more connected with the James Martineau and Lloyd Thomas view, and (if I can find more detail - recent efforts hit a dead end) the Ulric Vernon Herford view. This is part of the inheritance of the Liberal Rite too, as I understand it. In other words, I come at it from a liberal Protestant side as it spills over into Catholicism and so changes, and of course as that subjective individualism becomes postmodern. The syncretistic is part of this: my own use of Buddhism for example.

On which point the present series of programmes by Peter Owen Jones, the Anglican priest of tight jeans and a big hat who walks with a swagger, the ex-advertising man, is fascinating. In the first programme (transmitted 4 January 2008) he was shown getting into the guts of Chinese Buddhism and having some eureka moments of doing and understanding (after largely dismissing a compromised touristy Buddhist temple). He was, I thought, watching, avoiding some of the implications regarding doctrine and God - he went down the road of realising and then avoiding the conclusions (basically shut up about God, say no more, just get on with being - one wonders if he will).

I suppose I am too a something of a Western Buddhist humanist Christian, a syncretist, who is also liturgical, and really I can't give a great deal to doctrine. I have never said, and do not, that the Western Buddhism I learnt and practised up to 1994 was wrong or inadequate. Christian liturgy tackles relationships, the giving up, the right stance, the going through, and recommitment. Such liturgy is useful, but worth killing when it is over important. We are talking about means to an end. In considering means to ends I might have a parallel agreement with Charles Leadbeater.

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