One of the most consistent themes in the teaching of Pope Francis is his intolerance of intolerant religion! Pope Francis warns, in no uncertain terms, against rigid Christianity- the sort closed to true expressions of faith. The sort that proves inflexible, self referential and totally unable to accommodate the other. In short he speaks of a new breed of neo-palageonists dwelling within the church; Palagianism being the heresy that man can choose good for himself without the need for divine grace and our co-operation with God. Those who look to self not God for salvation.
I delight in the warning because it chimes with my experience. The church is often let down, and found floundering, where congregations attempt to live out faith in a narrow way. Most people imagine narrow Christians as being the ultra conservative type of bigot, who denounces any change at all. And certainly stuffed shirts exist in the traditionalist wing and can be cold and uncompromising souls.
But understand that the rigid Christian is also found elsewhere. In fact the largest group in the church that I have encountered are found where the parish has become secularised- where a lowest denominator community club has sprung up, existing for the glorification of its members and their favoured political agendas, rather than as a spiritual body alive for Christ and open to what the Spirit is doing. Yes every subsection of the church has its intransigent tyrants!
It can surprise people when I suggest liberals can be inflexible neo-Palagian totalitarian too. But it is certainly true. How else does one explain the total silence from some prelates regarding moral issues coupled with the speed with which they vehemently opposed Cardinal Sarah when he merely suggested giving traditional worship a chance? What is that but proof of angered ideologues defending their quarters?
We must accept then that many of a certain generation have rather fossilised, meaning they are not totally wed to but one particular expression of faith, the sort centred on worship bands and left wing political causes. Note all in this camp- of course- some are authentically liberal and very tolerant and decent people. But others are dug in to their favoured ways and will do anything to protect their own agendas. And these, I believe, are the rigid neo-Palagians causing most damage.
For the are so set in their ways as to have closed off their minds from even debating what is best for the church. Only 70’s style religion will do and any notion that this might have actually contributed to decline is rejected in anger. And the fact that more traditional worship seems to be speaking to the next generation does not, therefore, cause them pleasure but pain. They just get enraged when young people call for altar rails, traditional music or solemnity. For they are deeply suspicious of anything not conforming to their own limited (often erroneous) interpretation of Vatican II. Little wonder this same group grumbled so bitterly about the introduction of the new translation of the Mass. After all it is different – and encourages a sense of continuity not rupture.
Having grown self referential but powerful, this lobby are of a certain generation, they now seek to stifle anything that does not accord with their desire; hence the clear and obvious disdain for ad orientem worship, even where it is bearing fruit, the luke warm reception of the New Evangelisation, Summorum Ponitifum and, of course, the Ordinariate. These neo-Palagianists want a uniform church in their image, nothing else will do. And those things that encourage reverence, beauty and a look to the past are not to be tolerated!
Once you understand this rigid agenda the answers to mysteries become clear. You understand why the latest ARCIC meeting, a baby of this type of Catholic, made no mention of the Ordinariate, nor seeks to include our voices, despite the Ordinariate being not the freshest expression of ecumenism, an initiative of the papacy and the final word and formal answer to the Anglican question! Instead it is ignored and belittled by prelates too rigid to accommodate it. They adhere instead to what they wish was true, indulging gestures, but in denial of doctrinal reality. Which is to state that their own road map to unity, which was ARCIC, has largely stalled if not ended in failure; developments within the Anglican Communion having rendered unity all but impossible- as had to be conceded before the photo opportunities.
We might also consider how quickly these rigid folk attacked Cardinal Sarah for suggesting experimentation with ad orientem worship might be healthy.This group clearly despises anything other than their own favoured way- especially what is rooted in appreciation of the cultic aspect of worship – the encounter of the soul with the supernatural divine. Well Palagianists would, wouldn’t they? They prefer to look to man not God – to the prevailing culture not the faith of the ages.
If only we could help them past this terrible fear they might learn to love diversity. They might come to see that there is plenty of room in the church for both modern and traditional styles of worship, so long as all worship is rooted in truth. They might realise that the Tridentine Rite, for example, can happily co-exist with the Novus Ordo and with Divine Worship. There really is room for all and we don’t need to be so very inflexible as to deny the life of the other and engage in the culture war. A month in Pembury might help- for here we offer a variety of services and all are encouraged to support one another.