Sunday, May 22, 2016

The righteous remnant's enthusiasm, criticism of traditionalism, and bigotry Western and Eastern


  • Reading: The Righteous Remnant: The House of David by Robert S. Fogarty. Published in 1982, second edition 2014, about the House of David, a sect I'd never heard of, based in Benton Harbor, Michigan, about 100 years ago. The author traces this variant of the "enthusiasm" described by Msgr. Knox and of "the American religion" described by Harold Bloom to 1600s England, the spiritual turmoil that the English Civil War caused. Ignorant, heretical rants from charismatic personalities male and female, taken seriously even in an age when we think people knew the Bible, etc. better. Many really didn't! Me: Some of this in England paralleled folk religion in Catholic countries; Fogarty mentions followers of the prophetess Joanna Southcott outwardly conforming to the Anglican Church (which the English impressively saw as "the church" vs. us "Romans" as well as vs. the Non-Conformist Protestants); Anglican priest Jacob Duché of the First Continental Congress, later a Loyalist who moved to England, was into this sort of stuff (Boehme and Swedenborg). Unsurprising to Dr. Bloom, this hysteria found fertile ground in America; same revivalist/burned-over enthusiasm as begat the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Millennarianism (predicting the end of the world and a righteous remnant of 144,000, misunderstanding the code of the book of Revelation) as exemplified by the first Seventh-Day Adventists (Miller and the failed prediction for 1844) and later the JWs. Also, judaizing (here, Israelitism), a strain in Protestantism, particularly evangelicalism, despite this being settled as far back as the Book of Acts. Actually zero to do with real Christianity but a lot of people were ignorant of that, even then. (But once you tear down the church and get going with Protestantism, anything goes.) Anyway, claiming the mantle of a mostly English line of self-styled prophets including Southcott was an American wannabe Joseph Smith (apparently there were many, as there were many messiah-like rabbis in Jesus' day) called Benjamin Purnell, a fellow sporting Jesus-like long hair and a beard, which marked the men in his faith; he and his second (but not legal; he was already married) wife, Mary, set up a heaven on earth in Benton Harbor for the elect to hunker down for the imminent end of the world (predicted for succeeding years), purifying themselves with sexual abstinence, vegetarianism, and communal living (like Oneida and several other religious experiments roughly contemporary). Like the Mormons, they had aggressive missionaries (bringing over a number of like-minded British and Australians) and good public-relations stunts, from businesses selling goods to a touring baseball team to an amusement park on their property. But Purnell turned out to be a Warren Jeffs-like (hetero) sexual predator, the religion a control cult to service and make money for himself; after his losing a trial and dying shortly thereafter in 1927, the community split and dwindled much like the Shakers so by the early '80s it was down to a few old true believers. Fogarty also draws parallels to the hippie Children of God cult and the deadly Jim Jones (a religious darling of the left, by the way, which was how he got away with it for so long).
  • The end of traditionalism. Amidst another rumor of the regularization of the SSPX, a former Catholic brings up some longstanding valid criticism of the traditionalist movement: that it misses out on the depth and breadth of pre-conciliar Catholicism (I forget who first said this but Christendom is big and messy, a hospital for sinners, not a pious remnant like the catacombs) for a nostalgia only about externals. My answer for some time: I know that, for all the good that Archbishop Lefebvre and the order he founded have done (face it: we have our Mass because of him, and his issue wasn't even liturgy but opposing relativism regarding ecumenism and religious liberty), one need not fit into his opinions or the order's mold to be a good Catholic or to have a vocation. Of course I think regularization would be good and, I dare say, it would solve the problem this blogger brings up. I try to balance things out, finding the depth, the breadth, of the real pre-Vatican II ethos, including being challenged by Catholic social thought (maybe the Protestants of the Republican Party aren't always right), by... being in the official church. By the way, my semi-traditionalist parish, actually a territorial one but a magnet so people like me jump parish boundaries to register there, isn't re-enacting; we have Anglican hymns, for example.
  • Bigotry in the Christian West and East. There is a true church, and besides that, Latins and the East are one big apostolic family, but we're all sinners:
    • The Toth schism, according to Catholic World Report. Our fault thus heartbreaking; even more so the Chornock schism still barely in living memory, but a friend notes: I think I had mentioned to you before about some letters of Ireland's that were published posthumously I had read about. They were written to another bishop, I believe, and said that Toth had approached him about a problem with debts he had accrued as a result of gambling. Ireland refused monetary help but the Orthodox bishop agreed to help with a condition of becoming Orthodox. To me, the fact Ireland had not spoken about this publicly gives veracity to this account. Goes to show that there are always two sides to every story. I'd love it if American Catholicism were Byzantine, not Novus Ordo, but that just isn't happening; Catholic or Orthodox, it loses most of its people to assimilation by the third generation.
    • The Orthodox don't necessarily recognize our baptisms. In their own words. Many do but they don't have to. They don't because they think they're hot stuff, because they used to have an empire. They have bishops and the Mass, and a traditional Mass at that, but I take this theology about as seriously as I do Benjamin Purnell's.

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