The best Catholic blogger in the world is — I think, at present — a gentleman who came into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic quite recently, through the Anglican Ordinariate. His blog is entitled, Fr Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment (and may be found here). It is a daily fund of liturgical information, encompassing the history and theology of the Church, delivered with the sort of authoritative wit we once associated with Oxford, and still might since he apparently resides there. (I know the man not, personally, construing what I can from his blog.)
More than any other link on the Internet, Hunwicke is responsible for my recent silences. I post this only to call attention to him, and send my readers thence on days when I discover myself too gobsmacked by “events” to know what to say, so sit here pondering, stupidly.
His learning aside, I wish to call attention to Hunwicke’s “attitude.” One might almost describe it as a “totally engaged, droll aloofness.” There is no question that he cares passionately about what he is teaching. Notwithstanding, he stops short at what can be homiletically taught. Yet what can be taught he lays on “with a trowel” — that useful tool of gardener and builder. (See his recent post in which he suggests our Pope, now that he has everyone’s attention, might want to do the same in an encyclical triumphantly affirming Catholic teaching on the family.)
As to Hunwicke’s “style,” I can easily imagine readers who would not like it. Some will think it flippant, which is their constitutional right. It is unmistakably intelligent, and so requires full attention. Latin and even Greek phrases are wantonly sprinkled, and not all of them are translated. Most controversially, the man is satirical. He is gently so, but post-modern man is almost allergic to genuine satire, as opposed to the sarcastic parody by which it has been displaced. Satirical humour in the broader sense — float like a butterfly, sting like a bee — is generally avoided, as not obvious enough. It is also frequently condemned, where it cuts to the quick of truths we are avoiding.
Let me trowel that point for a moment. To my mind, the difficulty goes back to the Reformation. Before that, people would be occasionally burnt at the stake for heresy. Or rather, since we are all heretics at one level or another, for preaching heresy, persistently and contagiously and in spite of the third warning. Whereas, after the Reformation, people were burnt mostly for satire, instead: for not taking statesmen and the state’s churchmen seriously enough.
The remarkable freedom with which mediaeval man (including woman) satirized the hypocrisies and other moral failings of monks, nuns, priests, bishops, even popes and anti-popes, is a matter of record to those who can read. (May I suggest Piers Plowman, for starters.) To this day, there remain traces in certain political constitutions of Europe, in old Hapsburg realms and those of the Holy Roman Empire, wherein the freedom to satirize is specifically affirmed. (See constitutions of Germany and Italy.) For this was among the mediaeval rights of man. What you weren’t allowed to do is question the long-received doctrines and dogmas of Holy Church. Powerful men you could mock, including clerics; but Christ you could not mock.
Wherever the Reformation succeeded, this formula was effectively reversed. Lèse-majesté became the unutterable crime: affronts to the divine right of kings, and more generally to the dignity of persons in high stations. The powerful in both church and state became practically indistinguishable from their public offices, and their dignity was to be defended at all costs. The viability of each State depended upon it: Catholic as well as Protestant, in due course.
Later, of course, we had the Enlightenment, in the spirit of which one could be guillotined for the look on one’s face.
By now, in our post-modern account of civil “freedom,” we confuse persons and things, and are irreverent alike to God and man, Truth and folly. Under the “dictatorship of relativism,” one is as good as the other, and the question comes down only to what you can get away with, under the latest, quite irrational, frequently satanic, unwritten and indefensible doctrines of “political correctness.” Or in other words, we are still in the Enlightenment.
Hunwicke is an unreconstructed mediaeval man, as we all should aspire to be. Truth matters to him; the reputations of persons, not so much. Yet still he doffs his hat to the authorities, in the time-honoured mediaeval manner; doffs, as it were, what is lawfully owing to the office or chair, regardless of the clown who may be sitting in it; doing obedience, when necessary, with humour. (My hero Saint Thomas More was like that: going to the block with a little joke to the axeman.)
The true Christian must preserve his humour. Or rather, preserve his sanity, which is the same thing.
What Hunwicke conveys goes to the heart of the Catholic faith. It is the liturgy, the sacraments, the Real Presence, communicated throughout our world in “live time.” The doctrine and discipline are embodied in this way, put into words of divine music, and acted through, in this very Presence. To understand our own dogmas — which differ from the pestilent unstated dogmas of our world — one must pray them. One must understand them in relation to Christ; not in relation to any other master. The function of homily — from the Greek for “discourse” or “prattle” — is to direct attention back into the Mass, to expound the meaning of the Mass, to explain what it is saying, what Christ is saying, through His Mass. That is the centre of Catholic life. Everything else in Catholic life returns to that centre.
For that is what the Church is saying, and as Joan of Arc put it: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” (It was she, too, who stated with such beautiful clarity, that she did not know whether God loved or hated the English, only that they’d be kicked out of France.)
The effort to complicate the matter requires much complicated resistance. Father Hunwicke has a genius for disentanglement. It would be worth “following” him, if only for the entertainment of watching how he does it. By all means go there before here. And then for godsake go to Mass, and apply what you have learned.
And with a light heart, for what is in the news doesn’t matter, and the dignity of worldly power is a big joke.