The State of Catholicism in England (Guest: Gavin Ashenden)

Catholicism has a rich and turbulent history in England. From the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury to the great Medieval English giants to the break with Rome by Henry VIII, Catholicism has played an important role in England’s history. Today on Crisis Point we’ll take a look at the current state of Catholicism in … Read more

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Crisis Point
The State of Catholicism in England (Guest: Gavin Ashenden)
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Catholicism has a rich and turbulent history in England. From the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury to the great Medieval English giants to the break with Rome by Henry VIII, Catholicism has played an important role in England’s history. Today on Crisis Point we’ll take a look at the current state of Catholicism in England with a special guest.

Episode Link

Gavin Ashenden website

Transcript:

Eric Sammons:

Catholicism has a rich and turbulent history in England from the arrival of Saint Augustine of Canterbury to the great medieval English giants, to the break with Rome by Henry VIII. Catholicism has played an important role in England’s history. Today on Crisis Point, we’ll look at the currency of Catholicism in England with a special guest.

Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, your host and the editor in chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, just want to remind people to like these videos, podcast, subscribe to it wherever you might find it, where you might listen to us. Watch us. We do appreciate that. Also, we’re on social media @crisismag.

So today, our special guest is Dr. Gavin Ashenden. He’s a British Catholic layman. He’s an author and commentator. He’s associate editor of the Catholic Herald. He’s formerly a priest of the Church of England and subsequently, a continuing Anglican Bishop. He was appointed chaplain to the queen from 2008 until his resignation in 2017, and he was received into the Catholic church in 2019. Welcome to the program.

Gavin Ashenden:

Eric, thank you. It’s great to be here.

Eric Sammons:

First, I just want to ask, where are you right now? Where are you living these days?

Gavin Ashenden:

I’m living in my mother-in-law. That’s the critical thing. So my parents-in-law live in Shropshire. They’re getting elderly. We have moved to a small house in what’s called the Welch Marches, which is the borderland between Wales and England directly south of Liverpool, between Shrewsbury and Ludlow for people who know the towns, and well, I live here half the time. I have a small house in Normandy with the chapel, which I’m hoping to turn into a kind of retreat center, essentially with the intention of welcoming people to spend some time understanding more about St. Michael because we are half an hour from Mont Saint-Michel and I have a strong sense that in terms of the spiritual dynamics of the struggle that we are in, understanding who St Michael is in his role in the church is very important.

And a half an hour the other way, there is a place where Our Lady appeared in the Franco Prussian war called Pontmain, and again, I think Our Lady’s appearances in Europe are very important. This one was particularly critical as it preceded Fatima in the first World War, and what I’m hoping to do is invite people there to consider more the role of our ladies at Michael, but we’re there about the third of the time because since Brexit really messed up our freedom of movement, and although for those who know, I voted for Brexit. I did so on the grounds of trying to preserve democracy, but I am otherwise an Europhile and it’s much against my own interests because I have to ration the days I’m allowed to spend in Europe, and that annoys me enormously.

Eric Sammons:

Oh my goodness. Yes, I would guess so. So before we start talking about England, I just want, you have very interesting background and so I just want to talk about that a little bit for our audience who might not be familiar with it. So you were a priest of the Church of England. Why did you decide to become a priest, an Anglican priest?

Gavin Ashenden:

So there’s the stepping stones of my adult career was that I grew up training to be a lawyer. So I went to law school and my father was a lawyer, my godparents were lawyers, two of my three children have taken law degrees. It’s sort of somewhere in the water in the family. I had an evangelical conversion during my time at law school, and well, I very badly wanted to be a Christian lawyer. I think I probably still do actually, but it’s never gone away, but I found myself compelled to become an Anglican priest. I think I remember talking to a group of old Anglican ladies once asking about my vocation, and I said, well, I’m here under duress, and they were basically quite cross with me and say how ungrateful. You have this wonderful vocation to be a priest and you are complaining.

And I did rather complain about it and I didn’t want to be an Anglican clergy, but partly because the clergy I’d met were uninspiring people, but I was convinced of the reality of heaven and hell and of judgment. I’d had some strange experiences, which I talk about elsewhere, that made the reality of God and judgment immensely real, and I also had a sense that England needed to be converted. No one in the 1970s knew what the next 40, 50 years were going to bring, but I’m glad that I threw my weight into trying to speak out for the kingdom of heaven as much as possible, and although in the eighties and nineties, it was done more of as a matter of duties than anything else, by the time the noughts and 10 to 20 came and cultural Marxism and threats to the freedom of speech began to appear, the level of the crisis that we were in, in the west became apparent.

A timing particularly with some time I’d spent in the Soviet Union where I’d been arrested by the KGB on the couple of occasions of Bible smuggling. I had a taste therefore of totalitarian Marxist culture, and I think before many people, I don’t say this as a matter of pride, but my sense of the joining the dots between cultural Marxism 2.0 and totalitarian Marxism 1.0 happened more quickly than for many is because partly because I was then teaching at university. So I went from would-be lawyer to evangelical Anglican clergyman who became increasingly Catholic, and then I spent nearly 25 years as an academic leading an interfaith team in the one more radical universities, and during that period of time, I became aware of what was happening culturally and began to be driven more and more towards a Catholic church as Catholicism strengthened its credentials in my eyes whilst Anglicanism weakened till the point came when I could do nothing but move from one to the other.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Now, you did become a bishop. Wikipedia calls it continuing Anglican Bishop, and I looked it up a little bit and I will admit it’s a bit confusing, and so you became a bishop, was it 2013 was it, that you became a bishop?

Gavin Ashenden:

Well, it’s slightly embarrassing. I’d quite like to rewrite my history to make it look a bit more grown up.

Eric Sammons:

Wouldn’t we all though? Wouldn’t we all?

Gavin Ashenden:

I mean, essentially what happened, in 2013, I got a letter from some American bishops saying, we think the Church of England’s going down the pan and we think you think it too and we have a scheme for re-evangelizing England, and the reason why you want to hear from us is we have Catholic orders. They derive from a Bishop Duarte Costa from Brazil and we know also that you are Catholic theologically, Anglo-Catholic, and we can see a time when our reinvigorated authentic Anglicanism could find common cause with Roman Catholicism, and because our orders are Catholic, we might be able to create some ecumenical bridge in a way the Church of England can’t, having had its orders declared null and void. So we want to appoint three Anglo Catholic bishops whose orders are authentic for the purpose of re-evangelizing England, and would you be up for it? So I said, no, of course not. Why could I do such a stupid thing?

But in discussing it with my family, my family are more acerbic and they say, well, why are you turning them down? I said, well, because I’ve got a reputation of making good judgments. I haven’t made many professional mistakes. This would just be horrendous. Behind the scenes, I’d had the door closed to me in terms of Anglican preferment. I’d become increasingly Orthodox at a time when the church was becoming increasingly progressive, and whether I would’ve been appointed on merit or not, I was certainly having doors closed on the basis of belief. So I was aware that people would say because he can’t get appointed a proper bishop in the Church of England, he’s taken this easy route. Frankly, I didn’t want anyone to say that about me. I would’ve been very offended. So I told my family this is a stupid thing to do.

It’s eccentric. It’s anti-establishment, it’s eccentric. Who are these people anyway? I’d look an idiot. I don’t want to look an idiot, and my family said, well, you’re putting your ego and your reputation before the kingdom of heaven. Is this such a bad strategy? I said, well, that’s actually, really, it’s quite a good strategy. I just don’t want to be involved in it, and so they changed my mind and so what I said to the Christian Episcopal church was I’ll do this on the basis that if the Church of England flakes out in the way we think it is, then I will take up this role. So I will accept consecration in a separate province as an assistant bishop to an American diocese and then go back almost practicing a sort of form of kenosis within the Church of England and simply say discreet rather like I suppose someone being dropped behind the enemy lines.

And I hope we never have to do anything about this, but what happened, and then I was taken by surprise because the Anglo Catholic movement in the Church of England had developed a scheme for living with women bishops, and it essentially said we will recognize the legal authority of the women as an ordinary, as a legal officer, as an executive officer, but we don’t recognize their Episcopal orders. So we can do as we’re told in terms of administration in a diocese, but as long as we have a male bishop somewhere, and I and others had spent some time saying this is quite a clever system. We can live with the ordination consecration of women as bishops like this. It’ll be uncomfortable, but we can retain our integrity, so all will be well. I found that on the first day, the Church of England consecrated a woman as a bishop. I went to pray in my parish church and I was undone.

I mean, I had a conversation with the Lord saying, I can’t go on. I thought I could. I thought I could manage the gymnastics in my head, but as from a spiritual level, it is very hard, a gut reaction. I said, this is quite impossible. This is such a disastrous step. This undoes everything that the Church of England ought to stand against, and so I resigned my Anglican living, my role as a vicar on the island of Jersey, and as I did so, I spoke to the man who was my bishop and said, I’m going to take on a role in an American church. Is there any way we can manage this process amicably? I’d like to tell you what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, and I think we should be polite to one another, and I basically got the message we will hound you. We will hound you `every day, every minute of the day, and what’s more we’ve changed the cannons so that if you make a single error, we will bring a disciplinary measure against you.

If you use the wrong liturgy, we’ll do everything we can to bring you down. So I was surprised at this, and there is in fact, a mechanism for divesting yourself of Anglican canonical responsibility. It’s called, it’s a Victorian act brought in the 1870s, and so in order to stop them doing that, I divested myself of my Anglican priestly orders. It was mainly brought in, the capacity to pursue errant clergymen was mainly brought in to catch covert pedophiles, and in that sense, it was a very good idea, but it had the unlooked for unforeseen consequences of making anyone who’d ever been ordained perpetually liable to Canon law. So I resigned my orders, and then I took up this role as a missionary bishop. There were about five or six Orthodox Anglican groups in England who were nothing to do with the Church of England ranging from the evangelical to the very Catholic.

And it did seem to me to be a worthwhile project to try and draw these disparate groups together to see if a form of Orthodox Anglicanism could be fused together, and two things happened to make it impossible. One is I became increasingly moved and impacted by the Eucharistic miracles beginning with the one in Buenos Aires is ’94, which is so scientifically stunning that it really, it answers 1,000 years of sacramental argumentation, and particularly the anarchy of the last 500 years from Zwingli and Calvin onwards, and I’d also become increasingly emotionally and theologically taken with Our Lady’s apparitions, and so the combination of a pool to be truly and properly Catholic alongside the fact that as I tried to negotiate with the other Anglican groups who were part of this project, I saw two things. First of all, that it was going to be very difficult to persuade people to be Anglican outside the establishment.

There is no history whatsoever in England of people being conceptually or theologically Anglican. It’s a tribal and a cultural identity, and therefore, there’s no way in which one would move from a tribal cultural allegiance to a dogmatic allegiance, which is what a renewed alternative Anglicanism called for it. Partly, people are too lazy and comfortable and they’ve just never thought about it, but the other thing was, of course, I realized very quickly, we couldn’t agree all of us on absolutely essential elements of ecclesiology, sacramental life, discipline because there was no magisterium, and so as we had various events, I mean, one of the bishops, for example, was quite content to live within two jurisdictions where the Canadians he worked with ordained women as priests and bishops and the Americans he worked with didn’t. So I said to him, well, how do you even begin to find some level of theological ecclesial integrity?

What are you doing if you’re, apart from just being pragmatically evasive, and there was no answer at all and I’m afraid I found, how do I say this politely, but I mean, I found it difficult to be anything other than contemptuous of something that appeared to me to be so ideologically vacuous being sold out to pragmatism, but in one sense, the same arguments applied to me in a rather less intense way. I was unable to find a coherent set of theological principles to bind together the Anglican colleagues I was with. So in one sense, I was in a not very different position, and during this period of time, I realized that the experiments I’d embarked on four or five years without the magisterium was not going to work. This is why the Catholics have the catechism and the magisterium is precisely why, and there was a point at which I thought, okay, there’s no alternative to being a Catholic and it was about them. My local Catholic Bishop said, we think you’re a Catholic. We’d like you on the team. Would you come across?

Eric Sammons:

Very good. One more question I wanted to ask about your background though, is chaplain to the queen. What exactly does that.. I mean, I’m an American, I don’t know what the heck. What does that mean?

Gavin Ashenden:

It’s England’s version of Disneyland. It’s very pretty and it’s very ornate and it means nothing.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. So you’re not advising the queen or anything on her spiritual life or anything like that by being chaplain to the queen?

Gavin Ashenden:

Well, so the answer is 90% no and 10% yes. 90% no, because the whole thing is a charade like so many Anglican and English things. It essentially pretends. It’s a wonderful, old idea that ran out of reality, but is kept for cosmetic reasons. So as a Catholic idea, it worked extremely well. The king needed a bunch of chaplains and priests to go around with him to celebrate mass. So when Henry V went to invade France, he would want to take a bunch of priests to celebrate mass as they went, and as the royal family, as a head of state moved around, mass was celebrated. As a Catholic idea, it’s great, it makes a lot of sense. If you stop believing in mass and you stop invading France quite so often, there may be no need to have a cohort of priests accompanying the king.

So what the Protestants did is they turned it into a preaching shop. So there’s a palace in London called St. James’ palace and all the royal chaplains would preach there once. I mean, but the reason I’m being a bit acerbic about it was the queen would never go there. It was the one place over the weekend that the queen never went. So the whole thing was a charade. However, that’s the 90% of it being nonsense. The 10% of it having some potentiality to it is that you get invited to garden parties and to royal events, and so you wander around in a pseudo cardinal Catholic looking like a cardinal and there are then opportunities to make friends within the royal family and the royal household, ladies in waiting, ambassadors, junior members of the royal family.

If they like you, they might consult you. If they consulted you, you would have to keep it completely quiet because otherwise, you would destroy the basis on which the relationships took place. So there was some scope for that. When I was asked to resign by the man who runs the royal palaces, the Lord Chamberlain, I had been becoming increasingly vocal about Islam in the public space for some very good reasons, and I’m reasonably, competently, theologically educated in terms of Islamic theology and Islamic history. I had taught a course at the university I lectured at amongst other things, but I was phone up and Lord the Chamberlain said.

And I mean, this is English diplomatic speak of a high quality. So he said, Dr. Ashenden, we are entirely agreed the queen can’t possibly be involved in any contemporary political issues or else she loses her role. So the problem we have is that there is a public perception that when you say something in public, there’s a perception that the queen might agree with you, and the difficulty we have is she might, and there’s another problem we have is that when you speak in public, there’s a public perception the queen might be advised by your views, and the difficulty we have with that is she might be. Can you help me solve the problem? And I said, well, there are only two answers. One is I become silent and the other is I resign. Well, how perceptive of you, he said.

Eric Sammons:

That made decision pretty clear, and actually, just that made me think, just we Americans, we have a difficult time with the whole monarchy, things like that, but we’re Catholic as well, Catholic Americans, and so monarchy’s in our blood in another sense as well, and so in English Catholic, obviously, Queen Elizabeth is your monarch, and I’m actually a big fan of Queen Elizabeth in a lot ways, but yet she’s also the successor of Henry VIII and she’s the head of the Anglican church in some way. How does a Catholic then reconcile all that in their head in their attitude toward how do they look then towards the queen?

Gavin Ashenden:

I think with very real difficulty. One of the things I did on becoming a Catholic was to reread my reformation history. So let me correct you for a moment to say she’s not really Henry VIII’s successor. I mean, Henry VIII was the last Catholic Monarch and he was followed by Edward VI, but Edward VI was a boy child who had Protestant advisors. He was followed by Mary, Mary was followed by Elizabeth. She’s really Elizabeth’s successor, and the problem is as you read Elizabethan history, you discover that for 50 or 60 years, the state set out to execute Catholics in the most brutal and repressive way and to accompany it with a level of deceptive propaganda that was profoundly offensive. So as one rereads the history of the 16th century as a Catholic, one gets deeply moved.

And you say to yourself, who are these agents of an anti-Catholic state? They begin to lose political… Well, not political. They begin to lose metaphysical and philosophical integrity and become apparatchiks of a repressive state, and then as one goes through the 19th century, this deep, profound, and I would say satanic antagonism to the Catholic church is profoundly embedded in the Anglican establishment, and particularly in the person of the monarch. This only begins to change with the Catholic emancipation acts, but still, it’s ludicrous. There’s no bar against a royal heir marrying a Muslim, but there’s absolutely a bar against him marrying a Catholic. So this anti-Catholicism is written into the whole English system and I think this makes life very difficult for Catholics. I came to it traditionally late in the day for it present itself to me as an aberration.

But I think if I’d grown up with it, I would feel somewhat muted. I would feel that I was an Englishman on license, required to keep my Catholicism quiescent because the establishment was completely set against it. At my age, I feel entirely different. I want to call out a Protestant monarchy and say this is a bad thing to be. It’s bad because you are Protestant, because you are on the wrong side of history. I mean, let’s take a leaf out of the Marxist at the moment. It is indeed possible to be on the wrong side of history. Christianity is on the right side of history, but the people who are on the best side of history are the Catholics, but Protestants are not on the right side of history and the reason I say that is not as a matter of dogmatic assertion, but because the 500 year experiment that was the Protestant church has largely come undone.

That’s not to say that there’s no virtue in Protestantism and I’m particularly fond of Pentecostalism, but in terms of state Protestant churches that Europe was made up out of, and their time is over. They have no currency and the denominations are failing fast. Anglicanism will be defunct in this country within five to 10 years. The average age of people is almost 70 and the church has gone completely woke. It’s lost its raison d’etre. So I think it’s very difficult and that’s one of the reasons I think why it’s taking some time for Catholics, and particularly the Catholic episcopate, to gain a sense of momentum and perhaps fueled by a prophetic awareness of what God may be calling them to be. Effectively, if the Catholic church does not step into the secular gap that the death of the Church of England has created along with the vacuum of Christendom, there will be no Christianity.

Only the Catholic church can do it, but at the moment, it seems to me that those people who’ve been cradle Catholics have been muted by, first of all, a great deal of class snobbery. Catholics were Irish and Italians, unless you were the Duke of Norfolk. He’s the only exception effectively speaking, and outsiders only recently allowed into Oxford and Cambridge always slightly suspicious because of the propaganda of Elizabethan state with the Armada and our xenophobic mistrust of the French and the Spanish. There are a whole series of reasons for being anti-Catholic in England and the rational, I was going to say reasons. That’s tautological. The rationality behind them has long evacuated, but the emotional and cultural prejudice remains and I think I’d like to see the Catholic church, encouraged by late comers like me, pick up its responsibilities and say it’s us or nothing, so let it be us.

Eric Sammons:

Right. So England, I mean, here in America, we’ve had just cultural defeat after cultural defeat, things going the wrong direction, but every once, we have a victory like we had the DOD’s decision where Roe V Wade was overturned and that was a great victory here. It seems to me from the perception over here is that England’s actually, it’s even worse, that the cultural defeats are even greater over there. Is that accurate? Is it basically just becoming more and more woke, more and more anti-Christian over there?

Gavin Ashenden:

Yes, I’m very sorry to say that it is. I wish I could say that it wasn’t, but I think only by recognizing the reality can we engage in some kind of fight back or some kind of, we need a strategy for dealing with life as it really is, and in terms of the process of secularization, England is right at the cutting edge. So the Church of England had to decide whether or not it went for a popular affirmation at the hands of the newly secularized culture and decided it would do that, failing completely to recognize that you cannot be secular and Christian at the same time anymore than you can be woke and Christian at the same time because the whole thought system that lies behind secularism and wokery is articulately anti-Christian. It’s almost like that’s what’s designed to attack.

But Catholicism remains quiescent, to some extent. I mean, it can be quite useful. We have a fairly famous Catholic politician called Jacob Rees-Mogg and when he’s attacked on his views on abortion, for example, or homosexuality, he rather delicately and lackadaisically lifts his hands into the air and say, please don’t attack me. These are the views of my church. Take it up with my church if you like, but I’m simply a quiet, faithful Catholic. If I’m a Catholic, I have no choice, and this completely throws the interviewers and they go looking for another chink in his armor. They haven’t got time to work this one through, but to some extent, that allows Catholics a degree of public protection that Protestants don’t have because they have to make their own individual choices, but what can the Catholic church do now?

Well, to my mind, I think Rod Dreher has it right when he says that we’ve long lost the battles. I mean, we’ve lost them so badly that the judges and senior policemen are now hugely woke and anti-Christian. It’s gone right to the top of the age tree. I mean, you might really only expect people over 60 to be slightly untouched by the propaganda. Anyone under 60 is brainwashed into it in the most extraordinary way. So what can the Catholic church do? I think we have to go back to the catechism. I think we have to have voluntary societies. I think there are some things we can preach about in public, in the public space and other things we have to talk about amongst consenting adults who are catechumens, and if you can’t tell the difference, you’ll go to prison because you’ll be accused of hate crimes.

Eric Sammons:

So you said that the Anglican, the Church of England’s going to be defunct. It’s basically just dying. I mean, the numbers are not good over here for the Catholic church either. I mean, they’re not good for any of the traditionally Christian churches, religions. What is then the state of the Catholic church there as far as are the bishops leading against the woke? Are they giving into it as well? Are there priests that are speaking up, lay people? I mean, are parishes? Is it growing? Is it dying? What’s going on there?

Gavin Ashenden:

Well, first of all, the numbers are good at mass are between two and four times greater than Anglicans. I mean, I think the Anglicans are about four. I mean, they claim seven or 800,000 at mass a week, but I think they’re more like three or four, in fact. They do this by having toddler clubs and old people’s lunches and then they say here are our members, but it’s entirely disingenuous because the Catholic church here has been hugely helped by immigration. So a lot of the people who are Catholics in England are not indigenously English, but that doesn’t matter. They’re still, they’re Catholics and they’re here.

Eric Sammons:

Where do they come from? What countries?

Gavin Ashenden:

There was a large influx from Europe, mainly Poland, but far wider than that as well. The English Catholic bishops appear to, they appear to be making discretion their primary value and I think they’re slightly in awe of the Anglican establishment still, which if they had known it as well as I’d known, it would pass immediately, but nonetheless, they appear to be. So the numbers aren’t that bad. I mean, they’re not good, but they’re not bad. Well, they’re not as atrocious as the Church of England. I can’t tell what’s going to happen in the future, but effectively, and this is the big crisis in the Catholic church. There are two ways of being a Christian today, one is progressive and secular and the other is increasingly… Well, so I don’t want to use the word traditional. That’s unhelpful.

I would say the other would be expressed by a form of cultural allegiance that stretches across the millennia. So a kind of Catholic who didn’t define themselves by what’s happened in the last 200 years in the West, and that Catholicism is going to flourish increasingly as people often find their way to go through a breakdown and we have a great deal of breakdown at the moment. There’s a lot of mental breakdown. Levels of mental illness are stratospherically high. There’s an emergence of the occult again. It’s the old Chestertonian thing. When they stop believing in God, they don’t become atheists. They believe in anything.

And so we have a great opportunity as Catholics to be able to bring the whole weight of Catholic experience to broken people in a broken society with broken morality and a broken sanity, and say to them, you can be saved. In one sense, it’s as things get worse that evangelism becomes most potent and most articulated. So it’s quite painful. It’s going to be very difficult, but secular Catholics will find themselves absorbed into the unbelieving impotent mass and authentic Orthodox Catholics will find themselves reinvigorated if for no other reason than being the glory of God is a human being fully alive, and to be a Catholic is to be given all the graces you need to flourish, and the distinction between people who have that and those who don’t have it will grow ever more marked.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I feel like it’s similar to what I’ve been saying over here about, it’s not necessarily that… I mean, the church, I think the numbers are going to continue to go down in the Catholic church over here in America because those who are just accepting of the culture and go along with it and try to also be a little Catholic, that does not pass on. That does not pass on to the next generation. It dies out, and those who are… I understand your hesitation. You use the word traditional because that has certain connotations as well, but just basically, as you said, accepting the totality of Catholicism, I guess. Those people have the ability to resist the culture. It just seems to me though that the higher ups in the church seem to be against those who are accepting the totality of Catholicism, and we see that here with a number of bishops that seem to be most upset by people like that rather than trying to say, Hey, let’s all grab onto this. Is that also the case over in England?

Gavin Ashenden:

Yes, it is and I have some direct experience of it. I spent two years doing post graduate work with the Jesuits part of the University of London in the 1980s and I liked the Jesuits very much. They were ideal for my kind of Anglican. We were indistinguishable, and so I think I understand the kind of language that Pope Francis is using and that many of the bishops are using, and it’s a particular mindset that originates from the forties, fifties, and sixties, and I think it essentially, it’s bought into the idea of progress and it bought in so strongly in the idea of progress and placed a lot of its confidence in the possibility of a marriage between political activism and liberal progress whilst at the same time being frightened and upset by the raw, metaphysical high-octaneness of traditional belief.

Partly because one of the great fictions of progressive intellectual life is that you want to avoid superstition and medievalism. Actually, my view is the 15th century was probably the absolute apex of human civilization treatment. I mean, maybe the 17th, but the architecture and social compassion and intellectual sophistication and the launching of the scientific revolution. I mean, it was just a moment of the most extraordinarily fulfilled potential, but to go back to the point we were making, there is a kind of late 20th century view that anything that precedes 1850 is somehow barbaric or myopic or undereducated. I think it’s a very bad reading of history, and in itself, it’s a form of brainwashing.

So I’m afraid, I think that a lot of the senior clergy, certainly universally through Anglicanism, but also within Catholicism have bought into that and they haven’t had a sufficient crisis of faith or intellectual angst to revisit the presuppositions upon which their all adult life has been built. It’s much easier to persecute people who frighten you than it is to revisit your original presuppositions. It’s really quite, it takes a lot of courage to do that, and so I think it’s a generational thing. They’ll be dead in 10 or 15 years. I’m fairly convinced that we’ve only got to see the next couple of decades out and people slightly older than me and of my age will no longer have this asphyxiating effect as we represent the last gasp of 20th century rationalism, but that’s what I think it is.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I think it seems to me that the path we’re going on is the only people who are going to be left in the church are those who are accepting of all the totality of Catholicism. They kind of reject as progressivism, and yes, that means it will likely be very small, but I feel like that’s a foundation you can build on to grow and that’s how the early church, of course, built from that small mustard seed and you go from there, not that we want the church to get smaller, but it just seems to be inevitable, and what Ratzinger, Father Ratzinger, when he was Father Ratzinger, that’s his famous prediction wasn’t like he was saying I want it to get smaller. I think he was just saying, listen, I see what’s happening here and it’s going, and he was right. It is getting smaller, but it just seems crazy to me that Catholic leaders, we actually have an example in the Anglican church of a church that embraces modernity and what happens? So why would we want to do that?

Gavin Ashenden:

Yeah. Well, because it takes such courage to revisit the presuppositions you’ve built your whole life and your success upon. I mean, again, these people were only appointed because they believed these kind of things. So to start disbelieving them in your old age is really quite difficult. I mean, one of the things I’ve been surprised at is it takes quite a lot of effort to go on thinking as I’m growing older. I thought that in my late sixties, I’d developed both spiritual and intellectual muscle that would see me out to the end of my life.

And I’m finding neither is true. Gravitational forces of entropy mean it’s just as hard, if not harder to go on fighting spiritually and intellectually as one grows older, and I think some of the people we’re talking about, they either have never done it, or they’ve certainly given up, but in one sense, it doesn’t matter because you’re quite right. The two voices that are the lamps that point ahead into the fog of the future for me are Ratzinger and Cardinal George of Chicago. I’m going to die in my bed. My successor will die in jail. His successor will be martyred and his successor will begin to rebuild Christendom as we always have done in the cycle of human history. Well, his successor was Cupich and he’s not dying in jail.

Eric Sammons:

No, he might be the jailer.

Gavin Ashenden:

He might be the jailer, but I think allow this to be drama and hyperbole a bit. Why not? He needs to catch our attention. I think the trajectory is right. I don’t worry so much about the numbers in the West because the West is doomed. I mean, we’re back to Dreher’s analysis. The West has gone. Peterson is right about this. There might be bits of the intellectual West, which can survive on the internet as we reconfigure the university project, but the long march of the institutions has been so deeply successful. I think we have to accept that Europe and the states has gone, and so then the question is what’s happening in the rest of the world? Well, look at China and although it’s highly controversial, what happened in Russia in the last 30 or 40 years is extraordinary. It’s difficult to gauge, but it’s still extraordinary.

And everything is to fight for in Africa. So let’s assume that secularism has burnt itself out in America and Europe. What else was it going to do? That shouldn’t be a surprise to us and that the secularists have done their very best to silence their major rival, Christianity. So our children have been subjected to a very thorough indoctrination at the hands of the media and cinema. I mean, the lyrics of their music and the films they’ve been watching and the torrent of sheer detritus that pours out of the TV screens, it’s amazing. It’s amazing the numbers are what they are. We should celebrate them, but recognize what we are fighting. We’re fighting something deeply, deeply, spiritually toxic, but what we must not do is to pretend that we are at the end of the first half of a match where our team hasn’t done very well. We are at the end of the second half and there’s going to have to be a rematch in it with a different team on a different pitch.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. A lot of people I know, they’re very critical of Rod Dreher, as in they consider him a defeatist and he’s surrendering and I’ve never seen it like that. It seems to me what he’s saying is we’ve lost these major battles. So if you’re in a war with somebody and you’ve lost all the major battles and your troops have been decimated, and the other side has got way more advanced weapons than you have right now, it’s not surrender to say, okay, now let’s go underground and build up and find ways to attack them from this side, from that side, do just little attacks here and there, but ultimately, what we’re doing is we’re trying to build up the strength behind our walls, so we can then be stronger. It just seems to me that’s a logical way to go about it and it’s a recognition of the reality, which is, like you said, in the West, we’ve lost. I mean, we have lost and so therefore, we have to regroup to fight again. I mean, is that seemed to be what you’re saying in England as well, that has to happen.

Gavin Ashenden:

Yes. But again, I don’t see it… Well, see, when we’ve lost, I think what’s happened is what we should say is that in the last 200 years, a form of post Christianity has taken place and do you know what your dreadful, corrupt post Christianity looks like? It looks like the end of the 20th century when human beings killed each other on a scale that is absolutely appalling. I was very taken by the fact that someone said that Obama’s foreign policy caused 10 times as many deaths as the inquisition did because if you want to compare the shared destructiveness of secular 20th century and 21st century politics, then it comes off extremely badly. So I don’t take responsibility as a Christian for anything that happened after 1850. This was a secular experiment and it’s been appalling.

And so I think what we should say is if you wanted to give up the protection that Christianity gave you and try something else, well, you’ve done it, so now you can tell the difference. Choose Christ, avoid Darwin, avoid, avoid Marx, avoid Stalin, avoid Hitler, avoid Disney, choose Jesus, and we should be proud of this and say, of course, it’s no surprise that for 200 years, the church has been ground down by relentless propaganda. I’m trying to write something on the gay issue at the moment and I’m rereading Freud and Foucault, and as I do so, I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I’m reminded of what I always knew, which was Freud’s position on sexuality changed endlessly. He didn’t have a fixed position. He was more of a gadfly constantly reacting, and actually late Freud becomes quite sensible, almost quite attractive.

And Foucault, of course, also had a series of shifting positions almost by definition, but dealt only in power. So the fact is our opponents don’t have a fixed position. They are people who set out to react against God. They’re enemies of God who sought to attack the whole idea of Christendom and they did so very effectively. We should never have given way the way we did. It’s partly our failure, but the project of the last 200 years is not ours, it’s our enemies so let’s expose it to what it is and say to the people we live amongst. It was better in 1400 when people were only able to go to war three days a week because the other days were saints days. The Pope wouldn’t let kings fight on saints days. So however bellicose you were, you still had 50% less aggression because of the Catholic church. So which system would you like to live under?

Eric Sammons:

We’re much more efficient with our killing today.

Gavin Ashenden:

Absolutely. Drones day and night, there’s no stopping for drones. The idea you could be safe on a saints day would be quite appealing to Al-Qaeda I think, but anyway, so I feel much more confident about our capacity to take the intellectual and the cultural argument to our enemies. They’re terribly unhappy. They’re really screwed up and unhappy. They’re not living a full life, and all this nonsense that young in particular persuades us with, that we are here to live to maximize our potentiality.

But there is no maximization and there appears to be very little potentiality and we should say that the real depth of human life is discovered when the animal and the angelic find their way into a new synthesis, which is a new birth and fueled by the Holy Spirit and we’re set free from those corrosions that destroy us and one another. I mean, Christianity is so appealing intellectually and emotionally and culturally and spiritually. We really should get off our backsides and begin to talk about it more in public to people who are in real trouble.

Eric Sammons:

And that is the frustration when sometimes our leaders, they want to hide that and I think you’re right, that it is so appealing. What I think is a bright spot, at least in the Catholic church is the Ordinariate. Are you a member of the ordinariate?

Gavin Ashenden:

I’m a lay member of the Ordinariate, yes.

Eric Sammons:

That’s right. Yeah. Right, right. So I feel like that is a bright spot. I just attended an Ordinariate mass for the first time in my life this past Sunday, actually. I’d been meaning to. There’s not one too close to me and we were out of town, and so I was like, Hey, I found out there was one there. So I attended and I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve had interviews about it, but what’s your take on the state of the Ordinariate, specifically in England?

Gavin Ashenden:

I think it has huge potential. I heard someone say, and again, this is hyperbole, but I like it nonetheless. They said that the Ordinariate are the new Jesuits in England, and I mean, of course, they’re not, but in another sense, I think what the critic was trying to say was here is a group of people who are moved by a level of conviction that is really quite unusual and a level of competence, too. They marry competence and conviction, and as it happens, they bring with them Shakespeare in the sense that one of the best things about Anglicanism was the formation of its liturgy in the 16th century when English was at its most beautiful, and if you believe in beauty, and the Catholic church does, then what the Ordinariate does is it brings in a literary.

And a poetic beauty to match the best of architectural Gothic beauty, and that’s no small thing. In fact, one of the reasons why I asked to transfer from diocese and allegiance to the Ordinariate was as I began praying the divine office regularly, I just got fed up with the bad translations from the Hebrew and the rather lame English music in the meter, and I said, well, it’s just not very good English and it’s not very good Hebrew. It’s not very good Greek, and my prayers have been formed over the last 40, 50 years by the book of common prayer.

So the idea that one could take some of this very, very beautiful liturgy and marry it into Catholic doctrine and dogma seemed to me to be the best of both worlds, and I think when you combine that beauty and that depth with a group of people who holy admirable in terms of their conviction and courage, then you do have something really rather special. Does that mean that who knows what will come of it, but it has a, to mock my own analysis, it also, it has a lot of potential, but I mean, this is not the potential of the developing self, but the potential in terms of an aspect of the Catholic church, which is profoundly rich and concede itself well.

Eric Sammons:

You might not know the answer to this, but do most Anglican converts to Catholicism there in England, do they go to the Ordinariate, or is it some just go diocesan, some are Ordinariate, or how does that work?

Gavin Ashenden:

I’m afraid there’s no end to English snobbery. So my friends have gone the diocesan route. When I say, well, why haven’t you come to the Ordinariate, they simply repeat the snobbery of the Catholic diocese, which is who are these people? The diocese is the real place to be a real Catholic, not this stamp collector’s club of an ancient liturgy that… So one could pick up snobbery very quickly if you want to be a part of the crowd, but I think they’ve made a mistake to do that and I mean, as it happens, I’m afraid that the rank and file Catholic community in this country look at the Ordinariate with a degree of horror.

Partly because a whole bunch of people who’ve inherited, I’ll say the deformed Vatican II spirit in order to make a distinction between the second Vatican council and the deformed presentation of what progresses would like it to mean. So having made that, I think that important distinction, there are a lot of secular people who suffer from a deformed Vatican II spirit, and they don’t want Anglicans who see through this joining the Catholic church because they’d rather stay in their slightly wooly, liberal, permissive, progressive atmosphere. So to that extent, the Ordinariate and Anglican converts are not wholly welcome, but I’m afraid I think that’s a fault in the perception of those who can’t find it in their hearts to welcome. They don’t know what the issues are.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Well, I’m glad to hear though that it seems to be doing well there. It seems to be doing well here in the states as well. I just think this seems to be growing a little bit. I know there are people who are worried and I understand that perhaps there will be some moves against the Ordinariate because of the moves that have happened against the traditional Latin mass because if you go to an Ordinariate mass, a lot of the thing because a lot of these bishops who have cracked on the traditional Latin mass, they then say, oh, and Nova Soto, you can’t do Ad Orientem. You can’t do it in Latin without permission. We don’t want altruists of that, but of course, the Ordinariate, not the Latin part, but they have the Ad Orientem, the incense, and so do you think is there a concern, do you have a concern I should say, with the idea the Ordinariate might be next as far as trying to tap it down a little bit?

Gavin Ashenden:

I read a very interesting article that I wanted to believe, which said that the Ordinariate is such an unusual creature that it doesn’t easily fall into the same category of the Latin mass, and partly because of Vatican II. So it seems to me that the antagonism against traditional Latin mass is mainly brought about by people who have a particular reading of the Second Vatican Council. I think it’s a poor reading of it. It’s a highly progressive and liberal one and I don’t think it recognizes the richness of the Second Vatican Council as I read in documents, but they’re frightened that their pet project will be found lacking and the people who appear to be calling it most into question are the Latin mass traditionalists.

The Ordinariate doesn’t have a problem with Second Vatican Council because it kind of bypasses it culturally and theologically, and so I think that it may escape the opprobrium in this Catholic civil war. It may not, but I hope it does, but I also hope that the opprobrium and the civil war will only last another 10 years because I really do think again, it’s being conducted by people on the whole who are over 70 and they’ll be gone soon. I can’t see people under 70 continuing this internecine warfare against the roots of developing Catholic tradition.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I posted this on Twitter, this great quote I saw where the Catholic church is the only institution where men in their seventies and eighties tell people in their twenties and thirties to get with the times.

Gavin Ashenden:

Yes, that’s right. I’m so sorry. I have to not laugh here or it shakes the floor and shakes my screen, but I mean, these ancient, confused hippies are much to be pitied, but they have power at the moment and they will soon lose power, and the fact is it’s the Catholic church. We’ll see them out. We’ve seen out the Aryans, and it’s the tradition and the Holy Spirit and Petrine integrity will see these people out.

Eric Sammons:

That’s right. Absolutely. Amen. Okay. One last question for you and I’m going to put you on the spot here. If you were the Archbishop of Westminster, what would you do to spread Catholicism in England?

Gavin Ashenden:

I’ve been asked this question as if I was the Archbishop of Canterbury on previous, but I think the answer is the same. Europe was evangelized by monks and by monasticism, and with the appalling breakdown in family and in community and in existential or integrity, I think one of the most powerful gifts that the church has are monastic and religious communities of different complexions. I’m not suggesting we should reinvent the Franciscans or the Benedictines. Maybe we have to find an order for the 21st century, but I think what I would want to do, I mean, I think Opus Dei falls into this. I think I’d want to find communities of committed believers where people wouldn’t have to survive either as members of the nuclear family, which is under dreadful stress, but could find a Catholic family, a Catholic community to be part of.

So I think I would want to reseed England with monastic communities of the right kind of flavor, again, so that the places people could go to find beautiful words, beautiful music, reconciled relationships, a depth of prayer, an atmosphere of hope and vision, that this ought to happen in the parishes, but I think that the problem with the parishes are that they seem to me to be, they don’t eat and drink enough together. One of the things I found as an Anglican priest was the validity was absolutely essential, but almost as important was the opportunity to eat and drink. So as a university chaplain, I would go and I got funds together to buy lunch and when people would come in, they would be invited to a free lunch where they’d sit and eat and drink and talk.

And then for two or three hours, people would make friends. They’d meet people they didn’t meet. They’d just sit and eat and drink. There were no expectations. There was no money to be paid. It was, if you like, a sacramental extension of the liturgy into community. Now, that doesn’t happen in parishes. It could happen. So perhaps I should say I’d want two schemes. I’d want to try and turn parishes into more of an extended family where people could eat, drink, and find greater existential shelter with one another, but I’d also want the monastic communities to act as profoundly set families that people could be protected in a take nourishment from in a Christian ethos.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, which very much fits in with the idea of the Benedict option that Rod Dreher talked about, just building these communities that would be strong going forward. Before we end here, how can people find out about your work and what you’re up to these days?

Gavin Ashenden:

Well, if they go to my website, ashenden.org, that’s where I offer longer catechesis on YouTube, but it all starts on ashenden.org and I’m very much hoping to develop this site in Normandy where people can come and it’s the most wonderful chapel in the garden. I discovered that I bought it… There’s a label of spiritual continuity. I can do this in 30 seconds. I won’t take long. I found this small plot by a river, an old mill with two houses and a chapel, and it turns out it was built by a Catholic philanthropist who lived in Paris, who ran an addiction center, and so he would bring his addict out of Paris and in the garden, he built a huge greenhouse about 50 foot long and a chapel on the end.

And he got people growing things and saying their prayers, and I found it by accident and I think what I’m hoping to do, the chapel is inhabited by angels and a great sense of Newmanness and because we are set between St. Michael and this place of apparition of Our Lady in Pontmain, I think one of the things it will do, I hope, is to provide a place of retreat and refreshment under the radar where people can come and say their prayers, learn a bit more of the faith, and take a deep breath before they go back into the world. So if people on my website will keep an eye open for that, I’m hoping to develop that over the next 10 years and there we are. For as long as I’m not thrown off the internet, that’s where I’ll be found.

Eric Sammons:

That sounds incredible. I will definitely, I’ll link to that site in the show notes so people can easily find it. I really appreciate your time today, taking some time. It’s been great to find out about all this and I’m a little bit more optimistic than I was, so I think that’s a good thing. Hopefully, you’re right about that stuff, but thank you. I really do appreciate it.

Gavin Ashenden:

Eric, it’s been lovely to talk to you. Thank you for giving me the time and the company.

Eric Sammons:

Thank you. Okay. Until next time everybody, God love you.

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