Members Secular of the Society are pledged to the following Rule:
- - Gloucester, MA, The Vine Press, 1958
Prayer of the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth
Ant. The work of Justice shall be peace; and the effect of Justice, quietness and confidence forever.
V. Keep ye Judgement and do Justice:
R. For my Salvation is near to come and my Justice to be revealed.
ALMIGHTY GOD, whose property it is ever to draw the thoughts and deeds of men from the world's disorder and to direct them into the Order of thy redeeming will; create anew, we humbly beseech thee, and so keep the wills of us thy servants, that we, ardently withstanding the empires of this world, may rejoice in the comradeship of the Kingdom of thine Incarnate Son; who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever One God, world without end. R. Amen.
Christian Over-Pessimism versus Humanist Over-Optimism
Appendix I to Discerning the Lord's Body, Frederic Hastings Smyth, 1946.
It needs to be said, however, that even merely human efforts, if they be rational and carried through with determination, can accomplish much more for the improvement of human life than a good many people seem to imagine. It is a curious paradox of today that many so-called Christians tend to be pessimistic in this regard. They (e.g. Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and other Neo-orthodox) hold too low an opinion of man's natural rational powers for improving his present and his future in this world; for, even though man in his own unaided right cannot reach those roots of his difficulties which stem from the past, he can make substantial, if partial, contributions to the restoration of order to God's world. These Christian pessimists give too much weight to the burden of Original Sin as this operates in the natural order. But this is very understandable. Since many nominal Christians today are thoroughly steeped in prejudice against deep social change or revolution of any kind whatever, an over-emphasis upon the effect of Original Sin as this operates in the time dimension provides an excellent excuse for human inaction -- and indeed, for unashamed reaction.
On the other hand, Dialectical Materialists (Communists), who dogmatically deny the existence of any power transcending our time and space, entertain an almost apocalyptic optimism concerning the possibility of the perfection of human life, without any reference to the inherited burden of past disorders. Such Materialists therefore are making the opposite mistake of denying Original Sin and its effects altogether. This mistake does doom those who persist in it to eventual disappointment and to the danger of despairing disillusion. However, Communists at least work for a better world at this moment of history, one more in accord with the will of God than is our present capitalist one. And they are not afraid of secular revolution. Therefore, in so far as they succeed in moving human life in the direction of a greater justice and a greater realization of a non-competitive, brotherly economic community, they move in the direction of God's further purpose.
Hence, their over-optimism is, at this point, infinitely preferable to the deadening and paralyzing effects of exaggerated Christian pessimism. And to the solution of that ultimate and time-transcending part of the problem which Communists now ignore, we may hope that guidance may be given by genuine Christians when the present preliminary work accomplished by the Communists shall become ready for a divine consummation. In that future we may well believe that all men, including the inheritors of the materialist tradition themselves, will welcome the transcendent validation of their human efforts within the ultimate redeeming action of the Incarnation of the Son of God. But if radical Christian pessimists reject all possibility of any contributory human work, for such there seems no hope at all.
Ecclesiastical Vestments and Catholic Democracy
from Appendix IV to Discerning the Lord's Body, Frederic Hastings Smyth, 1946.
[Father Smyth could get a little fussy at times. The occasions when I served mass for him at the Oratory in Gloucester were the only chance I ever got to kiss cruets as the (Roman) ceremonial directions of the time required, and when one kissed the Father Founder's biretta one could take satisfaction in noting that it very properly sported a tassel and not that ridiculous pom-pom so popular with the liturgically incorrect. The following little essay reflects some of that fussiness, but its main point is a sound one. I was reminded of the fact that vestments and ceremonial do have social significance by a recent remark by a spokesperson for one of the dissident "traditionalist" groups in the Episcopal Church. Fulminating against what he called "high church liberalism," he proclaimed, "It is no accident that Barbara Harris [Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts] wears a chasuble!" Indeed, it is not. - - Ted M.]
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The principal traditional vestment worn by the celebrating Priest at Mass is the Chasuble. This vestment, whose name (from the late Latin Casula, meaning "little house") shows its origin, was, in the Church's early days, simply the customary garment of any ordinary male citizen of the ancient Western world. Essentially it is a circular piece of material with a hole cut in its center so that it can be put over the head and this fall in folds about the shoulders. If it is large enough it may even reach to the ground and thus envelop the entire figure of the wearer.
It should be noted that the Chasuble is not derived from the exclusive garment of a Roman Patrician or aristocrat. It is not derived from a toga. It is therefore not the garment of economic or social class privilege. Originally it might well have been worn by slaves and freedmen, by professional people or by tradesmen. It corresponds, in its obviously utilitarian quality, to the simple poncho of the Americas.
Both Priest and people should remember this when the Chasuble is worn at the altar. It is in the tradition of the common people who first heard Our Lord gladly; and those who first gathered at His Altar tended to be drawn from among the poor and the underprivileged. It is the garment of this class of people which the Priest, as representative of the Divine Community, still wears.
Today this garment is often made of finest stuff and is beautifully worked and embroidered. Through its form it still remains the symbol of the Church's continuity with an original movement among the lower economic classes of the Roman Empire towards a Divine Revolution which threatened the very existence of the contemporary economic and political ruling class, the class which wore the toga. At the same time, through the beauty of adornment and the glory of its gold and silver thread, it now has a prophetic reference. It sill caries its ancient threat against social and economic injustice; but it refers this threat to the future as well. It asserts that this garment shall be made rich and splendid for all men everywhere. It asserts that the garments of the poor and the underprivileged shall share in the same rich beauty and abundance here set forth. It prophecies that the common people shall share justly in these things even though it require an economic revolution to accomplish it, even though those who are now unjustly clothed with the modern equivalent of the toga, and who therefore resist the adornment of the Chasuble for the exploited men and women upon whom they fatten and grow rich, must for their part be unclothed and overthrown.
It is significant that after the Reformation period in England another garment called the Surplice came into almost universal use as the vestment of the Priest at Mass. Its name is derived from the late Latin super pellicium. It means literally something worn over a fur coat. In the medieval church in northern climes the church buildings were often cold. The monks who served them need warm clothing and the habits were often equipped with fur capes and hoods. They therefore had need of a decent white linen garment for wear in choir, but one which could be put on without removing their furs. To meet this need, that voluminous garment which came to be known as the sur-pellisse, the Surplice, was devised. . .
Because the Surplice has its origin in the special needs of a peculiar ecclesiastical group, it is in no sense symbolically the garment of the common man, but rather that of a privileged, a protected and a highly specialized class. It is almost uncanny to see by what unerringly keen historical insight the Anglican Communion, itself notoriously the church of an upper and a privileged economic class, has seized upon this flowing white garment of privilege and class separation as the symbol of its peculiar ethos. When the Anglican Priest dons his Surplice, he does not identify himself representatively with the common man, nor with the movement of the Christian masses towards the economic justice of the Kingdom of God. Instead, he puts on a garment not merely analogous to the toga, but one which looks in fact very much like one. Thus he symbolically separates himself haughtily from common outsiders, while he confirms his own well-fenced and comfortable flock in all the smooth complacencies of its economic privilege and aloofness.
. . . Anglican Bishops prefer in many instances to wear a curious clothing combination known as the Rochet and Chimere. This Episcopal habit is strictly speaking not a Liturgical vestment at all. It is a kind of clothing which, in medieval times, had come to be worn by Bishops when they sat in the politically undemocratic House of Lords, or when they attended Court functions either of a social or a state character. Thus, by his dress in church, the typical Anglican Bishop now adds his own symbolic witness to that of the Priest's Surplice, to the effect that he is not a reprepresentative of the common man, that he scorns the everyday garments of the working class and that he is an undemocratic ruler, preferring to identify himself with the ruling class of aristocracy and economic privilege.
Let the common people of the church ponder these things when they see their Priests in Surplices and their Bishops in Rochet and Chimere. For these outer symbols if history do not emerge purely by meaningless accident. They are instead the true expressions of the very genius of an upper class-conscious Church. . .
Let the Bishops and Priests of the Anglican Communion change their privileged class-conscious garments for the ancient democratic clothing of the people's Catholic Church. But let them do it for the right reasons. Let them do it not for reasons of modern pomp and circumstance, nor yet for reasons of mere aesthetic satisfaction. Let them again don the Cope and the Chasuble as an act of democratic humility. Let them proclaim openly and to every eye that they are the servants not only of God, but of Our Lord's Redeemed People. Let them dutifully wear that People's representative clothing, to serve and to exalt, not to oppress, the common man.
Sources for Additional Information
Metacosmesis: the Christian Marxism of Frederic Hastings Smyth and the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth, by Terry M. Brown. Doctoral thesis at Toronto School of Theology, 1987. Now available on-line at Project Canterbury. (Terry Brown is currently Bishop of Malaita in the Church of the Province of Melanesia in the Solomon Islands.)
Papers of Fr. Smyth and the Society of the Catholic Commonwealth are deposited at the General Synod Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada in Toronto.
May the sure hope of the achievement of the Divine Commonwealth inspire you, and the Catholic Comradeship within this Society give you strength in the battle for Christ's Kingdom; and may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost be upon you and remain with you forever. -- from the Form for the Admission of Members Secular