Thursday, 25 August 2016

"Social Apostolate"?

The churches, and supremely the Catholic Church with Her Universal Teaching and Pastoral Office, held firm against the tyrannies of Left and Right alike during the second half of the twentieth century.

That is the official version, and it is broadly correct. But there were large and inescapable exceptions. Here are a few.

The Byzantine Rite Catholics in Romania were strong opponents of the British and French-backed Ceauşescu regime, a stand for which they paid a terrible price while Ceauşescu was being created a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.

But from 1962 onwards, although there were individual heroes and martyrs, the Romanian Orthodox Church, as a body, was certainly not of that mind, instead devising an entire ecclesiology of "Social Apostolate" in support of Ceauşescu's admittedly anti-Soviet foreign policy and in order to refrain from criticising his domestic policies even while numerous churches were being demolished.

Two Metropolitans, who are Archbishops, were members of the Great National Assembly, Ceauşescu's puppet legislative body. As Theresa May might put it, "Remind you of anywhere?"

In pro-Soviet Bulgaria, meanwhile, the Orthodox Church and the Communist Party were practically symbiotic, with the regime even using the Church's historic jurisdiction over Macedonia, which was then in anti-Soviet Yugoslavia, over Western Thrace, which is in modern Greece, and over Eastern Thrace, which is the European part of modern Turkey, in order to press its own claims to those territories. 

People are often vaguely aware of the Russian Orthodox Church's complicity in the crimes of the Soviet regime, although it is amazing how frequently one encounters perfect ignorance of that fact.

But the collusion and worse of churches throughout the old Eastern Bloc cries out for a television documentary, perhaps even a series, with attendant newspaper articles and so on.

The Polish priests and the East German pastors are still fairly well-remembered, although they could do with being revisited, not least because they must and do often wonder why they bothered. But the whole story needs to be told.

(Angela Merkel's father and his brethren were no neoliberal capitalists, and I reproach myself for not knowing more about their admirable, but very startling, departure from Lutheran Erastianism right there in Saxony and Prussia. Learning German has been on my To Do list for 25 years. Was it the influence of the Confessing Church? I suppose so. But what lay behind that, in turn? Most Lutherans had not joined it, to say the least.)

The same is true of the striking similarity to the Romanian "Social Apostolate" in the formal and informal theology of the English-speaking and sometimes even the African-initiated churches in apartheid South Africa.

People know about the theological justification provided by the Afrikaans churches. People know about the valiant stand made officially by most of the rest.

A few people, although nowhere near enough, know about the immense self-sacrifice of those who opposed apartheid within Afrikanerdom, including within its churches until they were very often driven out of them.

But taboo continues to surround the role of the English-speaking whites. 

And of those blacks who were persuaded that the ANC was purely, since no one doubts that it was in no small part, a viper's nest of Stalinism.

As well as those whose tribal backgrounds, often at once defining and defined by ecclesiastical affiliation, placed them in opposition to the ANC.

And as well as those who were simply bought off. Sometimes with the best of intentions, such as the desire to save a desperately needed pastoral ministry that might have been a community's only primary school, or clinic, or what have you. But even so.

The churches are not the only way into examining all of that. But they are the most obvious one.

From Bucharest to Bloemfontein, and on into the present day from Nolbert Kunonga to the Chinese Patriotic Association, it is time.

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