When ‘ecumenism’ is bandied around in today’s churchy circles, it invariably denotes a progressivist agenda of denying or downplaying differences of moral and doctrinal conviction among different kinds of Christians, for the sake a sort of bourgeois ecclesiastical etiquette. That Christians—by which I simply mean baptised people—of different denominations and ecclesial communities have drastically different views on everything from the nature (or rather, natures) of the Incarnation to which bedroom behaviours are prohibited by the moral law remains undiscussed for the sake of ecumenism.
The oft-expressed impatience with such indifference to truth among more conservative or traditional Christians is due to the view, correct in my opinion, that ecumenism perpetuates division among Christians by pretending that such division is unimportant. Rather, traditional Christians claim, it is better to address and discuss religious divisions, with a view to condemning error and returning the separated brethren to the fold. Who exactly the separated ones are depends on which camp you’re in.
As I say, I sympathise with this general animosity towards the ecumenical project, a project that has been so fashionable throughout the latter half of the 20th century. After all, I opted out of the Anglican Communion and became a Catholic a decade and a half ago precisely because I thought, and continue to think, that religious claims and their veracity matter.
Judging the merits of ecumenism, however, is not straightforward. I worked as an official of an Archdiocese for many years, training people for ministry in the Catholic Church, and part of my role was the agonisingly penitential task of going to diocesan and national church conferences. Time and again, I had the experience of being surrounded by my Catholic coreligionists and seeing that my beliefs and theirs had little to do with one another. This is, of course, because the Catholic Church is largely run by progressivist activists who are deeply embarrassed by the Church’s tradition and doctrine.
One can, then, it seems to me, be in canonical unity with another person, and be in both doctrinal and spiritual disunity with him. So too, however, perhaps one can be in canonical and doctrinal disunity with someone, and be in spiritual unity with him—this is something I have experienced with many Evangelicals, in fact. The Italian philosopher Augusto del Noce remarked that “a progressive Catholic is closer to a non-Catholic progressive than to a non-progressive Catholic.” This is no doubt true, but conversely a conservative Catholic is closer to a non-Catholic conservative than to a progressive Catholic. I know Anglicans who are pious, devout, pro-life, pro-family, patriotic, and disciplined. I also know Catholics who consider the devotional life folly, are antinatalist, globalist, and ‘woke.’ Of these, I know whom I deem my allies.
I want, then, to propose a right-wing ecumenism. I want to suggest that the members of the baptised, whatever their religious divisions, work together to undermine and ultimately destroy the liberal and progressivist supremacy that dominates the West, recognising that it marks a settlement incompatible with even a basic Biblical worldview. Such an ecumenism need not be born from indifference to moral and theological differences, but rather based on a prudential acknowledgment that such division must be worked out in friendship whilst Christians face their common enemy.
The rising technocratic utopian regime that is foundered on the replacement of God and His providential care for mankind with the technical expertise of a mischievous oligarchy will likely soon replace its mockery of Christians with persecution—in fact, this has already begun. The baptised are better together, and since their visible ecclesiastical institutions have been colonised by their enemies, they’re going to have to fall back on something other than denominational identity—so let it be their shared love for Jesus Christ.
Edmund Burke, in the face of the French Revolution, and the very real possibility of such a Jacobin-led revolution making its way across the Channel, emphasised the commonly held beliefs of Catholics and Anglicans. He argued for Catholic Emancipation, political representation for Catholics (especially in Ireland), and encouraged the offering of refuge to Catholic clergy escaping the Terror. He suggested that Anglicans should not consider themselves Protestants against Catholicism, and he advocated an early ‘branch theory’ of ecclesiology, declaring that “a man is certainly the most perfect Protestant who protests against the whole Christian religion.” Those fellow Whigs who continued to harbour anti-Catholic sentiments he called, in The Reflections, “miserable bigots.” For Burke, as the great revolt against Christendom exploded, it was the unity of the baptised that had to be emphasised and fostered.
Joseph de Maistre, for his part, despite locating the origins of the French Revolution in the Protestant revolt of the 16th century, called for a counter-revolutionary ecumenism. In fact, he believed that the Anglican Church may be ideally placed as a sort of bridge between the Roman Catholic Church and all the fragmented Protestant sects that had emerged since the time of Luther. It was Maistre’s hope that the Church of England would eventually reunite with Rome and bring many Protestant groups with it. Maistre discerned the work of providence in the Revolution’s driving of Catholic clergy out of France. “It was probably necessary that French priests be displayed to foreign nations,” he wrote in the Considerations, “they have lived among Protestant peoples, and this coming together has greatly diminished hatreds and prejudices.” Maistre then proceeded to imagine meetings of Catholics and Anglicans, and expressed his longing for Christian unity:
The considerable emigration of clergy, especially French bishops, to England, appears to me a particularly remarkable event. Surely, words of peace will have been spoken and projects for reconciliation formed during this extraordinary meeting. Even if mutual hopes are all that result, this would be a lot. If ever Christians are to be reconciled, and everything suggests that they should, it seems that the initiative must come from the Church of England.
It is difficult not to laugh at the notion of an Anglican-led right-wing ecumenism, given that the Anglican hierarchy is such an infernal basket-case. On the other hand, just look at the Catholic hierarchy! The fact is that all ecclesiastical institutions have been radically colonised by progressivist ideologues, which is why any future salvaging of our civilisation may unavoidably be the task of the lay faithful.
The philosopher and theologian Vladimir Solovyov, in his A Story of Anti-Christ, portrays what he imagines as a future usurpation—taking place in the 21st century—of the visible institution of the Church by globalist and utopian powers led by the Anti-Christ. In a striking passage, the Anti-Christ compares his ‘values’ to the salvific imperatives of Jesus Christ:
I am called to be the benefactor of… humanity, partly reformed and partly incapable of being reformed. I will give everyone what they require. As a moralist, Christ divided humanity by the notion of good and evil. I shall unite it by benefits which are as much needed by good as by evil people. I shall be the true representative of that God who makes his sun to shine upon the good and the evil alike, and who makes the rain to fall upon the just and the unjust. Christ brought the sword; I shall bring peace. Christ threatened the earth with the Day of Judgment. But I shall be the last judge, and my judgment will be not only that of justice but also that of mercy. The justice that will be meted out in my sentences will not be a retributive justice but a distributive one. I shall judge each person according to his deserts, and shall give everybody what he needs.
The Anti-Christ is thus the embodiment of ‘Enlightenment values.’ For him, the moral good is a private matter for each individual. The only thing that really matters, publicly that is, is the proper distribution of competitive goods—and yet it is he who holds all the power. Solovyov’s Anti-Christ might have said, conveying just the same thing, “You will own nothing, and you will be happy.”
The Anti-Christ is, in Solovyov’s account, the personification of liberalism and progressivism. In a terrific triumph of rationalism, the Anti-Christ publishes a book, The Open Path to World Peace and Welfare, a technical manual whose principles will lead to the utopia that we’ve all been promised since the Enlightenment. As the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar comments, the Anti-Christ’s book offers “an all-embracing programme that unites all contradictions in itself—the highest degree of freedom of thought and a comprehension of every mystical system, unrestricted individualism and a glowing devotion to the general good.” The Anti-Christ’s tome is applauded everywhere. He is soon elected the “Emperor of the United States of Europe,” with the support of the vast majority of Christians. Finally, his authority is recognised across all nations, and he forms a single world government.
For all the Anti-Christ’s claims that he is bringing peace where Christ brought a sword, he in fact brings a sword of his own. His very ascendency divides the baptised between genuine Christian disciples and lukewarm adherents of an unchallenging religion. Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians who had privileged temporal concerns and tacitly given up on grace, ecumenically unite under the leadership of the Emperor. He hasn’t taken away Christianity, they say, but given it to us again only without the Cross—it is better than before. To steal a line from Aldous Huxley, the Emperor gives to the world “Christianity without tears.”
So too, however, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians who had sought to remain faithful to the Gospel develop their own ecumenism under the leadership of three figures: Pope Peter II, the Russian monk John the Elder, and the Lutheran biblical scholar Professor Ernst Pauli. They don’t believe in a universal benevolence towards humanity, but in the hard work of loving one’s neighbour—a love of which they think man incapable outside the path of grace and suffering. Together, this remnant of genuine disciples stands alone in the world, opposing the Emperor, and are unanimously condemned as haters and trouble-makers.
In Solovyov’s story, the Pope’s Petrine authority is recognised by John the Elder (who represents the Johannine charism of the beloved disciple) and Professor Pauli (representing the didactic Pauline charism), and together they enter the Roman fold. Real ecumenism achieves its finality at the eschaton, as the true disciples become one Church.
I won’t ruin it for those who have yet to read Solovyov’s A Story of Anti-Christ by describing the glorious culmination of events following this ecclesial reconciliation. The point I wish only to highlight is that Maistre, Solovyov, and Burke—a Catholic, an Orthodox, and a Protestant—all saw the need to develop (for want of a better term) a ‘counter-revolutionary ecumenism’ in the face of the rationalist and progressivist takeover that is modernity. In this, as in so much else, we ought to treat these three men as teachers.