THE CODE OF CANON LAW, the law by which the Catholic Church is governed, defines schism as 'the refusal of submission to the Roman pontiff of those in communion with him'. It involves a rejection of authority not doctrine, though this may also be involved, and is considered a grave sin for any who initiate or in bad faith and wilful ignorance persist in it.
Schismatics are frequently highly eccentric figures: the Old Catholics for instance used to say the full Latin Tridentine Mass in the waiting room at Crystal Palace railway station; and His Sacred Beatitude Mar Georgius I, the self-styled Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Holy Metropolis cf Glastonbury and the Occidental Jerusalem ran a bicycle shop.
Britons Catholic Library is a mail order book business and the mouthpiece for a group of Catholic traditionalists who are in schism. Its catalogue advertises no clerical representation specific to it and at first sight might thus be thought drab. Upon further reading however it becomes evident the library produces a wealth of extraordinary publications. Minds of great complexity are revealed, humourless but for occasional moments of schoolboy wit, and capable of so gross a verbosity, sententiousness and gobbledygook as to make the whole quite appealing.
The principal irony of schism is that its perpetrators often consider they constitute the true Church, occasionally with a Pope though more often without, and it is their former brethren and prelates who are in a sense in schism. In its Popeless variation this appears the position of Britons Catholic Library: what many have assumed to be the Catholic Church is 'a new sect which has the same name and occupies the buildings of the Catholic Church' but is not the true Church at all. This is now tiny, continuing only in small pockets such as that occupied by the editors in Pershore near Worcester.
It appears Pius XII (19391958) was the last legitimate Pope and subsequent pontiffs bogus, victims of the not only 'incorrect' but 'heretical' Second Vatican Council. 'Does anyone seriously believe that John Paul II is not a heretic?' the editors enquire of their customers.
And doubtless to a chorus of 'Never' and 'Shame on them' they go on to declare the See empty and set about guiding the remaining faithful and protecting their souls from danger. Pious works, many out of print, some 'rescued from being virtually unobtainable' are photocopied, pamphlets and open letters produced and the whole reviewed in a foolscap 80page catalogue.
'Balls and Dancing Parties condemned...' by the Abbe Hulot, was first published in America in 1857 and never reprinted. It quotes renowned theologians, the Scriptures and fathers of the Church to maintain that, should you have 'regard for the eternal welfare of your soul', it is not safe to attend 'assemblies of persons of different sex, principally young men and women, who move in measured pace... to the sound of musical instruments, for the sake of procuring and imparting pleasure'.
The Library has 'had almost no requests for it', a cause of grave disappointment to the editors: 'We find it difficult to believe that there is almost no one on our mailing list who is even tempted to go to social events where dancing takes place or who has occasion to persuade others of the evils of this form of activity; and we hope that our mailing list is not full of people who do go to dances or allow their children to and just do not wish to be confronted with evidence which might...put them under the obligation of making an unwelcome and unpopular change in their lives.'
This tumultuous tango of a book is joined on the library floor with partners decidedly more gory and as such no doubt better sellers. 'Hell Reopened to Christians or Considerations on the Infernal Pains for every day of the week' (with 'terrifying illustrations') is thought an 'invaluable' read for the 'lukewarm'; and 'The Child' by Monsignor Dupanloup contends it is mortally sinful as well as 'atrociously cruel' not to study the 'science' of punishment and punish your children 'sufficiently hard and sufficiently often'.
Such titles might be thought to threaten a diet of jansenist tendencies, puritanism and peculiar cruelty. They may however 'keep yourself and your children out of hell'. It is strange to think such views may once have been part of the spiritual sustenance offered by the Church to the laity.
The overall range of publications appears designed to counter the secular and relativist tendencies of the modem Church and state.
Few established Catholic writers are thought suitable. Catholic novelists are especially to be avoided: 'there are very few indeed which it is safe to read, let alone desirable' as the editors maintain.
The inquisitorial attentions of the editors find satisfaction in such as the Right Reverend J.S.Vaughn the former Bishop of Sebastapolis. His 'Venial Sin' is thought 'one of the really great works in Catholic Literature'.
`To read a few pages of it everyday,' the editors insist, would be almost enough on its own to make a person into a saint. An otherwise little known Victorian Jesuit, H.J. Coleridge, even has his work listed amongst the library's 'desert island books', the choice of which is pondered in the catalogue.
'Nine Months' is the most intriguing of these, dealing 'with what Our Lord was doing inside Our Lady's womb'.
The only novelist to be championed is Jane Lane, `one of the truly great writers of the twentieth century'. She wrote 51 books. The editors review them all, though even here they feel they 'dare not recommend her books except where... accomplished by inserts'.
'Inserts' give warnings of doctrinal errors contained within the book, statements of what the said doctrine should be, as well as instruction to the reader as to which lines ought therefore to be 'whitened out'.
Other authors of note are Violet Cummings ('Has Anybody Seen Noah's Ark?') and Dorothea Gerard (`Orthodox'a novel). The latter has written a book that `may make your hair stand on end'. The former, 'not a Catholic poor woman', qualifies by virtue of having looked for the Ark personally. The library's own pamphlets and open letters are frequently used to clarify the correct Church teaching: 'We are now able to set out definitely the position of the Church on women's dress' and 'We correct a sizeable error on the subject of men's clothing'.
The nursery style is dropped for more severe subjects though the titles are equally to the point: 'The Right and Obligation of a Catholic to assess whether another is in a state of mortal sin and... tell him so'.
Some works have broader scope and display highly idiosyncratic opinions: the sun revolves around the earth, syphilis has never existed, man never went to the moon.
Occasionally the revelations may hit a chord: modern mathematics is thought 'a farrago of nonsensical rubbish; it is considered not morally permissible to watch even 'a small amount of preselected television, indeed not even to have a television in the house'; and Churchill and Roosevelt were amongst 'the most horrible and evil public figures in history'.
Certainly the copying of 'The Humanising of the Brute' by a Jesuit, H Muckerman, refuting notions of animal rights may be thought timely; as may the publication warning of the dangers of being mistaken for a corpse (apparently if unsure of anyone you are to say prayers to them repeatedly and sing Gregorian Chant and wait and see if you get a response). In the light of the decision of Channel Four's Christmas debate to grant human rights to apes and the recent case of the unfortunate Daphne Banks, the Library's prescience seems remarkable. And then there is the library's twin volumed 'Catalogue of Poisonous Priests' which would doubtless prove of use to any Catholic.
Yet it seems there is little time to benefit from such publications, the consequence of the library's central thesis the disastrous fall of the Church is the coming of the end; and the library is busy producing practical pamphlets such as 'Farming, Gardening and the Coming Famine' and 'What will the Millennium be like? Some further evidence as to expected natural conditions'.
A spiritual survival kit is provided in 'The Catholic Handbook for Latter Days'. It contains all the necessary teachings of the Church and definitions of heresies ideal for the days when the Catholic is forced to retreat to the hills, priestless or subject only to the perfidious attentions of poisonous priests.
Should you object to any of the above, there is a pamphlet ready: "The truth About the Condition Known as Paranoia OR Are All NonCatholics Mad?'. The necessity of avoiding these mad people is a constant refrain:* 'Are you liked and respected by Protestants and atheists? Are you regarded by your protestant and atheist friends as a credit to the Catholic Church? If so, you would do well to tremble'.
Saint Thomas Aquinas drew a distinction between heresy as a fault against faith and schism as a fault against charity; it's why the first tend to be so tedious and the second colourful and full of strange insights. Yet history tells us, the latter inevitably turns into the former; the schismatic becomes as bitter and lost as Luther.
It is true that schismatics often appear to be a having a good time of it, even become quite popular. 'The Ancient Catholic Church', founded in 1950 in Chelsea, won considerable support with its slogan 'All doggies go to Heaven'.
The consecration of its founder, Harold P. Nicholson, otherwise a waiter in a West End restaurant, took place surrounded by dogs. `Children must not cry when their doggies die, because they have a greater life hereafter. I would like to have had horses and cows there,' explained the then Archbishop of Karim after the service.
Yet it can't all be so delightful.
God for schismatics appears either a mean-spirited brute or a sugar daddy, rarely a God to whom duty may be paid and in whom forgiveness may be found.
It is a pitiful state: our loving God is rejected or his revelation perverted into some old testament idol and that must make things all too hellish.
Perhaps this is schism's final and bitter irony: that those who promulgate byzantine ways of trying to avoid hell very uncomfortably find themselves in it.