Monday, July 21, 2014

"We Believe" by Alfred Gilbey

Msgr. Alfred N. Gilbey
source: Fisher House, Cambridge University
In preparation for our series on the traditionalist movement I have been reading more on and by the late Msgr. Alfred Newman Gilbey. Currently, at the suggestion of Mr. Alan Robinson, I am perusing his We Believe, a short volume on the faith based upon a conventional question-and-answer catechism, but expanded to give a prudent and well reasoned synopsis of the Church's understanding and teaching on its topics. Gilbey manages to be both traditional, in the apolitical sense of the word, and fresh at the same time. I would like to draw attention to two particulars of this book that have caught my interest thus far.

This first is Gilbey's treatment of the concept of doctrinal development, so often misunderstood by those who wish to change doctrine or by those who believe the Apostles taught with philosophically loaded terms like "accidents" and "essence." I have already touched on this matter in my overview of St. Vincent of Lerins here, but Gilbey expounds the matter better than I possibly could:
"Someone who has not grasped the concept of the Church as a person finds it difficult to understand her changing superficial aspects. Like a person, the Church is not static at all. Not only is she growing in the obvious, external matters of expansion, organisation and the rest, but she is growing too in an understanding of herself. Just as you now understand yourself better [than] you did at any earlier period of your life, so does she. If you or I were to embark on a new intellectual discipline such as psychology, our understanding of ourselves would increase while our identities would remain unchanged. So, too, the Church has adopted new vocabularies throughout her history to explain what she always believed. She pressed Greek philosophy into her service to provide the precise vocabulary she required to express what she had always believed about the Incarnation. She did the same when she used the terms of Aristotle's philosophy to describe the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist and again when she used the concept of evolution in the nineteenth century to describe the development of doctrines which she had believed in embryo from the first moment of her being.... I.... could not have given this identical instruction word for word 50 years ago. But do I believe something different? By God's grace, no."
The other interesting part is the end of chapter 8, where the monsignor discusses why the Church, a society comprised of people incorporated into Christ, has laws that we must obey: "Take the liturgical changes through which we have been passing. Many people have found them distasteful, but there is no question that you must obey them." Gilbey celebrated neither the Pauline Mass nor the 1962 Mass. He was a strict pre-Pian Missal user. Indeed, he once violently expelled a "EF" Missal that had imposed on his traditional one! The human laws of the Church have value based on their place in the tradition of the Church. It is good to realize Msgr. Gilbey saw that, too.


  1. "Take the liturgical changes through which we have been passing. Many people have found them distasteful, but there is no question that you must obey them


    Those who succor the sspx schism have, long ago, abandoned this aspect of Catholicism and in doing so they spurn the Universal Jurisdiction of the Pope.

    These men also are blind to the reality that Satan is delighted to use the Holy Mass to cleave men from the Church and cleave them to him; said otherwise, the celebration of the sacraments by the vagus Bishops and Priests of the SSPX are, according to Tradition, criminal and sacrilegious.

  2. I don't understand why he said that we must obey the liturgical changes if he himself never deviated from the traditional rite. Am I missing something?

    1. Mgr. Gilbey was not without his contradictions. A criticism levelled at him was that he said different things to different people, not I must hasten to add, in any way being duplicitous, but in terms of what he said being tailored to the hearer. He would discourage young men from wanting to celebrate the Traditional Mass yet went to great care to celebrate his own Mass in perfect accord with the traditional books so, for instance, in one of his private chapels he insisted on only having a single altar card and refused to use a missal stand using the prescribed cushion. To his regular server for his Mass at Brompton he remarked, after watching a video of Lefebvre's consecrations 'Archbishop Lefebvre had only one course of action open to him and he did the right thing.' He said to me, at a church in Warwickshire. when I enquired why he wanted me to count the number of people wanting Communion 'One cannot trust the contents of tabernacles these days.' On reflection the advice he gave to people was always the safest course of action depending on their own position over the crisis in the Church. As Mr. Robinson writes below Mgr. Gilbey was given faculties to celebrate the 1967 rite by Cd. Heenan (as Ordinaries were able to do for Masses sine populo) but happily celebrated pre-Pius XII rites with a small, yet very loyal, congregation.

  3. Cardinal Heenan wrote to Msgr Gilbey telling him that he could offer Mass in the Old rite wherever and whenever he wished; this he did at the Church of the Assumption & St Gregory and later at the Church of the London Oratory. Whether he needed the permission or not is another matter. There is a chapter about him in Gentle Regrets by Roger Scruton (the chapter,Stealing From Churches, is I think,published on-line) There is also the history of the Cambridge Chaplaincy by Peter Gregory Jones and the Commonplace Book.