Who are modernists?

One of the funniest TV shows I have ever seen is Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister.

Over at Catholic Culture Conservation I was reminded of one of the best commentaries on religious modernists I have ever heard.  It is applied to the Church of England, of course, but it readily describes Catholics as well.

Don’t drink anything while watching.


Yes, Prime Minister.


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  1. Adam says:

    This is of course absolutely brilliant stuff – great writing and acting, and just as relevant now, if not more so, 25 later.
    having been to a few Garden parties at the palace in london I can say I have never seen such a spectacle of anglican bishops dressed in all types of finery, even a few with gaiters. They were quite a sight and I am sure this was the highlight of their year.
    But certainly not droll as Sir Hump would say.
    But behid the laughter and giggles, there are some wise observations here about the anglican Church which is seeing decreasing numbers, ‘priests’ who wish to move across to Catholicism, a growing disenchantment with the ‘established’ faith which has become just a social gathering, not knowing what to believe in, what to fight for and indeed where the whole communion is headed.
    The Anglican Church is in a real mess, not least because of the failure of leadership amongst its ‘bishops’. Besides, if the monarch is the suprememe Governor, yet never attend Synods or the Lambeth conference, what is the point of having her/him as such? So odd.

  2. Will says:

    In that episode, one of the candidates is eliminated because he tended toward disestablishment. Humphrey pointed out that “the Queen is inseparable from the Church of England.” “God,” however, “is an optional extra.”

  3. Laura Lowder says:

    I wasn’t capable of appreciating Yes, Minister, when it aired on my local PBS, but this is a scream.

    Thanks for the warning, I did not imbibe any H2O after hitting “play.”

  4. Joan Moore says:

    I loved Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister when I first saw them, so, when I spotted them on Amazon last year, I bought both sets.

    I think it should be required viewing for all politicians (or would-be politicians)! Specially those in third world countries, one of which I am living in at present. But, I do not think that there is anyone here quite the caliber of Humphrey in our public service!!

  5. CAL says:


  6. Jeremy UK says:

    At the time this was broadcast (in the late 70s)it was very much in tune with the C of E as perceived. It was not really comparable with the Catholic Church in England at the time because the differences were more marked then. The social climbing and being part of the “Establishment” was closed to Catholics anyway. That applies less now. The C of E really is a wholly English invention full of paradoxes. In the public eye still (and certainly then), Catholics are seen as “still taking religion seriously” although that isn’t always meant as a compliment.

    There is a private member’s Bill going through Parliament at the moment (which won’t survive) seeking to repeal part of the XVIII century Act of Union to allow someone with title to the throne, however remote, to marry a Catholic without having to renounce that title as they must now. Some see this as a start to disestablishing the Church of England and will vehemently oppose it. Public opinion is in favour of liberalising. There was talk of retiring Card Cormack O’C being allowed to take a seat in the House of Lords (at present it is Anglican Bishops only). I doubt this will ever happen, but the concept is qute bold.

    The point of the comic sketch is that the Establishment and the C of E are inseperable and that consequently the religious aspect is secondary. The Prime Minister had to choose or ratify a candidate even though he had obviously no real idea of who was best suited – and had no religious interest. It is supposed to be funny within its context (and it is), but to take offence at it is to misunderstand what it is really about.

  7. Corleone says:

    Adam – also coming from someone who lived in the UK (London, but never went to any royal garden parties) I would concur with you that the CofE (as it was called in “A Clockwork Orange”) is basically a sham (aka a theological joke if you will). I met several Roman Catholic priests (normally I wouldn’t need to qualify with the word “Roman” of course) who were former Anglicans that had left for various reasons, ranging from sincerely heart wrenching faith-based stories to some which in my opinion were just downright petty. But they all tended towards the same opinions of the Anglican church and had a huge disdain for the code-term (cliche’) “the beauty of Anglicanism” which simply meant that you could believe in anything you wanted to.

    All I can say is, as bad off as we think the Catholic church is (and I’m not making light of our current situation) the Anglican church is for all intents and purposes almost dead (and good ridance). Within another 100 years or so it will IMHO be relegated to a foot-note of history, with the “catholic”-wing rejoining Catholicism, the calvinistic-wing forming their own community, the evangelical-wing their own community etc.

  8. RBrown says:

    So modernists are people who look to status and position, are they?

    That isn’t what the video said: It said Modernists are unbelievers. As as unbelievers in a religion organization, they must have a substitute for faith.

    You might have noticed that many today have substituted social justice activism for faith.

    That is rich coming from trads who do everything in Latin and then go off to dinner parties, listen to classical music and wouldn’t be seen dead near somebody who was poor or dying.

    It is well known that Mother Teresa wanted all their liturgy in Latin but was told no. Instead, English–the language of Empire–was mandated for her houses.

    As you well know, her order is dedicated to the poor and dying.

    Now tell me why classical music and Latin hinder anyone from working with the poor.

    Not to mention the money they spend on having vestments that are just right! (pharisees, anyone?)
    Comment by Awkward

    You sound like a liberal pharisee.

    Are you aware of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in parishes to remove the altar and install a picnic table, and for new sound systems (often unnecessary) and carpeting?

  9. fr.franklyn mcafee says:

    “The only requirement to be an Anglican bishop is that you must not believe in anything” Oscar Wilde.

  10. Chironomo says:

    That is both precious and timeless! What is funniest is the fact that the character doing the speaking just considers this all to be common knowledge, and not really important.

    My favorite is the

    “the Church wants to be more relevant you see…

    To God?

    “No, of course not Prime Minister! I mean relevant in sociological terms…”

  11. “But there is no priestcraft about Hawkins –nor any other kind of craft. He is as perfectly incapable of being a priest as he is of being a carpenter or a cabman or a gardener or a plasterer. He is a perfect gentleman; that is his complaint. He does not impose his creed, but simply his class.” G.K. Chesterton, Manalive (a description of an Anglican cleric)

  12. I think of modernists as a particular sub-species of the relativists, who are into fashion design. That is they go with the latest theological fad that tickles their fancy, which means a theology of self which justifies whatever sinful behavior they feel attached to at the moment.

  13. RBrown says:

    It’s very simple: Theological Modernists are the contemporary version of Gnostics.

  14. Nuggen says:

    In my job, I wish I was as good as Sir Humphrey. I need to watch my DVD’s again and study him.

  15. Athelstane says:

    Maybe I’m a theology nerd – but I’m dying here. Dying.

  16. Matt says:

    A cross between a socialite and a socialist.

    How very true that is today.

  17. Two decades ago I worked in our nations capital as Special Assistant-Advance for a man who is now Premier of a Canadian province.

    He once said to me to remember that if someone fired a shot my job was to “jump in front of the bullet.”

    My response?

    “Yes, Minister!”

  18. Immaculatae says:

    Thanks for the spew warning! That was funny.
    Someone certainly sees it clearly for what it is.

  19. The Church of England is an odd creation, given that it lacked at the time of its separation from Rome, any theological reason for leaving.

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