One Man’s Modernism is Another Woman’s Sacramentality

Apparently Tracey Rowland doesn’t read Geerhardus Vos or Eric Voegelin and so isn’t worried about “immanentizing the eschaton.” On her recent visit to Scotland she found that Rome’s sacraments are exactly what ails the land of Presbyterianism:

On a recent trip to Scotland Bishop Gilbert of Aberdeen asked me whether I was familiar with the Scottish writer George Mackay Brown. I had to confess that I had never heard of him. A few days later I was rummaging through second-hand book stores searching for everything and anything by Mackay Brown.

Bishop Gilbert had got me hooked by suggesting I read Mackay Brown’s essay “The Treading of Grapes,” which takes the form of three homilies on the Wedding Feast of Cana. One is delivered in 1788 by a classically Calvinist Presbyterian minister, down on every kind of human enjoyment from wine to party dresses. He uses the story of Cana to berate his flock about spending too much money on their wives’ wardrobes, and drinking too much at weddings. He compared their enjoyment of ale to piglets sucking on the teats of a sow.

The second homily is delivered in the 20th century by a modern liberal Protestant minister, who uses the homily to explain that Jesus didn’t really turn water into wine. There was no miracle. Jesus was simply a good organizer who saw to it behind the scenes that supplies were sufficient.

Finally, one is treated to a homily by a Catholic priest delivered in 1548. Rather than berating people as piglets, or denying the reality of miracles, the priest tells his congregation that at the wedding feast of the Lamb they will all be princes. Therefore, he says, I will call you Olaf the Fisherman and Jock the Crofter no longer, but I will call you by the name the Creator will call you on the last day—princes! Prince Olaf! Prince Jock!, et cetera.

The priest left out that his auditors may not be at the wedding feast but still waiting in purgatory.

Still, Rowland thinks the sacraments break down dualism and allow Christianity to flourish:

It can’t be all that difficult to compete with liberal Calvinism and garden-variety New Age paganism when one has the full treasury of a sacramental Catholicism—a faith for which there is “no separation,” no iron curtain standing between the sacred and the profane, no unbridgeable gulf between heaven and the Highlands and the valley of the River Clyde.

Apparently, Professor Rowland is unfamiliar with modernism and its dangers (even though Pius X should have registered a few dents in the Communio mind). According to William R. Hutchison who wrote THE book on Protestant modernism, modern Christians are all in favor of doing away with dualism of all kinds:

[Modernism] generally meant three things: first and most visibly, it mean the conscious, intended adaptation of religious ideas to modern culture. . . . for the Protestant theologians, preachers, and teachers who either championed or opposed the idea of cultural adaptation, two further and deeper notions were important. One was the idea that God is immanent in human cultural development and revealed through it. The other was a belief that human society is moving toward the realization (even though it may never attain the reality) of the Kingdom of God. (Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism, 2)

I don’t know about Professor Rowland, but maintaining some distinction between the sacred and secular, between the Mass and the Happy Meal, is fairly basic for preventing Christians from reverting to the pagan world where gods and spirits infested so many aspects of nature that chopping down a tree was no different from destroying the statue of a saint.

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4 thoughts on “One Man’s Modernism is Another Woman’s Sacramentality

  1. Chris Hedges, who defintely follows protestant liberal theology provides an exception to what was coined above as the ‘Modern Impulse in American Protestantism.’ Using an inductive approach, Hedges has, a while ago, concluded that the belief that human society is improving overall, let alone moving toward the Kingdom of God, is a myth.

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  2. Curt, It only took two major financial failings, two world wars, and two atomic bombs for Hedges to disbelieve progress. Not sure he’s all that representative. President Obama, a mainliner, declared gay marriage further proof of the triumph of democracy and enlightenment.

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  3. Maybe a President Trump, the deportation of 11million people, and a bright shining wall stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico will disabuse our mainline president of his faith in progress.

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