The Baggage in the Trunk of Antiquity

More reflections on the meaning of Notre Dame from Alan Jacobs:

What it reminds us about the long and complex intertwining of the western church with the modern nation-state. You can’t understand the current rebuilding project without understanding the crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III, in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Day of the year 800; and Pope Gregory VII’s role the Investiture Controversy, with its culmination in the humiliation of Henry IV in the snow at Canossa; and the emergence of the Cuius regio, eius religio principle in the Reformation era; and the violent dechristianizing of France during the Revolution; and the vain struggle of Pio Nono against the unification of Italy, ending in the elimination of the Papal States and the loss of all secular power for the Papacy; and the emergence of the Deutsche Christen in the Nazi era, when German pastors competed with one another to defend the celebrate the subservience of (especially but not only) the Lutherans to Hitler.

That long slow transfer of power is over now. The tiger the Church hoped to tame has eaten it. The building on the Île de la Cité dedicated 800 years ago to the Blessed Virgin Mary belongs wholly to the bureaucrats now. The rest of us will just have to stand by to see what they do with it.

Two cheers for Lockean liberalism?

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Christendom or America

Mark Noll made me aware of Hugh McLeod’s definition of Christendom:

a society where there are close ties between leaders of the church and secular elites

the laws purport to be based on Christian principles

apart from some clearly defined outsider communities, everyone is assumed to be a Christian

Christianity provides a common language, shared alike by the devout and the religiously lukewarm

A 2ker has to wonder where any reader of the New Testament supposes this is the blueprint for society. The Roman Empire was pagan. The apostles knew that and sought to make the gospel known to those whom God foreknew as his people. They also expected seemingly a quick return by their ascended Lord.

If you want that kind of society from the pages of Scripture, you go to the Old Testament. Say hello to theonomy. But Christ and the apostles failed to measure up to Christendom on all these grounds:

They had bad relations with pagan elites. That’s why they were executed — hello.

They had no instruction about laws being based on the gospel (or even “Christian principles”).

Shouldn’t have to be said, but they did not — get this — assume everyone was a Christian. Nero? Hello.

They had a firm sense of the antithesis. The difference between believers and the world pervades the New Testament.

One could reasonably conclude that Christendom is not Christian.

That makes secular America Christian. Christians have bad relations with secular elites. 2kers at least don’t expect laws to be based on Christian principles (whatever that is). No Christian (not sure about some progressive Roman Catholics) assumes every American is Christian (mainline Protestants are equally progressive but they draw the Christian line to keep Trump voters out of the kingdom). And most serious Christians in the United States go through life recognizing a gap between Christian and American cultural norms — shops are open on Sunday.

In other words, 2kers live more in line with the teaching and experience of Christ and the apostles. Christendom-inspired critics of 2k use as their norm Christian developments after Constantine, not those after Christ. Indeed, the novos ordo seclorum of 1789 was a return to the kind of society Christ and the apostles lived and breathed in. They did not know Constantinianism or Christendom which America rejected.

That also means critics of 2k are anti-American. For shame!!!

But there’s hope for Christendom. Even as Norway secularizes it still has a national church:

On Jan. 1, the Scandinavian country cut some ties with its Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Norway, rewording the national constitution to change the denomination from “the state’s public religion” to “Norway’s national church.”

The change means the nation of just over 5 million people – about 82 percent of them Evangelical-Lutherans – will still fund the church but will no longer appoint its clergy, who will still be considered civil servants. . . .

Secularism has been on the rise in Western Europe since the 1960s, with church attendance declining and strict laws on public displays of religion in nations such as France. But the past decade has seen the rise of anti-secular groups and politicians in England, Germany and France.

Meanwhile, some Norwegians feel the divorce is not sharp enough. Kristin Mile, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Humanist Association, told The Local No, an English-language Norwegian news site, that the change only muddies the relationship between church and state.

“As long as the constitution says that the Church of Norway is Norway’s national church, and that it should be supported by the state, we still have a state church,” she said.

Is that what piners for Christendom want?

So the Alternative is Lepanto?

Rod needs to add the 2k secular faith option to his Benedict proposal. First he recommends a critique of Islamist terrorism on the grounds that secularism is responsible for excluding faith from politics:

It’s embarrassing for liberals to admit that liberalism offers religious freedom only to those religions that adhere to its central tenants. It’s awkward to admit that liberalism limits in advance the form any given religion may take (pray, but not here, believe, but don’t preach, hold ethical principles, but pay for others to violate them, interpret your Scriptures, but not radically, etc.). The liberal society wants to maintain that it accepts all religious beliefs with equal validity, and is thus forced, when a particular religious belief radically rejects the central doctrines of liberalism, to conclude that it is not really a religion after all, only a “group of thugs.” Liberalism, in short, does not want to admit that it is an exclusive theology, and thus does not want admit that it is rejecting a definite “other theology” — a rival set of beliefs about God and man.

Liberalism denies religious groups from dictating policy? So the alternative is a confessional state that locks up blasphermers and fights wars for sacred causes? Rod seems to think so (which is not unusual for an Eastern Orthodox guy who may track Constantinian than he realizes):

Marc says that the theology of liberalism cannot defeat ISIS; only real, committed theology can — first, he says, “the active promotion of a better theology in the form of the Quietist Salafis. . . . Marc is not claiming that Catholic apologists can turn the hearts and minds of Muslims already committed to ISIS, and make Christians of them. He is claiming that Catholics who really believe in their faith — not MTD Catholics, but the real deal — have a lot to say to Muslims in the West who are alienated from secular liberalism. Marc makes the important and overlooked point that truly believing Catholics (and, I would say, Protestant and Orthodox Christians too) feel alienated from secular liberalism also. With Catholics, he says, “Of course, there is something less of an obsession with human purity, something more of mercy, but nevertheless, the committed Catholic can, like it or not, sympathize with the ISIS-member’s primary spiritual frustrations.”

So Roman Catholics, Orthodox, conservative Protestants (think theonomists?), and Muslims get rid of the liberal state. And that leaves us where? Crusades? Ottomans conquering Hungary? Ferdinand and Isabella kicking out Muslims? The Thirty Years War?

If Augustine was right, and the earthly city has limited goods, why would residents of the heavenly city think they can make the earthly city a paradise? What about refusing to immanentize the eschaton does Rod not understand? And what about remembering how poorly Christians did when they were “running things”?

Does Christianity Unify?

From George Washington to the National Council of Churches (and their evangelical counterpart, the National Association of Evangelicals), white English-speaking Protestants in the U.S. have insisted that religion of the right and moral sort will unify the nation. It doesn’t take very long in chronicling the history of Christianity to understand the difficulties of this pious (and sentimental hope). When our Lord said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26), he was not exactly recommending Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce to his disciples. Even if you take those words as hyperbolic, sort of like gouging out eyes and handling snakes, most believers have enough experience of converts to Christianity who lost ties and associations with family members over the faith.

Why then would Peter Leithart continue to laud unity as a mission of the church, even in the face of life in real congregations where church members are hardly unified except on matters like those affirmed by Paul — “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5)? One answer for Leithart’s continuing belief in the unifying mission of the church is his man crush on Constantine and most subsequent Christian emperors. In a series of recent posts, Leithart promotes a church-based social unity.

First, he frets that America is becoming increasingly fragmented and that such disunity owes to the demise of Christian civilization:

America is abandoning the last remnants of our historic Christian foundations. This is most obvious in law, where specifically Christian claims are ruled unConstitutional precisely because they are Christian claims. It’s evident in the universities and among intellectual elites, who cannot make sense of a theological argument that claims to be a public argument. Theology is by definition private opinion, dangerous and tyrannical when it demands public assent.

What replaces our historic Christian consensus is a patchwork of disconnected communities. The thin public “theology” of liberalism doesn’t meet human needs. No one tribe can command universal assent, and so we retreat to our tribal affinities, to our small communities where consensus is still possible. Secularization is in a symbiotic relationship with by postmodern fragmentation.

The problem with this view, at least from a paleo-conservative perspective, is that America has never been more centralized, the national government has never consolidated more of social life and that the laudable small communities and worthwhile regional diversity of the early republic that Barry Shain documented are casualties of national economies and foreign wars.

Back to Leithart — despite the current fragmentation of church and society, we should not be discouraged. Maybe Constantine can happen again:

The Constantinian settlement is gone in much of Europe, waning elsewhere. Many of these disruptions have persisted to the present day, but each new disruption has produced tectonic shifts in the church.

Why would we think, then, that the current topography of Christianity is permanent? We have no reason to assume this. We have every reason to assume the opposite, to expect that sometime, somewhere, God will shake and reconfigure the church yet again.

And if the church recognizes that it has the solution to the woes of contemporary society, perhaps Christendom will yet return if the church recognizes unity as its mission:

There is no traditional religious replacement for the loss of this establishment, and what effectively replaces it is a consensus about the freedom of the individual to do whatever he wants. The normal resources that establish identity – family, work, community – cannot serve that purpose. Divorce rates are high, and families are broken; work is insecure; mobility and double-income households have damaged neighborhoods as sources of community. Se are told to construct our own identity but denied the resources where people have historically discovered their identity.

The church has an enormous challenge and opportunity in this setting. Alienation from God is at the root of these social ills, and the church is the steward of the mysteries of the gospel. But the churches’ proclamation of the gospel is to take not only verbal, but communal, social form as the church. As in the early centuries, the churches can provide communities of intimacy, friendship, and material support for lonely people; churches have the resources to give lost moderns a sense of identity with a community, a tradition; churches can provide support for failing families, and a network of brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers for those who come from broken families.

Aside from the sort of objections that come from Letter-to-Diognetus conceptions of Christianity not as culture but as cult, Leithart misses arguably the greatest weakness of his proposal and it comes from a post that appeared just before this series on church and unity. From his reading of Scott Manetsch’s recent book on the Geneva company of pastors, Leithart observed what happens to the ministry of the church when it becomes part of an effort to unify and regularize society — even a Christendom inspired one:

Confessionalization “modernized churches and transformed the clerical office in a number of important ways. Church life became more carefully regulated, supervised, and documented through the codification of confessions, catechisms, and church ordinances; the establishment of eccclesiastical bureaucracies; and the creation of disciplinary courts. . . . Likewise, the clerical office was increasingly professionalized with the establishment of formal educational requirements and more detailed guidelines for examination and ordination. In this process of modernization . . . clergymen emerged as quasi-agents of the state, serving as a crucial link for communication between political leaders and their subjects; supervising public discipline; and providing administrative resources for the state (such as maintaining baptismal, marriage, and death registers).” In Geneva in particular, “the Small Council’s campaign to gain control over clerical recruitment and election was indicative of a broader strategy to bring the city[s pastors in line with the political objectives of the governing authorities. The ministers were gradually transformed into quasi-agents of the state who were not only paid out of the state coffers but were also hired, supervised, and dismissed with significant involvement of the magistrates” (96).

Why in heaven or within Christendom would Leithart expect the church’s mission of unity to turn out otherwise than either the liberal Protestantism of Europe, the liberal Protestantism of the mainline U.S. denominations, or the social gospel/teaching of Pope Francis and his papal predecessors? Does Leithart really think that when Pastor Smith goes to Washington he won’t be forced by political compromise and the demands of social unity to trim and cut his “thus, sayeth the Lord” to some version of the Great Society?

Update: then there is the view that (culture) war unites more than Christ:

But they’re the old insults. That’s the important thing. They’re getting worn out, frayed around the edges, long in the tooth. They’re losing their power as Evangelicals and Catholics grow in friendship and the world itself pushes them closer together. The two boys yelling at each other are two brothers. At some point, probably when someone else attacks one of them or both of them, they’ll stop yelling and start acting like brothers.