Roman Catholics at Plymouth Rock?

In the department of strange bedfellows comes George Weigel’s praise for the Museum of the Bible:

On September 29, 1952, the publication of the complete Revised Standard Version of the Bible was celebrated at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C., and the principal speaker was the U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. The son of the Episcopal bishop of Connecticut, Acheson movingly described the ways in which the King James Bible, which the new RSV was to supplant, had once shaped American culture and our national life:

In the earliest days in the Northeast, the Book was All. The settlers came here to live their own reading of it. It was the spiritual guide, the moral and legal code, the political system, the sustenance of life, whether that meant endurance of hardship, the endless struggle against nature, battle with enemies, or the inevitable processes of life and death. And it meant to those who cast the mold of this country something very specific and very clear. It meant that the purpose of man’s journey through this life was to learn and identify his life and effort with the purpose and will of God.

That biblical vision helped form the bedrock convictions of the American idea: that government stood under the judgment of divine and natural law; that government was limited in its reach into human affairs, especially the realm of conscience; that national greatness was measured by fidelity to the moral truths taught by revelation and inscribed in the world by a demanding yet merciful God; that only a virtuous people could be truly free.

Of course, the U.S. is a free country and anyone can assemble the past in ways consoling.

But does anyone else feel a certain discomfort with a Roman Catholic recommending the Bible without also mentioning the objections that sometimes Bishops registered against Bible readings in public schools without comment? The United States would not have as many parochial schools as it does if not for Bishops who worried about sending children to public schools where teachers read the Protestant version of the Bible.

Not to be missed is the odd relationship between the Bible and the founding. If the settlers who came to America and launched the tradition of Thanksgiving wanted a society with a biblical vision at its bedrock, don’t you also have to mention that those same Bible-only Christians were a tad jittery about including Roman Catholics in the nation that emerged from their colonial enterprises?

This may be why some Roman Catholic political theorists are uncomfortable with Roman Catholics getting comfortable with the founding.

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I Finally Understand Objections to Lutheranism

Lutherans are pink:

Religious and cultural Lutheran values have shaped Nordic societies for centuries. But instead of encouraging capitalism as in Calvinist Europe, Lutheranism promoted a social-democratic welfare state in the Nordic world.

As this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this issue is highly topical.

Robert H. Nelson, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, develops these arguments in Lutheranism and the Nordic Spirit of Social Democracy: A Different Protestant Ethic. He probes the large role a Lutheran ethic played in the development of the Nordic welfare state and the Nordic social-democratic political and economic system during its golden years from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Nelson sees this Lutheran ethic as parallel to the Calvinist ethic famously examined by the German sociologist Max Weber In his book the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Nelson also compares the American and Nordic ideas of the welfare state in a novel way, discussing the greater influence of Calvinism in the United States as compared with Lutheranism in the Nordic countries.

According to Nelson, fundamental Nordic values, such as a strong work ethic, complete equality between men and women, and others manifested in social democracy are all derived from Lutheran teachings as embodied in the Lutheran ethic.

The Lutheran ethic emphasized The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” in the pursuit of an individual calling. This has been the foundation of the concept of 20th century Nordic social solidarity, in particular, states Nelson.

The upside? U.S. is not simply Christian but a Calvinist nation.

Woot!

Except, the Puritans were not exactly capitalists. If you read John Winthrop’s Model of Christian Charity, you would think he’s a socialist.

Constructing Neo-Calvinism

How do you go from the Puritans who had laws on the books for the execution of disobedient and recalcitrant male adolescents and who refused to let Presbyterians set up shop in Massachusetts, to Calvinism as the glue that makes Americans think the U.S.A. is exceptional?

Damon Linker explained way back on the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birthday:

Early in the eighteenth century, the vision of America as a new Israel specially chosen by God to perform a divine mission was primarily limited to the Puritan and post-Puritan elite of New England. But by the middle of the century, the more modest views of providence that until that time had dominated throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies had been supplanted by the stringent Calvinism of Massachusetts and Connecticut. America was New Englandized. According to historian John F. Berens, the motor behind this extraordinary transformation was the Great Awakening of the 1740s, which helped to spread theological concepts throughout the colonies. In the electrifying sermons of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Davies, and many other preachers, colonists from New York to South Carolina encountered for the first time the potent providential ideas that had previously transfixed the minds of the Puritan settlers of New England.

Not that these ideas were identical to the ones that originally inspired John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and other seventeenth-century writers. On the contrary, American providential thinking evolved dramatically as it circulated throughout the colonies. As Berens notes, the French and Indian War (1754-1763), which followed immediately on the heels of the Great Awakening, contributed decisively to the transformation. For the first time, Americans began to define themselves in contrast to a vision of tyranny — namely, the (political and religious) absolutism of Catholic France. Unlike France, they concluded, the American colonies were a bastion of political and religious freedom. This freedom had been won, moreover, with the help of God’s providence, which would continue to protect the colonies in times of danger, provided the colonists proved themselves worthy of it by maintaining their divinely favored civil and religious institutions. In Berens’s words, by 1763 — a full thirteen years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the outbreak of war with Great Britain over the supposedly tyrannical usurpations of King George III — the “ever-increasing intercolonial conviction that America was the New Israel” had come to mean that the colonies “had been assigned a providential mission somehow connected to the advancement of civil and religious freedom.”

Through the Revolutionary War, the years surrounding the ratification of the federal Constitution, and the early national period, pastors and presidents repeatedly praised the “great design of providence” that had led to the creation of a country dedicated to protecting and preserving political and religious liberty. Call it the consolidation of America’s Calvinist consensus. What were once the rather extreme theological convictions dominating a handful of rustic outposts on the edge of a wholly undeveloped continent were now the unifying and motivating ideology of a rapidly expanding and industrializing nation. Whatever difficulties the new nation faced — from the traumas of the War of 1812 to the gradual escalation of regional hostilities that ultimately issued in the Civil War — Americans remained remarkably confident that God was committed to the survival and success of its experiment in free government and would continue to intervene providentially in its affairs to ensure that outcome.

Lo and behold, Americans were on the ground floor of turning Calvin into a political theologian of national greatness, but the French also beat the Dutch to the punch, as Bruce Gordon explains in his biography of Calvin’s Institutes. Emile Doumergue’s biography first published in 1899 included this:

Far from being a man who seeks retirement or turns from the world and from the present life, the Calvinist is one who takes possession of the world; who more than any other, dominates the world; who makes use of it for all his needs; he is the man of commerce, of industry, of all inventions and all progress, even material.

(Did someone say, “stay thirsty, my friend”?)

When It Was Unthinkable that the State Would Affirm God

Thanks to his typing skills, Mark Van Der Molen reproduces a remark that Alan Strange made in his discussion at Reformed Forum on the spirituality of the church:

The separation of church and state, the distinction of church and state is something entirely different from the separation of faith from politics, or even God from State. None of those men believed in the separation of God from State. Even in public ways, all of them believed….basically Thornwell argued and so did Robinson, that it is immoral. Any state that is atheistic is immoral. They both argued that. If you read Robinson and Thornwell, and particularly Hodge, I think you will see they have clear points of integration. They have them in any number of ways, they all believed that it was immoral and unthinkable that the State would deny God or Christ in a general way.

(Alan, if you’re reading, I’m not picking on you. I am using your remarks to clarify, in which case disagreement may be beneficial.)

First, I do wonder about the difference between an atheistic and an idolatrous state. If the false gods are no gods, isn’t then every state without the Triune God revealed in Holy Writ an atheistic state. Is Turkey any better than the Soviet Union if the former acknowledges Allah in some way but the Soviets denied God? What about a Jewish state like Israel? Or how about a Mormon state like Utah? If states become immoral by virtue of atheism, aren’t they also immoral by denying the true God?

That puts Alan and Van Der Molen, perhaps, closer to the Puritans and a confessional state than to Robinson and Hodge who seemingly welcomed a secular government like the United States but rejected an atheistic state.

But keep in mind the progression of states that include God in their operations:

Puritans — they admitted only Puritans and excluded Baptists, Quakers, and Lutherans (for starters)

1820s U.S. — was friendly primarily to Protestants though all faiths could worship, which was a decisive break from 1640 Boston and 1550 Geneva

1950s U.S. — American society recognized a tri-faith monotheism informally of Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews while also putting God on coins and in the Pledge of Allegiance, which was a break from 1820s Protestant dominated America

2010s U.S. — American society apparently has no religious standards and may even give sectarian faiths a hard time, which is a break from 1950s tri-faith America

The trend here is toward greater diversity and toleration. 2kers are trying to stop the bleeding by reconfiguring what God requires. The 2k conclusion, tentatively, is that God does not reveal a definite pattern for politics. The church is one thing, the state another. 2kers also try to learn lessons from the past and how earlier efforts to establish religious standards could not compete with the movement of peoples or the growing authority of the nation-state to regulate its citizens affairs in a way that achieved a measure of social unity.

What critics of 2k need to do is stop showing how 2k departs from the past. We get that. What critics need to do is not foment fear for disagreeing with Calvin or Winthrop — as if Protestants have post-canonical authorities whom we must follow. Critics need to propose an equation for God-and-state that is either required by God’s word (especially the part where Paul recommends submission to Nero) or that does justice to the lives that Christians now lead and somewhat enjoy.

2k is not novel in one sense. It advocates the spirituality of the church which is a part of the Western Christian tradition going back to Augustine, Paul, and Jesus. In another sense it is new — in the novos ordo seclorum way. 2k proposes a re-consideration of political theology in the light of modern social arrangements that is still true to Scripture and Reformed theology.

Is that any more scary than suggesting that the United States ban idolatry?

The Less Worthy Bits of Puritanism

Maybe I am not philosophically inclined. Maybe I am too American and hence of a pragmatic frame of mind. Maybe I like cats too much. But if I owned a gun I would reach for it whenever theologians and pastors enter into realms speculative.

One of the areas of study I teach most prone to speculation is the way that theologians and philosophers relied on faculty psychology as if the will, motivation, choice, and affections are as easy to spot as the genitalia of an unborn child through a sonogram, or as if Sigmund Freud’s popularity owed to the ease of curing psychological woes.

Here’s an example of the murky realm surrounding faculty psychology upon which Puritans spilled so much ink:

Edwards’s psychology assimilated affections and will, motive and choice. The will (choice) was as the greatest apparent good (motive). Motive was choice or volition. Action followed choice, in appropriate circumstances, because God as the efficient cause, although human motive or volition might occasion action. (Bruce Kuklick, Churchmen and Philosophers, 100)

But get this. Not everyone agreed with Edwards, like Nathaniel Taylor:

Taylor’s psychology differed. For him, motives were distinct from choice or volition, and volition caused action. Taylor’s psychology was tripartite, consisting of the affections, will, and understanding; Edwards’s was dual, consisting of the affections (emotions/will) and understanding. (Kuklick, 100)

Is anyone willing to stake salvation on any of these — wait for it — speculations? Or is this plain as day?

But for Puritans, such speculations were part and parcel of the self-reflection that secured assurance of salvation:

Religious experience — in particular, conversion — involved a process which engaged all the faculties of the soul, but which was most deeply rooted in the affections. And the experience, whether in conversion or in the worship that followed, was one in which the believer acted, and was not just acted upon, in virtually every phase. . . . In the early stages of the process of conversion the Holy Spirit drew the chose to Christ, given that the man affected had been elected to receive what [Richard] Mather called the grace of faith (a phrase with Thomistic implications). Mather agreed with most Puritan divines that a man who had been consigned to Hell might experience the same feelings that gripped a saint in the first steps of conversion. . . . At this point the sinner becomes aware of his helplessness; and emptied of his pride he is ready for the knowledge of Christ, a knowledge that the law cannot convey. Comprehending this knowledge is the responsibility of reason, or understanding, but not exclusively so if the whole soul is to be renewed. . . . The knowledge must “affect” them in such a way that they approve and love it. At this point with all the faculties deeply informed, and moved, the grace of faith is infused by the Lord into the soul. (Robert Middlekauff, The Mathers, 64-65)

And your scriptural text is?

I understand the great debt that modern day psychology owes to Puritan speculations about the inner gears of the soul. But is that where Reformed Protestants with the Puritan fetish really want the legacy of Puritanism to go? Can John Piper generate enough earnestness to make any of this comprehensible?

Speaking of Using History

Peter Leithart comments on the way that American Protestants have immanentized the eschaton:

In the introduction to What Hath God Wrought, his contribution to the Oxford History of the United States, Daniel Walker Howe quotes an 1850 Methodist women’s magazine’s ecstasies over the telegraph: “This noble invention is to be the means of extending civilization, republicanism, and Christianity over the earth. It must and will be extended to nations half-civilized, and thence to those now savage and barbarous. Our government will be the grand center of this might influence. . . .” The magazine continued:

The beneficial and harmonious operation of our institutions will be seen, and similar ones adopted. Christianity must speedily follow them, and we shall behold the grand spectacle of a whole world, civilized, republican, and Christian. . . . Wars will cease from the earth. . . . Then shall come to pass the millennium.

Americans never change. A century and a half from now, historians will be able to dredge up quotations very like this from our own day, banging the same drums: The conflation of Christianity with civilization, specifically American republican civilization, and the corresponding hint that the rest of the world is divided into barbarians and semi-barbarians; the enthusiasm for “spreading democracy” (here republicanism); the faith in technology, which could be a plug for the World Wide Web; the religious tenor of the whole statement, reminiscent of Bush’s abortive “Operation Absolute Justice” campaign or the Obamessianism of 2008; the prediction of a technology-driven American globalization.

Problem is, isn’t this what Eusebius — ahem — did with Constantine?

But lest the neo-Puritans take too much glee, just remember what a mixed bag the Puritans can be for making us feel comfortable with ourselves:

Puritan attitudes were almost maniacally hostile to what they regarded as unnatural sex. More than other religious groups, they had genuine horror of sexual perversion. Masturbation was made a capital crime in the colony of New Haven. Bestiality was punished by death, and that sentences was sometimes executed in circumstances so bizarre as to tell us much about the sex ways of New England. One such case in New Haven involved a one-eyed servant named George Spencer, who had often been on the wrong side of the law, and was suspected of many depravities by his neighbors. When a sow gave birth to a deformed pig which also had one eye, the unfortunate man was accused of bestiality. . . .

[The Puritans] found a clear rule in Genesis 38, where Onan “spilled his seed upon the ground” in an effort to prevent conception and the Lord slew him. In Massachusetts, seed-spilling in general was known as the “hideous sin of Onanism.” A Puritan could not practice coitus interruptus and keep his faith. Every demographic test of contraception within marriage yields negative results in Puritan Massachusetts. . . . Samuel Sewall, at the age of 49, recorded the birth of his fourteenth child, and added a prayer, “It may be my dear wife may now leave off bearing.” So she did, but only by reaching the age of menopause. (David Hackett Fischer, Albions Seed, 91, 93)

Puritans Weigh In on Marriage Debate

From David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed:

The Church of England had taught that matrimony was a sacred union that must be solemnized by a priest. Anglicans also insisted that after the sacred knot was firmly tied, it could never be “put asunder” by mortal hands. Exceptions were allowed for monarchs and great lords, but for ordinary English men and women there was virtually no possibility of divorce in the seventeenth century.

The Puritans of New England rejected all of these Anglican ideas. They believed that marriage was not a religious ceremony but a civil contract. They required that this covenant must be “agreed” or “executed” (not “performed” or “solemnized”) before a magistrate, and not a minister. They also insisted that if the terms of the marriage covenant were broken, then the union could be ended by divorce. (77-78)

Been There, Done That

Pope Francis’ debt to Calvinism:

Laudato Si’ will restate what previous popes have said on environmental destruction and its impact on the poor, but as an encyclical, the church’s highest teaching document, it will have magnified impact.

The encyclical should remind us of American environmentalism’s own intensely religious and moral roots, which have mostly been forgotten since the 1960s.

The very issues that Francis will emphasize — sin, the common good, and the harm that greedy exploitation causes society — inspired conservation and environmentalism from their earliest beginnings. Their roots, however, were in the social and religious teachings, not of the Catholic Church, but of Calvinist churches, such as Congregationalism and Presbyterianism.

In early colonial days, Puritans following Calvinist principles established communities across New England. Calvinism put special emphasis on God’s presence in the works of nature, and Puritans often went alone into the fields, woods, and hills to pray and meditate.

So that none would be poor, New England towns granted each family a share of land, which religious duty commanded they pass on to future generations in as good or better condition. Towns regulated land and timber use to ensure resources for the future.

By 1830, colonies became states, Puritans became Congregationalists, and New England towns, with their white steepled Congregational churches on the greens, became the very emblem of democracy, prosperity, and moral order.

Two Cheers (again) for the Enlightenment

While some people are reflecting on which religions execute blasphemers, Protestants may want to be a tad circumspect — Americans as well, for that matter, if they think that John Winthrop made the U.S. a city on a hill.

Here’s one example of an attempt to assess Judaism, Christianity, and Islam on the wickedness of blasphemy:

That Christianity has less of a violence problem is self-evident, but the point is still lost on some people: at The Guardian, Ian Black declared that, in regards to the religion’s resistance to images of the Prophet Muhammad, “Islam is not unique. Judaism forbids the use of ‘graven images’ and Christianity has at times frowned on visual representations of sacred figures, allowing only the cross to be depicted in churches.”

This is a paragraph so shockingly dimwitted in its appraisal of both Christianity and Islam, and the differences between the two, that it is hard to know where to begin. I cannot readily speak for Judaism—the last time I attended a Jewish service was at a buddy’s Bar Mitzvah well over a decade ago—but I can say that Black’s appraisal of Christianity is, quite literally, total nonsense. For starters, Christianity since the sixteenth century has been a fractured religion, particularly on the subject of iconography; it does not really make sense to speak of Christianity “frowning” upon the use of imagery, unless you are willing to clarify just which branch or denomination of Christianity is doing this frowning. Catholicism is well-known for its use of crucifixes, for instance, although you can find them in Lutheran and Anglican churches, along with some other denominations. But you’re not apt to find a corpus amongst Baptists or Presbyterians, and again here Black’s characterization is frankly bizarre: it would be a profound understatement to say that the Southern Baptist Conference, for instance, “frowns” upon the artistic customs generally associated with Catholicism.

But if this piece were written in 1645, it might have a very different feel thanks to Massachusetts Bay’s Capital Laws (1641):

1. (Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20) If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

2. (Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.) If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.

3. (Lev. 24. 15,16.) If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

That should put a wrinkle in the Reformation-to-Revolution-to-Toleration narrative and may cause some rethinking of the Puritans’ influence in forming the American nation.

This should not be read as some kind of exercise in moral equivalency that likens Islamic terrorism to Protestant state laws against blasphemy and idolatry. It is only designed as a reminder that Protestants too had to come out of their theocratic slumber by means other than those supplied by the reformers.

Look At All the Detail (and Beware the Adverbs)

When teaching on the historical development of Reformed Protestantism I have been struck lately by the greater and greater amounts of detail into which the Reformed churches went in descriptions of the Holy Spirit’s work. If you look (see below) at the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) you don’t see much beyond affirmations of faith, regeneration, and the work of the Holy Spirit. (I don’t think I have been overly selective.) And if you look at the nature of conversion, as sixteenth-century Protestants understood it, you see a notion much closer to Nevin’s idea of organic and life-long development than to the First Pretty Good Awakening’s standard of a moment of crisis of existential proportions.

When it comes to the Shorter Catechism (1647), you see much more detail (see below) about the layers and stages of the work of the Holy Spirit, not to mention the ordo salutis. You still don’t see any modern conception of conversion. The Divines were still thinking in terms of mortification and vivification over the course of a saint’s life. But effectual calling receives attention in a detailed way, and faith and repentance have descriptions that go beyond what the sixteenth-creeds or catechisms. (I suspect the influence here of Puritan practical or experimental divinity.)

Which then brings us to the American Presbyterian Church’s Plan of Union from 1758, a document that brought the Old Side (anti-revival) and New Side (pro-revival) back together in a hodge-podge of objective and subjective formula. What you see is even more detail regarding the inner workings of the Spirit than in the Shorter Catechism. Which is a puzzle to me. These Presbyterians already affirmed the Shorter Catechism. If they had only subscribed Heidelberg, they might have wanted a fuller statement of the Spirit’s work. But they had one. And they felt compelled to add girth to the Shorter Catechism’s already full figure. I suspect the influence of pietism and revivalism where the quest for spiritual authenticity requires ever greater levels of specifying the Spirit’s work.

Heidelberg Catechism
Q.21. What is true faith?
A: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

Question 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed?
Answer: From the Holy Ghost, (a) who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments. (b)

Q 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist?
A: Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.

Q 89. What is the mortification of the old man?
A: It is a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.

Q 90. What is the quickening of the new man?
A: It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.

Shorter Catechism
Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Q. 85. What doth God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?
A. To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

Plan of Union (1758)
. . . all mankind are naturally dead in trespasses and sins, an entire change of heart and life is necessary to make them meet for the service and enjoyment of God; that such a change can be only effected by the powerful operations of the Divine Spirit; that when sinners are made sensible of their lost condition and absolute inability to recover themselves, are enlightened in the knowledge of Christ and convinced of his ability and willingness to save, and upon gospel encouragements do choose him for the Saviour, and renouncing their own righteousness in point of merit, depend upon his imputed righteousness for their justification before God, and on his wisdom and strength for guidance and support; when upon these apprehensions and exercises their souls are comforted, notwithstanding all their past guilt, and rejoice in God through Jesus Christ; when they hate and bewail their sins of heart and life, delight in the laws of God without exception, reverentially and diligently attend his ordinances, become humble and self denied, and make it the business of their lives to please and glorify God and to do good to their fellow-men, – this is to be acknowledge as a gracious work of God, even though it should be attended with unusual bodily commotions or some more exceptionable circumstances, by means of infirmity, temptations or remaining corruptions; and wherever religious appearances are attended with the good effects above mentioned, we desire to rejoice in and thank God for them.