As much as Jason and the Callers may think of their crossing the Tiber as the fix to Protestantism’s anarchy, another set of converts finds Rome congenial precisely because it has more resources for transforming culture. This is where the idea that neo-Calvinism is making the world safe for Roman Catholicism has some plausibility. After all, Calvinism only fixes so much. It may get you to 1550 Geneva or 1618 Amsterdam. But what about the problems that Protestantism introduced to Europe by upending Christendom in the West. If you give someone a taste for a Christian society, can they ever be satisfied with the kind of disquiet that Protestantism introduced?
That question explains why Hilaire Belloc thought Protestantism was a heresy and Rome the answer to the West’s problems:
1. It was not a particular movement but a general one, i.e., it did not propound a particular heresy which could be debated and exploded, condemned by the authority of the Church, as had hitherto been every other heresy or heretical movement. Nor did it, after the various heretical propositions had been condemned, set up (as had Mohammedanism or the Albigensian movement) a separate religion over against the old orthodoxy. Rather did it create a certain separate which we still call “Protestantism.” It produced indeed a crop of heresies, but not one heresy_and its characteristic was that all its heresies attained and prolonged a common savour: that which we call “Protestantism” today.
2. Though the immediate fruits of the Reformation decayed, as had those of many other heresies in the past, yet the disruption it had produced remained and the main principle_reaction against a united spiritual authority_so continued in vigour as both to break up our European civilization in the West and to launch at last a general doubt, spreading more and more widely. None of the older heresies did that, for they were each definite. Each had proposed to supplant or to rival the existing Catholic Church; but the Reformation movement proposed rather to dissolve the Catholic Church_and we know what measure success has been attained by that effort! . . .
But let it be noted that this breakdown of the older anti-Catholic thing, the Protestant culture, shows no sign of being followed by an hegemony of the Catholic culture. There is no sign as yet of a reaction towards the domination of Catholic ideas_the full restoration of the Faith by which Europe and all our civilization can alone be saved.
It nearly always happens that when you get rid of one evil you find yourself faced with another hitherto unsuspected; and so it is now with the breakdown of the Protestant hegemony. We are entering a new phase, “The Modern Phase,” as I have called it, in which very different problems face the Eternal Church and a very different enemy will challenge her existence and the salvation of the world which depends upon her.
R.J. Snell, a recent convert, echoes Belloc on Rome’s cultural potentialities while sounding very different from Jason and the Callers on dogma and papal infallibility:
. . . Lumen Fidei is making no claim of empty pietism but rather an acutely prescient observation when stating that “once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim,” for the light of faith provides an illuminating source of “every aspect of human existence,” and thus is integral and non-reductive in its knowledge. Such a light, the encyclical continues, given our sinful state, “cannot come from ourselves but … must come from God.” Further, this light does not merely sweep us out of our troubles and into some serene realm of transcendence, but transforms us by God’s love, giving us “fresh vision, new eyes to see”—faith allows us, again, and also here and now, to begin the recovery of thought, memory, imagination, and freedom.
The faith is about far more than social recovery and advance, for in the end faith gives us an encounter and union with the living God, but faith never provides less than the possibility of social recovery. While God gives us Himself, and this is ultimate, it was not below Christ to heal the lame, teach the unknowing, and work as a carpenter; just as Christ engages us in our natural and temporal concerns, so too does faith, this Humanism of the Cross, bring new vision and light to the spiritual impoverishment surrounding us. . . .
The Church exists not for itself but for others. We exist for evangelization, for the health and welfare of souls. But persons are not souls only, they are, in the words of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, a unity of soul and body so profound that “neither the spiritualism that despises the body not the materials that considers the spirit a mere manifestation of the material do justice … to the unity of the human being.” As such, we exist for others as complete and integral persons—for an integral humanism.
But just as 2kers question neo-Calvinists on cultural transformation, so they ask Rome’s apologists whether the point of Christ’s death was to save Western Civilization. Of course, apologists might think that question too blunt, and that the relationship between Christ and culture requires nuance. It may, but the kind of sensibility that led Christ to say that his kingdom was not of this world or Paul to say that the unseen things are really the permanent things, not philosophy or the arts, were also responsible for figures like Thomas Aquinas writing that:
Some truths about God exceed all the ability of the human reason. Such is the truth that God is trinune. But there are some truths which the natural reason also is able to reach. Such are that God exists, that He is one, and the like.
In other words, not everyone is cut out for a liberal arts education with a major in one of the humanities and you don’t need a B.A. to be a Christian to trust the triune God. Plumbers and farmers understand more truth, if they trust Christ, than the smartest of philosophers. That is, at least, one way of reading Aquinas on faith and reason.
This gap between Christ and culture is also behind the fourth stanza of Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”:
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
In the world of otherworldly Christianity, a believer goes straight to the head of the class, and gets to by-pass Philosophy 101 and Intro to the Classics, simply by faith (or baptism as Rome understands it).
And yet, neo-Calvinists, who have the memo on the eternal and the temporal, have yet to reflect on it. That may owe to Abraham Kuyper’s own refusal to unhitch Christ and culture and his concomitant demand for integralism:
Hence, as a central phenomenon in the development of humanity, Calvinism is not only entitled to an honorable position by the side of Paganistic, Islamistic and Romanistic forms, since like these it represents a peculiar principle dominating the whole of life, but it also meets every required condition for the advancement of human development to a higher stage. And yet this would remain a bare possibility without any corresponding reality, if history did not testify that Calvinism has actually caused the stream of human life to flow in another channel, and has ennobled the social life of the nations. . .
. . . only by Calvinism the psalm of liberty found its way from the troubled conscience to the lips; that Calvinism has captured and guaranteed to us our constitutional civil rights; and that simultaneously with this there went out from Western Europe that mighty movement which promoted the revival of science and art, opened new avenues to commerce and trade, beautified domestic and social life, exalted the middle classes to positions of honor, caused philanthropy to abound, and more than all this, elevated, purified, and ennobled moral life by puritanic seriousness ; and then judge for yourselves whether it will do to banish any longer this God-given Calvinism to the archives of history, and whether it is so much of a dream to conceive that Calvinism has yet a blessing to bring and a bright hope to unveil for the future. (Lectures on Calvinism, 38-40)
At the end of the nineteenth century, Calvinism’s fortunes may have looked a lot brighter than Rome’s did. The Roman Church was under a virtual lock down from the Vatican amid encyclicals against Americanism and Modernism and church dogma about papal supremacy and infallibility. But that is no longer the case. Not only can Rome boast five U.S. Supreme Court justices, but the texts of Western civilization chalk up more Roman Catholic believers than Protestant saints (and they ARE saints). In another hundred years, the tables may turn again. But Protestantism will never be able to claim that it shaped the West as much as an older version of Western Christianity did.
So if Protestants want to compete in the Christian olympics, perhaps they should forget the events of Great Books and Christian political theology and put their talent and resources into soteriology, worship, and church government. Even if they don’t bring home the gold, they can take comfort from knowing the streets of paradise are paved with it.