Maybe This Explains the Appeal of Independence to the Scots


Here is what England is:

She is more than a thousand years of uninterrupted Christian faith, from St. Alban, the first English martyr, killed during the Roman occupation in the 3rd century, to the martydrom of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More in 1535. She is the hundreds of martyrs killed during the penal times following Henry VIII’s usurpation of the church in England. She is Beowulf and “The Dream of the Rood”; she is Sir Gawain and Chaucer; she is Byrd and Tallis; she is Walsingham and Glastonbury; she is Austen and Dickens, Newman and Hopkins, Chesterton and Belloc, Waugh and Wodehouse, Lewis and Tolkien. She is Shakespeare! This is the England of our dreams, and our dreams are so much more real, in any meaningful sense, than the nightmare that the modern inhabitants of England seem to prefer. This is the England to which I owe my allegiance; the England of the saints and martyrs; the England of the poets and bards; and the England of the Greatest Bard of all. I will conclude by letting the Bard wax lyrical on the England of my dreams:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in a silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

This may explain why Rod Dreher had a point:

The intellectual arrogance identified by Alan that exists within certain Catholic circles is something I once was guilty of, without realizing it. To me, as an adult convert to Catholicism, the intellectual and aesthetic riches of the Catholic faith were so blindingly obvious that I couldn’t see that the Protestant traditions were worth taking seriously, except in a political and personal sense. That is, I respected Protestants as serious Christians and good people with whom we could and should work on causes of mutual concern, but I didn’t trouble myself to take them seriously on the intellectual front. This was an example of my unearned pride. As far as I was concerned, I had joined the intellectual A team of American Christianity, and Father Neuhaus was our Joe Torre. At the time I didn’t realize it, but looking back, I can see that the only conversations I thought really mattered were between Catholics.

As I write this, I remember a professor telling me years ago at a conference that he might have left Protestantism for Catholicism, except for the fact that his Catholic convert friends were so intellectually haughty in their newfound Catholicism that they kept him away from the Roman church. What that man experienced is a constant temptation for intellectual converts to Catholicism.

Telling the Difference between A Christian W-W and a Really Christian W-W

In looking around for a Christian outlook on Shakespeare, and whether a literature professor at a Christian college might teach Shakespeare differently from a non-Christian, I came across this: “Why Shakespeare for Christian Students?” The author, Ralph Allan Smith says:

Well, first of all, and contrary to the opinion of some scholars, Shakespeare is profoundly moral. His plays, especially the tragedies, deal with the deepest moral themes and issues. Serious consideration of any of his plays forces one to think in ethical terms.

This does not mean that Shakespeare teaches morality in simple black and white. The literary critic Harold Bloom points to an important truth when he in error writes:

Shakespeare is to the world’s literature what Hamlet is to the imaginary domain of literary character: a spirit that permeates everywhere, that cannot be confined. A freedom from doctrine and simplistic morality is certainly one element in that spirit’s ease of transference, though the freedom made Dr. Johnson nervous and Tolstoy indignant. Shakespeare has the largeness of nature itself, and through that largeness he senses nature’s indifference. [2]

That Shakespeare is not a simplistic moralizer is true. His plays are not mere propaganda for do-gooders. But if we take the notion of “largeness of nature” and “freedom” in Shakespeare to imply that there is no doctrine and no moral structure in Shakespeare’s universe, we are missing the mark widely.

Imagine, for example, a version of Othello in which Iago altogether prevails, the play ending as Iago gloats over the dead bodies of Othello and Desdemona. Or a version of Hamlet in which the prince, driven to unholy revenge by the appearance of a demon impersonating his father, is able not only to destroy his enemies but rule Denmark “happily ever after.” Imagine King Lear’s evil daughters being able to love one another and cooperate successfully to steal the throne and rule the land. In real life, there may be men — there have been men — who attain their position in the world through the most nefarious Macbeth-like betrayal, if not murder, who nevertheless are able to keep their “thrones” without being tortured by guilt. In Shakespeare, however, this not only does not happen, it cannot happen.

What Bloom incorrectly labels is in fact the moral depth and the complexity that one finds in Shakespeare. No doubt this makes Shakespeare appear to some to be unconcerned with matters of morality, since these people assume that moral ambiguity in history contradicts moral clarity in religion. Ironically, this same moral complexity is one of the reasons that one “instinctively” associates Shakespeare and the Bible, for what other book combines ethical clarity in doctrine with historical narrative so brutally factual in its “deconstruction” of the heros? To this very day, approximately three thousand years after David reigned, the facts of his great faith and sincere love to God and his gross sins of murder and adultery confront the modern reader of the Bible with the unpleasant reality of the deep sinfulness of the very best men. The story also provides a weapon for the enemies of the faith, who ridicule Christians that regard an adulterous murderer as a wonderful Christian.

Smith goes on to make three more points. I am not particularly concerned about Smith’s reasons. His first point seems reasonable, even if his quotation of Harold Bloom is a bit dicey for a guy who thinks that Van Til and Kuyper shot the moon when it comes to epistemology:

I have to confess that for me it is exciting to see how Van Til shows not only that the Bible itself must be the presupposition for all thought, but more specifically how the Triune God is the focus and center of Christian epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. More than anyone I had encountered before him, I came to understand that Van Til depicts man as created to trust, worship and serve the one and only Triune God. Jordan shows hows this works out in Biblical theology, illumining every aspect of the history of the covenant in the light of the Trinitarian covenant. Jeffrey Meyers’ work on worship unites the doctrine of weekly worship with the doctrines of the Trinity and the covenant — or I should say with the reality of our covenant with the Triune God — when he expounds the Biblical idea of worship as covenant renewal. Peter Leithart, elaborating on themes in Jordan, ties in the doctrine of the sacraments with the doctrine of the Trinity. In addition, he takes his Van Tillian presuppositions with him into the world of literature, both ancient and modern, Christian and pagan.

In addition, it is a little curious to see such sweeping claims about the Trinitarian origins of knowledge being applied to a form of art that in 1924 the Christian Reformed Church, under the explicit influence of Kuyper, rejected, along with cards and dancing, as illegitimate for believers. (Where the followers of the nader reformatie made room for Shakespeare in the Free University is not a question I can readily answer.) And while I’m making asides, I’ll make one more — this fellow Smith has some fairly strong intellectual ties to the Federal Visionaries and has a string of essays critical of sundry critics of the Federal Vision.

Maybe that makes me guilty of committing the genetic fallacy, but I am going back on point to ask if Smith’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s value is THE Christian outlook? In other worlds, is there an orthodox W-W or is it simply a matter of someone trying to apply Christianity to literature and biology even if they come out wrong about the Trinitarian meaning of Othello or photosynthesis? And even more germane, do we have a body of Christian W-W officials who will determine which interpretations are orthodox and which aren’t? You might be tempted to answer that the assemblies of the church could decide this, but does anyone seriously want to let the Presbyterian Church of America determine the Christian W-W of George Washington?

Maybe too much sarcasm? But maybe the Christian educators have to take off the cheer leading uniforms and go back to the drawing board, which would include some basic distinctions about the differences between general and special revelation, church power, and even sphere sovereignty.