Friday, November 29, 2019

Rethinking Protestantism: II

As Max Weber made clear, the Protestant Reformation will open up one of these two roads by erasing physically and symbolically the walls separating the world and the monastery and by extending the calling to perfection to all Christians living in the world through their professional calling. 'To be monks in the world,' this is the spirit of the Protestant ethic and of modern secular vocational asceticism. In Protestant countries, secularization will have from the beginning an anti-monastic and anti-popish, but not an anti-religious meaning, insofar as its rationale was precisely religious reformation, putting an end to the dualism between religion and world, making religion more secular and the saeculum more religious, bringing religion to the world and the world to religion. The Protestant Reformation brought down the monastery walls separating the religious and secular worlds, and opened the way for their mutual interpenetration. This marks particularly the Anglo-Saxon Protestant road of secularization. Secularization and the parallel modernization do not entail necessarily the decline of religion.

Catholic conceptions of holiness tend to strongly emphasise the ascetic nature of religion. Holiness, in this schema, is thought of an increasing devotion to God through prayers, self denial, sacrifice and asceticism, and is seen as synonymous with the ideal clerical life. The lay person, who wishes to seek  holiness, aims to emulate the best practices of the clergy in their devotion to God. So, in a way, if a Catholic wants to become more deeply religious he does by following a model pioneered by the priests and monks. More prayer, more adoration, more Masses, more fasts, etc. And one of the interesting things about Catholicism is the fact that majority of the saints come from the ordained and relatively few from the laity. This state of affairs is more a reflection of the fact that the Church's  has only one recognised mode of "holiness"  and that the practices associated with this mode is is only practically attainable by those who deliberately pursue the consecrated/religious life.  In effect, Catholics have one "mode" of holiness and its difficult to live the lay life and combine it with this modality.

This guy--of all people!--highlights the problem succinctly.

Yet, this would appear to be a "modern" innovation. It was accepted--in the Middle Ages-- that a certain type of holiness could be achieved through the profession of arms. i.e the knight. And that sanctity was possible through just action on the battlefield.  But it does appear that Catholicism developed only a limited number of different modalities for achieving sanctity. By and large, sanctity in Catholicism was mainly achieved by following the model pioneered by religious ascetics.

One of the consequences of the Reformation was a rethinking of the nature of holiness. Protestantism vigorously attacked the distinction between the clergy and the laity. Under Protestantism, all who believed in Christ were "Priests" and this had the effect of opening up the possibility of sanctity to all believers in a way that Catholicism couldn't. Unlike Catholicism  where sanctity was seen as being synonymous with self-denial, mortification and asceticism, the Protestant conception of holiness recognised that it could achieved through the sincere Christian expression of whatever office or rank a person held in life. Some would say that Protestantism clericised the laity but that conception mixes the habits of the clergy with life practices of the laity. I think it would be far better to say that Protestantism produced a "Civic Christianity" in place of the "Clerical Christianity" of Catholicism.

Protestant bankers, for instance, could be considered "priestly" if they executed their office with righteousness, honesty and integrity. Protestant workers were righteous in the sight of God if they did not attempt to defraud their employer and worked for him as if they were working for God. Protestant public servants would strive to be honest and incorruptible.  The whole principle being that a Protestant's Christianity would infuse whatever task he was doing so that standing before God he would be able to claim that he was acting as God's faithful steward; be that a banker, a clerk, railroad worker or teacher. In the movie, Chariots of Fire, the Protestant, Eric Liddell, is able to transform his athleticism into a powerful expression of the Christian faith. Running and not ascetisicism  is the mechanism of his sanctification.

What Protestantism effectively did is expand the modalities by which a Christian could achieve sanctity, opening it up to people who neither had the time, nor the inclination to pursue the "clerical" model. Whereas the secular, before, could afford to be a bit "dirty" since it wasn't holy, Protestantism cleaned it up.  Protestantism infused Christianity into the secular domain in a way that Catholicism couldn't and suddenly it became a far more serious matter to be a corrupt businessman, judge or politician. And it's this type of Christianity which I believe was instrumental in the rapid social and economic advance of the Protestant countries following the Reformation.

The superior socio-economic performance of these societies was an emergent phenomenon contingent upon their civic Christianity. Independence of action, high trust, low levels of dishonesty, honest and good public governance, personal freedom and private initiative worked synergistically in a way that was not possible in Catholic countries and produced a superior social, economic and political outcome. Catholic countries could only begin to approach such levels in the late 20th C. (which also resulted in a pseudo-Protestantisation of their countries). Uncritical Catholic fanboys may dismiss this view but when Clark liberated Rome and the Vatican from the Nazi's it was as an Episcopalian General commanding an army of soldiers from a country founded on Enlightened Protestant beliefs---formerly condemned by the Pope.< /irony>  The Catholic world had no response. Catholic South America was twiddling its thumbs and France was useless.

As as side effect of this transformation of religious expression,  Protestantism was able to achieve a degree of integralism that Catholic traditionalists could only dream about. Whereas in the Catholic  model, there was in inbuilt duality between the secular and clerical/religious,  any attempts and "evangelising" society within this model resulted in the state managed imposition of the clerical onto the secular which resulted in a pressure cooker situation.

On the other hand, Protestantism, with its much broader conception of holiness, did not demand the everyone assume a quasi-clerical lifestyle. This blurred the distinction between the secular and the religious and made a confessional state far easier to achieve as less was demanded by the state on the citizen.  Therefore there was far less tension between the Church and the state. Compare the hostility of the Spanish secularists with that of the Nordic.

Despite all of it's faults--and there are many--it's increasingly my opinion that the emergence of Protestantism was a necessary event for the survival of Christianity. At it's birth, Modernity was around the corner, and its emergence provided the necessary vehicle by which Christianity could transition into it .

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Vatican II as Catholic Perestroika

It is said that the priestly ordination of lay people in distant communities is necessary, because of the difficulty encountered by ministrants in reaching them. In my view, the setting of the problem in these terms reveals an ingrained clericalism. It seems that where there is no "priest" or "nun" there is no ecclesial life. The basic problem is much more serious. A Church has been created where the laity do not see themselves as protagonists and where there is little or no sense of belonging, a Church that, if there is no "priest", does not work. This is an ecclesiological and pastoral aberration. Our faith, as Christians, is rooted in baptism, not in priestly ordination.
(Father Martin Lasarte)

I really did not take much interest in the Amazon Synod simply because to me it looked like more of the same thing that the Church has been doing for the past fifty years. People got worked up about Pachamama and the issue of lay ordination but to me it really was all about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Still, one guy did catch my attention and that was Father Martin Lasarte, a hand picked representative of Francis, who seemed to have more sense than most when it came to the issues at hand.

Unlike the partisans who pitched battle during the Synod, Lasarte recognised that the Church's problems are much deeper than the superficial issues blathered about in the media. Lasarte recognised that Catholic Church seems to have a serious problem with the laity, regarding them as sort of half-Christians, with the consecrated life being the only true "authentic" Christianity. And, as Lasarte recognises, this "operational" view has devastated the life of the Church.

While many may balk at the proposition, in understanding the trajectory of modern catholic history its useful to think of the Catholic Church as being sociologically similar to the Communist party of the USSR. There was Big Brother (Pope), the Inner Party (Curia), Outer Party (Clergy) and the Proletariat (The faithful). The Party was always right and it was the role of the Proletariat to follow instructions......or else, especially in Pre V2 (Stalinist) times.

Ask any old Commie(Trad) what killed the Soviet Union and they'll all point the finger to Gorbachev, their John XXIII, who initiated the policy of Glasnost and Perestroika, the Soviet Union's version of Vatican II. And they would be right since the system, as it was envisaged, left no room for independent action within it. It also needs to be remembered that many of the men who initiated the policy of Perestroika weren't sentimentalists, rather they could see that they were being out-competed by the West (Modernism) and they had to reform if they were to survive.

Following the collapse of the Soviet system it was felt by all the boffins at Harvard that all one had to do to encourage the flourishing of the free market in Russia was to enshrine property rights, liquidate inefficient industries and lower taxes and all would be hunky dory. But what was never considered is the fact that how do you produce a free market in a people who were for generations deliberately prosecuted for showing any entrepreneurial spirit and who were continually weaned on the nipple of state managerialism. What eighty years of the soviet experience had produced is an economically docile and inept man who had no skills at operating in a free market, and when the market was finally liberalised the only people who had actual authority and initiative made off like bandits, impoverishing the rest of the country.

Likewise, Catholic glasnost came about at the same time as the cultural revolution of the Sixties, and catholic laymen, much like "freed" soviet workers, got to fend for themselves  in the "free market of ideas" with the same observed results. When you start thinking about it the parallels are very eerie.

The reason why perestroika failed to produce the expected benefits in the Soviet Union is because the Stalinist/Leninist system had wiped out the entrepreneurial spirit that is vital in the formation of small to medium businesses, the backbone of any capitalist system. Likewise, the Catholic system had wiped out any form of spiritual entrepreneurialism leaving the laity open to Modernity.  The theologians conflated obedience with faith. and failed to recognise a very deep weakness of the Church.

Lasarte recognises that arguing about all the other stuff is useless unless the fundamentals are sorted out first. He also lists several instances where because of circumstances, the laity were able to build thriving Christian communities in the absence of clergy and one certainly gets the impression that Church governance rather than lay "disobedience" may be more of an issue.   For those who are interested, here are a few pertinent links. 

Amazon Synod: Are married priests really a solution? 

Amazon Synod: New paths and pastoral illnesses (Part Two) 

Evaluating the Synod for the Amazon: Fr Lasarte’s ten ‘likes’ and nine ‘dislikes’

My own thoughts are that any Christian revival of the West is going to be lay led, I also imagine that it will be strongly opposed by large sections of the Clergy.