Saturday, July 07, 2018

HT D. G. Hart on "Why Some Catholics Are Still Trying to Revive Medieval Christendom" by Massimo Faggioli--some weekend musing on how if the endgame in mind is a revitalized Christendom then it's the Christendom that's venerated and not Christ whether that Christendom is formally Protestant or Catholic

Protestants have an easier time around our Constantian history since no European government or Reformed church declared a specific political order to be the Christian ideal. Protestants varied and worked church-state matters out on the ground, whether as established churches (Scotland and Geneva), persecuted minorities (France), or voluntarist communions (United States).

Not so with Roman Catholics. Popes and their advisers since the eleventh century spent a lot of time defining papal supremacy in relation to Europe’s Christian social order, and then after 1789 doubling down on the state’s subordination to the church and condemning all forms of liberalism.

But then Vatican II happened. Roman Catholicism is still trying to figure out what Vatican II means and meant since it presents at least three different papal models from which Roman Catholics may choose: Pius IX (traditionalist), John Paul II (conservative) and Francis (progressive). But as Faggioli insists, Vatican II broke the mold of the papacy’s place in western politics.

And since the old, Pius IX political theology was part of the church’s infallible teaching not just on society but on salvation (a liberal society tolerated errors that led the faithful to mortal sins), Vatican II represents a problem for any Roman Catholic who says this is the church that Jesus founded (and doesn’t have his fingers crossed).

Duly noted, although it would seem thanks to postmillennialism and a host of other doctrinal ideas plenty of Protestants found ways to get straight back to throne and altar theologies but with a different set of parameters.  It's not as though the ideals of Christendom are even strictly "Western" in conception.  Maybe the Gelasian doctrine of two swords has been modified a bit in Protestant-land but it's possible it's still the guiding paradigm whether the Social Gospel is American blue state or American red state. 

That sidelong tangent placed up front, here's the piece Hart was linking to.
Why Some Catholics Are Still Trying to Revive Medieval Christendom
By Massimo Faggioli
June 28, 2018
The current wave of anti-liberalism in the nations of the West and in the Catholic Church is bringing fifty years’ worth of disappointments to the surface. One would have to be blind not to notice the fact that the period after Vatican II—what Karl Rahner called the beginning of the “world Church,” a new age in the history of Christianity—has been a messy one, full of tension and uncertainty. Most postconciliar periods have been messy, but the disorder of this period has been aggravated by new global anxieties about environmental ruin, nuclear war, and globalization.

The new anti-liberalism springs from an old temptation: nostalgia. The anti-liberals dream of a new Christendom that would restore the church to a position of official dominance enforced by the state. They are allergic to pluralism, especially cultural and religious. There is some of this in the Trump agenda and in the right-wing governments now in power in Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Poland, as well as in the free state of Bavaria in the German Federation. The recent meeting between Cardinal Raymond Burke and the new Italian minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini, says something about this realignment. Salvini is known not only for his threats of unconstitutional police-state repression against migrants and gypsies in Italy, but also for saying that Benedict XVI is still his pope.

Some people in Europe and the United States still haven’t accepted that we now live in a world church that represents a historical development beyond medieval Christendom. The state of denial of those who still believe that a return to Christendom is possible is driven by many factors, but one in particular: the return of the myth that the whole category of the secular is a liberal invention, the myth that “once, there was no secular.”

One might dare to playfully suggest that to the extent that Magisterial Protestants couldn't resist the temptation to a conflation of the Church and State that might have been because everybody was doing that in the West and the Anabaptists had not managed to build a case people were willing to follow at the time that the conflation was bad news in both directions.  Not that there were only "Western" critiques in that direction but this is the weekend and I'm not officially a scholar or a historian.

We'll skip a few paragraphs that are no doubt of interest to people who are already disposed to read the article to get to this:


Going back to the Middle Ages is not just a practical impossibility—especially in the “global south” where Christianity is now growing. It is also, and no less importantly, a theological impossibility.

Of all the ambivalences and sometimes intentional ambiguities of the documents of Vatican II, the council marked a reckoning with the history of the church’s relationship with political power, especially in the twentieth century. [emphasis added] The bishops and theologians at Vatican II delivered a clear, albeit mostly implicit, moral and theological judgment on efforts to deal with modernity by repurposing totalitarianism and authoritarianism for the protection of the institutional church and the promotion of a Christian social order. (How many of the supporters of authoritarian regimes in pre–World War II Europe became, thirty or forty years later, leaders of Vatican II?)

This judgment was based partly on a new historical sense of the myths that had nurtured the church’s anti-modern stance. One of these was the myth of a Jewish conspiracy against the church. But this pernicious myth fit into the larger triumphalist myth about the glories of Christendom, which had only to be recovered and renewed. This was the myth at which Pope John XXIII took aim in the speech that opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962:

In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin…. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, nonetheless, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty. We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand….  It suffices to leaf even cursorily through the pages of ecclesiastical history to note clearly how the ecumenical councils themselves, while constituting a series of true glories for the Catholic Church, were often held to the accompaniment of most serious difficulties and sufferings because of the undue interference of civil authorities. The princes of this world, indeed, sometimes in all sincerity, intended thus to protect the church. But more frequently this occurred not without spiritual damage and danger, since their interest therein was guided by the views of a selfish and perilous policy.

All this says something to us today. The refusal to learn from history seems to be a problem for the church now, just as it was in 1962. One must acknowledge that the global disruptions of the current age directly challenge some of the assumptions of Vatican II. When the conciliar documents discuss violence, for example, they are never referring to religious violence. In this sense, Vatican II needs a radical recontextualization. Nevertheless, the council still has something important to say to Catholics who “behave as though at the time of former councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.” In some parts of the world, where Christianity used to be either the only religion or the main one but is now a minority religion, some are again pining for a restoration of an idealized Christendom. [emphasis added] They should heed John XXIII’s warning.

But this should not be construed as a uniquely Catholic problem.  There are bids to restore some kind of normative Christendom in Protestantism and in Orthodoxy across the world.  In the "global south" it may still be that there are more Pentecostals and charismatics among Christians than there are Catholics but I'll admit to being very, very rusty on statistics about that. 

If the Religious Right in the United States and the Anglo-American world could be easily (perhaps too easily?) defined by a single trait it would be a desire to restore Christendom as the norm for societies.  Despite the fact that the Reformation was brimming with men and women who regarded the corruption and graft of Christendom as precisely the thing to be fought against during the actual period of the Reformation in the 20th and 21st century people who might ostensibly be on opposite sides of the Protestant or Catholic divide could still end up agreeing that "some" form of dominant Christendom was the ideal for society.  Americans who might rail at Popery would nonetheless have a variant of throne and altar theology in which America had a Manifest Destiny in which Christians ought to play a part.  Thanks to sleights of hand in nomenclature the new boss could still be the same as the old boss but think he was really new.

Going back to the Middle Ages is not just a practical impossibility—especially in the “global south” where Christianity is now growing. It is also, and no less importantly, a theological impossibility. The ressourcement of Catholic theology in the twentieth century was not primarily a return to medieval sources or even to the fathers of the church; it was above all a return to the example of Jesus himself. To take that example seriously, as Dignitatis humanae does, is to resist any effort to impose Christianity coercively. Christendom often left the individual with too little room for self-determination—too little choice, for example, about whether, and whom, to marry. It too often assumed that the most important decisions about a person’s life were best made for him or her by the family, the community, the church, or the state. Christendom also provided a theological rationale for the wars of religion, a rationale now evidently irreconcilable with Catholic teaching. Finally, Christendom relied on the identification of Catholicism with European civilization. [emphasis added] But one does not have to be European to be Catholic, a fact that becomes more evident with every passing year. Romanitas is no longer an essential feature of Catholic Christianity—if it ever was. The theology of Vatican II points toward the Kingdom of God rather than to a church protected by a political, constitutional, social, or cultural establishment. 
Protestants have obviously had a similar set of mistakes.  Whatever problems nationalism may have felt it was addressing in rallying against legacies of Christendom within the wake of the Holy Roman Empire it does not seem, with a few centuries behind us, that many of the solutions proposed by the Enlightenment and the Romantic responses to feudal Christendom really "solved" the problems of Christendom so much as commuted many of those problems into new forms.  But a newer globalist humanistic vision of a completely unified humanity simply replicates the problem of a universalizing Catholic Christendom in a new ostensibly secular and pluralist vision.  The vision is still one humanity unified under a single global ideology, it's just that the ideology can be construed in secularist and humanist terms rather than explicitly religious terms. 

There is no question that Christianity still needs to come up with a political theology able to address secularity, the dangers of populism, inequality, climate change, and transhumanism, among other pressing issues. It needs a new theology of the common good that is adequate to the problems and possibilities of our own time. It is delusional, however, to think that we will find what we are looking for, or what we need, in a resuscitation of premodern Christendom.

But that seems to be precisely what is preferred not just by reactionary elements within Catholicism but also within Protestantism among those who might be swift to talk about how "ideas have consequences" and how the forsaking of the "Christian worldview" led to a demise in Western culture.  Anglo-American Christian social conservatives may think that because they differ on ordo salutis stuff and a number of other doctrinal differences (that we can grant are real as well as formal differences) that the socio-economic endgame is somehow different from a revitalized Christendom.  Protestants may want a revitalized PROTESTANT Christendom but they still want a revitalized Christendom.

If the end game is a revitalization of Western culture "back" to the point where some Christians think it should have remained then the reactionary nature of the reflections on doctrine and history can be seen for what they are.  These are people who say with their mouths they worship Jesus but venerate their ideals of Western culture in reality. In that sense there are Roman Catholics who are Roman Catholics rather than Roman Catholics. In a comparable way there are American Protestants who are ultimately American Protestants rather than Christians.

On the other hand ... many of the utopian forward-looking ideologies that would posit that we are all one race, the human race, don't seem able to reckon with the ways in which a whole lot of the worst things done in the last few centuries have been done with that kind of optimism. 

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