Christian Culture

Modernity might be defined as the age when mankind tried to do without God for the first time. The effect on culture has been extraordinarily stimulating. From the Renaissance and Reformation, through the Baroque reaction, the Enlightenment and Romanticism, and the Modernist reaction, Western culture has flourished.

Now however the impetus seems to have gone. Now that God has been so effectively removed from our society and culture, there seems to be no point in getting worked up about anything, no point in getting out of bed, so to speak. And the art and culture that is being produced is singularly tired and uninteresting. Postmodernism is the end of the line. So where next? Back the way we came?

In theology the current fashion – “Radical Orthodoxy” – is to see the whole modern experiment as just that, an experiment, which is now finished, and we can return to the certainties and security of the medieval, with its culmination in Thomas Aquinas. In poetry this produced Dante, probably the greatest poet of all time. But is this really possible in a relativist environment hostile to such certainties and security?

In fact it might be the environment most conducive to it. When the state no longer takes any view as to what moral or spiritual truth is, and allows its citizens full freedom of conscience. The medieval conflict between the temporal and the spiritual power which produced both corrupt Kings and corrupt Popes is over. The only danger is that that relativism should not become a dictatorship, restricting views with which it disagrees.

And the art that might be produced would be Christian, but not overtly so. Christianity would once again become the basic assumption, within which a person lives their life, and produces their goods. And Western culture would once again return to its Classical and Christian roots, and find there the energy and enthusiasm that it seems to have lost in cynicism and irony and disillusion.


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  1. Using anthropological categories provided by the work of René Girard and his ‘mimetic theory,’ (Girard is a Catholic and recent inductee to the L’Académie française), the militant secularism typified by the present Administration is ostensibly not religious per se. However, structurally, one sees the clear outlines of what Girard calls the ‘primitive Sacred’ (read: paganism), which depends finally on sacrifice.

    The Old Testament prophets would spot it in a heartbeat: our abortion-dependent culture is in the throes of a cultural crisis that is trying to surcharge itself by adding to the ever-growing genocidal numbers of human sacrifice – very sterile, very latex, very ‘clinical’ – but sacrificial nonetheless.

  2. This is unrelated, but I don’t know where else to ask: Where are your writer’s guidelines? Or do you not take unsolicited submissions?


  3. I am not sure that I would consider the Reformation a high point of Christian culture, in fact I would probably include that a beginning point as the degradation of culture and Western civilization (certainly Christiandom). Even secular historians such as Barzun agree that the Reformation was really a revolution and the beginning of decadence. You speak of relativism–who lit the spark of total relativism concerning authority and Christ’s Church on earth? It really is not a long path from Luther to libertines or from Calvin to Harvard Unitarianism.
    Look at modern Protestants and evangelicals–is this your high point of Christian art–big box churches devoid of any liturgy, crosses, much less sacraments? In fact many of them take great pains to make people think and believe that they are actually not even in a church. I don’t share in your effervescent jubilation.

  4. Scott – two names, but I could cite many more, Shakespeare and Bach, direct fruits of the Reformation. I agree with you about the link between Luther and Unitarianism etc I would include the US Constitution as a fruit of this relativist spirit: the rejection of authority external to the individual.

    Jeff H. – very interesting post! Thank you for alerting us to Girard’s work

  5. As long as art becomes beautiful again, so that anyone can appreciate it as such, that will be enough.

  6. Andrew, a picked nit, please, with your response to Scott who disagreed that the “Reformation” was a high point in culture. You responded with the name of Shakespeare. Surely by now, with all the research available to you in such publications as Pearce’s books on the subject, you must recognize the Catholic mind of Shakespeare. That he lived under the religious persecution of EI does nothing to protestantize (“reform”?) either the man or his work.

    A larger issue is your term “radical orthodoxy.” What does that mean? If you’re referring to the Church’s position on issues like a female priesthood, contraception, abortion, or the illegitmacy of homosexual unions–how is that “radical”? The Church’s position on these matters is simply an unchanged one; it would be “radical” only if the beholder disagrees with them.

    As for a “return to the certainties and security of the medieval,” again, such phrasing is revealing only of the beholder. It sounds as though you’d like to imply “blissful ignorance” of the medievals. Some historical research (not reformation-revisionist) might alter your view. At no other time in human history were such strides made in civilization as in the medieval era. If you’re referring to the movement to return to a Latin Mass, I don’t think you can assert any intention to return to medievalism. Only those who are too heavily invested in modernism to tolerate expressions of tradition do that. They are a bit to be pitied; their investment did not pay off as they expected. But if you’re referring to the “certainties and security” of faith, and by extension, implying that it no longer exists–well, you’re simply wrong. It does. And it hasn’t changed a bit. It’s as certain and secure now as it was then.

  7. Dana – my point was not about Shakespeare’s private beliefs but that his work was the fruit of a culture defined by the Renaissance and Reformation rupture with the Medieval. For “Radical Orthodoxy” please see Wikipedia

  8. Andrew,
    The Widipedia definition of the term (“Radical Orthodoxy is a postmodern Christian theological movement founded by John Milbank that takes its name from the title of a collection of essays published by Routledge in 1999: Radical Orthodoxy, A New Theology, edited by John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward….

    The name ‘radical orthodoxy’ was chosen initially since it was a more snappy title for the book series – initially Milbank considered the movement to be ‘postmodern critical Augustianianism’ [sic], emphasising the use of a reading of St Augustine coloured by the insights of postmodernism in the work of the group. .”) has no bearing on your post, which declares it a theological “fashion” that sees modernism as a failed experiment and which somehow indicates a return to medievalism–or an attempt to return to the “certainties and security” of the medieval. But the connotation of “radical” is oxymoronic to “orthodoxy,” and cannot be affixed to it except in a perjorative context of orthodoxy–which is indeed the context in which you place it. Its use begs the question that orthodoxy should be seen in such a context.

    The mere fact that Shakespeare lived and wrote during the reigns of Elizabeth and James does nothing to make either the man or his work in any way an expression of the “Reformation.” I know of no reputable scholar, Protestant or Catholic, who would suggest that. On the contrary, our knowledge of his life suggests strongly that he was a Catholic recusant; his work reveals a universe completely Catholic–even overtly so. There is never even a hint of a Protestant worldview. The wonder would be that he was allowed to live and to write under EI at all, except that we know her anti-Catholic “religious convictions” were very often put aside for those she found amusing, entertaining, etc.

    Your rather blithe reference to “corrupt” medieval popes ignores the existence of so many (more) holy popes of that period, and again begs the question that the civilizing force of Catholic Christianity was corrupt. It is indicative of the anti-Catholic view of history common to Protestant revisionists.

    And finally, you assert that “The only danger [of relativism] is that [it] should not become a dictatorship.” I do not know how you have managed to escape the fact that this dictatorship ceased to be a mere “danger” quite a long time ago.

    Nevertheless, I found your post interesting in many ways.

  9. Dena, thank you for your insightful post. I too wondered about Andrew’s inclusion of Shakespeare with a discussion about the degrading and destructive effects of the Reformation–on Joseph Pearce’s blog no less! In fact it is precisely through Mr. Pearce’s books that one comes to the understanding the Shakespeare was a Catholic or at least had Catholic “mind” as you put it. Your comments about perspective and radicalness are also great. Your post is spot on!

  10. Andrew Thornton-Norris has made a helpful synthesis of the effects of taking away our roots in God. Thank you for stating this clearly.

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