Addenda

28 Sep

The rulers of the world bowed before Christ’s throne

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 09/28/15

Oliver O’Donovan on Christendom and the Church’s mission

“What claim has this ‘Christendom’, this millennium and a half of respectfulness on the part of Gentile lords, upon our interest now? Not the claim of revelation, certainly, which is the claim of Israel and the Christ. Nor even the claim of tradition, since tradition is continuity, and its claim is the claim of what has proved its worth by survival. We now have little continuity with Christendom; it is not our tradition anymore; its assumptions are alien to us. Its claim on us is simply that of witness. It attests, as a matter of history, the actual impact of the Christian faith on European politics, and it expounds this impact in its developed political reflections. Those who ruled in Christendom and those who thought and argued about government believed that the Gospel was true. They intended their institutions to reflect Christ’s coming reign. We can criticize their understanding of the Gospel; we can criticize their applications of it; but we can no more be uninterested in their witness then an astronomer can be uninterested in what people see through telescopes. And while no testimony to Christ can safely be ignored, this one lays claim with a special seriousness; for although it is no longer our tradition, we are its dénouement, or perhaps its débâcle. It was the womb in which our late-modernity came to birth. Even our refusal of Christendom has been learned from Christendom. Its insights and errors have fashioned, sometimes by repetition and sometimes by reaction, the insights and errors which comprise the platitudes of our own era.

“Christendom, then, offers two things: a reading of those political concepts with which Scripture furnishes us, and a reading of ourselves and of our situation from a point of observation outside ourselves but not too far outside. Either of these readings we are free to question or to doubt; but for neither of them can we find a ready substitute. The more the political character of Israel’s hope engages us, the more we need to know how it has actually shaped the government of nations. The more the problem of our own modernity engages us, the more we need to see modernity against its background.

“I use the term ‘Christendom’ (in keeping with a good deal of current discussion) to refer to a historical idea: that is to say, the idea of a professionally Christian secular political order, and the history of that idea in practice. Christendom is an era, an era in which the truth of Christianity was taken to be a truth of secular politics. . . . Let us say that the era lies between ad 313, the date of the Edict of Milan, and 1791, the date of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, though these moments are symbolic only, and others could no doubt be found that would do as well. In the course of this period, the idea of Christendom developed and underwent corrections and elaborations; sometimes it was taken to apply more, sometimes less. Yet the idea is always there, giving a unity to the whole era which entitles it to the name ‘Christendom’: it is the idea of a confessionally Christian government, at once ‘secular’ (in the proper sense of that word, confined to the present age) and obedient to Christ, a promise of the age of his unhindered rule.

“The rulers of the world have bowed before Christ’s throne. The core idea of Christendom is therefore intimately bound up with the church’s mission. But the relationship between mission and Christian political order should not be misconstrued. It is not, as is often suggested, that Christian political order is a project of the church’s mission, either as an end in itself, or as a means to the further missionary end. The church’s one project is to witness to the Kingdom of God. Christendom is a response to mission, and as such a sign that God has blessed it. It is constituted not by the church’s seizing alien power, but by alien power’s becoming attentive to the church.”

— from Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)

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28 Sep

Not just a counterculture

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 09/28/15

Peter J. Leithart on the public (and prophetic) mission of the Church

“The mission of the Church can be described as a double movement. On the one hand, the Church is called to withdraw from the world, to be a counterculture, a separate city within the world’s cities, challenging and clashing with the world by unapologetically speaking her own language, telling her own stories, enacting her own rites, practicing her own way of life. Though she shares considerable cultural space with the world, the Church is not an institution in the world alongside other institutions. She is an alternative world unto herself, with her roots in heaven, formed by being drawn into the community of Father, Son and Spirit.

“The Church is not, however, simply a counterculture. She has been given the subversive mission of converting whatever culture she finds herself in. She works to the end that her language, her rites, and her way of life might become formative for an entire society. She withdraws from the world for the sake of the world. Having been drawn into the communion of the triune God, she participates also in the mission of the triune God.”

—from Peter J. Leithart: Against Christianity (Canon Press, 2003)

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27 Sep

Seeing the world from somewhere

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 09/27/15

Robert Spaemann on why education can’t be “objective”

Robert Spaemann

“Teaching a language is the model for all other education. To educate means to introduce a person into one’s own world, to interpret the world, to train a person to make distinctions, whether it be the distinction between a blackbird and a robin, between a brook and a canal, and between a Mercedes and a Volkswagen, or on the other hand the distinction between the important and the trivial, between the beautiful and the ugly, and between good and evil.

“The distinctions just mentioned are not ones we can learn in a merely theoretical way. We learn to distinguish between the important and the trivial only through the practice of acts of preference, deferral, and renunciation. We learn to distinguish between ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’ by growing out of the crude judgments that ‘I like that’ and ‘I don’t like that,’ and by fashioning in ourselves an organ for the perception of objective qualities. But this happens in the first place through an encounter with beauty, through involvement with the beautiful, and through learning to do whatever one does in a beautiful manner. The distinction between good and evil, however, is something we acquire only by learning to take one side and to be against the other — and perhaps in certain circumstances even to be against ourselves; we acquire it by learning that the world is a battlefield between good and evil and that this battle goes on even in our own heart. . . .

“[M]any think that . . . we ought simply to expose young people ‘non-judgmentally’ to various possible worldviews. An exposure of this sort is supposed to be what first teaches a person the attitude of general tolerance, and for the rest, when a person cannot avoid making a choice, it teaches the ability to make a free decision. As if it were possible to choose something that one never got to know from the inside!

“This way of looking at things is a profound and fateful anthropological and pedagogical error. If a person believes that there are many different paths man could take to reach his goal, he does not infer the resolution to follow one of them in a faithful way. Instead, he draws the inference that there is no need to follow any particular path, and he leaves them all as hypothetical. The pathological inability to make a commitment that afflicts many young adults today is already the product of such an approach to education. We prevent young people from experiencing the power that a demanding view of the world and man has to open up reality, merely because we want to give them the possibility of looking at reality from some other perspective. This is a great injustice to children.”

—from Robert Spaemann, “Education as an Introduction to Reality," Humanum: Issues in Family, Culture & Science (2015, no. 1)

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26 Sep

Keeping "the good" in the common good

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 09/26/15

D. C. Schindler on the metaphysical character of real community

“[T]he possibility of genuine community depends on the existence of goods that have a reality that transcends their relativity to individuals, or in other words are able to be possessed by many at once. A common good is more than a sum of individual goods; even though it is a good for individuals, it is good for them precisely as universal. . . . If I pursue a good, not (merely) because I like it or want it or need it or find it useful, but simply because it is good, in that act I transcend myself in my individuality and so open to others in an intrinsic way: we can actually be with each other only on the basis of a good that transcends us both. . . .

“The common good is not necessarily a different thing from an individual good, but rather what we might describe as a more profound way of representing any good, whatever it might be. The key question is whether we take something as good in itself, as true, or we functionalize it or otherwise relativize it to something particular. To illustrate this point, let us consider some concrete examples. Education could be understood in different ways, and whether it counts as a common good — i.e., whether it serves genuinely to found community — depends on the precise way in which it is understood. If we promote it as a common good in the strict sense, it means that there is something intrinsically good about an educated human being; that education means the flourishing of humanity, which means that it allows the truth of humanity to be actualized; and that this truth has no need for anything beyond itself to justify itself as worthy of pursuit. If, by contrast, we think of education as training for some profession, as a means of acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to live a successful life, and so forth, then even if we seek to make education available to as many human beings as possible, we are not in fact promoting it as a common good. To deny it this character, of course, does not imply that education so conceived is therefore an evil, but it does mean that we need to think of it differently if we are to have a community. . . .

“Given our cultural climate, we almost cannot help but reduce the common good to some collectivist form. To take a final, provocative example, we might consider the arguments typically offered against the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. The state’s ‘compelling interest’ is explained in terms of the material harm to individuals, in this case, above all the children. This is a consequentialist argument. It may be true, and its truth may be crucially important, but it is not, strictly speaking, an argument about the common good, at least as it is generally framed. To become such, the argument would have to reject same-sex marriage in the first place because it betrays the truth of human sexuality, regardless of the implications of that truth. If one were to object that an argument of this sort does not carry weight, one is conceding that truth is less significant to human beings than material well-being. If one were to add that such an argument simply cannot be made in our society, one is actually saying that we do not have a society: a society, understood as a human community, can be founded only on the common good, and if a ‘society’ restricts appeal at best to a collection of individual goods, it is denying the one thing that makes it possible. . . .

“In a word, one cannot promote community without promoting goodness in its highest sense, and this means not only promoting what are called ‘values’ but a deepening of understanding, or rather, the ordering of the soul to the truth of the good.”

—from D. C. Schindler, “Enriching the Good: Toward a Development of a Relational Anthropology,” Communio 37 (Winter 2010)

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22 Sep

Assimilation or identity in Christ

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 09/22/15

Francisco Javier Martínez Fernández on the choice facing the Church

“[A] Church that understands itself and reality through the prevailing categories of secular modernity (whether in their postmodern or Enlightenment form, or merely constituted as reactions to either of these) is doomed to disappear. Or at any rate, it will undergo such a metamorphosis that its continuity with ‘historical’ Christianity would be broken (indeed, it has in part already been broken). . . . Moreover, a Church that uses secular categories is incapable of having a productive and sincere encounter with people of other religious and cultural traditions. To the extent that it adapts itself to the categories of secular modernity, it takes on the precise role that modernity assigns to it; insofar as it embraces this role, the Church can only dissolve, or else be an instrument of violence and division. In order to meet every man and every woman in a way that allows all of us—Christians and non-Christians—to grow in our common humanity, the Church must free itself from the categories of modernity and recover its identity from within its own particular tradition.”

“The Church only exists in concrete cultural forms, on which the encounter with Christ—which from the beginning has always occurred in concrete cultural form—has had varying degrees of impact. This encounter can be the determining factor of the human experience, or it can remain merely a partial or marginal aspect thereof. The task of Christian education consists entirely of helping people pass from the latter condition to the former. For people in the latter situation, the categories determining Christian life continue to be those of the surrounding culture. And those categories will influence and weigh on the thought of individuals and peoples depending on how decisive the encounter with the Risen and Living Christ, Center and Lord of the cosmos and of history, has been in determining their self-awareness and awareness of reality.”

“Leaving the distinction between modern and postmodern cultures aside—though I do not claim that it is unimportant—the view of Christianity is fundamentally the same in both variations of secular culture: Christianity is a subset of the ‘religion’ category, and this fact clearly sets it apart from other spheres of human activities such as rational knowledge, work and art, the economy, ethics, and politics. Because it is ‘religion,’ it is assigned certain characteristics so that it will fit into the term’s preexisting, modern definition: religion is, above all, a set of beliefs that are not rationally verifiable, and are therefore designated ‘religious sentiment’ and assigned to the irrational realm of preference. They must remain tokens of a past culture fit only for a museum, or they must be contained within the private sphere. Because these beliefs are irrational and rigidly separated from the other spheres of human activity, they may not be guidelines for anything ‘real’ that has social significance or value—whether politics, economics, or family life. In general, these beliefs are depicted in fixed ritual expressions established by tradition and are often used as a foundation for specific ethical codes. An ethical code will be tolerated as long as its members live it as a free, private choice: that is, as long as it is not imposed by any person or institution, and as long as it cannot interfere with other beliefs and other ethical systems. If religion and the ethical code derived from it sought to emerge from the strictly private realm or the realm of folklore, they would become sources of violence. The mission and duty of preventing this violence falls to the state, the supreme protector and guarantor of individual liberties and the common good.”

“Given the assumptions of secular, modern society, the Church is left with two fundamental possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive, and which can be combined in different ways and to varying degrees. Either the Church accepts its role as a cultural leftover from the past, or it must dissolve into the surrounding society. The former means transforming into an optional collection of individuals who share certain beliefs, rights, moral rules, and tastes concerning one aspect of life that remains separate from the other aspects and is called ‘religious.’ The latter road leads before long to the disappearance of any identifiable Christian social reality, or at least of any Christian reality that can be identified with its own Tradition.”

—from Francisco Javier Martínez Fernández, “Church, Modernity, and Multiculturalism: An Extemporaneous Reflection,” in Retrieving Origins and the Claims of Multiculturalism (Eerdmans, 2014), edited by Antonio López and Javier Prades

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