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Watchmen and Witnesses
We look for his coming again with great glory… Hope, Patience and the Witness of the Church to World, Market and State
1. The Watchmen People
Hope, Waiting and Looking Out
The Church lives in the world. The world receives all its life and prosperity from God, and receives it through the generations that have preceded it. The Church reminds the world that it is not the source of its own existence but that the present world is formed by its relationship with past and with future generations. It is the city on a hill, its sentries posted on its walls. Christians issue their challenge in every public assembly. They ask whether the local powers and authorities are claiming too much for themselves. The Church looks out to what is coming and it looks forward to what God will do.
‘Son of man I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel, so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me’ (Ezekiel 33.7).
Watching Christians bear witness before against kings and governors and make ‘supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone in positions of authority’ (1 Timothy 2.1). The church must watch and keep awake.
‘It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake’ (Mark 13.34).
They wait for the dawn. The church must be ready to give the alarm when it sees danger. It cannot be afraid to speak out. ‘Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated’ (1 Peter 3. 14). It must say why it finds certain developments threatening.
‘Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3.15)
The Spirit equips the people of God so that they can carry out this task. It gives them what they need to protect themselves.
Take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6.13-17) ‘Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints’ (Ephesians 6.10-18)
2. We Live by Faith
Life under the Cross The Christian lives by faith. The promise of God is the one sure thing on which the Christian stands. We look forward to God's redemption of his promises, we pray, asking God for what we do not yet have. Here we have no continuing city, but we look forward to the city that will come. Christians live against the stream: we are going one way while the world is going the other. We are going against them and they are going against us. The world pushes, and is amazed
when we do not push back. We are peace-keepers, put unarmed into the middle of every conflict, doves among wolves. We soak up all the grief and distress experienced by the world. It is our privilege to experience the rage of the world. ‘By faith’ means life lived away from home, as an army away on operations must live without seeing its homes and families or affirmation, reinforcement, reward. The army may be unable to see its leader or the future vindication of its present hardship in victory. We live in small detachments of this army; we are unable to see the army as a whole or our general. As long as we are away from camp and must endure this hardship, and the ignorance of the overall strategic situation that goes with it. We may wonder whether we will ever reach the place to which we are heading, but we persevere nonetheless. Christian Suffering and Endurance We are the victorious and invincible people. Precisely because we are invincible we may now suffer and bear the resistance of the world in order to bring the world to Christ. We bear ‘what is still lacking in Christ’s sufferings’. We suffer the resentment, incomprehension and fury of the world. Since the Church stands where Christ stands, it receives the very same hostility. Its power to endure this hostility, and not to crack or wither under it, is the demonstration of his victory for the world. We are to soak up the grief of the world, and so participate now in Christ’s act. For the Christian, to live this life of witness to the world is the live with Christ.
‘Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain’ (Philippians 1.20-21). ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death’ (Philippians 3.10).
Christians display the sufferings and the unrecognisable and unwelcome sight of the Lord.
‘We always carry round in our body the death of Jesus’ (2 Corinthians 4.10-12).
It is a joyful labour for it is purposeful. We are not working or suffering in vain, but already experience its outcome and reward, which is the salvation of the world. We already anticipate the joy we will have then together with the very people who are still presently opposing and persecuting us. ‘We rejoice in our sufferings’ (Romans 5.3), for we are not suffering for our own salvation, for this has come to us as a sheer gift. Our salvation came through the efforts of others who passed the gospel on to us, and who put up with us and suffered our antagonism. God has paid out their lives in order to win us. We may now work and suffer in order to bring salvation to others. Our suffering or resistance is the means by which the remains of this world are scoured off us. We learn how to suffer, how to be overlooked, and how to grieve with others. We ‘mourn with those who mourn’ (Romans 12.15). We are not experiencing anything that has not be felt before by many generations of Christians. ‘No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone’ (1 Corinthians 10.13).
‘Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ’ (Galatians 6.12).
Christ is battle-hardened. He can take the pressure and the knocks. He was not taken in by the temptations or weakened by them, and now he is inured to them and does not even feel their threat. ‘Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourself with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin’ (4.1). The Christian can even ‘bear up under the pain of unjust suffering’ (1 Peter 2.19-20). He can do so when he understands that
this is what Christ does for us. This man bears the burden of the sin committed by the sinful man, but which the sinful man himself cannot possibly bear, precisely because he is sinful and therefore too weak. The righteous man can carry the sinful man, until his sin leaves him and he can carry himself.
3. Bearing Witness Before Kings and Governors
Christians submit to their rulers. The authorities have been set over us for our good.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God's servant for your good’ (Romans 13.1-4) .
Christians are ready for the discipline that will serve to pacify their passions. Even unrighteous rulers will serve this purpose.
‘Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men’ (1 Peter 2.13).
We should give our leaders the honour and praise they demand, for they are also servants of God. We cannot protest his discipline is too severe, for we are under the much more severe discipline of God.
‘I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for leaders and all in positions of authority’ (1 Timothy 2.1).
Christians bear witness before against kings and governors. Before every bearer of authority they confess that Christ is the source of all authority and finally the only Lord. Christians bear witness before against kings and governors. They warn any lord who claims too much for himself or who is unwilling to take up his full responsibility. The trial of strength between Christ and all other lords takes place in every public assembly where Christ’s envoys confront every leader in the hearing of his own people. The Christian witnesses are to read out the accusation of God against each leader who lays hands on them, and give him one chance to confess the God of Israel.
‘On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them…just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking but the Holy Spirit.’ (Mark 13.9-11)
The Christians are the message and embassy of God to the authorities in each place. When these authorities fail to hear them, the Christians can go over their heads and direct their complaints straight to God: if they have to do this the authorities are convicted of failing in their office, and it is taken away from them. The Christians will be handed over to those in power.
‘Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 13.9).
Overcoming Evil The world may be explicitly hostile. When we are being engaged in combat we stand, side by side, ‘contending as one man’, so that we hold together as one unit. We are to ‘endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 2.2). We need to be properly equipped to withstand the missiles that are coming our way. We are to ‘put on the full armour of God so you can take your stand’.
‘Our struggle is against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6.11).
We have to take the battering, soak up the punishment that the opposition puts up (1 Peter). We have to ‘withstand all the fiery arrows’ (James). We have to stand ‘without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign that they will be destroyed’ (Philippians 1.28). We may stand without flinching. This is the sign (miracle) to them, that you are without fear, and thus that they have no means of holding you. We may overcome evil simply by taking what is thrown at us and remaining unmoved by it. We can soak up all that those in power throw at us and return their cursing with our blessing. The World will hate You Christ was unrecognised and regarded as repugnant. Christ’s people evoke the same disgust.
Blessed are they who suffer any kind of s persecutions because of my name (Matthew) ‘Blessed are you when men hate you and when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man’ (Luke 6.22). ‘The world will hate you, because of my name… A time is coming when anyone who kills you thinks he is offering a service to God’ (John 16.2).
Christians display in their persons the sufferings of Christ, unrecognisable and unwelcome and so the world recoils from us. ‘We always carry round in our body the death of Jesus’ (2 Corinthians 4.10). Every member of the Church has the responsibility to speak up. Not to do so is to be complicit in whatever injustice is done. ‘If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify about whatever he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible’ (Leviticus 5.1). Leaders who do not lead and watchmen who do not pass on the warning, carry the resultant sin or death of others.
‘Speak to your countrymen and say to them: When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him a watchmen and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes a takes his life, his blood will be upon his own head’ (Ezekiel 33.1).
4. Christians Wait
Eschatology and Christian Hope The Church looks forward in hope. The Church that says that human being is not yet what he will be, holds out the possibility of our redemption. Whilst secular eschatologies announce that man has already arrived, and already is everything that he ever will be, Christian accounts say it is not so. We cannot consider the human being simply as another animal, without ambition or hope. Man may yet take us all by surprise. The church is the guarantor that man is not yet entirely known and controlled, and thus that each generation may continue to make new discoveries about man. The modern tradition asserts that contemporary man is the pinnacle of all earlier history and that man is therefore all that he ever will be. This tradition asserts that the world has absorbed and overcome the various distinct traditions of nations and religions. It insists that it, the ‘secular’ tradition, is the whole truth, already. It claims that man is already Christ, or with a little more time will turn into Christ. Then we will be king, and we will all be kings and none of us will be servants. ‘Already you are kings, and this without us’ (1 Corinthians 2). It is
the hubris and conceit of this claim that the Church challenges and it does so by pointing out that the secular tradition, or traditions, represent one form of life amongst others. The stubborn existence of the Church demonstrates the untruth of the claim of the present generation to universality. Christians must insist that the distinction between religion and secular, between church and world, are fundamental. Until Christ comes, we may not abolish the distinction between the church and the world, or say that there is no a gap between what we have and what we desire. As soon as we say that man may no longer hope, or define man without consideration of his purposes and aspirations, we take away his freedom. Christian faith teaches that ‘Christian society’ is not the kingdom of God or the end-times. The most Christian society can be is civil society, under the rule of law, in which the Christian community and its tradition is partner and participant. The secular sphere not only has a Christian origin, but it is always sourced by the gospel that distinguishes between ‘now’ and ‘not yet’. Only Christianity makes a secular sphere, and without Christianity secularism becomes a fundamentalism, and thus no longer secular. When we abolish the distinction between church and world we have removed our means to control or direct ourselves and thereby turned man into a fundamentally pre-social or asocial being, who can only be controlled externally, by a class of controllers. Then we have created a two-class society, of controlled and controllers. If we abolish the duality of present and future, we create a more severe dualism of controlled and controllers: if we disallow a duality of present and future, we get a dualism of class. The catholicity of the Church is the control on the pretensions of any particular state. It means that the Church is more than the State’s religious department. The Church must say that there are many states and forms of governance, many modes of arranging the public square and performing the tasks that are required. There is no one Christian form, and thus no ‘theocracy’. The Church holds out the promise of the future catholicity – and insists that it is future, it is not the present possession of this society or its state and leaders. The gospel prevents the excessive claims of one generation over all others. The Saints Wait Christ is not simply behind us in the past, but also ahead of us and future to us. But this does not mean that he is not simply located further on the direction in which we are all heading. It is not the case that, given the passing of time, that we inevitably catch up with him; we do not know that we are pointing in the right direction, and if we are not pointing in his direction, we will certainly never catch up with him. There is no inevitability about this future. Historical processes do not bring us closer to our him nor take us further away from him. Nevertheless from out of the unknown, he will come. The whole purpose of Christian existence in the world to say that the world is not yet what it will be, and that it does not know itself as it thinks it does. The world does not control its own definition or future. The saints wait patiently. They look forward to what they do not yet have. They are not taken in by our present comfort. They point out that things may not yet be what they seem, and that what is truly real is what has reality in the end. Much of what we presently see and take to be real, may turn out not to have had the reality we thought it had. They call God and ask him to be with us. We ask him to unite us with those with those that historical distance separates us from. We proclaim that God is not yet as he will be here. We have to wait for him and lament his absence. This is the Christian calling in history. They wait cheerfully, with no despair or resort to cynicism. The Whole Gospel Protects the People The whole truth, given by the gospel, safeguards the whole people, not only those who believe that they have already arrived, but also so who have not yet arrived, at the summit of human existence.
‘Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3.15) ‘We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10.4-5)
In every generation the Church is asked to offer a simpler gospel. In its attempt to speak more clearly to the world the church searches around for simplifications of the gospel that represent ways in to dialogue. We can all offer new ways of being Christian, but we must argue for them and persuade other Christians of their rightness by showing that they are not new inventions, our but faithful interpretations. The church that is proposing a new interpretation has to argue that it is the proper evangelical interpretation of Christian teaching for the particular circumstances in the particular part of the world to which this church is called to be a witness. It must be the very basic presumption of all Christians that, because we belong to Christ, we belong to one another and owe an account of our action to every part of the Church. We must always explain what we are doing and seek to persuade others of its rightness. We see these reductions and segmentations of knowledge in the compartmentalisation of knowledge in the modern university. What is to ensure that these dilutions really still represent the whole body of knowledge? Successive simplifications and reductions of it have turned the gospel into the various ideologies of modernity. They want to make it impossible for us to think of ourselves in relationship to God, and therefore to think of ourselves as whole being. Without the full gospel, we are exposed to many forms of reductive alien intellectual domination. Modern reductions of the gospel play down the element of judgment. When it does so, we take too seriously the public consensus that we are all victims and none of us is responsible. The Church must interrupt the monologue of the secular liturgy and deflate its pretensions. Gospel Improvers and Unreliable Witnesses People whose gullibility makes them vulnerable need protection. They have to be given the name that they can use for their protection. We cannot take away from them the one thing that will secure and aid them. To offer them only a reduced gospel, and reduced account of themselves, is to under-represent God or misrepresent God. But much more it is to leave the weak exposed. This is to break the second commandment by taking the name of the Lord in vain. This insufficient gospel, not give them the necessary warnings, the necessity safety talk appropriate , that would prepare them for the danger they face. To give them a realistic idea of the danger they face. The gospel must come to them with hope and with warning and judgment. The church must identify those simplifications which do not introduce but reduce the gospel. They betray Christ, but more importantly they betray the people Christ came for. The sin against the whole people of God is sin against the last and least, the ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’. These teachers want to gain control over us so they can access power from us. We have to be adamant and refuse to give ourselves away to them. Left to themselves heretics may become dictators. They say what is permitted and the gullible believe them. Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray’ (Mark 13.6). ‘Israel's sentries are blind, they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs that cannot bark; dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber’ (Isaiah 56.10). ‘The man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber’ (John 10). Whatever corresponds to the cross helps us identify the truth of Christ. The true shepherd ‘calls his sheep by name and leads them out. When he brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow because they know his voice’(John 10).
Heresies and New Agendas We have said that the Church responds to rival accounts of the world. These are made up of options which occur in new combinations over the centuries. But in new combinations the views that the Church rejected are still here. The Church identified these as paths that we may not take, but they make up the worldviews of the world to which the Church speaks. They are substitute gospels that claim something that is superficially similar to the gospel, which but do much less. The Church defends the real gospel because it alone is able to defend the weak from the predatory. But such options are also continually brought back into the church by those who fail to recognise them as old heresies. Each of the rival views identified and rejected formally by the Church is represented by the various therapies and corresponding branch of social science and law. It is the task of the Church to point out that they are not new at all, that we have not broken through into a new era. The Church must not capitulate to other teachings or to teachers who are reluctant to pass the whole gospel on.
‘You put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face’ (2 Corinthians 11.20). ‘They are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved’ (1 Thessalonians 2.15). ‘Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered and you have hindered those who were entering’ (Luke 11.52). ‘They have left the straight road and have gone astray. It would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back’ (2 Peter 2.15-21)
Each church has to convince all other churches that the presentation of doctrine it proposes is good and faithful. They have to reason and convince one another in the councils of the Church, showing that their teaching is in continuity with the teaching of the whole Church through history.
Confronting Tyrants and Other Messiahs
Christianity is not Identical with European Civilisation We now take up the historical account from the end of the nineteenth century. The contradiction of European culture was made obvious when in 1914 two self-confessedly Christian nations went to war, and all other nations of Europe along with their colonies lined up on either side. The suddenness of this violence was shocking, contradicting all the claims of European civilisation about its relationship to goodness, truth and reason. Such violence was assumed to have been put behind us by the centuries spent teaching one another civility, the long pacification of mankind. The war was a shattering return to a medieval savagery that it had been assumed had been left behind after the seventeenth century, the last time that religion was evoked in war in Europe. Rage and unreason had burst out again. We have considered the claim of the Republic of Man in its ancient and modern forms. Its modern form claims that all talk of God is divisive and that man must finally put himself beyond religion. The Republic has to build society anew, removing all previous foundations and build again from scratch, without reference to any of those traditions that it denounces as religious. But without God, the State is always likely to exceed its mandate and build an abstract man, a Society that towered above all men. The building of this colossus would consume the populations of nations. The nineteenth century had started with Robespierre to
Napoleon, the movement from terror to totalitarian state power. The totalitarian republics of the twentieth century, of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and the Chinese cultural revolution were similarly driven by the idea that society had to be reinvented and must be established again on clear ground. But, however self-confessedly atheistic, but with their cult of personality and cult of the ‘New Man’, such dictatorships has simply created their own new religion, very like that of the Caesar cult of Imperial Rome. In the economic and cultural meltdown that followed the First World War, came the same state of emergency and need to grant extraordinary powers to the emergent leader who undergoes a personal struggle (Mein Kampf) to identify the enemy, and then to lead his people so that his struggle becomes their Struggle. Europeans chose rulers who made messianic claims for themselves and their nation, who identify a class- or national-enemy, (so that the problem is always outside us) and promise to deliver the nation from this enemy by undergoing a costly process of national renewal through revolution. This renewal involves us in wading through blood, initially the blood of our enemies, but increasingly our own blood, in a process of purgation from which the nation will arise like a phoenix, or die, destroying the nation in the course of saving it.
5. Christian Faithfulness in the Twentieth Century
Karl Barth suggested that European theology was under the judgment of God. The Church had failed to remain distinct from the nation. It had not passed on to the nation the gospel which can truly save us from self-destruction. The confession of God took on an additional urgency in the 1930s, as it became clear that only this confession could halt the ideological and demonic claims of the run-away state. The Church had to identify a new idolatry and learn again how to oppose it. Bonhoeffer and Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 -1945) was one of the Christians re-discovering the Church’s need to distinguish itself from the state. Though Bonhoeffer taught theology in the university of Berlin, he left in order to set up a new seminary that would teach the Christian faith in , not as a cultural artefact, not so that the Christian religion could be moulded to serve the state, but as a discipleship through which we could become truly human. Bonhoeffer found that the university was unable to allow Christian theology to speak clearly and make its distinctive contribution. The Church had been the original sponsor of the university in Europe, for it was the source of the high definition of human being and calling that had formed the Christian basis of the humanities. But the university could only concede the sort of religion that would serve the state. Under these circumstances, in order to function as prophetic witness, Christian theologians had to withdraw from university and other public cultural arenas and return to the Church. In three works – The Cost of Discipleship, Ethics, and Communio Sanctorum Bonhoeffer argued that Christians are called apart from the world, and must display this separate identity before the world and for its sake. Kant wanted an account of man without God, anthropology without theology. Bonhoeffer reply that, by making anthropology everything, Kant has succeeded in turning it into a dreadful theology of demonised man. Along with Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer said that theology was the proper way to anthropology, but only when theology is heard on its own terms – as God's knowledge of himself given to us, to shape our knowledge of ourselves as his creatures. In The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer asserts that we are not individuals because we are members of a particular culture that values individuality, but because we are members of the Church. We have disastrously got civilisation confused with Christianity. Europeans are not by definition Christians. We have forgotten that the Church is not the world. The best gift to the world is that the Church be clearly different so the distinctiveness of its gospel can be
seen. To recapture Luther’s teaching that it is simply the act of God, the grace and generosity of God, we have to learn again all those forms of discipleship that we associated with catholic and even medieval Church. The monasticism of saint Benedict is the defensive form that the Church has to return to whenever it is threatened. We have to relearn how to withdraw from the world while remaining in it. We are monks in the world, and only as such are we truly worldly, able to point the world to a much higher definition of itself.
‘The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organised Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost. We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptised, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. … what had happened to all those warnings of Luther’s against preaching the gospel in such a manner as to make men rest secure in their ungodly living? Was there ever a more terrible or disastrous instance of the Christianising of the world than this?’ (Cost of Discipleship 12)
In response to Kant, Bonhoeffer said that men cannot make themselves individuals. Truly to become individuals, we must be drawn out of our pathological obsession with ourselves and this can only happen if we are seized by someone who is not ourselves – God.
‘Through the call of Jesus men become individuals. They are compelled to decide, and that decision can only be made by themselves. It is no choice of their own that makes them individuals: it is Christ who makes them individual by calling them. Every man is called separately, and must follow alone.’ (Cost of Discipleship 48). But we are made individual only in the Church. ‘No one can become a new man except by entering the Church, and becoming a member of the Body of Christ. It is impossible to become a new man as solitary individual.’ (Cost of Discipleship 180).
The only rescue for Christians, and for Protestant Christians in particular, is to discover again that they are members of the Church.
‘The Body of Christ is identical with the new humanity which he has taken upon him. It is in fact the Church. Since Pentecost in the life of Christ has been perpetuated on earth in the form of his Body, the Church. Here is his body, crucified and risen, here is the humanity he took upon him. To be baptised therefore means to be a member of the Church, a member of the Body of Christ. To be in Christ therefore means to be in the Church. (Cost of Discipleship 179)
The way forward is to learn the old discipline and discipleship. Bonhoeffer rescues Luther from all the cultural accretions that have sanctified him and made Europe deaf to his warning.
‘This is exactly the conclusion that Luther reached with regard to the Christian’s secular calling during those critical years when he was turning his back on the cloister. It was not so much the lofty standards of monasticism that he repudiated, as their interpretation in terms of individual achievement. It was not the otherworldliness as such that he attacked, but the perversion of otherworldliness into a subtle kind of ‘spiritual’ worldliness. To Luther’s mind that was a most insidious perversion of the gospel. The otherworldliness of the Christian life ought, Luther concluded, to be manifested in the very midst of the world, in the Christian community and in its daily life. Hence the Christian’s task is to live out that life in terms of his secular calling. That is the way to die to the world…and engage more vigorously in the assault on the world and everything it stands for.’ 200
‘First, all theological work can be undertaken and accomplished only amid great distress, which assails it on all sides. But though this distress may befall theology from within and without, it is ultimately caused by the object of theology itself. Without judgment and death there is no grace and no life for anybody or anything, and, least of all, for theology’. (Evangelical Theology p. 159).
Barth and Bonhoeffer argue that by making anthropology everything, Kant has succeeded in making a theology of man without God, which has the effect of isolating man from his neighbour and fellow man. Theology insists that Christ is the mediator of man to man.
‘Christ wants to be the centre, through him alone all things shall come to pass. He stands between us and God, and for that reason he stands between us and all other men and things. He is the Mediator, not only between God and man, but between man and man, between man and reality.’ (Cost of Discipleship p. 49)
Confronting the Run-Away State Barth and Bonhoeffer were part of a minority of the Church in Germany that identified that the country was being overtaken by a huge idolatry. The claim that ‘Hitler is Leader’ was so close to the claim that ‘Hitler is Lord’ that Christians must publicly reply that Jesus Christ is the sole leader of the German people. This was the purpose of the declaration made in 1934 in Barmen. But it was a minority of the Church that made this public confession. The majority Church did not see that political claims had become religious and messianic to the point at which a new and terrible politics cult had formed. They did not identify the political claims of national socialism as idolatry. Why did not the greater part of the Church in Germany not follow Barth and Bonhoeffer in making this declaration? Luther taught that we can take all discipline, whether just or unjust, and so whether the political sphere is run by a godly or ungodly leader really is a matter of indifference to us. It does not matter who is in power if we our faith becomes simply otherworldly. Luther’s heirs had reasserted the division between the inside man and the outer man of the political - and thus the division between (inner) religion and (outer) politics and so betrayed the Christian Luther, and followed the pagan dualism of Kant. Karl Barth on the Gospel against Political Idolatry Karl Barth (1886-1968) wrote pastoral and politically in response to the crises of the moment, above all he wrote systematically. In his Church Dogmatics he re-connected every issue to Christian doctrine as a whole, so that all our assumptions about the human mind or religious language or theological method is referred back to the gospel. We speak truthfully back the nature of man, of reason, psychology and society as these issues appear in light of the evangelical history of Jesus Christ. Barth is arguing that Christianity is the true enlightenment, and that all eighteenth and nineteenth century attempts to grasp enlightenment were simply refusals to accept enlightenment from its only possible source. For Barth, ‘a Christian cannot help but be ‘a lonely bird on the housetop (psalm 102.8), but nonetheless content. The song the Christian must sing is not an old, familiar or popular one but a strange song that will not necessarily result in great choirs joining in the refrain. To be a Christian, to anticipate here and now the future, universal praise of God, is to be a member of a limited and prophetic minority. Barth starts from the proclamation of the church – ‘Church Dogmatics’. The body that can speak with authority is the Church. According to Barth, ‘The subject of dogmatics is the Christian Church’ (Dogmatics in Outline 1). Barth’s response to the crisis represented by the First World War was to return to the Scriptures. In his Romans commentary Barth challenged the Church to return to listen to the bible without any of the biblical studies exegetical or dogmatic apparatus that had grown up around the study of the bible and Christian doctrine but which had left the unable to tell itself apart from European civilisation or from the ideological claims of European nations. When we know and have mastered the gospel, and that we no longer have to exert ourselves and to pray to receive the gospel from God, we have become merely ‘religious’ and unrighteous. We imagine that we are no longer beggars. But we cannot suborn God to make him an ally in our own projects. God is not identifiable even with the finest products of human culture, art, music, the growth of knowledge, science and sensibility and prosperity and peace on earth or even peace in Europe. In opposition to the life-philosophy, vitalism, social Darwinism, the cultural pessimism of Weber and Spengler, emotionalism, powerpolitics, the various spirits of unity or of social or national reconciliation, Barth says that the European cultural success gospel is not the truth of God. We must let God be the only Lord. Barth insists that is God is the person he is, so God comes to us in a narrative that he unfolds. There is no all-at-once God’s eye view for us. Time is the graciousness of God for us. We cannot abolish it. we cannot strip the narrative away from Scripture to find some pure ethic without this ceasing to be the Christian religion but some other without simply finding or
constructing some other religion of our own. Christology and Israel – The Riposte to Kant on the Jews Barth is replying to Kant. Kant identified the Jews as the problem. In some way the people of Israel, the Jews, are indeed the question that God has put to the people of Europe. They are witness of God to us. They have the promise of God and this people is community formed by the revelation of God to man. Barth makes the existence of this particular people central to his theology. In Dogmatics in Outline (p.63) Barth says that the Jew Jesus is Saviour and Servant of God Barth stresses after European history has tried to diminish the difference of the people of Israel and then the Church. It has the equalization and homogenization. Hitler was the climax of this process that could not tolerate foreignness, and seeks to drive it out. Hitler is defeated, Jesus the Jew has withstood his attempt to abolish or absorb him, and is victorious.
‘the attack on Judah is means the attack on the rock and work and revelation of God, beside which rock and revelation there is no other.’ (p. 67) ‘A nation which – and that was the other side of National Socialism – choose itself and makes itself the basis and measure of everything – such a nation must sooner or later collide with the truly chosen people of God.’ p. 68 A Jew, an Israelite, a Hebrew, Jesus who is the Christ – that is a bit of earthly history, which takes place on the way from Israel to the Greeks, that is, to the whole world. we cannot split Jesus Christ and seek to retain only one of the two components. Jesus Christ would not be what he is, were he not the Christ, the Commissioner who comes out of Israel, who is the Jew Jesus. But again this Jew Jesus would not be the person he is, were he not God’s Commissioner, were he not Christ who causes Israel’s life and meaning to gleam as a light to the gentile world and in the whole of humanity. p. 63 If as Christians we thought the Church and Synagogue no longer affected one another, everything would be lost. And where this separation between the community and the Jewish nation has been made complete, it is the Christian community which has suffered. The whole reality of the revelation of God is then secretly denied and as an inevitable result philosophy and ideology take the upper hand, and a Christianity of a Greek or German or some others freely chosen kind is invented. P. 66 We must strictly consider that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe, … was of necessity a Jew…the fulfilment of the covenant concluded by God with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. P. 67 The problem of Israel is, since the problem of Christ is inseparable from it, the problem of existence as such. The man who is ashamed of Israel is ashamed of Jesus Christ and therefore of his own existence… The attack on Judah means the attack on the rock of the work and revelation of God, beside which work and revelation there is no other. P. 67 A nation which – and that is the other side of National Socialism – chooses itself and makes itself the basis and measure of everything – such a nation must sooner or later collide with the truly chosen people of God p. 68 Not for their own glory was the people of Israel picked out, not the sense of a national claim, but for the other peoples and in that sense as the servant of all peoples. This people is God’s Commissioner. It has to proclaim his word; that is its prophetic mission. By its existence it has to be a witness that God not only speaks, but pledges himself in person and surrenders himself even unto death; that is its priestly mission. And finally in its political helplessness, it has as witness among the other nations to indicate the lordship of God over men; it is its kingly mission. Humanity needs this prophetic, priestly and kingly service. (p. 68)
God has given man one particular people, and of this people, one particular man, is sole access to himself. There is no way to the universal except through the particular man and men whom God has given.
6. Twentieth Century Disintegration
Inconsolable People The Man built by Modernity, is taken apart by post-modernity. We have seen that man
searches for someone to tell him who he is. We are all looking for the one who can recognise us call us by name. In the twentieth century thinkers alternately exalted and despaired at being this homeless man, who seeks recognition but receives none. The intellectual has the greatest experience of being an individual, cut off from society. The intellectual distinguishes himself from the crowd, stands against the hierarchy, the march of technology and scientific progress, in the belief that scientific progress witnesses to a universe without meaning. He despises all tradition, all the comfort and superficiality of inauthentic middle-class existence. He attempts to live life more in the raw by stepping away from the institutions and familiar received ideas. The individual is against versus the machine, the state, which is itself is a machine that reproduces workers as fodder for industry, and against technology and war. The individual, the one who cuts himself off from all others, is a problem to himself. Expressionism and existentialism were new names for this attitude of disdain. Man flees all ties and responsibility to raise himself above his peers and then bewailing his new loneliness. Much nineteenth and twentieth century literature reflects the age-old pagan belief, that man must exert himself to make himself free, before eventually being caught up and brought down by the envious forces of society and nature. The republic is the city of man who is not only without God, but without his fellow man. Nietzsche to Foucault All civilisation and government is control just over a much great absence of control. This control may be worthy and dignified, or it may be useless hypocrisy and self-deceit. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) decided that the Western tradition was just a veneer of moral respectability concealing all the competitiveness and violence about which the ancients were more honest. Nietzsche developed the new paganism of Goethe, Schopenhauer and Wagner. We saw the desire for spontaneity and freedom from artifice represented by Rousseau and Hume. Nietzsche is repeating the argument that Plato places in the mouths of the sophists, that what is ultimate is power. Callicles tells us that our natural superiority demands that we enjoy our natural advantage and gratify our desires without restraint. We must not let people talk us into self-control. We should throw off all self-control. Glaucon points out that we all want to get away with whatever we can, but don't want others to get away with anything that puts us at a disadvantage. The general public tends to believe that good people are weak. They admire the strong and calls good whatever you can get away with. Callicles (in Gorgias 482c-484c) says that it is better to commit a crime that to let anyone commit a crime against you. To suffer an injustice is truly shaming. But the majority will always be weak and know that they are unable to resist if every strong man were free to pursue their own advantage. So they settle for equal shares for all. The law is just the conspiracy of the weak against the strong. A truly strong person will see through this sham of law and society, and get on with taking he wants (Gorgias 488b-492c). The twentieth century developments that followed from Nietzsche determined that all accounts of man and the world are disguised violence, so they must be all be refused. We must exchange a universal scepticism, or hermeneutic of suspicion. Nothing can be what it claims to be. The demand of goodness and truth are simply means to drive us to do whatever serves the strong and oppresses the rest of us. What we called historicism in the nineteenth century is termed relativism and postmodernism with reference to the twentieth century. The modern or postmodern is afraid that the world is not a good place, that our knowledge of it can never be reliable. The struggle to free ourselves now requires that we examine the way we regard our own and other people’s bodies. Foucault moves the struggle for emancipation on to the body. The restraints of tradition are
written into our very bodies so the body must be stormed as the last hideout of God. Freedom means treating our bodies as disposable instruments. Sex must be divorced from community and the meanings that the community places on it. We have returned to the option represented by the ancient gnostics and Manicheans. Moderns cannot decide whether we are essentially bodies, and must obey the dictates of our biology, or whether our bodies are simply vehicles which we can use or abuse, as though nothing our body does really touched us. The modern self is a solitary and solipsistic being. It regards itself as the only real thing, and is determined not to be interrupted and inconvenienced by anything or anyone not itself. The Christian tradition calls this attitude ‘gnosticism’. This is the belief that I am solely my mind, and that I am trapped in my body, and in this world. It asserts that my mind can know the world, and other people, entirely without their aid and begin to extract itself from the limits they represent. Gnosticism is a panicked attempt to escape my past, my present situatedness, and all the plurality and ambiguity of life. It views embodiedness as entanglement and misfortune. It is a permanent temptation to believe that we are to remove ourselves from what it regards as the entangling, disgusting materiality and complications of this world and set ourselves above them. The Post-moderns assert that there are no answers or master story. The claim that there is no master story is of course itself a master story. But they have removed from the debate the means by which we can discuss their assertion. By insisting that the debate is completely open and anyone can believe everything and not be corrected they forestall real debate. Trapped in the Technological Cage With the rise of democracy and technology we have become a terrible danger to ourselves. Our technologists and technicians keep the truth, about our violence, concealed from us and they keep our violence under control. We need more technology in order to prevent any ultimately loss of control; each new generation of technology empowers a new generation of controllers . European civilisation seemed to have succeeded in controlling man by declaring that total substance and immobility (Parmenides) before movement and total flux (Heraclitus). Heidegger was the best known twentieth century representative of the long German wish to flee from substance and death to life and movement. The Germans want to run away from their fascination with immobile substance, with darkness and morbidity and, becoming Greeks, rediscover the religion of bright Mediterranean sunlight, spontaneity and joy. The body (individual) generates others and the world, but it has no means of securing and allowing this otherness. It is never secure in its relationships to others, whether persons or things. It oscillates between giving recognition and withdrawing it again. Even in giving recognition it oscillates between acknowledging what is already there, and in projecting and constructing what is not otherwise there. Only God who is truly other, and does not seek our recognition for himself, can give us the recognition that give us the security to concede recognition to one another. The Arrival of Global Man We said that social science is a form of control that does not want to say who is to control whom and for what purpose. Sociology is the science of politics from which debate has been removed in the assumption that this is the way to control what is said to be man’s inherent violence. The sociologist understands the object of his knowledge to be that of a neutral object, as though society had no more to say for itself than the object of geology. The sociologist examines society and its members without the assistance of society, without entering conversation within which that society could disagree with the sociologist and try to change his mind. For the sociologist the object of his investigation is methodologically taken to be inert and silent, so he can take no correction from it.
Through the twentieth century the humanities were replaced by the social sciences. The academic can only yearn for the society that is being dissolved away by the apparently unstoppable process of alienation brought by the forces of technology. Global man turns out to be a man without particular tastes, without memory, without personality. The media supplies him with a torrent of images of the selves he could adopt. He can select his imagination and self-image from the information and entertainment industries and as often as he is bored he can re-invented himself from the resources they give him: he is the man with of no lasting characteristics. The media is able to provide him with everything. His desires will always find their fulfilment, so he does not have to pine or lament or wait. He enjoys everything ersatz. There is nothing he can do that puts him at risk . Since he enjoys everything he experiences all life already. He cannot take a risk that and cannot throw his life away He has no criteria not mediated by the media, by which to judge what is before him. The media is a universal mediator. Bread and Circuses The news and entertainment service of the media is the liturgy of the pagan tradition. Entertainment, instant, constant and inconsequential, is the mode of pagan religion, full of gaiety and carelessness, envy and fear. Its Media present us with stock figures, narratives, crises and outcomes. It provides a stream of events that reproduce all the moments of the Western tradition, played out in differing modes – epic, comic, romantic, deathly. It continually re-runs these moments as the whole truth. All together the whole media show represents our capitulation to the fiction that we can do without each other, are already free, mature and independent, and have no need to learn anything. Our particularities are repackaged as tribalism, that together with uniforms and mass manoeuvres make for the fascism by which the most pagan of the interwar leaders tried to keep control on their people. But the cult of personality is inevitable, for people emulate, and identify individuals to models themselves on and direct their affections too. Those who have not formed much selfdiscipline direct their affections (and hates) excessively towards those figures. Theodor Adorno lamented our losses. We have given ourselves away to forces beyond our comprehension. Every relationship is reified by some commodity, but even product of my own labour becomes alien to me. We struggle to find the motivation, a malaise given intellectual respectability by the term ‘nihilism’ (‘nothing-ism’ - hopelessness). Without selfcontrol we cannot prevent ourselves from bleeding our substance away. We can do nothing that cannot be instantly calculated, and so positioned in a hierarchical nexus. Everything is just a form of shopping. All gratification and calculation of value is instant, so there is no waiting. Without waiting there we could never throw our lives away, as the monks did, by pursuing a hunch. Without risk there is no life that is worth the living. We are attempting to inure and immure ourselves against surprise, to make ourselves impassive. Flight from Reason The last of the champions of autonomy are rooting out all the stability, timelessness and sense that there are truths that are given and timelessly so, the transcendentals. It hates the thought that there are traces of this metaphysics left in our grammar from which civilisation can rebuild itself. They want to be confirmed in their fear that is flux, that there is no stability. We have a reversion to flux. It is just as though pagan thought is on a long slow oscillation from growing stability, emergence and stability, and then as Empedocles says, this changes and there is an equally long unravelling and reversion to flux and chaos. Modernity is a deracination, of pulling everything up by the roots. Modernity has become the great unreason. Expertise and excellence have become an insuperably problematic. Practical judgment has withered and been converted into science, and the triumph of science is the end of judgment, and the end of judgment is the end of responsibility. Man no longer wishes to take himself seriously as a responsible being. Our intellectuals are unable to offer any leadership
for they fear that any leadership would be elitist or the resentment of an elite that has lost its authority. The coherence of our moral practices has gone. Modernity intends to dispense with all restraint, discipline and the involvement of other people. We have to be free of the restraint of others and of the past with the result that we do not know how to serve, bear, suffer, be patient and so how to be grown up. We live as adolescence who do not wish to grow up and leave the comfort our self-indulgence creates. The compartmentalised character of our lives makes the moral and coherent and articulate life difficult. The fragmentation of the university curriculum reproduces the compartmentalization of knowledge and decision of man. On this basis a university education cannot transform our character and educate our ambitions. But without authority that comes from relationship to traditions of reason ‘I like it’ or ‘I don't like’ becomes the only response we can make. The voluntarism, fideism and antinomianism that we have seen (in Callicles) is related to the flight from the body and from the corpus of tradition. Every issue is ultimately an issue of power, so there are no issues of good, truth, order or reason. The Enlightenment has turned one sort of reason on the other. Pure reason is the criterion and practical reason is continually found inadequate and discriminated against. This means that individuals no longer need to acquire the skill of judgment. The individual loses the sense of his own authority to judge and bear responsibility – in the phrase of C.S. Lewis, the abolition of man The Modern Gnostics over-value the present. Since we do not regard our children as continuers of our own identity in any strong sense, we have let go of the basic imperative of inter-generational continuity. We don’t hold any cultural goods over in the interests of the next generation. This means that we have to both accomplish and enjoy the fruits of everything in our own short life-times. We must experience everything first hand, and adopt the lifestyle of every culture, while remaining the intellectual tourist above them all. The memory-free, tradition-erased individual browses across all forms of life and remain free of them all. In this way we belong to the tribe of the homeless minds and become incapable of the long-term relationships which sustain society. The Evacuation of Education We said that most people have to work to support themselves and their households. They do not have the economic surplus that would give them the leisure to get an education and to debate in public and learn how to achieve some independence of thought from their peers. We said that most people cannot undergo the apprenticeship through which they could achieve the attributes of the completed man. The intellectual life is a form of athleticism; it is costly and rare. Education is a form of piety, of reverence for our forebears. But Modernity is in flight from the ancestors. We profess not to believe in them, but since we are frightened of them we clearly do. We act as though the past were, a dark power, actively attempting to hold us back. We regard our own intellectual parents as the enemy. As a result the humanities are in crisis and modern education is just a faint memory of real education. Contemporary educators only communicate that nothing thought or written by any generation before us is worth our attention. Convinced heirs of Hegel, they submit to no course of self-control. They have education, but everything has become information, without the formation that might brought about self-control. Nothing demands self-control, restraint, waiting, saving, anticipation. The abolition of anticipation and renunciation of waiting is the disappearance of the future. Without any conception of the true form of man, its aim, education is empty. Our sham education gets wider, vaster and shallower, and more expensive for those swept into it. As we treat our own predecessors and intellectual ancestors so shall we be treated by our own intellectual offspring, our students and children.
The End of Waiting We saw that in the first half of the twentieth century the frustration and fury of the mob was expressed through the dictatorship of the demagogue with the worst imagination. The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a seizure of power by a new clerisy of managers who wrapped themselves in the soft ideology of the saviour state. The middleaged took power against their own offspring. Determined to hang on to life and youth, a generation in the West conspired to prevent its own replacement and so fortified the present against the future. We vote ourselves new appropriations that will keep us in prosperity and health, but which are to be paid for by future savers and tax-payers. Democracy has come to mean the present (boomer) generation awards itself prosperity by loading finance obligations onto the millennial generation (those now in their twenties), committing our children to support us in a standard of living that they will never be able to enjoy. We have been sacrificing our own children to Moloch. The Homogenisers and the Eradication of Difference These climatic moderns are certain that the head is superior to the body and independent of the body (the material world, Body). No one wants to be a member of the class that is defined by bodily labour. We have all indulged one another’s belief that everyone of us can, and should, leave the class of those involved in labour, and joint class of those defined by their brains, the clerical and office work, who work in administration and management. Everyone is a manager now, so we are all heads, but no one is body. We still have the two or three-level pyramid, but the pyramid is inverted, top-heavy, the upside-down iceberg in which seventh eights are visible and only one eighth is below the water-line, where the work is done. We do not have to labour any more, nor save, nor exercise an epistemological modesty about the present. In these end times, no one is obliged to work and wait, for all can at last enter the kingdom of the universal middle classes and present gratification. Insisting that all goods are of equal value, we have refuse to deny ourselves any. All of us can join the new middle classes as soon as we get ourselves into any institution in any of the funding streams dedicated to dismantling some specific cultural distinctive. Each case is made either in terms of ethics, or of efficiency, increasing economic participation through widening access and increasing opportunity. The effect of removing these distinctions and the barriers that they are perceived to represent is that we have convinced ourselves that no one has to wait, or work, for what they want. Western societies are pursuing an economically non-productive agenda of attempting to erase all differentials of status and tense. We have all made it. There is no more waiting for us, for in this climatic modern eschaton we have all arrived. Yet we have not succeeded in abolishing the constraints under which all previous generations lived and have not done away with the need for labour. There can be no economy that is all services and no industry, or all managers and no workers. Indeed there cannot be any kind of economy when humans already have all they want, because then they have no need to transact with one another in other to come into possession of what they do not yet have. By suppressing the need to defer and wait we are losing that forward orientation towards what is not yet in our possession. It is only this that gives us our motivation. This attempt to be rid of the distinction between the present and the future is a secularisation of the eschaton. But it is not either an injustice nor an economic inefficiency that the future is just out of reach, that we can look forward to but not take captive. Human life is about wanting what you don’t have, and therefore of looking forward, with or without patience. Humans just are the creature that is orientated to the future, the animal with culture and aspirations. The more we try to absorb the future into the present, the less motivation we have to create a future for those who come after us. Christianity as Public Reason Christianity is the guarantor of the open secular sphere. It is not only historically the product
of Christian witness and teaching, but its present existence is now the result of present Christian witness, and cut off from that witness, long term there is no such secular sphere. Liberal civil society is a great achievement. It is the outcome of the presence of Christian witnesses. But when it does not allow itself to receive the contribution of Christianity, liberal society becomes illiberal. Alone in the humanities, Christian theology makes the case for difference and otherness, order and also inevitably hierarchy, and for the case that communion, or society, must be an entity of love. Christianity stands for public reason.
7. Christian Faithfulness in the Twenty-First Century
In earlier generation the leaders of civil society went to the Church because they realised that they benefited from the practices of self-judgment, self-restraint and self-government that the Church practises. The love and mutual service of Christians flows out of the Church and into public service. Their self-government and public service creates civil society. Because this nation and its rulers have listened to this God-worshipping community, and received, at least at second-hand, the judgment and forgiveness of God, our national history has been a movement, slow and erratic, from tribalism and violence to unity and peace. Our ancestors will reproach us, and say that if we do live as they did, acting as they did (sacrificing themselves for the next generation future) and so honour them, we will not survive as a society, and their memory will not survive either. Bread and Circuses The state and market want us to be content, so that we do not cause one another any unhappiness. becomes matron, singing its nervous lullaby and hushing us up for fear that we might cause one another offence, that would result in someone disassociating themselves from the consensus, and so public debate and discord breaking out again. The state wants each to us to identify ourselves with the consensus in which each of us is pleased to consider the views and behaviour of the other as just as valid as his own, and not to judge the other inferior or dangerous so to identify ourselves with the arrived kingdom and rule of all by all - and never to wonder whether it is in fact so. It hopes that it can make each of us just afraid enough of censure not to explain in public the judgment that others are wrong in a sense that makes them dangerous to the continuity of our peace. By abolishing public memory and cultural self-respect we have attempted to trap our contemporaries and successors in an exclusive obligation to us and the forms that represent an abandonment of the modern project. John Paul I and Benedict XVI The writings of John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, made particularly accessible in the encyclicals, set out the response of Christians to the self-doubt of late twentieth century palpable in Western culture. There had been an increasingly pessimistic view of human sexuality and a growing assumption that men and women are antagonists. In response to these, the Church reiterated that sex and gender are good, for they are features of our mutuality, itself a part of the good of human createdness. The Church identified the issue of sex as part of a large gnosticism and emphasised that marriage, founded in human complementarity, is the institutional form of our recognition that human societies flourish when one generation is prepared to love and serve the next. Man and Woman Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life ) The Christian Gospel strengthens all those characteristics of a society that cherish life. It sets itself against that pessimism and selfhatred and those practices that intend to de-link sex from the arrival of children. Evangelium Vitae showed that the concerns of the earlier (1967) encyclical about the link between sex and reproduction were justified. When we attempt to break that connection, by contraception and abortion, we also dissolve the rationality of marriage and the assurance
that one generation gives, through the covenant of marriage and service of parenthood, that it does places a fundamental value on its own children, and so recognise an obligation to generations other than its own. Along with Christian discipleship, marriage is one form of public service that is more fundamental than any other. Two consenting persons enter an exclusive public covenant to love and serve one another and those who are born through their coming together in this way – and in this way they freely, and without coercive mediation of the state,bring about the future of their society. When a society no longer encourages marriage, and encourages marriage partners to stay together for the sake of the children, that society will start to suffer a demographic crisis. It was is part of a renewal of teaching on the vocations of singleness and of marriage, sometimes referred to as the Theology of the Body.
Faith and Reason
Veritatis Splendor (The Splendour of the Truth) reaffirms that the truth is objective. The truth has its own dignity and authority. This has to be admitted if there is to be any science or reason at all. It is an indication of how far the disintegration of reason has come at this point in Western history that the retreat from public reason and loss of confidence in ourselves as reasoning and rational persons, that we have to affirm what all earlier generations never doubted. The truth is not whatever we make it, it is that that everyone has their own opinion and no one’s opinion is any better than anyone else’s. The truth is out there and it is for us to discover what the truth is. If we deny the authority of the tradition we have come from, and say that all cultures and moral options are of equal value we put ourselves beyond challenge and so dictating to those who come after us. We then propound our description of the world without giving reasons for it, by offering arguments that refer to sources and traditions of reason we share. By denying any of the independent canons by which we could be challenged we have prevented our successors from finding the tools by they could dethrone us. We have rewritten history in order to crown ourselves as its sole heir. Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) Faith and reason – which of them is fundamental? Which comes first – faith or reason? Which is fundamental – theology or philosophy? Augustine and Aquinas tell us that theology is the true philosophy and the basis on which there may be science. Theology is faith and reasoning, faith that generates reasoning and understanding. Faith enables knowledge. In the twentieth century much Christian theology had to defend the complexity of reason, pointing out that, whether we are talking about science or the humanities, that reason emerges from communities of discourse, and is thus embedded in conversation that have long histories. The unity of knowledge that once came from a unified concept of man is lost so that, divided by many separate sciences, universities have no over-arching vision and are now opposed to any unified of man or of human dignity. Education merely offers data. Theology had to point this out to those positivist advocates who believed that reason had to be defended against particular contexts and communities and against faith. It had to explain that tacit knowledge allows some things to become explicit and so become ‘knowledge’ in response to particular questions, and that intuition, imagination and analogy allows us to examine the categories and concepts we employ in the hope of framing our questions better. Christians insist on the primacy of faith AND reason, not one rather than the other. In answer to the question which of these is primary, Christian faith declares that neither is prior to the other, for they are co-fundamental. Faith that offers no reasons is fideism and irrationality. Reason that does not acknowledge that it is embedded in specific narratives and history is less than fully rational. Though our knowledge aspires to the universal, it is characterised by particularities which may not be erased or substituted for. Reason, is always a matter of reasoning; it is a faculty that must be received as a gift, exercised, practiced and passed on.
Our ability to do this depends on our readiness to concede that we may have something to learn from others, even the most unlikely of sources. Reason is not the possession of the mind locked within the autarchic individual. The Gospel always obliges us to compare our accounts of the world, and thus to do philosophy. A philosophical system with a larger conception of man, his sociality and place in the universe, such as that provided by Thomas Aquinas’ dialogue with Aristotle, makes a better conversation partner than a philosophy with a reduced conception of man and the world. The Church has become the last defender of reason. The Christian presentation of the gospel is always to be tested and adjusted in the course of its encounter with the world, represented by many alternative worldviews. The Gospel cannot be presented shorn of the history of its presentation or from the many cultural accents that have transmitted Christian worship to us. We cannot shear the worship and liturgy of Christians of the particularities of language and embodiment that that liturgy has accrued. A one-dimensional liturgy, in which we insist that we speak only in the flat accents of our own generation, and that all must be immediately comprehensible to our own contemporaries and seekers, is not faithful. The liturgy makes the presence of many, indeed all, generations present to us. De-Hellenization and the Dictatorship of Relativism Faith and rationality are intrinsically connected. The Christian faith prompts us to give reasons and to search for a greater coherence and more comprehensive rationality. The God of Israel and Jesus Christ is a God of reason, who makes promises and keeps them, and gives reasons for his judgments, and demands that we do so. The concept of covenant reflects this characteristic promise-keeping rationality. God is constant, a faithful keeper of his covenant with man, bound by his own promises. If God were at every instant ready to change his mind, he would be utterly unpredictable and so unknowable. It is not the Christian faith that proposes that God is a fickle tyrant, who remakes his mind anew at every moment, and might therefore make a complete departure that would plunge us into new a course, at odds with his previous course, thereby robbing us of all certainty. The Christian faith gives reasons for itself, and so is a reasonable faith. Moreover its practices of giving reasons has given rationality a very high status in Western life, which in turn are accountability to one another, the public and political life that arises, and the advance of science. But a contrary tendency to exalt will over covenant and reason, always present, has a powerful re-appearance in the modern period. But in the twenty-first century we have abandoned much of the confidence in the powers of human reason and the possibility of public reasoning taken from granted by our predecessors. It has become the modern habit to enforce a debased lowest-commondenominator equivalence on one another. We discourage one another from suggesting that any course or any culture is more valuable than any other. When everything is regarded as equally good, no particular thing is good. When we regard some course as better than other, we discover that a staged public consensus tyrannically wants to stop us from explaining publicly why we think this. Benedict calls this the dictatorship of relativism. In ‘Europe’s Crisis of Culture’ (2005) Benedict points out that there is always a temptation to drop engagement with the long Christian-pagan dialogue that makes up made the Western intellectual tradition. He identifies three steps towards this ‘de-Hellenization’ and irrationality that that have been taken by the modern West. The first of these was the Reformation rejection of metaphysics and Protestant determination to save the gospel from philosophy. Christians should be taught by Scripture alone. Yet how can Christians who are taught Scripture alone learn from Christians of previous generation on how to read Scripture and agree on what it said? The Church offers us Christian doctrine to aid our to hear Scripture
truly. Philosophy is simply the ongoing dialogue between the Gospel and the worldviews of the various cultures that hear the gospel. It is an intellectual inquiry that is driven by Christian faith, that is committed to continuing Augustine and Aquinas’ engagement with Plato and Aristotle, as the most sophisticated representatives of non-Christian thought. A second stage, in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was the divorce of faith from the Christian community and from its worship and other practices. After this separation, brought about by Kant and the moderns, faith simply became morality. But on this basis Christianity is no longer about salvation and membership in the communion of God, and thus about the act of God that brings man into this communion. Instead it is simply about the acts by which man secures his own boundaries, defining his own territory against God and against his neighbour. The third, twentieth century, stage of this ‘de-hellenisation’ is the assumption that the lenses of any culture are as good as any other, and that the lenses of Greek and Latin culture are no better than any other, or indeed represent a European imposition on other cultures. But it was Greek culture that first received the gospel, being transformed by the Church fathers as it did so. Perhaps the Greek emphasis on what is universal has made Hellenic culture a suitable means of grappling with the issue of how the gospel transforms over individual cultures and ethnicities. The creeds, prayers and worship of Church reflect the new synthesis of Hebrew and Greek culture to make Christian culture. No generation of Christians can be its own teachers, in defiance of all previous generations of Christians. As a means to spread faith, violence is self-defeating since faith that is coerced cannot be faith. Violence is irrational, and indeed irrationality is a form of violence. Benedict points to the primacy of love, good and beauty, and to faith and reason. Benedict made these points again in his Regensberg Speech. Violence is irrational, and those who resort to it have already lost the argument. Every representation of any tradition or religion should encourage all others to present reasons for their views, and not attempt to coerce, deride or intimidate. Those secularising liberals who want to drive all talk of God out of the public square are inevitably driving out all discussion of what is good and true, and in particular what is good about humankind. They denigrate those cultural institutions like marriage that make for the transmission of life, and the culture of life, from one generation to another. Liberals do not commit themselves to the covenants that create family life and so they suffer a demographic comeuppance. Though the liberals are in power in the present, inward migration into Europe of communities with a much less liberal conception of equality of the sexes will inherit power and the modern, liberal moment will be over. Alasdair MacIntyre In After Virtue (1981) the British moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre suggests that we have forgotten what earlier generations knew. Though we have the elements of morality, their unity has been lost. We have the fragments but no idea how they fit together, and therefore little sense of what makes for a good and meaningful life. The result is that each of us expresses the emotions we experience in each moment but are unable to say why they should interest the rest of us, or are good. We cannot reason our way to a common conclusions and so act as a unified society. Alasdair MacIntyre suggests that we need to travel the whole route of the Christian and Western tradition again. We need to discover the local forms of community within which the civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the dark ages which are already upon us. We may need to resort to the same monastic discipline and form our own Benedictine communities that will again preserve the memory, the mind and reason of
European civilisation. MacIntyre believes that this time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; ‘they have already been governing us for quite some time’. Nevertheless, the road to human life is as open to us as it was to Augustine, Benedict and all the Christians who have preceded us. For the sake of our own successors, we should get up, re-join that company and resume this journey.
1. The cultural leaders of Europe attempt to replace the Church with the nation. Moderns want to give the state the functions of the Church, and to get rid of the distinction between the Church and the world. 2. A healthy society emerges from a healthy culture, formed by dialogue with the particular of Christian, and ancient pagan, traditions from which it originated. 3. A healthy political society is sustained by the practices and virtues of debate that sustain civility and the rule of law. 4. Love relates to particular persons, and thus is directed first to those closest to us. A society must honour and reward the covenants such as marriage by which society is renewed. We love first family, then community then nation, then those beyond: inversion of this order is pathological. A society must acknowledge the rightness of love and the desire of human beings for one another in particular covenantal relationships, unmediated by the state. 5. Politics cannot be conducted solely in the discourse of power, will or personal preferences, but must be shaped by truth and an objective conception of what is good. Truth is discovered by judgment, and judgment is enabled by mature political traditions. 6. Humans do not come to maturity in fear of the capabilities of their own bodies or of the crowd. Persons may offer one another their service, and those who have undertaken the appropriate apprenticeship in been educated to do so can do this through instruction (education) and leadership (politics). 7. The mature person is self-ruled and well-ruleda unity of head and body. He is a well-ruled man – and his contribution and out-working (his product, offspring and ‘body’) is many generations of people who are also will-ruled because ruled (exclusively) by the law of can also and 8. Western and modern societies that do not acknowledge a debt to their forebears, suffer a loss of self-respect and fail to honour their obligations to future generations. 9. Modernity is a conviction that man cannot control himself and so he has to be controlled. We have therefore reintroduced a two-class society, of the majority, that has to be controlled, and the elite, that has to control them. An unsustainably high proportion of the population has managed to climb into that elite class. 10. We have not shaken off our masters: they have merely dispensed with the intellectual tradition by which we could challenge their direction.
11. Lost confidence manifests itself through those agendas which intend to diminish cultural, political and even biological differences. They are an attempt to set up the ‘kingdom of God’ by force, without waiting for all to enter it, freely and without coercion. These agendas reduce the opportunity for mutuality, and remove our reasons for desiring and serving particular other persons. 12. The future of Western societies depend on an openness that modernity does not comprehend and cannot support from its own intellectual resources. Whilst denying that it does so, modernity lives from the social capital accumulated by Christianity. The healthy nation requires the long-term presence of Christians to create the conditions within which it can be sustained.
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