O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.For some reason this antiphon reminds me of the point Chesterton makes in the Everlasting Man, that a true religion needs to be able to account for everything that exists, and that only Christianity has truly done that. As far as the specific highest acts of humans go, it needs to provide for worship-- man's reverent approach to mystery and the numinous, and for philosophy -- the highest science proper to man.
O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man: Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
Yet that is not enough, it falls infinitely short of enough, for man can never approach God unless God provides the bridge. This was the despair of the noblest pagans. As Augustine said,
He...was willing to lay Himself down as the way by which we should return,Our Lord had to provide us the Way, He had to reach down to pull us up where we could not go on our own.
In this antiphon, man is called both "dust" and "mighty arch", acknowledging both our humble perishable material nature and the greatness bequeathed us as beings made in the image of God. Nations and hearts are both mentioned; the most exterior outworks of our political and social structure, as well as the deepest inner workings of our individual hearts. Our Lord is Lord over all these reaches.
A few days ago I read this WSJ article about "Faith and the Life of the Mind" of Evangelicals and this Touchstone commentary on it. It's been sticking in my mind but I have been at a loss how to approach it. I'm a convert to Catholicism, but Evangelicalism was the cradle of my Christian faith. I owe it much, especially in the deep and undoubtedly real faith of some of its practitioners. If the author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind speaks as a "wounded lover" I speak as a grateful child, and I hope it comes across that way.
The blogger in the Touchstone commentary makes a distinction between intellectualism, which he defines as
a developed (or sometimes overdeveloped) mental capacity for detailed abstract thinking and an acquired taste for ingesting (and/or producing) academic prose.and something deeper, which he describes as follows:
... it's more often the case that someone with interest in studying his faith discovers the depth of Christian tradition, for love of Christ and for the things of Christ. This is what captivates the mind, not worldly intellectual fashion.The first isn't enough in itself.... it may well be a good thing, but it isn't essential, and combined with an attraction to intellectual trends in thinking it can lead the person into some sort of liberal Protestantism or worldly compromise with error.
The second, he writes, often leads to Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or Anglicanism (though I really can't help wondering, in light of recent Anglican events, if that last door is closing for those who are truly captivated by "the things of Christ").
I grew up in an Evangelical church. At their worst, because of the conscious avoidance of intellectual rigor in favor of resting on the simplicity of Biblical faith, an Evangelical might be in danger of following into the problem described in the last article in this symposium.
But that devotion, church-going and seriousness about the Bible in the context of a deep relationship with our Savior should not be underestimated. It is the groundwork of something deep, a commitment to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. ST Francis de Sales defines devotion as doing willingly and lovingly whatever Christ tells one to do and by this definition, there are many devoted Evangelicals, and also by extension many Evangelical converts to Catholicism. I suppose this could even somewhat explain some Catholic converts to Evangelicalism, because sometimes Catholics neglect to emphasize this personal core of our Faith, the "one needful thing" of sitting at His Feet and loving Him. (The solution ISN'T some touchy-feely warm-fuzzy catechetical program, either, any more than it is for the Evangelicals, but that's a side point)
American evangelicalism is the quintessential adaptation to a society dominated by the marketplace and consumerism. ... To be sure, evangelicals are generally devout, church-going Christians who take the Bible seriously and try to live in obedience to their Lord. But study after study shows that they seldom understand the Bible very well, know little about theology, buy heavily into the therapeutic culture of feel-good-ism, and are caught up in a cycle of overspending and consumption like everyone else.
I know another convert to Catholicism from fervent evangelicalism. He walked into a Catholic Church one day and simply recognized the Real Presence. He knew Him and thus recognized Him even in such a different appearance. My own process was different. Catholicism had the answers for parts of the Bible that had deeply puzzled me formerly, like John 6. I moved from verbal to actual, while this other convert moved in the opposite direction. We ended up in the same place, as Catholics with the Eucharist enthroned in our interior temples.
That's also aside from the point, however. The point I think I am trying to make is that Evangelicals have something that should not be underestimated. There is a humility about staying within the bounds of their own selves that is deeply Christian. If I had to choose one or the other, and had no other alternative, I would choose my Yupik former fellow church-members who fell in love with Jesus and did their best to praise Him in words and deeds and song every day of their lives, over the kind of quisling "intellectualized" Catholic who bestows on a deeply pro-abortion president an honorary Notre Dame degree, meanwhile allowing the manhandling and imprisonment of an elderly priest protesting the slaughter of our weakest and most innocent.
But that is not really the choice. Our Lord is King of all the nations, King of the matter of which we are fashioned, Keystone of all our works and days, as well as King of our hearts. He has dominion over all the possible forms of truth and thus, any Church of His is going to need to be able to engage on this wide scale, to ally itself with Truth. Not every individual member of the church needs to do this in every sphere, but the Church as a whole needs to, and for a Church, ignoring an aspect of the wider calling is going to mean going to the default -- too often, localized influences that aren't recognized as being out of harmony with true Christianity because there is no wider view.
At present Evangelicalism seems to draw most of its substance from Catholicism or some version thereof -- for instance, look at the recent proliferation of Evangelical books written about the Benedictine tradition, or the traditional respect of many Evangelicals for the monastic Imitation of Christ or the books of conservative Anglican CS Lewis or Catholic JRR Tolkien--- and I am not sure how this can be avoided without falling into error or trivial shallowness. But I don't think it's a bad thing, a thing that should be avoided -- I love being able to talk about Benedict or Tolkien or Kempis or for that matter Isaiah or St John with my Evangelical friends and relatives, and find it ironic that often they understand these things in a more Catholic sense than some Catholics I know.
But back to the main point -- Cardinal Newman said that where there is a vacuum, where a sphere of knowledge is ignored, some other subject will rush in to fill the gap. If you take theology out of its position as mistress of all the liberal subjects, the other subjects rush in to fill the vacuum, but badly, because that is not their proper job. So with secularism, you get Art becoming sterile aestheticism and then finally nihilistic anti-aestheticism, and the natural sciences dabbling in amateur and logically flawed metaphysics, as with naturalistic evolution.
But it seems to me that if you forsake the subjects in your theology, you end up compartmentalizing your religion and forcing it into a privatized form -- it defaults on its authority over the other subjects. A religion focused consciously into the heart and deeds alone runs the risk of being forced by default to be contained by the heart and deeds alone, and thus becoming a religion too small to fit Our Lord.
Both seem like dangers, though in my mind the liberal secularization leads one much further away from the Way and Truth than does the mere privatization. Still, both fall short of the comprehensiveness claimed by God of All.