Thursday, August 20, 2015

Religion and Secularism in England

One of my favorite authors, Father Aidan Nichols OP, writes about secularism and religion in England for the Imaginative Conservative: he outlines two possible ways to deal with the diversity of religion and secularism (separate "public spaces" and assimilation) and then proposes a third way, which recalls his book The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England:

The third response is recovery of the Judaeo-Christian tradition as what is most foundationally form-giving in English society and culture, while allowing that, on grounds of conscience, there are individuals and groups who cannot make that tradition fully their own. Freedom of conscience can and should be balanced against the interests of a particular historic society as a whole. What can be said in favour of this option?

A nation, like a civilization, needs a shared vision of reality, at any rate in fair degree. It is unclear that a great civilization can be formed except on the ground of metaphysical or religious principle. There is no other obvious way in which to secure the foundations of ethics, or to inspire a high artistic culture, or to animate institutions that will be seedbeds of the virtues. In the case of England, whose emergence as a nation coincides with its conversion, this can only be Christianity, with its Judaic background, and more especially, I unfashionably suggest, the “New Israel” of the Catholic Church.

The thousand years of Catholic Christianity that preceded the Reformation settlement are responsible for the origins of the English literary imagination, for the principles of the common law, for the concept of a covenanted people under God that permeates the induction of the sovereign, and for the range of virtues that have been commended, and sometimes practised, in English society and culture. In the context of an international Church, this entailed a measured trans-nationalism.

When the medieval idea of Christendom weakened, the early modern nation-state tried more vigorously to instrumentalize the Church, politicizing the divine rather than—by exposure to a transcendent Good—divinizing the polis. Of course the post-Reformation history of this country cannot be airbrushed out. Consonant with its presence—along with a promise to uphold the Catholic faith—in the coronation of the monarch, it has left its own legacy of moral exemplars and inspirational literary texts, as well as institutions involved in education and pastoral care. Despite the ecclesial differences, which at their worst led to the vilification of the older Church, much of this Anglican development built on foundations already laid. . . .

. . . England remains a Christian state, albeit a decayed example of the genre. I advert for the third time to the coronation ritual, since it is the clearest, though by no means the only, manifestation of the continuing sacrality of the public order. In this connection, the retention by the Church of England of its established status is an essential requirement if the nation as a whole is to retain narrative continuity with its own origins, which are found in the baptismal covenant reflected in the laws of the Anglo-Saxon kings.

The establishment of the Church of England at law is far from rendering superfluous the public role of the English Catholic Church. The capacity of the sacerdotium to influence the regnum was gravely weakened by the mid-16th century break with Rome, for this rendered official English Christianity Erastian, blunting its cutting edge. “No Popery”—anti-Catholicism, whether popular or sophisticated—drew its force from a disturbed conscience—one can sense its discomfort in the ambivalence of Shakespeare’s plays. The recusant community witnessed to something once well-known to the English people: The transnational reality of Christendom in the Catholic Church centered on Peter’s chair, and the consequent capacity of a wider communion to offset narrowness of temper, or distortion of aim. Protestant Nonconformity added its own protest against, not an organic relation between polity and ecclesia, but the effective identification of the two.

Read the rest there.

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