A friend asked me to write a short comment for the new scholarly journal Faith & Flourishing on the question, “Why is the flourishing of the world an important subject for scholarly inquiry?” My response:
Christianity’s absorption and reinterpretation of the classical tradition, as described for example in the work of Robert Louis Wilken, included in every age—from Irenaeus to Augustine to Aquinas to the Reformers to the post-WW II resurgence described by Alan Jacobs in his Year of Our Lord: 1943—a strong commitment to flourishing. This was especially the flourishing of humans in all our dimensions (salvation = wholeness). The evergreen Christian humanism forged in that Christian-classical synthesis—which has amounted, as Jens Zimmermann has said, to a coherent Christian “philosophy of culture”—took different forms in every age but was never seriously challenged until the modern era.
By capitulating to the disenchantment of the world—and of humanity—that was insisted upon in the materialist biology of Darwin, the materialist psychology of Freud, and the materialist social teachings of Marx (among others), we have entered an age when a purely naturalistic “exclusive humanism”—one kind of “closed immanent frame”—to use two of Charles Taylor’s labels, has become convincing to many as a way of understanding humanity and human flourishing. And the church of the 20th and 21st century has no coherent answer. Having lost track of that older tradition of Christian humanism despite strong advocacy on its behalf by writers as diverse as C S Lewis, Jacques Maritain, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Pope John Paul II, we have spiritualized faith beyond all recognition, removing it from the ordinary workings of the world and society.
And now we are surprised when ordinary Americans (for instance) see the truth that this denatured faith has nothing to offer to our ordinary life in the world—and they are leaving the church in droves. We must retrieve our heritage: the long and strong tradition of pro-creation, pro-material, pro-embodiment, pro-social Christian humanism grounded in the claim that the incarnation has inaugurated a new humanity. We must again, to adapt Pierre Hadot’s phrase, practice “theology as a way of life”—not as a disembodied and detached technical pursuit.
Unlike his predecessor John Paul II, Benedict XVI has now affirmed the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. It is, he says, “an icon written in blood,” the very grave-clothes of Jesus of Nazareth.
To me, the 13th-14th century provenance claimed by the carbon-daters makes more sense: that was a period of intense interest in the actual events of Christ’s life and, especially, of his Passion. For more on that, see my article for CT on late medieval Passion devotion.
This also seems a bold move by a pope–to declare something authentic that it is well within the realm of science to later declare a fraud (though so far no conclusive proof has been given).
Following up on my recent book note about a current bestseller on the Crusades, here are some further thoughts on that horrible episode of Christian history, as well as that other horrible episode, the Inquisition(s), from a 2003 article triggered by the capture of abortion clinic (and Olympics) bomber Eric Rudolph.
I’ve also added, at the end of this piece, a note by Ted Olsen on how the Inquisition, though atrocious, was not the wholesale bloodbath portrayed in modern anti-Christian rhetoric:
Did Eric Rudolph Act in a “Tradition of Christian Terror”? A historian considers the evidence of the Crusades and the Inquisition.
The specter of the “Christian terrorist” presented by the recent capture of accused bomber Eric Rudolph has raised again the old charge of the skeptic: “Why should we be surprised when Christians kill people? They’ve always done so. Church history itself is the best advertisement against the church.”
Christianity’s opponents love to use church-historical examples to “prove” that violence is inherent to the Christian church. The favorites are the Crusades and the Inquisitions. The critics ask: Don’t such violent blots on the church prove Christians have never followed their Lord’s loving, non-violent lead and obeyed the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill”? Continue reading →
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