A rather sweet little article has appeared in the blog of my friend in the USA – The “Gospel” of Liturgical AestheticismConstantinian Settlement, and credited for being “candid”.
We are all born in the circumstances God chose for us, to use the usual pious rhetoric. I think we know precious little about Christianity in the first four centuries. Penances were extreme and the bar was high for being prepared for Baptism through the old Catechumenate. There are a few oblique references to how the Eucharist was celebrated, but it was secret. So, whether it was a utilitarian affair of a flagon of wine and a loaf of bread around a rough wooden table by people wearing ordinary clothes of their time – or a precise rite, we have little to go on.
There is too much in the way of collusion between a certain kind of Christianity and the anti-human ideology that was finally discredited with the downfall of the Nazis. I’m not talking about the externals but the underlying philosophy of a few humans being destined to form a ruling elite and the rest being “worthless dross”. This is the reductio ad absurdam of a system of thought that assumes that a small elite will go to “heaven” and the vast majority of mankind will spend eternity roasting on hot coals or being gassed again and again with Zyklon B by demons in jackboots toting Schmeisser machine pistols!
Humans are both sinful and sublime. This is the real issue over any particular point of the “aesthetic gospel”. I don’t systematically reduce things to political terms or compare everything with Nazism (Godwin’s Law), but such a reflection helps to comprehend the darker aspects of Christian history in terms almost familiar to people in our own times.
I am attracted by beauty and the kind of western culture that was slowly built up out of the ashes of the Dark Ages and the fall of the Roman Empire, leading to the Renaissance. I am even more attracted to a notion of Christianity that has the humanist genius of the Renaissance, the love of humanity and the sublimity of which we are potentially capable. Christ promised beatitude to the poor, the weak and the oppressed, above all those who lived their condition with a pure heart and eschewed the values of the “world”.
In the end of the day, had any of us been born into a different time, we would have been formed with different attitudes and another philosophy of life. Had I been a Roman, a second-century Jew, the son of a slave – that would have determined many things. The whole speculation seems as useless as nonsensical.
Aestheticism against asceticism? It’s a whole conflict of ideas, symbolised by the events surrounding the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis with a whole load of different values and beliefs. It seems to give another perspective on “post-modern” Christianity and American conservative religion.
It seems unfortunate to see the lights go out in Europe and elsewhere, beautiful churches going to waste and so forth. But, it seems to be necessary as liturgical aesthetics leave their place to I-pads, Twitter and football! If the seed doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it cannot bear fruit.