Thursday, December 01, 2011

Formative: Pugin’s Contrasts
I am not sure it was ever true, but Pugin’s vision was one where man was conscious of his intimate connection with the sacred. At its heart was man as as worshipping God or as we might say today “as a liturgical person”. For him that was a radical alternative to his society. It was also a Christian alternative to the visions of Bentham or Marx and Engels or any of the other constructors of new worlds of the 19th century. It raised man up from meanness conveying an idea of “Glory” rather mere utilitarianism...
Elena Maria Vidal just discovered him thanks to Fr Ray Blake. I pored over a copy of it nearly 25 years ago, trying to figure out what went so wrong with the world. It’s easy to knock his idealism and romanticism – say or imply that the Middle Ages were perfect (I’m not) and you’ll get some good rebuttals, including from my classical-liberal/libertarian side of the aisle, about life being short and nasty then. (Then and now, sinless church, sinful, scary people.) But his point stands and of course is much of what Catholicism says to the world, standing athwart modernity (to quote Bill Buckley). Godwardness. It and liberty (the engine that fuels the best of modernity, from political freedom to the free market that produced the technology I’m using to write this) can co-exist, the last giving the freedom for the first. (I hate the council but the founding fathers, John Courtney Murray and it are right about religious freedom.)

Pugin of course took his thinking all the way; he was Catholic. The thinking was part of a general British nostalgia reacting to the Industrial Revolution and its ugliness (his obvious target, the dark satanic mills William Blake referred to), with romantic literature like Walter Scott. The Anglicans arguably were more in tune with Pugin’s ideas about architecture than his fellow Catholics were (an early, British version of the Thomas Day factor: ‘the Protestants own all the old churches, and before Catholic emancipation we couldn’t build nice churches anyway, so let’s build simple or neoclassical instead’), and when the Gothic Revival or Cambridge Movement hooked up with the Tractarians’ high-church theology or Oxford Movement (about doctrine and authority, not ceremonial: ‘we’re a branch of the divinely instituted infallible church, keeping the pure doctrine of the first five centuries’) it begat the first version of Anglo-Catholicism (or why some liberal Protestants ironically seem to worship like we do, incense, eastward and all). No wonder some people thought merry old Catholic England wasn’t dead yet. (Christopher Haigh: in 1600 the English were resigned to the artificial new religion but treated it with the reverence of the old; their Revolution/Civil War and the ‘Enlightenment’ basically stamped that out; as Owen says it lost most of the non-ruling English a long time ago.)

I think of Romanesque as more Catholic but back then Gothic was thought to be so. Not only because of Romanesque’s antiquity but possibly because, led by the Anglicans, the Protestants eventually took Gothic and ran with it so much that we now associate it with them. (Like how the Russians now own ballet.) In America when we see pointed arches and steeples we think mainline. (That may be changing as more Americans don’t go to church, the mainline is drying up and most who do worship go to big auditorium or even stadium-like megachurches, Schuller’s lovely Crystal Cathedral* being an early example, the logical expansion of the preaching barn.)

I like early and Romanesque-like Gothic (Norman as it’s called in England) the best, the parish churches with the square bell towers that are still all over England (but next to nobody goes to them) with some good copies around here.
This morning one of my parishioners said he didn’t believe in “human rights”, I think it was a bit of a throwaway remark but I am beginning to wonder whether a culture that promotes our “rights” make us selfish, the “age of faith”, which is really feudalism, placed everyone under an obligation and imposed duties on them, to serve and to ensure harmony within society.
Mark in Spokane’s rebuttal of libertarianism – big on rights, not so much on duty – and sure, it’s a temptation, but not necessarily so. Abusus non tollit usum. Freedom doesn’t necessarily mean libertinism or Ayn Rand selfishness. Or that some people can’t handle freedom isn’t an excuse to take it away. So even though it’s not heresy, no to romanticized theocratic fascism, even if the leaders are Catholic or elected. (See above on sinful, scary people.)

The Middle Ages weren’t perfect and you don’t have to copy a style to be Catholic: NLM has a series on the Other Modern, going hand in glove with the old liturgical movement. Innovative art and architecture that followed the same principles, the old religion, the old Mass, as Romanesque and Pugin’s fantasy so it works. Gaudi in Barcelona thought like that.

Then there’s the Orthodox or at least convertodox version, holy Russia and tsardom, which like the Western Middle Ages I like a lot: 19th-century like Pugin, subtly Westernized here and there, courtly, learned. Of course I’ve never met a medieval Englishman but have met a tsarist Russian (the October Revolution was when he was 12); he’s... a lot like everybody else.

*The Crystal Cathedral of St Callistus (my name pick) in a few years, the see of the Diocese of Orange, CA.

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