Thursday, 10 January 2019

How could Christianity be Romanticised? What went wrong?

Romantic Christianity made a brilliant start with Novalis, William Blake and ST Coleridge - and then nothing-much for many decades until Rudolf Steiner became (strange sort of) Christian in about 1898; to be followed by Owen Barfield and William Arkle in later generations - and there is William Wildblood and myself among current writers. But there have never been many Romantic Christians...

Why so rare, and what went wrong with the intermediate generations? Of course there were plenty of Romantics - but among them hardly any Christians; indeed most of them were either atheists or spiritual anything-but Christians.

A pre-eminent example was Ralph Waldo Emerson; who was an arch-Romantic and who began as a Unitarian minister - Unitarians being, at that time, like Emerson, Christians on-the-way-out. He ended-up as a kind of deist, flavoured with what he had gathered of Hinduism and Sufism.

Emerson was known for his elevation of the intuitive, epiphanic, 'moment' of insight to the highest possible valuation; like most Romantics, he required that all knowledge be derived from direct personal experience. SO why did Emerson not do the same for Christianity as he did for everything else? Why did he not develop a Romantic Christianity built from the kind of direct intuitive insights that fuelled the rest of his wide-ranging creativity? This will be answered below.

My guess is that Emerson accepted the evaluation of most Churches that Christianity must be derived from external authority - or else it is not Christianity. Catholics demand that the individual conform to the teaching of the Church authorities, or the traditions of the lineally descended ancient Church. Protestants demand conformity to the canonical scriptures of the Bible.

But what unites all churches is the assumption that whatever Christianity is, it is located outside the individual. The insistence is that Christianity does not come from within - not from individual experience, not from personal intuition.

Ultimately the task for the individual is to conform to external authority. The church judges the individual. 

If this is true; then Romanticism and Christianity are incompatible. So, how did Novalis, Blake and Coleridge come to believe that they had developed a Christianity based on their inner knowledge? It is mostly a matter of their basic and ultimate assumptions, of metaphysical assumptions. These authors believed that the individual could have direct knowledge of Christianity without it being derived from any intermediary at all; not rooted in church authority, without canonical scripture, traditional, philosophical theology or anything else.

Or, at least, and in conformity to Romanticism; that this direct form of personal knowing should serve to evaluate all other knowledge claims. So the individual judges the church; and may (like Blake, Steiner and Arkle) dispense with all churches - although Coleridge and Barfield were both, in later life,' communicating' (communion-taking) members of the Church of England.

We can see, then, why Emerson did not remain a Christian - because he apparently accepted the assertion that a real Christian must be under the authority of a church. (The only dispute was about which church/es it was correct to regard as really Christian.) It seems that, for Emerson, anyone who claimed to be a Christian outside of a church, was not really a Christian.

But there may be more to it than this - because Emerson did not believe in the divinity of Jesus; therefore real Christians were in error. Emerson's idea of deity was abstract - 'The Over Soul' - and therefore infinitely different-from a Man. The only union of Man with deity, therefore, was for Man to surrender his self and 'melt-into' the infinitude of deity.

So Emerson was a hopeless case! Ultimately, he did not want what Jesus offered; and preferred what Eastern religions offered. And what applies to Emerson, also applies to many other Romantics since. Some Romantics are materialist; but among those who are spiritual - it has mostly been an Eastern spirituality; which ultimately regards the individual self and our mortal world as temporary illusions.

This is the source of the paradox by which Emerson valued the moment of insight above all; yet ultimately he regarded each epiphany as evanescent, soon to be lost in time - and therefore worthless.

Other Christians have had strong Romantic impulses, but retained the conviction that the individual judgement must be subordinated to church authority - GK Chesterton is an example. Chesterton regarded the 'catholic' church (at first the Anglo Catholic wing of the Church of England; then in his late middle age, the Roman Catholic church) as the source of knowledge, of truth. For Chesterton Romanticism was the proper attitude each individual ought to adopt towards this truth.

For Chesterton, therefore, the individual did not have direct and personal intuitive access to knowledge; except for the knowledge that the church was true. The only primary knowledge was that the church was the only source of knowledge. 

Something similar could be said for CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. They were Romantics and also Christians - but their Romanticism was secondary to their Christianity - and was at most understood to be a good and proper (perhaps even necessary) attitude towards their Christianity. The Romantic intuition was not, for them, a primary source of knowledge: that was revelation as communicated by  their churches.

This is why Romantic Christians - by a strict definition - have been so rare. Most Romantics were not Christians, but among those that were; Romanticism is regarded as an attitude but not as a source of knowledge.

It was the great contribution of Owen Barfield - posthumous disciple of Steiner, best friend of CS Lewis, and fellow Inkling with Tolkien - to clarify and emphasise this vital distinction.

17 comments:

ted said...

Great post. What's your take on Valentin Tomberg, who also spent some time with Steiner's organization? I feel a strong Romantic Christian impulse in his work, albeit he also fell into the Roman Catholic Church.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ted - I regard Tomberg as genuinely inspired, a worthwhile author, good-hearted - I have read-in two of his books and bits of others; albeit without intense concentration or thoroughness. For me, the problem is that his metaphysics is too abstract and Platonic, and his focus on symbols and numbers is one I regard as mistaken, and retrograde.

ted said...

No doubt he was influenced by gematria, but only to a point. He knew it would just get a certain archetype interested. (I also have seen too many compelling coincidences with sacred geometry and numerology to be dismissive of it.) So while it may not change one's heart, it may be a doorway for some to dive deeper.

Seijio Arakawa said...

Thank you, this clarifies the contradiction I always felt from the traditional account of conversion -- the choice-of church was intuitive and personal, and assumed to be valid, but the teachings of any particular church denied the validity of an intuitive and personal choice, or stated that intuitive and personal discernment is only possible after 20yrs of monastic practice, or something....

This left no way of telling whether one had picked the right church or not, and was thus a sort of Calvinism of assuming one had been put into the right church by fate. I concluded that the traditional account of conversion was not describing what actually happened in these churches, which was faith being transmitted from person-to-person by direct and Loving communication. This was something I did not experience, but other people clearly had.

In my case the conversion experience came with circumstances such that accepting the authority and teachings of a traditional church would logically require denying the circumstances and rejecting the validity of the experience. So the choice was always rather clear.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Seijio

Thanks for that.

A further aspect is that Christianity has been taught as a very complex religion, requiring years of study, memorising, practice etc. - and indeed probably beyond the power of comprehension of the average person (or, at least, beyond the capacity of many below average persons).

Anything that complex cannot be known by direct intution due to the sheer time and difficulty of seeking intuition on hundreds, more like thousands, of matters of fact. It had to be mostly accepted on trust as an already existing, sytematised body of information.

But if the Fourth Gospel is regarded as a sufficient description of Christianity, it becomes a very simple religion - or, at least, it is very simple if considered from the spontaneous persepctive of natural Men.

Modern people's heads are stuffed with multiple, linked false assumptions that pretend to be derived from facts and evidence - so there is a great deal to unlearn before the simplicity of Jesus's message comes-through.

But as a bottom line; I regard it as certain that God would have made what it is necessary for us to know, to be discoverable by everybody, and directly.

The Social Pathologist said...

Very good post, Bruce. And quite timely, as it's helped clean up some of my thoughts.

Respectfully, I want to offer a critique.

Firstly, Christianity is primarily an "intuitive" religion, conscience, for example being an intuitive subjective experience.

Secondly, Paul writes that "we see through a glass darkly", in other words our subjective experience of Christianity may be prone to error.

Now to the practical stuff.

My guess is that Emerson accepted the evaluation of most Churches that Christianity must be derived from external authority - or else it is not Christianity. Catholics demand that the individual conform to the teaching of the Church authorities,....

Now one of the big concepts in Christianity is the concept of a "Church" or a body of believers. Each one of these believers has a subjective experience of Christianity, with some variation and error between individuals. However the collegiate experience of Christianity is somehow a more truer reflection of it than the individual experience of it. The problem of "good faith" error is somewhat countered by the experience of other fellow Christians.

Think of the Church as a sort of giant MI6, which gets intelligence from all different sources, which then has to filter out the signal from the noise. This is what Catholicism is like, with the hierarchy being the filter.(I'll admit that there have been many problems with this filter). Now the problem is how to "filter". Here things like logic, philosphy and tradition while "dry" and "unromantic" are useful pragmatic tools which help. What the Church tries in this instance is bring to light the distilled collegiate experience and proclaim it as the Truth. Hence what is being "imposed" on others is the subjective experience of other members via the authority of the Church. The underlying notion here is that no one's subjective experience of Christianity is the complete picture. It's the Church as a whole which has the best overall view.

Hence Chesterton's position. Chesterton was smart enough realise that he could be wrong on some of his intuitions and therefore was happy to subordinate his intuition to combined experience of the Church. Chesterton was a "collegiate romantic." As was C.S. Lewis.

Emerson, on the other hand, was "his own man." His romanticism was individualistic and he was not prepared to subordinate himself to any "external authority". For him, all the other Christians were wrong. Hence he paved his own path straight to hell. He would not listen to anyone who gave him good but disagreeable advice. He was his own "Church".

But what unites all churches is the assumption that whatever Christianity is, it is located outside the individual. The insistence is that Christianity does not come from within - not from individual experience, not from personal intuition.

For the above reasons I think this notion is wrong. Christianity is collegiate "romanticism" not its individualistic mutation. This is one of the big reasons why I think Catholic Integralism is such a failure. It kills the romantic/subjective element of Christianity and converts the believers into automatons. On the other hand, Protestantism tends to convert them into individual subjectivists. Authority and subjectivity on their own are spiritual poisons.

The Social Pathologist said...

Very good post, Bruce. And quite timely, as it's helped clean up some of my thoughts.

Respectfully, I want to offer a critique.

Firstly, Christianity is primarily an "intuitive" religion, conscience, for example being an intuitive subjective experience.

Secondly, Paul writes that "we see through a glass darkly", in other words our subjective experience of Christianity may be prone to error.

Now to the practical stuff.

My guess is that Emerson accepted the evaluation of most Churches that Christianity must be derived from external authority - or else it is not Christianity. Catholics demand that the individual conform to the teaching of the Church authorities,....

Now one of the big concepts in Christianity is the concept of a "Church" or a body of believers. Each one of these believers has a subjective experience of Christianity, with some variation and error between individuals. However the collegiate experience of Christianity is somehow a more truer reflection of it than the individual experience of it. The problem of "good faith" error is somewhat countered by the experience of other fellow Christians.

Think of the Church as a sort of giant MI6, which gets intelligence from all different sources, which then has to filter out the signal from the noise. This is what Catholicism is like, with the hierarchy being the filter.(I'll admit that there have been many problems with this filter). Now the problem is how to "filter". Here things like logic, philosphy and tradition while "dry" and "unromantic" are useful pragmatic tools which help. What the Church tries in this instance is bring to light the distilled collegiate experience and proclaim it as the Truth. Hence what is being "imposed" on others is the subjective experience of other members via the authority of the Church. The underlying notion here is that no one's subjective experience of Christianity is the complete picture. It's the Church as a whole which has the best overall view.

Hence Chesterton's position. Chesterton was smart enough realise that he could be wrong on some of his intuitions and therefore was happy to subordinate his intuition to combined experience of the Church. Chesterton was a "collegiate romantic." As was C.S. Lewis.

Emerson, on the other hand, was "his own man." His romanticism was individualistic and he was not prepared to subordinate himself to any "external authority". For him, all the other Christians were wrong. Hence he paved his own path straight to hell. He would not listen to anyone who gave him good but disagreeable advice. He was his own "Church".

But what unites all churches is the assumption that whatever Christianity is, it is located outside the individual. The insistence is that Christianity does not come from within - not from individual experience, not from personal intuition.

For the above reasons I think this notion is wrong. Christianity is collegiate "romanticism" not its individualistic mutation. This is one of the big reasons why I think Catholic Integralism is such a failure. It kills the romantic/subjective element of Christianity and converts the believers into automatons. On the other hand, Protestantism tends to convert them into individual subjectivists. Authority and subjectivity on their own are spiritual poisons.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP "Now one of the big concepts in Christianity is the concept of a "Church" or a body of believers."

Indeed - but why is it a big concept? If I go by the Fourth Gospel, or indeed the Synoptics, the church does not seem to have been a big concept for Jesus, indeed it was not important enough for him to discuss or plan, at least not explicitly.

"Each one of these believers has a subjective experience of Christianity, with some variation and error between individuals. However the collegiate experience of Christianity is somehow a more truer reflection of it than the individual experience of it. The problem of "good faith" error is somewhat countered by the experience of other fellow Christians."

This is not true for secular organisations; indeed almost the opposite is true: the organisation is generally worse than any individual, is systematically wrong against individual the judgment of participants.

The question, then, is whether the church is exempt from ordinary secular organisation problems - whether God intervenes specifically in the corporate life of the church to do the kind of thing you say. My answer would be - it looks as if this sometimes happens, with some churches - but not always, nor everywhere, nor with all churches... SO we are back to individual discernment.

But when the organisation claims this as its rationale, and claims it is intrinsically the case... well we have crossed a line. This is systematic hubris, when it is not simply manipulative.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP continued

There isn't any explicit scriptural basis for the idea of a church as wiser than its parts (is there?) - and this makes it unwise to have the doctrine as absolutely central to Christian definitions; but of course that isn't decisive by my argument.

My own belief is captured by an analogy with family. The true generalisation is that the best place for a child is with his own parents (because a child wants and needs love more than anything, and only those who love the child are likely to be good, safe, creative parents - otherwise the child will be exploited, as children often are by schools, orphanages etc).

And that the parents are wiser than the child - because the child is immature. Until the child is an adult - when the child is wiser than the parents, when it comes to his own destiny.

I feel much the same about churches. As a generalisation - the church may be wiser than the indivisual up to the point in the individual's development when he *must* take responsibility for his own destiny, hs own faith. If he fails to do this, he fails as an adult; fails to become an adult.

This does not mean that the adult child should turn against the parent! If the relation really is one of love, the adult child embarks on a new kind of loving relationship with his parents. And then there may be a spouse, and there may be children. But the intrinsic goal is adults that are free agents, self-motivated, responsible.

But this analogy holds only when there is love, when love is the dominant motivation; and this is more often the case for families than it is for churches. A church where there is love is suitabel for raising chidlren in the faith; a church where there is not love is going to do net evil.

Love can and will, over time, correct for all kinds of errors. WIthout love there is just bureaucracy; and bureaucracy is intrinsically evil (because it destroys human judgement and responsibility).

This is why I emphasise Gemeinschaft as the proper 'organisation' for Christians, as sepcifcially taught by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.

https://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2018/12/gemeinschaft-not-gesellschaft-in-fourth.html

Only insofar as this is truly scaled-up, and there are limits to it; can a church truly function as a force for Good. An effective military organisation is built upon hierarchical of 'family-like' units, with a kind of 'love' operating at the lowest level of (something like a platoon - but while it has valuable aspects, an army is a long way from a real, loving family.

Of course, this means that Christians will be pretty 'powerless' in worldly terms; when up against the Gessellschaft formal organisations. But mortal life is meant to be experiences from which we learn; it is not meant to try and use unChristian methods (such as massive, impersonal organisation) to reach a Christian goal.

And anyway, I think it is clear enough that we Christians are meant to work in a bottom up fashion, our-selves, our families, Christian believers... And not start with organising the world on the basis of military or economic effectiveness; indeed *that* seems to guarantee military or economic collpase - by its destruction of the last residues of Gemeinschaft - which is what makes us actually cohere, as with modern mainstream Leftism.

The Social Pathologist said...

@BC

If I go by the Fourth Gospel, or indeed the Synoptics, the church does not seem to have been a big concept for Jesus, indeed it was not important enough for him to discuss or plan, at least not explicitly.

I disagree. He prayed that all his believers be "one". Furthermore, Paul in Corinthians 12 is pretty explicit about spiritual differentiation, the tendency towards schism and the wrongness of it. Implicit in Pauls writings and in some of Jesus' quotes on the subject is the fact that not everyone gets the same amount of Christianity doled out to them.

Secondly, Christianity, even within a Protestant context can't just be reduced to the fourth gospel but need to be taken in totality.

The question, then, is whether the church is exempt from ordinary secular organisation problems - whether God intervenes specifically in the corporate life of the church to do the kind of thing you say

The Church is composed of men and is therefore not immune from "bureaucratic sins". Now I know you're not Catholic and I don't expect you to agree with the position but as the RC Church understands itself, God protects it from Dogmatic teaching error, he does not protect it from the malice and corruption of its members. God promised a truthful church, not a well or honestly run one.

SO we are back to individual discernment.

Yes we are to a certain degree. Yves Congar writes about this at length, the thing is the individual discernment has to occur within the context of a collegiate membership and the only options left to the person who feels that the college is failing is to either a) work within the system--with all the suffering that it entails--to change it or to b) leave the system. Reform in the Catholic Church has usually happened by dogged individuals who have had to suffer at the hands of the hierarchy. However the Catholic tradition is to see Schism as a sin even thought the bureaucracy does its best to encourage it.

Love can and will, over time, correct for all kinds of errors

I think you're being an optimist here Bruce, good intentions are no guarantee for good acts.

This is why I emphasise Gemeinschaft as the proper 'organisation' for Christians

The problem with this notion is that it doesn't scale. As an organisation gets bigger a bureaucracy naturally evolves or the organisation collapses. This is how the managerial class came into being. There are however ways to mitigate this. Francis, interestingly, recognises this a problem of the Catholic Church.

As a consequence of its fight against Modernism, the Church has adopted a centralised top heavy, modern bureaucratic structure, which totally kills local initiative and local development. Francis is trying to break up this monolith into more of a federal/collegiate type of structure-which gives more a local feel to the Church- but the trads see this as a betrayal. They want their managerial state.

If I may continue the German conceptualization, I really feel that future of the Church lays in the development of Christian mittlestand organisation which allows local individual development.

Peace.





mostly dead said...

Concerning Tomberg... You actually have a number of Russian philosophers and theologians from 19th, early 20th century who would fit your idea of romantic Christianity. Berdyaev, Solovyev, Ivanov...

As for Emerson, he is not without value, but there are bits in him that reveal dishonesty and dubious agenda. Read the final portions of "Thoughts on Solitude" essay that is available here, for one example (I cannot link the pdf directly, as android phones don't let me do that) : https://theorthodoxnationalist.wordpress.com/

Bruce Charlton said...

@SR - Interesting discussion!

Before addressing your point I would add to my previous analogy, that in a loving family the children agree to (consent to) parental authority - because they know (insofar as they know) that their parents and other adult relations 'know better' and have their best interests at heart. Through adolescence this blaket consient is withdrawn, and the child learns to evaluate for himself. He may continue to do exactly what his parents want for him; but he does not do it *only* because it is what his parents want.

That is the position that modern church devout members are in. The accept church authority because they believe (or know) that the church knows better and has their best interests at heart. But the decision is located within the individual.

Others do not believe that the church knows better, do not believe that the church has my best interests at heart. The decision comes from the individual.

Yet others do this on an issue by issue basis; remain church members - but opt out of some aspects of church authority. Again the decision comes from the individual.

We ought not to forget or deny that the decision, the intuition, the discernment, is always individual - but its scope varies.

*

"I disagree. He prayed that all his believers be "one". Furthermore, Paul in Corinthians 12 "

But I referenced the gospels - so Paul is not included. And saying one does not imply anything about church organisation, priesthood etc; it would have been very simple to say if this had been intended - and if the church was supposed to define being Christ's follower, he surely would have made that clear.

"Christianity, even within a Protestant context can't just be reduced to the fourth gospel but need to be taken in totality."

You say 'can't' but that is begging the question about the authority of the Gospels. I have argued why the Fourth is primary, and I believe these arguments - so I do not accept the idea that all the Bible, all the New Testament, or all the Gospels are of equal authority - or that every verse within the Fourth Gospel is of equal authority.

I don't expect everyone just to agree with me on this, especially if they have never seriously considered the question; but I would have to be given good reasons why I am wrong - not just a counter-assertion.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - Continued

" individual discernment has to occur within the context of a collegiate membership " - I can't see where the 'has to' comes from, given my experience of collegiate memberships. There are som groups to which I would accord authority; but most - very certainly not. You are not talking about real good intentions, but fake good intentions - that are merely an excuse.

For example, if the intentions of socialists, or feminists, or antiracists were genuinely good; they would soon notice that these intentions are not being fulfilled. The fact that they double-down on error (generation after generation), ignoring adverse consequences of policies, is strong proof that their intentions never were good.

"'Love can and will, over time, correct for all kinds of errors'... 'I think you're being an optimist here Bruce, good intentions are no guarantee for good acts."

That's not what I said - I said 'over time'. Individual *acts* will surely err, even with good motivations - but good motivations are the *only* guarantee that these errors will ever be detected and corrected.

"Francis, interestingly, recognises this a problem of the Catholic Church..."

Here is where the individual's disernment of motivations comes in. Of the two current popes, I regard Benedict as well-motivated in absolute terms, and in his vision of the RCC; by contrast I regard Francis as a man of evil motivations, who is dishonestly replacing the RCC with a global Leftist NGO.

I cannot prove this to you - because all 'evidence' presupposes a prior assumption of motivation. But I am quite confident that Benedict is a great and admirable man, while Francis is a devious servant of Satan.

And I regard both of those facts (which might have been otherwise) as necessary to the question of how to regard the RCC, here and now.

Bruce Charlton said...

md - No need to convince me of the value of Emerson - I have read pretty much all his work (including journals and letters) and dozens of books about him and his circle!

As for the Russians - I have sampled them, especially when I was intending to become Russian Orthodox around 2009-11; but the 'thought world' is alien to me. I feel the the English have a different destiny... although I certain wish nothing but the best to the resurgence of Russian Christians.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - I'm sorry but I just accidentally deleted your last comment when attempting to publish it... Can't find it anywhere. Thanks anyway.

The Social Pathologist said...

It's Ok.

I haven't had a chance to check on the post till now.

but I would have to be given good reasons why I am wrong - not just a counter-assertion.

Well, it's because Christ states that he is the fulfilment of the old testament. i.e there is continuity with them. Though I will concede that the gospels have a greater "weighting" in the bible because Christ speaks directly to us through the texts and not through some second order medium like a disciple.

For example, if the intentions of socialists, or feminists, or antiracists were genuinely good; they would soon notice that these intentions are not being fulfilled. The fact that they double-down on error (generation after generation), ignoring adverse consequences of policies, is strong proof that their intentions never were good.

I think this implies a level of rationality and objectivity that most people don't posses. Socialists, in failing to reach their goals, are always blaming it on factors extrinsic to themselves. The human capacity for self-delusion seems limitless. Socialists, on their way to Utopia, have developed quite complex thought processes to explain away their failures.

Having good intentions, i.e. meaning well, are not enough, rather I think there needs to be a commitment to an honest empirical epistemology as a check on our own self-error.

cannot prove this to you - because all 'evidence' presupposes a prior assumption of motivation. But I am quite confident that Benedict is a great and admirable man, while Francis is a devious servant of Satan.


I take a rather different view. I don't think there is a man alive who loathes socialism more than I do but I have learned to recognise that some of its critiques of modern capitalistic society have some validity. I've learned to listen to my "enemies" because every now an then I've found a nugget of truth in their claims.

BTW, I've just finished Steve Bruce's, God is Dead. It's a book about secularisation of the West with a particular emphasis on Britain. I highly recommend it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - "I think this implies a level of rationality and objectivity that most people don't posses. Socialists, in failing to reach their goals, are always blaming it on factors extrinsic to themselves. The human capacity for self-delusion seems limitless. Socialists, on their way to Utopia, have developed quite complex thought processes to explain away their failures. "

Certainly - but that is because their intentions are not good. More exactly, their itentions are covertly anti-good. No matter what happens - the USSR, Mao's China, Pol Pot etc. - they will explain it away. If these do not count as evidence, nothing in the world ever could. Therefore, there intentions are not good.

"Having good intentions, i.e. meaning well, are not enough, rather I think there needs to be a commitment to an honest empirical epistemology as a check on our own self-error."

I would never claim that good intentions are sufficient alone; and certainly honesty is necessary - but honesty itself is part of having good intentions. Without honesty, then intentions are merely a transient emotion.

We need to have a concept of motivation that sees it as a kind of multi-faceted organising principle in life though-time. This makes motivation much clearer to understand, and makes it possible to infer motivation.