Friday, 9 November 2018

The lineage of Romantic Christianity in England (a sort-of manifesto: a testimony)

To define Romanticism with precision has proved impossible - because it is a movement, a phase in human consciousness; but those who feel it will recognise it when we see it.  

To be included in this list, one must be both Romantic and Christian (and be someone whose work I personally respond-to):

William Blake
William Wordsworth
ST Coleridge

Then came several generations during which the Romantics were not Christian, and the Christians were not Romantic. Exceptions include George Macdonald and GK Chesterton, who link between the early Romantic Christians and the Inklings. Both of these I somewhat like, especially GKC - but I am unable to engage whole-heartedly.

Charles Williams
JRR Tolkien
CS Lewis
Owen Barfield

William Arkle

Current representatives of whom I am aware include Jeremy Naydler, Terry Boardman, and the Albion Awakening bloggers: William Wildblood, John Fitzgerald and myself.

Comments:

The influence of Rudolf Steiner is evident; since although Anthroposophists are extremely rare in England - Barfield, Naydler and Boardman are all of that ilk. This is evidence that Romanticism fits most comfortably with heterodox Christianity - despite that Tolkien (Roman Catholic) and Lewis (Church of England) were orthodox in their practice. Indeed; Blake, Barfield (for much of his life), Arkle and most of the currently alive people - are (I believe) essentially unaffiliated Christians; whose religious and spiritual practice is mostly and in-principle individual rather than communal.

The Steiner link is also important because Germany (in the sense of the Central European German-speaking culture - including Austria and Switzerland, and some culturally-Germanic cities not nowadays in Germany) was the other great origin of Romanticism - with Herder, Goethe, Schiller etc. However until Steiner's 'conversion' in about 1898; the German Romantic literary tradition was not really Christian. An exception is Novalis - the father of Romantic Christianity in Germany.

It might also be argued that CG Jung (1875-1961) is also part of the German tradition of Romantic Christianity - although (as so often with Jung) his status as a Christian is ambiguous - overall, I would say that by the end of his life, Jung should indeed be regarded as a Christian.  

There are not many on this list; because I don't know of many Romantic Christians. It is a job still to be done, by each individual - since Romantic Christianity must be experiential (knowing 'about' it does not suffice).

However, I regard both Barfield and Arkle as having essentially done the necessary work and, uniquely, achieved Romantic Christianity: both in their theory and in their living.


Mainstream Christianity still tends to regard Traditionalism as a 'safe' path to salvation; and theosis as too 'risky' - and Romanticism is about theosis.

But for the Romantic Christian there is no 'safe' path in the modern world; and traditionalism has in fact become impossible (judged at the deepest level of motivation); as well as sub-optimally desirable. We feel that, in modern conditions, salvation requires theosis; so a purely salvation orientation can only be a kind of 'rescue' procedure.

Because ultimately Romanticism is not a 'reaction' against the Industrial Revolution, modernity and bureaucracy; rather, Romanticism is a positive path of divine destiny, concerned with human evolutionary-development of consciousness.


The aim of Romantic Christianity is (implicitly) to attain the divine form of cosnciousness (what Barfield termed Final Participation) as the primary goal of mortal life at this era of history. In different words: the aim is to restore the unity of Life - including the healing of the split between mind and matter, subjective and objective... to cure the malaise of alienation.

Romantic Christianity is both theoretical (metaphysical) and practical (experiential) - ideas and living both need to change; because otherwise the two aspects will be at contradictory, at war - and therefore unattainable in life.

The Romantic Christian demands that life be Christian - as its root and frame; and also demands that life (including Christianity) be Romantic - therefore it cannot accept the ultimate of primary necessity of System, organisation, institution, bureaucracy... these are all to be regarded as evils; even if, sometimes (in mortal life); expedient or even temoprarily-necessary evils - evils that challenge us to love, faith and hope; and to grow.

Love and creativity are the goal; with creativity as located in thinking, and thinking regarded as universal and primary. 

5 comments:

Chiu ChunLing said...

I thought theosis was always the explicit aim of Christianity, such that there simply is no point in the entire package if you fail to achieve it. What else are we to make of Christ's teachings? The emphasis on God being our Father and we being His children? The primacy of developing divine character attributes?

In exactly what sense is someone even a Christian if they do not regard theosis (whether or not under that term) as the ultimate aim of everything else in Christianity?

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - I take your point that it should have been - if the Fourth Gospel (and presumably the actual teachings of Jesus) had been taken to heart and kept as the focus.

But, Man's consciousness has changed, and the needs of mortal Men have changed too.

I can certainly understand why (almost purely) salvation-orientated Christianity can be seen as the priority; a kind of minimal, emergency-rescue approach - as with modern conservative evangelicals. And it does real good.

But it is purely defensive; and not a basis for a positive life. What should people do the day after they are born again? Only two ideas - hold-onto salvation and try to convert others; but that holding-on... difficult indeed.

If salvation was what we incarnated for, it would be better for most people not to live long lives - the fact that we do may indicate we should be doing more.

Or, a long life may simply be to give someone more chances of salvation - this is a real possibility in some instances.

But I suppose such people lack the Romantic impulse, anyway.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I don't understand in what sense "salvation" even has any meaning if it does not involve becoming like God, at least in some degree.

The puerile vision of Hell in medieval art (both in and out of Christendom) and Heavy Metal album covers may be suitable for scaring children into staying in bed at night, but remaining in a state of mind that is even influenced by that is a damnation of itself.

The real danger is to be left eternally distant from the character and attributes of God.

Or are the "saved" even in our day merely celebrating their confidence that they are not going to literally end up in what was always intended only as a metaphorical picture? I'm half afraid that the answer may be one I don't wish to hear. The other half, probably resigned.

For those who are only held to virtue out of fear of Hell rather than love of Christ, that fear will have to be with them for eternity. Is that really the kind of condition that people mean when they speak of Heaven?

Gabe Ruth said...

Two more name suggestions: John Ruskin and Valentin Tomberg.

I'm surprised you don't mention Ruskin. Does his proto-commie rhetoric turn you off? His turn towards a more explicitly socialist approach near the end is unfortunate, but I believe it was mostly due to the discouraging reception of his ideas. There are some things that even marxists get right, and the degradation of work is one of them. The problem of alienation from one's livelihood, the exclusively mercenary and transactional society, is what drove Ruskin's ideas about society.

Tomberg is another link to anthroposophy, but a very atypical one.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gabe - I didn't mention Tomberg (although I respect him very much) partly because he isn't British, and partly because I think he is ultimately more of a traditionalist Neo-Platonist. I think his work implies restoration as a goal, rather than Final Participation.

As for Ruskin - I first read Ruskin more than 40 years ago, and bought a few of his books as a teenager. I knew him as an early socialist - influencer of William Morris (another favourite of mine) and Bernard Shaw.

I visited Ruskin's last house in Coniston with the family a few years ago, now a museum; and spent a while re-reading and re-evaluating, looking at the recent two volume biography. (I was also interested in the nature of the final long-term degenerative psychotic illness.)

But I finally concluded that - while the early Christian Ruskin was certainly more congenial to me than the late atheist-political figure; he was not really in that line I have described.