Monday, August 9, 2010

Apostate Christianity or Renewal of Culture?

In a provocative post at On the Square, Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart makes an analogy between Christian activists and Julian the Apostate. Hart's post recalls Charles Péguy's lament: "For the first time after Jesus, we have seen, beneath our eyes… a new world arise… a society taking shape… after Jesus, without Jesus. And what is most terrible, my friend, it cannot be denied, is that they have succeeded… You are the first of the moderns" (Véronique qtd in Traces). 

Hart tells us that Julian's "hatred of Christianity rose out of an always deeper reserve of genuine, guileless affection for the beauty and nobility of the pre-Christian order, and a profound faith in its invincible vitality." But in fact, Julian had the idea that the pagan tradition would offer a motive for charitable works comparable to those of Christianity, even though this paganism had never born such fruits before. Christianity had already changed what Julian knew of his paganism. At any rate, Hart is right about one thing, Julian's attempt to reproduce Christian virtue without Christ has much in common with contemporary attempts to preserve all kinds of customs, morals, and institutions apart from the encounter with Christ which caused them to sprout in the first place.

What's at issue is the nature of culture. Is culture a template, a schema, "a blank form to be filled in" or is it that which begins with "something that has happened to us and that we can’t tear our eyes away from, a singular living reality" (to bring back the quote Sharon posted on August 3: "The Beginning of Culture")? Does Christ bring with Himself a renewed affection for human life? The test of life would then be this: "everything can be encountered and compared taking as a criterion the clarity about man brought by the Christian revelation, and using this criterion, we can retain and give value to what is true and good in everything (Communion and Liberation: A Movement in the Church, p 80). At root, culture begins in a realization that God who has drawn near to us in Christ has not abandoned us.

1 comment:

clairity said...

What a fascinating comparison and great questions. I have some more thoughts on this ... soon.