The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Saturday, June 24, 2006


I began reading Cardinal Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine with a hostile attitude. We all want to justify ourselves, our actions and our decisions by refuting those of others, particularily those who have taken a different path. His Eminence, however, ends his work with the following admonition:

And now, dear Reader, time is short, eternity is long. Put not from you what you have found; regard it not as mere matter of present controversy; set not out to refute it, and looking about for the best way of doing so; seduce not yourself with the imagination that it comes of dissapointment, or disgust, or restlessness, or wounded feeling, or undue sensibility, or other weakness. Wrap not yourself round in associations of years past; nor determine that to be the truth which you wish to be so, nor make an idol of cherished anticipations. Time is short, eternity is long.

What shall I say to this? Shall I try to refute it? For Newman, what he was talking about was an issue of eternal life and eternal death. One wonders if even those Anglicans presently swimming the Tiber consider it to be so. If not, what is the point of all of the angst and catharsis?

Newman's book is a convincing read. Yes, he was pointing the finger right at me, except I have left the truth in order to go over to simulacra and shadows. If we are to create a Platonic idea of Newman, floating in the aetheral realm of ideas, he would indeed be a witness against me. The Roman Catholic Church is the same church as it was back then. Yes, it is in crisis, but that is almost one of the marks of the Church. The idea that it is we who must submit to the Church, we were created for the Church and not it for us, is a most Christian one indeed. To "shop around" for a church, to not commit, is in this sense the most gravest of follies. A priest once told me that St. Augustine hated his local Catholic Church at first, since the priest was an idiot and the people corrupt. Who knows? Maybe it was just as bad as the local Roman Catholic "community" of today? And should not the all Christians form a united front behind the Pope of Rome, who has abundant evidence to back up the claims to his authority, in the face of a new anti-Christian age?

Yes, this all makes sense. I say it in order to bring myself toward deeper repentance. All theology, however, is personal, and all ecclesiology local. I have brought these things up not to justify myself, not to refute them with fancy arguments, but rather to say that I simply don't see this Church that Newman is talking about. Maybe this is out of malice, or bitterness, or because I am blind to it. I spent my first quarter century in and around the Roman Catholic Church as it existed around the turn of the second millenium here in California and South America. For me, a lot of what Newman argues is directed to the Church I saw growing up as well. Piety, devotion to the saints, respect for tradition still existed but they were frowned upon. Roman Catholics were not pariahs, members of a massive dangerous sect out to conquer the world but rather as normal or worse than everyone else, both in belief and morals. The Roman Catholic Church I knew growing up was no different from the world it existed in. Sorry, maybe I don't read L' Osservatore Romano enough, or watch EWTN every night. Newman is preaching in this book apostolic Christianity, pure and simple. This I will not refute. It's too bad that by the time I came of age it was all a faint memory.

If you want to go over to Rome, go ahead, it's not as if I can argue with you. I have abundant reasons for doing what I am doing, but in the face of Newman's sincerity and appeal to the gravity of the discussion at hand, I will end here the way Ludwig Wittgenstein ended the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

Whereof one cannot speak, whereof one must be silent.


At 12:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah yes Wittgenstein's famous phrase. Did you know it was actually inspired by Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript?

Here's a link to a very informative read


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