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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Historiographical Note To Self Regarding Secularism and Constantinian End 
4th-Oct-2010 12:39 am
Pelikan writes in Jesus Through The Centuries, ch. 9, "The Monk Who Rules the World", that:
Although the ascetic impulse had been present in the Christian movement from the beginning, having been articulated for example by the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 7:1-7), it is no coincidence that it should have risen to prominence, in the life of monks such as Anthony, precisely at the time when the church was making its peace with the Roman empire and with the world. Part of the price the church paid for that peace was the necessity of coming to terms with those who could not, or at any rate did not, take its message with utmost seriousness, but who were willing to go along with being Christians much as they had been willing to go along with being pagans, just as long as it did not cost them too much.
This gives me a new thought on the phenomenon of secularization. In Christian historiography, we have tended to speak of the secularizing phenomenon as something of a great disaster: the collapse of a Christian civilization, and at some levels that is clearly what has happened. From Luther to that other German, Benedict XVI, you have had Christians (Luther at the beginning of modernity, Benedict at the end) speak of an adjustment to a smaller Church of the more vigorously faithful. My new historiographical thought, which I'm not sure I've seen before, is to therefore explicitly tie secularization into the de-Constantinianization of the Church. (I do see that Pelikan then rightly describes this shift in the Church at the time of Constantine as a secularization of the Church in its own time, so that's some tying of the two concepts together, if not of modernity's secularization.) We have typically spoken of secularization as a bad thing (obviously true on some levels, particularly that of the individual), and of leaving the Constantinian period of the Church as a good thing. What if secularization (along with its cousin, the rise of at least an aesthetic neo-paganism) is just that effect of the shaking off of the Constantinian drift of those who will follow the dominant cultural motif, be it in this case for or against Christianity?

This historiographical point might also have some explanatory power for the drift seen during the secularization period from the "heroic" atheism visible at times in earlier modernity, with its potent and serious philosophical question-asking to the current state of the "New Atheists," as well as the anemic and comparatively un-serious nature of what is today invoked as paganism, with its utter disinterest in attempting to present itself as a serious and explanatory worldview, unlike the historical paganisms of antiquity. This thesis could also have some explanatory power for the rapid decline in religious vocations as the two-tiered approach to Christian spirituality effectively created by the monastic revolution at the time of Constantine and his heirs has also come to an end with the de-Constantinianization of the Church, and the decline of a need for a "stronger" version of Christian discipleship.
4th-Oct-2010 05:59 am (UTC)
This is only slightly relevant, but I've been reading Charles Taylor's "The Secular Age" (over the last, ahem, six months) and I find myself more and more fascinated with the subject of secularization vs. whatever else we want to call it. It kind of feels like the obverse side of my interest in the middle ages. /random comment!
4th-Oct-2010 06:17 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's one I really want to get to, but haven't yet. I made a point of going to his discussions on the topic, though, at the last American Academy of Religion conference. I do look to be including his The Ethics of Authenticity in my class next semester on grace, so that will give me some opportunity to read him in the midst of the busy schedule. (I'm starting to see the attractiveness of the method of some professors who don't seem to try to find the best texts for a course and hold to those, but who keep switching the texts around, despite potential problems or lemons, so that they can use the course as a way to further their own reading/research.)

By the way, I just augmented the end of the entry with another thought on the matter, with a particular import for Catholic historiography. If that provokes any interest/insight, or any thought on whether it's even persuasive-sounding, I'll be happy to hear your thoughts!
5th-Oct-2010 05:52 am (UTC)
Susan Brown Ramsey commented on your post.

Susan wrote:
"I would agree with all of your reflections, but just add the neo-monastic Christian community groups led by John Perkins, Shane Claiborne and others, who live with the urban and rural poor and marginalized."

To see the comment thread, follow the link below:
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