Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Christ Transforming Culture

"One of Cicero’s famous sayings defines history as a thing ‘which bears witness to the passing of the ages, sheds light upon reality, gives life to recollection and guidance to human existence, and brings tidings of ancient days’ (De Oratore II, 9, 36). 

"And it is precisely the witness of history that shows us how the ancient peoples lived, with their cultures given to idolatry, slavery and even human sacrifice. Christ changed all of this by bringing the light of the truth and the law of the Gospel; he gave his disciples the mandate to preach to all nations and to transform the face of the earth. They were to lead all to live by God’s precepts, in his grace, and in fraternal charity. 

"Saint Paul, a paradigm in so many areas, heeded the Savior's bidding and also became a paradigm of respect for all cultures. He sought to purify them of error, and perfect their qualities. With the Greeks he spoke Greek, and preached in the Areopagus of Athens of an ‘Unknown God’ (Acts 17:23); as a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 16:37; 22:25, 27), he understood this people’s jurisprudential leaning, and spoke to them of the Law in legal terms, (cf. Rom 7:1). As a free man, he made himself a slave with the slaves; a Jew with the Jews, he made himself weak with the weak, to win them over: ‘I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it’ (1Cor 9:22–23). As Benedict XVI points out, being the Apostle to the Gentiles, he is even a prototype of the universality of the Church: ‘Paul thus appears to be at the intersection between three different cultures – Roman, Greek and Jewish – and perhaps partly because of this was disposed for fruitful universalistic openness, for a mediation between cultures, for true universality’ (Benedict XVI, General Audience, August 27, 2008).

Read the other quotes from pontiffs on this subject at The Denzinger-Bergoglio.

I have been reading them in the light of a Canadian who now lives in Europe and has been given partial responsibility, through marriage and residency, for the flourishing of Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. Scottish Christianity predates Scotland by a century, perhaps two. Of course, not even in the 10th century were Scots universally saints. We all need to be--as is the motto of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland--"semper reformanda."

One of the sad things about such Christian institutions as orphanages, hospitals, free schools and homes for elderly widows is that they have been taken over by the state. No longer are these things supported by primarily by a generous transaction from one Christian to  others but funded by a tax levied on working adults by the self-congratulating state. When such takeovers happened in Scotland, Christians were often very glad, for they truly thought this would help the orphaned, the sick, the children, the elderly, the poor. Perhaps it did, too, on the material level.  However, it took the cultural focus away from Christ and faith in Christ, and socialism began to take the credit for what was built in Christ. 

Since the Protestant Reformation, the Church of England has dominated England, and Presbyterianism Scotland (the Church of Scotland had schism after schism, so it is hard to say without more research which branch of Presbyterian dominated; I suppose it all depends on the century). Therefore, it is only just  (and would be fat-headed not) to give Protestantism credit for post-16th century developments in Scottish culture. Famously, Protestants were quite enthusiastic about teaching everyone how to read, i.e. read the Bible.

Of course, the new religion did away with many native Scottish cultural elements seen as "popish" or "pagan".  Some of them have come back, I've noticed, without the old Christian transformation. Traditional bonfires are against popular, but unfortunately they are explicitly pagan with men and all-but-topless women dancing about in demon costumes. (I know an atheist Polish migrant who is so incensed that female Beltane dancers aren't allowed to show their nipples that she has begun a free-the-nipple campaign.)

Immodesty of dress is, of course, an obsession of this and probably every era, but--honestly--it is awful to see how Christian-in-name-only Scotland habitually dresses. Women either dress for our own maximum physical comfort, or to show allegiance to some idol--like a brand name or a football team--or to awaken carnal interest in the opposite sex.* None of these these goals are compatible with traditional Scottish Christianity, be it Catholic or Reformed.

Ironically, the atheist Polish nipple-freer is one of the few young adult women I know in Scotland who (when not doing pagan dances) looks pretty, not self-indulgent or sexy. But why am I banging on about clothes, eh?  I suppose it is because dressing in such a way that one's neighbours experience an aesthetic, not erotic, enjoyment of one's appearance seems to me the simplest way to work towards a restoration of Christian Scotland.

Here is an interesting essay on the topic of religion in Scotland. Its focus is on public Christian worship, so it is a little narrow in its approach. A major element of Scottish public life until the 1980s was respect for Sunday as a  quiet day of rest.

*Scotsmen dress better than women in that Scotsman often wear national Scottish dress not only to weddings and formal dinners, but (in a modified fashion) to Scottish sporting events. When it doesn't endanger Scotland's financial well-being, I am all for Scottish nationalism. I do not think nationalism is in itself at all incompatible with Christianity but is a logical extension of Christian social teachings. "Who is my neighbour?" First of all, the people geographically around us, and if you don't understand that, then perhaps your neighbours are right to be a little chary of you.

I have always regretted that there is no Canadian national dress. The closest we come, for Miss Universe pagents, etc., seems to be sexed-up versions of the dress uniform of the  Royal Canadian Mounted Police. How sad is that? I hope the Quebeckers, at least, sometime don a habitant costume although heaven only knows what might happen if they did that too often--start having big families and going to Trad Mass, I suspect.
                     Bonhomme dit, "Allons-y á la messe!" 


  1. This is tangental to your overall point, but your comment about the "self-congratulatory state" reminded me of something Pope Benedict XVI said in Caritas in Veritate (I think): that the state can never provide for all human needs because the state cannot provide love. I thought that was beautifully stated.

    Thank you for writing about Christian culture in Europe...historically and presently. It's a good reminder of where we come from, where we got our values.

  2. Thank you! And I think I have figured out what this blog is about!

  3. Yay! Looking forward to new posts anyway, but especially if about Christian culture in Europe!