The following is an archived discussion between several members of the West Coast Reactionaries Skype group on the topic of Protestantism and English History. The only editing I have done has been to make it smoother to read and easier to follow.
Octavian: Might I inquire as to how some of you here arrived at Catholicism? Unless you were born into it.
James: Depends on what you mean, I suppose. If you want the label, it’s easy enough to get. If you want to actually live the virtue of such a label, that is something different; special.
Octavian: As in, how do you come to point where you were Catholic believer. As in, not just a nominal Catholic.
James: Hm. It happens by encounter, really; an encounter with the Teacher, to put it into esoteric terms. For most exoterically-minded people, it’s about the beauty, cogency, truthfulness, history etc.. As for myself, I am descended from the most Christian emperors of the noble German nation, the most Catholic kings of Spain, the Archdukes of Austria, and the dukes of Burgundy, all of whom remained even unto death faithful sons of the Holy Roman Church and have always been defenders of the Catholic faith, the sacred ceremonies, decretals, ordinances, and laudable customs, for the honour of God, the propagation of the faith, and the salvation of souls. After their deaths they left, by natural law and heritage, these holy Catholic rites, for us to live and to die following their example. As a faithful imitator of my ancestors, I have, by the grace of God, maintained those rites until now.
Octavian: I guess for me (coming from a fairly arch-Protestant background), the esoteric nature of Catholicism is incredibly foreign to me; whereas I would not consider myself a Christian, I do find Protestantism far more comprehensible.
Harry: May I ask which branch of Protestantism you are coming from?
Octavian: Mixed. Anglican mostly, but many were pretty hardcore Calvinists.
James: What do you find comprehensible about Protestantism? I don’t levy that as a challenge, but as a sincere wish to understand what you mean.
Octavian: I find its simplicity to be engaging. And I guess I find it more philosophically honest than my experience with Catholic doctrine.
Harry: Maybe you should pursue High Church Anglicanism.
James: What do you find dishonest about Catholic doctrine?
Octavian: I suppose I am sympathetic to the idea of a “priesthood of all believers.”
James: Why so?
Octavian: I don’t find the authoritarian nature of the Church to be convincing. Perhaps that’s an egalitarian attitude.
James: Perhaps your instinct is that “With priests and cardinals that act like this, then why can’t we all be priests?” — or am I off the mark with that?
Octavian: No. It’s more complicated. I guess I am sceptical of the nature of the “priesthood” in its entirety.
Harry: The problem with the wide priesthood is that a vast number of people simply aren’t fit to be priests. Regardless, in the first reformed states (and until recently in any Protestant state with a state church) the populous was still under the spiritual guidance of an elite of priests and scholars sanctioned by the state.
Octavian: I feel that for religion to be simply be fed down to the masses, there’s a sense of dishonesty about it.
James: How would you say it’s dishonest?
Octavian: As in, people need to understand the nature of Christ for themselves, otherwise I feel it is all a big lie. However, having been around many Evangelical Protestants, I do understand that most people simply cannot interpret scripture properly. So I am torn I suppose.
James: And you’re right, Harry. Most priests are not worthy of being in the priesthood. It’s also why you see a marked decline in monks and brothers and nuns — because holy orders have held a much stricter line on who can become one of them — we are losing contemplative men right and left.
And well, my dear Octavian, it was the modus operandi of God himself — at least for us Christians — that modelled for us the necessity of pedagogy. God was not content to be contemplated in the temple, he came down as a person. He interacted to us as a human being and taught us directly. The beauty of the Incarnation is that, forever after that moment, God chose inexorably the way in which faith should be transmitted: not as a Holy Book like the Muslims would believe, and not as internal meditation like Buddha attempted to achieve (though there is great merit in interior meditation like the Buddha’s etc.), but through person-to-person interaction; through human interaction. This is the mystery of the Incarnation, why God chose to become Man. The Catholic sanctification and apotheosis of the human person is simply the perpetuation of that Incarnational experience and encounter. We choose to operate the way God chose to operate: through human agency and fiat.
Octavian: But man is fallible.
James: Yes, just like the cells on Jesus’ body also died; he also had body odour; he had bacteria on him just like other men walking the earth; he experienced sweat and blood in the garden.
Octavian: But Jesus was more than just a man.
James: Just like the Church is more than just a collection of men: it is an organism, it is the Body of Christ.
Octavian: I guess that’s where I disagree. I do see the Church as simply a collection of men. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
James: I wouldn’t say that you’re just a collection of your ideologies and your cells, Octavian. You’re also a person, real and with agency.
Octavian: Correct. Man is not worthless. But Man is not God.
James: Yes and no. God became man. There was one man who is both God and Man, not half God or incomplete; he was fully God and fully man. The Church, as she stands amidst other organisms, is also thusly unique.
James: She is the answer and the reflection of the Trinity, the feminine quality to the Trinity’s masculine intercourse; she answers the Trinity with the Trinity of obedience, chastity, and poverty; she is the fulfillment of the hexagram.
Octavian: Perhaps I see the philosophical nature of Christianity to be of greater importance than the Church, hence why I find Protestantism more approachable.
James: What is the philosophical nature of Christianity, and why is that incompatible with the Church?
Octavian: Perhaps I consider Christianity to exist independent of the Church, and that the Church is merely a vessel.
James: You are both right and wrong. The Church is a door, and we don’t mistake the door for the room; the destination — the hope — is the room within. The Church is the narrow gate; through her is the room in its fullness and the security of the room beyond can be found through crossing. So yes, you are correct that the Church is not the totality of Christianity: Christ is the totality of Christianity. The Church is the assured entrance into that mystery.
Octavian: I guess I would respond to that by saying the narrow gate is not the only way.
James: It isn’t.
Octavian: Or that Christ comes to Man rather than Man comes to Christ.
James: It is both. Like Zacchæus, some of us climb trees and beg the Teacher to come to our house; some of us, like the Roman soldiers, recognize that we are not worthy for the Master to enter our roof, and he only needs to say the Word.
Octavian: I must continue to think about these things.
James: But the father waits for the son not inside the manor, but by the road.
James: What is compelling for me about Catholicism is that, when one sees beyond the ideological shroud, she is a beautiful woman and mother who introduces me to her spouse who is Christ. In essence, it is an organic rather than an ideological experience. It is comprehensive in my humanity rather than merely intellectual; it is “real” rather than “abstract.”
Octavian: Hm. Yes, I can see that.
James: There is a world of difference between someone who can recite all of the notes of Handel’s Messiah and an orchestra that can play it. You experience the harmony rather than just understand it. It is like your senses. Your senses experience a person differently: your nose smells her hair; your fingers caress her cheek — but it is still the same person.
Octavian: I suppose there is the God of the philosopher and the God of everyone else. They understand God differently. I mean, Protestantism was first adopted by German aristocrats. Roger Scruton had a good quote: “We can reconcile the God of the philosophers with the God who is worshipped and prayed to by the ordinary believer.” (from his book The Face of God).
Harry: I hate to nitpick, but the first Protestants were students at the university in Wittenberg, noble backing came later.
Octavian: True. I was just emphasising that it wasn’t exactly a grassroots uprising, and I’d argue that most aristocrats would fit the category of “the ordinary believer.”
James: I’d say the aristocrats at the time might have been more so motivated by political ambitions rather than religious conviction — at least most of them.
James: It was certainly true for Henry VIII and certainly true for many of the rival factions in the H.R.E..
Octavian: Yes, that is likely.
James: It happened on the opposite side, too. After all, the dastardly French allied themselves with the Protestant Swedes, just to tear down the Empire.
Harry: But the same could be said for the first Christian Roman Emperors.
James: Though it was markedly different for the Roman pagans. In ancient paganism, there wasn’t as much emphasis on the rivalry of religions as there was in the Catholic/Protestant split. The Empire was much more tolerant of other cults and religions because they understood an underlying — or, rather, a superseding — synthesis that can be achieved. Whereas, in the Catholic/Protestant split, it was an “us or them” mentality — there was ideological, theological, and psychic violence. When the Romans persecution came, it was more a matter of Imperial stability than “quid est veritas.”
Octavian: I think Elizabethan England managed an interesting balance.
James: Interesting, yes — it was certainly very different from the continent, but that’s because of the patrimony of Henry VIII in the first place. He never wanted to break away from Rome, he just wanted a divorce (at any cost!)
Octavian: Yes, but Edward VI and Hartford were very Protestant.
James: Very, and then Elizabeth wanted a more harmonious society so long as she remained queen; considering how tenuous her claims were, she, too, wanted stability, and wanted to achieve that through a kind of middle way, whereas the Germans opted for open warfare, the Dutch opted for revolt, Spain opted for inquisition, and France opted for civil war. The interesting thing about Elizabethan England was that it was a compromise that could only work because of the weakness of the crown — and whether or not “work” is the proper term I probably won’t bother going into. It “worked” from a “stability” point of view, but was it the virtuous solution? Debatable.
Octavian: I think the way Mary I was interpreted historically is an interesting one. She is remembered as being an oppressor of Protestants, but most English people really didn’t have a problem with returning to Rome.
Harry: Henry’s England was already on a path to break from Rome long before he started thinking about Protestantism. His declaration that “this realm of England is an Empire” showed that he would not counsel a spiritual authority above his own. From the 14th century Englishmen already were allowed no higher appeal than the king, especially not the Pope.
James: I wouldn’t disagree with that. The main point being is that Henry was of the political caliber and temperament that he would have brooked no opposition to his designs — religious affiliation or no religious affiliation; either way, most of the common folk in England were pretty Catholic for the most part. It was mostly elites that switched over and spread it about once Henry decided to take matters into his own hands.
Harry: Under Henry liturgical religion hardly changed, that didn’t really start until Edward.
Octavian: I mean we can consider alternate history here. If Henry hadn’t separated from Rome, would have the British Empire even existed?
James: Hm. It’s an interesting question.
Octavian: The whole “War of the Roses would’ve started again” thing doesn’t really hold water because Henry’s two female heirs had pretty peaceful reigns.
James: I suspect fairly little would have changed, honestly… I take that back — my prediction would be that parliament would not have gained as much prominence if Henry had not broken from Rome; Protestant mercantilism and the elevation of the commons would have taken a slower pace; we might have even seen no Cromwell.
Octavian: Protestant mercantilism isn’t just a meme. Some of my ancestors were Protestant mercantiles.
James: If only you could see me crossing myself.