A Second Reformation?

Rome has fallen.

Beginning in the 1960s, most mainline Protestant churches fractured over two divergent understandings of Christianity.  In one camp are those who believe Christianity was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, in Holy Scripture, and in the traditions of the early church.  The duty of present-day Christians is to pass that heritage, unaltered and undiminished to future generations until the Lord comes again.  In the other camp are those who believe the faith must reflect the Zeitgeist, altering itself as necessary to maintain a broad appeal.  They see revelation as an ongoing process in which new commandments can override old. 

Under a veneer of unity, this same tension has been present within the Roman Catholic church.  With the release of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s recent letter attributing priestly pedophilia to a widespread toleration of homosexuality among Roman clergy, the fracture is in the open.  The Zeitgeist has proclaimed homosexuality normal and, as in the mainline Protestant churches, the faction within the Roman church that follows the Zeitgeist must follow suit.  To traditional Christians this is anathema.  Rome appears headed for schism.

This may be good news.  A schism within the Roman church and the emergence of a sizeable Roman “continuing church” would create the possibility of a second Reformation, with the difference that this Reformation would unify rather than divide.  “Continuing church” Protestants and Catholics would have more in common with each other than with modernizers in their own denominations; the same would be true for the other side.  It is conceivable that Catholics and Protestants could unite in two new churches, one reflecting Zeitgeist, the other upholding traditional Christianity.  Given the number of both Catholic and Protestants traditionalists, a new, united “continuing church” might be the larger–large enough to wield substantial cultural and political power. 

To be sure, the obstacles would be significant, especially for the traditionalists.  Traditional Protestants and Catholics would each have to look back before the Reformation to find common ground.  Protestants would have to accept a Catholic understanding of the Eucharist and adopt a valid liturgy for their communion services (even some Baptist churches had liturgy up into the early 1900s).  Catholics would have to share the Apostolic Succession with non-Catholic male clergy and forego requiring that Protestants accept the innovations arising out of the Council of Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II.  The Holy Spirit would have to do some heavy lifting to make a union come about. 

What might be the strategic implications of such a second Reformation?  Since the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, the West has discounted religion as a strategic factor.  But at present, the primary strategic weakness of the West is that it no longer believes in itself.  Western culture’s will to live died in World War I, in the mud and slaughter of the Western Front.  After the Somme, Verdun, and Passchendaele, the best lacked all conviction.  Fascism attempted to recover by exalting the will, but fascism failed, felled by its own errors.  And so today as the old West, Europe, is invaded by hordes of mendicants from strange cultures, the European elites offer their countries as doormats.  

As Russell Kirk wrote, “Culture comes from the cult.”  Religion has been at the heart of most, perhaps all cultures since human culture arose.  While the First World War collapsed the West’s faith in itself, the religion at the core of Western culture had long been under assault by rationalism.  Fractured by the first Reformation, the church could no longer speak with the united voice necessary to reply convincingly (about this, see Brad S. Gregory’s recent book, The Unintended Reformation).  To Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum,” a united church would have answered, “Non est.  Dues cogitavit, ergo es.

How can Western culture recover the will to live when, in Europe, the churches are empty because most of the clergy no longer believe the Nicene Creed, while in the U.S. many of the most popular churches preach a therapeutic narcissism that has little to do with taking up your cross and following Jesus?  Among the ruling elites in both Europe and America, Christian faith is regarded as spiritual eczema, an unfortunate condition to be covered up in public.  It can have no role to play in strategy; the very notion is absurd.

This, then, is the potential strategic significance of a second Reformation, one that unites all traditional Christians in one church:  the West’s recovery of the will to live.  Far from being strategically unimportant, religion is now as it always has been, one of the most powerful strategic factors, a lesson the Islamics teach us regularly on our own soil.  Culture comes from the cult, and a united church, marching as to war, could revive Western people’s’ belief in their culture and in themselves.  Deus vult.

 

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.