The Religion of the Day

While looking for an assignment for my students in Greek Prose Composition, which naturally led to the perusal of Victorian English, I came across this idea, which lies at the heart of fourth-century history and, as far as I can see, human history.

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In every age of Christianity, since it was first preached, there has been what may be called a religion of the world, which so far imitates the one true religion, as to deceive the unstable and unwary. The world does not oppose religion as such. I may say, it never has opposed it. In particular, it has, in all ages, acknowledged in one sense or other the Gospel of Christ, fastened on one or other of its characteristics, and professed to embody this in its practice; while by neglecting the other parts of the holy doctrine, it has, in fact, distorted and corrupted even that portion of it which it has exclusively put forward, and so has contrived to explain away the whole;—for he who cultivates only one precept of the gospel to the exclusion of the rest, in reality attends to no part at all. Our duties balance each other; and though we are too sinful to perform them all perfectly, yet we may in some measure be performing them all, and preserving the balance on the whole; whereas, to give ourselves only to this or that commandment, is to incline our minds in a wrong direction, and at length to pull them down to the earth, which is the aim of our adversary, the Devil.

What is the world’s religion now? It has taken the brighter side of the Gospel,—its tidings of comfort, its precepts of love; all darker, deeper views of man’s condition and prospects being comparatively forgotten. This is the religion natural to a civilized age, and well has Satan dressed and completed it into an idol of the Truth…

–(highlight space below for author and work)

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. 1, p. 309f: “The Religion of the Day” (emphases original)

John Henry Newman (1801–90), English prelate and theologian; a founder of the Oxford Movement. He converted to Catholicism in 1845 and was created cardinal in 1879.

John Henry Newman (1801–90), English prelate,  theologian; founder of the Oxford Movement; converted to Catholicism in 1845; created cardinal in 1879.

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Man can never live in society without gods.

Everything pursued as an end in itself, and therefore a good in se, whenever it is pursued or cultivated, or for the attainment of which any sacrifice, whether of comfort, preference, time or conviction, is made, is being worshiped as in fact a god and nothing less. Man cannot escape religion: it is in this that man differs from other animals. For other animals do not pursue goods as goods, and a fortiori, could hardly pursue them as goods in se, but as necessities.

Thus every state is a religious state and every good which a state identifies and articulates to itself is a god of the state. And thus, to any observer of the period, it will be clear that concept of separation of church and state was invented, ran its course, and disappeared, all in the fourth century.

Now whether it has happened before or since I cannot say, but if anyone wants a model of what such a thing would look like, he would do far better to look at the Roman Empire of that period, than to his own country of his own time, especially if he happen to live in a time and a place where his emperor proclaims sex without consequences to be a god, or punishes difference of opinion with financial ruin or robotic assassination.

And if this comment bothers you, dear reader, don’t worry: my voice, should it grow too loud, or, gods forbid, too influential, will be eliminated.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.

(Also head over to Michael Gilleland’s blog for some good excerpts of Brideshead Revisited. I can’t believe I’ve never tagged this novel. One of the ten best I’ve ever read. But then, I haven’t read it in the last couple years. Linked at right)

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About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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