Thursday, December 3, 2015

Enthusiasm, XIV: Further Characteristics of Enthusiasm


In the previous posting in this series, we looked at two of Msgr. Ronald Knox’s fourteen characteristics of enthusiasm as identified and summarized by Dr. James Hitchcock in his book, The New Enthusiasts, 1) Excessive Piety and 2) Schism.

Blaise Pascal defended the Jansenists.
In today’s posting we look at 3) Charismatic Authority, 4) Ultrasupernaturalism, 5) Global Pessimism (Destructive Grace), 6) Anti-Intellectualism, 7) Theocracy, 8) Millenarianism, and 9) Mysticism:

3. Charismatic Authority.  This is the “inner light” to which Chesterton and Knox referred — and not in a complimentary manner.  As Hitchcock commented,

“Enthusiasts have an overpowering sense of the special gifts bestowed on them by God and of God’s special place in their lives.  While they may not begin by challenging or denying Church authority, and may (like the Jansenists) manage a fancy juggling act with regard to it, in the end they cannot concede it any final word when it contravenes, or even merely fails to support, their own special sense of mission.  Repeatedly they invoke the power of the Spirit (or of some kind of inward inspiration) against ecclesiastical forms which appear dead, dry, routinized, and worldly.” (Hitchcock, The New Enthusiasts, op. cit., 18.)

Pope Francis, conservative target.
Obviously, while many on the conservative side would tend to deny it, this afflicts not merely the modernists (new things in new ways), but — demonstrating the odd underlying unity of dissent that joins at the same time it separates — the traditionalists (old things in old ways), some of which are extremely vocal in their criticisms of Pope Francis.

4. Ultrasupernaturalism.  As we’ve noted a couple of times already, Knox used “enthusiasm” and “ultrasupernaturalism” pretty much interchangeably.  He seems to have preferred the longer and more obscure term, but thought that enthusiasm a bit more palatable for his audience.

Possibly because the book stepped on so many toes already (rather like this blog series, no doubt), Knox — for good or ill — chose to go the less recondite route.  As he said,

Msgr. Ronald A. Knox
“If I could have been certain of the reader’s goodwill, I would have called my tendency ‘ultrasupernaturalism’.  For that is the real character of the enthusiast; he expects more evident results from the grace of God than we others.  He sees what effects religion can have, does sometimes have, in transforming a man’s whole life and outlook; these exceptional cases (so we are content to think them) are for him the average standard of religious achievement.  He will have no ‘almost-Christians’, no weaker brethren who plod and stumble, who (if the truth must be told) would like to have a foot in either world, whose ambition is to qualify, not to excel.  He has before his eyes a picture of the early Church, visibly penetrated with supernatural influences; and nothing less will serve him for a model.  Extenuate, accommodate, interpret, and he will part company with you.”  (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 2.)

Needless to say (so of course it must be said), when Knox referred to non-enthusiasts in this and similar passages, he was not actually saying that the non-enthusiast is an “almost-Christian,” a plodder, a stumbler, or someone who will just do the minimum necessary to get by.  No, he was rather satirically giving the enthusiast’s view of the non-enthusiast, and inviting us to roll our eyes with him — politely, and with proper British dignity, of course.  No wonder Knox and Evelyn Waugh were such good friends; Waugh wrote the first biography of Knox, and both admired the novels of Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson.

"Sanctifying Grace" a Catholic doctrine.
5. Destructive Grace.  Hitchcock called this “Global Pessimism,” but we believe the term is misleading.  It doesn’t really describe what Knox was talking about.  We think “destructive grace” is more descriptive.

To explain, the Catholic Church teaches the existence of something called “sanctifying grace.”  This could be getting a little too deep for our subject, especially for non-Christians (who might want to skip this and the next three paragraphs), but “sanctifying grace” is defined as “the supernatural state of being infused by God.”  (“Being,” by the way, is a noun in that definition.)

The Catholic Church believes that sanctifying grace confers an indelible mark on someone’s soul.  Just as the rational soul is considered essential to someone’s natural life, sanctifying grace is considered essential to someone’s supernatural life; it becomes an actual part of someone’s soul.

Enthusiasts in general appear to confuse sanctifying grace with the supernatural virtue of charity.  They tend to assume that they are saved where others are damned because of their excess of charity (ultrasupernaturalism), and thus of grace.

Participation in Divine Life
Charity, however, pertains to the will (or God could not command people to love Him or our neighbor), while sanctifying grace belongs to the whole soul, which includes intellect, will, and emotions, some of which are not under the control of our wills.  According to the Catholic Church, those who possess sanctifying grace are made holy by giving them a participation in the divine life.

Having gotten that out of the way, we can explain what we mean by “destructive grace.”  This does not seem to be something to which Knox gave a name, and (as we said above) to which we think Hitchcock gave a misleading one.

One of the things that has recurred constantly in writing this blog series (in addition to wondering whether anything has ever “curred”) is how often enthusiasts imply or demand outright that fundamental human nature must change.  Charity — actually, as Knox would say, an excess of charity — must replace justice and all the other temporal virtues natural to the human condition, so “that this too solid flesh would melt” and the wholly spiritual take over.  As Hitchcock explains,

Hamlet with Yorick's melted flesh.
“This [global pessimism/destructive grace] is not Knox’s term.  However, it sums up his analysis of enthusiasts as people who believe grace [charity — ed.] destroys nature rather than perfecting it.  Despite their frequent pride, at least ostensibly they do not take pride in their own character and achievements but in the gifts God has bestowed on them purely gratuitously.  Their impatience with other Christians is frequently due to the latter’s apparent reliance on human virtues and gifts, their compromises with the world.” (Hitchcock, The New Enthusiasts, op. cit., 19.)

6. Anti-Intellectualism.  This, in our opinion, is the key to understanding enthusiasm, just as it is pivotal to the rejection of common sense that is our theme in this blog series.  The replacement of the Intellect in favor of the Will as the basis for the natural law, and the resultant confusion of the natural and the supernatural is grounded in at least a suspicion, and at most a complete rejection of the intellect as having any validity.  As Hitchcock notes,

Aquinas: Immense intellectual effort.
“The Catholic tradition has lavished immense care, subtlety, and intellectual effort on the expression and elaboration of Catholic beliefs, a process which has attracted the best minds of the Church for nearly two millennia.  Now this whole dogmatic heritage is often implicitly dismissed as irrelevant. . . . The assumption holds sway that formal intellectual understanding of faith is necessarily sterile.  Contrasted to it is an approach to religion which sees it as a highly personal, even subjective experience.  [Cf. Durkheim’s view of religion as a social, rather than a spiritual phenomenon, Les forms élémentaires de la vie religieuse (1912). — ed.]  Knowledge of faith is deemed unimportant so long as the proper attitudes are imbibed.”  (Hitchcock, The New Enthusiasts, op. cit., 140.)

7. Theocracy.  Some years ago we got into a pointless discussion with someone who insisted that “the rich” must be punished because they are rich, and because they could only have gotten rich (in our disputant’s opinion) by breaking God’s law.  The fact that he could not demonstrate that any rich individual had broken so much as a single human law was irrelevant.  The rich have — presumably — broken God’s law, and that’s enough.  (Cf. Deut. 32:35, Rom. 12:19, Heb. 10:30, etc., etc., etc.)  In recent years we’ve seen this theme recur with increasing demands for the implementation of “Sharia Law” in place of merely human ordinances.

Utopian withdrawal from corruption (New Harmony, Indiana)
The problem, of course, is that what believers in a particular sect accept as a revelation from God may be the very thing that non-believers reject on the grounds that it comes from Satan.  Further, the confusion inherent in the demand between what is due from a human being to God, and to other human beings in relation to God, and what is due to other human beings as human beings — mixing up the natural and the supernatural — leads to the widespread belief that all morality is “religious” and is therefore to be regarded in civil society as mere opinion, and subject to change if some individual or group has the power to do so.

This, in reaction, leads to renewed or increased demands that God’s law be implemented in full.  This (as we might expect) necessarily means joining the civil and religious powers, or vesting religious authorities with the coercive powers of the State.  In this view, as Knox explained,

“[W]orldly governments, being of purely human institution, have no real mandate to exercise authority, and sinful folk have no real rights, although, out of courtesy, their fancied rights must be respected.  Always the enthusiast hankers after a theocracy, in which the anomalies of the present situation will be done away, and the righteous bear rule openly.”  (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 3.)

Archbishop John Ireland
8. Millenarianism.  “Millenarianism” is a belief in a coming ideal society or utopia — especially one created by revolutionary action, usually imposed by the institution of a theocracy of some kind, even if the “religion” being imposed is a nominally anti-religious secularism.  As Ireland observed, “Secularism is a religion of its kind, and usually a very loud-spoken and intolerant religion.” (Archbishop John Ireland, “State Schools and Parish Schools,” Address before the National Education Association of the United States, 1890.)

9. Mysticism.  As they do with most things, enthusiasts get mysticism backwards.  As Chesterton noted, in a Platonic error, they try to go from the abstract to the particular, rather than from the particular to the abstract.  In this way they end up forcing their preconceived notions on reality, rather than letting reality form their notions.

In the next posting in this series we’ll look at the remaining characteristics of enthusiasm before moving on to the final book that should be read in order to understand what has happened to common sense in our day, Fulton Sheen’s God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy.

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