Sunday, August 5, 2012

It's a Funny Thing, But...

...when it comes to Christian history, I find something like the Tractarian Controversy a lot more interesting than something like the Walk to Canossa.

I just think nothing is more boring than power politics and in the "ages of faith", Church history is so intertwined with power politics that it seems to share in its dullness. In the same way, monarchy only really became romantic when King Charles I had his head cut off. Until then-- until royalty itself became a rallying-point for chivalry and loyalty and fidelity-- it was just more dreary politics and string-pulling and faction fighting.

Somehow, it is the contrast between the secular world and the religious life that makes religious history interesting. Newman and Pusey awakening an industrial, utilitarian England out of its rationalistic slumber is a gripping story. Hussites and Lollards and other sects preaching a revolutionary Christian doctrine because it would never occur to them to preach a non-Christian revolutionary doctrine is dull.

I especially find the modern history of the Church of England fascinating. The fact that it retained its position as the spiritual home of most Englishmen-- even if it was a home they didn't spend much time in-- seems miraculous enough in itself. It reminds me of those cartoon characters who run over the edge of a cliff and remain suspended in air for a while, before they realise there is no solid ground beneath them, and suddenly plunge.

There is something fascinating to me in reading the newspaper columns of Keith Waterhouse or watching the TV sketches of the Two Ronnies and realising that, even so recently, the Church of England was accepted as part of the furniture in England's social and cultural life; that the parting of the Red Sea shared a mental world with the speeches of Harold Macmillan, the Angry Young Men, and the growth of the redbrick universities.


  1. To be fair to Gregory VII, history would probably have been quite a bit worse if the Walk to Canossa had been in the other direction. I remember coming across a nineteenth-century Protestant writer who was not particularly pro-Catholic but remarked that it was better that mediaeval government should have been influenced by men who had some concept of law and could read and write, rather than being left to illiterate warlords. That's a bit more than just power politics.

  2. Oh, I wasn't attacking the medieval Church for Realpolitik or anything like that. I myself am very inspired by those instances in history where the Church has been unbending towards the secular power. It's just that politics and ethnicity and dynasties seem so interwined with ecclesiastical matters, for such a long stretch of history, that it becomes a bit of a soap opera to the untutored eye like mine.