About 10 years ago, when I was still a Catholic, I was visiting St. Francisville and went to Mass. The then-priest, an avuncular back-slapper in the Cardinal Dolan mode, delivered the moldy old sermon about how the real miracle of the Loaves and Fishes story was the “miracle of sharing.” I challenged him on this in front of the church after the service; if memory serves, one of this blog’s readers was standing there and saw this. Father hustled me away; he didn’t want to have to deal with a cranky orthodox Catholic. So it goes.
I’ve always wondered what priests and laymen who love to tear down the myths — which is not the same thing as critically examining them! — think they’re doing. Do they really believe people will respond more to the idea that the “real miracle” of the Eucharist — which is what the Loaves and Fishes tale points forward to — is in the sharing with the community? Fr. Dwight Longenecker writes today about the worthlessness of demythologized Christianity. Excerpt:
The problem with this default de facto demythologization is that it is default and de facto. Bultmann and his gang and the present day reductionists are open and clear about their denial of the miraculous and “mythological”. They write books which clearly deny the Virgin Birth, the resurrection, the incarnation, miracles and the existence of heaven and hell. The vast majority of clergy who have been educated in this system–both Protestants and Catholics alike–don’t proclaim their heresy in clear terms. It’s all behind the mask. It’s the default setting. No one questions it. It is the new orthodoxy.
The liberal Christian religion is no religion at all because it denies the power of God, the supernatural grace of the sacraments, the possibility of miracles and the real interaction between this world and the next. I say it is no religion at all because the supernatural is the stock in trade of religion. That’s what religion is. It deals with the other side. It does commerce with the cosmos. It engages in a transaction with the transcendent. A religion without the supernatural isn’t religion. It is a set of table manners.
To make matters worse the clergy who have absorbed this new orthodoxy of religion without the supernatural continue to use all the words of the old supernatural religion. They celebrate the sacraments with their powerful words of redemption and release. They celebrate baptisms with the powerful words of exorcism and deliverance. They read the gospel aloud, recite the creed and proclaim the mysteries of the faith using the same old, time tested words, but the words have all been re-interpreted. What they believe the stories and creeds mean and what the faithful believe they mean and what the plain words mean are totally different.
I am reminded of this passage from The Foundations Of Christian Art by the art historian and perennialist Titus Burckhardt (1908-1984). Reader Mohammad sent me the book yesterday, and I stayed up late reading it. Excerpt:
Let us now consider whether Christian art can be reborn, and under what conditions its renewal might be possible. First, let it be said that there is a certain chance, slight though it be, in the fact — negative in itself — that the Christian tradition and Western civilization are moving farther and farther apart. The Church, if it is not to be carried away in the chaos of the modern world, must retreat into itself. Some of its representatives are still trying to enlist the most modern and the most spurious artistic movements for the purposes of religions propaganda, but we shall soon see that anything of that kind can only accelerate the intellectual dissolution that threatens to engulf religion itself. The Church must have recourse to all those things that affirm its timeless nature; then only can Christian art returns to its essential models and assume the role, not of a collective art permeating an entire civilization, but of a spiritual support; this will be all the more effective to the degree that it clearly opposes the formal chaos of the modern world. There are a few signs of a development in this direction; the interest in Byzantine and Romanesque art now appearing in religious circles may be mentioned as one of them. But a renewal of Christian art is not conceivable without an awakening of the contemplative spirit at the heart of Christianity; in the absence of this foundation, every attempt to restore Christian art will fail; it can never be anything but a barren reconstruction.
I can’t find a date for when this essay/book of Burckhardt’s was first published, but my guess is that it was written before the Second Vatican Council. Anyway, he’s speaking of the same thing. There is no sacred art without a real sense of the sacred. (I read the book quickly, and will need to read it again, but I think Burckhardt, whom I don’t think was a Christian, would say that there’s no such thing as true art at all without a sense of the sacred, of cosmological order.) Father Dwight is surely correct to say that without firm and conscious grounding in a sacred mythos, religion is barren.