Subject: Restoration...or Conquest II|
The recent conversation has been very exciting, thanks to Shawn and Will S.
Though the status of Protestant and Roman Churches is interesting, the issue points to the bigger questions, What is conservatism? (or restoration or reform or counter-revolution, etc.) What is required for a group of human beings to restore an institution (in the broadest and deepest sense of the word) without revolutionizing, or fundamentally changing it? What are the marks of an authentic or true restoration?
Will S.'s analogies between the Reformation and the Confederate Secession and Vatican II, respectively, are excellent. They suggest, it seems to me, the two alternative understandings of conservatism.
On one hand, the Confederates certainly thought of themselves as conservators of the American idea. Armed with the words of the founding documents and the memory of the founders themselves, the Confederates were prepared to separate from the founded institutions and the current guardians of those institutions. The Confederates conceived of their work as the preservation of the American idea—of America itself.
I wonder, however, whether the American idea, the genius that brought about the founding, can exist apart from the institutions and constitutional structures which were founded. Shawn, it seems, would say yes, judging from his comment, 'the Roman church had itself abandoned primitive Christianity and the clear teaching of the Gospel.' Shawn suggests that 'Christianity' exists in some way apart from the existent Church. Of course the meaning of 'Christianity' here is obscure. Is it just an idea?
On the other hand, in the case of Vatican II, obedient Roman Catholics claim that the numerous changes, most of which were practical, but some of which were clearly doctrinal, are not in fact radical departures from the tradition of their Church. However, these Catholics cannot pretend that these changes were resumptions of ancient practices and beliefs. The current stance on non-Catholics, for example, is obviously different from everything that came before it.
Protestant and Orthodox Christians see themselves justified, albeit for different reasons, in this hypocrisy. Protestants claim that the Roman Church has merely aligned itself more with the Reformers, thus rendering irrelevant the Catholic charges of innovation. And the Orthodox claim that Catholics can no longer pretend to be the guardians of ancient practices and beliefs.
Yes--the obedient Catholic would reply--the Catholic Church has made innovations throughout its history and especially in recent decades, but those innovations have not fundamentally changed the Church or the Christianity it professes. Christianity, he would say, does not exist apart from the Church in a neoplatonic realm of ideas waiting to be expropriated by the elect. Nor is the Church bound to certain art styles or liturgical languages. Christianity is more than an idea, and the Church is more than ancient usage. And both Christianity and the Church lose their meaning when they are separated from concrete, living institutions and structures.
I think this Catholic reponse--whatever one may think about the status of the Catholic Church--suggests a good way to answer the question, What is conservatism?