Apr 29, 2015

Catholicism - Protestantism

Are not Catholicism and Protestantism related to each other like - it may seem extraordinary but is really so physically - like a building which cannot stand, to a buttress which cannot stand alone, whereas the whole is even very firm and secure, so long as they keep together, the building and the buttress which supports it.  In other words: surely Protestantism, Lutheranism is really a corrective; and the result of having made Protestantism into the regulative has been to produce great confusion.

As long as Luther lived it could not be seen clearly, for he was continuously in the tense atmosphere of battle, and straining every nerve as polemicist, as well as in the smoke and steam of the battle; and as long as the fight continues there is something which corresponds to steam and smoke and which prevents one having either the time, the peace, or the clarity to see whether the point can be carried and the transposition made.  Luther fought, it is always said, polemically against Catholicism: but it cannot be achieved in this way; it becomes clear how it ought to be done, but there is no time to stop, we must go on to the next point; we are fighting: but it cannot be achieved in this way, etc., and that is as far as it gets.

Then comes peace. Now we shall see whether Protestantism can stand by itself. Whether or not cannot perhaps be seen distinctly in a country where Catholicism exists side by side with Protestantism, for although they do not fight and each look to their own affairs there will be a reciprocal relationship at many points.  In order to be able to see clearly whether and to what extent Protestantism can stand alone it is desirable to have a country where there is no Catholicism.  There one would see whether Protestantism would not - presuming that it degenerated - lead to a form of corruption to which Catholicism - presuming it degenerated - did not lead, and whether that does not show that Protestantism is not fit to stand alone.

Let us try and realise this more clearly.  It was after a heavy yoke had been upon men's shoulders for a long, long time, after they had been frightened with death, judgment, and hell for generation to generation, with fasting and scourging, it was then that the bow broke. Out of a monastery cell broke the man Luther.  Now let us be careful not the separate what belongs together, the background and the foreground, not to get a landscape without background, not to get something quite meaningless.

Now what Luther dared to do was, under the circumstances, the truth; for the opposite had been falsely exaggerated.

Luther then, broke out of the monastery.  But that was not really the best opportunity of seeing with sweet reasonableness how much truth there was in the opposite, when it was not exaggerated.  Luther knew he was hardly safe, and it was therefore rather a question of making use of the advantage he had won, by having broken out, in order to wound the opposite as deeply as possible.

Now take the order of things, just as they were when Luther broke out: they were in error: take away the assumption necessary for Luther, and Lutheranism is perfectly meaningless.  Try and imagine that what Luther in extreme tension attacked as being the extreme, that it had become a sort of Result, in such a way that the extreme tension was omitted: and Lutheranism is absolute nonsense.  Imagine a country, cut off from Catholic influence, to which this Lutheran Result had been brought - there the generation now living has never heard a single word about the aspect of the question which is expressed by the monastery, asceticism, etc., and which the Middle Ages exaggerated; on the contrary, it is brought up from childhood, softened from childhood with the Lutheran notion of calming an anxious conscience - though it is important to note that there is not a soul who has made his conscience anxious, however distantly.  What then is Lutheranism?  Is there any sense in calming the anxious conscience, when the assumption: "anxious consciences" simply does not exist?  Does not Lutheranism become meaningless, and what is worse, does it not become a refinement, which will denote the difference between degenerated Protestantism and the corruption of degenerated Catholicism.

And that is exactly what I wanted to show, together with the fact that it indicates that Protestantism is not fit to stand alone.

When Catholicism degenerates, what form will the corruption take?  The answer is easy: hypocritical sanctimoniousness.  When Protestantism degenerates, what form of corruption shall we find?  The answer is not difficult: shallow worldliness.  But in Protestantism this will show itself with a refinement which cannot occur in Catholicism.

Set them off one against the other, hypocritical sanctimoniousness and shallow worldliness; but I maintain that into the bargain there is a certain refinement which does not appear in Catholicism, and that is the result of Protestantism being calculated upon an assumption.  That is the refinement I want to show.

Let us take a perfectly simple instance.  Imagine a Catholic prelate who is completely worldly - naturally not to such an extent that the law cannot punish him, or that nature itself will take its revenge, no, he is altogether too worldly to be so stupid; no, the whole thing is shrewdly calculated (and this is the worldliest thing about it) for shrewd enjoyment, and then in turn for the enjoyment of this very shrewdness - and thus his whole life is the enjoyment of all possible pleasure such as no worldly-wise Epicurean could exceed. How then will the Catholic judge him?  Well, I assume that he says (quite becomingly), it is not my business to pass judgment upon the higher clergy; but none the less the Catholic will readily see that it is worldliness.  And why will he readily see this?  Because the Catholic sees at the same time an entirely different side of Christianity expressed - a fact which the prelate must put up with, for side by side with him there walks one who lives in poverty, and the Catholic thus has a profound sense that this is truer than the prelate's way of life, which, alas, is mere worldliness.

Now imagine on the other hand a Protestant country, where there is no trace of Catholicism, where for a long, long time people have accepted the Lutheran view, but without its original premise, where for a long, long time they have been rid of asceticism and fasting, of monks and of those who preach Christianity in poverty - and not only that, but have got rid of it thoroughly, as of something ridiculous and foolish, so that if any such figure were to turn up now, people would burst with laughter as at an outlandish beast; they have got rid of it as of a lower, an imperfect conception of Christianity.  Imagine now in this Protestant country a Protestant prelate who is the exact counterpart of the Catholic.  What then?  Why, in this case the Protestant prelate possesses a refinement of pleasure, a refinement for which the Catholic prelate's mouth may water in vain, inasmuch as in the whole Protestant environment there is not a living soul that has a profound sense of the significance of renouncing the world (the sort of godliness which had its share of truth, even if it was exaggerated in the Middle Ages), because the religion of the land is built upon the Result of Lutheranism (without its original premise), that godliness is nothing but a frank-hearted enjoyment of life (which is indeed wonderful when one has witnessed Luther's fear and trembling and tribulation).    Thus the Protestant prelate possesses a refinement of pleasure - the luck of it, the Catholic prelate might exclaim, the deuce take him! - the refinement, namely, that his contemporaries look upon his worldliness and worldly enjoyment as godliness!  Look, say the contemporaries one to another (and remember that in Catholicism the situation was that one said to the other, let us not look upon it or dwell upon it, it is just simply worldliness), behold frank-hearted Lutheranism, watch him over the turtle soup, there is no connoisseur like him, watch him at the oyster feast, see how he can suck enjoyment from every situation, and how shrewdly he looks after his own affairs; so let us admire this frank-hearted Lutheranism!  High he soars - in frank-hearted Lutheranism - high above the lower and imperfect ideal of entering a monastery, of fasting, of preaching Christianity in poverty, high he soars above it all in freedom of spirit and frank-hearted Lutheranism! The noble thing is not to wander away from the world, to flee from it - no, genuine Lutheranism is like the prelate, for this is godliness. His contemporaries do not merely put up with this or take pains to ignore it; no, they regard it with admiration - as godliness. . . .

Luther set up the highest spiritual principle: pure inwardness.  It may become so dangerous that we can sink to the lowest of lowest paganism (however, the highest and the lowest are like one another) where sensual debauchery is celebrated as divine worship; and so in Protestantism a point may be reached at which worldliness is honoured and highly valued as - piety.  And this - as I maintain - cannot happen in Catholicism.

But why can it not happen in Catholicism?  Because Catholicism has the universal premise that we men are pretty well rascals. And why can it happen in Protestantism?  Because the Protestant principle is related to a particular premise: a man who sits in the anguish of death, in fear and trembling and much tribulation* - and of those there are not many in any one generation.

It is not my intention herewith to introduce monasticism, even if I were able to; my endeavour is only directed towards contributing to our coming to an understanding with truth, with the help of a few admissions.

- Soren Kierkegaard

*Kierkegaard defines tribulation thus: "The difference between sin and tribulation (for the situation in both can be surprisingly alike) is that the temptations of sin are with desire, and the temptations of tribulation are against desire.  The opposite tactics have therefore to be used.  Those whom sin tempts with desire do well to avoid the danger, but in relation to tribulation that is precisely the danger, the danger becomes greater next time.  The voluptuary does well to fly the sight or the attraction, but the man to whom desire is not the temptation, but on the contrary a dread of coming into contact with it (he is in tribulation) does well not to avoid the sight or the attraction; for tribulation really wants to frighten him continually and keep him in a state of dread."