Enchanted Protestantism – II

17 08 2009


Robert Fludd’s Anti-Papist Quest for the Philosopher’s Stone

Petra autem erat Christus

As I have written previously, to say that Max Weber’s “disenchantment of the world” took place along strictly confessional lines is erroneous. While Counter-Reformation Catholicism in the long run left more room for ancient visions of the world to persist, in its more official sphere, it was just as scrupulous and rationalistic as its Reformed counterpart. Within the last fifty years, what we have seen in the Catholic Church, at least in the developed world, is the consumation of the Council of Trent, not its negation. Theological principle becomes the only fountain of Catholic praxis, whether that principle be feminism, liberation theology, postmodern liberalism, or the official “party line” of the Vatican. Catholicism has been dissected and rationalized; no longer are practices encouraged that are “off the grid” of some institutionalized ideology. While these spontaneous practices still emerge in the survival of atavistic attitudes and in such phenomena as the charismatic movement, the Catholic mainstream has long ago tried to re-form itself along the lines of theological perfection and correctness. It is not the religion of saints and sinners, but of technocrats and specialists; it is not a faith in spirits and demons, but in committees and political action.

Protestantism in many ways went that route a long time ago, but at the beginning of it all, and at the margins of the Protestant world until recently, the blurring of the line between the sacred and the profane, of nature and supernature, was very much present even in this seemingly iconoclastic religion. I have written already of the persistence of such attitudes amidst the popular classes, so now it is time to speak of the religion of the elites at the time that the Reformation was still getting off the ground. In many ways, it would seem that, just as in Catholicism, “folk Protestantism” often received its inspiration from the religion of the elites that had been discarded in the name of “theological purity”. In the case of Reformation England, the “enchantment of the world” was not seen as something contrary to the reformation of Christianity, but rather intrinsic to it.
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