Arthur Middleton on Dogma, Devotion and Life
In 1939 Canon Demant published an important book but because of the outbreak of war it did not attract the attention it deserved. In it he stated that the forces that are making history in Europe are not merely political, economic or moral; they are involved in conflicting assumptions about the nature of reality and of human existence in particular. It is on this plane of dogma about existence that the Christian faith has to meet the struggles of our times. The message of religion has been weakened because it has been confined to issuing moral warning and exhortation while reflecting the dogmas which underlie its philosophic rivals.
The question he sets out to answer is, whether Christianity is to oppose itself or ally itself with this anti-liberal drift, or whether it has a third position which is both interpretive of what is happening and constructive for the future. He argues that only along the road of the recovery of its own dogma will Christianity push into the future, because therewith alone can men interpret and direct what is happening to them. It will be seen that we are dealing with the springs of faith and action. The question is what is the real message for a religious renewal of Chrisndom?
Just before the war began and the occupation of France, Jacques Maritain gave a lecture that was published in 1946 as The End of Civilisation He claimed that the great defect of classical humanism since the Renaissance lies in what one might call an anthropocentric concept of man and culture. The error boils down to affirming human nature as closed in upon itself or absolutely self-sufficient. Instead of a human and rational development in continuance of the Gospel. Man has sought this development from pure reason as a substitute for the Gospel and for human life, for the concrete movement of history, this means real and very serious amputations. Prayer, evangelical virtues, supra-rational truths, sense of sin and of grace, the necessity of self-sacrifice and ascetic discipline, for contemplation, for the means of the Cross – all this has been stuck between parentheses or finally denied divorcing human life from the suprarational. He claims that the forces in the presence of which we find ourselves are anti-Christic, which is an existential opposition to the presence and action of Christ in the bosom of human history.
He calls for a new humanism which we may call the humanism of the Incarnation. He sees it as the only force capable of offering a remedy against the evils from which we are suffering. The task is intimately linked with a renewal of religious conscience. Between Christ and the Pagan Empire there is no compatibility. The Neros of old and the new Neros know that Christ alone can overcome the Pagan Empire. This Empire makes of the political the supreme rule and measure, superior both to the eternal law and to the Grace of God.
Maritain maintains that a new humanism must assume again and lift up into a purified atmosphere all the work of the classical period. It must remake anthropology. It must open up the creature to the universe of the divine and the supra-rational which implies a work of the sanctification of the profane and the temporal. Consequently man would rediscover himself rediscovered. Such a humanism that considers man in the integration of his natural and supernatural being and which sets no a priori limits to the descent of the divine into man is what Maritain means by the humanism of the Incarnation.
Within such an integrated humanism there can be no conflict between the vertical movement toward eternal life (begun and existing here and now) and the horizontal movement through which are revealed progressively the substance and the creative forces of man in history. These two directions must be pursued simultaneously and neither can be excluded. Nor can the horizontal be excluded from the vertical without the destruction of man for it prepares the way in human history for the Kingdom of God. George Addleshaw in his book, The High Church Party, said that dogma, prayer and life have been isolated; and in isolation their power and glory have vanished and withered away. The Church, if it is to win the fight against modern paganism, and not only win the fight but heal he wounds inflicted on man’s nature needs a re-integration, a new wholeness in which the dogma, the prayer and the life form a living unity. He sees a way forward in the liturgical ideals and principles of the High Churchmanship of people between the age of Lancelot Andrewes, Thorndike, Ken, Cosin and the Oxford Movement.