Rome and Romanticism

With a biretta tip to the Young Fogey, I recommend this interesting reflection from someone who obviously knows something about history. I have already addressed this theme in For a New Romantic Movement and this article takes things a little further.

Of course, Romanticism has nothing to do with the contemporary use made of the word. It was a cultural movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and above all a reaction against the rationalism of the Enlightenment and all forms of progressivism and secularism. Mr Coulombe does well to begin with definitions of words, a sound methodology to situate the topic.

It is a reaction against the Enlightenment and its effects on religion, culture, economics and all areas of human life. Romantics appealed to the perceived “other-worldliness” of the middle-ages – terrana despicere et amare caelestia. Romanticism is also a quality of us northerners in our sombre moods and introspection. Enlightenment Catholicism led to the modern Roman liturgy and its ethos of doing down mystery and other-worldliness in favour of a more didactic and moral approach.

Romanticism essentially goes back to the extreme end of the eighteenth century, and its heyday was the period preceding the 1848 upheavals in much of Europe. The Middle-Ages were idealised and seen through the eyes of illusion and daydreaming, an attitude perhaps justified by considering that medieval people lived in nostalgia for lost innocence and heaven. Unlike the secular rationalist, the Romantic is a believer. Of course, there is the “inconvenient” fact that Romanticism spawned Ultramontanism and infallibilism via men like Guéranger and Lacordaire – in reaction to diocesan bishops who would have made of the Church a department of State for policing morals!

The influence of Romanticism extended into the twentieth century through men like J.R.R. Tolkien, T.S. Eliot and many others. In our own time, the election of Benedict XVI as Pope slowed or perhaps halted the project of the Enlightenment in the Church, of banning miracles and mystery and replacing them with moralising and political correctness. Many Roman Catholic bishops, like their Anglican Communion counterparts, are Febronians at heart. This spirit did much to harm Old Catholicism, especially the Union of Utrecht, and brought it into line with the secularising trends of all western Churches, including Rome. Rome stopped short of approving homosexuality and ordaining women, but also maintained clerical celibacy. One may detect certain Romantic tendencies in Benedict XVI in his resistance to the secular movement. There are also similar reactions in Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Old Catholicism (especially the Union of Scranton) and in the Roman Catholic Church.

The article smacks of much of the traditionalist rhetoric that has circulated over the past thirty years, but it is thoughtful and cogent. I recommend it at least to provoke thought and a movement to refine this theme in our new century.

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1 Response to Rome and Romanticism

  1. Interesting! I just a bit ago placed this statement on my own wee blog…

    “Non-Christian epistemologies divide along three perspectives: rationalism (normative), empiricism (situational), and subjectivism (existential).” (John Frame, DKG, 109-22.)

    And as I wrote, certainly all three can touch the Christian, but always foremost is the presupposition and doctrine of God and His revelation!

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