The older I grow, the more I see a convergence of issues and thoughts. I began to read an article by Pauline Kleingeld, who wrote another work on Novalis and his puzzling fragment Die Christenheit oder Europa. This article is Six Varieties of Cosmopolitanism in Late Eighteenth-Century Germany. The article was written as a response to nationalist feelings in many parts of the world, by appealing to Kant and a number of German Idealist philosophers. Conventionally, cosmopolitanism is divided between its moral and political dimensions. In late eighteenth century Germany, its few proponents competed against the mounting nationalism which came to prevail in various forms.
Typically the relationship between cosmopolitanism and nationalism expresses the priority we give to our country, tribe, parish, whatever we have experienced and know – or to humanity as a whole without distinctions. Kleingeld expresses her desire to escape the tendency to put all the eggs into a single basket. She distinguishes six types of cosmopolitanism: moral, political and legal, cultural, economic – and Romantic, expressed in faith and love. Certainly there will be overlapping and grey areas.
Writing the articles of the past couple of days on some unusual aspects of Roman Catholicism, it occurred to me that there can be an ecclesial cosmopolitanism linked with thought about the moral, cultural and romantic dimensions. When considering the various tendencies in Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, crudely called traditionalism and liberalism, I see exactly the same lines drawn in the political world between liberal or conservative democracy and populism of the extreme left and right.
The so-called liberals seemed to have come up with the idea of ecumenism as an expression of religious cosmopolitanism: the abolition of all differences by mixing everything up into a homogenous and bland paste. The traditionalists would react by claiming to represent the “one true church” outside of which there is no grace, no salvation or spiritual reality. My article on pope Boniface X shows the ultimate caricature of “true church” parochialism in an institution which cannot be identified or recognised as real outside the anonymous person making the claim.
I have already written on Sedevacantism which is a system designed to find an intellectual solution to the contradiction between the Counter-Reformation understanding of the Papacy and the current reality. Ultimately, there are few choices if the logic is taken to its conclusion: abandon Christianity, abandon Papalism or attempt to restore the papacy as they understand it. As someone who spent a few years as a convert to Roman Catholicism, my option was the second one, one that is held by the Orthodox, Old Catholics, Anglicans and the churches of the Reformation. Compared with politics, it marks a populist reaction to the liberalism of the mainstream institutions in Rome and the local dioceses.
Over its entire history, the Church has struggled between its witness to the teachings of Christ and the temptation to political power. I was particularly marked by the parable of the Grand Inquisitor in the Karamazov Brothers of Dostoevsky, especially that outrageous justification of the Inquisitor “correcting” Christ. Like so many others I was faced with the choice of abandoning Christianity as something corrupted to the core and looking to religious and philosophical alternatives, or separating faith and spiritual / liturgical life from politics and coercive power. I heard so much criticism of the teaching by Vatican II on religious freedom by the traditionalists that I began to be convinced that this very freedom constituted the basis of Christ’s teaching. Some wish to make Christ a king, but when Pontius Pilate asked that very question, Christ answered that his kingdom was not of this world, above all not a political or aristocratic kingdom.
When I looked at so-called liberalism in the mainstream church institutions, I found that only the appearances were different, but everything depended on a political ideology. This time it would be based on cultural Marxism and a different form of coercion and policing. These very problems were faced by Enlightenment philosophers in the changing world of the Renaissance and the late Baroque and Rococo periods. I found the key in the Romantic reaction: accept the rationalism of the Enlightenment but restore the place of the whole human being through imagination, emotions and feelings alongside the rigours of reason. The pieces fitted into place though various providential catalysts during my university days.
Cosmopolitanism sees humanity as essentially a single moral community notwithstanding the differences of culture, language and religion. In such a perspective, all humans are worthy of rights, impartiality and tolerance. Many ideas in the late eighteenth century came from the Cynics and Stoics of the ancient world. The moral variant did not seek to bring about political reforms or revolutions, but rather a qualitative movement of human souls. The Enlightenment and cosmopolitanism worked together.
The Church is not a closed and exclusive institution, but a communion of those who are citizens of something much greater than their immediate surroundings. It was in that same period that men like Captain Cook set out to discover new cultures in depth. Some reflections from that time are remarkably modern in our twenty-first century terms.
What man [der Mensch] could become, he has everywhere become in accordance with the local conditions. Climate, location of towns, height of mountains, direction of rivers,… have sometimes favoured him from one side, sometimes limited him from another and influenced his physique as well as his moral behaviour. In this way, he has nowhere become everything, but everywhere become something different.
The one who wrote this was the naturalist and anthropologist Georg Forster (1754-94) who sailed with Cook on the Endeavour. He opposed the notion of one superior culture acting as a standard for all but rather advocated diversity, pluralism and complementarity – equality. He did, however, blame cultures that practised slavery or cruelty, and praised those that allowed individual persons to flourish. Were his own standards not hypocritical, ie. judging from the standard of western culture? Complete freedom from prejudice is an ideal more than a reality.
Kleingeld’s final category is Romantic cosmopolitanism, the aspect that emphasises the elements that make us human: “love, emotional bonds, beauty, shared faith, and mutual trust“. They had to be restored to humanity on top of reason that was emphasised by the Enlightenment. The Church is no exception to the whole of human experience. One thing that has to be understood about Novalis’ vision of a medieval world was not the desire to retreat into obscurantism but its “Parousia, the cosmopolitan ideal of a global spiritual community“. Christenheit oder Europa is a parable, not a historical rendering, and we will find this same thought in Dom Guéranger, Viollet le Duc, Pugin, Newman, Pusey, the entire Oxford Movement, the slum priests, the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris and the entire movement as survives to this very day.
Novalis and the other Romantics cultivated this rosy notion of the middle ages to convey a religious form of cosmopolitanism in unity, beauty, sensuality and mystery. It is a desire for return to childlike innocence and the sense of wonder. This dream contrasts with competition and the power of money and brute strength. Materialism destroys the sense of the transcendent, and out of it came the persecution of Christians and anti-clericalism. This conflicts would cause oppositions between religion and politics, religion being locked into the confines of states. Europe ended up in crisis and perpetual warfare.
Novalis looked to a new world, the cosmopolitan ideal of a global spiritual community. I do believe that Romanticism can bring about an understanding of Christianity exactly as it did in that brief moment of the 1790’s in Saxony. Again we face nationalism and new forms of populism, new challenges to humanity and peace. I am also fascinated to see huge changes in science from materialism and mechanistic determinism to quantum physics and a notion of consciousness preceding matter and energy. The changes are bringing us to a new future as we live and breathe.
I hope that Romantic cosmopolitanism will play a role in emancipating Christianity from nationalism and populism, from prejudice and hatred. The horror of two world wars in the twentieth century saw the rise of the League of Nations, United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Union. Nationalism and populism may be on the rise, but so is cosmopolitanism. Ecclesial cosmopolitanism isn’t about mixing religions, apostasy, idolatry, unlimited hedonism and all the things traditionalists complain about. It is a search for something much higher and deeper within ourselves, the icons of God’s love that are love, emotional bonds, beauty, shared faith, and mutual trust.
I can but do my best along this lonely path.