He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. (The Screwtape Letters)
… What is a man
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more. (Hamlet)
Jake Meador has a thoughtful post up at Mere Orthodoxy distinguishing three models of how Christians should act toward the world: “radical Augustinianism” (a term that he explicates with quotes from my piece on Gelasian Dyarchy), “magisterial Protestantism,” and “illiberal Catholicism” (i.e. Catholic integralism). Meador himself is a magisterial Protestant. The magisterial Protestants resemble illiberal Catholics in that they too favor using temporal power (“the magistrate”— hence the term “magisterial”) to further the aims of the Kingdom of God. Meador distinguishes magisterial Protestantism from Catholics by two features: the Protestant doctrine of “vocation,” and the “priesthood of all believers.” I think that both of these doctrines are vulgar, bourgeois distortions of Pauline theology. In this post I want to attack only the first: the Protestant doctrine of vocation.
«The Protestant teaching on vocation,» Meador writes, «says that all godly callings are equally good in the eyes of Christ and that the call to ministry should not be treated as being somehow superior to a call to work in business or the arts or a trade.» We have here an expression of what is arguably the central idea of Reformation: the radical rejection of the hierarchical understanding of the Christian life, and of reality. It is of a piece with the Reformation’s rejection of counsels of perfection (i.e. the religious life), of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, of meritorious works, in short, as Charles Taylor puts it, “The rejection of the sacred and of mediation.” (Sources of the Self, p. 216)
The Catholic Tradition has always understood that there is a hierarchy of stations in life, because there is a hierarchy of goods. The station of someone who’s time is devoted to the production of ordinary bread is objectively lower than that of one who is consecrated to the offering of subersubstantial bread. Even though they can both set their hearts on the higher gifts, and animate their activity with divine Charity. The one who has a lower station may in fact reach a higher degree of Charity, but this does not change the order of stations. In Heaven, of course, the baker will be higher than the priest if he had greater love, but he will have a definite station, different from that of all the rest of the blessed: one star differeth from another star in glory. The Heavenly City is a strict hierarchy, in which no-one is equal to any one else in station, and they rejoice in their inequality: «And if the share of John be greater than his own, Peter will again rejoice, for the prime measure of their happiness is neither Peter nor John, but the immeasurable liberality of the divine good.» (Charles de Koninck)
Even in temporal affairs Catholic Tradition agrees with classical philosophy in seeing the necessary support of mere life as servile and instrumental, as being indeed good, but much less that the attainment of the good life in moral and intellectual virtue. Much more does it hold that all temporal goods and cares together are so much less than than the eternal good that there is no proportion. A grain of dust has some proportion of size to the entire universe, but earthly goods have no proportion to heavenly treasure. Hence the delight in earthly things, while not bad in itself, is dangerous to the extent that it deflects our hearts from our true good: If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
The Holy Rule of St. Benedict is a perfect expression of the proper attitude that the Christian should have to the things of this world. Proper care is taken in the monastery for earthly activities, but they are given a low valuation in comparison with the primary opus Dei, the liturgical praise of God in the oratory. It is quite false to say (as is sometimes said) that St. Benedict’s emphasis on manual labor is “anti-aristocratic.” Rather, it is aristocratic in the true sense. St. Benedict knows that to be exalted one must humble oneself. His emphasis on manual labor is not based on some supposed “dignity of work,” but rather on the recognition of the need for man, as a bodily being, to recognize his own lowliness, and to humble himself by disciplining the flesh with arduous labor. And St. Benedict is very careful to guard against earthly pleasures that might bring about disorder to the passions. In the text quoted at the top of this post Screwtape mentions the goods of “sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working.” St. Benedict allows his monk to sleep, but they must wake up early; he allows them to bathe, but only seldom; he allows them to eat, but they must regard their whole lives as a Lenten fast; with great reluctance he allows them to drink one hemina a day; as to love-making and playing, it is so obvious to him that they have no place in the School of the Lord’s Service that he scarcely bothers to forbid them; praying is a good on quite a different level, and the greatest scope is given to it; work is commanded, but if a monk takes pride in his craft he is to be deprived of it till he learns humility.
The Protestants, however, turn the world upside down. Suddenly, poverty, chastity, and obedience are forbidden as occasions of pride, and a measurelessly inordinate value is put on servile pursuits. The Reformers wanted to increase the piety of the people, but their distorted idea of vocation helped (against their intention) to bring about the secularization of world, the apostasy of the nations. As secularization theory from Max Weber to Charles Taylor and Brad Gregory has shown, the “affirmation of ordinary life” (see especially: Sources of the Self, ch. 13) led (along with some other things, it is admitted) to the the advent of the sophisters, economists, calculators, bureaucrats, Eurocrats, plutocrats, capitalists, socialists, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, Democrats, Republicans, SPÖler, ÖVPler, FPÖler, Greens, Gutmenschen, social democrats, democratic socialists, Fachmenschen ohne Geist, Genußmenschen ohne Herz, atheists, agnostics, deists, unitarians, investment bankers, hedge-fund managers, office workers, usurers, proverb-makers, advertisers, PR men, Warmduscher, Sitzpinkler, SJWs, gay rights activists, and all the rest of them; the degraded spectacle that the massa damnata of modern humanity has made of itself.
C.S. Lewis was somewhat conflicted about the “affirmation of ordinary life.” The bourgeois, Ulster Protestant in him was constantly contending with the Catholic, aristocratic nostalgia awakened in him by reading the Tradition. Thus he writes the Expostulation: Against too many writers of science fiction:
Why did you lure us on like this,
Light-year on light-year, through the abyss,
Building (as though we cared for size!)
Empires that cover galaxies
If at the journey’s end we find
The same old stuff we left behind,
Well-worn Tellurian stories of
Crooks, spies, conspirators, or love,
Whose setting might as well have been
The Bronx, Montmartre, or Bethnal Green?
Why should I leave this green-floored cell,
Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell,
Unless, outside its guarded gates,
Long, long desired, the Unearthly waits
Strangeness that moves us more than fear,
Beauty that stabs with tingling spear,
Or Wonder, laying on one’s heart
That finger-tip at which we start
As if some thought too swift and shy
For reason’s grasp had just gone by?
On the other hand he has Lucy step into another world and meet a Faun, only to be offered… tea and toast.
Meador quotes an appallingly stupid passage from one of Lewis’s letters:
Newman makes my blood run cold, when he says in one of the Parochial and Plain Sermons that Heaven is like a church because in both, “one single sovereign subject—religion—is brought before us”. He forgets that there is no temple in the new Jerusalem. He has substituted religion for God—as if navigation were substituted for arrival, or battle for victory, or wooing for marriage, or in general the means for the end.
Lewis must really have known better than this stupidity— he must have known that the Heavenly Jerusalem has no temple because it is all temple, all liturgy. It is that place where the blessed stand in the presence of God and worship Him: there is no ordinary life in Heaven. It is all religion in the sense that it is all adoration and worship. Merely to quote the passage that he cites from Newman in context is to refute Lewis’s petulant protest:
…so far we are distinctly told, that that future life will be spent in God’s presence, in a sense which does not apply to our present life; so that it may be best described as an endless and uninterrupted worship of the Eternal Father, Son, and Spirit. “They serve Him day and night in His temple, and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them … The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters.” Again, “The city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it, and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.” [Rev. vii. 15, 17; xxi. 23, 24.] These passages from St. John are sufficient to remind us of many others.
Heaven then is not like this world; I will say what it is much more like,—a church. For in a place of public worship no language of this world is heard; there are no schemes brought forward for temporal objects, great or small; no information how to strengthen our worldly interests, extend our influence, or establish our credit. These things indeed may be right in their way, so that we do not set our hearts upon them; still (I repeat), it is certain that we hear nothing of them in a church. Here we hear solely and entirely of God. We praise Him, worship Him, sing to Him, thank Him, confess to Him, give ourselves up to Him, and ask His blessing. And therefore, a church is like heaven; viz. because both in the one and the other, there is one single sovereign subject—religion—brought before us. (Parochial and Plain Sermons, Sermon 1).
In his heart of hearts Lewis knew this. He knew that Screwtape is wrong: God is not vulgar, and he does not have a bourgeois mind. He is noble, and has an elevated mind. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. And the royal and priestly people whom he has chosen is of an aristocratic mind. They are not to bother unduly with “ordinary life”:
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Of any of the saints it could be said:
Our spoils he kick’d at;
And looked upon things precious as they were
The common muck of the world. (Corialanus)