FRENCH CATHOLICISM WORRIED INTO PRAYER
Somehow I suspect a connection and that something is wrong…. In France the Catholic Church is going to revive a reasonable enough tradition for Christians – specific, centuries old prayer(s) for France. France is a secular country that lacks Christianity and with it spirituality generally,. It’s an unhealthy situation one can often almost feel in the air for the dreariness, bitterness and morbid pessimism around death that pervades the nation. (I speak as someone who once lived and worked there and any idea the place is “romantic” is simply one-sided). Prayer for France was a tradition begun in 1638 by Louis X111 but got dropped in modern times. But what is the pretext for this call for revived prayer and what is the day for it?
Sure enough the trigger for new concern is recent secular legislation existing or proposed with gay marriage (which two thirds of the nation is said to approve) topping the list. The day for prayer is Aug 15th, feast of the alleged Assumption of the Virgin into heaven. In short, to be frank if not French about it, two illusions join hands around the gospel the Church seeks to defend if not exactly promote. There is no doctrine more weakly unbiblical than the Assumption. Not even the extreme attachment of the Eastern churches to the Mother of Christ enjoins it – it celebrates a Dormition, a falling asleep, not an open ascension into heaven to rival that of Christ. Assumption doctrine is the last and latest come doctrine the normally conservative Catholic church imposed and defined. As to the other illusion, of that presently.
FORMAL RELIGION TRYING TO MOVE NATIONAL MOUNTAINS
I notice that unless good Catholics are intended to take themselves to sessions of ardent private prayer, the “event” is no more than the reading of prayer(s) for France at the festival. This in itself betrays the weakness of the religion which if it was really serious would declare the day a day of continuous prayer in all churches which to gather from report it isn’t doing. There is nothing here remotely akin to some biblical Day of Solemn Assembly. However ancient and venerable, reading out prayers in churches reduces things to a formality, and that is one of the problems here.
For far too long, for centuries, Catholicism in France and many other places has been precisely a formality, a kind of legal function, even royal decree like the one that put the prayer for France in place. It is less an outgoing preaching of the gospel than declaration and defence of a religion’s right by secular means to organize things. It lacks real emotional or “charismatic” dimension. The emotion goes less to God than colourful cults of the Virgin who stands in for the ignored Christ who is hardly being preached and the Bible that is scarcely being read or taught.
French Protestantism, at least as exemplified by Calvin’s theocratic Geneva, cannot be said to have improved upon the root legalistic/formalistic error in the religion it sought to reform. It was an interfering, tyrannous, nit-picking, loveless kind of mini Inquisition (that didn’t stop at heretic burning) and generally sought to control people’s lives to an unprecedented degree creating further legacies of suspicion and hatred for Christian religion.
Spiritual issues cannot for the most part be fought and resolved with human means or the human powers just fight back as at least sometimes secular forces – however ultimately misguided and blind – have done in France opposing a religion at times as oppressive as Inquisition itself. And though Christians are perfectly justified to defend their own rights, how much authority did they ever have, beyond defending a basic humanity, to impose their own beliefs and ethics in terms of secular law?
AGAINST ADAM AND STEVE FRENCH STYLE
Tradition alone rather than real theology can fail to see that point, but where’s the biblical theology? It is amazing to see that Cardinal Bernadin of Lyons can proclaim that Catholics know better than parliaments that marriage is for man and woman because it’s there on the first page of Genesis. In short, the Cardinal on this point is like American fundamentalists who protest “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve”. But surely an admitted theme is allowed a variation upon a theme? And does not even the Bible in places concede just that such as in the way the covenant union between David and Jonathan employs the same word as the prophet Malachi employs for heterosexual marriage?
No matter what one thinks of it, is gay marriage ever quite properly called “an attack” upon marriage? Evidently some gays think the institution of some value. Strictly speaking one can at most speak of a misuse of marriage, but will one claim that a Catholic saint St Aelred of Riveaulx misused the term when he wrote of Jesus being as though in perfect marriage with John? Or indeed was the author of Revelation (by tradition John) misusing the word in speaking of a marriage of the Lamb which effectively is the “marriage” of Christ to both sexes?
As I have written enough and elsewhere on the problem of gay relations (most recently, though not so extensively in Solomon’s Tantric Song: Questions of Sexual Spirituality, (see amzn.to/NlbebR) I won’t and needn’t elaborate beyond saying, especially as regards Christ and St Paul it’s not all so obvious as might appear to some. But what must be said here is this.
FRENCH ETHICAL POLYTHEISM?
Arguably the spiritual condition of France has always been somewhat challenged and compromised not by the perennial minority (whether married or unattached!) of gays but by the majority of the French population whose attitude towards marriage is itself questionable. It is so whether they believe in literal Adam and Eve or not. Scarcely has any culture in history gone quite so far in endlessly analyzing and uncritically celebrating the extra-marital affair. The fiction, the films are scarcely about anything else. Andre Malraux, himself an atheist and no puritan, declared the national fiction to be not edifying.
No spirituality can long sustain the lack of one-pointedness which numerous affairs engage. It becomes like the spirit of polytheism over the Spirit of God and in the past it needed a plethora of saints plus Virgin cult to satisfy the psychology entailed…. sometimes mixed in with the always encroaching element of rational “objectivity” which also supports a maximum of partners and experiment. Because like the unfortunate pets of France that Brigitte Bardot protests for and which get abandoned everywhere once their interest and charm have passed their use by date, the lover gets ditched or exchanged, victim to an underlying rational froideur for the latest passion or just interest.. This is not some kind of no-fault behavior requiring no species of repentance towards God. It muddies the entire outlook on truth, life and of course religion with which it may exist in uneasy relation – Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate supplies an ironic account of how vague talk of religion can enter into even the arrangements of wife swapping in upper class French circles.
“L’ amour” is the main French drug of choice and one can easily appreciate why. There’s little enough love in the form of ordinary compassion to go around, (heaven help the lonely elderly). Indeed the atmosphere is often so frosty one almost needs an affair or two to keep the spirits up and feel protected against a hostile world!
MAY FRANCE SEE THE LIGHT BEFORE SEX!
One of the most irreligious, secular features of France is the refusal to allow any kind of outdoor, public religious witness. I don’t say that I am any fan of street preaching and outdoor religious events, but I do feel their total denial is a spiritual limitation and mark of discrimination ; and in France it has perhaps come to a point where the situation represses religion as much as a legalistic Catholicism has repressed sex in the past. This is something which could be legally challenged.
Whatever……any prayer for France should be not about the laws of this world which must and will always look after themselves. It should be about seeing the light, freeing religious expression in a country which doesn’t have enough of it and needs to be challenged not by administration of laws but the gospel in its essence. France has always been a tough nut to crack for religion both for and against having displayed the gamut of reactions from the first and particularly horrific persecution of Christians in 180 at Roman Lyons and then a millenium later been a site of intolerable Inquisition. When times have been quieter the old boast dei gesta per francos (the deeds of God by the French) have been less evident than exaggerated cults of either Mary or Mary Magdalene. St Bernard of Clairvaux who brought Marian cult to the Western Europe largely innocent of it, thought the Virgin gave him drops of her breast milk. Louis de Monfort taught Mary was a co-redemptrix, Catherine de Laboure introduced the superstition of Mary’s Miraculous Medal while St Bernadette of Lourdes long troubled even many of the French clergy by insisting Mary was the Immaculate Conception.
It’s a decidedly controversial legacy but if Christians, Catholic or any other, are going to be chiefly known for what they oppose and seek to impose by law on everyone then ca c’est dommage. It could mean the faith in France is doomed in ways it isn’t elsewhere where the faith is even thriving despite persecutions the western churches often shamefully ignore and scarcely protest while they continue to worry the world over gay marriage as an “attack” upon it.