Sunday, July 18, 2021

Beyond Integralism and Progressivism

 From First Things:

Jean-Luc Marion’s slender new volume, A Brief Apology for a Catholic Moment, is a welcome entry into the fray. Author of profound studies in philosophy and philosophical theology, Marion is not known as an apologist or a political commentator. But more surprising than the fact of his intervention is the audacity of his central provocation: that despite appearances, this moment of disintegration and collapse may yet prove to be the dawning of a Catholic moment. Making deft use of Justin Martyr's defense of Christian faith in ancient Rome, Marion reprises the great apologist's claim that Christians are to the secular city “the most useful of men.” The Church nurtures a communion transcending politics, and only this release from the increasingly impotent mania of the political makes possible the restoration of the universal within a crumbling human society.

Marion seeks simultaneously to justify the Church’s continued existence in French society and indicate a way forward. He charts a course between the “French heresies” of progressivism and integralism, which he regards as a fantasy. For him, the so-called “crisis of the church”—measured by sociological criteria—is really a reflection of the hopeless decadence of broader society. He focuses particularly on France, but his central point—the contrast between “crisis” and “decadence”—could be extended more broadly. A society becomes decadent “when the political power appears as an impotent fraud and it can’t help but tell people that this is so by making them pay the ever greater price of its failure.” The defining marks of decadence are powerlessness and paralysis, the incapacity to make a decision that would inaugurate true reform. As citizens, Christians are by no means immune (or exonerated) from today’s decadence, and yet the Church is founded by Christ and ever reforming itself in response to his call.

Against the backdrop of modern decadence, the Church appears, counterintuitively, as “the only society that is not ‘in crisis’ because it can practice freely its ‘true crisis’ by deciding over and over again for Christ.” Echoing Augustine, Marion argues that the Church makes possible a communion that is truly universal and therefore more than political. This prevents the sacralization of politics on either secular or integralist terms. It also allows Christians to remain loyal to the always imperfect city of man, for in contrast to progressive reformers who rage against the limits of what can be done, believers are not susceptible to this crisis mentality. For these reasons, Christians “furnish society with its best citizens from the point of view even of the interests of the city of men.” (Read more.)

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