Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rosemary Radford Ruether on Counterrevolutionary Latitudinarianism

I believe I told you before, gentle readers, that I’ve been buying and reading a lot of used theology books from the mid 20th century. Well, the below passage is another fruit of such labor that I thought you might be interested in. So without further ado…

Rosemary Radford Ruether, The Radical Kingdom (Harper & Row, 1970), 39-40:
The earliest school of rationalism arose in England after the Restoration when, wearied of religious controversies, she tried to pull herself together around her traditional religious and national institutions. The mood was summed up by the term “latitudinarian”; a mood not so much of toleration as of narrowly rationalistic prejudices about what was, in fact, “tolerable.” What was intolerable was the enthusiasm and fanaticism, the bickering over points of religious doctrine, the apocalyptic messianism that had characterized the period of the Puritan revolution. What was cultivated was a pedestrian sort of Christianity in which the watchmaker God, who was the architect of the Newtonian universe, served as sanction for the decent-law-abiding morality of the English possessing classes. In fact, the traditional Christian distinction between reason and revelation was commonly interpreted in this period as a class distinction. It was said that the content of Scripture and revelation was essentially identical with that of reason and natural religion, but, for the sake of the ignorant masses, God has revealed this religion of nature in a simple colorful form complete with miracles to impress their imaginations, whereas the enlightened classes did not stand in need of this revelation, being able to attain this knowledge by their own intellects. In effect, the Christian doctrine of the Fall and the debasement of man’s reason had here become a doctrine applicable only to the lower classes.

Such latitudinarianism, far from being revolutionary, was in a sense counterrevolutionary, and was not infrequently espoused by the most impeccable of English high-churchmen. . . . In the hands of these latitudinarians, rationalism did not so much challenge as it sought to bulwark traditional religious and political institutions, and its energies were expended in proving the full and complete harmony of traditional revealed religion with reason and natural religion.
One wonders how far we’ve really come . . .

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3 comments:

J. Scott Jackson said...

Clearly you're hinting at contemporary parallels. But I guess I'm a little obtuse today. Care to expand?

W. Travis McMaken said...

I'm thinking primarily with reference to the second paragraph.

J. Scott Jackson said...

"rationalism did not so much challenge as it sought to bulwark traditional religious and political institutions, and its energies were expended in proving the full and complete harmony of traditional revealed religion with reason and natural religion."

Okay, yes, I get it. The coffee has finally kicked in. I was initially distracted by the debates over supernaturalism, when now I see a different debate is in view here.