donderdag 24 december 2009

That makes sense

That makes sense, I thought, when a headline reported that Moscow and the Vatican want to strengthen their mutual relationship. Because, when I read that, I took 'Moscow' as a reference to the ‘Russian soul’. And that soul stands for mystical experience and not for a political or diplomatic authority. With that interpretation, I was not too far wrong, as the message appeared to be about a rapprochement between the Russian Orthodox Church - the guardian of that soul - and the Roman Catholic Church.

Indeed, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church have a lot in common. They both cherish warm music and a sheltering mysticism. This is no wonder, because their cultures both stem from a time when reason was not yet as almighty as she was from the seventeenth century. They survived the blow that rational thinking has struck and which made Protestantism feel so cold and scanty. That shared ancient warmth makes the liturgies of Rome and Moscow very enjoyable and their mystique - whatever it is worth - so real. Probably they recognize and appreciate this in one another.

In addition, they both are not very fond of enlightenment and democracy. In Russia, they are surprisingly open about that. Many nationalists, including Solzhenitsyn, believe that the autonomy of the individual clashes with the mystical experience of the unity of God and country in Russia. And according to the Russian philosopher Alexandr Tsipko the Russians don’t connect very well to liberal ideas.

The Catholic Church is not equally open about this, because nowadays this church is rooted too much in modern Western society. In some countries she even has benefited a lot from modern liberal views on religious freedom. In the Netherlands for instance that made possible the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in 1853.

Nevertheless in my estimation lay participation and democracy are not in the DNA of the Catholic Church, the real match is lacking. The church is not strongly opposed to them, and certainly has an eye for the blessings that democracy and the constitutional state entailed. But she does not get really enthousiastic about it. The relationship rather resembles a marriage of convenience.

Also of that the Netherlands offer a good illustration. Because from the moment that in the sixties the experiments started with influence from below, with a more understandable liturgy and a place for women and lay-folk, it went downhill with the church. The national, broad Dutch folk church seems not to survive its internal democratization. What remains are the more conservative Catholic groups. These are small, but vital. The real Catholicism, it appears, is strongly tied to hierarchy and classical piety, in a traditional style. Exactly as archbishop Eijk would have it.

This strengthens my preference for a tradition with which democratic thought and shrewd reasoning are in the genes, combined with warm music and ancient rites.