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Thursday, 22 March 2018

Recommended Reading and Listening - Andrew W. Jones

Dr. Andrew Willard Jones is a Catholic historian, and the director of the St. Paul Biblical Center, at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio. He has recently published a book, Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX, which has quickly become very popular among integralist-traditionalist Catholics. The book is a hefty academic monograph, almost 500 pages long, and it goes into great detail investigating the social order of 13th century France, in order to prove a controversial and decidedly anti-modern thesis concerning the relationship of "Church and State" in the Middle Ages. Modern history tends to construe the categories of "Church" and "State, or "religious" and "secular," as parallel and dualistically opposed categories that are in a necessary state of competitive tension. Not only this, but "State" and the "secular" are considered the primary and constant sphere of reality, whereas "religion" and the "Church" are something inconstant that comes and goes, occasionally trying to supplant the sovereignty of the secular sphere, but only ever simply modifying it. Religion is itself reduced to just one ideology among many ideologies which occasionally modify the secular sphere, which itself remains constant, eternal, and transcendent. Accordingly, the Middle Ages are seen as a time when the Catholic Church competed with the secular monarchies for a kind of universal and temporal sovereignty. Religion was a competitor with the secular, and one destined to fail - and fail it did. The State, of course, emerged victorious as it always does.

Dr. Jones seeks to entirely dismantle this typical modern narrative. I have not yet read the entire book, but once I finish it I may publish a longer book review. (But first, I recommend the review made by Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., over at First Things. I also recommend the writing of Pater Edmund and his colleagues at The Josias on the subject of integralism, which is the name for the central position of Before Church and State.) So far, what I have read of this book is excellent. Jones gives concrete historical evidence that, contrary to modern accounts, in the Middle Ages the secular and the religious were not considered, in either theory or practice, as separate parallel entities vying for sovereignty; rather they were two tiers of a single hierarchic order of the social reality. This single order was, simply put, the Church, or the City of God. There were no modern categories of "Church" and "State," or "religious" and "secular," as these are understood today; these categories did not exist. This is a strong claim; but I think it is fair to say that although there was a distinction between two "spheres" of reality, these spheres were hardly separate realities, but interrelated and interpenetrating spheres of a single hierarchical order. Dr. Jones stresses the sacramental character of this medieval conception: as body and soul are distinct but not separate in the single being of a man, so are the temporal and the spiritual realms certainly distinct but entirely integrated with one another, according to the authentic medieval conception of social order. Just as the body, being integrally united to the soul, is charged with spiritual meaning (symbolism), so was the temporal sphere of the "State" inherently charged with meaning and significance for the eternal and spiritual destiny of mankind. And mankind is a naturally political and religious species of animal, and these imply each other. 

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But again, I will leave a longer review for later, once I finish the book. But some of the main points of interest are covered also in the following three lectures, which Dr. Jones delivered in Steubenville in 2015. Again, Jones here emphasizes the dimension of sacramentality; and he intends to publish another book in the near future that addresses the notion of the liturgical cosmos in the worldview inhabited by Pope Innocent III at the time of the IVth Latern Council. These lectures are enlightening not only for the historical information which, as Dr. Jones observes, often seems left out from common courses in medieval history or Catholic theology, but also for the inherently meaningful and liturgically oriented worldview of the medieval people. There is much material here which pertains very closely to my own long-term (hopeful) project in exploring traditional philosophical and theological approaches to religious symbolism, especially in the context of liturgical theology. Of special interest is the role played here by the four senses of scripture, which offer a framework not only for Biblical interpretation but also for a whole way of life envisioned by the Christians of the Middle Ages - a way of life which culminates in and flows from the sacramental life of the liturgy, which is thus the fount and apex of a truly Christian and political life. 

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for providing these links. I have had my eye on the book for some time now, but have not gotten around to it. Hopefully some day; in the meantime, I'll await your review.

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