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Something Strange About Those Catholics

February 9, 2013

This year I’ve begun watching the engaging British period drama Downton Abbey, in which the prevailing attitude toward Catholics, for most of the show’s characters, is predictably English.  I personally find a great source of amusement in their occasional offhanded jabs; for example, a few weeks ago I got a good chuckle from the throwaway line, uttered by the aristocrat Lord Grantham to a visiting Anglican bishop, “There always seems to be something of Johnny Foreigner about the Catholics.”

In last week’s episode, a dispute over the national and religious identity of a newborn baby provokes a more extensive and spirited discussion.  In one particular scene, a staunchly Anglican priest who is a dinner guest at Downton asks, “But isn’t there something rather un-English about the Roman Church?”  The only retort on the part of the baby’s father is that this is not likely to bother him since he is Irish.  Meanwhile, a similar conversation is taking place among the servants downstairs, in which Carson, the classically conservative butler, comments that he “find[s] it hard to believe [Catholics] are loyal to the crown.”

As well you should, Mr. Carson.  If we truly are what we call ourselves – the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church – these ecclesial marks should call national loyalties into question for Catholics everywhere.  Our compatriots should at times be given cause to speculate: “There’s something strangely foreign about those Catholics.  Their ideas about universal human dignity, community and the common good threaten our hallowed doctrines of exceptionalism and individualism.  They are always defending the most inconvenient people – the unborn, the poor, the prisoners, the immigrants, the citizens of enemy nations.  Can we really believe that such people, belonging to such a large, old institution beyond our borders, are fully loyal to the flag and the republic for which it stands?  Isn’t there something kind of un-American about them?”

Such speculation need not only apply to English or American Catholics.  Catholicity means there may well be reason to question the extent to which one can really be both Catholic and Norwegian, or Danish, or Swiss, or Russian, or Chinese – or even Catholic and Irish, or Mexican, or Spanish, or Italian, or French.

Granted, on one level, when it is questioned whether a Catholic identity is compatible with a national one, the answer can in all cases be yes.  Being Catholic does not abolish anyone’s nationality.  But belonging to the Church universal means there is always another, greater claim on our loyalty.  Catholic citizens and residents of countries in which they are a suspect minority – such as England and, through much of our past two centuries of history, the United States of America – have often felt this tension keenly.  I am convinced that this minority experience has not been an impediment to the vitality of the Catholic Church but has in fact been essential to it.  As Aaron Weldon has argued (here and here), sometimes our Church must lose some measure of social status in order to preserve her life.  Knowing what it’s like not to have our faith taken for granted, what it’s like to be suspect in our own homeland, forces us (or should) to let go of our libido dominandi and realize that we are not any sort of religious noblesse obligée entitled to social privilege, but rather resident aliens in whatever part of the world we yet belong to.

The beginning of the scene described above is shown starting at about 1:09 in this clip.  The full episode can be seen here (the entire scene in question is from 18:47 to 21:15, but the whole thing is worth watching on its own merits).

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33 Comments
  1. Jordan permalink
    February 9, 2013 8:20 pm

    I watch Downton Abbey not as an escape to a bygone fairytale castle England, but rather as a fictional but realistic look at the crumbling of the Victorian/Edwardian rigid class system and the eventual birth of postmodern Britain. I view the comments of Lord Grantham, the vicar, and Carson as highly ironic in light of Britain’s very quick post-WWII postchristian freefall. Heck, the House of Commons right now is on the verge of legalizing same-sex-marriage despite significant opposition. Still, Thomas the gay under-butler never would have dreamed that he could marry a duke, let alone any man.

    Catholics have full equality now in Britain. Indeed, Thatcher and Blair both wished to make Basil Cdl. Hume a Lord Spiritual, but he declined twice in obedience to John Paul II. I agree that the overt prejudice against Catholics in Downton Abbey is indeed a realistic depiction of a moment for Catholics past, in their historically inferior status, to witness Christ. Yet, one might well say that Catholicism still struggles to witness Christ even after achieving parity and even respect in British society today. The challenges remain the same, regardless of the fluctuations in fortune of British Catholics.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      February 9, 2013 9:14 pm

      I quite agree, Jordan, particularly with your final statements. With US Catholics having made a comparable social ascent, we would do well to take the same lessons from our own not-too-distant past, when we were “Johnny Foreigner”. Come to think of it, many recently immigrated Catholics still are.

  2. February 9, 2013 8:49 pm

    Excellent, per the usual, Ms. Smucker. Catholics are also called to remember the distinction between patriotism, essentially the love of your heritage and cultural expressions, and nationalism, a blind loyalty to a temporal power.

  3. Mark VA permalink
    February 9, 2013 9:12 pm

    I like this post, it is thoughtful, plus it engages an important question, the hierarchy of identities.

    Perhaps it would be fair to say that part of the Catholic Church’s commission is to foster the development of a certain type of civilization. That is to say, the level of a particular culture, and the state that serves it, should be grafted to the higher plane of values based on immutable and universal truths.

    We shouldn’t disdain ethnic (i.e. national) churches, operating at a level of this or that culture, lest we risk falling into our own version of exceptionalism. We should patiently encourage them not to be afraid of the Catholic Church, and also draw lessons from their experiences. That is not to say, however, that their comforting world views should not be challenged on occasion – yet always with charity.

  4. February 9, 2013 9:48 pm

    Wonderful post! :) Hopefully Catholics will always have something of the Johnny Foreigner about us – just as our first Pope called us aliens and strangers in the world.

  5. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    February 10, 2013 1:40 am

    Someone will have to explain to me sometime how gay people are supposed to not feel insulted by people like “Jordan” referring to the confirmation of their basic civil rights as moral “free fall”. I won’t hold my breath. At any rate, I think a revealing light was shed on all these issues, and even the episode of Downton Abbey you discuss, by recent discussion on France 24 channel I happened to catch during lunch. The French interviewer was discussing the debates over gay marriage in France and England with a British journalist. And the journo said said something incredibly sharp and revealing. He said the reason there has been less street protest about the issue in England than in France is because the Church of England is actually not very influential on the daily lives of Britons. Whereas in France, even though it is very secular in mien, the influence of the RC Church is very strong still. This was not what the interviewer wanted to hear, and it was clear the journo had gone “off script”. The nearly cut off his mike, and went to break.

    Thus, I think the episode of Downton Abbey has to be seen in a somewhat similar light. The influence of the Church of England has never been what the RC Church has been in France…..that is, at least if we are talking about the period after they stopped sending dissenters to the gallows in the British realm.

    • Jordan permalink
      February 10, 2013 7:15 pm

      Peter Paul Fuchs [February 10, 2013 1:40 am]: Someone will have to explain to me sometime how gay people are supposed to not feel insulted by people like “Jordan” referring to the confirmation of their basic civil rights as moral “free fall”. I won’t hold my breath.

      I apologize for the insult. I did not intend for my comment on postchristianity to be a comment on morality, ethics, or laws. I merely suggested that the disintegration of the Downton Abbey-like Edwardian rigid caste/class system eventually brought about other changes including a abandonment of regular church attendance among a good number of Christians in Britain. It’s important to remember that not a few bishops and vicars in the Church of England (and likely not a few pastors of the Church of Scotland as well) support same sex marriage. Indeed, some clergy have even performed same sex marriages ahead of possible legal recognition. However, I believe that the majority of Britons have based their support of same sex marriage not on religious authority but rather secular concerns. British public support for SSM has, in my opinion, divorced itself from religion or religious homophobia for quite some time.

      Catholicism in Britain likely wields less political power than in the United States. I would not be surprised if some of the Catholic MPs and Lords who vote yea for same sex marriage will not be bumped off the altar rail or otherwise publicly reprimanded. I don’t think that the American Catholic hierarchy’s political strategy translates well for Britain.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        February 11, 2013 2:50 pm

        Jordan,

        Thanks for the clarification, I appreciate it. And as Mr. Burns likes to say on the Simpsons…. “Excellent…..”

  6. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    February 10, 2013 7:14 am

    Thank you Julia. Your post has given me a bit of insight into some past debates on the blog about the notion of a Catholic State. Reflecting on what your wrote, it seems to me that such a nation is possible, but only if we remain “Johnny Foreigner” in a Catholic State as well, where the seduction of idolatry and exceptionalism would be even stronger. Frankly, I cannot imagine such a situation ever coming to pass: our duty to the kingdom of God would be buried under the triumphalism which would accompany the foundation of a such a State. But it is very suggestive to contemplate.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      February 10, 2013 3:26 pm

      That is indeed what happened, without exception, in Catholic and Protestant confessional states. And that’s another reason to learn from our history, taking lessons from the times and places in which we’ve been a privileged majority as well as those in which we’ve been a despised minority. Catholics in historically Catholic countries may need to be particularly conscientious about remembering the ways in which catholicity still makes us foreign.

  7. Ronald King permalink
    February 10, 2013 10:40 am

    Excellent post Julia. The thought which comes to me as a result of your post is that being a Catholic and a foreigner in one’s homeland would seem to give us insight into the pain which other groups suffer such as those you identify above. However, the Church seems to create an exclusionary environment when it targets groups because of their sexual orientation or religious beliefs as being “less than”.

  8. danielimburgia permalink
    February 10, 2013 3:20 pm

    Roman Catholics!, Irish rebels!, gay foot-men!, apparently the only groups that dare not be named at Downton Abbey are Jews and Jacobins! It makes me wonder though if it’s correct that, “…on one level, when it is questioned whether a Catholic identity is compatible with a national one, the answer can in all cases be yes.” Are the gospels about an indescribable apocalypse or really more concerned with just reshuffling our various strategic allegiances about? #1 Church, #2 nation-state, #3 family, #4, Republican/democratic party, #27…lepers? Then again, Downton Abbey sales have recently surpassed “The Sopranos” at Amazon, and could that suggest that Anglican genteel spissitude is perhaps superseding the often bloody tensions among Catholic cosmopolitanism and parochialism in Western culture? I predict by season 4 some sort of Jewish character will emerge and by season 5 a communist (I pray though that they aren’t the same character). Obliged.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      February 10, 2013 4:33 pm

      I’m not completely sure what you’re driving at here, but as to the disclaimer you quote, my intention was to clarify, in anticipation of a possible counter-argument, that catholicity transcends nationality rather than altogether nullifying it. Unity in diversity is a part of what it means to be the church catholic, after all.

      And actually, even this disclaimer was a subtle challenge to the idolatry of nationalism. If Catholic and national identities can legitimately coexist in all cases, this precludes any national exceptionalism for members of the universal Church. That is to say, being Catholic and English is no more of an oxymoron than being Catholic and Irish. If it is possible to be Catholic and American, it is equally possible (ecclesiologically speaking) to be Catholic and Iranian – even (or especially) if the circumstances of Iranian Catholics make it easier for them to remember their “foreignness” (and let’s not forget there was a time when these reminders were stark and unavoidable for US Catholics as well).

      • danielimburgia permalink
        February 10, 2013 8:08 pm

        First, I really like how you present an imaginary concept of foreignness in this statement, “There’s something strangely foreign about those Catholics.  Their ideas about universal human dignity, community and the common good threaten our hallowed doctrines of exceptionalism and individualism.  They are always defending the most inconvenient people – the unborn, the poor, the prisoners, the immigrants, the citizens of enemy nations.  Can we really believe that such people, belonging to such a large, old institution beyond our borders, are fully loyal to the flag and the republic for which it stands?  Isn’t there something kind of un-American about them?” That I think is a vision of something that many of us look and hope for…someday.

        But I reckon I’m wondering a bit about what constitutes “identity” in the first place. Is it some sort of abstract mental ordering, or a ritual and habit like attending mass or pledging allegiance at a baseball game? Or is identity a body of lived commitments, kind of like you suggest above, but if were really put into practice then one can’t help but sometimes violently clash with other powers vying for our allegiance. Shouldn’t we understand that the principalities and powers are not passive agents that will just acquiesce to any consequential actions that people take in resisting them, that the powers will not just tish-tosh like Lord Grantham when they are opposed or resisted, when in fact they are active entities that have a stake in controlling our lives and actions and will fight to the death to maintain power, if really threatened–our example being Christ on the cross.

        So perhaps before we even get around to doing any transcending or nullifying we need to understand who is acting and where my compunctions come from. How much of what I call “my identity” emerges from inside me someplace and how much is chosen or imposed onto me. And perhaps more significantly how much of my identity is merely interpellated (as Althusser uses the term). Catholicity holds some potential and promise I think, but I find scant historical evidence that in practice it has done much to keep the body count down. My staunch Catholic father spent a couple of years killing German and Italian Catholics during WWII (Ironically it was the lapsed Catholic Hitler who kept arguing that the Americans and British aught to stop fighting with Germans and start killing godless communists!). It may be syllogistically possible to be both Catholic and English or Catholic and Irish but I would like to see how any of those identities are constituted and practiced before I would agree to say that the answer to the question whether Catholic identity is compatible with a national one that “the answer can in all cases be yes.”

        Perhaps the most problematic part of the argument is by Aaron Weldon. I don’t know who he is, but I think that his statement that “…sometimes our Church must lose some measure of social status in order to preserve her life” is…well, really really lame to be blunt. First, preserving the Church is not the Church’s responsibility it is God’s (and if you really want to see an impressive body count start counting up all those who have been killed by those trying to ‘preserve the Church,’ Oy Vey!). Second, just what is the proper measure of ‘social status’ the Church should obtain to preserve herself, according to the gospel?

        Anyway, I very much appreciate this thought inspiring post Julia, obliged,

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          February 10, 2013 11:42 pm

          Thank you for your thought-provoking response, Daniel. On the question of identity, I didn’t really mean it in such a weighty psycholocigal sense, but more in terms of priority of allegiances – a doxological sense, perhaps (who or what do we glorify?).

          Or is identity a body of lived commitments, kind of like you suggest above, but if were really put into practice then one can’t help but sometimes violently clash with other powers vying for our allegiance.

          Yes – although I would prefer to say that lived Christian commitments nonviolently clash with other powers vying for our allegiance. I would also add that lived commitments are reinforced by ritual habits.

          As for my disclaimer on national identities, I think you may be reading it as the opposite of what I intended. I meant to reinforce the point that the universal Church cannot be bound to any nationalism. The answer to the question, “Can one be Catholic and [insert nationality]?” can be yes in all cases because it cannot be yes for one nationality and no for another.

          Aaron can speak for himself better than I can, but I think you are misreading him as well. The statement you quote, first of all, is my own paraphrase and not a direct quote, but I believe his use of similar phrasing is alluding to Matthew 16:25, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” So the point is not that the Church should preserve herself by seeking social status, but exactly the opposite. If you follow the links to Aaron’s posts, you will get a better sense of what he is actually saying.

  9. Mark VA permalink
    February 10, 2013 7:21 pm

    While I tend to agree with your analysis, Julia, I would like to know which Catholic confessional states you had in mind when you wrote the “without exception” statement.

    It would be interesting to attempt a historical comparison between Catholic confessional and multi-confessional states, of the same historical period. This comparison may focus, for example, on the ways the local Catholic Church interacted with the state and the other local religious bodies, plus on the overall effects of this mix.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      February 10, 2013 7:48 pm

      What I had in mind was all of post-Reformation Europe. I considered that absolutizing generalization carefully and decided it was one I could confidently make. If you can find me an exception (i.e., any confessional state, Catholic or Protestant, in which the Christian duty to the kingdom of God was not buried under triumphalism), then I will amend my statement, but I’d be pretty hard pressed.

      I know that’s a subjective criterion, but if a good enough case can be made, I’m open to persuasion, though admittedly skeptical.

  10. Mark VA permalink
    February 10, 2013 10:35 pm

    Julia:

    My intent here is not to engage in a polemic, but to examine an interesting line of thought in more detail. I do tend to agree with your thinking, by the way, yet feel I could not prove it if asked for verifiable data. To me, it remains a hypothesis.

    “All of post-Reformation Europe” is a very broad sample size, and that presents many challenges. Are we talking, for example, about Russia, Greece, and Sardinia, or Spain, France, and Germany – or all of them? Which countries in post-Reformation Europe were confessional states, and which were multi-confessional states? Would we want to distinguish between those that had absolute, or electoral, monarchies? Would we need to compare those states that banished certain religious groups, with those that took them in? Perhaps an even more fundamental question could be, what do we understand “Europe” to be?

    Do you see what I mean? This type of question demands a strong historical magnifying glass plus refined analytic skills, and even these may not guarantee that an unequivocal answer will reveal itself.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      February 11, 2013 12:03 am

      I guess the way one addresses the historical question depends on who bears the burden of proof. In any case, a Christian confessional state is in principle an oxymoron, because the very concept is inconsistent with the catholicity of the Church and the kingdom that her Lord preached.

  11. Ronald King permalink
    February 11, 2013 8:22 am

    Julia, you stated above to Daniel “On the question of identity, I didn’t really mean it in such a weighty psycholocigal sense, but more in terms of priority of allegiances – a doxological sense, perhaps (who or what do we glorify?).” Daniel’s comment about identity is the most critical element to explore because our “priority of allegiances” is the net result of “weighty psychological” influences. If we do not explore the underlying foundation of our priorities we will continue to be a Church whose members are foreign to each other. Paraphrasing Christ, He and we will be known by how we love one another. The most obvious example which Daniel mentioned above is Christians killing Christians which in essence indicates that we do not love one another and consequently, Jesus is not real.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      February 11, 2013 3:01 pm

      I hope nobody thinks I find it acceptable for Christians to kill each other (or to crusade against non-Christians either). If you do, you haven’t been paying attention to anything I’ve said.

      • Ronald King permalink
        February 11, 2013 9:39 pm

        Never thought that about you

  12. February 11, 2013 6:31 pm

    “I hope nobody thinks I find it acceptable for Christians to kill each other…” I sure don’t that you believe that Julia, I share most of your Mennonite affinities btw. However, in something I blogged awhile back I quoted this from Derrida’s “The Gift Of Death”:

    “Something has not yet arrived, neither at Christianity nor by means of Christianity. What has not yet arrived at or happened to Christianity is Christianity. Christianity has not yet come to Christianity. What has not yet come about is the fulfillment, within history and in political history, and first and foremost in European politics, of the new responsibility announced by the mysterium tremendum. There has not yet been an authentically Christian politics because there remains this residue of the Platonic polis. Christian politics must break more definitively and more radically with Greco-Roman Platonic politics in order to finally fulfill the mysterium tremendum” (page 29).

    I guess I am trying to figure out how that call to “break more definitely” or may I dare to suggest, ‘break completely’ with the power structures of empire even as understood through the latent traditions of the ‘Platonic polis’ is reflected in assuming some measure of nationalist identity, no matter where it falls in one’s continuum of allegiances. Would it be fair to say that part of your argument above is that what hasn’t happened, hasn’t come to Catholicism is Catholicism? (*note, I have no interest in beating up on poor old Constantine again and blaming him for all of the church’s problems).

    Identity is perhaps even more problematic than allegiance. As Derrida says earlier: “How can another see into me, into my most secret self, without my being able to see in there myself? And without my being able to see him in me. And if my secret self, that which can be revealed only to the other, to the wholly other, to God if you wish, is a secret that I will never reflect on, that I will never know or experience or possess as my own, then what sense is there in saying that it is my secret, or in saying more generally that a secret belongs, that it is proper to or belongs to some one, or to some other who remains someone. It’s perhaps there that we find the secret of secrecy. Namely, that it is not a matter of knowing and that it is there for no one. A secret doesn’t belong, it can never be said to be at home or in its place. The question of the self: who am I not in the sense of who am I but rather who is this I that can say who? What is the- I, and what becomes of responsibility once the identity of the I trembles in secret?” (pg 20).

    But perhaps one possibility of provisionally establishing identity, even a trembling and secret one, is not so much in articulating theories and dogmas about identity and allegiance but in actual practice. Our encounters with the powers as we attempt to live out the gospel in this world may offer us concrete evidence about who we are and where our allegiances lie. Of course, this evidence, if we can call it that, can take manifold forms in different times and circumstances. The actions of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the signers of the Barmen declaration compared with the congregants and pastors of the German state church is one past example. But what might this look like for a Catholic today here in the USA with all our hell-fires drones zipping around the world as the polar caps melt, well, I’m not sure, but hopefully it will look to something like Christianity has finally happened to Christianity! Blessings and obliged.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      February 11, 2013 11:06 pm

      Would it be fair to say that part of your argument above is that what hasn’t happened, hasn’t come to Catholicism is Catholicism?

      I wouldn’t go that far, but what I will say is that when Catholicism is seen as bound to one national identity above others, or to any imperial or militaristic power, the Church has compromised its catholicity.

      Your examples about concrete demonstrations of identity and allegiance offer evocative illustrations of what I’m talking about, though I’d also say that we need theories (for example on what it means to belong to a universal Church with Christ as our head) to inform the practice.

  13. Mark VA permalink
    February 12, 2013 3:55 pm

    Julia:

    The impression I get is that you are working with a vaguely grasped concept, the “Christian confessional state”, and from this rather shaky historical basis, are trying to extrapolate some universal principles dealing with the hierarchy of identities.

    Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think the inquiry so far is wholly without merit, and I’m even leaning toward your line of thinking, but, as I see it, it is unrefined. A poorly defined idea may result in haphazard associations that will only tend to confirm one’s prejudices, rather than advance the inquiry.

    I would be hesitant to extrapolate so much from so little.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      February 12, 2013 9:19 pm

      I will grant that I am not a historian and may even be biased by a certain inherited historical narrative. I still stand behind the claim that the idea of a Christian confessional state is in se a compromise of the catholicity of the Church. It’s not so much that I am extrapolating this principle from a historical phenomenon, but rather I am taking it as axiomatic.

      I agree with you in principle when you state, “A poorly defined idea may result in haphazard associations that will only tend to confirm one’s prejudices, rather than advance the inquiry.” But again, we seem to be stalled at the question of the burden of proof. Being utterly convinced that the Kingdom of God that our Lord preached is fundamentally at odds with the pursuit of privilege for the Church through the use of State power, I can only put the burden of proof on the exception. Can you find any confessional state that has not succumbed to the temptation of triumphalism?

  14. Mark VA permalink
    February 13, 2013 3:45 pm

    Julia:

    Much better to discuss this using particular examples rather than in the abstract, especially in the beginning.

    My impression is that when a fair number of people focus on “Europe” and the “Catholic Church”, they usually think of Spain (the Inquisition), France (absolute Monarchy and Cardinal Richelieu) and Italy (Papal corruption). Most subsequent thinking on these subjects is then based on this limited domain, and usually dwells on negative associations.

    The subject, however, is much broader and complex. I consider the historian Norman Davies an excellent start on the road to expanding our knowledge of history (he’s not Catholic, as far as I know, which should remove the charge of hagiography). He challenges in a way that leads to a higher plane of thinking.

    I think you’ll agree that before we can attempt any “burdens of proof”, we must have such knowledge first. “All post-Reformation Europe” will not do.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      February 13, 2013 4:37 pm

      Fair enough – but we also need to acknowledge our fundamental principles on the nature of the Gospel and the Church (among other things).

      The question I can’t get past is, how can a church that is bound to any nationalistic identification over against others be truly catholic?

      Or if you find that too abstract, can you give me any counter-examples to my claim that the confessional state is inherently triumphalistic?

  15. Mark VA permalink
    February 13, 2013 6:06 pm

    Julia:

    You are right, the Catholic Church is not bound by any national identification – thus, there is no “USA Catholic Church”, or “Brazilian Catholic Church”, only the Catholic Church in the USA, or in Brazil.

    I think the opposite has sometimes been attempted – the secular rulers of particular states occasionally tried to impose a creed on their subjects, for the practical aim avoiding religious wars (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Westphalia). But then we should also balance this against multi-confessional states that largely avoided internal religious wars (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_Confederation). Also, men being men, it’s not impossible that this or that Pope did not try to take tactical advantage for the Church in this or that country.

    So as you see, the situation is already complex – which is normative, religious conflict or religious toleration, or both?

    Now to complicate this further, consider the institution of the Interrex – (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interrex_%28Poland%29). This fits nobodies mold – a multi-confessional state ruled at regular intervals by a Cardinal. This is enough to give our modern sensibilities a case of vapours. This is why I shy away from rash historical pronouncements that “feel obvious” to me.

    I’ve learned enough of our history to be sure of only one thing – the decline of our civilization began when kings abolished the institution of the Court Jester. Bring Eulenspiegel back!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Till_Eulenspiegel

  16. lee permalink
    February 14, 2013 10:01 am

    Good points, but there’s a political reason why they joke about catholics, namely King Henry 8th and the illegality of Catholicism after his reign up until the 1820s, when legislation started to be repealed/dismantled against the Catholics.

  17. lee permalink
    February 14, 2013 10:02 am

    Allegiance to Rome etc. A foreign state. It was seen as a threat.

  18. Julia Smucker permalink*
    February 14, 2013 7:38 pm

    Lee, I know the history, and that was part of my point. The situation of Catholics in countries whose history and politics have caused anti-Catholic prejudice offers a lesson for the whole Church, especially in places where Catholics have a more privileged position. If our highest allegiance is to Christ and his Church – which is universal – we should be seen as in some way foreign or (nonviolently) threatening to whatever earthly authority we’re living under.

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