August 24, 2006

A History of Christians & Government in Thirty Minutes or Less

King Clovis

Historians who are generalists, rather than specialists, possess a certain charisma because understanding the grand sweep of the past correctly is so helpful to understanding the present.

I listened to one such generalist, Msgr. Lane, via the miracle of modern technology: a CD offered here.(Note: errors that follow in the paraphrase are mine, not Msgr. Lane's.)

The topic was secularism in the Church, and how it's been a long, constant struggle. I can't begin to do justice to the thirty minute talk and the nuances contained therein, but I'll try. He said the Reformation is commonly blamed for secularism in the Church but that was not what the Reformers intended. Government was intended to be of, by and for Christians for it was a Christian society. What the Reformers could never have imagined was a "failure of Christianity". They wouldn't imagine, for example, a Christian leader like Jesse Jackson. (Jackson called abortion "a genocide" but later began supporting a woman's right to choose after the state weighed in - instead of the state taking its cues from Christian society, Christians take their cues from the state.) It was assumed in a thoroughly Christian society there would be no cleavage between the government and religion, and that layman could lead better than clergy. But eventually civil governments were saying things like "we don't care what you believe as long as you give deference to us". And groups began splitting off, such as the spiritual forebears of today's Amish. Many other groups split, such as the Lutheran pietists.

Monsignor began with the 5th century and the Frankish King Clovis. The men who would fight for Clovis did so on the assumption that he was a more than a man, a "superman", part god. It was said his grandfather was conceived via "a sea monster which could change shapes while swimming". Men would not die for the merely human.

Well Clovis married Clotilda, a devout Christian, and she begged him to convert. From Catholic Encyclopedia:
Clotilda, who was a Catholic, and very pious, won the consent of Clovis to the baptism of their son, and then urged that he himself embrace the Catholic Faith. He deliberated for a long time. Finally, during a battle against the Alemanni--which without apparent reason has been called the battle of Tolbiac (Zulpich)--seeing his troops on the point of yielding, he invoked the aid of Clotilda's God, promised to become a Christian if only victory should be granted him. He conquered and, true to his word was baptized at Reims by St. Remigius, bishop of that city.
Msgr. Lane mentions that this rejection of paganism and his semi-god status made Clovis merely a man in the eyes of his men. He was not "superhuman". Under what grounds would he have the right to rule? He explained to his soldiers about Saul in the Hebrew scriptures. Saul was annointed by God and that annointing made him different, something that changed him and made him more. So Clovis would be annointed King and the majority of his soldiers became Christians.

Monsignor goes on to describe the centuries ahead and the abuses in the Church. He said that to this day the problem is unresolved and that we should beg God for insight. He said that almost every reform in the Church has come from the bottom up rather than top down. He said it was very unfortunate that the word 'beseech' and synonyms were removed from the liturgy, because however you want to say it we must beg God for His help and renewal.

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