Friday, February 11, 2011


While there are many “causes” for the shift just documented, Taylor appeals to something like a meta-cause—or perhaps better, an umbrella name for these multiple causes: “Reform” (with a capital-R). This rubric names a range of movements already underway in the late medieval period (61). This desire for Reform finds expression in a constellation of movements and developments. In particular, Taylor argues, was “a profound dissatisfaction with the hierarchical equilibrium between lay life and the renunciative vocations” (61)—a rejection of “two-tiered religion” (63) or the “multi-speed system” (66). In other words, this Reform targets element (iii) above. And while there were internally Roman Catholic expressions of this, one can see why Taylor makes the Protestant Reformation a central, if not pivotal (p. 77), expression of Reform which turns into “a drive to make over the whole society to higher standards” (63) as well as the motivating conviction that “God is sanctifying us everywhere” (79). Together these commitments begin to propel a kind of perfectionism about society that wouldn’t have been imagined earlier.

1. Leveling

This development, then, targets the prior “equilibrium” noted earlier (change iii). Rejecting the “multi-speed” models, Reform ratchets up our expectation: all our expected to live all of their lives coram Deo. The flipside is a sanctification of “ordinary life.” The result is that “for the ordinary householder” this will “require something paradoxical: living in all the practices and institutions of flourishing, but at the same time not fully in them. Being in them but not of them; being in them, but yet at a distance, ready to lose them. Augustine put it: use the things of this world, but don’t enjoy them; uti, not frui. Or do it all for the glory of God, in the Loyola-Calvin formulation” (81). We Protestants so take this burdensome dynamic for granted that it’s difficult to imagine it being otherwise.

There are a couple of ways that this finds expression: on the one hand, ordinary, domestic life is taken up and sanctified; on the other hand, renunciation is built into ordinary life (81b). So the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker are affirmed in their “worldly” stations as also called to serve God, just as the priest; on the other hand, the domestic laborer does this with something of a mendicant asceticism.

2. Disenchantment

Coupled with this was the Reformation’s “radical simplification,” as Taylor describes it (77). The Reformers “all see the reigning equilibrium as a bad compromise”—a Pelagian assumption of human powers and thus an inadequate appreciation for the radical grace of God—for God’s action in salvation. If anything of salvation is under our control, then God’s sovereignty and grace are compromised. This leads Reformers like Calvin to reject the “localization” of grace in things and rituals, changing the “centre of gravity of the religious life” (79). Taylor consider John Calvin as a case study: in emphasizing the priority of God’s action and grace, Taylor notes, “what he can’t admit is that God could have released something of his saving efficacy out there into the world, at the mercy of human action, because that is the cost of really sanctifying creatures like us which are bodily, social, historical” (79). One can see how this entails a kind of disenchantment: “we reject the sacramentals; all the elements of ‘magic’ in the old religion” (79). If the church no longer has “good” magic, “then all magic must be black” (80): all enchantment must be blasphemous, idolatrous, even demonic (Salem is yet to come). And one the world is de-charged, we are then free to re-order it as seems best (80). In other words, the Reformers’ rejection of sacramentalism is the beginning of naturalism.

>Discussion: note Taylor’s counterfactual reflections—that things could have gone differently with respect to the Reformation, 75, 76, 78-79. But this would have required both different sensibilities on the part of the Reformers as well as a different stance on the part of Rome.

It was this “rage for order,” Taylor suggests, that unwittingly contributes to the disenchantment of the world: “This, plus the inherent drive of the religious reformations, made them work towards the disenchantment of the world, and the abolition of society based on hierarchical equilibrium, what that of elite and mass, or that we find reflected in the Carnival, and the ‘world turned upside down’” (87). Both religious and secular Reform share this concern.

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