Nothing like a little heresy to reinflate the sagging body of the church. The heresy of twenty plus centuries, as infinite as private choice , is hardly random, but keeps to certain well-defined channels. Past the multitudinous polysyllabic channels to a few constant forms: the swarming individualists were not merely, as the orthodox have always maintained, the miscellaneous maggots which it has been necessary from time to time to stamp or steam out of the majestic fabric of the Church but people with continuous traditions of their own to which we may owe a debt. All heresies look back, in different ways , to the teaching of Jesus and the primitive Church. All of them oppose, or at least ignore, the far more elaborate Church structure built up in the days when the Church had triumphed in the Roman Empire and become a great department of state…
There was a great new outburst of heresy in the sixteenth century. Against the background of the previous centuries, there is little that is new in the Reformation. Only this time international heresy obtained a secure territorial basis and prevailed. At least some forms of it prevailed; and by prevailing became orthodoxies, established churches themselves. But others did not. Anabaptism, Socinianism, and a dozen other varieties of “permanent” heresy struggled along, outside the reach of Rome, in the interstices of protestant societies.
Sometimes they made a bid for power, as the Anabaptists did in Munster in 1534 and again in England in 1653. Because of their numerical weakness, such heretics always needed the support of messianic doctrines and so fell under the control of fanatics and were destroyed. More often they contracted out of the established society and cultivated evangelical virtues in private corners, hoping that one day their time would come.
Has their day ever come? In a sense it has. For the modern world, the post-modern world owes far more to these heretics than it is aware of. Exactly how much it owes is uncertain, and not everyone would agree with the argument, but our current society, extraordinary in many ways, from its basis in Europe, has transformed the whole world, and was created in large part from the heretics. They did not create it intentionally: no doubt they would be horrified if they saw it: but nevertheless it was largely their work. Certainly, it was not the work of orthodoxy.
Consider the orthodox world. From the days of Constantine, Christian orthodoxy attached itself to the Roman world, a world of solid hierarchical, bureaucratic power; and from that world it acquired its own power: the character which the heretics regarded as a betrayal of the real inheritance of Christ. In the Dark Ages the solidity of the Church served society well, but by the twelfth century, in a period of great economic growth, the tensions appeared; and they appeared especially, in the aras of economic activity: in Lombardy, in the Rhineland, in Flanders,in Bohemia, and in the rich commercial cities of Languedoc.
Moreover,it is notable that the “primitive christian” communities were generally communities of textile workers or miners. The Albigenses,the Umiliati, the Waldenses, the Taborites; all part of the two great industries of the Middle Ages. Altogether the heretic International of the twelfth century can be seen, in part, as a general rejection of the institutions of feudal society by the laity, and the solid cells of resistance were to be found in the small, scattered units of European industry.
Moreover, when the established Church triumphed, what happened? It doubled a redoubled its own feudal bureaucratic structure, absorbed more and more of Europe’s wealth and talent, and became a heavy burden on Europe’s economy. The years from 1300 to 1450 in Europe, the years of the medieval counter-reformation are generally admitted to be a period of economic decline, in which the great promise of the earlier centuries came to nothing.
The same can be said of the sixteenth century Reformation. The heretics of the Reformation came largely from the economically advanced areas. Many of their leaders came from the merchant classes; the most stubborn of their martyrs were Anabaptists in the clothing towns of England, Flanders, and the Rhineland, and in the mining towns of Germany. When the established church triumphed over the Reformation, it was once again by doubling its “bureaucratic” structure. Just as the Catholic Church of the thirteenth century triumphed over heresy by the creation of new orders, the friars, and the Roman Inquisition, so in the sixte
century it triumphed by the creation of new orders , the Jesuits, and the Spanish Inquisition. And the result was the same. Just as the years from 1300 to 1450 were years of economic stagnation in Europe, after the promise of the twelfth century , so the years 1650 to 1750 were years of economic stagnation, after the promise of the Renaissance, in those countries of Europe from which heresy was driven out.
(see link at end) A great medievalist once remarked that, in the end, Byzantine civilization failed because it was merely ingenious rather than original. Thanks to what we now call modernism, that can’t be said of the Euro-American culture that has dominated the world for the last two centuries. …Later, Gay imagines a dialogue between those modernist icons Freud and Franz Kafka in similarly shrewd terms:
“Freud’s verdict on the human animal, was severe,” he writes. “In his judgment, conflict was built into every child’s developmental history even at its best. But Freud, the principled pessimist, believed that psychoanalysts might alleviate some fixations and enlarge the range of rationality. . . . For his part Kafka would have taken this tough-minded realism as just another instance of all too human self-deception. Uncomfortably close to nihilist despair, he saw life itself as the villain. The conflict between Kafka’s unflinching bleakness and the attitude of other modernist writers could not be any greater. I recall the last word in ‘Ulysses,’ the most positive in the language, that Joyce gave to Molly Bloom — ‘Yes.’ Kafka’s last word in all its forms was ‘No.’ “…Read More:http://articles.latimes.com/2007/nov/14/entertainment/et-rutten14