Time to name something. Let’s call it over-realized Belloc-ism– i.e. the people who have Deus Vult in their twitter bios and cartoon knights as their avis, and are basically just into Christianity as the folk religion of Europe. They tend to be super into the Battle of Lepanto and super not into Jews existing. They say “Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe.”
What about this is so hideous? Well, obviously it’s wrong theologically and it’s crypto-racist– but that’s not what I mean. I mean, what about this makes my skin crawl?
Here it is: it seems to steal and make petty what I loved about the Arthurian mythos, and about Europeanness. When you first read Belloc, when you first read that line, what it does is humble the pretenses of post-Enlightenment and post-Reformation Europe.
“Remember who you are, daughter of the Church,” the line sees to say. “You’ve gotten haughty and thought yourself the savior of the world; remember your own Savior, and leave aside your rationalism and pride.” That is a deeply satisfying thing to hear: it’s what we all need to hear, sometimes, all of us who can forget ourselves, think ourselves independent, forget our Lord who bought us. It commands Europe back into the order of the Cosmos and makes her truly herself, as opposed to the techno-Faustian witch-queen she had become.
There is another aspect of Europeanness which over-realized Bellocism undermines. And that is the real delight of Arthur and Roland, the appeal of Robin Hood and Tristan, of Maid Marian and Rowena – and let us not forget, of Rebecca too; I will speak up for my kinswoman – and Isolde. All of that culture of chivalry and romance is living good when you first hear of it, when you first read the stories– because it is open at the top, it seems as though the supernatural is pouring grace down into it so abundantly that wizards and dragons and unicorns and grail-quests just pop up out of its soil spontaneously.
But to make it a totalized thing– to imagine that God’s plan for humanity, that Christendom and the Church and the Kingdom, are limited to Europe, is to close all that in. It immediately becomes cloying, cliche, dead. It’s no longer open at the top. This isn’t any matter of cucked Christianity or PC appeals. This is a matter of imaginative life and death. To make Christianity a religion of Europeanness will kill everything you ever once loved about the Thorn of Glastonbury and the Red-Cross Knight.
The Faith may be Europe. God made Europe, including Europe before she received Christianity from the East, before she was grafted in to the family of Abraham. But Europe is not the Faith.
Susannah Black Roberts is senior editor at Plough. She is a native Manhattanite. She and her husband, the theologian Alastair Roberts, split their time between Manhattan and the West Midlands of the UK.