in the

  Downside Abbey Church


The Following is adapted from: The Long Nineteenth Century, lec. 1.7, Robert I. Weiner.

Seen in Literature, Art, Music, but difficult to define precisely:

Emphasis on Emotion (and spontaneity)

Return to Nature

Past-oriented - Medieval Epics; Folktales and Folk-Art as legitimate disciplines and part of cultural heritage; e.g.Brothers Grimm

Anti-Enlightenment (anti-rationalist)

Rejection of Man-Machine (mechanistic) anthropology/sociology of Industrial Revolution

Romantic Tone:

Striving to create new systems of thought out of collapse of the old

Attempts to bridge the gap between ideal and real; between aspirations and limitations and suffering


BUT NOTE: The 1815-1848 era was also often an age of frustration.

Attempts to use positive elements from Enlightenment and French Revolution feared by those attempting to restore traditional political and religious institutions and practices

Constitutionalist and liberal nationalist expectations were often dashed.

The Following is adapted from: The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. Cross, Livingstone; (OUP, 1983).

ROMANTICISM. The word is used for the movement in literature and art reasserting passion and imagination in reaction from the classicism and rationalism which marked the 18th cent. It is a vague term, and describes a mood or tendency rather than a system. Such a reaction against the Enlightenment is found first in Germany, among such writers as Goethe, F. Schlegel, F. D. E. Schleiermacher, and Novalis. Its influence spread to other countries and in England can be seen in the work of W. Blake, W. Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge, P. B. Shelley, and J. Keats, among others, and in France in Chateaubriand, Victor Hugo, etc.


OUT of the devastation wrought by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars there arose a widespread longing to restore dignity, peace, and lost tradition.  The Catholic Church became an important (and ambiguous) ally for those who strove to restore what the revolutionaries had suppressed.  One of the French Catholic Church’s most widely-read defenders was the “romantic” author and statesman Chateaubriand, whose Genius of Christianity refuted the anti-Christianity and anti-Catholicism of the revolution.  His work found a wide readership among many who were instrumental in the renewal and refoundation of Catholic religious orders, such as Gueranger [OSB] and Lacordaire [OP].  The renewal of Catholic art is exemplified in the writings and work of the English architect Augustus Pugin.

Chateaubriand Pope Gregory XVI Lamennais

ROMANTIC renewal also had its dark, repressive side, however, as is evident in the encyclicals Mirari Vos and Singulari Nos of Gregory XVI.  In his condemnation of the “liberalism” of Lamennais Pope Gregory also condemned what had been valuable in the heritage of the Enlightenment, such as democracy, science and historical scholarship.  And he also doomed the Church of the nineteenth century to an unholy alliance with monarchy, a political structure that was already crumbling and was destined to fail.


At the head of a Frankish army, late in 754, or early in 755, Pippen invaded Italy and compelled Aistulf to agree to surrender to the Pope Ravenna and the other recent Lombard conquests. A second campaign, in 756, was necessary before the Lombard King made good his promise. The Exarchate of which Ravenna was the capital and the Pentapolis were now the possessions of the Pope.

The “States of the Church” were begun—that temporal sovereignty of the papacy which was to last till 1870, restored to the papacy at the Congress of Vienna after the Napoleonic wars.

Bouyer, Introd. to Spir'ty, ch.1

The re-establishment in the nineteenth century of the religious orders that had been banished by the French Revolution led to a thoroughgoing reconstruction in which there was, inevitably, a certain degree of artificiality. In accord with a vision of history which was oft en quite romantic, institutions were reproduced in the form they were thought to have had in an idealized period. In this re-creation, it must be admitted, no one knew quite where to draw a line between what had been merely ephemeral and transitory and what was permanent and essential. In the field of spirituality especially, not only each of the great Orders, but also each particular congregation, tended to rediscover itself and to give itself, in accordance with the work of one or another saintly founder, a physiognomy that would be proper to it. Thus not only were historical distinctions made between different schools of spirituality such as the Flemish or the Spanish -- which would have been perfectly legitimate had the relativity of these distinctions even on the level of history been preserved. But there was further brought about the systematic cultivation, in and for the sake of their very distinctiveness, of a Benedictine spirituality, a Jesuit spirituality, a Carmelite spirituality, etc., etc. There might well have been some justification for this - proceeding if each order or congregation had limited itself to gathering together from its first Fathers the teachings which could be applied to its specific tasks. But what can be said of these efforts to create for each religious “family” a complete vision of the spiritual world hermetically sealed off from any other vision and foreign, if not hostile, to those which were being developed at the same time? Such efforts, obviously, whether open or disguised, are insolubly self-contradictory. How can Teresian spirituality and Ignatian spirituality, for example, be set up as two separate edifices, when it is obvious that St. Teresa took as her directors Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, as well as Carmelites, with the sole proviso that they be men of God and good theologians? And St. Ignatius himself, although his spiritual work is so rigorously constructed, neglected none of the sources of Catholic tradition available to him, including monastic sources first of all, the ideal of which has often been made out to be radically opposed to his!

     It must be said without mincing words: no great historical Christian spirituality lends itself to such test-tube development without, as a result, having its basic constituents adulterated by disciples who may be very well-intentioned but show themselves to be unintelligent descendants of the masters they affect to serve. Conversely, it must be said, a particular spirituality which would lend itself to such treatment immediately betrays the fact that it is not an authentically Catholic development of Christianity but merely a sectarian deformation. St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Ignatius never wished -- quite the contrary -- to do anything other than propose to their contemporaries perennial Christian spirituality, Catholic spirituality, as simply adapted - in its presentation far more than in its ultimate bases - to the immediate needs of their contemporaries.

     What are we to think, then, of these more recent spiritualities which aim from the outset to fit the narrowly specialized needs of certain environments or certain states of life? Often appearing in conjunction with developments of specialized Catholic Action, they are the result of a general tendency, of which they are only one product among many.

     There was first the desire to give the “diocesan clergy” a particular spirituality, conceived expressly so that they would not feel inferior in comparison with the different religious orders. Then there was the desire to work out a spirituality for the laity, which would be opposed, like the foregoing, to the spirituality of religious and particularly of monks and to priestly spirituality as well. . . In these efforts, we should realize, the good and the bad are all too easily intermingled. The inextricable confusions in which they necessarily become involved can be easily seen in connection with this desire to construct a lay spirituality as something quite distinct from monastic spirituality - for the primitive monks, the very creators of monastic spirituality, actually were, and never desired to be anything other than, devoted lay-people!.. As for the idea of a spirituality for the diocesan clergy, added on like one more little chapel alongside the spiritualities of the different religious orders, it might be remarked that this is in flagrant contradiction with the great ideal of priestly spirituality developed in France in the seventeenth century - an ideal directly inspired by the Fathers, especially St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Great. For this ideal as expressed in Bossuet’s memorable formulation in his funeral oration for Fr. Bourgoing, was of men who wished “to have no other rules but the laws that (Christ) gave to His Church, and no superiors other than His bishops....”

     Coming finally to the various forms of spirituality for workers, farmers, students, etc.. .which have been proposed in certain circles of specialized Catholic action, we find that there seems to be a confusion here between the legitimate concern that the spirituality of the Gospel should permeate the solutions to problems proper to each particular environment, and a vague and chimerical ideal which, if it were (or could be) defined, would come down to refashioning the Gospel to fit the mentality, the professional bent, the prejudices or the current fads of one or another of these various environments... At this rate, we should speedily arrive at the production of a Christianity, or rather of a multitude of Christianities, of classes or cliques, of the kind at which St. Paul’s exclamation is directly aimed: “There is no longer either Greek or Jew, either circumcision or uncircumcision, either Barbarian or Scythian, either slave or free man, but Christ is all in all” (Col. 3:2).

     As the same apostle says, what defines Christian spirituality is not any distinction, natural or otherwise, of such and such a Christian or group of Christians, but “one faith, one baptism, one Lord, one Spirit, one God and Savior of all.” Undoubtedly, the same Spirit who works in all must demand of the different members that they each carry out different functions in the one Body of Christ; to this extent the same spirituality must have different applications. Nonetheless, we cannot speak of different “Christian spiritualities” without always keeping in mind the fact that, if they really are Christian, they differ only on the relatively external and secondary plane of these applications, while the essence Of truly Catholic Christian spirituality remains one and inalterable.

     In the malformation of these exaggerated specializations, we find, contrary to first impressions, the same initial error as that of the syncretists. . .an imbalance between the religious subject and the object of his religion, with the result that the attention of the subject, which should be fixed on the object, is turned on himself to the point of self-absorption. And, to the extent to which this point is reached, it is religion itself, spirituality itself inasmuch as it is religious (and even as it is “spiritual”), that fades away.

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