Friday, July 24, 2009

Catholics: Heartier Partiers?

Speaking of the Protestant Reformation's crushing of the "creative activity" of the Middle Ages, author Tom Hodgkinson writes (with tongue in cheek):

The Puritan Revolution began to introduce boredom to the masses. Even religion and the path to salvation became boring. In the Middle Ages, religion had been full of blood and gore and death. Churches were centres of economic activity and partying as well as of worship. The Church was a patron of the arts and commissioned local craftsmen to make adornments for its properties. The sermons were attended largely for their entertainment value; they provided real theatre. In medieval Florence, people would queue all night to see a great preacher and then stream out of the church after the service, weeping copiously. All this drama and theatre was removed by the Puritans, who labelled the ways of the old Church "superstition" and "idolatry." In other words, all the pagan fun of the Catholic Church, which it had wisely kept, was taken away.
(I quote Hodgkinson here not because I necessarily agree with him, but because he has a knack for being really amusing, even as he offends just about everyone equally.)

This idea that Catholics are better partiers is perhaps what lay behind Sean P. Dailey's article titled "The Lost Art of Catholic Drinking," in which the author argues that the thing that distinguishes Catholic from Protestant drinking is not necessarily quantity, but control. Citing Chesterton's insistence that the way we thank God for wine is by not drinking too much of it, Dailey says that Catholics can steer the middle course between abstinence and excess that Protestants just can't seem to navigate.

(Oh, and another thing that distinguishes the two methods of imbibement is Hilaire Belloc's insistence that Catholics never drink any beverages that don't predate the Reformation [which supposedly limits their choices to beer and wine]. I suppose this would make The Wire's Jimmy McNulty's dismissing of Bushmills as "Protestant Whiskey" somewhat tautological (he prefers Jameson). Of course, legend does tell us that St. Patrick himself introduced the art of distilling to the Irish in the fifth century. But I digress.)

What's my point, you ask? Umm, I'm not sure I really have one, unless it's that with respect to the enjoyment of beverages, perhaps confessional Protestants are closer to Rome than they are to Saddleback after all. Not exactly a giant leap toward ecumenism or anything, but it's a start.