Over the course of nearly ten years, Ivy Style has received some 45,000 comments. According to a reader yesterday, the following is the best — what’s more, it’s the best comment on the entire Internet. I suppose it depends where your interests lie. Nevertheless, this lengthy comment in response to Charlottesville’s essay on the 500th anniversary of Protestantism is worthy of its own post, especially as we countdown to Christmas Day.
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As a dyed-in-the-Polyester Papist, I’d like to ultracrepidate on this for a moment. I mean this in the best spirit of ornery polemics.
Protestantism’s choose-for-yourself ethos of private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20 be damned?) and rejection of authority could have only been possible in the political disorganization of Germany in the late Holy Roman Empire (spare us your Voltaire quotes), and enables the Joie de Amérique of rugged individualism and the “Don’t Tread On Me” of the 1775 Philadelphia Marines.
It was that same Sola-Scriptura-as-supreme-authority ideal that made Adam Smith’s economy possible, because no prince or pope could guide the invisible hand. Interestingly, Smith considered the religious revival of the European and Anglo-American Great Awakening to be evidence of competition in the marketplace of salvation. An interesting thought, since there is only one seller of salvation, and it’s the Almighty God, and his shops are the confessional booth and the altar rail, not the revival tent and the Crock Pot buffet. And if you’ll *indulge* me for another thought– only a Protestant could conceive of the idea of a “marketplace of salvation”.
Still though, the studied indifference of a crewneck sweater covering your club tie could only be possible in a religious milieu that says “there are rules and I don’t care about them” (very modern-Protty), but it could only be popular in a further milieu that says “I really do care about them a lot”. John Knox would be so proud.
The conformism and social canon of the Ivy Style and its associated WASP life is such a deeply Catholic worldview, but that it need to appear to challenge that worldview (the somewhat-inappropriate-to-the-settingness of it all) is so Protestant. But that it tries to challenge the appropriateness from within is so Catholic. That proper New England families shouldn’t show any of that challenge is so Protestant. That people love asking “Is this Go-To-Hell hoverboard Ivy?” on this group is the definition of canonical Catholic (Latin, 3rd declension dative singular, canōnī)– that there even *is* a canon is so Catholic– but the way that people end up shrugging their soft shoulders and say “do what you like, man” is only possible in a country where there are 20,000 different variations of Protestant Christian churches (look it up).
In the end, Luther almost certainly didn’t nail the 95 theses to the Wittenberg door. And if he did, it wouldn’t have caused a stir anyway. Professor Paul Gregory of (wait for it) Notre Dame University last week gave a lecture at the Catholic school where I teach, and touched on this very thing: The Theses were 2 columns of very small, very dense font, making somewhat arcane complaints about ecclesiastical practice– and they were entirely printed in Latin. Do you think the denizens of early-16th-Century central Europe stopped trick-or-treating long enough to become literate in a language, much less disputes on scriptural and sacramental theology?
Of course not. They had to get off to the Harvard/Yale football game, where they’d eventually pour out of Harvard Stadium singing the old hymn of Crimson Football “That’s alright, that’s ok/You non-Puritans will burn in Hell one day”.
Who puts the P in WASPs? Certainly not Catholics, whom, everyone knows, aren’t supposed to put their P in a Protestant. But it is the Protestants who deeply want to be Catholics (in my experience, the Catholics who want to be Protestants wear Hawaiian shirts) who secretly pine for the catechetical value of a 4-in-hand and the glory of center-vent sack suit– truly the cappa magna of High Church Ivy. Catholics fondly remember the glory of the Missa Cantata the same way trads remember when Brooks made jackets that came down far enough, and say they really did prefer the “lowest of the low Masses” (whatever that means) like a seventh grader wears a Chipp tie to 9:30 service at the Upper-Norfolk Presbyterian Church– privately, and hoping their grandmother doesn’t notice.
Here I take my stand. I can choose no other. — WHOLLY ROAMIN’