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’
” Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.”
I don’t understand much of it, but I feel sure the entirety is clever. I mean, I think it is–?
Speaking of WASPy Catholics:
I have noted a bizarre thing:
catholics in protestant anglo-saxons countries tend to take very seriously catholicism.
I think that also this falls into a protestant forma mentis.
In Italy all are catholics,but almost none take so seriously the religion.
We live our relationtionship with God without particular dramas.
Call it “religious sprezzatura”.
Maybe the awful truth is that deep down we Italians still are pagans,with our ancient Gods disguised as saints.
Thanks S.E. I was beginning to think I was the only one who didn’t get it.
With Christmas approaching, I believe it’s customary to wish for peace on earth. But amongst WASPs and Catholics with an affinity for button-down collars and slip-on shoes, I’ll happily settle for “corvus oculum corvi non eruit”.
I’m with S. E., maybe WFB would have found this rambling remark funny. This (mostly) Catholic just doesn’t get it.
Here’s an interesting episode of Firing Line wherein the Hitch accuses WFB of being a WASP, his reply is interesting:
SE, George, and GS are on the right track. As a devout Catholic and general observer of Ivy etc., I can’t say I see anything more than the superficial in comparisons of Ivy dressing and Catholicism vs. Protestantism, or whatever the thesis here is supposed to be. Of course it’s difficult to speak categorically about Catholicism since it’s such a vast and diverse organization, but let’s assume we’re talking about American Catholicism with its roots most recently in Europe (as opposed to central and South America). If I took the thesis seriously, I’d point out that the New England WASP ethos is vastly more informed by Anglicanism than Lutheranism, especially where its comes to sola scriptura. All of which is to say, Anglicanism doesn’t depend on individual interpretation like Lutheranism, but more simply severed interpretation from Rome during the reign of Henry VIII. In that sense, this strain of American Catholicism and general Anglicanism (and by extension New England WASPism) have much more in common with one another than Anglicanism (and by extension New England WASPism) have in common with Lutheranism and its strongest expressions in the American midwest. In short, it’s not strictly a Protestant vs. Catholic thing.
On the other hand, I like the bit about John Knox, and, to a lesser extent, the bit about Hawaiian shirts.
I’m more concerned that this prose is the work of someone who claims to educate students at a reasonably respectable university like Notre Dame.
1. “Certainly not Catholics, whom, everyone knows, aren’t supposed to put their P in a Protestant.” Who, not whom.
2. “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.” How many verb tense shifts can one sentence support, to say nothing of subject-verb agreement?
3. “Notre Dame University”? No self-respecting affiliate of the university would make this mistake. It’s the University of Notre Dame.
I always assumed that WASPs were more Presbyterian than Episcopalian, that is to say more low church with less ostentation and genuflecting. I read recently that they were about half-half.
But what of Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in America founded in 1789? It was pretty preppy, just saying.
A piece that rather curiously brought to mind Ulysses, Remembrance of Things Past, and The Sound and the Fury.
@Jan Sweelinck & GS
The New England “old money” WASPs are probably grounded more in the Congregational and Unitarian churches (Yale and Harvard being started mainly to train ministers in those sects). Episcopalians were more Southern gentry. The Presbyterians were of course the Scottish immigrants, Princeton being their chief academic contribution. The Methodists hailed largely from Wales, and gave us all those various Wesleyan colleges. Being myself the product of a Welsh (Old Briton) Methodist (Dad) and a Scottish Presbyterian (Mom) I can claim to be a White Protestant, but hardly Anglo-Saxon. Not to mention that Mom’s people make a speculative but probable jump to Norman origins, and that presupposes Vikings as well as Gallic French, and Lord knows where the Visigoths figure into all of this.
Catholic or Protestant (or Orthodox) as Tiny Tim said, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”.
Why do you never take just one Baptist out fishing? He’ll drink all the beer.
A visiting Norte Dame professor spoke at the Catholic school where he teaches. He didn’t say ND was his alma mater.
I think the professor’s first name is Brad, not Paul.
Who wrote this? It’s genius. I want to follow his blog.
To me, the connection, or is it extension, between traditional clothing and the religion responsible for it, is a dubious stretch.