In the past, it is true, I have occasionally written positive things about generally despised groups. I have done this with the medievals, with the Puritans, and even for some aspects of the Confederacy. Given this propensity of mine, was it not just a matter of time before I would come out to praise some aspect of the dissolution of the monasteries?
The word praise overstates it, but should we not be more suspicious than we are whenever we find a general consensus of unexamined condemnations? In England, the Cathedrals of the Old Foundation were the ancient structures that were built before Henry VIII took money from said monasteries and . . . built the Cathedrals of the New Foundation. Those new cathedrals were at Chester, Gloucester, Peterborough, Bristol, and Oxford. The point to made here is not that the dissolution of the monasteries was praiseworthy through and through. Nor is it that certain individuals did not feather their own nests significantly, which they certainly did. My point is a simple one — contrary to popular perceptions, the money from the dissolution was not entirely spent by corrupt barons binge drinking in their ancient manorial halls. Some of it — five cathedrals worth, at any rate — came from the Church and went to the Church. This may be faint praise, and that is all it is intended to be, because the only thing I am really after here is a metaphor for what we need to be doing now.
We need a Christendom of the New Foundation. I am speaking historically here, and not theologically. Theologically, Christ is the cornerstone (Acts 4:11), and there is no need for a new foundation — there can be no new foundation in that sense. The apostles and prophets are the foundation stones that God established together with Christ for the building of His Church throughout all ages (Eph. 2:20). In this sense, Christendom will always be a Christendom of the Old Foundation.
But historical circumstances change. There are times when we must regroup, take stock, and start over. Without abandoning any of the fundamental assumptions that all Christians should share, we must still recognize the differences between ages, and labor from where we are, not from where we wish we could have been.
It is my contention that the centuries of secularism we have been dealing with, and more than this, the centuries of secularism that Christians have made an accommodation with, have gotten us a peculiar form of bankrupt wealth — kind of like the monasteries. What is needed is for us to figure out a way to take the inheritance that we have received from secularism, and to build churches with it.