Leithart on Americanism

There is an excellent interview with Peter Leithart over here today. I have to get his new book as soon as I can. Here is an excerpt:

Trevin Wax: You describe the U.S. as a post-Christendom Christian nation. What do you mean by this description?

Peter Leithart: Christendom was a political system that officially subordinated political power to the purposes of God’s kingdom. In practice, Christendom was full of injustices and evil, but in theory it was a political system where theological convictions concerning salvation, the church, the Eucharist, and the future provided the framework for political life.

By the time the first English colonists settled in new England, that order had already collapsed in Europe because of the fracturing of the church at the Reformation. Even though the settlers wanted to establish a Christian polity, it was a new start. Unlike Europe, America has no memory of medieval Christendom – no cathedrals or monasteries or castles – and we never have. From the beginning, America was “post-Christendom” in that sense.

When we get to the late 18th century, we are again in a different cultural world. The American Founders were not trying to shape a political system within the political framework of Christendom. As secularists often point out, there are virtually no references to Christianity in the American Constitution. Even though most of the founders are Christians, their political outlook isn’t forged by the convictions of Christendom.

America is unthinkable apart from Christianity and Christendom; but our polity represents a fairly radical break from the Christian tradition. Oliver O’Donovan captures this when he says that the First Amendment marks the end of Christendom. We are a polity where the church is no longer recognized as having a central and essential public role.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.