George Grant and Radical Orthodoxy

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Ron Dart

I teach him [Grant] now—but oddly only started to read him around 2010. So only since then any direct influence—but no doubt indirectly much before then. – John Milbank

Conrad Noel continued the Headlam/Hancock sense that the church was the true society and extended earlier intuitions about the links between liturgy and social order. He surely realized the powerful links between beauty and justice, social and natural harmony. – John Milbank

The Dethronement of Secular Reason: Grant and Milbank

I remember, with much fondness, a lunch spent with John Milbank at Peterhouse (founded in 1284) in Cambridge in May 1995. I was doing, at the time, research on the Anglican High Romanticism of S. T. Coleridge and the Anglican High Toryism of T. S. Eliot. I was on my way to Little Gidding for a few days to ponder Eliot’s Four Quartets. John Milbank had published his innovative and plough to soil tome, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (1990). Radical Orthodoxy did not exist at the time, but the seeds of the movement had definitely been sown with Theology and Social Theory. Needless to say, we chatted much at Peterhouse (the definitive High Church college at Cambridge—Milbank made sure I realized this was Laud’s college) about Milbank’s demanding read of a book and how his challenge to secular reason opened up new yet much older terrain in which to do theology, philosophy, social theory and, in time, political philosophy. I did, a few days later, when at St John’s College Oxford, attend a lecture by Professor Patrick Collinson, who spent most of the time bashing Archbishop William Laud (but such were his puritan and protestant prejudices). I was fortunate at the time also to be spending time with David Nicholls (rector of SS Mary & Nicholas Church Littlemore—the church Cardinal Newman built and where he crossed the Rubicon to Rome)—quite a different read on Laud and politics than that offered by Collinson.

It should be noted that Milbank was not particularly new on the stage in his creative dethronement of secular reason—most post-modernists had challenged the hegemony of “logo-centrism”, the romantic and humanist wings of the Enlightenment had also questioned how secular reason was reductionistic and narrowed the range of thought—cutting edge scientists also doubted the ability of secular reason to deliver the goods as did those grounded and rooted in the contemplative theological and philosophical tradition of Plato–Aristotle and the Patristic Fathers of the Church (West and East). The turn, therefore, by Milbank to an older and deeper understanding of thinking was but part of a larger movement in the West to doubt the pretensions of a narrow definition of reason—needless to say, Coleridge’s turn to a form of High Romantic Platonic Anglicanism meant he was engaged in the same process in the 19th century as was Eliot in his read of the wasteland of the 20th century—Milbank was, in short, standing on the wise shoulders of those Anglicans who had gone before him, although Coleridge and Eliot were not front and centre in his thinking at the time. Read more.

Published in Renewal, the journal of The Secker Society, Spring 2015.