Prose and Poetry: A Catholic Perspective on Kingdom, Cult, and Creation

Sep 28th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Recently, some Reformed bloggers have been discussing the relationships between sacred and secular, cult and creation. This discussion has been cast in terms of Two Kingdoms: the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man. [1] What follows is a rudimentary effort to describe two prominent Reformed views on this matter, show how each view relates to Catholicism, and share some further reflections upon cult and creation by way of considering the Two Kingdoms as distinct yet interrelated. [2


I. Two Perspectives on Two Kingdoms

A. Separation or Transformation?–The Reformed Debate
B. A Catholic View of the Two Perspectives

II. Cult and Creation–Some Reflections in Prose

A. The Sign of the Temple
B. For the Life of the World

III. Creation and Cult–Some Reflections in Poetry

Little Compline

I. Two Perspectives on Two Kingdoms

A. Separation or Transformation?–The Reformed Debate

Concerning the Two Kingdoms, we find, on the one hand, some Reformed amillennialists emphasizing the distinction between Church and State. The former is the spiritual Kingdom of God, consisting of “all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children.” [3] The latter denotes the earthly Kingdom of Man, comprised (per modern arrangement) of visible nation-states and their citizens. The amillennial Two Kingdoms doctrine does not, however, construe the Kingdom of Man as inherently godless. Rather, those who see a strict distinction between the Two Kingdoms maintain that God exercises his sovereign dominion over the secular Kingdom of Man through natural law (principles of moral good known by reason) and human law (practical application of natural law to safeguard and promote the social good). The apprehension and application of natural law does not, in principle, depend upon special revelation (e.g., the Bible). Therefore, the secular Kingdom, politically and culturally, is a legitimate domain within which truth, goodness and beauty are validly, though non-salvifically, expressed. The Kingdom of God subsists in the Church alone (at least, until the Second Coming) and is based upon divine law disclosed in special revelation.

Some Reformed postmillennialists have taken umbrage at this strict distinction (some would say dichotomy) between the Two Kingdoms. In the discussions that I have been following, the rejection of the strict Two Kingdoms doctrine is often predicated (at least in part) upon a rejection of natural law. As is well known, some Reformed theologians hold the opinion that all knowledge, every veridical apprehension of truth, goodness and beauty, ultimately depends upon premises that are provided by special revelation. Thus, good government, art, economics, etc., every bit as much as good theology, depends upon principles that are specifically biblical. For this reason, human society, for its own good, must be transformed by the Church in the light of the Bible. This position has been dubbed “transformationist.”

Like his strict Two Kingdoms counterpart, the Reformed transformationist affirms God’s sovereignty over all of creation. He also affirms some kind of distinction between the Church and the kingdoms of this present world. The difference between the two perspectives comes in with the question of how God exercises his dominion over the Kingdom of Man. As we have noted, advocates of the strict Two Kingdoms doctrine emphasize natural law and the separation of Church and State. God keeps the world in order and allows for the cultivation of temporal good by means which have been established independently of the Church and her specifically biblical principles. Reformed transformationists, on the other hand, maintain that the Kingdom of Man is made good by being brought into the orbit of the Kingdom of God and transformed according to the law of God, as revealed in the Bible. The particular kingdoms of men, insofar as they have not been transformed through obedience to the Bible, are considered to be objectively disordered.

The strict Two Kingdoms position construes the mission of the Church in terms of the worship of God and the salvation of individuals by means of word and sacrament. The idea is to bring the citizens of the world into the Church so that they may be saved and God glorified. These transformed individuals, qua individuals, are called to accomplish all kinds of good in the world. Furthermore, their participation in the life of the Church has uniquely (though perhaps indirectly) equipped them to do this. The Reformed transformationist does not reject this aspect of the Church’s mission. Rather, he conceives of that mission in a broader way, such that the Church is bound, qua Church,  to seek to implement her own essential (biblical) principles in the world’s culture, politics, economics, etc. Thus, the Church is supposed to have a directly transformative effect upon society.

B. A Catholic View of the Two Perspectives

How do these views relate to Catholicism? The amillennial, strict Two Kingdoms view is similar to the Catholic tradition in at least two ways: (1) It affirms the existence and validity of natural law and, by implication  (though I am not sure how far they would extend the principle), natural theology. The Catholic Church clearly affirms that the existence of God and basic moral precepts may be known through reason, without presupposing special revelation. Thus the Church, like the strict Two Kingdoms advocate, maintains that human culture and government are legitimately grounded upon principles of general revelation, including natural law. (2) Strict Two Kingdom theology emphasizes the distinction between the sacred and the secular. The Catholic Church, with its priests and religious, sacraments and sacramentals, sacred art, liturgical language and solemn ceremonies, also makes plain this difference. The Church has her own unique order of life, patterned after, and participating in, the life of her Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Aspects of the postmillennial, transformationist position also bear some resemblance to Catholic thought: (1) Through the proclamation of her social doctrine and its vast application in educational institutions, hospitals, relief and development projects, and advocacy organizations (e.g., the pro-life movement), the Catholic Church has expressed the transformational aspect of her existence and mission in and on behalf of the world. The transformation of government and culture in accordance with Christian precepts is, as we have seen, high up on the agenda of Reformed transformationists. (2) The Church teaches that secular power is related to spiritual power in a hierarchical manner, the former submitting to the latter. [4] To be sure, a necessary distinction between the powers is maintained. The Catholic Church insists, for example, upon the principle of religious freedom, which she upholds as an integral aspect of the good of human nature. The affirmation of this principle, however, “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ”. [5] Thus, Catholic teaching resembles the Reformed transformationist position by affirming a formative relation, but with distinction, between Church and State.

In light of some relatively recent “high-church” developments in conservative Reformed circles, it is worth noting that the respective emphases of both Reformed camps, strict Two Kingdom and transformationist, can translate into a relatively robust sacramental theology, with a corresponding increase of emphasis upon the liturgical and ceremonial aspects of worship. This is obviously similar to the Catholic tradition, although these Reformed “sacramentalists” insist, quite correctly, that what they are saying and doing in sacramental theology and liturgy remains, in some significant ways, staunchly opposed to Catholicism. [6]

II. Cult and Creation–Some Reflections in Prose

A. The Sign of the Temple

The question of the relationship between the Two Kingdoms raises a further question that I have become very interested in as a Catholic: How does the principle of “grace building upon nature” (which principle is rejected by both sides of the Reformed Two Kingdom debate, though for different reasons) play out, historically and theologically, in the Church’s liturgical life? An even barely adequate answer would demand some considerable scholarship. I have no such scholarship. What I will do instead, by way of concluding my reflections on the Two Kingdoms, is offer some thoughts about the religious significance of creation, taking my cues from Jean Cardinal Daniélou’s essay, “The Sign of the Temple: A Meditation.” [7]

Cardinal Daniélou’s consideration of the relation of creation to cult is focused on “the sign of the Temple.” He begins with this seemingly equivocal statement:

On the lowest level, which is not essentially Christian, but is part of the historical heritage of Christianity, though generally separated from it, the Christian mystery is the mystery of creation. I mean by this not only an original dependence of the universe in relation to a personal and transcendent God, but also the actual dependence of all things in his sight, and consequently a divine presence which confers upon the whole cosmos a sacramental value. [8]

With this, Cardinal Daniélou undercuts both dualism and pantheism. Neither worldview is equal to the Christian religion. This striking passage captures the dynamic nature of monotheism. Where dualism and pantheism fall flat, to one side or another, theism dances. God is not the world, nor the world God; but God created the world and sustains it such that in him all things live and move and have their being.

But this is a dance, a whirling dervish, not a cakewalk. Upon its spinning way, something in creation has been broken. In the first place, no small number of angels and the entire human race have fallen. This crashed has resulted in cracks within the rest of the universe. Nevertheless, writes Daniélou, the creation remains a Tabernacle dedicated to worship. Men and angels cannot by their own sinfulness redraw this original, cosmic blueprint, any more than we can tear down the universe. [9] The cosmos is irrevocably made for worship. Therefore, on “a primitive level, common to all men … traces [of nature as tabernacle] are still to be found, twisted, soiled, perverted, in every religion.” [10] It is impossible to completely segregate cult from creation, not only because the cult is practiced in the created world, but because the whole of creation is a Temple. “In the cosmic Temple, man is not living primarily in his own house, but in the house of God…. All is holy; the trees are heavy with sacramental mysteries.” [11]

How do we square this outlook with the distinction, which is basic to Catholic theology and worship, between the sacred and the secular? Cardinal Daniélou’s answer is as blunt as it is obvious: Man has the power to violate the cosmic order. [12] We cannot undo creation, but we can misuse and abuse those aspects of it that come within our purview. And we have. Furthermore, the way back to good and acceptable worship, per the biblical narrative of redemption, does not lie ready to hand within creation itself. We cannot fix what we have broken. Salvation, the restoration of man to the sacred, comes instead by divine election and special revelation, in the recapitulation of the cosmic cult in, through, and by God’s chosen people. The most obvious expression of the supernatural recapitulation of the cosmic Temple in the Old Testament is the Tabernacle / Temple cult of Israel. But this is not a “do over.” Nor is it strictly a return. “[T]he Mosaic Temple marks an advance upon the cosmic Temple, it does not destroy it, but rather carries it forward.” [13]

The Mosaic cult, however, served by the Aaronic priesthood with animal sacrifices upon one altar in one nation, did not in itself constitute the redemption of mankind, our restoration to cultic perfection in the eyes of God. How can the blood of bulls and goats take away sin? David found great consolation in the Temple, like an Adam in the Garden of the Lord. For the glory of the Lord rested in the Holy of Holies. But it did not remain there. The return or recapitulation of man involves a return of men from every tribe and tongue on earth to the knowledge and friendship of the living God. More than this, salvation is a partaking of the nature of God (2 Peter 1:4), becoming children of one heavenly Father. By nature and under the law, we are not sons of the living God. Thus, God advances once more, once and for all, in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God, the Temple not made with hands, destroyed and raised up on the third day, to bring us into his eternal rest. [14]

The Incarnation of the only-begotten Son of God renders doxological dualism forever invalid. Worshiping in spirit and truth does not entail the iconoclasm of whitewashed church walls and atemporal soteriology. Christian cult does not dispense with creation. The latter is carried forward in the deified flesh of Jesus Christ. This carrying forward also disallows pantheistic reductionism and utopian secularism. The grace of God in Christ Jesus manifests the fact that we, of ourselves, “cannot get there from here.” So he, in love, comes to us and takes us up unto himself. This taking up is also, in time, a carrying forward, and no good thing is left behind.

With these thoughts about cult and creation in mind, here is the best I can do at getting to the nub of the distinction and interrelation between the sacred and the secular, and, by implication, the Two Kingdoms:

After the Fall, the specifically “sacred” lies in the divinely appointed recapitulation of creation as Temple. By virtue of the primeval constitution of the cosmos as Temple, created things are apt to be “taken up,” directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly, into the realm of the sacred. This taking up is, however, conditioned upon the objective order of the cult. Not all things are apt, at all times, to be elevated through being related to cult, and so (re)made sacred. “Secular” denotes those items and arrangements of the created order that are not specifically taken up into the realm of the sacred, due to either some intrinsic defect in the artifact, action or organization, or defect of intention, or some intransigent requirement of the cult, or all of the above. On this view, the distinction between sacred and secular, or cult and creation, before the Fall might be nothing but the distinction between religion as a natural virtue and as a supernatural grace. The universe was a temple, the Garden of Eden was sacred ground within the natural temple, the tree of life was a sacrament, and Adam a priest.  It might also be that in the new heaven and new earth, wherein God and the Lamb are the Temple, and God is all in all, even the distinction between natural and supernatural religion will not obtain. All will be glorified, everywhere Eden. [15]

B. For the Life of the World

The life of Christ in the Kingdom of God is now extended to the world by means of word and sacrament. Catholic sacramentalism has affinities with both the transformationist impulse towards supernatural intervention in the external world and the separationist call for inward conversion and distinctive Christian worship. These concerns coalesce in the sacraments, in which the external world (the matter) is taken up by the word of God (the form) and made an integral part of the liturgical and transformational proclamation of the Kingdom of God. The sacraments change the world by giving its “stuff” a new significance, which nevertheless recalls and perfects its primeval purpose. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life, creation is taken up into cult in a preeminent way. This is in accordance with the universal sign of the Temple, now focused into and upon its ultimate, unsurpassable significance: Jesus Christ, the first-born of all creation, our Paschal Lamb [16]

In his essay, Cardinal Daniélou writes of the significance of the Church and the Eucharist for the created order:

The creation of the Church is the creation of the new cosmos, of which the first was only a preparation and image…. But the destruction of the old order is positive; it removes the blemishes of the old order, it preserves all the valuable elements. Nothing is lost, all is retained, organized on a higher level of significance; it is pure elevation, an absolute progress. Just as the Temple at Jerusalem continued the cosmic Temple while taking over its functions, so the Church continues the Temples of Jerusalem and the cosmos. It offers the new sacrifice according to the ancient ritual patterns.

Thus the Mass contains all the breadth of time and space, cosmos and history. [17]

By virtue of her constitution as Temple, wherein the perfect sacrifice of the Mass is offered, the Church “carries forward” and “contains” the entire cosmos, as the creator of the cosmos becomes present there in his self-giftedness for the salvation of the world. In this way, the Christian cult bears profound and manifold implications for the life of the world. There is a sense in which the world, purified and reformed, lives in the Church. That sense is specified by the understanding that the purpose of the world, to give glory to God, is perfectly realized in the Mass. Something like this is expressed somewhere by G.K. Chesterton to the effect that the Church is larger inside than outside. The same point is quite poignantly, in many cases breathtakingly, expressed by Catholic cathedrals. Both the grand effect and the painstaking, manifold details of these buildings illustrate the principle of transformationism. Quite obviously, there is such a thing as Christian architecture.

Furthermore, the strict Two Kingdoms view that individual Christians are called to cultivate goodness within the world must be shaped by the biblical truth that every baptized person is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. [18] Thus, individual Christians, like the Church herself, cultivate the world in a peculiar, religious way. [19] Catholicism, with her Liturgy of the Hours and her holy days, her processions and her sacred art, her cathedrals and her monasteries, is particularly poised to shape culture in this fashion, in the home and in the community. In fact, what remains in public consciousness of Christendom is there only by virtue of the living Catholic cult, e.g., the continued public observance of some Christian holy-days (“holidays”), weekends, cathedrals informing cityscapes, themselves informed by revealed doctrine (e.g., cruciform shape).

Recently, one Reformed transformationist, by way of advocating an ecclesiology that can embrace a social agenda, remarked that “we are not Trappist monks.” Well, some of us are Trappist monks; namely, Trappist monks. The Catholic Church is catholic enough to embrace both contemplative monasticism and an integrated social doctrine. To take up a theme which our own Tim Troutman has propounded with great effect: The Catholic Church is both more involved in and more removed from the world than all other Christian communions, of whatever eschatological persuasion. Is anyone called to be a priest or monk? Follow this calling, and do not grudge the married man his wife and home. Is anyone married? Praise God, and do not be jealous for the higher calling of consecrated celibacy. We are not, for Christ’s sake (I mean that literally), homogeneous, egalitarian, interchangeable members of an ethereal “Church.” We are a mystical Body, members of Christ, who is Lord over all.

Today we must strive to enter God’s Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:11). Yet this striving is not like the old, futile striving, work not taken up in good and acceptable worship. Rather, through liturgical recreation in the deified flesh of Christ, we do enter that rest, even while we long for it. So we worship, work, and wait. It is true that so long as we are in time we cannot completely escape the fatigue of that old rebellion against the cosmic Temple. This weariness cannot, however, take away our joy, so long as we do not grow too tired to worship.

III. Creation and Cult: Some Reflections in Poetry

If you read what follows, which was written long before I read Cardinal Daniélou’s article or heard of Two Kingdom theology, you might discern why these things piqued my interest. I include this poem for the sake of its connection to the things written about in the foregoing post. It is supposed to portray, in stark fashion, both the potential and the limitation of the created order in relation to the order of grace.

Little Compline

Life is for the burnished day, the day is of the fire.
The fire is for the evening, a beginning and an end.
Man has been set with a circled mark, to work and to reckon time.
This is the mark of the seven days, the seven bounded and to bind.
Freedom is the chanted word, a treasure old and new.
The new is the song of the morning, the roll of the Earth is good.
The gift of the night is the singing, like trees swaying as they stood.

For a good and man-befriending God art Thou, and to Thee do we send up glory.

The Moon marks the first of the seven spheres, moved by what cannot be named.
Man in presumption set foot on the moon, but our sister took no harm.
When she ascends with her stars in the last light of the Sun, beauty is full-wrought.
Angels descend in the day of the Sun, with the grace of the ancient world.
Angels ascend in the swell of the Sea, the waves rise up with glory.
The depths are as deep as the mind of man, his difference and his measure.
My mind halts at the halls of the seventh king. What lies beyond this is holy.

Holy art Thou, of a truth, and all-Holy … and there are no bounds.

The children of the seven days are and remain of the king.
I have heard the children speak. I know the voices in the wind.
A voice in the wind was lifted up to the king, repeating riddled words:
Is the life that makes my bones a house the life that builds my temple-frame?
When I was made in the depths of a mind, there was I wrought in sin?
What goes forth upon dry ground, in the place where no water is poured?
Who can discern that the song of the spheres is destined for the fire?

Fire is cloven asunder. There are two ways of fire.

The earth is the Lord’s, and the waves of the sea, the fire and the wind.
The Lord is the one who lies beyond, who walks not in the ways of men.
This is an ancient order, but there is another day.
The seven days are bound by the spheres, those seven of the Lord.
Angels wield the sacred fire, until the wine is poured.
The wine is mixed with water, this is that other day;
Not numbered with the seven, and no angel guards the way.


[1] See, for example, herehere and here. The occasion for this particular discussion is Jason Stellman’s recently published book, Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet, available here. For an extended take on Stellman’s book, and some insightful observations on the Two Kingdoms from a Protestant perspective, go here and scroll down for the first of a five-part review.

[2] The Catholic Church has in many places expressed her mind on the relation of the “Two Kingdoms.” See, for example, Lumen GentiumGaudium et spesRedemptoris Missio and Chapter 5 of Dominus Iesus. This material, together with biblical and patristic references, is summarized by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., in “The Church and the Kingdom,” Letter & Spirit 3 (2007): 23-38.

[3] Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV.2.

[4] See Pope Boniface VIII’s bull, Unam Sanctum .

[5] Dignitatis humanae, 1.

[6] See, for example, this discussion.

[7] Letter & Spirit 4 (2008): 255-288.

[8] “Temple,” 255.

[9] The creation as temple blueprint can be discerned in Genesis 1–2. The temple motif is present, in various ways, through all of Sacred Scripture. See Exodus 35–40, 1 Kings 5–8, Ezra 1–3, Psalm 23:6, 26:8, 27:4, 48:9, 68:29, 92:13, 122, 135:1-4, 138:2; Jeremiah 7:1-15, Jeremiah 52, Ezekiel 40–48, Zechariah 6:9-15, Malachi 1:11, 3:1-4,  1 Maccabees 1–4, John 2:13-22, Acts 2:46, 3:1-9, 17:24, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19, 10:14-22,  2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22, Revelation 3:12, 11:1-3, 19, 14:14-17, 15:5-8, 21:22.

[10] “Temple,” 256.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Temple,” 257.

[13] “Temple,” 262.

[14] See Hebrews 1–4.

[15] Revelation 21:22; 1 Corinthians 15:28.

[16] See Revelation 4–5.

[17] “Temple,” 272-74.

[18] “Temple,” 279-83.

[19] See Raymond Corriveau, C.Ss.R., “Temple, Holiness, and the Liturgy of Life in Corinthians,” (Letter and Spirit 4 [2008]: 145-166) for an elucidation of this point.

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  1. Excellent article Taylor. Good summary and thanks for the reflections on the poetic dimension. All very helpful.

  2. Andrew,
    The poem is beautiful! I loved it! The blog post described perfectly this “wrangling” that goes on regarding the Kingdom of God. As your background may be more similar to my own, you may understand the entire other protestant wrangling over the Kingdom of God being only in heaven and a place to be caught up to and then to return from and then it being established forever on earth.
    That makes me weary just typing it!

    I am so happy to see one of the brilliant intellects and scholars of CTC has such an expressive creative side as well!

    Do write more poetry. We often forget words of beauty that open the heart that is determined to stay shut tightly. Beauty melts even the most hardened. All melt before the beauty of His Holiness.

    Blessings and peace to you,

  3. Teri,

    Thanks for the encouragement. I am familiar with the other commonly held Evangelical perspective on the Kingdom; namely, dispensational premillennialism. Although there is some good in that view, I am grateful to find more similarities to Catholicism in both the amillennial and postmillennial views, which are far and away the more commonly held positions among Reformed theologians. One of the really intriguing, and initially frustrating, things about Catholicism (for converts from Protestant Evangelicalism) is that the Church’s thought on these matters does not fit neatly into any one of these three Evangelical paradigms.

  4. These concerns coalesce in the sacraments, in which the external world (the matter) is taken up by the word of God (the form) and made an integral part of the liturgical and transformational proclamation of the Kingdom of God. The sacraments change the world by giving its “stuff” a new significance, which nevertheless recalls and perfects its primeval purpose.

    It reminds me of this passage in “The Shape of the Liturgy” by Gregory Dix (in reference to the institution of the Eucharist):

    whatever ‘do this’ may or may not have meant, it could not in our Lord’s mouth have been simply a command to break and distribute bread at the beginning of a common meal, for the simple reason that this is preciself what they will in any case all of them do in the future, inevitably and invariably, every time they sit down to supper on any evening with any other jew in Israel. pg. 55 (emphasis original)

    Not only is the Eucharistic cult, the heart of sacramentology, the ‘lifting up’ of “stuff”, but of the most common “stuff” and of the most routine action.

  5. Andrew,

    Thank you. The Reformed views of Two Kingdoms have been a source of confusion for me. With the help of your post and some of the Reformed discussions I have read, I am beginning to understand it better. I especially appreciate the insight of the Two Kingdoms as it relates to Catholicism.

  6. Renee,

    You are welcome. This particular issue is bound to be a bit confusing for everyone, from whatever perspective. Reason being, the relations between sacred and secular are complex and, from an historical standpoint, ever-changing.


    The “in memory of me” makes for a world of difference, as in a different world.

    As a good Chestertonian, you will know enough to wonder at the common and the routine.

  7. […] is why the CTC assessment of two-kingdom theology needs to go back to the drawing board and do a little historical investigation. Oakley’s […]

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