“In the introductive essay to the collective volume entitled Radical Orthodoxy, the three editors of the volume, J. Milbank, C. Pickstock, G. Ward, observe that "the great Christian critics of the Enlightenment (...) in different ways saw that what secularity had most ruined and actually denied were the very things it apparently celebrated: embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience, human political community. Their contention, taken up in this volume, was that only trascendence, which suspends these things in the sense of interrumpting them, suspends them also in the other sense of upholding their relative worth over – against the void". On the other hand, having recognized that "the Enlightenment was in effect a critique of decadent early modern Christianity", but also, "following the great English literary visionaries William Shakespeare and Thomas Nashe", that the abuses and errors of that decadency were "the result of a refusal of true Christianity", Radical Orthodoxy tries to "articulate a more incarnate, more participatory, more aesthetic, more erotic, more socialized, even more Platonic Christianity". Taking a theological outlook centered around the concept of "participation", they emphasize again the value of tradition and the articulated unity of "fides et ratio", but in the sense that it is "fides" what can save "ratio", and it is theology what can rescue philosophy and intellectual life from the shallow lands. Only this return to tradition ("to credal Christianity and the exemplarity of its patristic matrix"), after all, can adequately offer a true alternative to the "soulless, aggressive, nonchalant and nihilistic materialism" where the ideals of modernity have ended. This is the way this is expressed by these three authors:
The theological perspective of participation actually saves the
appearances by exceeding them. It recognizes that materialism and spiritualism
are false alternatives, since if there is only finite matter there is not even
that, and that for phenomena really to be there they must be more than there.
Hence, by appealing to an eternal source for bodies, their art, language, sexual
and political union, one is not ethereally taking leave of their density. On the
contrary, one is insisting that behind this density resides an even greater
density – beyond all contrasts of density and lightness (as beyond all contrasts
of definition and limitlessness). This is to say that all there is only is
because it is more than it is. (...) [From Radical Orthodoxy Reader]
This perspective should in many ways be seen as undercutting some of the contrasts between theological liberals and conservatives. The former tend to validate what they see as the modern embrace of our finitude – as language, and as erotic and aesthetically delighting bodies, and so forth. Conservatives, however, seem still to embrace a sort of nominal ethereal distancing from these realities and a disdain for them. Radical orthodoxy, by contrast, sees the historic root of the celebration of these things in participatory philosophy and incarnational theology, even if it can acknowledge that premodern tradition never took this celebration far enough. The modern apparent embrace of the finite it regards as, on inspection, illusory, since in order to stop the finite vanishing modernity must construe it as a spatial edifice bound by clear laws, rules and lattices. If, on the other hand, following the postmodern options, it embraces the flux of things, this is an empty flux both concealing and revealing an ultimate void. Hence, modernity has oscillated between puritanism (sexual or otherwise) and an entirely perverse eroticism, which is in love with death and therefore wills the death also of the erotic, and does not preserve the erotic as far as an eternal consummation. In a bizarre way, it seems that modernity does not really want what it thinks it wants; but on the other hand, in order to have what it thinks it wants, it would have to recover the theological. Thereby, of course, it would discover also that that which it desires is quite other than it has supposed."