Monday, December 15, 2008

Cultural Renewal

Reposted from Cahiers Péguy

I'm about 20 pages into Cormac McCarthy's narrative, The Road. I figure that I'll read a little bit each day, several days a week. Here's the passage for today:

"It's snowing, the boy said. A single gray flake sifting down. He caught it in his hand and watched it expire like the last host of christendom."

I also read Chapter 3 of Christopher Dawson's book, The Historic Reality of Christian Culture. To understand Dawson, I have had to live a certain reality with friends, looking to verify the Christian claim. According to Dawson, we live in the sixth age of the Church. This is not a schema imposed on history according to apocalyptic theorizing, but a historian's synthesis of the various epochs of renewal, accomplishment, and decay. Here are the six ages as Dawson presents them:
  1. Apostolic Age: "the main achievement of the first age of the Church was the successful penetration of the dominant urban Roman-Hellenistic culture" (49).
  2. Age of the Fathers: from the Peace of the Church (Constantine: 313AD) to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem (638), Antioch, and Alexandria.
  3. Third Age: Seventh-Tenth Centuries. "The Church was the sole representative of higher culture and possessed a monopoly of all forms of literary education, so that the relation between religion and culture was closer than in any other period." Christianity "ceased to be a predominately urban religion; the old link between bishop and city was broken, and the monastery became the real center of life and Christian culture" (52). "[...] Saint Boniface, who was the chief agent in bringing about the alliance of the Frankish monarchy, the Papacy, and the Benedictine order [...] its educational and liturgical work, which laid the foundations of that common Latin ecclesiastical culture, which underlay the subsequent development of medieval civilization" (53).
  4. Fourth Age: "began as a movement of monastic reform in Lorraine and Burgandy and gradually extended its influence throughout Western Christendom" (53). This monastic reform culminated in the poverty of St. Francis — "This marks the climax of the reforming movement, and the greatness of the medieval Papacy is nowhere more evident than in the way in which it accepted this drastic breach with the traditional order and made the new institution an organ for the evangelization of the masses and an instrument of its international mission" (55). The decay at the end of this age was the breakdown between the papacy and the reform movements.
  5. Baroque Age: Italian Renaissance and the Reformation, Turkish expansion in Europe, discovery of America — ending in the French Revolution (1799). Artistic revival, St. Francis Xavier goes to Asia.
  6. The latest age of the Church. 1850-???? (several hundred years at least). "This revival began in France during the Revolution, under the shadow of the guillotine, and the exiled French clergy contributed to the creation or restoration of Catholicism in England and America. Indeed the whole history of Catholicism in the United States belongs to this sixth age and is in many aspects typical of the new conditions of the period. ¶ American Catholicism differs from that of the old world in that it is essentially urban, whereas in Europe it was still rooted in the peasant population. Moreover from the beginning it has been entirely independent of the state and has not been restricted by the complex regime of concordats which was the dominant pattern of European Catholicism in the nineteenth century" (57). Dawson makes just a couple of suggestive remarks about the present age, leaving that work to the retrospective work of unborn historians.
1845, however, is the year that John Henry Cardinal Newman became Catholic. The first half of the Twentieth Century saw a cultural renewal in Europe, which could be termed Resourcement: Péguy, Bernanos, Claudel, Henri de Lubac, Jean Hans Urs von Balthasar, Daniélou. A revival of the common life among the laity with Dorothy Day and Madeleine Delbrêl. The Second Vatican Council. The rise of lay movements. Notably, the 1950s had Fr. Giussani starting Communion and Liberation in Italy. Around the same time, Francis Schaeffer rediscovered Christian hospitality at L'Abri in Switzerland, which incubated his ideas on worldview and political engagement. Stanley Hauerwas and the Protestant New Monastic movement.

Of all that was done in the past, you eat the fruit,
either rotten or ripe.
And the Church must be forever building, and always
decaying, and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of
God,
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the
inheritance.
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone, when he
stands alone on the other side of death,
But here upon the earth you have the reward of the good and ill that was done by those who have gone before you.
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers;
And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of our fathers who fought to gain it.
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever
decaying within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that
while there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of
adversity they will decry it.

T.S. Eliot, Choruses from ‘‘The Rock’,
Collected Poems, 1909-1962

(New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1963), 153-154.
We live in remarkable times, times of hope and struggle.
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