“The renewal of our own youth”

The Church had any number of opportunities of dying and even of being respectfully interred. But the younger generation always began once again to knock at the door; and never louder than when it was knocking at the lid of the coffin in which it had been prematurely buried.  Islam and Arianism were both attempts to broaden the basis to a sane and simple theism, the former supported by great military success and the latter by great imperial prestige. They ought to have finally established the new system, but for the one perplexing fact that the old system preserved the only seed and secret of novelty. Anyone reading between the lines of the twelfth-century record can see that the world was permeated by potential pantheism and paganism; we can see it in the dread of the Arabian version of Aristotle, in the rumor about great men being Moslems in secret; the old men, seeing the simple faith of the Dark Ages dissolving, might well have thought that the fading of Christendom into Islam would be the next thing to happen. If so, the old men would have been much surprised at what did happen.

What did happen was a roar like thunder from thousands and thousands of young men, throwing all their youth into one exultant counter-charge: the Crusades. The actual effect of danger from the younger religion was renewal of our own youth. It was the sons of St. Francis, the Jugglers of God, wandering singing over all the roads of the world; it was the Gothic going up like a flight of arrows; it was a rejuvenation of Europe. And though I know less of the older period, I suspect that the same was true of Athanasian orthodoxy in revolt against Arian officialism. The older men had submitted it to a compromise, and St. Athanasius led the younger like a divine demagogue. The persecuted carried into exile the sacred fire. It was a flaming torch that could be cast out, but could not be trampled out.

Where All Roads Lead (1922).

Published in: on November 26, 2008 at 7:53 am  Leave a Comment  

“In a lower form”

By this time it must be obvious that every single thing in the Catholic Church which was condemned by the modern world has been reintroduced by the modern world, and always in a lower form.  The Puritans rejected art and symbolism, and the decadents brought them back again, with all the old appeal to sense and an additional appeal to sensuality.  The rationalists rejected supernatural healing, and it was brought back by Yankee charlatans who not only proclaimed supernatural healing, but forbade natural healing.  Protestant moralists abolished the confessional, and the psychoanalysts have reestablished the confessional, with every one of its alleged dangers and not one of its admitted safeguards.  The Protestant patriots resented the intrusion of an international faith, and went on to found an empire entangled in international finance.  Having complained that the family was insulted by monasticism, they have lived to see the family broken in pieces by bureaucracy; having objected to fasts being appointed for anybody during any exceptional interval, they have survived to see teetotalers and vegetarians trying to impose a fast on everybody for ever.

– Where All Roads Lead (1922).

Published in: on September 10, 2008 at 7:07 am  Comments (1)  

“Too simple to be true”

We have had during the last few centuries a series of extremely simple religions; each indeed trying to be more simple than the last. And the manifest mark of all these simplifications was, not only that they were finally sterile, but that they were very rapidly stale. A man had said the last word about them when he had said the first. Atheism is, I suppose, the supreme example of a simple faith. The man says there is no God; if he really says it in his heart, he is a certain sort of man so designated in Scripture. But, anyhow, when he has said it, he has said it; and there seems to be no more to be said. The conversation seems likely to languish. The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement, by which the atheist lived, was an atmosphere of thrilled and shuddering theism, and not of atheism at all; it was an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial. Irreverence is a very servile parasite of reverence; and has starved with its starving lord. After this first fuss about the merely aesthetic effect of blasphemy, the whole thing vanishes into its own void. If there were not God, there would be no atheists. It is easy to say this of the nineteenth century negation, for that sort of atheism is already one of the dead heresies. But what is not always noticed is that all the more modern forms of theism have the same blank. Theism is as negative as atheism. To say with the optimists that God is good, and therefore everything is good; or with the universalists that God is Love, and therefore everything is love; or with the Christian Scientists that God is Spirit, and therefore everything is Spirit; or, for that matter, with the pessimists that God is cruel, and therefore everything is a beastly shame; to say any of these things is to make a remark to which it is difficult to make any reply, except “Oh;” or possibly, in a rather feeble fashion, “Well, well.” The statement is certainly, in one sense, very complete; possibly a little too complete; and we find ourselves wishing it were a little more complex. And that is exactly the point. It is not complex enough to be a living organism. It has no vitality because it has no variety of function.

One broad characteristic belongs to all the schools of thought that are called broad-minded; and that is that their eloquence ends in a sort of silence not very far removed from sleep. One mark distinguishes all the wild innovations and insurrections of modern intellectualism; one note is apparent in all the new and revolutionary religions that have recently swept the world; and that note is dullness. They are too simple to be true. And, meanwhile, any one Catholic peasant, while holding one small bead of the rosary in his fingers, can be conscious, not of one eternity, but of a complex and almost a conflict of eternities; as, for example, in the relations of Our Lord and Our Lady, of the fatherhood and the childhood of God, of the motherhood and the childhood of Mary. Thoughts of that kind have, in a supernatural sense, something analogous to sex; they breed. They are fruitful and multiply; and there is no end to them. They have innumerable aspects; but that aspect that concerns the argument here is this, that a religion which is rich in this sense always has a number of ideas in reserve. Besides the ideas that are being applied to a particular problem or a particular period, there are a number of rich fields of thought which are, in that sense, lying fallow. Where a new theory, invented to meet a new problem, rapidly perishes with that problem, the old things are always waiting for other problems when they shall, in their turn, become new. A new Catholic movement is generally a movement to emphasize some Catholic idea that was only neglected in the sense that it was not till then specially needed; but when it is needed, nothing else can meet the need. In other words, the only way really to meet all the human needs of the future is to pass into the possession of all the Catholic thoughts of the past; and the only way to do that is really to become a Catholic.

Where All Roads Lead (1922)

Published in: on June 13, 2007 at 12:08 pm  Comments (6)  

“A precious and wonderful privilege”

In my early youth it was Schopenhauer’s hour and the power of darkness, and there lay on the whole intellectual and artistic world a load of despair. The liveliest claim that could be made was to call oneself a decadent, and demand the right to rot. The decadents said in substance that everything was bad except beauty. Some of them seemed rather to say that everything was bad except badness. Now the first movement of my mind was simply an impulse to say that being rotten was emphatically all rot. But I began to make for myself a sort of rudimentary philosophy about the thing, which was founded on the first principle that it is, after all, a precious and wonderful privilege to exist at all. It was simply what I should express now by saying that we must praise God for creating us out of nothing.

Where All Roads Lead (1922)

Published in: on May 23, 2007 at 11:32 am  Leave a Comment