Wednesday, September 17, 2014

There's nothing new under the sun

Whittaker Chambers on St. Benedict:
For the briefest prying must reveal that, simply in terms of history, leaving aside for a moment his sanctity, St. Benedict was a colossal figure on a scale of importance in shaping the civilization of the West against which few subsequent figures could measure. And of those who might measure in terms of historic force, almost none could measure in terms of good achieved.
...I venture that [St. Benedict's Rule] did something else as well. For those who obeyed it, it ended three great alienations of the spirit whose action, I suspect, touched on that missing something which my instructors failed to find among the causes of the fall of Rome. The same alienations, I further suspect, can be seen at their work of dissolution among ourselves, and are perhaps among the little noticed reasons why men turn to Communism. They are: the alienation of the spirit of man from traditional authority; his alienation from the idea of traditional order; and a crippling alienation that he feels at the point where civilization has deprived him of the joy of simple productive labor.
These alienations St. Benedict fused into a new surge of the human spirit by directing the frustrations that informed them into the disciplined service of God. At the touch of his mild inspiration, the bones of a new order stirred and clothed themselves with life, drawing to itself much of what was best and most vigorous among the ruins of man and his work in the Dark Ages, and conserving and shaping its energy for that unparalleled outburst of mind and spirit in the Middle Ages. For about the Benedictine monasteries what we, having casually lost the Christian East, now casually call the West, once before regrouped and saved itself. 
Chambers despaired of Western civilization. If anything, things have gotten worse since he went on to his eternal reward. I think we're headed for a catastrophic fall sooner rather than later. It wouldn't be the first time the West has descended into barbarism. This time too it will be the Catholic Church that stands tall and preserves the dying embers so future generations can rekindle them into a blazing fire. Like St. Benedict, the saints of the future won't set out to change the world. Their aim will heaven, and they'll get the world thrown in.

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