I write, to be (somewhat) clear and in order not to be (totally) misunderstood, not of Trump, the socialist barbarians challenging him or of any particular brand of politics. Rather I reflect briefly on this Saturday morning ( 10/12/19) of the weekend on which Blessed John Henry Newman will be canonized, upon the barbarism — social, political, moral — that is always with us and within us. This has been prompted by a random re-reading of Baylor University Theology and Literature Professor Ralph C. Wood’s monograph on Flannery O’Connor (Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South.)
Wood notes that O’Connor, a Georgia native and Catholic, proffered Christianity — even of the fundamentalist variety — as “a divine remedy for the perennial human malaise.” Europe, and much of the rest of the west, is in the process of weeding Christianity out of its civilization. Professor Wood notes what St. Augustine, in The City of God, had to say about that — that evil corrupts “not chiefly individuals but rather civilizations.” Rome believed its civilization to be eternal. The Visigoths put an end to that notion. But so did Rome’s economic, moral and religious corruption.
G.K. Chesterton (quoted by Wood) believed civilizations dwell alongside barbarism, contrary to our notion that the human species has risen steadily from the primordial mud . (For my part, I’d say American life and all of us who live our American lives are currently stalked by wild, ravenous beasts within and without. But I concede that one American’s barbarism is another’s idea of civilization. You have only to go to the internet or the movies to be convinced of that.)
We’ve relied heretofore on “simple majorities” to protect the received traditions and inherited wisdom that are the vanguard of civilization, Chesterton adding, “the civilization sometimes spreading to absorb the barbarians, sometimes decaying into relative barbarism, and in almost all cases possessing in a more finished form certain ideas and institutions which the barbarians possess in a ruder form.” (G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, first published in 1925 — between the barbarity of WWI and civilization’s horrific relapse into WWII.)
At the moment — or, perhaps, once again in our history — civilization is looking exhausted. I know I’m exhausted, and have no one to blame but myself. How about you?
Meanwhile, what does soon-to-be-canonized Blessed John Henry Newman have to say about this? Volumes! But all I can remember right now is his prayer, “lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom. The night is dark, and I am far from home.”