John Henry Newman gave his famous 'Second Spring' sermon, at the first Synod of
the newly re-established English Catholic hierarchy in 1852, he was prophesying
nothing less than a resurgence of Catholic culture.
'The world grows old, but the Church is ever young,' he said.
'She can, at any time, at her Lord's will, "inherit the Gentiles,
and inhabit the desolate cities." As
he spoke, tears flowed down the cheeks of the elderly Cardinal Wiseman, who had
worked so long for the renewal of the Church in England.
Newman continued with more words from Holy Scripture.
"Arise, Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord
is risen upon thee. Behold, darkness
shall cover the earth, and a mist the people; but the Lord shall arise upon
thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee.
Lift up thine eyes round about, and see; all these are gathered together,
they come to thee; thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise
at thy side." "Arise, make
haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come.
For the winter is now past, and the rain is over and gone.
The flowers have appeared in our land... the fig tree hath put forth her
green figs; the vines in flower yield their sweet smell.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come."... O Mary,' he added:
'O Mary, my hope, O Mother undefiled, fulfill to us the promise of this Spring.'
moving words have often been taken as fulfilled by the 'Second Spring' of the
Catholic literary revival in England. In
the first half of the twentieth century there arose a generation of brilliant
writers and artists, many of them published by Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, who
demonstrated the new intellectual confidence and panache of a highly-educated
class of Catholics, both clerical and lay, many of them (not all) converts from
the Anglican Church. Benson, Knox,
Waugh, Houselander, D'Arcy, Belloc and Chesterton - with Christopher Dawson and
J.R.R. Tolkien in a slightly later period - form part of what must be judged by
almost any standards a gallery of extraordinary literary genius.
One of their major achievements was to present Catholicism as a serious
challenge to the upper and middle classes, the 'intelligentsia' of their day, in
such a way that the momentum of conversion to Catholicism set in motion by the
Oxford movement in the previous century was maintained right up to the Second
Vatican Council. (It should be
remembered, however, that throughout this period, at least in England, many
great Christian writers - Dorothy Sayers, T.S. Eliot, Eric Mascall, C.S. Lewis -
who can be identified as part of the same spiritual and intellectual movement
remained unconvinced of the claims of the Catholic Church.
Whether they would have held out through all the compromises of the late
twentieth century may be doubted.)
the figures I have named, apart from Newman himself of course, I would pick out
two - G.K. Chesterton and Christopher Dawson - who represent the intellectual
heart of this movement. Chesterton,
who is better known at present in America than in his native England, was a
prolific journalist and literary man, not merely the author of a series of very
popular stories concerning the priest detective 'Father Brown', or of a vast
quantity of often highly amusing poetry and light verse, or of a series of
studies of Chaucer, Dickens, Browning and Blake, but a public figure who debated
with the atheist intellectuals of his day (notably his friend and admirer George
Bernard Shaw), and who may well be one of the most successful and popular
defenders and communicators of Catholic Christianity in modern times.
An important factor in his success is the spirit in which he wrote, and
which was so important in enabling him to reach out in friendship to anyone, and
not just to those who shared his views. It
was the spirit of the amateur, of the lover of reality; the spirit of one who
could genuinely respect the other person, because he regarded every person with
the same wonder and gratitude that he felt for the gift of existence itself.
('Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously
surprised.') The historian
Christopher Dawson is a very different kind of writer and person, but no less
significant. Neglected of late, his
writings are now beginning to be reprinted and studied.
(Gerald Russello's recent anthology for CUA Press is one example.)
He was the great historian of Christian culture, who demonstrated that
the so-called 'Dark Ages' were a period of immense creativity and growing light,
that laid the foundations of a Christian civilization.
Unlike Chesterton, Dawson was a meticulous scholar and worked mainly in
an academic environment. But his
sense of the Faith was no less acute for all that, and he was able to
demonstrate the cultural impact of Christianity throughout history in a way that
never ended by reducing it to a merely sociological or cultural phenomenon.
It is vital that we revitalize our teaching of history by contact with
his work and his vision.
Spring or Third Spring?
have been speaking of Newman's prophecy of a 'Second Spring', and how it might
be taken as fulfilled by the Catholic literary revival in England in the first
half of the twentieth century. But
the phenomenon to which Newman was referring in England in 1852 was part of a
wider European movement. The
Catholic revival that Newman himself represents and in many ways initiates was a
neo-Patristic revival, in that it looked back to the early Church Fathers of
East and West. It refreshed the
vision of the Faith and the interpretation of Scripture by drinking at the well
(the 'First Spring'?) of the early Church. Immersion
in the Fathers was what brought Newman to the Catholic Church: as soon as he had
entered her he was able to embrace his library of Patristic writers with the
words, 'Now you are mine and I am truly yours.'
In Europe as a whole the rediscovery of ancient sources leading to a
renewal of theological vision is generally referred to as the Ressourcement, and
it is associated with scholars such as Henri de Lubac, Romano Guardini, Jean
Danielou and Louis Bouyer. These
writers undermined the narrowly 'Scholastic' reading of St Thomas, and tried to
repair the division that had opened up in the Enlightenment between Biblical
exegesis, theology and Christian spirituality.
Their thought flowed into the Liturgical Movement, and in this and other
ways prepared the ground for the Second Vatican Council.
prophecy may also be taken in a longer perspective.
We must look for a Second Spring beyond the Second Vatican Council, and
indeed see the Council not as a culmination of the new Catholic springtime, much
less as marking its termination, but as a necessary stage in its preparation.
It is significant that the classic works of these authors are currently
being reprinted (some of them translated for the first time into English) by
publishing companies like Eerdmans, Sophia Institute Press and T&T Clark.
One of the greatest figures of the Ressourcement, not himself directly
involved in the Council, was the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar - a
student of de Lubac's, and co-founder with him, along with Bouyer and Danielou,
of the international review Communio, which now (more than a quarter of a
century later) appears in 14 languages. Although
he was already writing in the 30s and 40s, Balthasar's major work was in fact
accomplished after the Council: a great trilogy of series, renewing theology
under the heading of the three Transcendentals - Beauty, Goodness and Truth.
In his work the various tributaries of the Ressourcement run together to
form a mighty river. Balthasar died
in 1988, just as he was to be made a Cardinal by John Paul II in recognition of
his achievements. Through his
influence on Paul VI, Joseph Ratzinger and John Paul II he is emerging as a key
figure in the interpretation of the Council documents.
In the period of instability, and sometimes chaos, that followed the
Council, the optimistic and secularizing influence of the 1960s (which had left
noticeable traces on several of the Conciliar documents) was injected deep into
the Catholic bloodstream. This is
not an entirely bad thing. In no
other way, perhaps, could the Church have come to understand the modern world
and its problems quite so well. Pope
John XXIII called the Council, however, not to change the Faith, but where
necessary to improve the way it was expressed and communicated to the men and
women of our time. As Balthasar
writes, 'A truth that is merely handed on, without being thought anew from its
very foundations, has lost its vital power.'
He had called for a 'razing of the bastions' and an 'openness to the
world' before the Council, and never regretted doing so.
Certainly Balthasar's theology, which no less than Newman's lays enormous
emphasis on the role of the imagination as well as the intellect, on poetry and
literature as well as on theology and philosophy, is one of those which truly
nourish the seeds of new life that were planted by the Council in the ground of
why am I still talking of the 'Second' and not of a coming 'Third' Spring?
In my view, there can be only two springtimes of the faith.
We are not speaking of a potentially endless succession of revivals and
rebirths. Christ came once in the
form of man, and that was in the midst of winter.
The life he brought created - out of the barren ground, soon moist with
the blood of martrys - a deeply flawed but recognizably Christian civilization.
That civilization had its natural life, it rose and fell, and after 2000
years most of it has been reduced to ash. But
its purpose has been fulfilled; it has given birth to many saints.
Their seeds have been planted for a new spring, which this time will not
follow but presage his Coming. The Second Spring is caused by the energies
released in the earth by the Cross, and by the grain that had to die in order to
bear fruit a hundredfold. Its
purpose is to prepare the valleys and the hills for the feet of the One who
comes. He will come at a time that
we do not expect. But when he comes,
the flowers will bloom, so that he may walk on meadows, not on the bare earth.
New Evangelization and the Battle of the Logos
greatest prophet of the 'new springtime' is, of course, Pope John Paul II.
From the chair of Peter he has not merely prophesied but tried to bring
it about; and he has done so by means of the process he calls 'the new
evangelization'. Like Pope Paul VI
before him, he has reemphasized the Vatican Council's universal call to
holiness. The dynamic spring of a
culture is always (as Dawson showed) religious, and successive Christian
civilizations have been born from a faith which contains the infinite energy of
eternal youth. This energy is
communicated above all in the saints, who are the true evangelizers, the true
fathers and mothers, of culture. It
is precisely now, when the Church in many ways seems at her weakest and most
vulnerable, having toppled her own 'bastions' against modernity, that this hope
can again arise in the heart. Precisely
at the point of maximum secularization, when the few remaining Christian
cultures around the world are being swept away on a tide of atheism, of
hedonistic consumerism and individualism, the Church has found within herself
the energies necessary to renew the world. St
Paul expresses one of the many paradoxes of the Gospel when he says that 'the
foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than
men' (1 Cor. 1:25). The Church,
therefore, is always at her strongest precisely when she is at her weakest.
evangelize is to open minds, not to close them.
It is to open people up to the Gospel, to the evangelium, to the 'good
news' of salvation. It is not to ram
the message down anyone's throat. We
cannot use any kind of violence - physical or emotional - to induce belief.
The Faith must be allowed to persuade by its intrinsic beauty, by the
attractiveness of the truth. It must
be allowed to appeal to the imagination, which is too often choked now with
images of pleasure and success, arousing desire and despair.
Apart from always striving to become the incarnation of what we teach and
speak about, the main thing that we can do to help this process of
evangelization is simply to remove obstacles, dispel prejudice, clear the way.
In a post-Christian society, the way to a recognition and love of Christ
is clogged more by the debris left behind by Christians than by the rubbish of
the pagans. To evangelize culture does not mean simply to communicate the Gospel
to our culture, let alone merely in our culture.
It must mean to begin to transform the culture itself: to transform it,
that is, into a place where the Gospel can actually be heard.
For the non- or post-Christian culture is not a kind of neutral space,
where Christian voices compete with others for the attention of mankind.
It is a space filled with noises precisely calibrated to drown out the
Christian voice. These noises are
made worse by the shouting of Christians when they try to compete on the same
wavelength. The evangelization of
culture happens when the Christian faith gives birth to a new kind of cultural
space, a new set of relationships, in which the Christian Gospel can begin to
make sense to people, and therefore to be listened to.
You cannot have authentic Christian evangelization without at the same
time - and not merely later on - seeing , among and between those who speak and
those who are addressed in the name of Christ, the birth of real peace and
justice, and of a new order of human living, a true 'civilization of love'.
That is why the evangelization of culture begins in the home.
the optimism of this Pope, who is always concerned to give encouragement to
those who are struggling and not to permit the slightest opening for despair,
his writings are also quite explicit concerning the fact that we live and
evangelize amid a winter of storms and fury.
This concern for the direction of our modern culture, and the
ever-intensifying spiritual warfare between the 'culture of death' and a
'culture of life' - which Balthasar terms the 'Battle of the Logos', and
Chesterton simply 'the coming peril' - has been a consistent theme of his
pontificate, being brought into sharpest relief by the encyclical Evangelium
Vitae in 1995. The death force, of
course, is manifested in terrorism, social chaos, family breakdown, abortion,
euthanasia and so on. The culture of
death is in fact the absence of an authentic culture and its precondition,
namely the sharing of life with one another.
It is characterized by the reign of quantity over quality, efficiency
over empathy. Everything is judged
by externals. A foetus is not
regarded as human because it does not look enough like one of us.
We are brought up distracted by an incessant diet of advertising images.
It is a culture of noise, in which silence is hard to find.
The purpose of life seems to consist in the unending pursuit of physical
satisfaction. We exist to consume,
to be perpetually entertained. Imagination
is reduced to fantasy, creativity to novelty and the ability to shock.
The ideal is ultimately to do a better job than nature; to take over from
evolution by redesigning human nature itself through genetic engineering.
(The fallacy of this aspiration is exposed by C.S. Lewis in his important
book The Abolition of Man.)
the Pope calls us to go deeper than any merely moralistic analysis of the
problem. Two very different
attitudes to life, two very different 'spiritualities', are involved.
The culture of life is founded on 'wonder and admiration' in communion
with truth, goodness and beauty. There
is at its heart a childlike wonder at the very fact of existence, and a spirit
of gratitude. The world and life
itself are regarded as given to us in trust, received from a mysterious Source
that transcends us, and towards which we have some real responsibility.
It is, in other words, a culture in which prayer is as natural, and as
essential, as breathing. For in
prayer we open ourselves to this Source and become recentred no longer on
ourselves but on the Other – and on the 'neighbour' who, in Christianity, is
always a sacrament of God. The Pope
therefore, in section 83 of Evangelium Vitae, writes that 'we need first of all
to foster in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook.
Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created
every individual as a "wonder" (Ps 139:4).
It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp
its gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility.
It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of
reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the
reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image (Gen.
1:27; Ps 8:5). This outlook does not
give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering,
outcast or at death's door. Instead,
in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in
these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call
to encounter, dialogue and solidarity.' The
Pope sees in Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother also of the culture of life.
Her fiat, her contemplative acceptance and humility, her childlike wonder
and open-hearted love, form the exemplary basis of human 'praxis'.
Liturgy and Justice
The new evangelization has an
intrinsic social dimension. But
Catholic social teaching cannot be isolated from other branches of theology and
other disciplines of thought and areas of experience.
While social reform – the reform of lifestyles and 'structures of sin'
– is urgently needed to mitigate injustice and foster solidarity, such reform
will be ineffective in the long term if it does not take account of the deeper
roots of all these problems. Justice
cannot be restored or created on the basis of human feelings and impulses alone,
divorced from the objective order of self-giving love.
As the Pope points out in Fides et Ratio, the separation in Western
thought of faith and reason was a catastrophe in which beauty, goodness and
ultimately truth itself came to be regarded as mere subjective preferences,
whereas they belong in reality to an objective order of values.
It is by conforming to these values that human beings and society can
alone achieve fulflment and peace. By
contrast, the suppression of metaphysical wisdom renders mankind incapable of
true community, which requires the 'horizontal' relationships between persons to
be integrated with the 'vertical' or ontological axis.
constitutive relationship to the invisible source of being is expressed in
prayer (wonder, gratitude, praise, worship, contemplation, intercession).
Every attempt to build community will founder if it neglects the prayer
which keeps love alive. Society thus
depends not only on private prayer, but on public acts of worship that unite the
vertical and the horizontal, the interior and the exterior, the individual and
the social. In Christian terms the
Church’s liturgy is therefore the key to the healing of society – for this
liturgy is the living on earth, in faith, of the heavenly 'liturgy' of the Holy
Trinity, the source of all love. In
this context, the impoverishment of Catholic worship since the Second Vatican
Council is a catastrophe akin to the destruction of metaphysics.
Many of the liturgical changes introduced with the intention of
revitalizing the life of the Church and its influence in society have had
precisely the opposite effect, and this is because the horizontal dimension of
community was so often emphasized at the expense of the vertical or
contemplative. Of course, the
revised Roman Rite is as valid as any that preceded it.
Furthermore the devotion and reverence with which it may be celebrated
can more than make up for any impoverishment of form (any 'ignoble simplicity')
resulting from the clumsy implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium.
Nevertheless, it is now widely admitted even by those who recognize the
great achievements of the Council that a period of abusive experimentation and
philistinism has confused and alientated vast numbers of Catholics, and has
resulted in a loss of the sense of the sacred in many parishes and communities.
is less clear is any satisfactory strategy for re-catholicizing the liturgy
without further damaging the unity of the Church.
Liturgy cannot be engineered: an attempt to do so was one of the mistakes
from which the Church has surely learned a painful lesson.
The way forward seems to lie with the abandonment of any attempt to
continue to impose the reformed Roman Rite on the whole Church.
To permit or even encourage a diversity of local and traditional rites
and uses – in addition to the reformed rite itself – would be to acknowledge
the organic relationship between history, culture and faith, which the liturgy
expresses. It would be to trust less
in the superficial conformity of outward observance, than in the Holy Spirit who
prays in us. Neither Latin, nor
Tradition, is the source of the Church’s authentic unity.
That source is the Holy Spirit alone.
encouragement of liturgical diversity, if it is to form part of a more general
recovery of the Catholic tradition in the modern world, must be accompanied by a
threefold process of retrieval, education and creative development.
That retrieval must include the musical tradition of the Church, and
especially of Gregorian Chant, which in recent years has been rediscovered as
popular music on a massive scale – albeit mostly outside the Church!
The counter-cultural implications of the Gospel and the Council's
universal call to holiness must be taken more seriously, in the light of the
teachings of Pope John Paul II concerning the culture of life.
This means a refusal to compromise on the moral teaching of the Church,
wherever this is clearly defined, but it also demands a distinctive Catholic
education that will not serve merely to initiate Catholics into the elite of a
dying civilization. It must initiate
rather into the living tradition of a faith which is the mother of civilizations
and cultures. The engagement of
faith and culture is a transformative one, because the encounter with Christ in
faith summons us through death to new life, and a new way of life centred not on
self but on God, and on the neighbour for whom Christ also died.
John Paul II has struck exactly the right note.
There is great hope, yet there are also dark days ahead.
Most of us probably do not yet realize quite how much mayhem we have
stored up for our society through the abortion holocaust, the experimentation on
embryos, the acts of mass destruction, the poisoning of the environment, the
breakup of families, the pollution of the imagination, the cultivation of desire
to excess. Our education system is a
shambles, our cultural heritage vandalized and vulgarized.
New plagues, new wars, lie just around the corner.
Genetic weapons that target particular ethnic groups, children born
without parents, cruelty on a scale never before imagined or perpetrated: all of
this is part of the legacy of the twentieth century.
Catholic cultural centres must address the roots of these problems, while
never losing sight of the good that is also a part and an expression of the
modern world. Perhaps the words of
Chesterton will prove prophetic (alongside those of Newman which I mentioned at
the beginning), when he wrote of this new pagan civilization, this growing
culture of death, 'We are grateful for this public experiment and demonstration;
it has taught us much. We did not
believe that rationalists were so utterly mad until they made it quite clear to
us. We did not ourselves think that
the mere denial of our dogmas could end in such dehumanized and demented
anarchy'. He also wrote in the same
book (The Well and the Shallows), 'There is nothing in Paganism to check its own
exaggerations; and for that reason the world will probably find again, as it
found before, the necessity of a universal moral philosophy supported by an
authority that can define'.
we live in a time of darkness before dawn, and as the sheer sterility of atheism
becomes ever more apparent, a creative spirit of questing faith begins to stir
like a faint breeze among the ruins. In
Russia, the dreary collapse of those hopes for a religious revival in the days
after the fall of Communism has been succeeded by a new phenomenon: young people
flooding the monasteries, in full retreat from the mad, violent world outside.
The same pattern can be seen in the West, from the explosive growth of
the Christian homeschooling movement in America to the emergence of new
religious communities and movements worldwide - many dedicated to the service of
the poor (the Catholic Worker, L’Arche, etc.), others more to the
contemplative life. There are so
many of them that parishes are becoming “communities of communities and
movements” (as the Pope encourages them to become in his recent Ecclesia in
America, n. 41). There are revivals,
too, among some of the older religious orders, such as the Benedictines, the
Dominicans and the Carmelites. Some
new communities have begun as part of the charismatic movement, others with the
intention of reviving the riches of the classical Latin liturgy.
As a social phenomenon on a global scale, the “return to religion”
embraces every kind of belief from the wildest apocalyptic sect to the sanest
revival of sober orthodoxy. We
should not be disheartened by the profusion of tares among the wheat: that is of
the nature of spring. The important
thing is that seeds long hidden are bursting with life.
piece appeared in the ‘Second Spring’ section of Catholic World Report,