March 15, 2005

Always on the Edge of a Precipice

I was reading some of Warren Carroll's The Glory of Christendom over the weekend and he describes how quickly things began to slide from the "glory days". A society that produced the Cathedral of Chartres and saints like St. Francis, St. Thomas & St. Dominic suggests a healthy 13th century Church.

But within a remarkably short time things began to decline and in a couple hundred years the Reformation came and the Church split. Carroll suggests it begins with popes becoming too reliant on war as a means to solve problems. He begins the chapter that starts with the year 1275 with the verse "he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword".

But the reason I bring this up is that I've heard it frequently asked - and I've repeated it - that if the pre-Vatican II church was so healthy then why did it collapse like a proverbial house of cards? And I think my reading over the weekend suggests that question isn't relevant. Apparently the spiritual health of the Church (or an individual) is completely "in the moment" and almost unrelated to what comes before. Perhaps it's too pessimistic to see it as a contrary indicator, as if "walking on water" leads us, like Peter, to look at the waves and become fearful. (Contra that, Fr. Thomas Dubay gives the impression that the spiritual walk is progressive rather than moment-to-moment; he says there are three distinct conversions, one from mortal sin, one from venial sin, and one to heroic virtue.)

Quick declines can be seen as discouraging since there's the Sisyphean aspect of having to "start from scratch" every day, but the encouraging side of that coin is when we do fail we get another chance and our past is not held against us.

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