Toward the Second SpringSTRATFORD CALDECOTT
When 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.
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."
Newman's 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 during their lifetime.)
Of 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.
Newman's 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 have been 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 the Church.
But 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
The 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.
To 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.
Despite 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.)
But 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." He elaborates:
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".
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 fulfilment 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.
Our 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.
What 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.
The 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.
Pope 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."
Thus 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.
Stratford Caldecott "Toward the Second Spring." Second Spring.
This article originally appeared in the "Second Spring" section of Catholic World Report, March 1999 and has been revised by the author for its publication on the CERC website. It may also be found on the Second Spring web-site (www.secondspring.co.uk).
The article is reprinted with permission of the author and Second Spring the magazine of the Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture which is located at 6a King Street, Jericho, Oxford OX2 6DF, Tel: +44 (0) 01865-55 21 54.
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