Building the Catholic Inner Citadel

26 09 2008


 image credit


In response to this post


Modern man does not love, but seeks refuge in love; does not hope, but seeks refuge in hope; does not believe, but seeks refuge in a dogma.


-Nicolás Gómez Dávila


If there is one reason that I keep blogging, it is to resolve some of the very issues that I touched on here. Much of what constitutes the Christian ethos, culture, and practice, is a creation of a society in which traditional Christianity was hegemonic. This hegemony now being absent, many of the cultural forms that we inherited seem antiquated, silly, and borderline nonsensical. There is of course one reaction, one that many attribute to the early Church and the spirit of the Gospels themselves, where Christians are to have “nulla partem” with the Prince of this world; the Church is right and not the world. From that attitude we get the Branch Davidian sect, the SSPX St. Mary’s Kansas, the Old Believers, the Messianic movements that nearly toppled the government of the Brazilian northeastern sertão, and so on and so forth. It is the idea of the faithful remnant, that Christianity automatically “makes you weird” to cite Flannery O’Connor. Such weirdness often ends in violence, suicidal tendencies, and fanaticism.


There is of course the other side of the coin, where Christians are very receptive to the world. This optimism is also in the Gospel, in the altar to the unknown God in the Book of Acts, in the intellectual vision of Clement of Alexandria, the treatises citing pagan gods in the Neoplatonic Christian Renaissance, and in the creation of that most exotic and earthy of religious creatures, Spanish colonial Catholicism. There, society was a canvass on which the Gospel could paint its masterwork.


Now we are faced with a dilemma: how much do we accept THIS society, and how much should we reject it? How much are we supposed to be involved, and how much in the margins? Should we interpret this crisis as one of growth, or of Christianity in its death throes as a major religion? (It will never die out, but could become just another bizarre sect.) These are very, very difficult questions, and discernment is very much needed.


What I fear most when articulating the thoughts in this post is that Catholicism will become a thing of hobby, that from going from a real community, it becomes an imagined community of one’s own choosing. If we must go about our lives with the majority of people not acknowledging the foundational significance of Christ and His Church, how are we to prevent all of it from becoming a fantasy land? How do we have a real communion, an assembly, a Church, when we are so scattered, confused, and divided amongst ourselves? Is it possible to have some sort of community in spite of this lack of shared belief? How do we prevent it from becoming one club amongst others that I belong to?


I think the way many Christians approach all of this now is far from helpful. For many, doctrine is a means to be “different” from the world, not to interact with its legitimate concerns. When people gaze at ecclesiastical and liturgical “pornography”, it is really tantamount to idolatry… well not really, because classical pagan idolatry is more meaningful and profound than this stuff. And of course, I don’t have to say again that many Christians, not just in this country but throughout the world, regard Christianity as a way to be more right-wing in their political struggles. All of this is trading our birth right for a mess of pottage.


The challenge, then, is to “make Church” here and now, with everyone around you, regardless of where the institutional Church goes in the future. I think it has to do with building, to quote Marcus Aurelius, an “inner citadel”, a means by which we defend ourselves from and interact with the rest of the world. For that we need the Gospel, the traditions of the Church (all of them, and not just the nice, “correct” ones) and a whole lot of savvy and common sense. Many readers of this blog have helped me directly and indirectly to build this citadel, and that is why I continue to maintain this page, and appreciate very much your input.

Indian harmonium

26 09 2008

Not native to the Indian subcontinent, the harmonium was introduced into raga in the 19th century, and has been a staple ever since. Here is one good example of its use by Suvendu Banerjee.