Building the Catholic Inner Citadel

26 09 2008


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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.



5 responses

28 09 2008

“And all of this while being in the world without being of it. That is far trickier than it sounds.”

Yes, it is; yes, it is. Generally, a lifelong project.

BTW, part of what I read you saying is, “Saints ain’t church ladies (or their male equivalents), like on SNL.” You got that right, bro.

27 09 2008
Andrea Elizabeth

I am trying to work through what I think is this same issue as I endeavor to convert to an Orthodox worldview. On one hand we have the obviously sacred Church which is a refuge. This includes the services (Orthodox have some controversy over western and eastern rites – I’m not sure how it compares to Catholic controversies over modern vs. traditional rites), practices and the prayers. But what to do with the “secular” world? Paint it all black or look for the gold amidst the wood, hay and stubble? I tend toward the latter, but then what to do about the wood, hay and stubble? Ignore it, rail against it, temporarily accept it while putting it in the ‘maybe’ category, or pray for mercy and healing to be bestowed on it? As when trying to come up with hard and fast rules, I am finding I must walk one step at a time with the light that I hope and pray for, which may call for one way to handle one thing, and another way another according to the moment. I hope that’s not too relativistic. I suppose this would be the tension between legalism and diluted relativism.

27 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

I am aware of the analogy to “las moradas” in Santa Teresa de Jesus that can be extracted from this, but what I am talking about goes much deeper than that. First of all, “the interior castle” is much too pious of an analogy to be viable for what I am talking about here. I fear that in our secularized world, such references are merely religious escapism. Thus, I steer clear of them.

On the other hand, the term “inner citadel” in this case has a much broader and profound scope than “las moradas”. Catholicism cannot solve your metaphysical problems for you, as a friend of mine once said. It assumes, in a manner of speaking, that you are already “put together”. The ultimate defense against modern skepticism that started with Descartes is not a “good Magisterium”. Those questions have to be answered before your mind crosses the threshhold of the Church’s door. Authority does not make truth.

But I digress. The citadel has to be made not just for “spiritual well-being” but also for intellectual, emotional, and aesthetic sanity. It is not just about helping old ladies across the street and saying your prayers, but also about viewing the world, thinking, and feeling in a traditional Christian (read: human) way. And all of this while being in the world without being of it. That is far trickier than it sounds.

27 09 2008

I wonder how apt this metaphor is, building the inner citadel.

It seems to me, as with St. Teresa of Avila, that the citadel is a given, that our task is cooperating with the Lord in restoring it, purifying it, driving out the vermin which are present, and entering the innermost chamber, there to commune with the Holy Trinity.

27 09 2008

I’ve found it to be helpful to think how Christianity and basic human dignities align. I suppose that’d be Christian humanism. For me, it affirms that Jesus Christ became fully man, that His human nature is fully present. Knowing that, I can fling myself into the struggles and beauties of the world because it is, as you wrote in an earlier post, about the “small things.” The “inner citadel,” then, welcomes both Christian and human devices. This approach could be, I realize, dangerous as it could dilute what is necessary to the Gospel, but it’s something that has to be, like everything, negotiated, with love ruling the way.

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