This time of retrenchment is also the opportunity to begin reconceiving what a new Christian culture—made from the old—might look like…
The recently revived Wyoming School of Catholic Thought has me thinking about how we escape from the “immanent frame,” as Charles Taylor describes our secular age. In a lecture and discussion led by Dr. Thaddeus Kozinski, our 22 participants read Romano Guardini’s The End of the Modern World, thought about Taylor, and tried to imagine a direction for Christian culture.
I was reminded of the summer of 2000—the Jubilee Year—when my wife Virginia and I made a pilgrimage to Rome. One of the highlights of that memorable trip (which also included a tour of Sicily and Calabria) came in the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Down the center of the nave, someone had set up bronze Stations of the Cross unlike any we had seen before. They were modern but not abstract; they built on a tradition going back for two millennia, but they were startlingly new, and because of their artistic freshness, they broke open the events they depicted like the breaking of bread at Emmaus.
At the time (for some forgotten reason), we could not discover the identity of the artist. Nor have we been able to discover it since. This superb work remains in a beautiful anonymity, like some of the great art and architecture of the Middle Ages, sheltered from all the usual considerations about the artist. Those bronzes have become for me an image of what Wyoming Catholic College is being called to do, which is not to preserve a fading culture but to help make a new one that draws upon the inexhaustible treasures of the Catholic tradition.
One night during the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski lectured on the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and his development of “tintinnabular” music (whose technicalities I cannot begin to fathom). Pärt’s profoundly quieting music, deeply orthodox, influenced by chant, is already among the world’s most-often performed, another sign of the genuinely new being made from the old.
From Anthony Esolen and R.R. Reno to Archbishop Chaput and Rod Dreher, book after book this year has warned us that Christian culture has receded from the mainstream: we cannot expect the broader world to understand traditional Catholicism. Those of us who hold to the Church’s profoundly counter-cultural doctrines seem to many in the secular world strange and atavistic. An emphasis on religious liberty baffles those who instantly decry any violation of “transgender rights.”
Yes, we can take measures to preserve and protect what is left, but it seems to me that this time of retrenchment is also the opportunity to begin reconceiving what a new Christian culture—made from the old—might look like. In the next few weeks, I’m going to be imagining the part of Wyoming Catholic College in such an inspired enterprise.
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