Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Fathers, the Scriptures, and the transfiguration of all things...

The feast of Saint Benedict is still two months away, but I'm posting his icon because I just read and deeply appreciated R. R. Reno's recent First Things essay, "The Return of the Fathers."

Professor Reno notes the curious counter-cultural movement in some segments of the western academic and ecclesiastical worlds to return to an examination and analysis of our patristic inheritance, the corpus patronum. This examination, in turn, is driving a re-immersion in the world of Holy Scripture.

Such, of course, is one of the defining hallmarks of Orthodoxy...

Here are the last several paragraphs of the essay:

In 411, Alaric sacked the city of Rome. Through the next three centuries, the western Roman empire was shattered by invasion after invasion. It was a hard time dominated by fierce men as cultural fragmentation and turmoil gave the upper hand to cunning and strength. Yet the warriors who so dominated the affairs of men were not, finally, in control of their future. For it was during this time that a young man named Benedict rallied the power of love. Benedict was a son of Old Narnia, a noble Roman by birth. He was born to assume a position of power and responsibility in a world both civilized and Christianized. But that world was being destroyed, and, instead of trying to find a fragment or piece to hang on to, Benedict retreated to a cave outside Rome in order to purify his soul and dwell more fully in the way of Christ.

Holiness is a powerful magnet, and others came to Benedict for guidance and inspiration. He eventually came out of his cave with a small force of men and founded a monastery on Monte Cassino. He wrote a rule for the community, the Rule of St. Benedict. Shorn of metaphysics, shorn of classical rhetoric, shorn of the glories of a great culture Christianized, the Rule was the pure essence of the patristic project. Plain, direct, and simple, it organized life around unending daily prayer and prepared the souls of the monks for obedience. The Rule and its life of discipline impaled generations of monks upon the sword of Scripture. In this way, their hearts were, to recall Augustine’s image of his own and his friend’s conversion, pierced by God’s love.

The issues preoccupying editorial pages and the evening news are not trivial or unimportant. We have a duty to fight for moral truth in a Western culture increasingly committed to a velvet barbarism. This will certainly involve defending and buttressing fragments of a Christian culture now being eroded. The libraries of the great monasteries that sprang from the renewing power of St. Benedict’s Rule preserved the intellectual and literary achievements of antiquity, and the vision of mutual submission and cooperation given flesh in the working communities of monks gave a bloody world hope of peace. We owe our own age nothing less.

But we should not confuse what we must do for the defense of life and social sanity with the deeper task of renewing Christian culture in the West. St. Benedict’s Rule did far more than any battle or palace coup to shape the future of what was to become Europe. We must do what we can to limit the damage done by the barbarians of our time, but the renewal of the culture they now control will require the revolutionary power of people whose lives are immersed in Scripture. Men and women saturated by Scripture are as explosive as rags soaked in gasoline, but, unlike Molotov cocktails, the fire of divine love transforms and perfects rather than destroys and consumes. This the Fathers knew, and this they teach us as they return.