This 30 year old quote by Alasdair MacIntyre has been making the internet rounds lately: at what point do contemporary Christians do what they did in the fading days of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages, deciding that the standing political order no longer represented their community, that it was no longer salvageable.
Christian attitudes towards the Empire were always ambivalent: Rome was both Babylon and the protector of order. You can replace “Rome” with “Christendom” or “America”, different names, same reality.
The irony is that St. Benedict gave up on Roman order and started a monastic movement that actually preserved much of the best of Roman civilization. The classically Roman sense of balance, moderation, order, and work is a deep part of the Benedictine spirit. We also owe to the monks the preservation of whatever Latin literature we still posses.
I still think the current order has some life in it, but it is fading. What should we salvage? What is worth preserving? How do we accomplish it? Amish or Orthodox style ghettos? Is that what we want?
What might the new Benedict look like? We need him.
” “It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead — often not recognizing fully what they were doing — was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If…
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