Tuesday, March 5, 2024

A less coherent vision. . .

There is probably not much of medieval history and culture that anyone would warm to in this present age.  We have outgrown our past and have little patience or stomach for it.  Nowhere is this more true than when the educated and erudite modern man looks back in time to the period once deemed the Dark Ages.  We are loath to ascribe to the medieval period much of any credit for anything and are quick to blame the period for all the things we still find wrong with mankind, society, culture, and religion.

C. S. Lewis in his work The Discarded Image, would surely raise an issue with our dismissal of this period.  In speaking of that period, he wrote: “The human imagination has seldom had before it an object so sublimely ordered as the medieval cosmos.”  In contrast to the chaotic and illogical views that dominate this age, the medieval period offered a reasoned structure occupied with intelligences at every level.  In many ways, it was a structure constructed like a building, aiming for the highest point but not content to allow the lower regions to be deprived of their own order and definition.  Lewis would suggest that it was an elegant structure and perhaps would complain about the opposite for the world in which we live and the order we have assigned to it.  It could be that the medieval period was inherently religious, its people religious, its thinkers religious, its artists and artisans religious, and its worldview religious and that this was part of the ordered nature of every aspect of this time.  If one were to agree with this, the lack of religious thought and its thinking on every level of our secular world is at least partly to blame for the deterioration of our ordered existence.  

People in the Middle Ages, Lewis believe, actually felt that

the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the social hierarchy on Earth were dim reproductions of the celestial hierarchies. The pageantry and ceremony which they indulged in to the utmost of their powers were their attempt to imitate the modus operandi of the universe; to live, in that sense, “according to nature.”

Certainly the heirarchies of the earth are even dimmer in this modern and secular age, suspicious of pageantry or at least skeptical of assigning anything more than whimsy to its ceremony and ritual.  Yet what is most profoundly missing today is a coherent worldview.  The ordered structure of medieval thought and life has been replaced by anything but order.  It is worse than chaos.  It is a complete disordered view of life and our place within that life.  The random and unreasonable have become the unassailable deposits of truth for which neither fact nor history nor reality dare intrude.  Personal authenticity as deep and wide as one individual have been left to bear up the full weight of every structure of community and society -- only to prove that this personal authenticity is completely deficient to provide the koinonia of common values and a common truth.  So it is precisely community that is lacking in the structures of this age and the fruit of this defect is the profound sense of loneliness and longing that inhabits every level of our order and it is this that deprives us of the sense of belonging that we both yearn and disdain at the same time.

From the calendar to the seasons to rulers to the lowest workers to the Church in which life was consecrated, the medieval structure breathed out a sense of consoling order for times and people who needed it.  Now we find ourselves without consolation amid a sea of conflict, dispute, isolation, and suspicion.  Are we better off than the medieval order?  You decide.  But I think you know where my sympathies lie.

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