here, at This That and the Other Thing under the kindly auspices of the Hostess with the Mostest, RAnn.
It’s now late summer, which seems to lead to a slower pace here at Principium et Finis. One post I didn’t get to publish was a tangent inspired by Fr. C. John McCloskey’s review [here] of Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity.
I’m not going to summarize here what Fr. McCloskey says – I encourage you to read his review (I myself intend to read Stark’s book at the earliest opportunity). I will only say that Fr. McCloskey sees important lessons for us today in the experience of the Early Church, and specifically recommends the rediscovery of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
I was struck, however, by this passage from Fr. McCloskey’s article:
Adding to the dynamism of early Christianity, as a result of the social stigma of being a Christian and the danger of persecution and even martyrdom left Christianity largely free of what Stark refers to as the “free riders,” those who want to reap the benefits of religion without sharing in its sacrifices and commitments. Perhaps we could say that among the first Christians during the first several centuries of the Faith, there was considerably more wheat than chaff.
I have touched on this same idea, if indirectly, a number of times; here, for instance, in a post about the (relatively) young Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) saying that the church in the future would become smaller but more faithful, and here, earlier this week, in discussing Russell Shaw’s idea of the “Assimilated Church”. It was to this, first of all, that Fr. Ratzinger was referring: the fact that as the social advantages of public identification with the Church declined, and as the disadvantages grew, only the truly committed would remain. We’ve seen that begin to play out since he first predicted it over four decades ago. Russell Shaw described the Assimilated Church as a Church that “will have been homogenized into the values of American secular culture and become part of it”. A Church, in other words, of Stark’s “free riders”, which is a Church without much of a future. The decline in religious observance that we’ve seen over the past half century has been in large part due to the departure of “free riders” who no longer feel that there are compelling social reasons to remain.
It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man.
It’s beginning to look like Fr. de Lubac’s insight is as true of today’s “soft” totalitarianism as it was of the “hard” totalitarianism of the last century. The mission of Christ’s Church is more urgent than ever.
Other posts for the week:
Monday: The Haydn revival continues with "Franz Joseph Haydn, Te Deum in C" [here]
Tuesday: I generally like Russell Shaw’s work, but he’s missing a lot of what’s happening in the “emerging Catholic subculture”: "To Be In, But Not Of, The World" [here]
Thursday: We look at Vespers, or Evening Prayer in my latest post on the Liturgy of the Hours for laypeople: "Vespers: 2nd Hinge Of The Liturgy Of The Hours (LOH 7 Throwback Thursday Edition) [here]