"The end is where we start from."

-T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The End of All Things?

"I am glad that you are here with me," said Frodo. "Here at the end of all things, Sam."

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Are we, indeed, at the end of all things in the West? Has Christian Civilization, which began with St. Constantine, peaked in the High Middle Ages, and has been in decline at least since Scholasticism, run its course? Russell Kirk wrote in his critical essay "Civilization Without Religion?" in 1992:

"Some years ago I was sitting in the parlor of an ancient house in the close of York Minster. My host, Basil Smith, the Minster’s Treasurer then, a man of learning and of faith, said to me that we linger at the end of an era; soon the culture we have known will be swept into the dustbin of history. About us, as we talked in that medieval mansion, loomed Canon Smith’s tall bookcases lined with handsome volumes; his doxological clock chimed the half-hour musically; flames flared up in his fireplace. Was all this setting of culture, and much more besides, to vanish away as if the Evil Spirit had condemned it? Basil Smith is buried now, and so is much of the society he ornamented and tried to redeem. At the time I thought him too gloomy; but already a great deal that he foresaw has come to pass."

Russell Kirk is buried now, and so is much of the society he ornamented and tried to redeem. Eighteen years have passed since Kirk penned this article, which concluded with Kirk's hope that we might yet redeem our culture through the restoration of religious belief (Kirk believed in Christopher Dawson's simple, yet profound thesis: no cult, no culture.) Still, as Kirk pointed out, if we fail in the restoration of Christian Civilization, "...Remnant must strive against the follies of the time."

I, like Kirk, cannot tell if we stand at the end of all things, but I do know, with T.S. Eliot, that the end is where we start from, just as the end was where Christ started from. His crucifixion was the End of All Things, a seeming catastrophe. But, as J.R.R. Tolkien pointed out in his "Essay on Fairy-Stories," His Resurrection was the eucatastrophe, or "consolation of the happy ending" in the Story of the Incarnation. A seeming catastrophe fills all things with joy in its resolution as a eucatastrophe. Eucatastrophe, writes Tolkien:

"...is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat..."

Since God is the God Who bring Good from evil, for the Christian, and for Christians as the Body of Christ, there is always eucatastrophe, always Resurrection. Just as Christ triumphed over evil, Christians will triumph even if Christian Civilization as we know it collapses (and, it seems, we are on the edge of its collapse or renewal, on the very edge.)
With Basil Smith and Russell Kirk, we must lament the Fall of the West if it comes, and we must work for its survival while we can do so. Both men would agree with Saint Augustine, however, that the true city is the City of God, a City not made with human hands, for "the Kingdom of God is within you" as our Lord says, and we will perservere as our ancestors, brothers, and sisters have done in cultures alien, and even hostile to, the Gospel, and build new Christian Civilizations where the Gospel fills all things in its fullness of Truth, Beauty and Goodness, if we are faithful as a remnant.