Now and Then

Now and then there is an excellent piece of news that doesn’t make headlines but deserves to be passed on if only because it will bring a smile of satisfaction to more than a few if they haven’t heard it before. By “more than a few” I have in mind specifically all who see the rise of rightwing populism in Europe and the U.S. as the political expression of a renewal of the culture, customs, and traditions that characterized life in society when Christendom existed, which is to say, when human life flourished in ways it could not as long as secular liberalism had far too many, if not most, by the throat.

A revival of Christian religious practice is another expression of the return to roots. We see it in Catholicism with the renewed and widespread celebration of the Tridentine Mass. It is also manifest in the growth of Evangelical Christianity. The population of Brazil, for instance, is now thirty percent Evangelical. Regrettable as that may be, it is also understandable. Men and women wanting to hear Christ and His mother preached are more likely these days to hear from Rome talk of climate change and open borders, the kind of globalist concerns people are rejecting by their very turn toward religion.

Where is the excellent news in what I’m talking about?

In architecture, the Gothic cathedrals of Medieval Europe were among the great achievements of Western culture when it was Christian instead of secular liberal. Is it possible to doubt their superiority in their power to move the human soul by beauty over most of what is constructed today? The answer is yes, if you are secular liberal instead of Christian. The proof is France’s President Emmanuel Macron who vowed to TV news cameras even while fire was still ravaging Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15 that the cathedral would be rebuilt “more beautiful”.

Yes, more beautiful.

Let us remember at this juncture that church buildings in France are property of the state. This has not always been a bad thing. When a tsunami of iconoclasm swept through Catholic churches in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II, there were instances of French mayors, including Communist ones, who prevented the removal of religious imagery from local churches. The mayors acted on the grounds that the churches were “historical monuments” under government protection.

On the other hand, there is the recent “renovation” of Chartres Cathedral undertaken by the Division of Ancient Monuments of the Ministry of Culture. I haven’t seen the results with my own eyes, but am appalled by what I see in photographs. Sure, when the cathedral was brand new it was painted, but that paint job didn’t include faux marble pilasters and other grotesque anachronisms. I also trust the judgement of the French critic who has written that looking now at the “renovated” cathedral’s justly famous windows is like watching a movie in a theater where the house lights aren’t dimmed.

Is that more beautiful? What might the “renovation” of Chartres portend for the rebuilding of Notre Dame in Paris? The question is the more acute because when Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced a competition for design proposals, he called for a new “spire suited to the techniques and challenges of our time.” Resulting proposals included a spire made of stained glass, another made of recycled ocean plastic, one made of stainless steel, another of crystal, and – inevitably – replacing the spire with a minaret.

Here is the excellent news. Sanity appears to have prevailed over the hubris of moderns who think they can build cathedrals more beautiful than Medieval ones. On May 27 the French Senate passed legislation requiring restoration of Notre Dame to its “last known visible state” prior to the fire.

Here is more good news, which is to speak of another blow to secular liberalism on the cultural front. It comes out of Russia. On May 31 it was announced that fourteen airports in the country have been renamed for Russian Orthodox saints. It puts me in mind of our own American past when the land’s original Spanish and French Catholic settlers named cities for St. Augustine, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and so on.

The Russian government didn’t pull names out of a hat to rename the airports. The public was invited to suggest new names. Polls were conducted. I don’t know anything about most of the saints, but see the renaming as yet another sign of the remarkable resurgence of Christianity in Russia since the collapse of Communism and especially since Vladimir Putin first became president. There were six thousand Orthodox churches in Russia when he was inaugurated the first time. Now there are more than thirty thousand.

One new airport name does stand out. (How could it not?) The airport in Murmansk is now named Tsar Saint Nicholas II.

That made me catch my breath when I saw it.

Of course we have had excellent news right here in the U.S. It has made headlines, ones our secular liberals thought only a few years ago they would never see. I speak of the news of a half-dozen states within days of one another passing legislation limiting the “right” of women to kill their preborn babies. The best was Alabama’s. It allows no exceptions.

That good news was not undiluted. President Trump almost immediately voiced the opinion that the Alabama law should have included exceptions for life of the mother, rape and incest. It is to be hoped that the President’s circle of advisers includes someone who can complete his education on this issue, of which none is more important.