Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No abiding city

"...[T]here is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph.” T.S. Eliot

A reminder from the late Richard John Neuhaus that may be helpful to those of us who are feeling disappointed today. From American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile:
.... The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Christians have here no abiding city. In the third eucharistic prayer of the Catholic Mass there are the words, “Strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on earth.” Christians are a pilgrim people, a people on the way, exiles from our true home, aliens in a strange land.

There is in all the Christian tradition no more compelling depiction of our circumstance than St. Augustine's City of God. Short of the final coming of the Kingdom, the City of God and the earthly city are intermingled (XIX, 27). We are to make use of, pray for, and do our share for the earthly city. Here Augustine cites the words of Jeremiah urging the people not to fear exile in Babylon: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its peace you will find your peace” (Jer. 29:7). This is a continuing theme in the way Christians think about their place in history.

It is often forgotten how very much of a Roman Augustine was. The City of God is, among other things, a sustained argument with pagan interlocutors whom we might today call “public intellectuals” in which Augustine is contending for the superiority of the Christian philosophy and understanding of history. It is sometimes suggested that Augustine knew he was writing in the ruins of a collapsing empire that he dismissed as terminally corrupt. In fact, he wrote, “The Roman Empire has been shaken rather than transformed, and that happened to it at other periods, before the preaching of Christ’s name, and it recovered. There is no need to despair of its recovery at this present time. Who knows what is God's will in this matter?” (IV, 8). .... [more]