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Extracts from Christendom Awake


To England's Holy Patrons, our Blessed Lady and St Edward, and to the Protector of the Realm, St George, this book is dedicated in hope of their powerful protection.


1. Introduction.. Reawakening Christendom

2. Re-relating Faith and Culture

3. Re-enchanting the Liturgy

4. Reviving Doctrinal Consciousness

5. Relaunching Christian Philosophy

6. Re-imagining the Christian State

7. Reconstituting a Society of Households

8. Re-sacralising Material Culture

9. Rethinking Feminism

10. Remaking Religious Life

11. Rescuing the Holy Innocents

12. Reclaiming the Bible

13. Reconceiving Ecumenism

14. Resituating Modem Spirituality

15. Recentering on the End

16. Epilogue: Renewing Priestly Mission


Contemporary Catholicism, so significantly shaped by Pope John Paul II (though his 'shaping' is frequently of energies deriving from a variety of sources within the Catholica - which is how it should be, if Rome is the conductor of an orchestra each of whom has its part), is as ambitious in its world-historical spiritual ambition as at any time in its history. However, in the countries of the North Atlantic civilisation (if not only there) its performance falls lamentably short of its aspirations. In Great Britain, for instance, it would seem that the Catholic Church is, demographically speaking, the fastest declining of the historic Christian communities. In my view, directions taken, emphases laid, trends fostered or at any rate allowed to develop, have, over the past thirty years, left something to be desired in terms of a Christian judgement. (Though to be sure, some of the cultural trends challenged in this book are more like three centuries old.) In a period of accommodation to civil society, its culture and mores, that crucial activity of 'testing the spirits' laid upon the churches by the apostle John has not always - by any means - been carried out. The force of secularism has been underestimated, and the latent power of a Christian imagination left untapped at a time when strategies for secularism's subversion should have been conceived. Christianity will never be wrong to rely in significant part on furnishing simple icons of goodness to the world. Yet benevolence all round will not by itself suffice. At a time when the Catholic Church has supposedly entered the sphere of the 'Establishment' in Britain, the debacle of the celebrations here of the bi-millennium of Christianity are a case in point. As one correspondent of a national weekly put it:

Rather than the Churches of the United Kingdom welcoming the favour of a place in Peter Mandelson's Millennium Dome they should abjure any such offer. For the Dome (more properly a tent), and the state-funded events of which it is a part, are precisely conceived as a denial of the only reason why anyone in the United Kingdom might seek to celebrate the ending of one and the beginning of another Christian millennium, namely the birth of Christ.

In order to defeat what would otherwise be the absurdity and offence of inviting people of other faith traditions and of none to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the secular State must relativise Christianity by placing it within the profane project of the Dome. It then becomes but a part of a larger, more significant reality (though exactly what is unstatable), which replaces and thereby counters the venture and hope of the Christian Church. The matter is precisely figured in the proposal to place a large statue of the human form at the centre of the Dome's exhibits, celebrating human self-knowledge and mastery. How could the Churches be party to such an 'entertainment', when the only event that can properly figure the meaning of the millennium is the celebration of the Eucharist, in which the body of Christ is gathered.

The extent to which contemporary humanism feeds off contemporary atheism (and vice versa) has not been reckoned with. The former crowds out God, and the latter's denial of God encourages a kind of living in which the very question of God comes to seem without meaning. Yet the truth remains, as one of the fathers of the Second Valican Council put it, that 'no one has a doctrine so sublime and consonant with human nature as does the Church'.

I am grateful to Emile Perreau-Saussine for allowing me to see his unpublished study of Alasdair Maclntyre in French perspective, to Christine Fletcher and Amanda Hatfield for their helpful comments, and - not least - to Stratford Caldecott of the Oxford Centre for Faith and Culture for suggesting that I write this book so as to explain my 'vision' and for so generously making available the library resources of the Centre. At the beginning of the decade a courageous and encouragingly influential study was dedicated by its author, Dr John Milbank of Peterhouse, Cambridge, to 'the remnants of Christendom'. In the spirit of Ezekiel I wish to see those disiecta membra come together, and 'Christendom awake'.

Blackfriars, Cambridge

Solemnity of the Annunciation, 1998

Version: 14th February 2008

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Fr Aidan Nichols

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