Painting by Leopold Loeffler of a family that lost everything due to war.
Lest we be accused of glorifying the past, any dream of an ideal society cannot exclude the reality of hardship and suffering that comes from God’s punishment of our first parents: “With labor and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life” (Gn 3:17).
Dreams become nostalgic and romantic fantasies if they are not linked with the reality of suffering and tragedy. We must therefore take to heart the model of the Cross.
Just as consumer society presupposes the consumer, Christian civilization presupposed the Christian. The Christian was not just a religious label. Rather it was the development of “the human type that had been produced by ten centuries of spiritual discipline and intensive cultivation of the inner life.”* He was and is “another Christ,” inseparable from His Cross.
What characterized early medieval man was his understanding that once disordered passions were let loose, they would unleash a tyrannical rule upon everything. This applied to private life, but this could also be seen in the barbaric and unruly passions of invading peoples who wreaked such havoc on medieval Europe.
Painting by Gustav Reinhold
Thus, medieval man perceived that the fight against these unbridled passions must play a central role in his private life. He also understood that in society there must always be dedicated sectors on the front lines of this great battle that, inspired by the Faith, take an attitude of fighting to the death at any moment to defend society as a whole.** The medieval knight, for example, held this ideal literally, as the civilizing monks of the West did analogously in their interior martyrdom.
* Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1950), 9.
** “The life of man upon earth is a warfare” (Jb 7:1).
John Horvat II, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need To Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), 331.