Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Suicide of Europe

I found this video from Catholic News Services on Fr. Z's blog. It's a bit old already. Sorry.

Yesterday, at 1100 AM CET marked precisely 100 years from the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on the Kingdom of Serbia, beginning the Great War which ended peace and (mostly) finished off Western civilization.

World War IFirst, I thought the background music was very well done. In fact, to my ears, much of it was in the same key (or mode?) as the score for Downton Abbey, not so much capturing the musical feel of the era, but of its emotions and spiritual life.

Pope Benedict XV is probably the most neglected Pope of the twentieth century, but he is a remarkable one. The Codex Iuris Canonici was promulgated, ensuring that the Church would have one clear source by which her affairs could be regulated. A new edition of the Missale Romanum was issued in 1920. But it is on the theology of Our Blessed Lady as it points towards her Son that he is most important for in the liturgical and devotional life in the Church, for he promulgated a Mass and Office for Our Lady under the title of Mediatrix of All Graces.

But all of this was overshadowed by the fact that he was elected a month after the start of the Great War, and I am pleased to see this name, the one used for two decades, to refer to the war, for it was truly great in the most tragic sense. It was the first Continental war since Napoleon to engulf all of Europe, and it was the "suicide of European civilization" as the Pontiff lamented. Perhaps if Christendom fell apart as a political and societal force after the Protestant Revolt, then its lamp was extinguished in the popular mind during the last century as the video hints. (Although it is interesting to note that ISIS considers the West to be Christendom even if that's ultimately a fiction.) Viscount Grey, the British Foreign Secretary in 1914, felt the same way: "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time"

The Thirty Years' War had ended wars of religion, but the Great War was the first one where one could feel the conflicted loyalties. A Protestant-ruled empire allied with a Catholic one on the Continent, trying to prop up traditional monarchies, whereas sensibly monarchist Britain, rabidly secular France, and czarist Russia were the odd trio against the Germanic emperors. Imagine being an Irish Catholic! Finally, it was a chance to shake off British rule, but at the cost of supporting the Kaiser who was the Protestant emperor who dragged the world into war through the blank check and the Schlieffen Plan. Or what about someone trying to follow Catholic teaching on government and war? The Kaiser's actions were largely indefensible, but so was the British dreadnought campaign. Or simply an Italian in the German-speaking Tyrol? No one is clearly an aggressor, no one is clearly on the defensive.

Perhaps it is the nation-state, or at least what one might call the post-Christendom state (Austria, Britain, and Russia not being nation-states) that contributed to that sorry state of affairs. The video describes the collapse of the Prussian Union of Churches as it depended on the Kaiser as its head, and it reminds me of the classical Lutheran-and thus Prussian- expression that the state is Godly. I am uncomfortable with putting so much stock in the state. In the end, I think, it leads to the common good of one's own people not being looked after, never mind the common good of the whole of Europe. Allegedly it is, for the government pursues particular strategic policies to defend its borders or the culture of the people (trying to form a nation-state, for example), but look what that did. It brought devastation.

It ended a peace which had lasted, as far as a Continental war was concerned, since the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Yes, it was unstable and imperial conflicts had erupted, but it had signaled the importance of the old order. While I shall not call democracy completely into question, Aristotle's comments in his Politics must be kept in mind. He prefers monarchy, for democracy descends into madness. Look at 1848 and its consequences, including the Franco-Prussian War and the Third Republic. The people desired democracy and participation in their governance, what they got was bloodshed.

The video is twenty minutes long, and I unfortunately forgot where I left off in the video, so my thoughts must end here. But pray for all the departed, those killed in the trenches, those who led the war, and those who suffered on its edges for God alone knows what they went through.

That being said, I do think the Great War had a profound effect on the Liturgical Movement...

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