A Catholic man of medieval persuasions often finds himself being told that one cannot go on living in the past. If this man is anything like I understand him to be, he has no conception of how to answer such an assertion. Imagine entering a confessional and after opening up your soul to the priest, he recommends giving up the faith and living a secular life in peace with your sins because you will always sin. Or imagine a terrible architect who, after building a bridge that collapsed, went on building inadequate bridges in recognition of the unalterable fact of his ineptitude.
To the first man, we would be forced to say, “Do not listen to that priest for your soul depends on it! Almost certainly you will sin again. Almost certainly you will break your baptismal vow, your vow in the confessional, and your vow before the altar. But you might not! And there is nothing else to aim for.” To the second man, we would gladly exclaim, “Stop what you are doing! In making peace with your incompetence, you have only unleashed it to destroy the whole world.” We have here two lessons that are difficult to learn and even more difficult to practice. First, every Catholic is a utopian insofar as he attempts not to sin. Second, every man must be at war with himself; to make peace with oneself is to spread death.
We do not strive for mediocrity, but for perfection, though usually we find we have only achieved mediocrity. We strive for that which only our Creator and His Mother can touch. Every Catholic attempts to do what he cannot do in this life – to be perfect. In this way the war he wages against himself cannot succeed in this world, but only in the next. Yet, we do not tell him to stop trying. We do not tell him to admit defeat and carry on. We do not tell him to rid himself of his lofty aspirations and utopian fancies. No, for every day the Church encourages and strengthens him. Every day choirs of angels and a host of saints defend and pray for him. Every day the sacrifice of the cross is renewed in his body. Every day the Church encourages him on to his utopia. Further up and further in, go, you who are filled with sin and defilement! Do you not see the perfection of the human heart that is attainable? Do you not see the wounds of Christ crucified in Padre Pio? Do you not see the scars of Christ in St. Anthony, battered by demons in the desert? Do you not see the heart of Christ in the Blessed Virgin? You have before you manifold images, manifold utopias. You will never attain Mary’s charity. You could never expect to love like Padre Pio or St. Anthony loved. Yet, onward and upward, go! Do not seek what is plausible, for that you will certainly lose. Seek the implausible, for that is what is being given.
There are millions of plausible things God could have given us in Christ: land, eggs, cows, houses, pleasure, happiness, virtues, and so on. But, He gave us the one thing that we could never have expected. He gave us the one thing that we would have been mad — utopian — to hope for. He gave us grace, a participation in His life. And with this grace, an unthinkable gift, we strive for the next unthinkable gift: glory.
But what has this to do with the Catholic with medievalist sympathies? I have attempted to demonstrate that the Catholic is called, at least in some sense, to utopianism. He is called to hope in the hopeless. The medievalist is of a similar disposition: he is waging a quixotic, idealistic war. We need an image of the perfection we will never reach on earth if we are to strive towards it. We need an image of the paragon of our own perfection in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is not enough for us to imitate Christ; we are so weak that we need to imitate imitations of Christ. And if we need saints in the spiritual life, we need tall towers and moats in the temporal life. If we need the Immaculate Heart for our soul, we need Christendom for our bodies. We need not only the image of the Heavenly Jerusalem before our eyes but also the earthly Rome. We may never be able to see a society of kings and knights and priests and peasants – Christendom – in our lifetime, but there is nothing else to aim for. We don’t sin and change our aims. Likewise, we don’t wreck Christian civilization and change our ideal. Moreover, you cannot have Christ’s divinity without also having His humanity, and therefore, you cannot desire Christ without desiring also Christendom.
They say it is impractical, and I say, “Good. So is the cross.” They say it is nearly impossible, and I say, “Indeed. And so is your greatest desire.” They say it is irrelevant, and Chesterton says, “It is not earth that judges fairyland, but fairyland that judges earth.” Kings, knights, and priests are not an escape from the world. They are not judged by this world, but judge this world. King Arthur judges every modernism in the polity. His knights judge modernism in culture and society. And the Chalice that his Round Table pursues judges modernism in religion and philosophy. The fact that these men are dead does not make them ghosts of the past, but judges of the present. Likewise, the fact that Christendom lies in the tomb means only that, for now, the polity exists in heaven, and not on earth. The mystery of incarnation, however, makes its return always possible, for Christendom existed on earth by participation in the divine polity. If we believe in the Incarnation, then we believe that we may participate in it, not only in our souls, but in our families, culture, and civilization.
St. Joseph of Arimathea did not flee to a new ideal when Christ died, and so we must not flee to a new ideal now that Christendom has died. We must bury Christian civilization as he buried Christ, and though there is no immediate benefit to the burial and we walk in the desert by faith, we will enable the resurrection of Christendom as he enabled the resurrection of Christ. Perhaps we will see something like Christendom resurrect before the end of days, but if we do not, we will surely see it on the end of days. For when the veil is lifted and the Groom is revealed, the impractical, impossible, and irrelevant will be shining before our faces. Those who hoped in reasonable causes will be disappointed, but those who hoped in the hopeless will rejoice with a happiness like unto which the God who knows and loves Himself is happy. If we do not pine for golden ages, how will we recognize the Golden Age when it comes?
“If I have spoken to you earthly things, and you believe not; how will you believe, if I speak to you heavenly things?” (Jn. 3:12)
Originally published on Nov. 19, 2014.
Carl Wolk lives in Wisconsin with his wife and children. He entered the Catholic Church on Easter 2012, a convert from Calvinism and before that, atheism. He has a B.A. in Medieval and Renaissance Studies from Washington and Lee University, and an M.A. in Theology from the Dominican House of Studies in DC. He is the Upper School Dean at Providence Academy in La Crosse, WI, where he teaches theology and philosophy.