The triumph of the Christian vision was simply miraculous – nothing else can explain it.
Dermot Ahern, who held Ministerial appointments in Ireland from 1991 to 2011, was probably the first Irish politician to publicly declare that he “does not allow his Catholic faith influence his decisions in Leinster House.” Today, it is the prevailing creed among almost all politicians in Dáil Éireann. What they mean is that they do not allow Christian precepts nor Natural Law prescriptions influence their thoughts, words or deeds, when engaged in the work of governing or legislating. (Indeed, some would claim that the only consideration that influences lawmakers in present day Ireland is not the common good but whatever will ingratiate them to the public mood). This is a truly remarkable position to take for men and women who otherwise might describe themselves Catholic!
Clearly, these politicians have no understanding that ‘western civilization’ – a world view – which has sustained Europe for millennia and contributed, like nothing else in history, in elevating the dignity and status of the human person, and permitting true human flourishing – has its roots in the Christian vision of who and what man is. This vision, articulated first by Christian thinkers, was rightly perceived to be in right accord with the deepest aspirations of humankind – and this alone explains the appeal and spread of Christianity. Thus, the idea of denying the Christian identity of Europe and refusing to be influenced by its illuminating vision shows indeed the adolescent nature of the modern mind – and the perilous state of Irish society.
Dr David Bentley Hart, philosopher and theologian, is in no doubt about what the Christian vision has contributed to the world. He holds that the triumph of Christianity over pagan cultures was the only real ‘revolution’ in the history of the world. “Indeed, it was so ennobling in its moral power and so rich in its cultural creativity that the likelihood of it succeeding was of such improbability as to strain the very limits of our understanding of historical causality.” For Hart the triumph of the Christian vision was simply miraculous – nothing else can explain it.
Dr Bentley Hart goes on to say: “Stated in its most elementary and most buoyantly positive form, my argument is, first of all, that among all the many great transitions that have marked the evolution of western civilization, whether convulsive or gradual, political or philosophical, social or scientific, material or spiritual, there has been only one – the triumph of Christianity – that can be called in the fullest sense a ‘revolution’: a truly massive and epochal revision of humanity’s prevailing vision of reality, so pervasive in its influence and so vast in its consequences as actually to have created a new conception of the world, of history, of human nature, of time, and of the moral good… To my mind it was an event immeasurably more impressive in its cultural creativity and more ennobling in its moral power than any other movement of spirit, will, imagination, aspiration, or accomplishment in the history of the west.”
Up to very recently no one who did not identify with this ‘moral community’ and who was not involved in the work of building ‘a truly massive and epochal revision of humanity’s prevailing vision of reality’ would dare call himself/herself Christian – let alone participate in the life of the Christian community. Those who did profess to be Christian – and who knew why – unashamedly made sure that all their thoughts, words and deeds were aimed at creating a society where all the children of the nation would be cherished equally – and where no group just because they were stronger or more powerful than another – would be able to usurp or deny the inalienable rights due to another. These are Christians who know how much to render to Caesar and how much to render to God. If only our present Dáil had a few of them!
Those who did profess to be Christian – and who knew why – unashamedly made sure that all their thoughts, words and deeds were aimed at creating a society where all the children of the nation would be cherished equally.
By Fr Tomás Walsh, SMA