Advent calls us to reflect on our Christian roots

Father John A. Kiley

Modern technology owes an immense debt of gratitude to the Arabic world for the invention of written numbers — 1,2,3,4, etc. Roman numerals — I, V, X, L, C, D, M — simply would not have registered in today’s modern computers and calculators. The Great Wall of China will no doubt still be attracting tourists long after the skyscrapers of America’s metropolises have been leveled for urban renewal. The sheer volume of the texts and scrolls in the ancient library of Alexandria in Egypt challenged early thinkers that maybe there was something worth studying and learning in manuscripts and documents. Zen meditation techniques from the East and healing balms from indigenous peoples have answered emotional and physical needs for centuries. Every culture, every civilization, every peoples have contributed something of value to the worldwide human family. As the hymn reads, “…other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.”

Nonetheless, the Judeo-Christian tradition and its offspring, Western civilization, have been historically and uniquely positioned to draw together the finest aspects of revealed religion from Jerusalem, speculative philosophy from Athens and legal precedents from Rome. Faith, reason and order as the traditional bases of society have served the Western world exceptionally well. Now, some might dismiss Western civilization and indeed the Judeo-Christian tradition as mere white supremacy, a cultural relic to be abandoned in favor of globalization. But the convergence of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome is not simply part of human history; this triple alliance of belief, thought and law is the work of Divine Providence. The Jewish, Greek and Latin cultures providentially evolved into the spiritual, intellectual and material world from which Christian tradition has drawn much support and to which the Christian tradition has offered much guidance. Jewish faith, Greek insight and Roman order spawned the Western world which, until recently, has been the fertile ground that has allowed Christianity and much of the human family to prosper.

Recent authors correctly warn the Christian world that the revelation, the reasoning and the regulation that have enriched Western society and indeed the whole planet are gravely threatened by the positivism, the relativism and the liberalism which have engulfed Western society especially since the 1960s. “The Suicide of the West,” by Jonah Goldberg; “The Right Side of History,” by Ben Shapiro; “The Idol of Our Age,” by Daniel J. Mahoney; “The Year of Our Lord,” by Alan Jacobs; and “Faith, Reason and the Struggle for Western Civilization,” by Samuel Gregg, join persistent seers like Anthony Esolen, Rodney Stark and indeed Pope Benedict XVI in exposing the wanton secularization and divisive subjectivism that plague the post-modern Western world.

On the eve of his election as Bishop of Rome, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger famously noted the divisive trends of modern thought: “How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves — flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism.”

As another Church year begins on this First Sunday of Advent, the liturgy wisely celebrates the Scriptural foundation that has allowed the Judeo-Christian tradition to prosper and progress abetted by the wisdom of Greece and the justice of Rome. St. Paul writes, “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Advent is a call to review Christianity’s ancient spiritual and secular origins and to strive for the deepening and broadening of these authentic roots during the remainder of human history.