The World War II generation inherited the good and the bad of what the Civil War generation did. They made the nation better, but they too left problems in the renewed republic they created. Now the World War II generation is passing from the scene and change is coming. Change will come to the church and to the nation, because the World War II generation shaped both profoundly.
Our goal is modest: do more good than harm. We know culture cannot be fully saved, but we also know that chaos is nearly always worse than civilization. We reject tyrants, utopian schemes of the right or the left, and insist that character counts. Christians refuse to remake doctrine or moral teachings, but know we can adapt much of how we do what we do. Despair is a sin and we reject any retreat. If we withdraw from an area, it is only to regroup and return to love better.
Our enemies are not people, but worldliness, the flesh, and the devil.
Hope and Courage are the Virtues of Our Time
Some have called the thirteenth century in the West a time of amazing cultural flowering, the Age of Faith. That does seem one of the guiding virtues of that time. The Church was strong and able to build great buildings, write great philosophy, lay the foundation for the scientific revolution and the renaissance.
Our time is more like the fourth century than the thirteenth. The Church is being persecuted globally. We lack confidence and many are calling for our demise from positions of power. The Western world is refusing to have the children needed to sustain populations and seems tired.
Constantine became emperor of the Romans in such a time. He got many things wrong, but he got two big things right. He put his faith in Christianity as an adequate intellectual, spiritual, and emotional view of reality to sustain a new birth of civilization. He also refused to defend what everyone else had thought must be defended, Rome, and built a new Rome that could be defended for a thousand years.
He saved much that would have been lost and left Christians in charge of an education system that studied secular and religious learning fairly continuously. That move made the text available that fueled the age of faith. He was the last of one kind of Roman, the one tied to the particular city called Rome, and the first of a new kind of Roman: the Roman of the idea of Rome. This idea has yet to fail.
Instead of retreating, Constantine changed the terms of debate. He knew his calling was not from people, but from God. He built a new city and as that city grew old, it became a bulwark for civilization. He established no utopia and the goal was not to go back, but to get things right as he did.
Orthodox Christians need the same courage. We can turn to the new cities of the world, places like Houston or Singapore, but not to forget the old. We take our sacred traditions with us wherever we go. We take the texts of the ancients and of our time. We refuse to change our morals, but we will live them out better. Why? The attack on our values will help us see where we were cruel in our righteousness.
Why do we have hope? Christians have seen all of this before now. We have seen nations rise and fall and the Church rolls on. Still we also love our homes and for those that are Americans, we know that things could be much worse than they are now. We are thankful for the good things in our nation and willing to serve (if allowed) to make things a bit better. While never confusing church and state, we refuse to think one person cannot be both citizen and churchman. We are both just as we can be both parent and employee without compromise, confusion, or conflation.We know new structures must be built. The World War II political order needs work. We cannot be uncritical of institutions like the UN or NATO. They must evolve and some might need to go, but we do so as citizens with care. Nobody wants to lose the good while purging the bad. In education, the k-12, college, and university system is bloated, inherently unable to use technology well, and too expensive. We can rethink education. As for culture, new tools have made creation easier, but tempted us toward mere consumption. A consumer, as opposed to a creative culture, will breed boredom and sameness.
We will create and not merely consume: garden, not just shop! There is always hope, because revival is possible. The church is growing globally. Areas of former persecution are now liberated and slowly finding their way. However, hope without courage is futile. Courage lets us hope, act, and try out our ideas. These ideas will sometimes work and sometimes fail. When they work, we gain experience that some of our hopes were justified. We are still not over confident yet we now have substance for our hope: the kind of knowledge that is part of faith.
Together hope and courage will produce enough virtue, wisdom, and joy to enable us to muddle through hard times and make our time a bit better. We will leave our children on the path to our goals: a vibrant Church full of God’s truth, an educational system that helps all God’s children, strong families, and a nation with liberty and justice for all. This Constantine age will, if Jesus tarries, birth a great age of faith to come. It too will be no utopia, but better than any that came before it. We are headed toward the Kingdom and history is bent by God toward His will.
And this is not the end, because the time will come when the trumpet will sound, the dead will rise, and King Jesus will come and bring paradise. We will live in peace in the City of God. One hundred years from now everyone who reads these words when they were first written will be in that City if they wished to be. If time lasts, the readers in that time will see a church still embattled, just to different foes. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
This series is based on lectures prepared for The Saint Constantine School college program. It is part of the Constantine Strategy to serve our time with wisdom, virtue, and joy for Christ and His Church. I gave a shorter version of this talk to the Thrive Apologetics Conference. Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V.