In 2015, I’m reading and blogging through Ronald Knox’s collection of sermons on Christian exemplars, Captive Flames: On Selected Saints and Christian Heroes. Every Monday (kinda), I’ll be writing about the next portrait in the book, so you’re welcome to peruse them all and/or read along.
Maybe I wouldn’t have been slow to get back into blogging through Knox’s sermons on the saints if I had noticed that the next chapter was on St. Dominic — after all, I owe a lot to the Dominicans in DC. And I recognize the friars I know in Knox’s description of the Order, which goes beyond what the Dominicans are usually known for (nerdy theological study).
Those were times, it is sad to say it, in which the Church seemed to have lost the salt wherewith Christ had commissioned it to season the world… There were crying abuses; and, whereas the Albigensians, a purely destructive movement, deserve little of our sympathy, the poor Waldenses could at least claim that they had reason for the disaffection which made them the antagonists of the Church. An intellectual heresy can be met by the weapons of the intellect; a moral protest, such as that of the Waldenses, can only be met by a rival moral protest within the Church itself. Just as the tide of the Reformation was stemmed, not merely by polemical writing and preaching, but by the great spiritual renewal which was accomplished throughout Europe by the Saints of the sixteenth century, so three hundred years earlier, it was not only the learning of the Friars, but their poverty, their chastity, the simplicity of their lives and manners, that saved Europe for the faith.
I appreciate the credit that Knox gives to heretics here, who are sometimes as he describes the Waldenses — seeking in good faith a real (not just perceived) good they’re having trouble finding in the Church. Finding them and bringing them home isn’t just a matter of proving in theory that the good they love has its fullest expression in the Church (as something like The Last Superstition tries to do) but of offering a proof by construction.
Later in the chapter, Knox explains that the witness of the Dominicans wasn’t just a matter of accepting poverty and chastity, in a disciplined rebuke to excess, but of living these disciplines vibrantly and joyfully, so that the people who met them could see the lightness that came with their rule of life.
One of the ideas I brought up at our recent Benedict Option discussion was that a good way to start a BenOp project is to ask these two questions:
- What do I do alone that I could do with others?
- What do I do with others privately that I could do publicly?
We had part of our discussion on my apartment building’s roof, where passerby can eavesdrop (if they’d like) and even ask to join in. (That’s happened more than once when I’ve held debates up there). Looking for opportunities to get our Christianity out of the privacy of our own rooms is a way to offer an invitation and a proof-of-concept to others. And also a challenge to make sure there are parts of our spiritual life that we’d like to invite others into. (I’m way less likely to rush or mumble through the Divine Office when I pray it with others).
In general, I think arguing with folks at a distance tends to be a worse use of time (mine and theirs) than having something to invite them to, so that, when we wind up arguing, they’ve had a chance to see more about what I’m pitching than I can quickly summarize, including parts they might not have thought to ask about or that I might not have thought to bring up. It’s better to argue against the richness of a worldview-as-its-lived than only the apologetic summary of it.