The Passion of Notre Dame—Why it Matters

NOTRE DAME IS IN FLAMES. The spire has gone; the roof has collapsed. It appears no one has died—Deo gratias—which is a real mercy. The cause is as yet unknown but no doubt we shall no soon enough. The recent spate of attacks on churches in France hangs heavier in the air tonight, but this incident may merely be due to a fault in the current renovation work. It is hard not to dismiss a terrorist attack but by now surely some extremist would be claiming credit for it.

The passion of Notre Dame matters not just for Paris, nor just for France, nor for those who merely love beauty. It matters for our Judaeo-Christian civilization.

It is about a gorgeous gem of Gothic architecture more than 8 centuries old, but it is more than about that. It is about the wonderful works of art and craft within its walls—a stunning Pietà; statues of the 28 kings of Israel; an immense rose window with exquisite stained glass—but it is about more than these. It is about the role and status of the cathedral in the history of France, but it is about more than that. It is about a testament to humanity’s fertile, fruitful and beautiful devotion to God, but it is about more even than that.

On the CBS live coverage on Youtube, a reporter mentioned that a Parisian had told him that the fire has a symbolic significance for Christianity in France and Europe.

Medieval cathedrals such as Notre Dame were designed Continue reading “The Passion of Notre Dame—Why it Matters”

An English Benedictine Discovery

Recently the abbot stumbled across an image hitherto totally unknown to him. It has lain unrecognised (by us, at least) in the Bibliothèque National in Paris until they digitised the image. It is rather important for my community of St Edmund, or Douai Abbey. It is displayed at the very end of this post.

Continue reading “An English Benedictine Discovery”

Pauvre Paris, mais je NE suis PAS Charlie

At present I’m taking a week of holiday rest in a small cabin in Wiltshire. There is a TV and watching the coverage of the Paris outrages makes for a macabre but compelling spectacle. (On this point, discovering the free channel Euronews has been a relief. The constant repetitive drivel on the BBC and Sky is annoying. Euronews is not afraid to have short periods of silence with live footage, without someone using dozens of words to describe what we can see for ourselves on the screen.)

When a friend alerted me to what sort of rag Charlie Hebdo is things made more sense. Murder can never be the solution to insult. Militant Islam knows no other way it seems. They are truly vile, even demonic. They have no excuse.

Yet Charlie Hebdo is almost as vile. This magazine seeks deliberately to insult and provoke, especially with regard to religion, not least the Church. Laurence England on Facebook neatly described this tragic event as the clash between extreme Islam and extreme secularism, and this rings true, not just in this case but in general with regard to all the atrocities of IS and Al Qaeda. The innocent victims will be many if the current series of events continues.

Contrary to the rhetoric being constantly repeated, the Paris attack is not an attack on freedom of speech; it is an attack on, an appalling and disproportionate overreaction to, the abuse of freedom of speech. The employees at Charlie Hebdo are not martyrs nor heroes; they are victims. The police officers killed are more deserving of the labels hero and martyr.

So even as the West, and for the moment France especially, fights the hideous evil of militant Islam, perhaps the West, and France in particular, needs to understand how destructive is militant secularism. It will be futile to denounce the devil at work in militant Islam when at the same time we coddle the devil at work in our society.

Freedom of speech is not unlimited, as proved by our own laws of libel and slander. Its abuse occasionally provokes some to appalling acts of revenge. To speak the truth in love is the only legitimate use of freedom of speech. Charlie Hebdo speaks something else entirely.

So, je ne suis pas Charlie. Catholics mourn for its victims, denounce the murderers, expose the Islamist agenda; yet so too Catholics must expose the dangers of extreme secularism.

If only France had shown similar outrage at the slaughter of Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria, who provoked no one. Consistency would help.

May all the victims rest in peace, and those who mourn them be comforted.

Happy new year.