08 Cathedral burnt or Civilization burning? - Eddy D'Sa

posted Apr 24, 2019, 6:52 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Apr 24, 2019, 6:52 AM ]
In April 15, the great cathedral of the Notre Dame de Paris burned. The orange monster rose and fell over the middle of the great church, eating the consumable guts of the building, spitting out red embers and belching out columns of smoke that could be seen for miles. This was not just a fire, but the dying of at least part of history. How many buildings do we have that were built with 13,000 oak trees that started growing more than a millennium ago? How many buildings do we have that are symbols of the very meaning of civilization? Notre Dame de Paris is a church building, but also a landmark of civilization whose construction was begun 858 years ago, taking 200 years to build. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, ordered the construction of Notre Dame in 1160. When it was begun, Paris only had 100,000 residents. The stature of the building must have been overwhelming. "What is civilization?" asked Kenneth Clarke, the historian, and went on to say that it is hard to define in abstract terms. "But I think I can recognise it when I see it." Then he turned to face the great cathedral, and said, "I'm looking at it now."

What do the great cathedrals represent? There are many answers to that question, but here is one way of looking at it. The cathedral has a vertical focus. Churches are built to facilitate worship. The pulpit and the altar and the spire depict God's saving act for us broken mortals. The cathedral's artwork depicts biblical characters and themes. Then there is the horizontal dynamic. A church is a gathering place for the people of God. They stream to it from the surrounding neighbourhoods, and so enjoy a connection with one another, the basic movement that forms community and society. So we can imagine standing back from the cathedral with an imaginary line going vertically up to the heavens, and a horizontal axis going out to the surrounding community. Join these axes together, and you have, of course, a cross. You also have civilization.

This is how Christian faith formed the basis of civilization in the history of the West, and why Christianity has been, for millennia, a civilizing force—when it is not corrupt. We need the vertical connection, and the horizontal. Human beings disconnected from their Creator are mere animals. Disconnected from one another, humans are animals that kill each other. God's saving acts in the world are to reconnect us with Himself through the saving mission of Jesus, and to reconnect us with each other as the family of God. That's what a cathedral represents. When churches are at their very best—of any size, any denomination, in any country, at any time—they proclaim and reinforce the truth that God has offered reconciliation and healing through His Son, Jesus Christ, and calls us out of society into a new family, empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit. When enough of that happens with enough people, a city or a region or a country can become more civilized. In history, Christian faith, when authentic, inspired the development of education, medicine, law, government, science, and art.