The Church in Hibernation?

“We are living in a time when the images of gods and idols are crashing about us. The spiritual and cultural traditions of vast regions of the West are increasingly being called into question; indeed, we can go even further and say they are being liquidated, quickly and relatively painlessly. Just as a tree in autumn drops its leaves without pain or regret in order to gather once more new strength from within, to renew its powers in hibernal peace, so too the tree of culture is now being stripped of its leaves. Of course, in this, the late autumn of our times, the leaves lie thickly under our feet—and the books thickly in the bookstores; but we aren’t deceived for a moment about that. This colorful yellow and red swarm of leaves is animated no longer by life but, if at all, only by the wind. A small regret might well be permitted us here, just as autumn is the time of the elegiac lyric, but who would want on that account to huddle up under the blankets of an eschatological pathos! We trust the power of nature, her wise economy and the laws of her renewal.” Hans Urs von Balthasar, “The Fathers, the Scholastics, and Ourselves”

Though Balthasar wrote these words in the lead up to WWII, I find them eerily prescient, and the image of the tree is quite striking. But what of it? If we could say that the Church in the West is truly in a time of hibernation, would that be a comfort? Is this a consolation? Does the knowledge that the tree is regathering its strength to bear fruit once again offer enough hope for us to persist?

Balthasar acknowledges the pull toward elegy in such times and there is part of me that would much prefer the “eschatological pathos” he mentions instead of the eschatological hysteria that seems to our lot. Even so. I’m trying to take the point. I’m trying to learn to trust in the way he commends.

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