Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wisdom of the Desert

"Society--which meant pagan society, limited by the horizons and prospects of life 'in this world'--was regarded by them as a shipwreck from which each single individual man [sic] had to swim for his life. We need not stop here to discuss the fairness of this view: what matters is to remember it as fact. These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster. The fact that the Emperor was now Christian and that the 'world' was coming to know the Cross as a sign of temporal power only strengthened them in their resolve.

"It should seem to us stranger than it does, this paradoxical flight from the world that attained its greatest dimensions (I almost said frenzy) when the 'world' became officially Christian. These men seem to have thought, as a few rare modern thinkers like Berdyaev have thought, that there is really no such things as a 'Christian state.' They seem to have doubted that Christianity and politics could ever be mixed to such an extent as to produce a fully Christian society. In other words, for them the only Christian society was spiritual and extra-mundane: the Mystical Body of Christ. These were extreme views, and it is almost scandalous to recall them in a time like ours when Christianity is accused on all sides of preaching negativism and withdrawal--of having no effective way of meeting the problems of the age."

--Thomas Merton, "Wisdom of the Desert," The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers (New York: New Directions 1960), p. 3-4

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