The Old Benedictine Western Civ: 101—The God of Abraham, Unlike Greek, Roman gods, Brought Forth the Greatness of the West.
Q. Wait-wait. Before we get to the Jews, you promised to tell us what Harvard’s seculars had to say about the Greeks and Romans!
A.This was in 1977 remember when I taught politics as a Fellow of the Kennedy School…but I doubt that their interpretation has changed. They view civilizations as having inevitably undergone cyclical changes…so it was with the Greeks and Romans. Some of Harvard’s lecturers felt Plato and Aristotle were, paradoxically, the cause of that civilization’s decay because “they were at root theological thinkers” and Athens became composed of naval-gazers. You see, they identify the good that Plato and Aristotle stood for as the civilization’s weakness—just the opposite from the old Benedictines! In reality these two teachers and their disciples reasoned beautifully—a civilization cannot readily become an empire because of the danger that empires can become tyrannies….nor anarchic because lawlessness leads to dissolution. In the end ancient Greece forgot the search for wisdom. Harvard’s historians saw far too much contemplation which prevented Athens from going forth like Alexander and conquering all to build an empire. The old Benedictines saw wisely that Aristotle particularly was devolving the idea of a fair and beneficent governance. Harvard’s relativism blinded true appreciation of the Greeks. In the case of Rome, some Harvard types saw as did Gibbon a saccharine acid from Christianity that eroded the conquering heroes. Not so. Rome’s aristocracy fell through decadence, nothing less. The Visigoths…those fleeing the Hun…supplied the masculine vigor the old Romans had lost and by AD 410 Alaric swept over the city’s walls and put it to the torch. While Rome fell, the empire of the east, Constantinople, built by Constantine, lasted until 1453. As the old Benedictines taught, Rome gave to the West a middle ground between aristocracy and democracy, the ideal of patriarchal order which was in itself an absolute, and the idea of peace through military strength—but most important the God of Christianity…the sacrificial nature of Christ… without which order is impossible. None of this came through at Harvard—only the material advances, the conquests, the failures. To Harvard everything was explained in terms of accidents…who had the richest lands…who had the greatest armies…who had the rich sustenance? Not the concept of the slow and steady march of progress from Greeks who worshiped intellectual contemplation…to the Romans who understood societal order and who played host to Christianity. Q. So now we go to Israel and the God of the Jews. A. Yes. The Old Benedictines made no bones about the fact that the Jews were a rich or powerful people—at least not for long. They stressed…from their philosophy classes to their historical indoctrination…that the God of Abraham appearing to a poor herdsman four thousand years ago—telling him to leave his land and all that he knew, to leave and strike out “into a land I will show you,” promising that this old duffer will become the father of a great nation…was one of the climactic experiences of world history. It’s of enormous significance because there, in the Chaldean city of Ur, 4,000 years ago, Abraham found a not like at all like the pagan ones but God with a capital “G” Who in the development of the West made scientific progress a reality and led to Jesus the Christ and a theological belief system invading science, philosophy and the arts…the One who made our civilization possible. At this point, I’ll quit for now for both of us to contemplate. One thing the Old Benedictines did was not pour it on for hours. Fifty minutes a class session exploring stunning truths and you went back to your rooms to contemplate…so I conclude this now. Q. Promise you won’t let this story idle as long as you had heretofore. A. Did I let too much time pass? What is time to an octogenarian?