The start of Holy Week was signaled by a surprising inferno that consumed most of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Firefighters rushed to the rescue as they tried to battle the blaze and fought to preserve as much of the church as they possibly could. And they did what they could, thank God. One of these brave men was injured, but thankfully there were no fatalities. Let us remember these souls in our prayers this Holy Week; it is because of these unsung heroes that we still have with us our treasures in the Crown of Thorns and the True Cross. Both relics herald from antiquity and can be verifiably traced to imperial Constantinople.
It seems that the fire was an accident; no evidence has yet been found to support charges of arson. The faithful gathered together outside the burning cathedral and sang hymns throughout the night – a beautiful example of catholic unity. Paris grieves.
Of course, we do know that Christianity is the bedrock of Western Civilization. This is acknowledged in the very first clause of the preamble of the “Treaty Establishing A Constitution for Europe”, where it states: “DRAWING INSPIRATION from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law”.
You cannot have a Europe without Christianity; such a Europe would be dead and dark inside and consumed by rot. The great poet T.S. Eliot had much and more to say about this: “It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe--until recently--have been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all of our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning...I do not believe that culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian faith. And I am convinced of that, not merely because I am a Christian myself, but as a student of social biology. If Christianity goes, the whole culture goes.”
But why do we mention this? What does any of this have to do with the fire of Notre Dame? Because a burnt-up Notre Dame, with its roof collapsed and nothing remaining but the façade, is a poetic image of a Europe without Christ – and that’s what we’re heading for!
It’s been going on for some time now, this post-Christian Europe, but remarks from a few world leaders really hit the nail on the head. Just look at this tweet from Scotland PM Sturgeon. “This is truly devastating. What a cultural tragedy, not just for Paris and France, but for the world.”
Yes, it’s a “cultural” tragedy. More importantly, it’s a religious tragedy. It’s a Catholic tragedy. Why doesn’t PM Sturgeon mention that? French president Emmanuel Macron mentioned it. He knows what’s up. If you think we are being a bit hard on her, well, we are not. We are sure she meant well but her attempt at being politically correct came across as rather insensitive, especially given that she’s not alone in omitting the Christian aspect of the tragedy, and nor is she the worst at doing so. Just look at what U.S president Trump had to say about the burning of Notre Dame “museum”: “It is one of the great treasures of the world. The greatest artists in the world. Probably, if you think about it, I would say it might be greater than almost any museum in the world and it’s burning very badly. Looks like it’s burning to the ground.”
Trump is commenting on the Notre Dame fire saying it's "something few people have witnessed."
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) April 15, 2019
Trump: "it's one of the great treasures of the world."
"It might be greater than almost any museum in the world....
And it looks like it's burning to the ground."
Also, Minneapolis Representative Ilhan Omar calling it “Art and architecture have a unique ability to help us connect across our differences and bring people together in important ways. Thinking of the people of Paris and praying for every first responder trying to save this wonder.”
Art and architecture have a unique ability to help us connect across our differences and bring people together in important ways. Thinking of the people of Paris and praying for every first responder trying to save this wonder.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) April 15, 2019
No! It’s not art and architecture! Notre Dame is faith, hope, and love. Notre Dame is patience and forbearance and a testament to the ability of human will when moved by divine inspiration. Notre Dame took 182 years to build. Four generations of Man took part in the construction of this testament, all united by a common faith and a common goal – to praise and worship God. The sculptures were meant to tell the biblical story, to relay the gospel to those brethren of ours who could not read. Notre Dame has a deeper meaning than just pretty art and outstanding architecture. Notre Dame is a symbol of our Christendom, of our hope and our faith. It is our cultural heritage, it is Charlemagne and Clovis and Constantine. It is Justinian and Theodosius, Joan d’Arc and Napoleon. It is France, first born daughter of Rome. It is the Church itself. The blood of the martyrs-built Notre Dame just as they built the Hagia Sophia. Notre Dame is more than a pretty building to the West; it is an image of the West itself.
This is not a onetime phenomenon. It’s been happening for years. The Christian West is dying, the church is dwindling. Europe will become like this burnt cathedral, a light that gives no heat. When that happens, we should be very afraid indeed. But all is not lost, and nothing so defaced that it cannot be redeemed. There is yet time to save Europe, and Christianity itself is much more resilient than that. To rebuild the family, to return to godly morals and righteous conduct. To love others and to show mercy, to forgo personal ambition and to work for the good of mankind. Europe was once these things, and yet slowly it is not. But a restoration is not impossible, and redemption not out of reach. The Kingdom of Heaven is here, and it is within us; let us not lose sight of it.