We Weren’t Born Yesterday, and Neither Were Our Vices

Over at the Rad Trad*, I read the following quotation from a Fr. Butler (presumably deceased — RIP). He was complaining about modern customs that leave many people too psychologically damaged for the monastic life:

“Opposed to the supernatural values of poverty, virginity and obedience in religious life, are the modern tendencies towards material acquisitions, sexual promiscuity, and the revolt against authority. This is the Age of Selfishness. Artificiality of custom and pettiness of concern cramp the natural generosity of youth.”

I get so sick and tired of reading things like this. When in history has anyone ever written, “People nowadays are all so normal, well-adjusted, chaste, happy in poverty, and obedient to superiors. What an age to be alive!” When? Seems like everyone observes the sins known from the Fall onward and opines that it must not have been that way before. The medieval aristocracy strikes me as a class naturally prone to “material acquisitions, sexual promiscuity, and the revolt against authority.” Oh, and dueling over slights to honor, and blood-feuds, and dynastic wars fought over hereditary claims to rule countries they might never have visited before. And yet some will tell you that that was the heyday of monasticism.


2 thoughts on “We Weren’t Born Yesterday, and Neither Were Our Vices

  1. TimFinnegan left a comment over at Zippy’s touching on this (https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/where-the-modern-sexual-freak-show-comes-from/#comment-41255): “One more thing: I think this progression might might go one step further back. Could it be that this all began with designing societies around disobedience (liberalism)? The 3 evangelical counsels, that is the way of Christian Perfection are obedience, poverty, and chastity. So the most unchristian society is that which is disobedient, materialistic, and unchaste. I’d say we’ve reached that state in a very special way. But i think it might be the case that the popularization of anti-authoritarianism preceded and made way for the greed (in the form of usury) which followed it. Just a passing thought, haven’t fully worked it out.”

    He expands a little on it over on his blog. And I think the pattern holds to at least cursory examination. First came, in Protestantism, that rejection of authority which would develop into liberalism; this is not to say that no one ever rebelled before, but it was the beginning of a strain of thought not merely particular authorities, but authority, or at least human authority, as such. Then came the widespread practice of usury; not that it was not present in Medieval society (Jews, Lombards, etc.), but it was not excused, and was widely held in contempt, not to mention opposed and limited by the Church, whereas now it is all but forgotten. As regards sexual deviancy and promiscuity, the increase in both practice and societal celebration is blindingly obvious, even just within the past few decades.

    Also, the Middle Ages certainly had their problems, but “heyday of monasticism” is probably a fair descriptor. Heyday is a pretty subjective term, after all, and, as Duffy notes in Stripping of the Altars, monastic life was widely viewed as the ideal, however imperfectly it may have been approached, or often it may have been corrupted. If there’s a time or place where monasteries were more influential or ubiquitous, I’d like to hear about it.

    Nothing precludes an age, a culture, or a nation from being much worse than another, anymore than anything precludes a man being much worse than another. A possible helpful analogy: Saints have faults, frequently very many; further, the saints were different people from us, in different contexts, so we shouldn’t simply copy-paste their actions to our own lives. Yet it is right and proper for them to be venerated and imitated. I’m not saying the Middle Ages should be venerated, or that they didn’t have vices which we lack, and I wouldn’t put much stock in “the natural generosity of youth,” but I think it clear that it was, taken as a whole, a much morally and philosophically healthier age (note the comparative; healthiER, I will not venture healthy), and, well, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.


    • “Also, the Middle Ages certainly had their problems, but ‘heyday of monasticism’ is probably a fair descriptor.”

      My point wasn’t to deny that it was the heyday of monasticism. My point was that it was the heyday of monasticism despite the fact that the world was still the world.

      “I think it clear that it was, taken as a whole, a much morally and philosophically healthier age”

      Going from what my mentor Vin Lewis says, we should judge an age by how many souls from that era make it to Heaven. We don’t know that for any age. So until the Final Judgment, we cannot judge by the true criterion.

      On the one hand, the Middle Ages represents the time when the formal aspects of European culture—the accepted social norms—most closely conformed to Catholicism. I don’t think there were any open atheists, for example. Believe me, I want this. But it is quite possible for accepted social norms to be 1.) violated in practice, and 2.) violated in one’s own heart.

      Consider the truce of God. This is often held up as a triumph of the Church’s influence on society. On the one hand, it shows the Church’s influence. On the other hand, it shows the genuine violent maelstrom in which the Church was operating. With the exceptions of abortion and euthanasia (and let’s be honest, we don’t know how much abortion went on in the Middle Ages), Western man is *less* personally violent today than he was in the Middle Ages. That, at least, is what sociological studies seem to indicate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_and_Truce_of_God


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