Core: noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the Latin cor, meaning heart.

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 Volume 1.22 This View’s Prose July 8, 2002 

    The Tradition of the Spiritual Society    

Hence the new civilization which slowly and painfully began to emerge in the early middle ages was in a very special sense a religious creation, for it was based on an ecclesiastical not a political unity. While in the East, the imperial unity was still all inclusive and the Church was essentially the Church of the Empire, in the West it was the Church that was the universal society and the state that was weak, barbarous and divided. The only true citizenship that remained to the common man was his membership of the Church, and it involved a far deeper and wider loyalty than his allegiance to the secular state. It was the fundamental social relation which overrode all distinctions of class and nationality.

The Church was a world in itself, with its own culture, its own organization and its own law. In so far as civilization survived, it was directly dependent on the Church, whether in the great Carolingian monasteries, such as St. Gall or Fulda, which were the chief centres of cultural and economic life, or in the cities which came to depend on the bishops and the ecclesiastical element for their very existence. The state, on the other hand, had become divorced from the city and the civic culture and reverted more and more to the warlike traditions of a barbarous tribal aristocracy. For mediaeval Europe no longer possessed a homogeneous material culture, such as we find, for example, in China or India. It was a loose federation of the most diverse types of race and culture under the hegemony of a common religious and ecclesiastical tradition.

This explains the contradictions and disunity of mediaeval culture — the contrast of its cruelty and its charity, its beauty and squalor, its spiritual vitality and its material barbarism. For the element of higher culture did not spring naturally from the traditions of the social organism itself, but came in from outside as a spiritual power which had to remould and transform the social material in which it attempted to embody itself.

And so in the 11th and 12th centuries, when the social revival of Western Europe began, the new development was inspired by religious motives, and proceeded directly from the tradition of the spiritual society. The struggle of the Investitures and the international supremacy of the reformed Papacy were the visible signs of the victory of the spiritual power over the feudal and barbaric elements in European society. Everywhere men became conscious of their common citizenship in the great spiritual commonwealth of Christendom.

And this spiritual citizenship was the foundation of a new society. As members of the feudal state, men were separated by the countless divisions of allegiance and jurisdiction. They were parcelled out like sheep with the land, on which they lived, among different lordships. But as members of the Church, they met on a common ground. “Before Christ,” writes St. Ivo of Chartres, “there is neither free man nor serf, all who participate in the same sacraments are equal.”


Christopher Dawson (b. 1889)


from Progress and Religion (1938)
quoted in Return to Tradition: A Directive Anthology pp. 316f
ed. Francis Beauchesne Thornton


    The Defense of Liberty    
    What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling seacoasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.
    Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
    from Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, September 11, 1858
Collected Works
Volume III p. 95

 Volume 1.22 This View’s Prose July 8, 2002 

The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”