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

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 Volume 1.23 This View’s Prose July 15, 2002 

    A Vast International Unity    

And, in fact, a new democratic spirit of brotherhood and social co-operation begins to make itself felt in Europe at this epoch. In every walk of life men leagued themselves together in voluntary associations for social objects under religious auspices. The main types of association were three in number: the sworn “peace” for the enforcement of the Truce of God and the suppression of brigandage; the fellowship of the road, which pilgrims or merchants entered into for mutual protection; and the confraternity or “Charite,” a local union for charitable or social objects under the patronage of some popular saint.

From these origins there sprang the great movement of communal activity which transformed the social life of mediaeval Europe. It was no longer based exclusively on military service and feudal subordination. It was a vast complex of social organisms, a federation of corporate bodies, each of which possessed an independent activity, and made its own contribution to the common weal. The national kingdom itself was conceived as a federation of different orders, each with its own social function — the Estates of the Realm.

And the same tendency is equally active in the ecclesiastical sphere. The socialization of monasticism in the service of the universal Church which had been begun by the Benedictines was carried still further in the new period. The reform of the Church in the 11th century was to a great extent a monastic movement, in which, for the first time, the monks were impelled by the force of their own ideals to leave the peace of the cloister and to throw themselves into a semi-political struggle. And in the following century the life of St. Bernard shows how the strictest ideals of monastic asceticism were not inconsistent with a social activity which embraced every aspect of the international life of Christendom.

Henceforward the monastery is no longer a self-contained society with no relations to the outer world. It forms part of a wider unity, the Order, which in turn is an organ of the universal Church. And the new ideal finds a still more complete expression in the mendicant orders which arose in the 13th century, such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Here the ideal of service entirely replaces the old aim of retirement from the world. The friars are no longer bound to the rigid uniformity of cloistered life: they are free to go anywhere and do anything which the needs of the Church require. They answer to the needs of the new civic life, with its communal activity, as the fixed territorial abbey did to those of the old feudal agrarian state.

Thus by the 13th century Christendom had organized itself as a vast international unity founded on an ecclesiastical rather than a political basis. This unity, moreover, was not confined to purely religious matters, it embraced the whole of social life. All education and literary culture, all art, all matters of social welfare, such as the relief of the poor and the care of the sick, fell within the Church’s sphere of influence. It even exercised a direct influence on war and politics, since the Papacy was the supreme arbiter in any question in which the interests of religion or justice were at state, and since it could launch the armies of Christendom in a crusade against the enemies of the faith or those who disregarded the rights of the Church.

It might seem as though Europe was destined to become a theocratic Church-state, after the manner of Islam, with the Pope as the Commander of the Faithful. And, indeed, there was a real danger that as the Church succeeded in dominating the state, it would itself be secularized by the growth of wealth and political power, until it became a legal rather than a spiritual organization. This danger was, however, counteracted by the spiritual revival which accompanied the social and intellectual renaissance of the 12th century. The dynamic moral energy of the Augustinian tradition continued to characterize Western Catholicism, and found expression in a new and more personal type of piety.

The humanity of Christ became the centre of the religious life in a sense in which it had never been before. In place of the severe figure of the Byzantine Christ, throned in awful majesty as ruler and judge of men, there appears the figure of the Saviour in His human weakness and passibility. This attempt to enter into a close personal relationship with the Divine Humanity gives birth to a kind of religious realism which is very different from the abstract theological piety of the patristic and Byzantine types.

We see this already in the writings of St. Bernard, but it is in the life and teaching of St. Francis that the new spirit finds its fullest development. The ideal of St. Francis is to relive the life of Christ in the experience of daily life. There is no longer any separation between faith and life, or between the spiritual and the material, since the two worlds have become fused together in the living reality of practical experience. And so, too, the asceticism of St. Francis no longer involves the rejection of the natural world and the turning away of the mind from the created to the Absolute. The rule of Poverty is a means of liberation, not a movement of negation. It brings man back to the fellowship of God’s creation which had been lost or vitiated by self-will. The powers of nature which had been first divinized and worshipped, and then in turn rejected by man as he realized the transcendence of the spiritual, are now brought back into the world of religion, and in his great canticle of the sun, St. Francis once more celebrates the praises of Mother Earth, the bearer of fruit, who keeps and sustains us, Brother Fire, who is “fair and joyous and mighty and strong,” and all the other holy creatures of God.

Thus the Franciscan attitude to nature and human life marks a turning point in the religious history of the West. It is the end of the long period during which human nature and the present world had been dwarfed and immobilized by the shadow of eternity, and the beginning of a new epoch of humanism and interest in nature. As Karl Burdach has shown, its importance is not limited to the religious field, but it has a wider significance for the whole development of European culture. Its influence is to be seen both in the new art of the 13th and 14th century Italy, which already contains the germs of the Renaissance, and in the social movements of the 14th century, in which for the first time the poorest and most oppressed elements of mediaeval society asserted their claims to justice.


Christopher Dawson (b. 1889)


from Progress and Religion (1938)
quoted in Return to Tradition: A Directive Anthology pp. 317ff
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 1.23 This View’s Prose July 15, 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”