Guardini: The Dissolution of the Modern World

10-23-2022Weekly Reflection

One of the thinkers who had great influence on Pope Benedict XVI was Fr. Romano Guardini. Below is an excerpt about the challenges we face as Christians in this post-modern world.

From Fr. Romano Guardini’s The End of the Modern World, “The Dissolution of the Modern World”:

The Faith of Christian men will need to take on a new decisiveness. It must strip itself of all secularism, all analogies with the secular world, all flabbiness and eclectic mixtures. Here, it seems to me, we have solid reasons for confidence. The Christian has always found it difficult to come to an understanding of modern attitudes, but we touch an issue here which needs more exact consideration.

We do not mean that the Middle Ages was an historic epoch fully Christian in nature, nor do we mean that the modern world was an age fully un-Christian. Such assertions would resemble those of Romanticism, which have caused enough confusion. The Middle Ages were carried forward by forms of sensibility, thought and action which were basically neutral to the question of Faith, insofar as one can say such a thing at all. Similarly the modern world was carried by neutral forms. Within the modern era Western man created as his own an attitude of individual independence, yet that attitude said nothing about either the moral or the religious use which he made of his independence.

To be a Christian, however, demands an attitude toward Revelation: this demand can be found in every era of Western history. As far as this Christian attitude was concerned, Revelation remained equally near and equally distant for each epoch. Thus the Middle Ages contained its share of unbelief in every stage of decision: similarly the modern world demonstrated its share of full Christian affirmation. The modern Christian differed in character from his medieval ancestor, since he was forced to incarnate his faith within an historic situation which espoused individual independence, but he often succeeded as well as did the man of the Middle Ages. Indeed, the modern Christian faced obstacles which made it difficult for him to accept his age in the simple way that the medieval Christian would accept his. The memory of the revolt made against God by the modern world was too vividly impressed on the modern Christian. He was too aware of the manner in which his age had forced all cultural values to contradict his Faith. He knew too well the dubious and inferior position into which the world had forced that Faith. Besides these indignities there remained that modern dishonesty of which we have spoken, that hypocrisy which denied Christian doctrine and a Christian order of life even as it usurped its human and cultural effects. This dishonesty made the Christian feel insecure in his relation to the modern age. Everywhere within the modern world he found ideas and values whose Christian origin was clear, but which were declared the common property of all. How could he trust a situation like that? But the new age will do away with these ambivalences; the new age will declare that the secularized facets of Christianity are sentimentalities. This declaration will clear the air. The world to come will be filled with animosity and danger, but it will be a world open and clean. This danger within the new world will also have its cleansing effect upon the new Christian attitude, which in a special way must possess both trust and courage.

The character and the conduct of coming Christian life will reveal itself especially through its old dogmatic roots. Christianity will once again need to prove itself deliberately as a faith which is not self-evident; it will be forced to distinguish itself more sharply from a dominantly non-Christian ethos...The absolute experiencing of dogma will, I believe, make men feel more sharply the direction of life and the meaning of existence itself. The Old Testament will take on a new significance. Trust and courage will totally form the character of the last age. The surrounding “Christian” culture and the traditions supported by it will lose their effectiveness. Loneliness in faith will be terrible. The more precious will that love be which flows from one lonely person to another, involving a courage of the heart born from the immediacy of the love of God as it was made known in Christ...Perhaps love will achieve an intimacy and harmony never known to this day. No man has the right to say that the End is here...If we speak...of the nearness of the End, we do not mean nearness in the sense of time, but nearness as it pertains to the essence of the End, for in essence man's existence is now nearing an absolute decision. Each and every consequence of the decision bears within it the greatest potentiality and the most extreme danger.