Suppose there existed in your family an inheritance of treasured possessions which defined who you were, celebrated what you stood for, featured the many and varied gifts and talents of your forebears, and was the envy of every other family. How would you try to protect that? Would you, for example, entrust that heritage to people who had but little regard for the integrity and beliefs of your family, who downplayed the signficance of your family's contribution to culture and society, and who actively sought to identify your inheritance as really just an aspect of their own?
Yeah, I don't think so. But this is precisely what we in the Christian community are allowing to happen with the prized treasures of the Christian cultural heritage. So little do we know about and regard the cultural achievements of our forebears, that we don't seem to mind when those who despise the Gospel acquire - or steal - the greatest artifacts of Christian history and put them to their own uses in a manner completely contrary to the intentions and practices of Christians who made these things for the glory of God.
I'm not just speaking about the obvious: the way, for example, Chrysostom's great cathedral in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) - Hagia Sophia - was seized by Muslims and converted to a mosque, which it remains to this day. Or how, for years, many of the oldest and most important original language manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments were held in trust by Marxists. Or that Cal Berkeley was originally intended to be a Christian university. I'm thinking rather more practically along two lines.
First, because of our indifference and willful ignorance, we are hardly aware of the great cultural achievements of our Christian forebears (many of you may still be asking, "What is he talking about?"). This simply means that great works of art and literature, sculpture and architecture, scientific, technical, educational, and political advance - created by Christians to bring glory to God and benefit to men - are now in the hands of secular and unbelieving trustees who define and employ them for their own purposes, and we don't even know what or where they are.
Second, and again because of our indifference, we allow, without protest or objection, museums, academics, publishing houses, politicians, and others to take the cultural achievements of our forebears and, like the Muslims of Istanbul, attach their own definitions to them, so that they use the very things our forebears created in order to honor God as handy ways of denying Him. Not long ago a Baltimore art museum put on display certain of its Medieval illuminated manuscripts, carefully captioning many of them in a way designed to minimize or even reinterpret the faith motivation of those who made them. The Christians in Baltimore simply ignored it.
Is this a big deal? Well, it is to me. Can we do anything about it? Perhaps.
At the very least, we can become more familiar with our heritage - with what is ours if only by identity because of our common faith with those who made them - so that we can identify, celebrate, and preserve this inheritance, and show it to our children, before those who hold it in trust boil all the glory out for their own pecuniary ends.
And then we can encourage and support those, in every field of endeavor, who are seeking to continue and develop that cultural heritage, so that it doesn't grind to a halt with our generation.
Maybe we just don't care. But one day we will be united forever with the people who, at great expense of prayer and strength, made these things. And were it not for the fact that in the new heavens and new earth there will be no more sorrow and no more tears, I daresay we should spend eternity with those folks in a perpetual state of embarrassment, if not shame.
T. M. Moore
Held in Trust?
- T.M. Moore
- July 19, 2010
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore