Thursday, April 29, 2010

Manliness in the West

Peter Augustine Lawler wrote the introduction to the ISI edition of The American Republic, originally written by Orestes A. Brownson.

In the introduction,he refers to Rousseau, an eighteenth-century philosopher, who complained of a shortage of manly virtues in Europe. What was just beginning to appear on the surface in the Colonial era is now a genuine crisis within Christianity and Western Civilization. Love and virtue has come to be solely identified with kindness, acquiescence and being nice. But no such support of this notion is to be found in the pages of the New Testament, the lives of the Saints or in the earlier periods of Western Civilization.

Lawler writes: "[W]hat we have come to call virtue is really just politeness, or aversion to argument, battle, and candor. Because we are too fearful to fight or even quarrel over the truth, we are short on real men;'characters have been enfeebled and debased,and we find no longer the marked individuality, the personal energy, the manliness, the force, the nobility of thought and purpose, and the high sense of honor, so common in the medieval world, and the better periods of antiquity.'"

There is no shortage of masculine virtues in the New Testament. Below are just a few examples of what was commonplace:

-"From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force." (Matthew 11:12)

-"Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil." (Ephesians 6:11)

-"If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna." (Matthew 5:29-30)

Giving it all, an aggressive and firm response to evil and a magnanimous spirit under God's inspiration, are just a few of the expressions which characterized the Christians of the early Church. These men and women possessed a martyrdom-like conviction. As such, when it served their purposes, they instructed and preached the Faith using stout-hearted language. Not only in the early Church was this imagery and vocabulary part of the Catholic Church's lexicon, but this manner of speaking continued well into the twentieth-century. Indeed, these expressions were used by Popes, Bishops, Priests and laity just a few decades ago.

Unfortunately, the biblically inspired, masculinized language used throughout the centuries has fallen into disuse by Catholics and Americans alike. Saintly heroism is only inspired by heroic ideals and a language friendly to masculine virtues. Perhaps, once again, we should learn how to speak the language of our forefathers; then manliness, heroism and even saintliness can once again be a legacy of the West.