T.S. Eliot On The Benedict Option
— Brian Miller (@BrianKenMiller) July 18, 2014
I asked, the other day, “What would T.S. Eliot think of the Benedict Option?” One reader answered by tweeting the photo above. Another reader responds here, quoting Eliot’s “Thoughts After Lambeth”:
“The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.”
I subsequently found Brad Birzer had posted 2/3 of Eliot’s essay in reaction to the 1930 Lambeth conference of the Anglican Church. More good Benedict Option stuff from Eliot:
One of the most deadening influences upon the Church in the past, ever since the eighteenth century, was its acceptance, by the upper, upper middle and aspiring classes, as a political necessity and as a requirement of respectability. There are signs that the situation today is quite different. When, for instance, I brought out a small book of essays, several years ago, called For Lancelot Andrewes the anonymous reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement made it the occasion for what I can only describe as a flattering obituary notice. In words of great seriousness and manifest sincerity, he pointed out that I had suddenly arrested my progress—whither he had supposed me to be moving I do not know—and that to his distress I was unmistakably making off in the wrong direction. Somehow I had failed, and had admitted my failure; if not a lost leader, at least a lost sheep; what is more, I was a kind of traitor; and those who were to find their way to the promised land beyond the waste, might drop a tear at my absence from the roll-call of the new saints. I suppose that the curiosity of this point of view will be apparent to only a few people. But its appearance in what is not only the best but the most respected and most respectable of our literary periodicals, came home to me as a hopeful sign of the times. For it meant that the orthodox faith of England is at last relieved from its burden of respectability. A new respectability has arisen to assume the burden; and those who would once have been considered intellectual vagrants are now pious pilgrims, cheerfully plodding the road from nowhere to nowhere, trolling their hymns, satisfied so long as they may be “on the march.”
Even, however, in the section on Youth, we may find some wise and true sayings, if we have the patience to look for them. “The best of the younger generation in every section of the community,” we are told, “and in every country of the world, are not seeking a religion that is watered down or robbed of the severity of its demands, but a religion that will not only give them a sure basis and an ultimate sanction for morals, but also a power to persevere in reaching out after the ideal which in their heart of hearts they recognize as the finest and best.” I wish that this might have been said in fewer words, but the meaning is sound, and cannot be repeated too often. There is no good in making Christianity easy and pleasant; “Youth,” or the better part of it, is more likely to come to a difficult religion than to an easy one. For some, the intellectual way of approach must be emphasized; there is need of a more intellectual laity. For them and for others, the way of discipline and asceticism must be emphasized; for even the humblest Christian layman can and must live what, in the modern world is comparatively an ascetic life. Discipline of the emotions is even rarer, and in the modern world still more difficult, than discipline of the mind; some eminent lay preachers of “discipline” are men who know only the latter. Thought, study, mortification, sacrifice: it is such notions as these that should be impressed upon the young—who differ from the young of other times merely in having a different middle-aged generation behind them. You will never attract the young by making Christianity easy; but a good many can be attracted by finding it difficult: difficult both to the disorderly mind and to the unruly passions.
To be a faithful Christian in the near future and beyond will mean being an outcast from respectable society, and maybe even an enemy of the state. Eliot raises the possibility that that may be good news.