Editor’s note: This is Part I of two parts.
There are two surefire ways to insanity, The Abbott once told me. The first is to contemplate The Infinite always. The second way is to contemplate it never. And these two choices are what most of the world selects. This may account for the fact that most of the world is, generally speaking, absolutely insane. Completely starkers. Just read the papers, if you can stand it.
Now the truth of The Abbott’s words is fairly easy to ascertain. After all, if you try to encompass The Infinite within your finite head, without respite, your head will explode. It can’t hold all that it seeks to apprehend, which is to say, everything. The pressure will become too great to contain. The result is totally predictable. Blam.
On the other hand, if you never allow The Infinite into your skull, it will implode. Why? Because if you reject The Infinite, you’re rejecting everything, obviously. This produces a vacuum. And that will induce the collapse. So what’s the difference between these two choices? Nothing, really.
Do you have to believe this? No. Lots of people reject physics. And meta-physics as well. But this act of rejection doesn’t make the problem go away. All it means is that you will end up choosing what’s behind Door Number Three. And that would be Stuff. Lots of stuff! But not all stuff. Just the stuff that interests you. And that is seemingly enough to keep your head, until you’re dead. And then you’re gone. Gone to where? Well, that’s a good question, my friend.
Well, what does all this have to do with my favorite two places? You know, America and Russia. The Empire and its Great Pretender. Well, it’s simple. I’ve said all of this before. Each of them is trying to accomplish one or the other of these insanity-inducing activities. And unfortunately, they are both quite close to achieving their goals.
America for her part is trying never to contemplate The Infinite, as it slouches towards Gomorrah. She has done this ever since the Empire defeated her Spanish and French competitors in the New World, and then moved the capital here. Oh sure, there’s still a remnant of her civilizational past. But the vast majority of the ‘citizenry’ of The Empire is made up of the descendants of her Deistic, Masonic, Protestant, Dissenting Round-Headed past. And that includes the majority of ‘modern’ Catholics, by the way. Call it what you like, it’s all the same, ultimately. It’s Individualism, in the final analysis. Radical Individualism. And Individualism is the antithesis of The Infinite. One versus All. And the choice America makes on a daily basis, in her effort to stave off the inevitable insanity, is to go for Door Number Three. More Stuff. By any means possible. Sure, we’ll play fair, when it makes sense to do that. But remember, America is Exceptional, so exceptions have to be made, whenever they are necessary. Or convenient. Or simply available.
As for the Russians, they are busy trying to always contemplate The Infinite, as they lurch towards their own abyss. And no, I am not referring to the leaders of Russia. They don’t really believe in The Infinite (just as our leaders don’t). But their people do. At least, the ones who still remember who they are. The ones who remember what ‘Slav’ means. Huh? What’s it really mean? To a Slav? Well, it means ‘Glory’. And ‘Fame’. It also means ‘the Word’. As in, ‘In the beginning was the Word’, perhaps? At least, to a dedicated Orthodox believer. Interesting, no? Quite the self-image, eh Komrade? Actually, that self-image is even bigger than you might think. But we’ll get to that in a bit. But first, let’s ask the obvious question: If either of these two courses will produce the same result (insanity), just what is the proper course between Scylla and Charybdis? How do you navigate this treacherous strait successfully?
The Abbott would tell you to listen to Benedict. You know, the Father of Western Monasticism. And, by extension, the founder of Christian Europe, as we know it. Or rather, as we knew it. Well, it’s gone now, you know. It’s now Eurabia. You know, Mohammed’s summer place. Don’t believe me? Then I dare you to go into the ‘no-go’ zones of Paris, Amsterdam or London. And carry a Christian flag. Let me know where to send the flowers.
Anyway, Benedict is the Patron Saint of Europe. Why? Because he defined Europe. He built Europe. Yes, the Europe all the tourists go to see. The Gothic cathedrals, the walled cities, the incredible castles, the Palace of the Sun King. All of that. And more. His monasteries were the nucleus of the cities that grew up around his monasteries. And these monasteries (and all those that grew up in this image) were, to the terrified travelers of the decaying Empire (circa 500 AD), a safe haven for the night. A way station where a pilgrim could safely lodge, for free if need be, away from the Barbarian hordes that had overrun much of the Imperial domain.
(And, as an aside, I personally know all of this to be true. My son Thor and his band of ruffians and I have spent many a night around the campfire on the perimeter of The Abbey. That’s what Barbarian Auxiliaries do. Auxiliaries? Those are the Barbarians who signed up on the other side. That’s how we earn our keep).
In fact, Benedict and his men are also the founders of the hospitality industry. Not that they actually made any money at it, but that wasn’t their aim. No, their aim was to provide an island of safety, for both travelers and for knowledge. The ancient wisdom. Both pagan (Aristotle) and holy (Scripture). These men made it their job to preserve the past. In order to build for the future. And the way they did this was to be armed and vigilant. The Barbarians figured this out and began to avoid their walled compounds, and the fierce warrior-monks who dwelt within. The terrified citizens of the enfeebled Empire figured it out too. And they flocked to these walls. If you doubt the vastness of this incredible effort by these simple but determined men, read about the Monks of Cluny. Ten thousand men, dedicated to one task. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. This is how the past was saved and the future was built.
The result of the efforts of these determined men was that the populace began to gravitate to these oasis’ of Virtus et honor, as the Emperor would say. And thus began the re-building of The Empire. But not on the Emperor’s terms. But that’s another story. The story here is how these holy men resisted both Goth and Emperor. And the answer is simple. Their playbook was ‘The Rule of Benedict‘. And the heart of The Rule was this: Ora et Labora. Prayer and Work. You’ll notice the duality here. Neither activity is to become predominate. They are both necessary. They are both absolutely vital to a truly human existence. That’s the key to navigating between the Infinite and the Abyss. Ora et Labora. A man cannot spend all of his time trying to encompass The Infinite, nor avoiding it. Rather, he must try and drink in what he can of the cosmic wonder. But he must know his limits. And his basic limit is this: he has to provide for himself. He must eat by the sweat of his brow. There’s no escaping this command, regardless of whether you agree with who gave this decree. And to do it well, the individual must provide for himself in community. Huh? Yes, I know, that sounds paradoxical. But it isn’t, if you understand that man is both social and individual. And ‘The Rule of Benedict’ allows him to express himself in both ways. Thus the balance is achieved.
Now I would add that there is a third and unspoken element of ‘The Rule’. At least when you look at the saying of ‘Ora et Labora‘. It’s already there, but unspoken. But let me speak it; ‘Ora et Labora et Snora‘: Pray, Work and Sleep. Yes, I know, that wasn’t even good Pig Latin on my part. It’s actually Barbarian Latin. But so what? A man’s gotta get some sleep, or else he turns into a zombie. And so now we are back to Russia.
But one last comment before we get there. The Cycle of Man has run its course and begins again. First comes Knowledge, then comes Pride, then the Rot sets in. Starting at the head. That’s where we are today, in the West. The patricians will no longer fight to keep what their forebearers fought for. And so they hire the Auxiliaries. The Barbarians. But some of us don’t want to fight for those Imperial wimps. I can’t stand them. Besides, they never meet payroll on time. Just ask Alaric. We’d rather join with real men. Men who aren’t afraid of the Emperor or the free-range Barbarians. Men who aren’t afraid to fight alongside us Auxiliaries. Men who aren’t afraid to die. And that inevitably leads us back to the campfire on the perimeter of The Abbey. You do realize where we’re at, as a society, don’t you?
Yes, I know, I promised you a story about Russia. We’re getting there. Calm down; have a drink. There’s time. Have some Port. It’s wonderful for the nerves. Seriously. Think about it. What’s the point of time if it’s not spent in wonder? And what helps this along better than a glass of strong wine, my friend? Without wine, why would we pray? What better way to get a glimpse of the world to come? But yes, I know, we must first make our way through this world. And that is hard. So drink up!
And now, let’s take a look at the Great Pretender. Let’s look at Russia, the next contender for the command of the world stage. She will not be denied, believe me. Everyone gets a turn, and she is next. Resist at your own peril. But before you do, you should know who you are up against. For she too has a monastic past. And future. And this is no small part of what is in store for all of us. Let me explain.
Russia, like Europe, was built upon the labor of the monks. The Eastern Orthodox monks. And they too have a glorious history. Deo gratias! And just as the monasteries of the West were eventually ravaged by the ‘Enlightenment’ Revolution and Komrade Bonaparte, so too were the monasteries of Russia ravaged by her rulers. Huh? Do I mean the Bolsheviks? Well, yes, but they came late to the game, actually. The Tsars were the first and foremost tormentors of the Abbeys. And this battle is still being waged. But just as in the West, in spite of all the force the Emperors (and Tsars) could bring against these simple but determined men, the monasteries have survived. And truth be told, there is now an actual re-flowering of these refuges of reason. Both East and West. You won’t see it in the mainstream press, of course, but they are there if you will only look for them.
The same is true in Russia. The monasteries are re-emerging from their underground existence. And once again, they are exerting a strong public influence on the course of that nation. After all, the bishops of Russia come from the Black Clergy (the celibate monks). The parish priests (who are married) are known as the White Clergy. And they are under the thumb of their monastic superiors. And at a great cost, believe me. Because the path of Russia is dictated by the monks. And even Vlad will come to know this truth.
But there is a distinct difference between the Western and the Eastern traditions. And if you want to know why Russia is different, so totally different from the West, you must come to understand this difference in the monastic life of each. And so, here we go Komrade. Have another drink, and then let us begin to explore this (relatively) unknown terrain of the East.