Go East, Young Man

We shall soon be celebrating the cardinal date of the second Christian millennium, the fall of New Rome, otherwise known as Constantinople in 1453. For a thousand years after the collapse of the Western empire. New Rome had stood, a living museum of Greek culture and Roman law, the last organic link with the origins of our civilization. For centuries—at least since 1204, when Crusaders sacked the city—Constantinople had been a shadow of its former glories, the empire a hollow fiction with boundaries hardly broader than those of the smallest Italian commune. Catholic Europe had learned to deride her rulers as the Emperor of the Greeks, but when Manuel II made his futile trip to Europe in search of Christian help against the Turks, our gaudy barbarian ancestors were struck with the nobility and simplicity of the emperor.

Unlike the empire of the West, whose flame had guttered out in vice and imbecility, the empire of the East went down with all the glory of a sunset. Constantine Paleologus, whom Gibbon describes as the last and best of the Caesars, refused all offers of escape. He preferred to put on the uniform of a common soldier and died fighting with his men in the streets of The City, for in those days it was the city, the symbol of all civilized life, and to this day the infidel conquerors call it Istanbul, garbled Greek for "to the city."

Charles Williams once suggested that the Reformation...

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