Vital Signs

Revisiting Brideshead

It seems to me that in the present phase of European history the essential issue is no longer between Catholicism, on one side, and Protestantism, on the other, but between Christianity and Chaos. . . .

Today we can see it on all sides as the active negation of all that western culture has stood for.  Civilization—and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe—has not in itself the power of survival.  It came into being through Christianity, and without it has no significance or power to command allegiance.  The loss of faith in Christianity and the consequential lack of confidence in moral and social standards have become embodied in the ideal of a materialistic, mechanized state. . . . It is no longer possible . . . to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it rests.

These fighting words, written by the novelist Evelyn Waugh in an article entitled “Converted to Rome: Why It Has Happened to Me,” were published in October 1930 in Britain’s Daily Express.  Waugh’s full-page banner-headlined article followed two leading articles in the Express discussing the significance of his recent reception into the Catholic Church.  On the day after the publication of Waugh’s...

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