Sheer Christianity

For a long time after "modern" first came into the language, it was an innocuous little word, the simple opposite of "ancient," and insofar as it had connotations, they were not very good ones. Shakespeare always used it to mean "commonplace," with strong suggestions of the slipshod and the second-rate.

The Enlightenment and the French Revolution changed that. The elite spirits of Europe, convinced they were living under what George Bush would call a "new order," consigned most things ancient to oblivion, and decided that being modem was a necessity. One result was that every institution that traced its origins to the distant past or that lived by tradition found itself in serious philosophical trouble. And of course the Catholic Church, besieged by liberals, socialists, evolutionists, higher critics, and Hegelians, was one of them. The Church's tussle with the new order produced the "modernist crisis" of 1902-1907, which ended (for the time being) with the condemnation of modernism as a synthesis of the heresies and the imposition of an antimodernist oath. Chesterton and the Modernist Crisis consists of nine essays placing Chesterton in relation to those events, and offering some comment on the crisis and on some of the actors in it. The book originated in 1989 as an issue of the Chesterton Review.

The essays are a varied group. For collectors of ecclesiastical...

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