Dear Parish Faithful,
During the homily yesterday, I referred to a remarkable passage out of a remarkable book by the Orthodox philosopher/theologian David Bentley Hart. He was explaining the over-all purpose of his book Atheist Delusions - The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies and in the process produced a powerful paragraph about the revolutionary nature of the Christian Gospel as it pervaded the Graeco-Roman world of the first century A.D. and then beyond. This is what we now refer to as late antiquity.
Living in our own contemporary world, we can be unaware of the radical reassessment of reality offered by the Gospel. All I could do was offer a brief and inadequate summary of Bentley Hart's thesis yesterday. So, I thought to share this part of the book's Introduction with this packed paragraph which, in its own way "speaks volumes."
The Christian “Revolution”
By David Bentley Hart
This book chiefly – or at least centrally – concerns the history of the early church, of roughly the first four centuries, and the story of how Christendom was born out of the culture of late antiquity. My chief ambition in writing is to call attention to the peculiar and radical nature of the new faith in that setting:
how enormous a transformation Christianity constituted in the age of pagan Rome; the liberation it offered from fatalism, cosmic despair, and the terror of occult agencies; the immense dignity it conferred upon the human person; its subversion of the cruelest aspects of pagan society; its (alas, only partial) demystification of political power; its ability to create moral communities where none had existed before; and its elevation of active charity above all other virtues.
Stated in its most elementary and most buoyantly positive form, my argument is, first of all, that among all the many great transitions that have marked the evolution of Western civilization, whether convulsive or gradual, political or philosophical, social or scientific, material or spiritual, there has been only one – the triumph of Christianity – that can be called in the fullest sense a “revolution:” a truly massive and epochal revision of humanity’s prevailing vision of reality, so pervasive in its influence and so vast in its consequences as actually to have created a new conception of the world, of history, of human nature, of time, and of the moral good.
To my mind, I should add, it was an event immeasurably more impressive in its cultural creativity and more ennobling in its moral power than any other movement of spirit, will, imagination, inspiration or accomplishment than any other movement in the history of the West. And I am convinced that, given how radically at variance Christianity was with the culture it slowly and relentlessly displaced, its eventual victory was an event of such implausibility as to strain the very limits of our understanding of historical causality.
Atheist Delusions, p. x-xi