Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris was built out of stone and wood and glass without electricity or computers. It was not built by committee, or consultants or according to state regulations. It was built by a culture superior to our own. And we know it.
Perhaps not everyone who has ever stood in awe of Notre Dame knows why it attracts them. Not everyone who watched an entire forest of oak as old as Charlemagne collapse in flames knows why its destruction made them tremble. But tremble they did.
As the spire cracked and buckled, millions of us felt civilization trembling. But trembling at what? At the loss of God? At the sudden recognition that, for all our progressive confidence, deep down everyone knows that Western civilization lacks the philosophical and religious principles that once made such a structure possible in the first place?
We tremble because we know that the world has been drawing down a Christian inheritance for centuries, drawing down the cultural wealth of the Faith into rampant prodigal decadence.
The proximate cause of the fire is not yet known, but the symbolic cause is hundreds of years in the making. Hillaire Belloc once famously wrote “Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish.” It seems that we have finally arrived at the central sacrament of such a choice.
Emmanuel Macron wants to rebuild, and I hope the whole world helps “the eldest daughter of the Church” restore one of her greatest treasures. Yet the greatest treasure is not the Cathedral itself, but the Faith that built it — it is the Faith that makes the Cathedral, and that causes us to wonder, and worship God.
The kind of people who could rebuild Notre Dame de Paris are also the kind of people who could rebuild civilization out of the cruciform embers and ashes of our cultural ruin. If France can recover the Faith, they can rebuild the Cathedral. But it is only by God’s grace, the relic of the Crown of Thorns, and several very great miracles, that France may return to the Faith, and the cult which truly cultivates the culture worth rebuilding. What should make us tremble is that to truly rebuild Notre Dame will require becoming the kind of people who built her in the first place.
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