At 12:37 on April 15th, 2019, my wife messaged me to ask if I had heard that Notre Dame was on fire. That was the first I had heard.
The fire has since been put out. From what I gather, a priest saved all or most of the relics housed therein. The famous stained glass survived also. Several sundry things most people had no idea were there in the first place – and likely still don’t – we are told these too are still intact.
French authorities and mainstream media outlets have since the outset been emphatically reminding everyone that this was probably an accident. This they tell us despite a string of churches vandalized in France in recent days and weeks, including one other church fire which authorities said was definitely arson.
ISIS has been forced underground by Western military intervention in recent years. Their influence and authority are now relegated to social media, and there they are cheering the collapse of the famous spire of Notre Dame as the retribution of their god against the evil infidels of Europe and Christendom.
Whether ISIS or any other Islamist group was responsible for the fire at Notre Dame is somewhat beside the point. The fact is that they tried and promised to succeed back in 2016. And if the Islamists did not do it, they fervently wish they had, and they cheer at the prospect that this is, as Dennis Prager has eloquently written, an ill-omen for Western civilization.
Modern secular France, simultaneously cowed by its migrant Muslim population and unmanned by socialism and godlessness, grieved the night Notre Dame burned. They are certainly still reeling at the loss, as one headline put it, of “the soul of the French people.”
The Western Soul
But this ancient cathedral that took a century to build and which has stood for a millennium – is this the soul of France? Forgive me, but I think not, though materialistic secular people can be forgiven if they genuinely mistook it for such.
Yet the inheritors of Western society would do well to recognize that how we respond to the destruction of this symbol in the coming days, weeks, months, and years does say something of the condition of our souls.
For instance, a friend of mine texted me a screenshot this week of a local pastor I have had some dealings with chiding Protestant – particularly Reformed and Calvinist Christians – for mourning the loss of Notre Dame. John Calvin allegedly would have celebrated this as the loss of one of “the devil’s castles.” Notre Dame was a Roman Catholic edifice. As such, to him it represents Roman Catholicism first and foremost, and not pure Christianity.
Forgive me, but I find such sentiments short-sighted given the totality of the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Even so, we do well to remember that Jesus once controversially prophesied: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
This is the week of Easter and Passover. This is the week in which some 2,000-years ago Christ Jesus our Lord was arrested, beaten, tried, flogged, and crucified. But Jesus did not stay dead and buried. Just as it was written, the sinless Lamb of God rose again on the third day.
This, first and foremost, needs to be the soul of France and Western Civilization. The importance of Notre Dame itself is nothing by comparison.
The Importance of History
History is very dear to me. It has always been my favorite subject.
In light of the Notre Dame blaze – no pun intended – I just this week added A History of France by John Julius Norwich to my 6-book reading rotation on Audible.
As I mentioned in another recent article I wrote, I am also still working my way through Reformations by Carlos M. N. Eire. This is about the Protestant Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation within the Roman Catholic Church.
On the first day of this month, I finished The Right Side of History, Ben Shapiro’s latest. In that work, Shapiro explains the great heritage which America and Europe have the good fortune and divine blessing of inheriting. “Jerusalem and Athens” gave us Western Civilization, Shapiro says. Consequently, Western Civilization has enjoyed unparalleled prosperity, development, and happiness.
Considering these readings, and what it says about me that I gravitate to such books, it should surprise no one that I am greatly disturbed by both celebration of the destruction of the history of Western Civilization, and also indifference to such destruction.
For this reason I mourn the damage done to Notre Dame, which I along with the part of the world that pays attention immediately suspect was arson.
And if the Notre Dame fire was arson, it represents the success of an attitude hateful and antithetical to the heritage of the Christian West. If symbols of that heritage can be systematically destroyed, those who hate the Christian West hope that their antithetical religion and morality will prevail.
Whatever my convictions as to the doctrinal purity of Roman Catholicism or Medieval piety, they are beside the point. The existential threat to the soul of Western Civilization is not, in my opinion, Roman Catholicism.
Christianity & Western Civilization
Another work in my current reading rotation is Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician, by Anthony Everitt.
Just the other day, I referred to it in answering a question from my children about whether it was illegal for a parent to seriously injure their child. It is illegal, I told them.
But I also explained how I had just this week read in the Cicero book about how in ancient Rome the ‘paterfamilias’ – the head of a Roman family – could legally beat or even put to death anyone in his household, including his wife or children. Today, I explained to them, the laws are quite different.
The question came up because my children, as they were playing at the nearby Veterans Park here in Sidney, Montana one afternoon had seen paramedics take to the hospital a young girl with a serious gash on her head. And they had seen law enforcement arrest the girl’s mother after she tried to escape.
Naturally, this greatly affected my children.
But what was my answer to their concern, their search for answers as to why a mother would do that to her child, or what could be done about it?
“People are and can be wicked and cruel. People need Jesus,” I told them.
It just so happened to be Good Friday, so I explained again how God so loved the world in light of such things as they had witnessed.
How many times has some variation on that conversation played out, from father to sons, in the last two millennia? That is, we should hope, the legacy of Western Civilization.
Of Cathedrals and Temples
Another consequential conversation took place this week, this one on my Facebook page. After sharing that same Dennis Prager article I mentioned above characterizing the Notre Dame fire as an ill-omen for Western Civilization, two friends of mine chimed in.
One of the two is a pastor in nearby Glendive, Montana.
The other has been a pastor, and involved in other ministry, and I met him working in the oil and gas industry.
Both men are half-again my age. And I respect and admire their spiritual maturity and counsel. Both were attempting, I think, to temper the expressions of sadness about Notre Dame with important reminders.
Considering the matter in a strictly spiritual sense, we agreed in our reservations about Notre Dame, as well as the larger Roman Catholic church. By the grace of God, we are Protestant Christians.
In a strictly spiritual sense, I agreed with them. Notre Dame was not a temple in which God at any point resided exclusively, or even predominantly.
On the contrary, we know from the Apostle Paul’s writings in the New Testament that we as Christians are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
It occurs to me that Christians are routinely attacked and murdered individually and in groups around the world.
Just this morning – Easter morning – as I turned on my computer, notifications popped up announcing a rising death toll of hundreds of Christians targeted by bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.
To such stories as that, the world will barely bat an eye before going back to what it was doing.
But here is the point. If the body of a Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit, then the martyrdom of a single Christian is clearly of far greater consequence than the fire in Notre Dame.
The Resurrection of the Dead
The Apostle Paul writes in another place.
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Again, I would direct your attention back to what Jesus said.
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
And he did! Christ Jesus is not dead and buried in a Judean tomb, but is seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, just as it was written.
What is more, we Christians have the remarkable promise of life everlasting by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
It is worth noting also that whatever damage can be done to cathedrals – even the most majestic and impressive Notre Dame – all the power of the Enemy to destroy is impotent to prevent God from fulfilling His promise of eternal life to the Christian
And if all the blood of the martyrs has not snuffed out the Christian faith, or prevented God from growing His church wherever it pleases Him to call men to Himself, what can even the most devastating fire burning away stones and timber do?
He is risen indeed.