Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Without the dogma, the values wilt

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 28, 2012

The final section of Sigrid Undset’s Stages on the Road (see my review Correcting History Personally: Stages on the Road) is filled with cultural and religious wisdom about marriage. This section is entitled “Reply to a Parish Priest”, and it deals with the question of why, even before her conversion, Undset was known to refer to marriage as a sacrament.

At one point she discusses the decline of marriage (and many other things) in Europe following the loss of Catholic belief, and contrasts this with the conviction, common at least in the days of her youth, that European values were the result of a process of natural evolution, and that the inevitable march of progress would preserve and improve what is good in European culture even if the old dogmas are no longer believed or honored. This belief in progress is still very common now.

But Undset understood that a society without these dogmas is doomed either to drift in a different direction or actually to work against the values the dogmas produced. Here is what she wrote:

And my intention in writing this article is in the first place this—to beg Catholics, here in Scandinavia as elsewhere, to understand that it cannot be otherwise. We must try to make this clear to ourselves—we have no right to assume that any part of European tradition, cultural values, moral ideas, emotional wealth, which has its origin in the dogmatically defined Christianity of the Catholic Church, will continue to live a “natural” life, if the people of Europe reject Christianity and refuse to accept God’s supernatural grace. One might just as well believe that a tree whose roots were severed should continue to bear leaves and blossoms and fruit.
A sentimental clinging to this or that particular section of Christian tradition is of no use. Break off a few sprigs of a felled tree and put them in vases for indoor decoration—and see how long they will keep fresh!

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: koinonia - Sep. 09, 2012 12:19 AM ET USA

    There must be a distinction. It's true that in today's society the Catholic rally cry of "Viva Cristo Rey" might strike most as intolerable and insensitive. Suggesting the rights of Christ and of his Church enjoy priority might seem the same. Preaching the Faith unattenuated? Unworkable. Insisting upon a trinitarian deity- the trinitarian deity? Over the top. Then where are we? Abandon dogma, truth and reality. Enter the realm of pretend and experience the unsettling bliss of apostasy.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Sep. 01, 2012 8:30 AM ET USA

    Nice. Reality necessarily involves the Church's wellspring of divine life and eternal love that is available to her baptized members. The Faith is essential; it is everything. Thus even one "iota" of error can prove intolerable. No matter their sin cerity, those who preach a new religion- a new Superman who has outgrown so-called medieval mysticism and fantasy in an age of empiricism- err as did Pelagius. It is truly the highest form of charity to preach the Faith. "It cannot be otherwise."

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Aug. 28, 2012 5:18 PM ET USA

    "...Do you think that Faith has conquered the World And that lions...?" But that is not how Catholicism is proposed so often in reality. It is RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS that sustains; rules and regulations, without interior relationship, kill. Jesus is not to be loved because he sustains culture, but because He is so worthy of that love.

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Aug. 28, 2012 4:32 PM ET USA

    If what she says is true (which I think it is) what hope is there for a nation like ours that was founded by Protestant heretics and Enlightenment rationalists, two groups of people who never had the full truth about God or man?

  • Posted by: Don Vicente - Aug. 28, 2012 1:15 PM ET USA

    T.S. Eliot put it so well in "Choruses from the Rock": "...Do you think that Faith has conquered the World And that lions no longer need keepers? Do you need to be told that whatever has been, can still be? Do you need to be told that even such modest attainments As you can boast in the way of polite society Will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?..." A good poem worth a careful read.