A Tale of Two Churches

I just finished an audio “course”, Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon, from The Great Courses. US HERE – UK HERE

There were some great insights in the 48 lectures. Among them, there was grist for the mental mill about the role of hunger, the role of women, the roll of the mob in revolution.

I have now turned to an audio version of Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities read by the great Simon Vance (US HERE – UK HERE), who did all the amazing Aubrey/Maturin series.    You might recall that this is the book in which one reads of the tricoteuse Madame Defarge.

I was struck by the force of Dickens’ description in one particular, though this same claim might be made again and again throughout his works.  In this moment, a cask of wine has fallen and broken on the street of a neighborhood near to the Bastille….

The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine, in Paris, where it was spilled. It had stained many hands, too, and many faces, and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes. The hands of the man who sawed the wood, left red marks on the billets; and the forehead of the woman who nursed her baby, was stained with the stain of the old rag she wound about her head again. Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth; and one tall joker so besmirched, his head more out of a long squalid bag of a nightcap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine-lees—BLOOD.

The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there.

And now that the cloud settled on Saint Antoine, which a momentary gleam had driven from his sacred countenance, the darkness of it was heavy—cold, dirt, sickness, ignorance, and want, were the lords in waiting on the saintly presence—nobles of great power all of them; but, most especially the last. Samples of a people that had undergone a terrible grinding and regrinding in the mill, and certainly not in the fabulous mill which ground old people young, shivered at every corner, passed in and out at every doorway, looked from every window, fluttered in every vestige of a garment that the wind shook. The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sigh, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and stared up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat. Hunger was the inscription on the baker’s shelves, written in every small loaf of his scanty stock of bad bread; at the sausage-shop, in every dead-dog preparation that was offered for sale. Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.

Its abiding place was in all things fitted to it. A narrow winding street, full of offence and stench, with other narrow winding streets diverging, all peopled by rags and nightcaps, and all smelling of rags and nightcaps, and all visible things with a brooding look upon them that looked ill. In the hunted air of the people there was yet some wild-beast thought of the possibility of turning at bay. Depressed and slinking though they were, eyes of fire were not wanting among them; nor compressed lips, white with what they suppressed; nor foreheads knitted into the likeness of the gallows-rope they mused about enduring, or inflicting. The trade signs (and they were almost as many as the shops) were, all, grim illustrations of Want. The butcher and the porkman painted up, only the leanest scrags of meat; the baker, the coarsest of meagre loaves. The people rudely pictured as drinking in the wine-shops, croaked over their scanty measures of thin wine and beer, and were gloweringly confidential together. Nothing was represented in a flourishing condition, save tools and weapons; but, the cutler’s knives and axes were sharp and bright, the smith’s hammers were heavy, and the gunmaker’s stock was murderous. The crippling stones of the pavement, with their many little reservoirs of mud and water, had no footways, but broke off abruptly at the doors. The kennel, to make amends, ran down the middle of the street—when it ran at all: which was only after heavy rains, and then it ran, by many eccentric fits, into the houses. Across the streets, at wide intervals, one clumsy lamp was slung by a rope and pulley; at night, when the lamplighter had let these down, and lighted, and hoisted them again, a feeble grove of dim wicks swung in a sickly manner overhead, as if they were at sea. Indeed they were at sea, and the ship and crew were in peril of tempest.

It is a good thing to read and think about history.

I have a strong sense that I belong to a different Church than many of my… co-religionists?

I wonder if there are any parallels for the Church today.

A demoralized faithful who hunger for sound doctrine and good pastoral direction?
Womanish men who drive and drive for changes even with violent means?
Rushing and grasping after innovations to address our problems?



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. WVC says:

    When I was a kid I used to marvel at how dumb the Israelites must have been. Here is God, in all His power, leading them out of Egypt, but no, they turn their back on Him to worship a golden calf, or a carved idol, or you-name-it. How could anyone be so stupid? God says, “I put before you the choice of life and death.” How would anyone be dumb enough to choose “death”? And for any of the Levites, or Aaron, even, to participate in leading the Israelites away from the God whom they serve as priests? Could anyone possibly be that short-sighted and ignorant?

    I don’t ask those questions anymore. And I often go back to my Flannery O’Connor to remember how God’s Grace can reach thick-headed and hard-hearted peoples in very Old Testament ways even in these modern times. And while it’s not pleasant, sometimes it’s the only remedy that will work.

    All Hands onboard the Barque of Peter – Stand By for Heavy Rolls as the Ship Comes About.

  2. Kathleen10 says:

    And I try to be mindful that as bad as it is for us, it’s far worse for faithful priests and religious. We didn’t know before how tradition-minded priests are targeted, and now we know.
    I sense a new, more brazen attitude in these men. Not only did we see the disturbing and blatant image on the Quest Conference header, with the flirtatious boy and man’s hand heading toward each other, which can only be described as nauseatingly obvious, frighteningly so, but apparently just a few weeks ago Fr. Rosica said of Pope Francis he is beyond any disordered attachment to tradition and scripture, and that the church has entered a new phase, which apparently leaves tradition and scripture behind (Rorate Caeli). Stunning in it’s in your face attitude, is it not? A priest stating a pope has moved past scripture and tradition. No apologies here. These men seem annoyed that they are being criticized in their sodomy and pederasty. How dare we question them! How dare we criticize them! I guess all these anti-pederasty comments are hitting home, and darn it, they’ll show us. Double down on even more aggravating statements. Poke that bear! Yank the chain! We are going to see an uptick, not a decrease. Satan does not like to be told. We can only imagine what that man is going to unleash in Pagan Ireland.

  3. LeeGilbert says:

    Well, as a non liturgist who may be talking through his hat, it has always seemed to me that it is vain to speak of two forms of the same rite. The EF and the OF are two rites, and two churches are coalescing around them. Am I wrong?

  4. Traductora says:

    Great quote from Dickens, from one of the most ominous and prescient books I have ever read. Probably his most brilliantly written too.

    That said, I too feel that there will be some parting of the ways soon, but I wasn’t sure how until I read the quote from Fr. Rosica which was posted on Rorate and to which a poster above refers us. Basically, Rosica, a big gay advocate, said that the Church is entirely different now, because there is now one person in charge and he makes the decisions and sets the policy, so now Scripture or “tradition and Scripture” are no longer the bases. Rosica only says what his master approves, so I’d say we’ve just had the definition of the New Church.

  5. Legisperitus says:

    The course sounds interesting. Several years ago I read “Citizens,” Simon Schama’s account of the French Revolution, and there were some great insights there. For example, he explained how the destruction of the upper classes was not something the peasants wanted, but something driven by the ambitious bourgeoisie with the useful-idiot cooperation of the nobles themselves. The peasants had wanted the King to step in and restrain the bourgeoisie, who had created extreme poverty by depriving the poor of their traditional rights such as common land. So much of the history we think we know is myth.

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