Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
A Monument Raised from a Ruin,
an Institution from a Custom
"Catolicismo", N. 151 - July 1963 (*)
Gothic Cathedral of Burgos, in Old Castile
* * *
With their elevated topics, forceful thought and distinguished language, the great debates so characteristic of the nineteenth century usually retained something of the nobility of European society before the Revolution. Thus, they contrast with our century where man conforms to everything provided it has no economic interest and where today's rare elevated debates do not interest a public hypnotized by movies and sports.
Today we bring an echo of those high, fulgent intellectual tournaments to the attention of our readers.
Albert de Broglie, a liberal Catholic, published an article in the Revue des Deux Mondes (11/1/1852) claiming that the enthusiasm for the Middle Ages of certain Catholic writers was excessive.
One of the targeted personalities, the celebrated Spanish thinker Donoso Cortés, Marquis of Valdegamas, wrote a reply to de Broglie. Although the author never sent it to the Revue des Deux Mondes, it was later published in his complete works (Obras Completas de D. Juan Donoso Cortés, BAC, Madrid, 2:630).
The text printed above, an excerpt from that reply, is a brief and brilliant analysis of the history of the Middle Ages from the theological point of view. It illustrates the elevated tone of the debate and, at the same time, makes a definitive reply to liberals who are disturbed at finding so much enthusiasm for that period of history among Catholics.
With masterly precision, he shows the difference between what was barbaric, weak and chaotic in that period and the order, strength and triumphal progress of Christian civilization. Thus, Donoso Cortés annihilates the accusation that so many Catholics-in his time and today- admire those centuries of Faith with neither discernment nor restrictions. At the same time, he focuses with admirable clarity on what in the Middle Ages deserves unrestricted enthusiasm: the vivifying and ordering action of the Church, the life and order she gave to institutions, laws and customs.
The Gothic style was born of a society that had been made from the decaying ruins of the Roman world mixed with elements of barbarianism and swept by furious tempests.
But through the work of the Church, which knew how to raise "a monument from a ruin, an institution from a custom, a principle from an event, a law from an experience; to say it in a word, order from chaos, harmony from confusion," this admirable style was born from this regenerated decay and barbarianism. This style, more than any other, is able to express the gravity, strength and nobility of the Christian soul.
The picture shows the cathedral of Burgos in Old Castile, one of the greatest marvels of Gothic architecture and an eloquent symbol of the Christian order generated by the Church in the Middle Ages.
(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. –Ed. American TFP.