This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The monk also makes the spiritual compromise

If it still sounds as if we’ve made the warrior vocation a sorry one, insisting repeatedly that it involves a willful departure from certain aspects of righteousness, we could say that the same compromise is made by the cloistered monk in every age. The only difference is that Christianity has taken pains to provide elaborate justifications for why the compromise of the monk actually constitutes a benevolent sacrifice and not a sin. But it remains a ‘spiritual compromise’ in the sense we have explained.

Consider the fact that, if the life of Christ is again presented as exemplary and if we take the Gospel teaching as a ‘norm’, we can say that the lifestyle of the desert fathers involved an obvious departure from the normal Christian vocation of involvement with the world. The hermit always ignores some important components of Gospel teaching or at least ignores their full development.

The discipline of celibacy, for example, and the obligation to perpetuate humanity through marriage and family life, which are not spiritual opportunities but obligations under normal circumstances, do not apply to the priest or the hermit. The cloistered life seems to ignore certain aspects of Christian life, or perhaps it does not so much ignore them as it re-presents them in an exceptional way.

In other words, the ascetic vocation compromises so that it can rise above the norm and present for it a kind of exception, on the grounds that even if it is exceptional in a limited way, the good it achieves thereby actually far exceeds whatever loss is suffered by the compromise. What the monk does not experience through sexual relations and family life (which, among other things, constitute his sacrifice) he makes up for in a kind of spiritual realization, one that benefits all of humanity indirectly.

The monk in the desert ignores the call to actively and directly serve his fellow man, he disdains participation in political activities, he avoids responsibilities to family and friends. He replaces these things, in some cases, with a more condensed form of community life amongst other ascetics, but this is not a thorough replacement for life in the world and it is naïve to pretend that a monk among monks is shouldering the same kind of burden that a citizen among citizens must shoulder as he makes his way in society. Yes, monks have involved themselves in affairs of state and been influential there, but again it is naïve to act as if this proves that they effectively function in that capacity, and anecdotes about saints influencing heads of state are memorable mostly because they are so anomalous.

To present the hierarchy of brothers as presenting challenges identical to the hierarchy of parents and children is again absurd. Whoever speaks as if interactions with peers in an isolated and controlled atmosphere are just as challenging to moral discipline as the raising of children—a task of such spiritual magnitude—is to speak as someone who has been too long removed from the activities of the world and has become ignorant of what it entails.

We are not at all trying to degrade the life of the ascetic, and we do in fact grant to it all the esteem it has been shown throughout the ages. Nonetheless, it is harmful to ignore the fact that it involves a compromise for the sake of an extreme: the ascetic life, the spiritual development that it supports, and the ’perfume of the sacred’ that emanates from the monastery and makes present in civilization a locus of spiritual realization, is worth whatever it may forgo of the normal life the Christian.

We can conclude by saying simply that what we provide in these pages is a justification for the warrior vocation that corresponds to the justification carefully provided by Christianity for the ascetic vocation of the monastery. What Christianity has developed for that form of compromise is what we are offering in different context, not because Christianity has never offered it, but because the former has been retained to the present day, while the latter has been forgotten and is not readily available.

The vocation of the warrior and the vocation of the monk, therefore, are analogous in being exceptional and although they represent opposite extremes, we can say that if they appear to ignore certain things, it is due to the special nature of the vocation. They each suffer loss, they each make a sacrifice of themselves, they each do so for the benefit of mankind and out of love for God.

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