How rich and varied, how lofty and challenging, Greco-Roman culture was when fused with the convictions derived from Jewish and Christian sources! And how truly regal man is when like Augustine he strips from himself all that is mortal in life for the sake of the radiance of immortality, keeping about him all the while a warmth which heartens and cleanses! It was, alas, true that he and those who were in some measure like him could not keep the walls and towers of Rome from tottering. Too much of the human substance of the Empire was gone. No new youth could be made to rise from its streets. The barbarian outsider, driving with his hordes against the ramparts like a mighty and incessant storm, would after his victory sit in darkness amidst the holy places. When Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, died on August 28, 430, the Vandals were laying siege to the city. But after a while the children who were born to them would begin to think of what treasure might be gleaned not from the shrines and palaces of Rome but from the memorials of its mind and heart. Then random sentences Augustine had written became texts used in schools. More and more were added until his doctrine was once more available. In particular, texts of the Confessions were found – imperfect, sometimes garbled, but rich in meaning. Therewith the time in which we now live had properly begun…
George N. Shuster, Preface to Augustine’s Confessions
Okay. Two thoughts. No, three.
One. What a word for our time. “Too much of the substance of the Empire was gone. No new youth could be made to rise from its streets.” All that was left now was the future youth of the “barbarian outsider” to sit in the ruins and contemplate not the monuments but the meaning of the “mind and heart” of a civilization that had passed, and to see it reborn among them in what would hopefully be more redeeming ways.
This isn’t apocalyptic remorse or handwringing. There’s enough of that going around and I don’t need to add to it. Just a marvelous seed of hope however things turn in our world.
Two. Of course the Vandals would lay siege to the city (a throwaway for BSU fans, of course).
Three. I am the child of barbarians, and I have been privileged to sit “in darkness amidst the holy places.” Well, not literally. Haven’t been to Rome, to Italy, unlike some people I know who shall remain unnamed. Scotland and the highlands, aye, Italy, not so much. But in the journey of Greek and Hebrew, and the dabbling in Latin, and the tasting of ancient philosophers, theologians, poets, muses “in their random sentences,” I have sat amidst the ruins and have breathed deeply the meaning.
And “therewith the time in which I now live had properly begun…”