Classic quotes

Insights 1890-1965 which speak to our situation today

Society is now really ruled by its own logos; say rather by a whole pantheon of its own hypostases and powers… we are beginning to suspect that the idols are vain, but their demonic influence upon our lives is not thereby allayed. For it is one thing to entertain critical doubts regarding the god of this world, and another thing to perceive the dunamis, the meaning and might of the living God who is building a new world.'

Karl Barth, The Christian's Place in Society, 1919

Outline for a book:

Chapter 1 to deal with: (a) The coming age of humanity… The insuring of life against accident, ill-fortune. If elimination of danger impossible, at least its minimisation. Insurance (which although it thrives upon accidents, seeks to mitigate their effects) a western phenomonon. The goal, to be independent of nature. Nature formerly conquered by spiritual means, with us by technical organisation of various kinds. Our immediate environment not nature, as formerly, but organisation. But this immunity produces a new crop of dangers, i.e. the very organisation.

Consequently there is a need for spiritual vitality. What protection is there against the danger of organisation? Man is once more faced with the problem of himself. He can cope with every danger except the danger of human nature itself. In the last resort it all turns upon man.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (published 1953)


It is customary to complain of the bustle and strenuousness of our epoch. But in truth the chief mark of our epoch is a profound laziness and fatigue; and the fact is that the real laziness is the cause of the apparent bustle.

G K Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1909


"Sceptics do not succeed in pulling up the roots of Christianity; but they do succeed in pulling up the roots of every man's ordinary vine and fig tree, of every man's kitchen garden. Secularists have not succeeded in wrecking divine things; but Secularists have succeeded in wrecking secular things."

G K Chesterton, Lunacy and Letters (1958 collection)

We have entered a new phase of culture - we may call it the Age of the Cinema - in which the most amazing perfection of scientific technique is being devoted to purely ephemeral objects, without any consideration of their ultimate justification. It seems as though a new society was arising which will acknowledge no hierarchy of values, no intellectual authority, and no social or religious tradition, but which will live for the moment in a chaos of pure sensation.

Christopher Dawson, Progress and Religion, 1929

No civilisation, not even that of ancient Greece, has ever undergone such a continuous and profound process of change as Western Europe has done during the last 900 years. It is impossible to explain this fact in purely economic terms by a materialistic interpretation of history. The principle of change has been a spiritual one and the progress of Western civilisation is intimately related to the dynamic ethos of Western Christianity, which has gradually made Western man conscious of his moral responsibility and his duty to change the world.

Christopher Dawson, The Judgement of the Nations, 1943

….people complain that the religious ground is unsure who have never compelled themselves to examine it with a tithe of the care spent on a contract; but they have taken current suggestions in a dreamy and hypnotised way. They will not attend, they will not force themselves to attend, gravely to the gravest things…. they read everything in a vagrant, browsing fashion. They turn on the most serious subjects the holiday, seaside, newspaper habit of mind

P. T. Forsyth, The Reality of Grace, 1906


How often has not the parallel been drawn and the golden age of the Roman Empire, when the external brilliancy of life likewise dazzled the eye, notwithstanding that the social diagnosis could yield no other verdict than 'rotten to the very core'?

Abraham Kuyper, Stone Lecture 6, 1898


I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern

C. S. Lewis

Who can endure a doctrine which would allow only dentists to say whether our teeth were aching, only cobblers to say whether our shoes hurt us, and only governments to tell us whether we were being well governed?"

C. S. Lewis

The age of the proof is in decline, it is the hour of 'witness' that is coming, hour of the 'marturioa', very calm and very complete": a hope which seems close to being realised.

Henri De Lubac, 1929 (in De Lubac, The Discovery of God, 1960)

Where the sciences thus extend their sway in all directions, there is one part of the subject - and therefore of concrete reality - which cannot be overrun, namely, the immediate feelings of pleasure and pain. And hand-in-hand with the amazing development of science, there goes, as we should expect, an intensification of the most immediate and also most elementary part of our affective life: call it the desire for a 'good time' if you will. I do not mean that this connection is an absolute rule or that it can be made good in every case…. We do find in fact that unusually high development of the applied sciences goes with great impoverishment in out inner lives. The lack of proportion between the apparatus at the disposal of humanity and the ends it is called upon to realise seems more and more outrageous.

Gabriel Marcel, Some Remarks on the Irreligion of Today, 1930

The only influence that can really upset the injustice and iniquity of men is the power that breathes in the Christian tradition, renewing our participation in the Life that is the Light of men.

To those who have no personal experience of this revolutionary aspect of Christian truth, but who see only the outer crust of dead, human conservatism that tends to form around the Church the way barnacles gather on the hull of a ship, all this talk about dynamism sounds foolish.

Each individual Christian and each new age of the Church has to make this rediscovery, this return to the source of Christian life.

Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation, 1961

Through the centralisation of public services, such as education, and the new possibilities of communication opened up by broadcasting, the cinema and the popular press, the dominant ideas of a society, and in particular those held by the intelligentsia, have unprecedented opportunities of permeating the mind of the whole community. Where the prevailing temper and cast of thought have ceased to be Christian, assumptions regarding the nature of man and the purpose of human life , which are quite other than the Christian assumptions, are continuously, and often imperceptibly, communicated to the entire population, and in particular to the rising generation, through the universities and schools, through literature and the press, through broadcasting and the cinema. Their influence in transforming the outlook may be all the more powerful when they are not brought into the open but are simply taken for granted and transmitted to a large extent subconsciously.

J. H. Oldham, Church, Community and State: a World Issue, 1935


The Kingdom of Evil is idolatry, so organised by hypocrisy that that it is able to set itself up as the true order of the world.… Nor did this idolatry ever erect a ritual so imposing as the material conquests of the present order of competition with its vast mechanical equipment; nor was it ever so much taken at its face value as when thus enormously staged; nor has society ever been set by it on a more selfish foundation or been so robbed of the true uses of the world; nor has it ever issued in vaster destruction

John Oman, Grace and Personality, 1917

The opposition which Christianity has to encounter is no longer confined to special doctrines, or to points of supposed conflict with the natural sciences, - for example the relations of genesis and geology - but extends to the whole manner of conceiving the world, and of man's place in it, the manner of conceiving of the entire system of things, natural and moral, of which we form a part. It is no longer an opposition of detail, but of principle. This circumstance necessitates an equal extension of the line of the defence. It is the Christian view of things in general which is attacked, and it is by an exposition and vindication of the Christian view of things as a whole that the attack can most successfully be met.

James Orr, The Christian View of God and The World, 1893

It is clear now why good will does not suffice to re-establish personal contact in the world of today. I often meet people who are as aware as I am of the extent to which our world has become depersonalised. They deplore the fact, but they do not see what religion has to do with it. Believing that a sufficient answer to the problem can be found in a humanistic philosophy, they do make sincere efforts to create more personal spirit around themselves. I am glad of this, but I am persuaded that they are being utopian, and have not yet measured the enormity of the problem that has to be overcome.

The price that has to be paid for finding truly personal life is a very high one. It is a price in terms of the acceptance of responsibility. And the awareness of responsibility inevitably leads either to despair or to confession and grace… What is needed is a new outlook, a personal revolution, a miracle.. It comes by grace, through the encounter with God, through dialogue with him.

Paul Tournier, The Meaning of Persons, 1957

Much is now being said about evangelism; but before we get effective evangelism, we have to get effective evangelists. Evangelism is useless unless it is the work of one devoted to God, willing and glad to suffer all things for God, penetrated by the attractiveness of God. New machinery, adaptations and adjustments, are not the first need… but more devoted, adoring, sacrificial souls.

Evelyn Underhill, 'The Priest's Life of Prayer', 1937

'The world has grown old and sterile because charity has grown cold. The love of men must grow weak and ineffective unless it is rooted in and expressive of the love of God; the love of God also must be thought to be dwindling and decaying into love of self unless it leads us to share in the redeeming activity of Christ. And perhaps it is true to say that outside the Church that zeal for doing good in the world which is the glory of the west is losing its power because it is losing its roots in the love of God; whereas within the Church, on the contrary, the chief danger we have to fight against is the danger of self-centred piety which neglects its duties to the world'.

Gerald Vann, The Divine Pity, 1945


(the worship of life) has captured the realm of literature and art, so that it is hard to find a modern novel, play or film which does not preach the primacy of life. It has revolutionised our moral conceptions, so that self-expression has become the cardinal virtue. … In a short time life has been promoted… to the position of the ultimate criterion of truth, goodness and beauty, which is sacred and worthy of devotion.

But what is meant by 'life' in this connection?…The most important (recognisable traits) may be characterised as: the protest against the subordination of life to reason and rational civilisation; the search for intensity of experience; and the desire for communion with the natural forces.

W. Visser't Hooft, None Other Gods, 1937


(the true role of the Church according to Tillich) is the situation where the Church seeks neither to manipulate nor dominate the world. nor to escape from it, nor merely to reflect a voluntarist religious aspect of it, but to understand it, prophesy within it, interpret it, and stain it…. It defines the Church in its relation to the world neither as a monolithic rock unmoved by the currents of history, nor as an ark for the saved, nor as flotsam and jetsam floating on the surface, but as a deep current itself running in the seas. The imagery brings to mind Kierkegaard's definition of faith, not as fair-weather sailing in the ship, not as clinging to the rock, but as swimming in the deep with 70,000 fathoms below!

No doubt this is a concept that gains the assent of many intelligent Christians, suggesting as it does the role of the laity dispersed into the world, the secular obedience of a Christian man, the notion of the 'Christian Frontier'… Yet in fact these ideas are not widely actualised in the life of the Church. Where they are brought to birth, the premature death rate is high, and the few that remain are exceptional prodigies.

Edward Wickham, Church and People in an Industrial City, 1957