Thursday, November 10, 2016

impavidum ferient ruinae

It is the early 1960s and Giovanni Guareschi’s Don Camillo is despondent. Is the world “rushing towards self-destruction?” he wonders, taking his trouble to the crucified Christ. And Christ poses a counter question: “Do you mean that my mission among mankind has failed because men's malice is stronger than the goodness of God?”
Don Camillo then elaborates, expressing Guareschi’s own feelings at that time. (If he had been living now he would have said the same thing.) People, says the country priest, have chosen what they account as desirable because it is tangible, over the intangibles that are their spiritual heritage: “love, goodness, piety, honesty, purity, and hope. Most of all, faith. Things which one can't live without.” And this is what he means by self-destruction. “One day not very long from now,” says Don Camillo, “men will find themselves back in the brutalism of the caveman - the caves will be sky-scrapers filled with the latest equipment and miraculous machines, but men's souls will be primitive and brutish.”

Christ consoles him with a parable of the river flooding fields. Farmers save the seed. After the waters recede and the land – more fertile from its soaking – dries, they plant the saved seed and watch it grow. The seed is faith, says the Crucified One, and Don Camillo must do all he can to keep it intact in those who have it. For the spiritual desert grows and “Every day men of many words and no faith are destroying the spiritual heritage and faith of other people. Men of every culture and religion.”

It is a passage that has not lost its relevance. In the world at present, it does sometimes seem that the malice of men has proved stronger than the goodness of God. So it must have seemed to communities suffering under tyrannies down the ages, and in every region. Yet something of worth was always salvaged. It is a hope to cling to now. Or lacking faith, at least to hold on with pagan Horace “and stand secure amidst a falling world”
si fractus illabatur orbis
impavidum ferient ruinae

That Horace should survive the Roman Empire, western and eastern, over twenty centuries after his death, and be valued in regions not known to Romans of his day, must that not feed hope in the eventual triumph of good?

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