I have discovered this text of Novalis that I would consider to be of capital importance in understanding our own times. We had the Reformation, the French Revolution and the Terror, and finally, Communism and Nazism, and now the spectre of Globalism and Islam.
Die Christenheit oder Europa translated into English. It was written in 1799, exactly two centuries before the Berlin Wall came down. In the language of the time (we are not reading it in German), it seems dreamy and emotional, the way I often feel in my final moments before sleep at night. Europe was definitely “post-Enlightenment” as we are now “post-Modern”. What a coincidence! Robespierre’s Revolution was a child of the Enlightenment and destroyed its progenitor.
In our own times, we have had the second World War, and since then peace has been enforced by the emergence of the modern European Union, which too will go the way of Louis XVI and the Kingdom of France. Peace has only been superficial with the Cold War and the Allied control over Germany until Nazism could no longer have a serious prospect of being revived. We look to a Catholic Europe, not one dominated by ideology and a Papal absolutism that no longer exists, but a higher vision of universality. Novalis’ nostalgia was not simply a yearning for childhood and the past.
The difference in Romanticism à la Novalis is that we mourn our dead and move on to a new future. If certain things from the past can be reinstated, there would be a basis to build a future which is impossible with current paradigms. Again, our world is being stripped of reason and feeling, imagination and love, and replaced by brute forces of power and money. How would Novalis react if he came back to this world of 2018? Probably as I would if I saw the twenty-third century, a charred ruin or a universe of inimaginable technology. Even the latter at what price? Mortality and a brief life are necessary, because there is only so much we can take. My father at nearly ninety is overtaken by everything even though his mind is as sound as a bell.
Modernity is passing away and we don’t know what is in store. Globalism is said to be on its way out. With Islam, humanity can take only so much fanaticism and cruelty like under the Nazis and the Japanese during World War II. I can understand Pius XI’s attempt at creating a new Christian order with the notion of Christ ruling us from within rather than our being bullied from without by Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. Were we to be spiritual and moral, we would have no need of external constraint and tyranny.
It all seems as impossible as the Orffyreus perpetual motion machine. We cannot turn the clock back, nor would such be desirable. We have the experience we have, technology, a different way of life and thought. Novalis saw evil in both Enlightenment and religion, but became a Roman Catholic shortly before the end of his life. He found fault with the RC Church for having become a corpse and that Rome’s rule had come to an end long before the violent insurrection. The Reformation destroyed what was already dead, and so did the French Revolution and Communism, and Islam is doing the same today, bringing the world round full circle. Even with his realism about the fall of the institution, the eternal and mystical Church remained. Restoring the old power of the Papacy would be impossible because we have experienced Protestantism and Enlightenment, and now the world we know but that Novalis never saw.
I have read many things on this theme by Josef Ratzinger, doubtlessly influenced by Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Goethe and the other Idealists. We are held in a constant dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. It is for us to discern the new synthesis and wisdom in the midst of the chaos. So many times, he spoke and wrote about faith and reason: one without the other brings evil.
I invite you to print out and read this piece by Novalis. It isn’t easy. If we make this effort, I am sure we will be rewarded by a refreshed vision and the capacity to dream and make our future.