August 31, 2008

"True conservatism"

...The Church has from the beginning lived amid the world, and has had to face the characteristic social and intellectual movements of each successive age. The first thing that strikes one from the days of the very first heretics—the Gnostics—to the days of the Church's last assailants—the Agnostics—is her attitude of uncompromising resistance to rival theories of life, which strove to dictate to her nd bend her to their will...

The second phenomenon is that all the systems she opposed contained elements which were good and true. And from not one did she fail ultimately to assimilate something, in most cases a great deal, once their aggressive character had been broken by their resistance. 'She broke them in pieces,' writes Cardinal Newman, and then he significantly adds, 'she divided the spoils.'

When I ascribe this double phenomenon in Church history, of resistance and subsequent assimilation, to the conservative principle of the Church, I may at first appear to maintain a paradox. It may be urged that the first attitude—of opposition to aggressive novelty—is an exhibition of the conservative principle; but that the second—the subsequent assimilation of portions of what was rejected—is not. To this I would reply that to identify Conservatism simply with the rejection of what is extraneous and new in form is to identify it with a principle of decay. To preserve a building we must indeed resist those who would pull it down; but we must also repair it, replace what is worn out by what is new, and fit it to last in the varying conditions of life. True conservatism involves constructive activity as well as resistance to destructive activity. Periodical reform and reconstruction belong to its very essence...

--Wilfrid Ward, from his essay The Conservative Genius of the Church
Posted by John Weidner at August 31, 2008 5:56 AM
Weblog by John Weidner