The Tyranny of the Timeline

Men order their blogs and social media timelines in reverse chronlogy to reflect one simple fact: the further down the reader scrolls, the less likely he is to scroll any further. The most recent entries are also most likely to be important to him, because they are the entries most closely related to what is happening now. Therefore they are placed near the top where the reader begins.

In journalism and literature, the “inverted pyramid” style of writing places the most important or relevant information at the top of the page, followed by details in decreasing order of importance. Again, the idea is that the reader is more likely to stop reading the longer he reads. The reader’s time is precious. The sooner after beginning that he can stop reading, the sooner he can move on to the next activity.

Such material is disposable by definition. It is most important only to one passing moment. In the next moment it may be forgotten.

By contrast, the relationship of writing to the ancient and medieval worlds was the opposite. The greater the antiquity of a literary work, the greater was its authority. A medieval scribe confronted with Facebook today would express confusion with its design. He would wonder whose decision it was to place the least important information at the top of the page where his eyes began, and why he must scroll to the very bottom and then work his way up.

Although this seems strange, it is not difficult to understand. The motivation for valuing the oldest things is the evidence that they have withstood the test of time. Unlike the most recent news stories, which will probably be forgotten, the oldest texts have not and will not. Their relevance does not pass away with the people, cultures, and nations that produced them, for they express truths beyond time.

The antique way of realism is based on the insight that eternal and unchanging truths abide with the fleeting things of the world of sense. This insight has been passed down from time immemorial to every people of every age. The modern world represents the first and only public departure from that way. All the great heresies in the history of the Church converge on this same point, namely, that God does not abide with the world, because He does not love it. Therefore the synthesis of all heresies is aptly named Modernism.

In the modern way, the rational intellect despairs of its natural object. From the senses it can only discern particular and contingent things. Knowledge of the Absolute has to come by other means. However, all that is public is disclosed to the mind through the senses. The source of Absolute knowledge must therefore be private, mysterious, and inscrutable. As for the State, the Republic, the res publica, it can have nothing to do with this source. The State and its domain must be exclusively secular.

In matters of law and natural science, there are public authorities, communities of experts who determine what we ought to think about the subjects they administer. According to the modern mentality, the case with matters metaphysical is very different. Since there can be no public authority in these matters, one is free as it were to believe whatever one wishes. While it is possible for some to know the truth, it is impossible to prove it, and therefore none may lay a claim on another’s convictions. Not even the most ancient texts have any more authority than any other. The only public authority pertains to sensible realities, and therefore, the import or relevance of a text is objectively determined by nothing more remote than the present moment. Anything beyond that is a question of taste.

Man appreciates most that which he regards as most important. Therefore, in the modern condition, he appreciates most that which is of fleeting significance and so least reflects the eternal transcendentals. In a word, modern man glorifies what is ugly. The modern world demands that we pay respect to ugliness. Our monuments and architecture are ugly. Our buildings are erected at the least possible expense, and they do not last longer than a generation or two before they are demolished and replaced. The bare lines, cold, flourescent lights, and flimsy materials of the modern office do not evoke fond memories or hope for the future. Our music is dissonant and lacks longevity. Each hit replaces its predecessor on the charts by sounding new, not necessarily better. In general, great old art gets less attention and praise than mediocre new art.

It should go without saying that for the world order to truly reflect the love God has for us, all these things must be set aright. In the first place, the public authority of the Catholic Church must be recognized by the State. The State must recognize Catholicism as the one true religion and publically submit to her in every matter spiritual and a fortiori temporal. Our buildings and monuments must be made beautiful, and they should all be constructed to last hundreds or thousands of years. The workplace should be designed according to principles of contemplative architecture. Businessmen must acknowledge once again that their work is ultimately for the sanctification of the soul and not the unlimited increase of material wealth. We must remember great old music and art more readily than the latest, and new works must be brought back into conformity with old standards of beauty. Naturally, fashion and dress, especially norms of modesty, must follow suit.

The reason why the antique way is the true way is that eternal and universal truths really do dwell among particular and fleeting things. Every man is mortal, his life but a single note in the song of history. However, although his body will decompose after death, his soul is incorruptible. Each man’s soul is made in the image of the eternal God. Likewise every animal and every other creature reflects the infinite perfection of God in its own limited perfections. This is because God loves His creatures, wherefore He gives each of them a share in His goodness. The goodness He gives them is the same as the being He gives them in its aspect of desirability; the same being in its aspect of intelligibility is truth. Hence there is a glimmer of the Absolute even in sensible, fleeting things. These things are intelligible in their universal aspect. This means not only that they disclose a form common to all things of their own kind, but also that all things of each kind disclose a common form to all intellects. Therefore the presence of the Absolute in material substances is the cause of objective knowledge about them and thus the basis of all public authority.

If the Absolute be the cause of all public authority, then it follows that He is also the subject of public authority par excellence. In truth, all authority belongs to God, Who delegates it to whom He will. He imparts this authority through the love He bears toward His creatures, in virtue of which they possess the transcendental properties of goodness and intelligibility. Therefore the best way to return this love to Him is through acts of public worship, which by nature are universal, and most especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Notably, in the Mass, what is offered is an eternal sacrifice. The priest and victim are both eternal, being the same Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Therefore when the Mass is offered on earth, the temporal altar is united to the eternal. This union of time and eternity is similar to the way in which the Scriptures unite the present moment to eternity through the truths beyond time which they convey. However, the union in the Mass is far more intimate. If ancient texts contain unchanging truths, and the Sacred Scriptures contain those which pertain to the very life of God as revealed by Him, then the Mass even contains entirely the One who makes Himself known through the Scriptures. It is therefore the culmination of everything that all peoples of all ages have held dear — except for the modern world, which despises it.

The devil rules the modern world. He does not want any union of time and eternity. He is a tyrant who wants to enslave humanity to a flat timeline, an ever-perishing present, an ever-present perishing. If he had his way, all things would have to justify their existence in reference to the spectacle of the Now. Mystics and ascetics of all ages have sought freedom from this despotic spectacle, the tyranny of the timeline. In the Sacrifice of Calvary, we finally have the liberation they sought for four thousand years. In the Mass, which is the same divine Sacrifice, we have that same liberation in our own lifetime.

Those four thousand years are commemorated by the four Sundays of Advent. And Christmas is a holyday of obligation, when we all go to Mass, the sacrifice of Calvary. That is the reason for the season. May yours, dear reader, be a merry one.

Arboretus