From the ashes of Notre-Dame

The Catholicism of today builds nothing so gorgeous as Notre-Dame in part because it has no 21st-century version of that grand synthesis to offer. The reforms of the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council and everything after, have left the church partially and unsuccessfully transformed, torn between competing visions of how to be Catholic in modernity, competing promises of renewal and reform, competing factions convinced that they are the firefighters inside Notre-Dame, and their rivals are the fire.

I belong to one of these factions (or to a faction within a faction; who can keep track?); I am a conservative of some sort, who fears that liberal Christianities usually end up resembling a post-inferno cathedral, with the still-grand exterior concealing emptiness within.

But I am also doubtful that anything so simple as a conservative “victory” will return the church to cathedral-raising vigor and make it feel, to outsiders, like something more than a museum whose docents all seem to hate one another. Especially given how often conservative Catholicism is in thrall to orthodoxies that are political rather than theological, how often — especially as it reacts to the destabilizing style of Pope Francis — its climate feels more like an airless bunker than a Gothic nave.