AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
The tens of thousands of Americans who descended on Washington, D.C. on Friday gave witness, for the 49th year in a row, to a beautiful truth that the left simply cannot understand: life is not merely our decision, but part of a much larger reality that no government can control.
Ultimately that larger reality is what any culture is about – its spiritual values. And while those values can be testified to in a citizens’ march that is the public expression of the work of many people across decades to overcome unjust laws, they can also be the subject of sudden public affirmations that sometimes surprise us in their power and vigor.
We saw such a testimony a few years ago in the reactions of horror to the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral. At its deepest level, it was about how the people of the West – nourished by its culture and its values – worked across centuries to build great monuments that give glory to God and to the artists who devoted themselves to such great works of beauty, splendor, and grace.
While the Notre Dame fire and the March for Life were public and highly visible events, some other powerful reminders of our society’s deep attachments to its spiritual and life-affirming foundations don’t often make headlines. Take, for example, the majestic cathedral in Cologne, Germany. The story of its construction should inspire every person today who is engaged in the long struggle to defend such principles, including the inviolable dignity of every human life.
Begun in 1248, the construction of this Gothic masterpiece spanned over 600 years and was not finally completed until 1880. Almost all of the masons, stonecutters, and carpenters who built it – most of whose names remain unknown – had no knowledge of the building’s final shape.
A nineteenth century poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, captured their spirit of selfless dedication when he praised generations of the cathedral builders:
A great master of his craft,
But not he alone,
For many generations labor’d with him.
Children that came to see these saints in the stone,
As day by day out of the blocks they rose,
Grew old and died, and still work went on and on,
The Cologne cathedral is a symbol of man’s ability to make space for God, and it provides a welcome solitude for every believer and every person of goodwill who seeks to find his or her way in the world. It is a symbol of man’s understanding of his purpose, of the importance of that purpose, and man’s determination to fulfill it with the greatest possible effort.
As the poet concluded:
Built his great heart into these stones,
And with him toiled his children, and their lives
Were builded with his own into walls
As offerings to God.
Through the endeavors of the Cathedral builders, as well as sculptors, painters, musicians, and other artists throughout history, our civilization came to express clear moral thoughts and ideas about beauty and goodness.
Christianity sharpened these moral ideas upon a basis that was grounded in the principle of love and the proclamation of eternal life. As Isidore of Seville wrote: “The first task of science is to seek after God, and the second to strive for nobility of life.”
John Damascene observed that, apart from Greek and Roman ideas, the Christian notion of beauty was derived from the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, early translators of the Bible into Greek introduced the Greek word “Kalos,” a concept which denotes aesthetic and moral beauty. Christians came to glorify genuine beauty and regard it as a good gift of God, a testimony to His perfection.
By the work of their hands, the builders of the Cologne Cathedral testified to their purposeful and unwavering faith in a culture based on the primacy of spiritual values.
It was the ambition of our forefathers to not only draw near to the standard of exquisite beauty that they attached to both the destination and reward of eternal life with the Creator on earth and in heaven but also to impart this understanding to succeeding generations.
Inspired by a boundless devotion to the source of their mastery and dexterity, successive generations of craftsmen gifted us with an artistic wonder in Cologne that bears witness to the strength and endurance of the Christian foundations of Western Civilization.
Today, when covered with a thin layer of ice and snow, the towers of the cathedral create a unique lighthouse effect that airline pilots can observe from a dozen miles away. But the infinitely more powerful impact of the Cologne Cathedral is like a celestial beacon, illuminating the path toward humility, self-charity, and commitment, away from the empty pursuits of fame, wealth, and selfishness. The story of its construction points to a way of living that can overcome the destructive influences that threaten Western civilization today with their constant temptations to diminish the sanctity of life and prioritize material over spiritual wealth.
The United States and the American People, with their eminence, genius, and extraordinary achievements, must remain – like the great cathedrals of Europe – a beacon of freedom testifying to the spiritual values that built a civilization based on the sanctity of life and that will save our civilization for generations to come.
It is a mission that begins with taking a stand for life. With pro-life cases pending before the Supreme Court, this year has the potential to be an inflection point in history, where the American nation begins a return to the spiritual values upon which the country was founded. A new world awaits.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, theologian, and researcher.