Monday, July 02, 2007

One Lord left

For most of the world's history, people have had lords. That is, they lived under an authority they could not gainsay, whether he was called king, duke, count, emir, tuan, sheikh, or shogun. The lord's rights to direct and govern came directly from who he was. You didn't choose him; he was just there.

But we live today without lords. We live in democracies in which those in authority over us serve, to some degree, at our pleasure -- or those who control them do. Our Declaration of Independence asserts that governments derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed." If we don't like a congressman or senator or president, we organize ourselves to boot him out at the next election and replace him with someone whose actions might be more to our liking. We might stand when the President enters the room, but we bow the knee, literally, to no man.

Now, Christianity is a religion whose God is constantly referred to as "Lord". So, what happens when the very concept of an authority you can't change vanishes from a culture's ordinary life? C. S. Lewis sensed it: as he put it in the essay which gave the title to a very influential book, God ends up "in the dock", or in American English, "on trial". No longer does man stand guiltily before God; man demands an accounting from God for His actions.

This is a poisonous situation for Faith. God can't really be placed in the dock, of course; but man can deceive himself into thinking He's there instead of on His throne. The restoration of Christian presence in society is going to have to include a renewal of the concept of lordship.

I'm glad the "spirit of Vatican II" folks haven't wholly managed to stamp out the Catholic practice of kneeling during parts of the Mass, because bending the knee is going to help lead everyone back to sanity here, to an acknowledgment of God's Lordship. We don't kneel to anyone else anymore -- no king, no nobleman, and certainly no elected official, no matter how powerful. We kneel only to God.

Kneeling. A good, powerful symbol, rooted in physical action like the rest of Catholic practice, all the stronger now that its use has receded everywhere else in modern life. Time to use it to remind ourselves, and afterwards everyone else, that only God is Lord.