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One of the classic and all-time favorite essays of Hans Urs von Balthasar.

1. Posing the Question

“We are living in a time when the images of gods and idols are crashing all about us. The spiritual and cultural traditions of vast regions of the West are increasingly being called into question; indeed, we can go even further and say they are being liquidated, quickly and relatively painlessly. Just as a tree in autumn drops its leaves without pain or regret in order to gather once more new strength from within, to renew its powers in hibernal peace, so too the tree of culture is now being stripped of its leaves. Of course, in this, the late autumn of our times, the leaves lie thickly under our feet – and the books thickly in the bookstores; but we aren’t deceived for a moment about that.

This colorful yellow and red swarm of leaves is animated no longer by life but, if at all, only by the wind. A small regret might well be permitted us here, just as autumn is the time of the elegiac lyric, but who would want on that account to huddle up under the blankets of an eschatological pathos! We trust the powers of nature, her wise economy and the laws of her renewal.

Now under this drooping bower, many a Christian leaf can also be found. In the course of its two-thousand year history of spiritual and cultural life, Christianity has created for itself a wide variety of expressive forms, particularly in the West; indeed Christianity has been crucial in bringing forth and developing these forms.

In a labile and constantly changing relationship, it has turned these priceless works of art born of the human spirit into its dwelling places, its forms of expression, its vesture– indeed, it has almost made them a part of its very body. So it is almost obvious that today, where these dwellings seem to have become dilapidated, indeed where the worldly “body” of the Church seems to be wasting away, Christianity is being placed before the same question of what its living essence and core is that secular culture has also had to face.”

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