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If one were going to choose the most important church in the world, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris (with the possible exception of the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome) would top the list. Built over the better part of two centuries, an era spanning nearly the entire Gothic period, the cathedral’s construction was funded by Christian benefactors from all around late-medieval France.
The fruit of their donations, a building named for Our Lady—who carried the God-man in her very self—continued for eight centuries. Countless people who entered the cathedral’s doors were led to a profound experience of the divine. Known as “the poor people’s book,” the building told salvation history through images and paintings for those millions who either could not read or did not have access to texts.
Truth - Notre - Dame - Paris - Millions
But we should not shrink from the hard truth about what Notre Dame de Paris became. Many millions more now have visited the building annually as a historical monument than who entered to commune with the transcendent. Notre Dame is, in many ways, much closer in the West’s cultural imagination to a Temple of Apollo than a home of the living God. It’s become a historical and beautiful curiosity that signals a time, now past, in which the people who went before us believed some, well, nutty stuff.
Indeed, the smoldering ruin of the cathedral now stands as a tragic metaphor for the church, not just in France, but in much of the developed West more generally. The structure or shell is still largely intact, but the building itself has been gutted.
Priests - Churches - Schools - Hospitals - Heart
Yes, there are still priests. There are still churches. There are still schools and hospitals. But the heart of the church—worn away over time by riches and consumerism, moral relativism and hyper-secularism—is no longer there.
While the burnt-out church is a metaphor...
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