The Myth of Progress and the Hope of the Afterlife

Henri-Irénée Marrou (1904–1977), who wrote Fondements d'une culture chrétienne in 1932, when he was 28 years old, under the pseudonym of Davenson.

Henri-Irénée Marrou (1904–1977), who wrote Fondements d’une culture chrétienne in 1932, when he was 28 years old, under the pseudonym of Davenson.

The important thing is to keep the ideal and the expectation, the goal and the criterion of success, separate. If the model can only be glimpsed by the heart, not the senses, ascertained as the object of love, not desire, then the effort must never merely be valued and judged by measurable material progress.

Marrou has already shown elsewhere in the work that the Myth of Progress has, as much as the Myth of Pegasus or that of Beowulf and the Dragon, already been discredited by the march of history.

Marrou’s model city is, after all, a City beyond the reach time, a thing to us incomprehensible and, if not for divine revelation, inconceivable.

Qu’importe alors l’échec de nos efforts, qu’à des yeux de chair toute notre œuvre puisse apparaître vaine et sans résultat: notre ardeur et notre élan n’en seront pas diminués; nous travaillerons avec le même cœur à christianiser la civilisation qui nous fait vivre. Nous savons que toute œuvre humaine est nécessairement imparfaite, inachevée; que toute vie humaine est temporellement ratée: nous avons médité sur la vieillesse des saints. Car la mesure de cette vie n’est pas de cette terre.

Henri-Irénée Marrou, Fondements d’une culture chrétienne, 115

What import, then, has the failure of our efforts, when to the eyes of flesh all our work can appear vain and without issue: our ardor and our energy shall not be diminished; we shall work with the same heart to christianize the civilization in which we live. We know that every human work is necessarily imperfect, incomplete; that all human life is temporally failed [temporellement ratée]: we have meditated on the old age of the saints. For the mesure of this life is not of this earth.

Henri-Irénée Marrou (writing as Henri Davenson), Foundations of a Christian Culture, 115)


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About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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