One of the ironic things about my diploma from Princeton is that it is written in a language that almost none of the graduates understand: Latin. It confers upon me the degree of Artium baccalaureus, literally, crowned with bay leaves for knowledge of the arts. Since most college graduates write badly, if they write at all, and know very little about the literature of their own language, let alone the fine arts, it is not clear what the degree means. I wonder whether we might substitute for it a new distinction, Barbarus artium, for people who enter college with little knowledge and less love of those matters, and who leave no wiser, even supposing they have not been taught to scorn them as having come from the dark ages, that is, from before yesterday afternoon.
When the barbarian Germans poured into the Roman empire from the north, and most of the civic institutions in the West were tottering, it was the Church that saved them, the Church that preserved what she could from oblivion. She must do the same now. In some ways, the task is easier than it was then: We have not yet burned all our books or buried them in landfills (though we have gone far toward doing so). Anyone with a computer can look at art of incomparable magnificence and power just by typing a title and clicking on the link. Music is on record. But in some ways the task is much more difficult. We are overwhelmed with what is foul or vicious or false or stupid. We have not raised up people who want great things, or who even love good literature and art. That includes people who attend Mass in Catholic churches and students in our Catholic schools.
Here I could write about the music at Mass, the song-things that are worthless as poetry, often ungrammatical, theologically dubious, and slack and slovenly in spirit. I could write about the great steaming heap of imbecility and malice left by the editors of our hymnals, when they get their hands on such traditional poems as they suffer to remain. It is not like shooting fish in a barrel. It is like putting a spear into the bloating corpse of a whale washed ashore. Or I could write about bad architecture, about churches slapped together to ensure that no sense of the sacred will awake in the secular soul; about sanctuaries that have none of the holiness of a baseball diamond; about art effaced or demolished; about liturgies without the healing balm of silence. That, too, is easy.