The Tragedy of Brussels and the West
At the heart of the European Union lies the bureaucratic tyranny of Brussels. And what lies at the heart of that old city? Ironically, Christianity.
The foundation of Brussels is a little chapel built by a holy man named Gaugericus (Géry/Gorikshallen):
‘Saint Gaugericus of Cambrai built a chapel on the island around the year 580; hence the name Brussels, which derives from the Old Dutch Bruocsella, Broekzele or Broeksel, meaning "marsh" (bruoc / broek) and "home" or "settlement" (sella / zele / sel) or "settlement in the marsh" ’.
‘St. Magneric, the successor of St. Nicetas in the bishopric of Triers, coming to Yvois was much delighted with the sanctity and talents of St. Gery, and ordained him deacon; from that moment the saint redoubled his fervour in the exercise of all good works, and applied himself with unwearied zeal to the functions of his sacred ministry, especially to the instruction of the faithful.
‘The reputation of his virtue and learning raised him to the episcopal chair of Cambray and Arras, which sees remained united from the death of St. Vedast to the year 1093. This saint continued his labours in that charge for thirty-nine years, and entirely extirpated out of that country the remains of idolatry. Lest through the multitude of affairs he should in any degree forget that the sanctification of his own soul was his first and most essential duty, and that, without attending to this in the first place, he could hope for little fruit of his labours for the salvation of others, and could not expect that God would make any account of them, he was careful to season them with assiduous recollection, prayer, and self-examination; but from time to time he betook himself to some retired solitude, there to attend to God alone and to recommend to him, by fervent prayer, the souls intrusted to his care. Among other miracles recounted of him, it is related by the author of his life, that at Yvois a leper was healed by being baptized by him; which aptly represented the interior cleansing of the soul from sin. St. Gery was called to eternal rest on the 11th of August, 619, and was buried in the church which he had built in honour of St. Medard.’
How did Brussels transform from the beautiful sanctity of St Géry to the ugly totalitarianism of today? To answer that, we must widen our view.
Belgium: Microcosm of the West
The Christian history of Belgium and the rest of the Low Countries surrounding her began much like Brussels, with the arrival of Christian ascetics, the monks and nuns:
‘The monasteries established by such key missionary figures as St. Martin of Tours, St. Columbanus, Sts. Willibrord and Boniface were bulwarks against both worldliness and the real physical dangers of the medieval world . . . . places such as Luxeuil, the Dom School in Utrecht, Fulda and the countless other monastic centers established by Irish and Irish-inspired missionaries were centers of learning, albeit often on a humble scale, which produced a profound awareness of sanctity in the monastic aspirants which came to them in great numbers. The youth of the lay nobility, too, were often sent by their pious parents to monasteries to receive their education at the hands of monastics so as to insure that the Christian vision of reality was further promoted in the realms by its future rulers. The early monastic foundations of Europe were spiritual schools, the forerunners of modern colleges and universities.
‘ . . . vast amounts of land, often the best in the kingdom, had been given over to the monastic ideal by pious members of the nobility, many of whom retired to the monastic state themselves and became monastic founders. One example is that of St. Iduberga, who after the death of her husband, a prominent leader of the Frankish nobility, turned her entire estate at Nijvel into a monastic compound, complete with imported Irish missionaries, schools for the youth and a scriptorium for producing much-needed books. . . . one of the most prominent features of Frankish spirituality is the phenomenon of whole extended families of saints among the nobility which maintained the ascetic ideal in monasteries and good Christian government in the world.
‘ . . . As Frankish society became saturated with the Christian ideal, however, the intensity of the Christian calling had to compete with the formalized institutions which, although nominally Christian, were in fact fast becoming corrupt and infected with the spirit of worldly ambition. The desire for a rational, all-encompassing “system” which the first Franks were so enamored with in the form of the Roman Empire, began to develop within Western Christendom and eventually found expression in the Papacy and its legalistic idealism in the place of true repentance and heartfelt bearing of the Cross of Christ’ (Thomas J. Hulbert, Saint Herman Calendar 2000: Saints of the Low Countries, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, Cal., 2000, pgs. 2, 10, 17).
Belgium, like the rest of Western Europe, has gone from a high level of spiritual development internally and externally to a brutalizing rationalism and power politics and an obsession with economic expansion and innovation. This spiritual decay is illustrated well enough in the famous figures through the centuries that have sprung from the soil of Nivelles (Nijvel):
‘St Gertrude of Nivelles – Convent cofounder (7th century)
St Wilfretrudis of Nivelles – Abbess and niece of Gertrude (7th century)
Gertrude of Nivelles, Pippin's daughter and abbess of the Nivelles monastery (626–659)
Louis-Joseph Seutin, doctor and surgeon (1793–1862)
Jules Louis Guillery, lawyer and politician (1824–1902)
Henri Delmotte, novelist (1822–1884)
Didier Theys, racing driver (b. 1956)
André Lotterer, racing driver (b. 1981)’
From holy abbesses to race car drivers: A greater contrast would be difficult to think up, but it is indicative of the loss of the ‘savor of Orthodoxy’ in the West that St Seraphim Rose, one of the founders of the St Herman Brotherhood mentioned above, often spoke and wrote about. And perhaps nothing shows that more clearly than the current statistics from Belgium, which indicate that only about 5% of the population attend church services each Sunday.
There is little surprise, then, that Brussels has come to be the home of most of the European Union’s institutions. Its secularity made it the most attractive location for atheistic technocrats:
‘A Committee of Experts deemed Brussels to be the one option to have all the necessary features for a European capital: a large, active metropolis, without a congested centre or poor quality of housing; good communications with other member states' capitals, including to major commercial and maritime markets; vast internal transport links; an important international business centre; plentiful housing for European civil servants; and an open economy. Furthermore, it was located halfway between France and Germany (as in the case of other seats of European institutions), and on the border between the two major European civilisations: Latin and Germanic; and was at the centre of the first post-war integration experiment: the Benelux. As a capital of a small country, it also could not claim to use the presence of institutions to exert pressure on other member states, it being more of a neutral territory between the major European powers.’
In other words, Babylon has appeared again, but this time on the Senne River in the woods of northern Europe.
The formidable defender of tradition in Europe, Joseph de Maistre, put into words the awful spirit animating Western Europe today:
‘ “Depart from us, God! Must we for ever tremble before priests, and receive from them whatever instruction they care to give us? . . . All things displease us because your name is written on all things. We wish to destroy everything and to re-create it without your help. Depart from our councils of state, our schools, our homes; we shall be better off alone, reason will be a sufficient guide. Depart from us, God!”
‘How has God punished this abominable delirium? He has punished it as he created the world, by a single phrase. He has said: LET IT BE—and the political world collapsed.
‘This is how the two proofs join to convince even the least farseeing minds. On the one side, the religious principle presides over every political creation; and on the other everything crumbles once it withdraws’ (‘Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions’, The Generative Principle of Political Constitutions: Studies on Sovereignty, Religion, and Enlightenment, Jack Lively edr. & translr., Routledge, New York, 1965, ch. LXVI, p. 180).
As bad as things have been in Western Europe, this evil spirit is at its most powerful in Yankee America. We exclude the South to a degree because she has, often in an unconscious, inarticulate way, tried to uphold old traditions in the difficult circumstances of life that come from being yoked together with the New England Yankees. It is no accident that the national flag of the Southern ethnos bears the Cross of the Holy Apostle Andrew, and the flag of one of her subcultures, the Cajuns of Louisiana, bears a star symbolizing the Ever-Virgin Mary, while the flag of the Yankee Union is bereft of any Christian symbols at all. Even the flag and coat of arms of secular Brussels still retain the icon of St Michael the Archangel.
Yankee America is the antithesis of tradition. Connecticut-born Charles Finney said it as plainly as you please in 1863:
‘Christianity is radically reformatory. Satan has usurped the government of this world. . . . Christ has undertaken the work of counter-revolution . . . to create all things new in the moral order of things . . . to reform or destroy, all governments that dont obey God. . . . It follows that conservatism is its great antagonist. . . . Conservatism is a disposition to preserve the established order. . . . Its law is custom—Precedent—Established usages. . . . It looks back for all that is excellent & counts progress insanity. . . . It is every where & evermore antiChrist’ (Mark A. Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, Oxford UP, New York, 2002, p. 380).
American morality is grounded in a great inversion of values: Destruction of the past is good and ordained by Christ Himself; old customs and traditions are evil and the work of Antichrist. This is a horrible, blasphemous lie, but it is the unspoken assumption of most of those who believe in American exceptionalism.
Up from Hell?
The West has reached a low point in her history. She can go lower if she wishes, to worse torments, or she can begin to ascend again – back to God, back to sanity, back to healthy development of individuals and society. How can she do the latter? Not through adherence to the destructive revolutionary seed-bearers of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (though there are many good people in those confessions, like de Maistre), but by returning to the original church, the Orthodox Church, the Church that built the Europe of Saints of the first 1,000 years of her Christian history, the Church of St Géry, St Iduberga, St Foillan, and so many others. Doing so will be no easy undertaking, but it is the only way the West will find a truly satisfying life and lasting riches:
‘ . . . If you want to do good for yourself, get rid of pleasures and enter on the path of the cross of repentance, burn up in the fire of self-crucifixion, be tempered in tears of heartfelt contrition—and you’ll become gold, or silver, or a precious stone, and in due time you’ll be taken by the Heavenly Householder as an adornment for His most bright and most peaceful mansions. Amen’ (St Theophan the Recluse, ‘Three Homilies on the Bearing of the Cross’, The Orthodox Word, 48.4 (2012), Homily 3, p. 202).