Reflections on the Notre Dame Inferno

By The Stream Published on April 16, 2019

Much of the world watched in profound sadness Monday as the iconic Notre Dame cathedral went up in flames. The 820 year old cathedral still stands today, but only after enduring colossal, incalculable damage. And she does stand — as a major symbol of Western Christianity and the Catholic Church, as a masterwork of Gothic architecture, as a setting for great works of art and literature, as a landmark in the City of Lights, as witness to and participant in nearly a millennium of history.

We’ve collected the thoughts and reflections of several Stream writers on yesterday’s fire, and what it means, particularly during this Holy Week. We will be updating this story as the day continues.

Dr. Jay Richards, Stream Executive Editor and professor at Catholic University

“Notre Dame” is “Our Lady” in French, and refers of course to Mary the Mother of Jesus. As the flames engulfed the beloved French Cathedral, I could not help but think of symbolic connections.

It was Monday of Holy Week, the very week when some two thousand years ago, Mary would sit at the foot of the cross, watching her son suffer and die for the sins of the world. Were the flames a sign of judgment on a Church that has grown lax and worldly, or were they a sign of Mary’s mourning even now for the Body of Christ on earth — a sign meant to call Christians back to faithfulness, to prayer and fasting?

I don’t know the answer, but I pray that the message will become clear to those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Dr. John Zmirak, author of several books on Catholicism

(Excerpted from John’s passionate and painful reaction to the fire, “Are We Too Primitive to Rebuild Notre Dame?”)

What broke our hearts more, far more, than the fire? What sears our souls today, as we watch little pieces of the Middle Ages fall to the Paris cobblestones? We knew no one would replace it. We knew that the Church wouldn’t build this way today. Not for the reasons you hear. “No one knows that craftsmanship anymore, it’s a lost art, can’t do it.” Nonsense. Gothic churches can be rebuilt because they have been. A Gothic church is slowly still going up in Morningside Heights, St. John the Divine.

Maybe some old techniques have been forgotten, and in a few places technology might have to fill the gap. But exquisite churches that sing in stone and glass to the glory of God are perfectly possible. Anyone who says otherwise is ignorant. Or lying. …

But I fear we don’t even want such beauty enough to recreate it. It frightens us with its demands. As God does, which explains why we flee Him. We’d rather keep our eyes firmly fixed on the husks that we feed to the pigs than think about the Father.

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Watch, just watch. If some devout billionaire, or kindly non-Catholic French patriot, donated every dollar of the billions it would cost, you know what some bishop would say? He’d echo the words of one of the Church’s very first bishops: “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (John 12)

Tom Gilson

(Adapted from his article, “Postmodern Museum vs. Notre Dame: The Broad vs. the Lofty”)

Since John Zmirak asked “Are We Too Primitive to Rebuild Notre Dame?,” hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged to that task, so the answer might be, “Yes, maybe, in a way.” But I fear the rebuilding will be mere facade, even on the inside where facades do not belong. For the spirit of modern man is too much like the new Broad Art Museum at my alma matter Michigan State : earth-bound, sensation-seeking, ignorant of the lofty.

Maybe I’m more pessimistic than I need to be. Maybe setting our gaze on a cathedral, even a badly damaged one, will turn our eyes upward again. But we need more than metaphorical uplifting. We need to turn our eyes and hearts back toward God.

Dennis Prager

(Taken from syndicated columnist Dennis Prager’s article “Notre-Dame: An Omen”)

The symbolism of the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral, the most renowned building in Western civilization, the iconic symbol of Western Christendom, is hard to miss.

It is as if God Himself wanted to warn us in the most unmistakable way that Western Christianity is burning — and with it, Western civilization. …

[T]he left’s belief that secular reason can replace God and the Bible turns out to be completely wrong. The alleged citadels of secular reason — the universities — are the most irrational and morally confused institutions in the West.

I don’t know if a worker accident or a radical Muslim set fire to Notre Dame Cathedral (as they have scores of other churches around Europe). In terms of what the fire represented, it doesn’t much matter. What matters is the omen: Europe is burning, just as Notre Dame was.

Jennifer Hartline

Joan of Arc Notre Dame

(Taken from Jennifer’s heartfelt “The Fire of Notre Dame: Judgement or Healing?“)

“The image of Notre Dame on fire yesterday became, for me, the perfect symbol of the last year and all the scandal sullying the Catholic Church.

And I say, let it burn. No, not the glorious cathedral. The corruption, the scandal, the false church that has been standing beside, even in front of, the authentic Church for so long now. Let the wicked dross be consumed by fire. Let the falsehood and unbelief and greed and perversion be reduced to ashes by a holy and cleansing fire.

First the fire. Let it rage until the work is done. We need to endure the pain of it, and sit with the knowledge of the depth of the sin and betrayal and finally see how thoroughly we have abandoned God. Then may those ashes be heaped upon our heads in repentance and tears.

Then, we can rise up in renewed faith and begin the rebuilding. This fire in the Church will be a purifying one, by the grace of God. Even now, we are not abandoned without hope. We have been faithless, but God is faithful.

“The gates of hell will not prevail.”

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