To steal a line from REM, perhaps 'it's the end of the world as we know it'. If so, do you know where to head to when the time comes?
Indeed, if these voices crying out that the ‘end is near’ are correct, it would seem an appropriate time to look back to see how we arrived at this epitome of human cognitive and cultural evolution, particularly as we stand at the eve of the promised climactic year. Historians and theologians are now taking up this task, trying to distill the essential elements of success to pass along to any remnant to bring forward to rebuild civilization.
Recent studies of ancient documents, letters and artifacts, as well as new books from historians like Thomas Cahill (‘How the Irish Saved Civilization’) or Thomas Wood ('How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization') indicate that the Catholic Church was the conduit by which discoveries were made and shared. It was the sociological construct that preserved and transmitted the wisdom of antiquity after the fall of Rome. As the sole surviving functioning organization that continued to operate throughout the length and breadth of the entire Empire, she became the vehicle around which civilization was ordered. Using her agencies to facilitate communication, commerce, culture and everyday life, she became the vehicle by which new advances in technology spread between different cultures and countries. The same was true when it came to transmitting developments in other fields: politics and current events, philosophical and theological progressions, etc. The Church was the essential element which made possible all these advances.
This emerging consensus has created a new understanding of the vital role Catholic institutions played in creating the liberty, wisdom, and prosperity of today. It is wisdom that will be valuable if humanity faces the task of rebuilding its preeminent place on the globe in 2013 and beyond.
Even the Vatican is getting into the spirit of the times (although accidentally) with the opening for the first time in many years of their archives for public examination. Opening such a font of primary documents for study will no doubt produce any number of example which demonstrate the essential role of religious institutions in facilitating and promoting human development across the globe.
The Church also provided an economic morality which eventual evolved into the modern western capitalist system responsible for Western prosperity today. Monasteries and abbeys created and sustained an agrarian culture which permitted the development of trades and guilds whose innovations slowly but steadily advanced the arts, culture and technology around the known world. Towns and cities sprang up around ancient churches, monasteries and abbeys which provided a template for survival and salvation during our darkest times as a civilization. Through them, the Church sustained educational, scientific exploration, economic progress and social institutions, all while acting as the ultimate juridical agent in the wake of the fall of the Roman Empire.
It is not just coincidental, that the nations which have attained this high water mark of human progress, were functionally and culturally Christian for almost two millennia. The fact that the West shares one primordial paradigm from which public and private morality springs is the element which explains the causal relationship which exists between the Catholic Church and the modern secular State.
Even if the past 50 years has seen the influence of the Church wane and she has lost her privileged role in establishing Western public policy, law and morals, it is still the best proven institution at preserving and impelling human progress when faced with an apocalyptic future. Thank God that she possesses Christ's promise that she would be a successful instrument of grace until his return. For Catholics, and for all Christians in general, the approaching New Year's celebrations simply mark one day closer to that promised day of glory.