“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
If we did not know that the “times” of which Dickens wrote this description were those of the French Revolution, I wonder when we would imagine it. No doubt, as he writes, the years of the late 18th Century, and the years of the mid-19th, and the years of the early 21st are indeed all “so far like” each other that it probably does not matter.
Still, let me ask you a question – a “readers’ poll” as it were. When do YOU think, ecclesiastically speaking, were
1) the best of times
2) the worst of times
3) the age of wisdom
4) the age of foolishness
5) the epoch of belief
6) the epoch of incredulity (by which, I take it, Dickens meant unbelief)
7) the season of Light
8 ) the season of Darkness
9) the spring of hope
10 the winter of despair
Here’s my go:
1) the best of times: Now. Christianity has never had it better. We are heirs to the cumulated faith of two millenia, there are more Christians alive today representing a greater proportion of the world’s population than at any time ever before, an unprecedented number of Christians are involved in active evangelisation, people in every nation on earth have heard the Gospel, theology and scripture studies are persued at an unprecedented level, the laity of the Church are aware of their vocation and are using their gifts accordingly as never before, Christian culture and thinking has so permeated “Western” society that few people actually recognise the incredible degree to which “Western-ness” is “Christian”, literacy is becoming universal as is access to immense amounts of information to inform our faith, etc. etc. I imagine that this contention will be contended because of its contentiousness, but there it is. I really do think that this is “the best of times” for the Christian faith in the last 2000 years.
2) the worst of times: Cheeky boy that I am, I am tempted to say “Now” again, and you could certainly make a good case for it, but I will say the 9th-10th Century and leave it at that. Google “pornocracy” if you want an idea why…
3) the age of wisdom: Ah, well that would have to be the Post-Nicene Patristic Age, I reckon.
4) the age of foolishness: 1968
5) the epoch of belief: the 13th Century. Exactly what they believed is another matter.
6) the epoch of incredulity: the late 19th and early 20th Century. It was suddenly the fashion.
7) the season of Light: The Apostolic Age
8 ) the season of Darkness: Again, contrarily, the so called “Enlightenment”.
9) the spring of hope: the missionary expansion of the Catholic Church to the New World, Africa and Asia inspired by the Counter-Reformation
10) the winter of despair: Never. I do not think that there has ever been an age of the Church in which “despair” has been the keynote. I pray that there never will be.