“But there are few periods in the history of western civilization – I would venture to say not more than two, unless our own age should prove to be a third – in which the transition from the preceding to the following age makes so complete a transformation that it may be regarded as a change in kind rather in degree.”
The writer is Wallace Ferguson and the essay — “Toward the Modern State” — is found in a book called “The Renaissance,” published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His is the first of six essays in which the writers seek to put Renaissance art into its historical context.
Ferguson speaks of two periods of western civilization in which cultural change was not evolutionary but quite radical. The first, presumably, was the age of Diocletian and the ensuing fall of the Roman Empire. The second, which Ferguson addresses directly, is the Renaissance. And maybe there is a third, he suggests: our own day!
What fascinates me is the date of the book: 1953. Now, more than sixty years later, it is inescapable that we are in the midst of a profoundly radical change and that the revolution has been underway since WW II. Ferguson was already sensing that something new was in the air just 8 years after the end of the War.
It can (and I think should) be argued that the single greatest factor in the Allied victory in the War was America’s mass production of armaments. And it can just as well be argued that since the War we have be in an age marked not by iron but by silicon. There are countless changes happening with such speed that we are all a bit disoriented. All we know for certain is that the Iron Age is passed, the Renaissance and its fruit in the Enlightenment have passed. What will emerge is not yet clear and probably won’t be until today’s change can be measured by tomorrow’s hindsight.
There are a great many questions to be pursued as we seek to understand the changes that propel us from one day to the next. The ones that are especially interesting to me concern the shape that Christian discipleship will take in the age to come. What will tomorrow’s Church look like? What will it mean tomorrow to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Or, in the way Bonhoeffer put it, Who is Jesus Christ for us today?