We live at the so-called end of Christendom. For most of the Western church’s history, its identity has been inseparable from the social, cultural and political institutions of wider society. But now the church’s identity is being slowly and painfully separated from secular society. The result is an identity crisis for the church. We have some vague notion that we are a community called by God to do God’s will, but we seem to lack a compelling description of what exactly that entails.
Anytime there is a discussion about the end of Christendom, one person springs to mind — St. John of Damascus (the Damascene). Why? Because when the Eastern empire came to a crashing, and crushing, halt, he survived to give theological aid to Christians living in a world hostile to them. In the end of his Christendom, he could a way to delve deeply into theological controversies in order to strengthen the ship and to aid the Church in ensuring its survival against the Islamic onslaught. He produced solid defenses of Christian doctrine, without backtracking or forgetting anything, finding a way to establish the goodness of God in everything.
Perhaps, as the end of Christendom comes, we should look East to see what role the Church played, what role theology played, and how theologians were shaped.
The dominant narrative of the West is no longer Christian and that is a good thing.