Thursday, March 8, 2012

Oikoumene

The word has come to mean the whole, meaning of humanity, derived from the Greek for “inhabited.” The word was a great favorite of my one of my mentors, Arnold Toynbee. Ecumenical derives from it—and Toynbee saw a deep movement in history, a repeated attempt rooted somewhere in the human soul, for unity. To be sure it comes paired with a powerful contrary drive to separate and thus to differentiate. The two are joined these days to bring us the thematics of the Republican primaries, in which candidates run hard for something in order to be against it—thus running to control the national government in order to save us, beleaguered voters, from it. The logic of the libertarian view taken to full power is really to have no government at all—but for which, paradoxically, control of the government seems a prerequisite.

In the wake of Super Tuesday pundits confessed their puzzlement because Santorum, although a Catholic, evidently failed to sweep the Catholic vote, getting only about a third of it. I’m not surprised, I thought. The Catholic culture is deep down colored by the oikoumene, hence Santorum’s “government-as-enemy” makes him sound a bottom-up type of guy whereas the Catholic culture is top-down:  God, Church, Kings, Estates, and people each with an immortal soul. But this has been going on for quite a while already, this pull in the direction of scatter—no doubt since the sixteenth century. The oikoumene had gone a little sour about that time, and the effort to reform that corruption has, over the centuries, produced more and more shatter—as if a vast explosion had taken place back then and its detritus is still raining down on us in these latter days.

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