Notre Dame cathedral survived the Black Death, when 100 million Europeans perished. It flourished in the Renaissance, then survived the French Revolution, where the church was overthrown in blood.
Now the cathedral belongs to the Republic of France–it is a church that is property of the state. This is something very ancient in Europe, but foreign to most Americans. The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. is owned by the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation, though it was constructed under a charter from Congress. America has no religious state-owned icons like exist in Europe.
Over the centuries, France has adopted a hands-off attitude toward its arguably most famous landmark other than the Eiffel Tower. Only now, in the modern era, did the state, with help from outside donations, attempt a major renovation. Now the site lies in ruins.
France saved Paris in 1940 by surrendering to the Nazi onslaught. On June 17, Marshal Petain broadcast “It is with a heavy heart that I tell you today that we must stop fighting.” He did this in no small part to save Paris, to save Notre Dame.
In August 1944, General Dietrich von Choltitz received orders from Hitler to flatten Paris–turn it into a “pile of rubble”–rather than let the allies have her. But France would not give up Paris. There remains significant controversy over von Choltitz’s claim in his memoir “Is Paris Burning” that he alone saved Paris by disobeying a direct order from the Fuhrer.
“If he saved only Notre Dame, that would be enough reason for the French to be grateful,” the general’s son, Timo told The Telegraph in 2004. “But he could have done a lot more.
“France officially refuses to this day to accept it and insists that the Resistance liberated Paris with 2,000 guns against the German army. To official France, my father was a swine, but every educated French person knows what he did for them. I am very proud of his memory.”
I am inclined to believe both accounts are true. The Resistance would have sacrificed their lives to save Notre Dame. And von Choltitz could not bring himself to destroy it to fulfill the visions of a madman.
Humanity reacts this way when confronted directly with an assault on the divine. But over time, applied slowly, through distraction and neglect, France, and the West as a whole, let Notre Dame become a pile of rubble.
Now France, and the West, is faced with the results. France should not let this moment become just another opportunity for political speeches and sentiment. France should honor the memory of those who built this cathedral fit to house the Spirit of God in worship, and the memory of those who fought and died to preserve it.
This should serve as an inflection point. To save Notre Dame is to save France from the ennui that all of Europe has fallen into. Christendom in Europe is all but dead. Only three percent of Europeans are active believers. Great cathedrals stand empty, cold and lonely, serving only as tourist attractions, architectural curiosities, and monuments to the trials and achievements of civilization long past.
France needs to rebuild Notre Dame. The rebuilding itself could be a first step in a journey upward from the cold neglect of the heart where Europe seems mired.
Rebuild Notre Dame and do it with the same determination to save it, and save France, as those who humbled themselves and abased the entire country as Marshal Petain did to keep it from annihilation.
Rebuild Notre Dame and save all France. Rebuild it and save Europe, and all of Western Civilization from the onslaught of a post Christian, post modern, nihilist future.