“But what is the consequence, then, when Christianity, as a living historical force, recedes? We have no need to speculate, as it happens; modernity speaks for itself: with the withdrawal of Christian culture, all the glories of the ancient world that it baptized and redeemed have perished with it in the general cataclysm. Christianity is the midwife of nihilism, not because it is itself nihilistic, but because it is too powerful in its embrace of the world and all of the world’s mystery and beauty; and so to reject Christianity now is, of necessity, to reject everything except the barren anonymity of spontaneous subjectivity. . . .
“I for one feel considerable sympathy for Nietzsche’s plaint, ‘Nearly two-thousand years and no new god’—and for Heidegger’s intoning of his mournful oracle: ‘Only a God can save us.’ But of course none will come. The Christian God has taken up everything into Himself; all the treasures of ancient wisdom, all the splendor of creation, every good thing has been assumed into the story of the incarnate God, and every stirring towards transcendence is soon recognized by the modern mind—weary of God—as leading back towards faith. Antique pieties cannot be restored, for we moderns know that the hungers they excite can be sated only by the gospel of Christ and him crucified. . . .
“in the light of this history, . . . this [the first] commandment is a hard discipline: it destroys, it breaks in order to bind; like a cautery, it wounds in order to heal; and now, in order to heal the damage it has in part inflicted, it must be applied again. In practical terms, . . . this means that Christians must make an ever more concerted effort to recall and recover the wisdom and centrality of the ascetic tradition. . . .
“It means, in short, self-abnegation, contrarianism, a willingness not only to welcome but to condemn, and a refusal of secularization as fierce as the refusal of our Christian ancestors to burn incense to the genius of the emperor. This is not an especially grim prescription, I should add: Christian asceticism is not, after all, a cruel disfigurement of the will. . . . It is, rather, the cultivation of the pure heart and pure eye, which allows one to receive the world, and rejoice in it. . . . Christian asceticism is the practice of love.”
David B. Hart, “Christ and nothing,” First things no. 136 (October 2003): 53, 55.