The true test of culture: Ought/Does our culture mediate an experience of the transcendentals?

The following is my major essay from my first semester at Campion College, I’m interested in any thoughts you might have, amendments, corrections, and general discussion about this, the question. The first paragraph is a synopsis, the essay itself starts with the paragraph opening “According to Hans Urs von Balthasar,…”. I will include my bibliography in the comments.

The true test of culture is whether it mediates an experience of the transcendentals or not. For a culture to mediate such an experience it requires an example. Since the transcendentals find their fullness in God, it follows that only through the Catholic Church can contemporary Western culture truly mediate the transcendentals. Western culture has, however, been heavily secularised since the Industrial Revolution, but especially since the 1960s, when we had the Sexual Revolution. There is also disunity within the Catholic Church, leading to the Church struggling to demonstrate the transcendentals as She is lacking the fullness of Unity or One. If She is lacking the fullness of one of the transcendentals, then She lacks the fullness of all of the transcendentals. For the Church to effectively mediate the grace of the Incarnation, She needs a firm understanding of what the Incarnation is, which She can only know through the transcendentals. Therefore, the Church must have the fullness of all of the transcendentals in order that She might mediate an experience of them and mediate the grace of the Incarnation.

According to Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the most prominent Catholic theologians of the last century, the true test of a culture is if it “mediates an experience of the transcendentals congruent with the grace of the Incarnation” . Tracey Rowland, the renowned Australian, Catholic theologian, adds that the “Word made flesh… needs to be made visible within the world” for the Church succeed in Her mission of bringing God’s Word to man and man to God. Starting at the end of the 19th century, and increasingly since the 1950s, we have seen a decrease in the role of religion in Western society and culture, and an increase in the secularisation of government, governmental institutions, and private institutions. This raises the following question: does contemporary Western culture stand up to the test described by von Balthasar? In order that we might answer this question, it is necessary for us to look into contemporary Western culture and contrast it with the culture that is associated with the transcendentals. The culture that is associated with the transcendentals is a culture of Love. Therefore, God, Who is Love and the fullness of the transcendentals, is the culture associated with the transcendentals. The normal way for man to reach God is through the Catholic Church, which acts as an ambassador for us, and a culture based firmly on the transcendentals will be able to assist the Church in realising this goal.
Before answering this question, I will, for the sake of clarity, define the transcendentals as those attributes of Being which transcend all essences. There are four transcendentals: One, Good, True, and Beautiful. Each of the transcendentals should be possessed in its fullness, and the fullness of each is to be found in the fullness of the others, and the fullness of each is to be found only in God, Who is Love. Culture will be defined as organised living, based on a shared tradition, and brought about through a shared environment .
The mediation of the transcendentals in any culture is important because men should strive for what is good, beautiful, and true; and what is good, beautiful, and true must also be one, and God alone has all these qualities. Therefore, men should strive for God. If man is to strive for God, then his culture should be designed so that it aids him in achieving this goal. The Church, being at the foundation of contemporary Western culture, has an important role in aiding man as he strives for God, because the mission of the Church is to get man to God.
Central to the Church’s mission is Her understanding of the doctrine of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Incarnation is that Jesus was conceived of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Ghost, and became the Word made Flesh, True God and True Man, two natures, One Person. It is one of, if not the most, important doctrines for the Church, as God sent His only Son to suffer and die for us as a sacrifice in reparation for the hurt caused by sin. The Incarnation and the following events, laid out in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, show us the great Love God bears for us, for He deemed that the life of His Son was the most appropriate sacrifice in reparation for our sin. The transcendentals are shown to us throughout the accounts of Jesus’ life, and He alludes to them as being part of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost in many passages, but especially during the Last Supper discourse .
During the discourse, Jesus tells the Apostles that He will “send them an Advocate to be with them for ever” (John 14:16), and that this Advocate will be the “Spirit of Truth Whom the world… neither sees nor knows” (John 14:17), but Whom they know because He dwells in the Apostles (John 14:17). Jesus goes on to talk of The Father and Himself making their home in all who receive Them (John 14:23). He says this after having already described Himself and The Father as One, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6-11). From this discourse we get an idea of the importance of the transcendentals in culture, as the transcendentals of One and Truth are explicitly stated as being fully in Jesus and God, and wherever one of the transcendentals are, there, too, are the other three.
In order that the Church might achieve Her goal of bringing souls to God, it is necessary for Her to mediate the transcendentals in Her day to day activities, Her liturgy, Her worship, and Her architecture so as to draw people towards Her and into Her. To mediate these, She must understand the state she is in at all times, and be in this world, but not of this world. Her mission, then, requires Her to be self-understanding of Her status and the status of Her mission. If She teaches clearly the doctrine of the Incarnation and how the transcendentals fit into It, then She will be able to fulfil Her role more successfully.
Contemporary Western culture has been becoming more and more secularised since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and it has been gaining momentum in its attempts to jettison all religion where possible since the start of the 1960s up until the present day. This leads us back to the question raised above: how does contemporary Western culture perform in von Balthasar’s test?
A culture founded on any religion cannot dispense with that religion and expect no societal upheaval, regardless of the religion in question. A culture striving to mediate an experience of the transcendentals cannot throw aside Catholicism, as Catholicism is the One, Good, True religion instituted by Christ. If it is One, Good, and True, then it must also be Beautiful, as all four transcendentals follow each other simultaneously and subsequently.
In its rejection of Catholicism, it seems strange to think that they could possibly mediate so much as a semblance of experience of the transcendentals, but they have managed to mediate some small, confused experience of them, and it daily leads people closer to God, some of these people realise this and take the next step: they become Catholic. Others of them do not see it until their lives and livelihood are threatened, and then they remember their God, and they beg Him for His help. Having already sent His Son to suffer and die for us, God cannot refuse them His help, but they may still reject it, knowingly or unknowingly, as it doesn’t always come in the way you expect it, after all, He appeared to Elijah not in the fire, the earthquake, or the wind, but in the silence (1 Kings 19:11-13).
On the whole it may be said that contemporary Western culture, while not mediating this experience as effectively as a Catholic culture would, is managing to mediate some small experience, enough for us to still recognise the Christian roots of our culture.
The Church, then, has a duty to effectively mediate the experience of the transcendentals and the grace of the Incarnation where contemporary Western Civilisation fails to, but is She doing this as effectively as She might and, if not, how might She?
The first, and the most obvious answer, is by strong teaching both in the schools and from the pulpit. For the Church to succeed in mediating the grace of the Incarnation, people need to understand It as fully as they can. Secondly would be to remember that leading by example is always one of the best means of teaching someone something. Thirdly is for the Church to seek unity within Her own ranks. The Protestant heresy, the Society of St. Pius X, and the Traditionalist movements have all caused damage to the unity of the Church, and the Church needs to restore this unity before She can hope to persuade those outside the Church to come into Her. Unity is also one of the transcendentals, and so the Church should strive for it on that alone.
The test of culture, as von Balthasar said, is whether or not it mediates an experience of the transcendentals. Contemporary Western society is struggling to mediate this experience, but, having been founded on Catholicism, there can still be seen, even in our rapidly secularising culture, signs of a rediscovery of them. The Church is working to mediate the grace of the Incarnation through and with the transcendentals and is on the way to reuniting Protestants and the Society of St. Pius X with Her, following which She will go back to reaching out to the world once more.

Dawson, C. Religion and Culture, (London: Sheed and Ward, 1948).
Nichols, A. “Foreword” to Tracey Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II, (London: Routledge, 2003).
Rowland, T. Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II, (London: Routledge, 2003).
Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Catholic Version, San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.