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“The truth is that when people are…really wild with freedom and invention, they always must, and they always do, create institutions.” G. K. Chesterton
I love this quote, and include it in the first Manifest (news and literary journal of Epiphany…a liberative arts university), because the question came up at a faculty meeting.
“Epiphany had hardly existed an hour before new institutions were springing up on the campus: Epiphany Press, the Blessed Order of Elizabeths, Incipe – a foundation dedicated to the beginning of good works, Euphonium – Epiphany’s chorale, and Manifest – its news and literary journal.” For myself, this story had hardly existed a week before I created the Joy Foundation. What I saw through fiction helped me to understand why free men always create institutions.
First, there’s a point at which you can’t go further with an idea without actually creating a Something to hold it. For it to be communicated to others, it needs form. For us to live out what that idea implies, we must at least articulate the idea. Those words shape a Thing that is, that has being, definition, limits, and qualities we have chosen as against other possibilities. This begins an institution. Now we can invite someone else, and express what we’re inviting them to. Sometime is never. Somewhere is nowhere. An institution is a building with a door, posted hours, and a clear message about who is, or is not, welcome. Structure provides a point of entry, so institutions provide a way ‘in’ to our company, our community. By the way, you’re invited to join the Catholic Creatives Salon for a discussion of Pope St. John Paul’s Theater of the Word, on February 3, 2015.
Second, whenever we want to protect, or promote certain values, we wrap them in our institutions. It’s lovely to appreciate Renaissance polyphony and Gregorian chant, for instance, but they don’t just hang out on their own. Singers are needed; excuses to sing, places to sing, and audiences to listen. Hence, a Sursum Corda – we lift up our hearts (and receive donations!) through the actuality of our bodies and community – an institution.
Third, if ‘I’ want to do a number of different things, and don’t want it to sound like a ‘me, me, me’ list, I need some other name(s). I want a way to include whoever else joins in with me on this or that adventure. The institutional ‘I’ of a club, corporation, or sodality is bigger than the sum of its members. It has a clear identity of its own that – no matter how many, or how few people are involved – transcends the particular identities of its founders. The Chess Club may, or may not, want to be identified with the religion or politics of its president, for instance. This feature allows the institution to give us access to one another at arm’s length, to make closer-and-farther-flung alliances, to be clear about when Faith is a prerequisite, etc….
Since this post is appearing on the seventeenth of the month, I ask your prayers for the unity of the Body of Christ, per Christ’s own prayer for that unity in the gospel of St. John, Chapter 17. I believe He meant actual, and not metaphorical, or virtual, or partial unity, and I imagine He thought we’d take His own prayers pretty seriously. The world needs for the Church to have a door that may be entered, with posted hours and dogmas, and a sign clearly welcoming all to a community that is one with Christ.