My recounting of the sessions of the summer school will be done along certain common themes that seem to me to link different sessions, as I think this will provide a more coherent and complete picture of the entire experience than if I listed the points of each session one by one in chronological order, so I will be starting mainly with the Chesterton talks to set the tone and then move into the other lectures in the coming days and weeks. 

One of the important themes of The Rockford Institute’s summer school on “The American Agrarian Tradition” that kept recurring, particularly in Fr. Boyd’s talks on Chesterton, was the supreme importance of the Incarnation for the Christian vision and, by extension, agrarian and Distributist visions of life and society.  The quote that stayed with me most strongly was, I believe, from Chesterton: “The central idea of our civilisation is the doctrine of the Incarnation.”  It is a doctrine that forces us to reassess the meaning and order of all things, as the Incarnation is “the radical reversal of human values.”  I would add that it is also the supreme act of God entering into history, becoming embodied and dwelling amongst us in everyday life.  And it is the stuff of everyday life–”daybreak, daily bread and daily labour”–that must be made “interesting in themselves” if our civilisation is to endure.  Related to this, as Fr. Boyd noted in his first talk, for any social reform to be successful there must be a sense of wonder about the created order, possessing Chesterton’s sensibility as a “sacramental Christian” that, as Chesterton wrote in his riposte to Yeats, ”where there is anything, there is God.” 

The title of this post is taken from St. John of Damascus, who defended the veneration of holy icons on the grounds that God had become matter for our sake and worked out salvation through matter, which is to say flesh, redeeming and remaking matter so that it was possible to venerate material images of heavenly realities.  But in conjunction with the lectures on Chesterton and his application of Incarnation theology to social and economic questions, following those in the Anglo-Catholic circles in which he moved, the revaluation of the material world inherent in the reality of the Word having become flesh takes on new significance for the revaluation of the daily life and daily work of ordinary men.  In the Chestertonian vision, according to Fr. Boyd, the Incarnation tells us that ordinary men are sacred.  Chesterton’s conviction derived from this was that the institutions of family, property and community are essential to sustain and support them. 

Of these three, all of which are steadily and constantly undermined and sapped by mobility, deracination and the concentration of power and wealth, the most undervalued and least protected today is property, as Dr. Fleming explained in the first session.  Yet fundamental to any agrarian vision is the secure and widely diffused possession of real property that cannot be infringed upon.  Distributism itself is, as the name implies, a commitment to the wide diffusion of land ownership as a means to sustain the dignity and freedom of ordinary men, because, as Fr. Boyd put it, “property is the sacramental solidification of liberty.”  Fr. Boyd emphasised that Chesterton was not engaging in a “romanticisation” of the common man, but sought, if I recall correctly, to accord ordinary men the dignity and stature that God had already bestowed upon them in Christ and find the economic and social means to make these things secure.  Chesterton’s Distributism was not systematized and abstract, and so was not really an -ism at all, but was a description about humane everyday life.  Fundamentally, Distributism was (and is) concerned with the very grounded realities of earthly life, starting with the owning and cultivating of land, without which ordinary men will be (and have been) pressed together into servile masses subordinate to centralised elites of state and corporation.