But though the religion of that age was intensely other-worldly, its other-worldliness had a very different character from much that we have come to associate with the word in its modern pietist form. It was collective rather than individualist, objective rather than subjective, realist rather than idealist. Although the world to come lay outside history and beyond time, it was the fixed limit towards which time and history were carrying the world. The ocean of eternity surrounded the sinking island of human existence on every side. In the past, the world of men had been confident and secure. As the waters of the sea retreated, they had pushed the limit of culture further and further under the protection of the dikes they had built. But now the waters were advancing, the dikes were down and soon there would be no more land. Only the Church remained as an ark of refuge, and it was a better investment to spend one’s time and money on the building of an ark than to waste it in vain attempts to mend the broken dikes or reclaim the ruined fields and saltings. This is a crude picture of the other-worldly attitude of early Christendom.
Whatever else might be lost, and however dark might be the prospects of Western society, the sacred order of the liturgy remained intact and, in it, the whole Christian world, Roman, Byzantine and barbarian, found an inner principle of unity. Moreover the liturgy was not only the bond of Christian unity. It was also the means by which the mind of the gentiles and the barbarians was attuned to a new view of life and a new concept of history. It displayed in a visible, almost dramatic form what had happened and was to happen to the human race—the sacred history of man’s creation and redemption and the providential dispensation that governed the course of history, the great theme which is so majestically unfolded in the prophecies and prayers of the Paschal liturgy. …
Thus in the West, after the fall of the Empire, the Church possessed in the liturgy a rich tradition of Christian culture as an order of worship, a structure of thought and a principle of life.