Armando Pego: “We cannot get rid of evil with apocalyptic denunciations”

After his Guelph trilogy (2014–2016), and the absolute pilgrim (2020), Armando Pego presents his Poetics of the monastery (Encounter). He proposes a serene spirituality in the middle of the world, and remembers that original Sin, the Fall, is essential to understand civilization. “It is not just about the biblical account; the destruction of Troy also presses our imagination, and also leaves us with the idea that evil is not a bond that we can tear off with good intentions or with apocalyptic denunciations”, he explains.

Guelph trilogy, The absolute pilgrim, Poetics of the monastery. Are we talking about a journey, a pilgrimage that ends in a place?

It is the work of an entire decade. From the decade of maturity, from the passage of late youth, when ambitions are already being fulfilled and failures are also being accepted. It is an itinerary marked by contrasts. On some occasion I have defined myself as an anarcho-reactionary, as that person who —given that the order in which he believes has disappeared— fights against the parodies of order that are tried to be imposed as a substitute, and who reject that past that I have loved and that I love A past that is not only cultural, but also spiritual, political, and social. There is no nostalgia. But there is a will to maintain that thread, that continuity of a tradition that makes the present have the moral obligation to preserve, to guard, to protect the link between the past and the future. Upon reaching the goal, to this monastery, I try to reflect in my book the synthesis of my thought.

– What would this thought, proposal, or way of life be?

– The monastery for me is a physical space, but it is also a symbolic space. And that symbolic space encompasses the three great pillars of my life and my faith. Home, family, on the one hand. On the other hand, the school, in the sense of the academy, of the university, the place where one learns, where one knows oneself, where one dialogues, where one keeps alive the desire for letters and the love of God. And finally, the monastery is also the image, the metaphor of what the Church is —or what it should be— for me. A place or a community in which we make a pilgrimage, because this world is not a definitive reality, it is an important reality in which it is necessary to be incarnated. But the real homeland is not here, we are on our way to it.

Armando PegoAlfonso Ucar

– In the book you talk about the crisis or deconstruction of the father, the teacher and the monk. To what extent does the family drive out the father, to what extent does society or the school drive out the teacher?

– They are expelled from the mere name; the parent becomes a “parent A,” and the teachers are now called “teaching agents.” The figure of the teacher is reduced to a parody, almost like maintaining that image of “the letter with blood enters.” He becomes the cause of all evil and all frustration. In the end, the teacher simply becomes an emotional coach, a companion of emotions.

I often repeat that I belong to a post-conciliar generation; I am born in the year 70, and therefore I do not know the Church prior to the Council. I belong to this group of people who have lived through all the social transformations of 1968, which arrived late in Spain, but arrived with force. A wound has been produced in the world in which we had lived, a rupture, a split, and the effort of these works —and specifically of Poetics of the monastery— consists in rethinking how this point has been reached and, if possible, not a return to the past, but to reconnect with tradition to continue moving forward. Tradition is not a set of norms and rites that must be maintained in a pure atmosphere, rather it is something alive, it is a deposit, and it must be enriched and not only preserved.

The monastery is also an example, a reference for the life of each lay person.Armando Pego

– And the monk?

– For my generation, without a doubt, the sudden disappearance of many people who left the priesthood or left the religious condition was very shocking. The priest or the religious, or the monk, who was seen as a figure of reference —what in Catalan we would call the “pal de paller”, the axis of a community—, becomes a dynamic agent. In the name of a very fruitful idea of ​​the Council, which is that of the presence of the laity. But a whole series of confusions ensues. The layman ceases to be a layman and becomes a substitute for a clergyman. And the clergyman is hell-bent on being a secular version of the realm of spirituality.

– Throughout the history of the Church there have been figures like Thomas More. Being a layman, a father of a family, he had a very monastic attitude or disposition. Would that be the figure you propose?

– That would be a fundamental figure. When he was young, he had an approach to the Charterhouse. Finally, he did not become a Carthusian, but he always drank, fed on the Carthusian spirituality. In some passage of his writings, he says that, in the midst of the flurry of occupations that he had —concerns, family, political obligations—, it was necessary to remain calm, because we all had to carry a Charterhouse inside our hearts. In this sense, I claim the monastery. The monastery is not simply a place that is on the outskirts, a place that means withdrawal from the world, but the monastery is also an example, a reference for the life of each lay person. It is a testimony of Christian life for all the laity, whatever their condition, whatever their state.

The monasteries were also places of civilization, of culture. Places that provided certain assurancesArmando Pego

– Have Catholics forgotten about those venerable Benedictine monks, with their ancient liturgies, to devote themselves to parish activism?

– The richness of that tradition has practically disappeared not only from the cultural horizon, but even from the sentimental landscape of the new generations. Monasteries were not simply places of prayer. The monasteries were also places of civilization, of culture. Places that provided certain securities and a form of political organization. They were realities strongly inserted in their social context. All this has been lost.

One of the great and recurring temptations is that of millenarianism: “the world is ending, everything is corrupted”Armando Pego

– Within Poetics of the monastery, you quote many authors. One of them is John Senior. How do you agree with Senior?

– I feel very close to John Senior, in terms of his vindication of classical culture for the formation of what was once called the gentleman, the Christian lady. The formation of a human type in which all dimensions of life were balanced, articulated in physical and symbolic spaces, naturally. Senior has been a fundamental piece in the North American sphere for the recovery of monastic vocations.

Poetics of the monastery. Encounter Editions

– Also quotes Rod Dreher. What is the difference between them?

– The difference between my proposal and Dreher’s perhaps consists in the different image we have of the monastery. For Dreher, it is necessary to take refuge in Noah’s Ark to cross the storm of our time, thus laying the foundations for a future Christian restoration. For me the monastery is, above all, the garden and the choir, a place of prayer and work, a transit space —without false discontinuities— between the realities of this world and the definitive life of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Because the cloister is open to the outside, in the midst of contemporary deserts. One of the great and recurring temptations is that of millenarianism: “the world is ending, everything is corrupted, hopefully the Lord will come.” But eternal life is not the compensation for the horrors of this world, but the fullness of life that God has created and whose most precious image we are.

Armando Pego: “We cannot get rid of evil with apocalyptic denunciations”