The Decline of Historical Liberalism and the Rise of the Antireligious Spirit

The Decline of Historical Liberalism and the Rise of the Antireligious Spirit

Fulton Sheen

(1948)

It is a characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unconscious of the tragedy. Humanity in a crisis is generally insensitive to the gravity of the times in which it lives. Men do not want to believe that their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times. If there is no fixed concept of justice how shall men know it is violated? Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world; the great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on, because they have lost the vision of the heights from which they have fallen. The tragedy is not that the hairs of our civilization are gray; it is rather that we fail to see that they are. As Reinhold Niebuhr put it: "It is a strange irony of history that a commercial and industrial civilization which might have had special reasons for being apprehensive about its vitality and longevity, should have been particularly optimistic." The basic reason for this false optimism he attributes to the fact that our civilization is mechanical rather than organic. Nothing is more calculated to deceive them in regard to the nature of life than a civilization whose cement of social cohesion consists of the means of production and consumption. 

        The very day Sodom was destroyed, Scripture describes the sun as bright; people saw Noah preparing for the flood one hundred and twenty years before it came, but men would not believe. In the midst of seeming prosperity, the decree to the angels goes forth but the masses go on in their sordid routines. As Our Lord said: “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noe entered into the ark, and they know not till the flood came, and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:38-39) Well may Our Savior say to us what He said to the Sadducees and the Pharisees in His time: “When it is evening, you say: It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning: Today there will be a storm, for the sky is red and lowering. You know then how to discern the face of the sky: and can you know the signs of the times?” (Matthew 16:2-3)

        Do we know the signs of these appointed times? Most people are afraid to face the unpalatable fact that not a single positive major objective for which this war was fought has been achieved. Few realize that barbarism is not only outside us, but beneath us; that science, by making us spectators of reality, has blinded us to the necessity of being actors, and that the atomic bomb, by putting human power in our hands, has hidden the weakness of our hearts. The signs of our times point to the truth that we have come to the end of the post-Renaissance chapter of history which made man the measure of all things. More particularly the three basic dogmas of the modern world are dissolving before our very eyes. We are witnessing first, the liquidation of the economic man, or the assumption that man who is a highly developed animal has no other function in life than to produce and acquire wealth, and then like the cattle in the pastures, be filled with years and die.

        The basic assumption of bourgeois civilization was that the best interests of the whole world, the state and the community could be served by allowing each individual to work out his economic destiny as he saw fit. This is known as the principle of laissez faire. As far as possible individual life is unregulated by the state, whose function is purely negative, like that of a policeman. The less the state does, the better. It was not long until the evil of this principle manifested itself. If every individual is to be allowed to work out his economic destiny as he sees fit, it will not be long until wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few and the vast majority are reduced, as Hilaire Belloc showed, to a slave state. Thus from a false economic system which insisted only on personal right to property and forgot the social use, the world reacted to a totalitarian economy which insisted on social use and forgot personal rights. As a result the homo economicus died and the homo politicus was born.

        Secondly, the modern world is witnessing the liquidation of the idea of the natural goodness of man, who has no need of God to give him rights, no need of a Redeemer to salvage him from guilt, because progress is automatic and inevitable, thanks to education and science. This false assumption had its roots in Rousseau, who reinterpreted the Christian tradition by making man naturally good and blaming institutions and civilizations for evil. Comte, Darwin and Spencer were subsequently invoked to support the idea that man was on the road to becoming god. But modern history has completely dissipated this false philosophy of man, as the interval between wars shows man becoming increasingly dehumanized. The interval between the Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian War and World War I was 43 years, and the interval between World War I and World War II was 21 years—and this at a time when man has all the material conditions necessary for his happiness. Having lost the purpose of life which religion supplied, modern man became increasingly frustrated as his disappointed hedonism turned to pessimism. Thus man, who isolated himself from the religious community, now by reaction finds himself absorbed by the political community as despair becomes the dominant note of contemporary philosophy and literature. 

        The third idea being liquidated today is rationalism understood in the sense that the supreme purpose of life is not the discovery of the meaning and the goal of life, but solely to devise new technical advances to make this world a city of man to displace the City of God. Rationalism properly understood is reason concerned with ends and means to justify an end; modern rationalism is reason concerned with means to the exclusion of ends. This was justified on the grounds that progress made ends impossible. The result was that man, instead of working toward an ideal, changed the ideal and called it progress. Paul Tillich says that “the decisive feature of the period of the victorious bourgeoise is the loss of control of human reason over man’s historical existence.

         Reaction has set in and man who surrendered his reason in the proper service of the term discovers that the state has pre-empted it as planning reason, so that now there is no reason but state reason which is Fascism, or class reason which is Communism as there was once a race reason which was Nazism. Other manifestations of irrationalism are to be found in Freudianism which makes the subconscious the determinant principle of life, or Marxism which supplants reason with historical determinism, or astrologism which puts the blame on the stars. 


         In more general terms, our day is witnessing the end of historical liberalism. Liberalism is a dangerous term to use simply because the modern mind never makes a distinction. If liberalism means a system which believes in progress toward freedom as the right to do whatever man ought, then liberalism is to be encouraged. If liberalism means a progressive repudiation of law and truth in the sense that freedom means the right to do whatever man pleases, then it is to be condemned. In the latter sense, the liberal is opposed to the reactionary though both have something in common; they never see permanence and change together. They take one to the exclusion of the other. The reactionary seizes upon permanency to the exclusion of change, and the liberal upon change to the exclusion of permanency. The reactionary wants things to remain as they are; the liberal wants change though he is little concerned with direction. The reactionary wants the clock but no time; the liberal wants the time but no clock. The reactionary believes in staying where he is, though he never inquires whether or not he has a right to be there; the liberal, on the contrary, never knows where he is going, he is only sure he is on his way.


         The terms reactionary and liberal are so relative they mean little to thinking men who have either a knowledge of history or a remnant of reason. For example, the liberal of the last generation invoked liberalism to free economic activity from state control; the liberal of today invokes liberalism to extend state control of the economic order. The old liberal was a defender of capitalism; the new liberal is reacting against capitalism and wants some form of collectivism or state control. The old liberal wanted liberty of press, speech and conscience within the framework of democracy; the new liberal, reacting against the old liberalism, wants the liberty without the framework as its safeguard. The old liberal rebelled against taxation without responsibility; the new liberal wants the taxation as a handout without responsibility. The old liberal 50 years ago was materialistic in science. His son, who calls himself a liberal, is today’s reactionary for whom science is idealistic. The French liberals who protested against the authority of king and altar in the name of liberty were reactionaries, for they did not believe in extending that liberty to the proletariat. Many liberals who wrote they believed in equality of all men kept slaves. To change it around, every reactionary is protesting against the last liberal. Sometimes in one man the liberal and reactionary meet, as they did in the case of Milton. Milton was a liberal who favored a free press and protested against licensing of books; and then when a handsome salary was offered him he reacted against his liberalism and became an official censor of books.


         We have in the world reactions against reactions; revolts against revolts; the reactionary and the liberal are on a seesaw, and think they are going places because they are going up and down or see their momentary triumph over their opponent. The new liberals are at war against the old liberals; the new rebels in rebellion against the old rebels. The liberal of today will be the reactionary of tomorrow. This so-called liberalism is only a reaction against the latest liberalism.


         When we say liberalism is dying, we mean neither liberalism in the sense of a progressive acquisition of rational freedom, nor a progressive deterioration of rational standards, but historical liberalism with its roots in the seventeenth century or even earlier, which in the economic order became capitalism, in the political order nationalism, in the social order secularism, and which by reaction today has become totalitarianism.


         Classic treatises on the history and development of historical liberalism are known to all scholars. Harold J. Laski, for example, in his work The Rise of European Liberalism, referring to its relation to an earlier philosophy or history writes: “It was in the interest of profit-making that Liberalism had broken the discipline of the medieval Respublica Christiana . . . As an organized society, the liberal man at bottom had no defined objective save the making of wealth, no measurable criterion of function and status save ability to acquire it . . .” The more remote background of historical liberalism is to be found in the classic treatise of R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, in which he closely links up Puritanism with the rise of capitalism. "A creed which transformed the acquisition of wealth from a drudgery or a temptation into a moral duty was the milk of babies . . . The good Christian was not wholly dissimilar from the economic man.” 


From a divergent point of view, but still correlating the break-up of religious unity to the rise of economic man is the equally important treatise of Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. His thesis is that it was the change of moral standards which converted a natural frailty into a virtue. 


In any case it is becoming increasingly clear that historical liberalism is like a sundial, which is unable to mark time in the dark. Liberalism can function only in a society whose basis is moral, where the flotsam and jetsam of Christianity are still drifting about the world. From another point of view, historical liberalism is a parasite on a Christian civilization, and once that body upon which it clings ceases to be the leaven of society, then historical liberalism itself must perish. The individual liberties which historical liberalism emphasizes are secure only when the community is religious and can give an ethical foundation to these liberties. It may very well be that historical liberalism is only a transitional era in history between a civilization which was Christian and one which will be definitely anti-Christian. 


The second great truth which the signs of the times portend is that we are definitely at the end of a nonreligious era of civilization, which regarded religion as an addendum to life, a pious extra, a morale builder for the individual but of no social relevance, an ambulance that took care of the wrecks of the social order until science reached a point where there would be no more wrecks, and which called on God only as a defender of national ideals, or as a silent partner whose name was used by the firm to give responsibility but who had nothing to say about how business should be run. 


The new era in to which we are entering is what might be called the religious phase of human history. By religious we do not mean that men will turn to God, but rather that the indifference to the absolute which characterized the liberal phase of civilization will be succeeded by a passion for an absolute. From now on the struggle will be not for the colonies and national rights, but for the souls of men. There will be no more half-drawn swords, no divided loyalties, no broad strokes of sophomoric tolerance; there will not even be any more great heresies, for heresies are based on a partial acceptance of truth. The battle lines are already being clearly drawn and the basic issues are no longer in doubt. From now on men will divide themselves into two religions—understood again as surrender to an absolute. The conflict of the future is between the absolute who is the God-man, and the absolute which is the man-God; the God Who became man, and the man who makes himself God; brothers in Christ and comrades in Antichrist.


The Antichrist will not be so-called; otherwise he would have no followers. He will not wear red tights, nor vomit sulphur, nor carry a trident nor wave an arrowed tail as Mephistopheles in Faust. This masquerade has helped the Devil convince men that he does not exist. When no man recognizes, the more power he exercises. God has defined Himself as “I am Who am,” and the Devil as “I am who am not.”


Nowhere in Sacred Scripture do we find warrant for the popular myth of the Devil as a buffoon who is dressed like the first “red.” Rather is he described as an angel fallen from heaven and as “the Prince of this world,” whose business it is to tell us that there is no other world. His logic is simple: if there is no heaven there is no hell; if there is no hell, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, then there is no judge, and if there is no judgement then evil is good and good is evil. But above all these descriptions, Our Lord tells us that he will be so much like Himself that he would deceive even the elect—and certainly no devil ever seen in picture books could deceive even the elect. How will he come in this new age to win followers to his religion?


The pre-Communist Russian belief is that he will come disguised as the Great Humanitarian; he will talk peace, prosperity and plenty not as means to lead us to God, but as ends in themselves. He will write books on the new idea of God, to suit the way people live; induce faith in astrology so as to make not the will but the stars responsible for sins; he will explain guilt away psychologically as inhibited eroticism, make men shrink in shame if their fellow men say they are not broad-minded and liberal; he will be so broad-minded as to identify tolerance with indifference to right and wrong, truth and error; he will spread the lie that men will never be better until they make society better and thus have selfishness to provide fuel for the next revolution; he will foster science, but only to have armament makers use one marvel of science to destroy another; he will foster more divorces under the disguise that another partner is "vital"; he will increase love for love and decrease love for person; he will invoke religion to destroy religion; he will even speak of Christ and say that He was the greatest man who ever lived; his mission, he will say, will be to liberate men from the servitudes of superstition and Fascism, which he will never define; he will organize children's games, tell people whom they should and should not marry and unmarry, who should bear children and who should not; he will benevolently draw chocolate bars from his pockets for the little ones, and bottles of milk for the Hottentots.


He will tempt Christians with the same three temptations with which he tempted Christ. The temptation to turn stones into bread as an earthly Messias will become the temptation to sell freedom for security, making bread a political weapon which only those who think his way may eat. The temptation to work a miracle by recklessly throwing himself from a steeple will become a plea to desert the lofty pinnacles of truth where faith and reason reign, for those lower depths where the masses live on slogans and propaganda. He wants no proclamation of immutable principles from the lofty heights of a steeple, but mass organization through propaganda where only a common man directs the idiosyncrasies of common men. Opinions not truths, commentators not teachers, Gallup polls not principles, nature not grace—to those golden calves will men toss themselves from their Christ. The third temptation in which Satan asked Christ to adore him and all the kingdoms of the world would be His, will become the temptation to have a new religion without a Cross, a liturgy without a world to come, a religion to destroy a religion, or a politics which is a religion—one that renders unto Caesar even the things that are God’s.


In the midst of all his seeming love for humanity and his glib talk of freedom and equality, he will have one great secret which he will tell to no one: he will not believe in God. Because his religion will be brotherhood without the fatherhood of God, he will deceive even the elect. He will set up a counterchurch which will be the ape of the Church, because he, the Devil, is the ape of God. It will have all the notes and characteristics of the Church, but in reverse and emptied of its divine content. It will be a mystical body of the Antichrist that will in all externals resemble the mystical body of Christ. In desperate need for God, whom he nevertheless refuses to adore, modern man in his loneliness and frustration will hunger more and more for membership in a community that will give him enlargement of purpose, but at the cost of losing himself in some vague collectivity. Then will be verified a paradox—the very objections with which men in the last century rejected the Church will be the reasons why they will now accept the counterchurch.


The last century rejected the Church because it was infallible; it refused to believe that the Vicar of Christ would be immune from error when he spoke on matters of faith and morals as chief shepherd of Christendom. But the twentieth century will join the counterchurch because it claims to be infallible when its visible head speaks ex cathedra from Moscow on the subject of economics and politics, and as chief shepherd of world communism.


The Church was critically spurned in the last few centuries because it claimed that it was Catholic and universal, uniting all men on the basis of one Lord, one faith and one Baptism. No man, the nineteenth century claimed, could be a good American, a good Frenchman or a good German if he accepted shepherding, albeit spiritual, from a spiritual head. But in the new era, what the modern lost soul will like particularly about the counterchurch is that it is catholic or international. It breaks down all national boundaries, laughs down patriotism, dispenses men from piety to country which the Christ enjoined, makes men proud that they are not Americans, French or British, but members of a revolutionary class under the rule of its vicar who rules from the Kremlin.


The nineteenth century rejected the Church on the ground that it was intolerant, excommunicating heretics who did not accept the apostolic traditions, teaching as it did that Christ founded only one Church, that Truth is one, that its dogmas were like living things, and that like a babe, one had to accept the whole child or nothing. But in this evil hour, the sons and grandsons of those who so objected are embracing the counterchurch simply because it is intolerant, because it purges its heretics, liquidates its Trotskyites and excommunicates all those who do not accept the party line: that there may be not one fold and one shepherd, but one anthill and one anteater.


The liberal world rejected the Church because it was too dogmatic with its exact definitions of Hypostatic Union and Immaculate Conception, too hierarchical with its bishops who derived their authority from the Apostles, and claimed to be guardians of the faith and morals of the people. But lo and behold, millions today are embracing the counterchurch for these reasons; they love its infallibly defined dogmas of dialectical materialism, economic determinism and its labor theory of value; they like its hierarchy of approved party leaders who as bishops of the new counterchurch derive their authority from the apostles, Marx and Lenin, and who in their role of secret police keep the errant in the party line, even to the consummation of the world.


The modern mind resents any reference to the Devil. The fact is, however, that, though contemporary atheism has not convinced us there is no God, it has convinced us that there is a devil. When man forgets he has a soul he also forgets that there is a competition for it between the forces of good and evil. Those who penetrate the surface of things more deeply than others have seen that if there is no devil, then all the evil in the world must be attributed to human nature, and no member of the human race wants to believe his species is that diabolical.


Paul Tillich, for example, seriously considers the demonic as a factor in history and as a correlative to the state of grace. “In both phenomena it is the creative original forces which, bursting the form, break into the consciousness. In both instances the spirit is raised out of its autonomous isolation; in both instances subjugated to a new power, which is not a natural power but grows out of the deeper stratum of the abyss which also underlies nature. The paradox of the possessed state is as strong as the paradox of the state of grace; the one is as little to be explained as the other by casual thinking, by categories of rational observations of nature. The difference is only that in the state of grace the same forces are united with the highest form which contradict the highest form in the possessed state. Therefore grace has a fulfilling and form-creating effect on the bearer of the form, while demonry has the consequence of destroying the personality through robbing it of being and emptying it of meaning. Divine ecstasy brings about an elevation of the being, of creative and formative power; the demonic ecstasy brings about weakening of being, disintegration and decay. Demonic inspiration does indeed reveal more than rational sobriety; it reveals the divine, but as a reality which it fears, which it cannot love, with which it cannot unite.”


Berdyaev has also admitted the demonic element in history. He starts with the proposition that man, having no source of life within himself, must seek it either in what is higher or lower than himself, and ends by confronting man with the alternative of God or Satan. “Being is only free when it is united in that love through which it is allied to God. It is only in and through God that everything is linked up and brought into unity. Apart from God everything is alien and remote and is held together simply by force. Satan by dint of his superior spiritual powers has succeeded in leading men astray by suggesting to them that they will become as gods. But by the pursuit of evil and by the substitution of himself for God, man, so far from becoming the God-like being of his dreams, becomes the slave of his lower nature, and, at the same time, by losing his higher nature becomes subject to natural necessity and ceases to be spiritually determined form within. He is deprived of his freedom. Thus evil involves that displacement of the true center of being and that complete revolution of the hierarchy of the universe which involves not only the spirit’s being possessed in its pride by the material principle, but the actual substitution of the material for the spiritual. The hard and resistant appearance of the material world is simply the result of its having lost its true center in the spiritual world.”


The best presentation of this subject for those inclined to deny either evil or the demonic is the brilliant work of Denis de Rougemont, The Devil’s Share, which he introduces with the suggestion that the knowledge of true danger may cure us of false fears. Meeting immediately the difficulty that Satan is a myth and, therefore, does not exist, he answers: “The Devil is a myth, hence he exists and continues to be active. A myth is a story which describes and illustrates in dramatic form certain deep structures of reality.”


“This Devil has not sprung form a series of more or less authentic or ancient texts. For he is a permanent agent of human reality as we live it when we really live, in our state of free creatures, that is to say, constantly placed before choices, in contradiction and perplexity, paradox, tragedy. All this assumes and poses the existence of a good and of something other than the good. Otherwise where would choice, tragedy, liberty lie? When this non good, this evil assumes a meaning, we name it Devil, and I accept this name.”


C.S. Lewis in a fanciful series of letters exchanged between Wormwood, a devil on earth, and Screwtape, a devil in hell, teaches sound spiritual lessons in reverse. Particularly interesting is the advice given to the young devil who is trying by argument to win a soul away from God (“The Enemy”) to materialism. "I note what you say about guiding your patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naïve? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has accustomed himself, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false,’ but as ‘academic’ or ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless.’ Jargon, not argument is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about."


Joseph Roth in one of the strongest books on the subject, The Anti-Christ, despite its extremist tendencies does much to arouse men’s consciousness to the reality of the Devil. “For we have been struck with blindness, with the blindness of which it is written that it will come upon us before the end of time. We have long failed to recognize the nature and appearance of the things with which we have contact. Like those who are physically blind we have merely names for all things of this world which we can no longer perceive. It is as though we were building a horizontal Tower of Babel which the blind, who are unable to recognize proportion, believe to be vertical and to be growing ever higher; and they think that everything is in order for they understand one another perfectly . . . whereas their comprehension of the proportion, form and color of things is only that of men without sight. Terms which were originally applied correctly, and which fitted the phenomena of this world, are applied by them in a false and inverted sense. That which is raised they call flat, and that which is flat the call raised, since a blind man cannot distinguish between what is lofty an what is level. At the time of Babel it was only the tongues and ears of men that were confused. A few of the builders could still comprehend one another by the language of the eyes, which are called the mirror of the soul. Now, however, the eyes of men are blinded (and tongues are only servants, while eyes are masters, in the hierarchy of the human senses). How can we still hope that Antichrist has not yet come? This faith and this hope are further evidence of our blindness. For just as a man without sight can be persuaded that night is day and day is night, so can we, who have lost our eyes, be made to believe that Antichrist is not here, that we are not smoldering in the glow of his eyes, that we are not standing in the shadow of his wings.”


Transcendent to all these writers are the Russians of the nineteenth century who in a prophetic way saw the twentieth century as one in which the Devil would exercise great sway over men and Antichrist would appear as the Great Humanitarian. Fydor Dostoevsky saw man as capable of reaching heights undreamed of by reason, and yet degrading himself to an abyss of evil which would terrify even its own victims. Man, to him, summarized all the tensions of the world. As the prophet of totalitarianism he saw the twentieth-century world organizing in a collective fashion to rebel against playing the game according to God’s rule, and setting man up as the master. In 1877 he wrote: "It seems to me that this century will end for old Europe with something colossal. I mean with something, if not exactly like the events of the French Revolution of the 18th century, yet nevertheless so colossal, so irresistible and so terrifying that it will change the face of the earth at any rate in Western Europe.” In the fifth section of his great work Brothers Karamazov the Grand Inquisitor, who is Antichrist, appears full of pity for man, a humanitarian with a seeming passionate interest in mankind, but really their enemy because he is the destroyer of their freedom. He appears even like Christ to deceive the elect. “He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, every one recognized him. The people are irresistibly drawn to Him, they surround Him, they flock about Him, follow Him. He moves silently in their midst with a gentle smile of infinite compassion. The sun of love burns in His heart, light and power shine from His eyes, and their radiance, shed on the people, stirs their hearts with responsive love. He holds out His hands to them, blesses them, and a healing virtue comes from contact with Him, even with His garments. N old man in the crowd, blind from childhood cries out, ‘O Lord heal me and I shall see Thee!’ and, as it were, scales fall from his eyes and the blind man sees Him. The crowd weeps and kisses the earth under His feet. Children throw flowers before Him, sing, and cry hosannah. ‘It is He—it is He!’”


The Antichirst speaks to Christ, who never answers, bidding Him give up freedom for security. “Judge Thyself who was right—Thou or he who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question; its meaning, in other words was this: ‘Thou wouldst go into the world, and art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread—for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though forever trembling lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread.’ But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth, if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee, and all will follow him, crying ‘Who can compare with this beast? He has given us fire from heaven!’ Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with the earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man? And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands and tens of thousands shall follow Thee, what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly? Or dost Thou care only for the tens of thousands of the great and strong, while the millions, numerous as the sands of the sea, who are weak but love Thee, must exist only for the sake of the great and strong? No, we care for the weak too. They are sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them—so awful it will seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. We shall deceive them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.”


Equally powerful is the prophetic outlook of Vladimir Soloviev who at just about the beginning of this century wrote Three Conversations. He pictures a young man at thirty-three becoming discouraged in his uncontrollable self-love to a point of suicide. Driven mad by the thought that Christ was greater than he, he throws himself into an abyss: “He heard a strange metallic voice, seemingly without soul or feeling, yet very clear, My beloved son, to thee goes my great favor. Why didst not thou seek me? Why didst thou worship the other, the foolish one and his Father? I am the God and Father. The other, the wretch that was crucified is a stranger to me and tot thee. Thou are the chosen one, the only son, my equal.”


“‘I love thee and ask nothing of thee. Thou art full of great beauty, thou are great and powerful. Do thy duty in thine own name not mine. I am not jealous of thee, I love thee. The one whom thou worshipped before as God demanded obedience, boundless obedience till the very death on a cross. He did not help him on his cross. I am not asking thee anything and yet I shall help thee. Because of thee, because of thy wonderful self, because of my great unselfish love for thee I shall help thee, Partake of my spirit. My spirit delivered thee in beauty and now my spirit delivers thee in power.’


'He writes a book under the inspiration of Satan entitled The Open Road to Peace and Prosperity for the World, which has fantastic sales all over the world. Many Christians accept it, though Christ's name is not mentioned, justifying themselves: “In the past all sacred matters have been so misused by unauthorized zealots, that a truly deep religious writer has to watch his step. As long as the contents are fully of the Christian spirit of love and charity, what else would one ask?” Finally the superman is made President of the United States of Europe, and all the world accepts his dominion and authority. Exiling the Holy Father from Rome to pronounce himself the "World Emperor of Rome,” he issues the manifesto: "People of the world! I promised you peace and now I have given it to you. But the world is only wonderful to live in as long as there is prosperity for all. Peace without prosperity is peace without joy. Come to me all who are hungry and cold and I shall feed you and I shall warm you.” 


At the beginning of the fourth year of his reign the World Emperor calls a World Council of Churches in Jerusalem, and 3,000 representatives of Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy attend as well as half a million pilgrims. Among the members of the council there are three that warrant special attention. The first is Pope Peter. The Pope has no faith in the Emperor of the World. The real though unofficial leader of the Orthodox Christians is Father John, well known among the Russians. The head of the Evangelical members of the Council is a scientific German theologian, Professor Ernest Pauly. The opening of the council is very impressive. The two thirds of the great temple which are dedicated to the unity of all cults, are filled with benches for the members, while the remaining third is taken up by a platform at the center, on which there is an imperial throne. The various members of the Council have their services in their own churches and the opening of the Council is devoid of any religious ceremonies. When the Emperor together with the great magician appears, the orchestra starts to play the hymn of the United Nations which by that time has become the Imperial International hymn.


At the close of the hymn, the Emperor rises from his throne and with a magnificent gesture thanks the musicians and addresses the Council: “Christians, Christians, of all denominations, my loyal subjects and brethren. From the very beginning of my reign I have never had occasion to be displeased, you have always fulfilled your obligations. You have been faithful. This is not enough for me. My sincere love for you, brothers, is craving for reciprocation. I am anxious to bring about a state of affairs whereby there would not be a sense of duty but a feeling of deep love with which you would recognize me your leader in every enterprise you undertake for the benefit of humanity. Besides, I do wish to consummate a deed of special charity. Christians, is there any way that I could make you happier? Is there anything that I can give you? My Christians, let me know the thing that is dearest to you so that I may exert my efforts in that direction.”


When he stops a great roar fills the temple. The members of the Council are whispering to one another. Pope Peter carries on a grave discourse with those surrounding him. So does Professor Pauly. Father John bends over a group of Eastern bishops and Catholic monks and endeavors to impress them with his thoughts. After several minutes of silence the Emperor addresses the Council again, now with a slight note of annoyance: "Beloved Christians, I understand how very difficult it is to come to any direct answer. I am going to help you. Since time immemorial you have been divided into so many parties and groups that you really have no common goal. You have not even reconciled yourselves on many things. I shall endeavor to unite all of the parties and groups and I shall bend to fulfill the real craving of each group. Beloved Christians, I know that a great many of you deem spiritual authority as the most precious heritage of Christianity. Beloved brother Catholics, I fully understand your point of view and I dearly want to rest my royal scepter upon your spiritual head. So you will think these are not empty words I am declaring now that in accordance with my royal will the supreme Archbishop of the Catholic Church, the Pope of Rome, is being reinstated from now on upon his throne in Rome, given with all the rights and privileges that were ever bestowed upon him from time immemorial and beginning with the reign of Constantine the Great, and all I ask for you, my Catholics, is that you consider me at the bottom of your heart to be your only protector and benefactor. Whoever will recognize me as such let him come to me.” 


At this moment the Emperor points a finger at the empty benches on the platform. Amidst joyous cries, “Gratias agimus! Domine! Salvam fac magnum imperatorem,” nearly all the Princes of the Catholic Church, the Cardinals, the Bishops and most of the faithful laymen and nearly one half of all the monks mount the platform and after bowing in the direction of the Emperor seat themselves. Down below, straight and silent as a statue of marble, sit Pope Peter II. The Emperor throws a glance of amazement at the Holy Father, then turns to the others raising his voice. “Beloved brethren, today I will sign an edict. In this edict I am bestowing upon the world a museum of Christian archeology and a sum of money for promoting the study of the ancient Christian folklore, legends and other antiquities. This museum will be situated in our imperial city of Constantinople.”


A great portion of the Hierarchy of the East and North, half of the former old Believers and more than half of the Orthodox priests and monks and laymen, crying joyfully, walk up on the platform and seat themselves. Father John does not move. He sighs loudly and when the crowd with him becomes very thin he leaves his bench and walks up toward Pope Peter and his circle. The other Orthodox who did not join those on the platform follow John. The Emperor speaks again, “It is known to me, Christian brethren, that there are many among you who deem that there is nothing more sacred to Christians than freedom to study the Bible. I can assure you that in a few days I am receiving a request to become an honorary Doctor of Theology at the University of Tubegean.”


More than one half of the scholarly theologians move to the platform although some are a little uneasy and some look at Professor Pauly, who has not moved, but figuratively has grown to his seat. He bends his head very low. All of a sudden one of them jumps down from the platform and runs to Professor Pauly and his dwindling group. Professor Pauly lifts his head, rises and walks down the empty benches toward Father John and Pope Peter. Down below remain three little clusters of men squirming around Father John, Pope Peter and Professor Pauly. 


With a sad voice the Emperor addresses these groups. “You are strange people. What else can I do for you? What else are you demanding? I do not know: Tell me this, Christians who are now deserted by the majority of your brothers and leaders of your own people, condemned by the voice of your people, what is it that you hold most sacred in Christianity?” 


Hearing this, Father John rises like a tall white candle and answers humbly, “Great Emperor, there is only one thing that is dearest to us in Christianity, and that is Christ Himself. It is He, and everything comes from Him and we know that within Him lives the spirit of physical Divinity. We are ready to receive from you all kinds of blessings just so long as we recognize in your generous hand the Holy Hand of Christ the son of God, and when you ask us what there is that you can do for us our answer is, simply confess before us here the Christian Creed. Say ‘I believe in our Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God . . .’ Confess in His name and we will receive you with love. We will receive you as a forerunner of His, a forerunner of His second glorious coming to this earth.” 


Father John keeps looking at the Emperor, who is silent. Then he suddenly turns toward his flock and cries: “Children, the Antichrist!” At that very moment a great bolt of lightning enters the temple and strikes the old man. There is a terrific roar of thunder. Everything becomes quiet for a moment and when the deafened and blinded Christians come back to their senses, Father John lies stretched out dead on the floor. Suddenly one ringing word sounds through the temple and the word is “Contradicitur!” Pope Peter II rises and with his face flushed with anger he lifts his staff in the direction of the Emperor. "Our only ruler is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God! You heard what you are! Out of here! Cain, the killer of a brother! Out, you vessel of the devil! Forever and ever I oust you, a dirty dog, from the fold of the Church and I am giving you back to your father, the devil.” Louder than the last anathema comes the roar of thunder. And the last Pope falls lifeless.


In the temple there remain two lifeless bodies and a close circle of Christians half dead from fright. The only one who does not lose his head is Professor Pauly. He takes a piece of paper left by one of the royal secretaries and begins to write. When he finishes he stands up and reads aloud: “In the name and glory of our only Redeemer, Jesus Christ, the World Council of Christian Churches has assembled in Jerusalem. After our good Brother John, the representative of Eastern Christianity condemned the great impostor as the enemy of God and accused him of being the real Antichrist, as foretold in the prophecies, Peter, the representative of Western Christianity, rightfully and eternally excommunicated the imposter from the Church of God. Today I am standing here before the bodies of two martyrs, killed for their belief in truth. Being witness for Christ, the council orders: Stop all intercourse with the one who was excommunicated, with all of those who recognize him. All the faithful, depart into the wilderness and wait there for an early coming of the real Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

 

         Because the signs of our times point to a struggle between absolutes we may expect the future to be a time of trials and catastrophes for two reasons: firstly, to stop disintegration. Godlessness would go on and on if there were no catastrophes. What death is to a sinful person, that catastrophe is to an evil civilization: the interruption of its godlessness. Why did God station an angel with a flaming sword at the Garden of Paradise after the Fall, if it were not to prevent our first parents from entering the garden and eating of the tree of life, which, if they ate, would have immortalized their evil? God will not allow unrighteousness to become eternal. Revolution, disintegration, chaos must be reminders that our thinking has been wrong, our dreams have been unholy. Moral truth is vindicated by the ruin that follows when it has been repudiated. The chaos of our times is the strongest negative argument that could ever be advanced for Christianity. Catastrophe becomes a testimony to God’s power in a meaningless world, for by it God brings a meaningless existence to nought. The disintegration following an abandonment of God thus becomes a triumph of meaning, a reaffirmation of purpose. Adversity is the expression of God’s condemnation of evil, the registering of Divine Judgment. As hell is not sin, but the effect of sin, so these disordered times are not sin, but the wages of sin. Catastrophe reveals that evil is self-defeating; we cannot turn from God without hurting ourselves.


         The second reason why a crisis must come is in order to prevent a false identification of the Church and the world. Our Lord intended that His followers should be different in spirit from those who were not His followers. “I have taken you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:19) Though this is the Divine intent, it is unfortunately true that the line of demarcation between the followers of Christ and those who are not is often blotted out. Instead of black and white, there is only a blur. Mediocrity and compromise characterize the lives of many Christians. Many read the same novels as modern pagans, educate their children in the same godless way, listen to the same commentators who have no other standard than judging today by yesterday and tomorrow by today, allow pagan practices such as divorce and remarriage to creep into the family. There are not wanting so-called Catholic labor leaders recommending Communists for Congress, or Catholic Writers who accept presidencies in Communist-front organizations to instill totalitarian ideas in movies. There is no longer the conflict and opposition which is supposed to characterize us. We are influencing the world less than the world influences us. There is no apartness. Well indeed might St. Paul say to us what he said to the Corinthians: “What has innocence to do with lawlessness? What is there in common between light and darkness? What harmony between Christ and Belial?” St. Paul is here asserting that those who were sent out to establish a center of health had caught the disease; therefore, they lost the power to heal. Since the amalgamation of the Christian and the pagan spirit has set in, since the gold is marred with an alloy, the entirety must be thrust into the furnace that the dross may be burned away. The value of the trial will be to set us apart. Evil must come to reject us, to despise us, to hate us, to persecute us, and then shall we define our loyalties, affirm our fidelities and state on whose side we stand. How shall the strong and weak trees be manifested unless the wind blows? Our quantity indeed will decrease but our quality will increase. Then shall be verified the words of Our Master: He that gathereth not with me scattereth.” (Matthew 12:30)


         There are Times of Troubles, and it is not so much a Third World War that is to be feared as the rebirth of Leviathan, the coming of the Day of the Beast, when there will be no buying or selling, unless men have been signed with the sign of the Beast who would devour the child of the Mother of Mothers. All great minds, non-Christian and Christian, see these days as perilous. Spengler believed that we are at the winter of civilization; Fisher at the death rattle of European civilization; Sorokin, at the end of sensate culture; Berdyaev at the end of the days of reason illumined by faith; Marx at the collapse of capitalism; Lippman, at an hour when men feel it is no longer wise, necessary or useful to pass on to succeeding generations the good Christian heritage of the past; Toynbee, at the third stage of crisis in the Greek drama. The three stages are Hybris or pride that came from material prosperity, showing itself in power; the second Nemesis or arrogance or contention against God, in which man arrogates to himself the attributes of Deity, and finally Ate or disaster, in which Divine Justice will humble the vain pretension of men. Going back farther, Lord Gray, at the close of the First World War, said that the lights were being put out all over Europe and they would not be lighted again in our generation. Before that a great German poet and a Russian novelist warned people of the signs of the times. Writing in 1834, in Religion and Philosophy in Germany, Heine warned, look out for Germany when the Cross of Christ no longer casts its spell over His people. “Christianity has—and that is its fairest merit—somewhat mitigated that brutal German lust for battle. But it could not destroy it; and once the taming talisman, the Cross, is broken, the savagery of the old battlers will flare up again, the insane rage of which Nordic bards have so much to say and sing. That talisman is brittle. The day will come when it will pitiably collapse. Then the old stone gods will rise from forgotten rubble and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes; and Thor will leap up and with his giant hammer start smashing Gothic cathedrals, and when you hear a crash as nothing ever crashed in world history, you will know that the German thunder has hit the mark. At that sound the eagles will fall dead from the sky and the lions in the farthest desert of Africa will pull in their tails and slink away into their royal caves. A play will be performed that will make the French Revolution seem like a harmless idyll in comparison. 


In 1842 Heine, friend of Karl Marx, the founder of communism, saw the evil effects of his philosophy and warned: “ . . . Communism is the name of the terrible antagonist which sets agrarian rule in all its consequences in opposition to the bourgeois regime of to-day. It will be a terrible conflict—how Will it end? That the gods and goddesses only know who know the future. This much do we know, that Communism, though it be at present a little discussed, and now years away its life in forgotten garrets on wretched straw-pallets, is still the gloomy hero to whom a great if transitory part is assigned in the modern tragedy, and which only awaits its cue (Stichwort, replique) to enter on the stage. We should never lose sight of this actor, and we will from time to time give accounts of the secret rehearsals in which he is preparing for his debut. Such indications are perhaps more important than reports of electoral intrigues, party quarrels, and cabinet intrigues.


“. . . You will have seen the result of the elections in the newspapers. Here in Paris there is indeed no need of looking into them—you can see it clearly written in every face. Yesterday they all had a hot and sultry look, and people’s minds betrayed an excitement such as is only to be seen in great crises. The birds prophetic of storm, well known to us of yore, whirred invisibly through the air, and the sleepiest heads were suddenly awakened from their two years of repose. I confess that I myself, feeling the wind of these terrible wings, experienced a dire beating of my heart . . . What would be the end of this movement for which Paris has, as usual, given the signal? It would be a war, the most terrible war of destruction, which—more’s the pity!—will call the noblest of races of civilization into the arena, to their joint destruction. I mean Germany and France. England, the great sea-serpent, which can always glide back into its watery nest, and Russia, which in its vast forests of firs, steppes and ice fields has also the securest lairs—these two cannot be utterly destroyed in a common political war, even by the most decided defeats; but Germany is, in such a case, in far greater danger, and eve nFrance may suffer terrible in her political existence. But this would be, so to speak, only the first act or prologue to the grand drama. The second will be European or the world Revolution, the gigantic battle of the disinherited with the inheritors of fortune, and in that there will be no question of nationality or of religion, for there will be but one fatherland, the Earth, and but one religion, that of happiness in this life. Will the religious doctrines of the past in every country unite to a desperate resistance, and thus form a third act in the great play? Or will the old Absolute tradition enter again on the stage, but this time in a new costume and with new watch-words to incite and goad? How will this drama end? I do not know, but I think that at last the head of the great water-snake will be crushed, and the skin pulled over the head of the bear of the North. And then perhaps there will be only one flock and one shepherd—a free shepherd with an iron crook—and one great herd of men all shorn and all bleating alike. Wild and gloomy times come roaring on, and the prophet who would write a new Apocalypse must imagine new beasts, and those so terrible that the old symbols of St. John as compared to them will seem like soft doves and amorets. The gods hide their faces out of pity to the sons of mankind, their nurslings for so many years, and perhaps out of fear as to their own fate. The future has an odor as of Russian leather, blood, blasphemy, and much beating with the knout. I advise our descendants to come into the world with thick skins . . .”


The Holy Father says that we are at the return of the early centuries of the Church. Many others believe we are saved from utter chaos only by habits of thinking, rules of the road and conventions which depend for their validity on beliefs which have long been abandoned. With the family disintegrating, with one divorce for every two marriages in 35 major cities of the United States, with five divorces for every six marriages in Los Angeles, there is no denying that something has snapped. Beyond all these and other tragic facts, such as the attempt to ground peace on compromises between powers, rather than on justice and pledges such as the Atlantic Charter, the startling fact stands out that our times—and our times alone—have witnessed, for the first time in human history, the persecution of the Old Testament by the Nazis and the persecution of the New Testament by the Communists. Anyone who has had anything to do with God is hated today, whether his vocation is to announce His Divine Son, Jesus Christ, as did the Jew, or to follow Him as does the Christian. Every now and then in history the Devil is given a long rope, for we must never forget that Our Lord said to Judas and his band: “This is your hour.” God has His day, but evil has its hour when the shepherd will be struck and the sheep dispersed. But though we speak of the emergence of the Antichrist against Christ, think not that it is because we fear for the Church. We do not; it is for the world we fear. It is not infallibility we are worried about, but the worlds lapse into fallibility; we tremble not that God may be dethroned, but that barbarism may reign; it is not the Transubstantiation that may perish, but the home; not the sacraments that may fade away, but the moral law. The Church can have no words for the weeping women different from those of Christ on the way to Cavalry: “Weep not over Me; but weep for yourself and for your children.” (Luke 23:28) The Church has survived other great crises in her 19 centuries of existence, and she will live to sing a requiem over the evils of the present. The Church may have its Good Fridays, but these are only preludes to its Easter Sundays, for the Divine Promise shall never be made void: “ . . . and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” “Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) “Whosoever shall fall upon that stone, shall be bruised.” (Luke 20:18) Never before in history has there been such a strong argument for the need of Christianity, for men are now discovering that their misery and their woes, their wars and their revolutions increase in direct ratio and proportion to the neglect of Christianity. Christians realize that a moment of crisis is not at ime of despair, but of opportunity. The more we can anticipate the doom, the more we can avoid it. Once we recognize we are under Divine Wrath, we become eligible for Divine Mercy. It was because of famine the prodigal said: “I will arise, and will go to my father . . .” (Luke 15:18) The very disciplines of God create hope. The thief on the right came to God by a crucifixion. The Christian finds a basis for optimism in the most thoroughgoing pessimism, for his Easter is within three days of Good Friday. 


As we look about the world and see the new barbarism move whole populations into slavery we may ask: “Why do so many innocent people suffer? God should have pity on them.” God does. One of the surprises of heaven will be to see how many saints were made in the midst of chaos, and war and revolution. John saw a “ . . . great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands: And they cried with a loud voice saying: Salvation to our God, Who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and the ancients, and the four living creatures: and they fell down before the throne upon their faces, and adored God.” (Apocalipsis 7:9-11) “And one of the ancients answered and said to me: These that are clothed in white robes, who are they? and whence came they? And I said to him: My lord thou knowest. And he said to me: These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Apocalipsis 7:13-14) After Our Divine Lord had pictured the catastrophes that would fall upon a morally disordered civilization, after He foretold how the military would take it, and their holy places be abominated, He did not say, "Fear,” but, "When these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:28)


Jews, Proestants and Catholics alike, and all men of good will, are realizing that the world is serving their souls with an awful summons—the summons to heroic efforts at spiritualization. An alliance among Jews, Protestants and Catholics is not necessary to fight against an external enemy, for our “wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Neither is it a unity of religion we plead for, for that is impossible when purchased at the cost of the unity of the truth. But we plead for a unity of religious peoples, wherein each marches separately according to the light of his conscience, but strikes together for the moral betterment of the world; a unity through prayer, not hate. If Satan has his fellow travelers, then why should not God and His Divine Son? The Roman sergeant who built a temple for the Jews was a fellow traveler with them in their belief in God. The woman at Tyre and Sidon became a fellow traveler of Christ. The forces of evil are united; the forces of good are divided. We may not be able to meet in the same pew—would to God we could—but we can meet on our knees.


No sordid compromises nor carrying waters on both shoulders will see us through. Those who have the faith had better keep in the state of grace, and those who have neither had better find out what they mean, for in the coming age there will be only one way to stop trembling knees, and that will be to get down on them and pray. The most important problem in the world today is the soul, for that is what the struggle is about. As St. Peter told the Romans in the days of delirium: “Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11)


The way out of this crisis is basically spiritual, because the trouble is not in the way we keep our books, but in the way we keep our souls. The time is nearer than we think. In 1917 Lenin, addressing a group of students in Switzerland, said: “This revolution may not come in my lifetime.” Within three months he was leading it. The struggle is so basically spiritual, so much concerned with the forces of Christ and Antichrist, that there is a definite planned policy put into practice by the Communists in Korea. They go to the Christian homes converted by missionaries and ask: “Do you believe in Christ?” If the householder answers in the affirmative, the Communist says he will be back next week. If then he answers: “I believe in Stalin,” he keeps his house and his land. Otherwise, they are confiscated and he is liquidated. And some think the struggle is between individualism and collectivism! Because the struggle is between the Kingdom of mass atheism and the Kingdom of God, St. Michael must once more be invoked as Chesterton invoked him: “O Michael, Prince of the Morning, Who didst once conquer Lucifer who wouldst make himself God, save us from our world of little gods. When the world once cracked because of a sneer in heaven, thou didst rise up and drag down from the seven heavens the pride that would look down on the most high.” So now:

 

“Michael, Michael, Michael of the mastering,

Michael of the marching on the mountains of the Lord,

Marshal the world and purge of rot and riot,

Rule through the world till all the world be quiet:

Only establish when the world is broken—

What is unbroken in the Word.”

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Learn Classical Armenian!

A selection of famous literary lines, translated to 5th century Grabar

Some male names from 5th century Armenia