It is a great honor to present this conversation with Brother Renaud Silly, OP, historian and theologian, who speaks about the Dictionnaire Jésus (the Jesus Dictionary), the major work recently published by the École Biblique de Jérusalem and Éditions Bouquins. This Dictionary which makes available the current state of knowledge about Jesus, drawing upon all necessary scientific, theological, and philosophical areas of expertise.
The Dictionary is an impressive work (comprising some 1300 pages), but one that is also highly accessible, for it does not neglect the needs of the lay reader who is well rewarded by the depth and erudition. Father Silly oversaw the work, as the director of the entire project, and he speaks with Christophe Geffroy, the publisher of La Nef magazine, through whose courtesy this article is here translated.
Christophe Geffroy (CG): How did the idea of the Jesus Dictionary come about? What was your goal, and what was your working methodology?
Father Renaud Silly (RS): The person who had the idea was the director of Bouquins, Mr. Jean-Luc Barré [the publisher]. We had previously published Bossuet in his collection, and this inspired him to call upon us to produce the Dictionary. He gave us carte blanche, without imposing any particular angle or contributors.
As for the École Biblique, the immense wealth of its recent research was just waiting to be made accessible to the general educated public. In the middle of the last decade, the success of certain books, ill-informed we believe, made us feel the need for a work that spans the entire spectrum—those who have been given the capacity to work directly on the sources (the “scholars”) have a moral duty to guarantee the dissemination of their work to those who do not possess it. Otherwise, we fall into the opposite trap of popularization and autarkic specialization. You likely will recognize in this way of thinking about the relationship to knowledge an echo of the ancient Dominican motto “contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere” (“contemplate and teach others”).
CG: This Dictionary was conceived in “a scientific spirit,” we read on the back cover. What does this mean?
RS: “Scientific” means many things, from the experimental method of the hard sciences to the discussion of all contradictory propositions in the human sciences, already practiced by Saints Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great. To be readable, the Dictionary could not afford either. On the other hand, it deserves the term in the sense that it is directly linked to a scientific project of the École Biblique de Jérusalem: La Bible en ses Traditions (The Bible in its Traditions), under the direction of Brother Olivier-Thomas Venard, OP.
Sacred Scripture exists in three dimensions: it has a past—the conditions of its composition, a present—the text with all its refinements, and a future—its impact on culture, morality, etc. To understand it, it is therefore necessary to combine knowledge of the environments that produced it, literary methods of analysis, and to be attentive to its reception, in particular that for which it is an authority. The Bible in its Traditions is a method of global understanding of Scripture, without exclusivity or reductionism. It is a way of letting revelation breathe in a space that is appropriate to it. Who can contest the scientific nature of such an approach?
CG: Is it compatible to be in this “scientific spirit” and therefore open to new discoveries and at the same time faithful to the faith and to the teaching of the Church whatever happens? How does the scientist who is also a man of faith react when a discovery seems to go against the teaching of the faith?
RS: In faith, certainty is God who is at once the source, the cause and the object of the knowledge that faith possesses of him. The uncertainty lies in the assent we give to him—in other words, in not wanting to believe in God, even though He is the end of our understanding (cf. Thomas Aquinas, ii-iiae q.2 a.1 resp.). If faith saves, it is because it is a voluntary act. The vices that can thwart the operation of the will are, however, manifold: laziness, negligence, superstition, pride, to name but a few.
In short, sympathy for science, hard work, the breadth of knowledge cannot substitute for the adhesion by which the soul submits to the truth of God who reveals himself freely to it. This is the formal reason for faith as a theological virtue. In short, the scholar, like all other Christians, has no other alternative for remaining on the right path than to cultivate virtue.
But we must hasten to add how liberating the supernatural act of faith is for the scholar, for it relieves him of the need to search by force for a proof of faith that the texts, even and especially the sacred ones, will never offer him. The Lutheran theory of sola scriptura obliges one to solicit the texts, to make them say what they do not say. Since fiction cannot hold for long, sola scriptura has caused dogma to fall one after the other. And in return, it is the Bible itself that has become a source of uncertainty and doubt. As Father Lagrange wrote, “It is from [the Reformation] that the study of the Bible dates, not the study of the Bible, but rather the doubt about the Bible.”
CG: You have not sought to take a new, but a renewed, look at Jesus. What do you mean by this?
RS: In 1980, a tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem was interpreted as that of Jesus. In 2002, an ossuary was presented as that of James, the “brother of the Lord,” which would have confirmed the authenticity of the 1980 tomb. In 2006, a Gnostic gospel “of Judas” appeared, according to which Jesus himself asked the traitor to hand him over. In 2012, in the Gospel of the Wife of Jesus, the master presents Mary Magdalene as his wife. All of these “discoveries” turned out to be forgeries or misinterpretations of authentic texts. The ephemeral excitement that surrounded these publications shows our imaginary and infantile relationship to reality, which makes us give in to the craving for novelty (cf. 2 Tim 4:3-4).
But there is no scoop to be made about Jesus. In faith we know all we need to know about him. As far as authentic knowledge is concerned, made up of meditation, of going deeper, of the patient dwelling of the truth deposited in us—this on the other hand is always in need of renewal. The Word came to “dwell with his own” (Jn 1:5); He is therefore there, in the midst, but it is we who are absent: “you were within me, but I was outside myself, and it was in this outside that I sought you” (St. Augustine, Confessions, x, xxvii, 38).
There is always a need to renew one’s knowledge in order to free oneself from hasty patterns of thought, from the conviction—certainly false—that one has done all the work of the Gospel and has nothing to expect from it. This must be done in the school of the great texts, but also of the humble reality unearthed by archaeology and the related sciences.
A few years ago, stone jars were discovered at Cana (cf. Jn 2:6)! They are probably not those of the miracle, but it shows that this village was populated by very observant Jews, the very milieu of Jesus. Study is an asceticism, surely the greatest asceticism there is! Has the Latin Church nurtured greater ascetics than St. Jerome or St. Thomas, those hard workers? But for those who devote themselves to this effort, the Word is always new (cf. Rev 21:5).
CG: In making this Dictionary, which points were the most difficult to synthesize? And what are the most difficult topics to resolve from the point of view of faith?
RS: The Resurrection of Jesus, to which we wanted to give a place in proportion to its importance. The very fact of the Resurrection is not recounted anywhere [outside the Gospels]—because there were no outside witnesses; and the evangelists did not embroider wonderful stories when they did not know! So, we have to fall back on credible witnesses of the Risen One, since we did not see him rise. But this only shifts the problem: they are women, whose testimony has little legal value! One recalls the misogyny of a Renan who described the testimony of Mary Magdalene on Easter morning as follows: “Divine power of love! Sacred moments when the passion of a hallucinated woman offered the world a resurrected God!”
Let us add to this that the Resurrection is, by definition, impossible to describe since it tells of the passage (the “passover”) of Jesus to a new Creation which we cannot experience; that the mode of the Resurrection of Jesus does not correspond to that foreseen by the prophets of Israel—teaching rather a general and simultaneous resurrection. Yet the resurrection constitutes the intimate heart of the proclamation of Christian faith and hope (cf. 1 Cor 15:14). It is impossible to ignore it without betraying the Gospel.
We are left amazed by the simplicity of the means with which the sacred authors overcome this immense difficulty. The resurrection narratives are the least retouched of all the Gospels. They are delivered to us almost in their raw state. They ask us to let ourselves be measured by the event and the word that tells it. To accept it is to grow in faith, and thus to rise a little with Christ. The resurrection narratives form the synthesis and the summit of the Gospel’s power of conviction. They invite us to reread all the teachings of Jesus as seeds that make life sprout where there was nothing.
CG: It is common to distinguish between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. What do you think of this approach? And is faith still credible in the light of current scientific knowledge?
RS: The expression you quote belongs to the genre of “thinking” (sorry to abuse this beautiful word) by slogan. It is based on the conviction that the “faith” accumulated representations of Jesus, which would have satisfied certain requirements of the religious spirit, as the Church grew outside its original environment.
The Jesus of faith therefore becomes the sum of the answers demanded by the new Christians according to their cultural situation. The divinity of Christ would be the most visible of these borrowed identities, developed in contact with Hellenistic populations familiar with divinized heroes. Hence the need to peel away, by means of criticism, the “Jesus of history” from the various accretions that mask him. Alain de Benoist’s book illustrates this method and shows its limit via the absurd. In tearing off the tunic of Nessus which would be the Jesus of faith, one realizes that the layers are so well integrated with the object studied that the object loses its skin, flesh and bones. In the end, there is nothing left. One wonders how this so-called “Jesus of history,” so insignificant, could have left such a trace.
But this distinction is wrong. The Jesus of faith is nothing other than the trace left by the Jesus of history, the sum of his impact, as it were. Jesus initiates recourse to the testimony of the prophets to speak of him (Mk 12:35-37); he sends out on mission (Mk 6:6-13); he takes care to establish an authentic transmission of his words and actions (Mk 8:18-21); he projects his disciples into a time when they will have to keep his memory in order to understand (Jn 13:7); he institutes the signs that will give body and shape to this memory, especially the Eucharist (cf. Lk 22:19). Between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, there is no unbridgeable gap.
CG: The Bible is undoubtedly the most examined work in the world, dissected from every possible angle, especially since the development of the historical-critical methods. Does the Bible emerge strengthened from these examinations and analyses; or, on the contrary, weakened in its credibility?
RS: Science can be a very violent thing. Laboratory experiments, which give rise to many ethical problems, bear witness to this. There is a certain science which, legislating on phenomena, imposes on them extrinsic grids of analysis which destroy them. One thinks of the Duke of Chevreuse inflicting a thousand tortures on dogs or cats to try to prove that their cries were caused by the shaking of small springs, in accordance with the Cartesian theory of animal-machines.
The undivided domination of the hard sciences in the Western noosphere has resulted in the increased use of intrusive criteria on the Bible. Christians who believe in supernatural revelation do not defend it by subjecting it to these same criteria. Biblical fundamentalism, so regularly condemned by the pontiffs, must appear to us for what it is: a complicity with the dissolution of the Bible by historical methods. Moreover, it is futile: by leaving the choice of weapons and terrain to the adversary, we expose ourselves to certain defeat. But to write an ancient history of Israel by following the biblical account is to provoke the derisio infidelium.
The Bible is strengthened if one analyzes it according to its own criteria, those of ancient literary genres; and if one makes the effort to understand its language, which is often disconcerting. It is thus a precious source for the historian. But the Bible is much more than that—a matrix of culture, religion, morality, philosophy and dogma. On this contemplative domain, that of the spirit, aggressive science has little hold.
CG: The literature on the Bible is so vast now that it is impossible for the educated man of today to know it all. How can you find your way around, and how can the researcher, such as you, take into account all that is published seriously on the Bible?
RS: Give preference to authors who do not simply compile the results of others’ research, but have direct access to the sources and are able to discuss them. The others do not know what they are talking about. Exclude anything that practices methodical deconstruction—its conclusions have no solidity; they fluctuate according to fashion.
CG: Many people think that the Bible is nothing but a series of myths far removed from real history and that it often relates stories that they consider far-fetched and impossible—the fall in the Garden of Eden, the flood, or the crossing of the Red Sea, for example. How should the Bible be read? Are there several levels of reading? And how can one distinguish between what belongs to history, to theological teaching or indeed to myth?
RS: Neither the flood, nor the stories of the fall, or the tower of Babel can be proven “scientifically.” Those who claim otherwise are lying or mistaken. Their historicity has nothing to do with the historiographical models claimed by the evangelists, or the deuteronomistic historian (Deuteronomy), or the priestly models (Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah). All of these follow very rigorous paradigms—though different from modern ones. Did the Bible in Gen 1-11 collect myths? If one understands this term as a divine revelation about the origin, inaccessible de jure to human observation, then why not. But this must be seriously corrected—because they are very different from the myths vilified by the philosophers.
CG: Our European countries of ancient Christianity, with rare exceptions, such as Poland, have evacuated the question of God, so that the number of truly convinced Christians has become a tiny minority—our contemporaries are much more ignorant of Jesus than hostile. How can we make them rediscover this Jesus who saved the world?
RS: Like Christ, I don’t believe in strategies, tactics or structures of Christianity. Nor do I believe in sociology to prophesy to us whether Christians will be many or few. All that is thinking according to the world.
But I believe that the power of conviction of the Gospel remains intact, if it is preached for what it is—the teaching of the Master who makes faith germinate in souls eager for truth, who tears his disciples away from a world for which he himself has not prayed (cf. Jn 17:9), to which no promise of eternity is attached (cf. Mk 13:31).
The disciple of Christ is the one who receives in his heart this prayer of Bossuet: “O Jesus, I come to you to make this Passover in your company. I want to pass with you from the world to your Father, whom you wanted to be mine. ‘The world is passing away’ (1 Jn 2:17) says your apostle. ‘The face of this world is passing away’ (1 Cor 7:31). But I do not want to pass with the world, I want to pass to your Father. This is the journey I have to make. I want to make it with you…. O my savior, receive your traveler. I am ready. I do not care about anything. I want to pass with you from this world to your Father” (Meditations on the Gospel, “The Last Supper”, Part I, Day 2).
Featured image: “Salvator Mundi,” by Leonardo da Vinci, painted ca. 1500.
To comment on Revelation is first to search the Old Testament for insights. However, can we gain further insights, in the sense that Saint John was inspired in particular by texts such as those found in the caves of the Dead Sea? This idea has been advanced by certain exegetes, who sometimes go so far as to make Saint John (even Jesus himself) a disciple of the “Essenes,” presumed to have inhabited the site of Qumran (roughly above one of the caves that had the manuscripts, namely, Cave 4).
It should be noted that this idea occurs in a larger discourse, frequently held at university departments of religious studies: That the Trinitarian faith, clearly expressed in the New Testament, is a derivative and late form of Christianity, which would not initially speak of the presence of God in Jesus (a presence which fulfills the biblical promise of God coming to visit his people). Since the New Testament never speaks of the Essenes, this very absence is taken as proof of the late writing of the Gospels, which would not have been composed by witnesses (apostles and disciples), and in Aramaic (in oral style), but written late and in Greek. Moreover, the reason for the alleged late drafting is that it would have been done in Greek, and it was done in Greek since it is presumed late. One can wonder if this “evidence,” in the form of a vicious circle, is not part of a larger and a priori negation.
A recent example of “negationism” is the lavish book (subsidized by the French Ministry of Culture), Après Jésus: l’invention du christianisme (After Jesus. The invention of Christianity), in which we find denied the existence of Christians, East of the Roman Empire before the third century. A contradictory variant of this negation consists in postulating that the Christians of Mesopotamia, predominantly Jewish, certainly existed, but believed “in astrology, in magic and in the divinity of the natural elements,” as per Luigi Cirillo.
However, other exegetes have shown that even the Greek texts cannot be very late, or at least some of them, because they fall into seven unreducible families of manuscripts. For example Philippe Rolland who, at the end of his life, published with Lucien Houdry a summary of the evidence: On the basis of a primitive “gospel of Jerusalem,” they placed the official and final writing of the synoptics in Greek at the beginning of the 60s AD. Papias points to the first gospel: “Matthew organized (συνετάξατο) the words of the Lord in the language of the Hebrews (= Aramaic), and each one made the translation of it as he could (ἡρμήνευσεν δ ‘αὐτὰ ὡς ἦν δυνατὸς ταστος) ”(Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16).
The great recent rediscovery has been that these “families” are rooted in oral compositions in Aramaic, the manuscripts of which form only one family: It is these compositions, originally written down as a reminder, collected for the most part in our “gospels,” which originally (except for John) were used as lectionaries – and which were quickly translated into Latin and Greek. These new perspectives, answering questions which have haunted the world of exegesis for centuries (in particular: what are the gospels?), answer what the Eastern Churches have always affirmed: The New Testament gives an account, in a way contemporary, and first in Aramaic, of the faith of the apostles and disciples, for which they gave their lives.
What then are we to make, in relation to the Revelation of Saint John, of texts known since the discoveries at the Dead Sea, or other comparable texts already previously known, and which reflect a “faith” other than that of the apostles?
Questions To Be Addressed
Any possible comparison first raises the problem of the authors of these texts. For more than fifty years, they have been attributed to a sect called “Essenes” who supposedly inhabited the site of Qumran, near the Dead Sea. Today, most serious researchers have been led to relegate this idea of the “Essene monks” and their monastery of Qumran to the rank of an absurd belief – not without reservations, because it must be admitted that the academic world had fabricated a myth.
Once the origins of this accumulation of errors have been clarified, it will then be appropriate to look at the question of the dating of the later documents of the Dead Sea, among which we find passages of “apocalyptic” or eschatological style which can be compared to those of the Revelation of Saint John. But in what capacity can they be compared to it? If they are prior to the year 70 and therefore to Revelation, one might think that Saint John was inspired by them. But if they are contemporary – Saint John lived for almost 90 years – or later, the question requires a radically new look.
Some Reminders Relating To The Myth Of The “Essene Monks Of Qumran”
André Paul (1933-2019) had been one of the main popularizers of the Essene thesis. In 2000, he was still teaching that Jesus went to be trained with these Essenes. But he completely changed his mind in 2007. And in 2008 he published Qumrân et les Esséniens (Qumran and the Essenes) with the eloquent subtitle, L’éclatement d’un dogme (The Shattering of a Dogma). And again, he was not familiar with the work of Professors Robert and Pauline Donceel-Voute, who studied the remains collected on the ground of the Qumran site, remains which had been entrusted to the care of the Catholic University of Louvain. Their conclusions are very clear – in these places, there had never been anything other than a rich commerce in balms and perfumes (related to the balsam trees of the surroundings ). This put a definitive end to the idea of a mythical monastic community there, with a scriptorium in the style of Western medieval abbeys.
Note that this myth, originally unrelated to a specific place, had a distant origin. It begins with a pagan interpolator of the only Greek text by Flavius Josephus that we have (a copy of the 9th century), a fairly anti-Semitic author, close to Roman power, who was inspired by the Philosophoumena, attributed to Hippolytus. The myth emerged in the modern era, notably with Voltaire and was much discussed in the 18th century; and then it resurfaced a second time after 1947, following the discoveries of the so-called “Dead Sea” scrolls, before collapsing in the 21st century. This story, still very little known, was summarized in the first volume of myLe Messie et son prophète(The Messiah and His Prophet).
One of the problems with this myth is that it functioned like a tree hiding the forest, the forest being the multitude of Jewish community associations, especially in the Diaspora, whose goal was the preservation of worship and its own freedom. The writings attributed to the legendary “Essenes” must therefore be redistributed to their various true authors, in particular to Jewish or even Greek Christian communities, or even to groups of ex-Judeo-Christians who had deviated from the preaching of the apostles.
The Dating Of The Latest Dead Sea Texts
Confusion surrounds the dating of these manuscripts; they are usually said to have been buried before the year 70 (end of the First “Jewish War”), which tends to present them all as pre-Christian. However, this terminus ad quem is arbitrary: such a deadline has no other reason than to harmonize the age of the manuscripts with the myth of the “Essenes of Qumran,” whose existence one cannot decently posit after the year 70 AD. Now, it should be considered that the eleven caves of the Dead Sea – twelve now and located many kilometers from each other, certainly have different histories; to assign a priori the same date for the caves is absurd.
In addition, in 95 AD, the Pharisee Synod of Yabneh decided to suppress a number of writings deemed to be non-conforming; and if they contained the name of YHWH, it was out of the question to destroy them, they were to be stored in inaccessible caches. Many of the Dead Sea writings meet this criterion, some have even been burned on one side, as a sign of being excluded. It is therefore most certainly in the year 135 AD (end of the Second “Jewish war”) that we must locate the terminus ad quem.
An additional argument for the year 135 comes from the discovery, at the end of 2016, of a twelfth manuscript cave in the Judean Desert. This Cave 12 of the Dead Sea (very difficult to access) contained manuscript jars – they were most likely broken and looted in the 19th century – but a few fragments of manuscripts were found on the ground. However, it was occupied during the Second “Jewish War,” as evidenced by the coins linked to this second uprising and the remains of weapons found there. Recall that two fragments of the New Testament in Greek were found in Cave 7: 7Q4 (1Tim 3,16.4,3) and 7Q5 (Mk 6,52-53).
Moreover, it was obvious that the Dead Sea Scrolls dated from various periods and in particular after the year 70 AD. Some of them bear witness to different versions, in which there are additions – which presupposes successive editorial periods. Some of these additions have a “Christian” aftertaste, which corresponds well to a period between 70 and 135 AD.
What We Learn From The Testament Of Zabulon
Consequently, it is no longer appropriate to present these additions as pre-Christian, nor those passages of the same ideological bent found in the caves, or known long before the discoveries of 1947. There is no need to invent “Christian interpolators” who, in the end, during the second or third century, falsified supposedly pre-Christian texts; and for this reason, all the more mysterious, as these passages are not really Christian. Obviously, the simple solution is that these texts with their “Christian” passages go back as they are to 1st or early 2nd century versions. Nothing like an example to understand.
In the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the simplest (and very well attested) example is that of passage 9.8 of the Testament of Zabulon, which is presented in two versions, between which versions the manuscripts are more or less evenly distributed. It should be noted in passing that the additions in question are less interpolations than rewritings which lengthen the passage. The first version is short, the other is significantly longer.
The short version reads: “After that, the Lord himself, the light of righteousness, will arise for you, and you will return to your land. And you will see Him in Jerusalem, because of His holy name” (Test. Zab. 9.8).
The second, longer version reads:
“After that, the Lord himself will raise for you, the light of righteousness [unchanged quote from Hosea 10:12], and healing and compassion will be in his wings. He will deliver from Beliar all the captivity of the children of men, and every straying spirit will be trampled underfoot; and He will convert all nations to serve Him zealously. And you will see God in the form of a man chosen by the Lord, in Jerusalem, because of his name.”
The lesson of the short version does not summarize that of the longer version, for it is clearly anterior: it simply evokes the eschatological vision of the victorious return to the Country, a biblical vision taking as a model either the return from Exile with Nehemiah, or even the Exodus. Perhaps this is a prophecy of comfort after the insurrection of 66-70 AD, which forced all those who did not want to take part to flee the country.
The lesson in the longer version, which is obviously later, is that it may well be a “Christian prophecy” ex post facto? In fact, if the author were a Christian, he would not have written that the Lord would have “chosen” to take the “form of a grown man.” Rather, Christian theology says that the “(announced) visit of God” to His people took place in that He “took flesh,” not in that He took a “form” (an already existing body). We find a comparable formulation in two others Testaments (“God takes a body” [Test. Simeon 6: 7]; God “appeared in the form of a lowly man/came in the flesh” [Test. Benjamin 10: 7;8])’ and it indicates that God invests and manipulates an adult man, as suggested in another way, notably in Fragment 3 of Ms. 4Q286-287: “…Holy Spirit [rep] daring on His Messiah….” This corresponds to the conception of a Messiah Jesus inhabited by the Spirit (= adopted by God) from his baptism in the Jordan, a conception that the Sabellians or Mandaeans of Mesopotamia had, and later the disciples of Paul of Samosata had, that is, the monarchianists, and many others.
Thus, the author of the Testament of Zabulon, 9.8, a late version, offers very little apostolic “Christianity;” and it is even more evident when one notices that here it is God who invests a man with His Spirit, and not the Word (Logos or meltā in Aramaic) who “becomes flesh” (Jn 1:14). The difference is not minimal; it is of a Trinitarian nature. We are therefore not faced with a “naive Christology,” as Marc Philonenko thinks, but with a radical reinterpretation. Certainly, the first expressions of the apostolic faith do not have the precision of the later formulations or forms (especially conciliar); but they are biblical and clearly Trinitarian.
We should not focus on the term “form,” which renders the Greek, morphe. We find it with the qualifier of “human” in the Letter to the Ephesians (XVIII) of Ignatius of Antioch (martyred around 107); but it is precisely not the question of a God who is to come in this “form” but who “appears” it in: “Then… the old kingdom was ruined, when God appeared in the form of a man, for a newness of eternal life.” In fact, behind the Greek expression, morphe Theou, we must see the Aramaic dmwtᵓ dᵓlhᵓ, “consanguinity-likeness of Aloha,” which refers to Genesis, when God created man “in his image (Hebrew tselem, shadow-image) and his likeness-aspect (Hebrew demuwth – see also Ezekiel 1:13).” We are very far from the negation of the divinity of the Messiah (Jesus), implied by the messianist formula “to come in a man.”
Where do these confusions come from?
A Lack Of Knowledge Of The Historical (Aramaic) Context?
A lack of knowledge of apostolic Syro-Aramaic Christianity and of the first drifting away is certainly a cause of confusion. Few scholars have understood that expressions referred to as “non-Trinitarian Christians” (in the Testaments, or other parallel writings referred by these scholars as “inter-Testamentary”) were in fact shifts from the apostolic faith expressed in the New Testament (and not the other way around).
Even before the discoveries of the Dead Sea, the idea circulated that the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs could have inspired the New Testament writings – when in fact in the matter of influence, one should consider the reverse. Thus, according to R.H. Charles, Gad 6:3-6 would have given Matthew 18: 15-35 (+ Luke 17:3); Daniel 5:3 would have given Matthew 22:37-39; Joseph 1:5-6 would have given Matthew 25:35-36; Levi 6:2 would have given Luke 2:19; Levi 14:4 would have given John 1:9; Benjamin 6:4 would have given John 5:41; Simeon 2:8 would have given Acts 12:11. Charles also pointed out 70 terms common to these Testaments and to the Pauline corpus.
Indeed, Jesus did not promise a triumph to come but world trials preceding the Judgment of his Coming: Luke 21: 9-11;27: “And when you shall hear of wars and seditions, be not terrified: these things must first come to pass; but the end is not yet presently. Then he said to them: Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there shall be great earthquakes in divers places, and pestilences, and famines, and terrors from heaven; and there shall be great signs… And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with great power and majesty.” Matthew 24: 7;29-30: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes in places… And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty.”
This is all the more evident here as this shift is expressed in a co-text which apocalyptically emphasizes earthly success. On the contrary, in Luke 21 and Matthew 24, Jesus does not announce an earthly success. This is a post-Christian doctrine, focused on the kingdom of God to be built (or imposed) on the earth. That is, a “messianist” doctrine – and even the first of its kind in history. Such a doctrine could only have arisen as a distortion of a prior Announcement of the Kingdom of God to come, that which Jesus gave but whose realization on earth depends on his Second Coming.
In fact, when we put things in their place, we realize that we must consider the existence of two distortions or primitive drifts of the apostolic faith, one of which is messianism which claims to save the world – the other being focused on the future of the individual person (Irenaeus of Lyon, in Against Heresies, essentially focused on the Gnostic drifts of the apostolic faith, and marginally on the messianist drift.). These deviant doctrines are unlikely to have been clearly developed before the year 70; they certainly were developed in the years following the destruction of the Temple, so shocking to Jewish religious consciousness (and to some extent also to Judeo-Christians, despite Jesus’ warnings).
Thus, when we read the later versions of the Testaments today, there is no longer any need to ask the insoluble question of supposed late “Christian interpolators” – they are post-Christian rewritings, inspired by messianist ideology, created by Jewish Christians who opposed the teaching of the apostles (i.e., ex-Judeo-Christians); and this after the crisis of the destruction of the Temple.
Saint John Confronted By Post-Christian Currents?
By definition, the writings of Saint John owe nothing to later texts. As for earlier texts, one could largely mention the Book of Enoch, whose apocalyptic style has an air of resemblance to the Revelation of Saint John. This text may date back to the 3rd century BC, but it went through different versions – it was a bestseller. There is much talk of visions, angels and demons punished by the fire in which kings and the powerful, who follow them, also burn. These are spiritual commonplaces. Saint John was not inspired by this especially when he describes a lake of fire engulfing the beast, the false prophet and the devil (Rev. 19:20; 20:10); and all those who were not found written in the book of Life (Rev 20:15). His images are much more significant.
There remain therefore the writings which were contemporary with him, and those which interest us, especially are those which, after the year 70, testify to doctrines opposed to those of the apostles, whether in a Messianist sense or in the sense of an exaltation of the “spiritual me” – that is to say the current of masters who claimed a more or less magical “spiritual knowledge,” who therefore qualified as “Gnostics” (in any case explicitly since Carpocrates, at the beginning of the second century), and who, more often than not, claimed to be the “true Christians.” (Gnosis is a “reinterpretation of Christian doctrine,” writes Robert M. Grant). Did Saint John want to respond to the promoters of these currents which distorted faith in Jesus Christ?
We note first that in its own way, each of these two currents is led to deny the death and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus. Since the Messianist perspective is the salvation of the world, it is unthinkable that the Messiah failed in the project of world domination that God is presumed to have entrusted to him, to the point of dying on a cross – which is a curse in the biblical view (Deuteronomy 21:23). Thus, someone else was substituted for him and he was taken to Heaven, where he awaits the moment to return to earth, to resume work and to succeed in conquering the world. (In a passage from the Testament of Levi, written as a reproach to the Jews who reject Jesus as Messiah, it is not specified that Jesus died: “The man who renews the Law by the power of the Most High, you hail him with the title of Impostor. Then by your malice, you then throw yourself on him to kill him, without knowing if he will rise up and let his innocent blood fall on your heads. But I say to you, because of him, your holt sanctuary will be razed to the ground” (16:3-4). Curiously, we read in the Koran: “[The Jews say:] We really killed the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, messenger of God. But they neither killed nor crucified him, but someone resembling him was put before them [before their eyes]… but God raised him up to him”(Sur. 4.157-158).
As the Messiah is a superman, he will reign 400 years. The number 400 can be read in the Latin, Georgian and Proto-Arabic versions of the Fourth Book of Ezra 7: 28-31. Islam inherits this expectation of a re-descending of “the Messiah Jesus” (al-masiḥ ‘Isa in the proper words of the Koran), an essential expectation in the historical preaching of Muhammad, according to many hadith-s (Amir-Moezzi ), and far from the character created by legend. But Islamic theology (well after the Koran) divided the 400 years by ten: after having killed the dragon and defeated his armies, Jesus only lives 40 years.
As for the spiritualist perspective (known as “Gnostic”), it too cannot envisage that the Messiah Son of God is really dead – and therefore he did not really rise from the dead either. It was his body, or an appearance, that was crucified – the Master was no longer there, he had already left his body – and he was made to say: “I am not the one who is fixed to the cross” (Acts of John, No. 99). This has been called “Docetism;” but it is simply a feature of all spiritualist systems.
(The Acts of John is subtly Gnostic, it never attacks the Christian faith head-on. In No. 101, we read, “Nothing, therefore, of the things which they will say of me have I suffered: nay, that suffering also which I showed unto thee and the rest in the dance, I will that it be called a mystery…. that I am, not what I said, but what thou art able to know, because thou art akin thereto. Thou hearest that I suffered, yet did I not suffer; that I suffered not, yet did I suffer; that I was pierced, yet I was not smitten; hanged, and I was not hanged; that blood flowed from me, and it flowed not; and, in a word, what they say of me, that befell me not, but what they say not, that did I suffer. Now what those things are I signify unto thee, for I know that thou wilt understand.”. Regarding the negation of the cross, there is Ignatius of Antioch, Epistola ad Smyrnaeos, 2 – P.G. V, 707: “All this he suffered for us, so that we may be saved. And he truly suffered, as he also truly rose from the dead, not, as some unbelievers say, that he suffered only in appearance.” As well, Ad Trallianos, 10 – P.G. V, 682, and Epiphanius, Panarion, 24.3 – P.G. XLI, 311).
In his Revelation, Saint John is clear. The angel, spokesperson for Jesus, tells of his pre-existence and his Easter mystery: “Thus saith he who is the First and the Last, he who was dead and who [re] lived” (Rev 2:8 FG ). And John saw a vision, in the middle of the throne, of a Lamb slain (Rev 56). He is the Word-Speech [Logos, Aramaic, meltā] of God (Rev 19:13). God and the Lamb sit together on the Throne, from which flows the river of living waters (Rev 22:1). The first response to the distortions of Revelation received by the apostles and disciples is the affirmation of it.
However, Saint John goes further; his Revelation takes into account the nascent post-Christian currents. Without claiming to be exhaustive, let’s take a closer look.
Revelation In The Face Of The Messianist Distortion Of Revelation
We have already looked at passages from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in their later versions, which are heavily borrowed from Messianist ideology dreaming of an Israel that will rebuild the Temple (destroyed in 70 AD – Test. Levi XVII, 10), and ruling over the whole world through a King-Priest (Test. Levi XVIII, 3-4).
Another writing, also found in the caves of the Dead Sea in several copies (seven in all – which speaks to its importance), the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, is still more explicit. It reads: “The first attack of the Sons of Light shall be undertaken against the forces of the Sons of Darkness… when the exiles of the Sons of Light return from the Wilderness of the Peoples to camp in the Wilderness of Jerusalem…. On the day when the Kittim [the Romans] fall there shall be a battle and horrible carnage before the God of Israel, for it is a day appointed by Him from ancient times as a battle of annihilation for the Sons of Darkness” (Col. 1: 1-9; 1QM1-14).
What has been called the Rule of the Community prescribes “to love all the children of light, each according to his good for the divine purpose, and to hate all the children of darkness, each according to his guilt in the vengeance of God” (1QS 1.9-10). And if this is not understood, it clearly calls for an “eternal hatred towards men of perdition” (1QS 9,21-22). André Dupont-Sommer translates “men of perdition,” as “men of the pit,” which Josephus uses to designate the ungodly (Jewish War II, 11,155). A similar expression, “way of the Pit,” can be found in another cave writing, The Wiles of the Wanton Woman.
A fragment of an Isaiah Commentary, found in Cave IV, speaks of the descendant of “David who will appear in the last [days]… And God will sustain him with [a spirit] mighty [… and give him ] a glorious throne, [a] [sacred] diadem and ceremonial vestments… scepter in his hands, and he will reign over all the G[enti]ls and even Magog [and his army… all] the peoples will be submitted to his sword”(4Q161 10 22-26).
Note the logic of the system. If we are to save the world and establish the will of God in it, we must hate those who oppose the global takeover, since they are enemies of God, no matter how sympathetic they may appear. Similar beliefs are expressed later in the Quran: “It was not you who killed them, it was God who killed them” (Quran 8,17); “Fight them (to death that is to say go so far as to kill them) so that God by your hands may chastise them” (Quran 9,14).
We should also note the mistrust taught towards women, who, concerned about their home, always run the risk of diverting man from the eschatological combat prescribed for him. A fragmentary text, also taken from one of the caves in the Dead Sea and aptly entitled, The Wiles of the Wicked Woman, reads: “Her [woman’s] eyes she casts here and there, and she flutters her eyelashes shamelessly… in order to make the humble to rebel from God and to turn their steps far from the ways of righteousness… in order to lead man astray into the ways of the Pit and to seduce the sons of men with flattery.” As the translator points out, there is no allegorical meaning to seek: the prostitute here is the image of woman herself.
We can note weaker anti-feminist passages in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs; the strongest is in the Testament of Judah: “The angel of God showed me that women will always rule, over kings as well as over the poor. From the king, they take away his glory, from the brave, his strength, from the poor the least support in his poverty” (15.5-6. Trans. In la Bible , p. 867).
On the other hand, in the Koran, the messianist logic goes all the way: “From your wives and your children [comes] an enemy for you (min azwâji-kum wa awlâdi-kum‘ adûwan lakum); take care!… Your goods and your children are only a seduction (fitnah, temptation)” (Sura 64.14-15). The translator Kechrid captures the meaning well: “You have an enemy in your wives and in your children.” Wives and children represent a potential danger, because from them (min here clearly means, “derived from”) comes opposition (an enemy) to the Cause – which verse 15 confirms. “By making his wife submit,” explains Antoine Moussali, “the man assures his own submission and that of his wife to the good of the ummah which has the responsibility for the rights of God” (Judaïsme, christianisme et islam. Etude comparée, p. 171).
To understand the source from which these messianist delusions come, we must look at the teaching of Jesus who certainly spoke of the “children of light” (John 12:36 and 1 Thessalonians 5: 5). But he never used the phrase “sons of darkness” – and it is not found anywhere in the New Testament either. We only read this, at the end of a parable: “for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light” (Luke 16,8). The difference between “sons of this world” and “sons of darkness,” in the same opposition to “sons of [the] light” is blatantly obvious: the expression “sons of darkness” implies a condemnation, almost a predestination of the world to Hell, while “sons of this world,” admittedly a negative expression, leaves the door open. The messianist ideology classifies those of this earth, mankind, into two camps: “the good” on the one hand and, on the other, those who do not follow the good and who are therefore bad.
In fact, this idea of classifying people, never more current than today in media propaganda, comes from a dramatic secularization of the sorting conducted by God in the Hereafter and during the Judgment which belongs only to Him – a conviction that permeates the whole of the New Testament and particularly Revelation. The shift from a Judgment carried out by God (and by his Angels) to a judgment conducted by messianist powers through exterminations and genocides is a radical distortion.
Jesus had guarded against such distortion ahead of time; it is the parable of the wheat and the cockle: “Even as cockle therefore is gathered up, and burnt with fire, so will it be in the culmination of the present time (en te sunteleïai tou aíonos – aïon, epoch). The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity. And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13: 40-42).
The harvest will not be made by the workers of the parable. Under what circumstances will this be done? This is precisely the object of the Book of Revelation which, in particular and like other passages of the New Testament, announces a time to come of the “kingdom of the righteous,” as Saint Irenaeus says. But such a time is after the Judgment of those who will be on the earth. If one reverses the prospect and pretends to bring about the Kingdom of God before He intervenes Himself, one is doing the work of Satan who pushes the hatred of “others,” as is always seen.
There was already a certain danger of distortion from the Old Testament, because of the awareness of belonging to the “chosen people.” This is why Jesus affirmed: “You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you” (Matthew 5: 43-44). With messianism, the “negation of the other,” to use the expression of Claude Levi=Strauss, is no longer a danger – it is an established doctrine.
In Revelation, God’s faithful are busy learning a new song (Rev 14: 1-3), or singing the song of Moses and the Lamb (Rev 15, 1-3), not exterminating the sons of darkness in great carnage. Jesus is the only one who can dispense judgment. He holds “the two-edged sword [ḥarbā, pūmēh]” (Rev 2,12). It is “the sword [ḥarbā] of my mouth [pūmēh],” he says (Rev 2,16) that is, the Word of God (cf., Isaiah 49:2). He is aided by “the powers of Heaven [which] follow him on white mares,” carrying a sword “in” their mouths [pūmhon]” (Rev 19:15). Satan-Dragon is conquered by the sons of the woman, “conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the power of the Word [melṯā] of his testimony” (Rev 12:11), not by the armed hand of warriors. “Babel the great” destroys itself; or more exactly is destroyed because of “the Beast” and the “false prophet” who, for their part, are then thrown into the lake of fire by the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 19).
Only the one who wears the golden crown (Rev 14,14) can bring peace on earth and, through his angel, bind Satan (Rev 20,1-10). It is priestly work, that of the Lamb who is at the same time high priest of the Holy City which is a Temple (a cube, Rev 21:16;22). As the song of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders already said, “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation. And hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests, and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev 5:9-10 FG).
Without having fully covered the question, we see that Revelation responds in a way to the nascent messianism, which has already formed itself into a frightening doctrine. Likewise, this writing of Saint John also responds to the other nascent post-Christianity, spiritualism.
Revelation In The Face Of The Spiritualist Distortion Of Revelation
The reproaches made to the seven churches at the beginning of Revelation relate to temptations that can sometimes be called spiritualist-Gnostic. We have seen above (see also note 22) that this current fundamentally denies the death and therefore the resurrection of Jesus. Why?
Close to the “seat of Satan,” the Church which was in Pergamum, the third Church, was confronted by the Nicolaitans who professed a certain doctrine that detracted from the moral sense rooted in created nature (Rev 2:14). Certain members of the community had fallen into this trap, one which was not very different from the teaching of “Balaam,” king of Moab, to which chapters 22 to 24 of Deuteronomy are devoted – but he was also known outside the Bible. Balaam was the figure known as the corruptor of the faith according to the Epistle of Jude (1:11) and the 2nd Epistle of Peter (2:15). Such a corruptor of the religious and moral sense makes one think of gnosis.
If we go directly to the Seventh Church, that of Laodicea, we suspect here not a confrontation but a spiritualist shift. This church thinks, “I’m rich, I don’t need anything,” all the while it is “destitute and naked.” Spiritual sufficiency is the hallmark of the Gnostics, who believe they have accessed the depths of God but who are “neither hot nor cold” – such is the first reproach made to this Church – they play spiritual but their works are miserable (Rev 3: 14-18).
Despite its good works and burning love, the Fourth Church, that of Thyatira, was grimly grappling with a false prophetess (whose biblical figure is Jezebel), who was dragging this church into esotericism and “the depths of Satan, as they say” (Rev 2:23-24). This is another trait gnosis, and not the least. Of course, the Gnostics do not officially claim to be Lucifer, although there is today in the United States an openly dedicated “Church” of Satan, with a storefront, and many other satanic public manifestations. According to their doctrine, they dedicate themselves to the Angels and to “God,” a God who is not the good Creator but a kind of pantheistic entity nevertheless marked by a negative pole, either hidden or brought to light according to the Gnostic schools, and always related to matter. Man must to extricate himself from material reality, in order to probe spiritual depths. “Admirable Sophists,” writes Saint Irenaeus (he died in 201 AD) not without humor; “they scrutinize the depths of the unknown Father and recount the supra-celestial mysteries into which the angels wish to lose their gaze” (Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II, 37, 6 et 38,1).
In practice, each having its “master,” these currents are multiple and include both moral depravity and forms of asceticism based on the capture of spiritual powers – angelic, in fact. Magic and angel worship are never far away, and the angels who play these games are not from God. Besides, John writes: “And I fell before his [Angel’s] feet, and bowed myself down to him. And he said to me: No! I am your companion and that of your brothers, those to whom there is [who have] the testimony of Jesus. Bow down more to God” (Rev 19.10 FG). And he makes us hear the angel of “Good Hope” who invites the inhabitants of the earth to recognize the Creator: “Bow down to [Him] who made the heavens and the earth, and the sea and the springs of ‘waters!” (Rev 14.7). The only angel who awaits the prostration of men is Lucifer.
It is very difficult to determine by analysis what exactly the spiritualist denaturation of Christianity is, since there is the impression of finding contradictions from one system to another; and there are always incomprehensible subtleties. Gnoses defy rationality – they are its tomb. However, if we ask ourselves the question of their origins, rather than trying to submit them to a broad analysis, things become clearer.
The text of Revelation speaks of a woman who claims to be a “prophetess” and who deceives the faithful of Thyatira. It must be understood that, first of all, there are authentic prophets and prophetesses, and that the normal Christian life is (or should be) through the living link with God which is called “the Holy Spirit,” a link with the divine Life which unites to Jesus Christ, who leads to the Father. When we speak of the “Trinity,” we are not simply speaking of a Revelation (of God) – we are at the same time speaking of a participation of human life in this “Trinitarian” life; that is, of a certain human experience. This diverse and personal experience is certainly not reduced to prophetic inspirations, through which angels give intuitions on behalf of God about the present or the future – but these inspirations are very important: “And those whom God has appointed in the Church are first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then doers of mighty deeds, those who have the gifts of healing, helping others, administering, and various kinds of tongues,” writes St. Paul (1Co 12:28).
Obviously, the gift of prophecy is the most striking, along with that of miracles. And, moreover, prophecy is most important for Christians, even though rationalism, which has invaded the Latin Church since the Renaissance (and already before in academic circles), ended up suffocating it. But these brilliant gifts can become objects of lust, though they are free gifts given for the common good of the community. Hence this warning from Saint Paul: “It was he [Christ] who established some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints [the new people of God] for the work of ministry in building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12).
Sadly, many work for their own power, fame, or wealth, and this has even become the self-centered norm of the world we live in. The Acts of the Apostles tell us about a certain Simon, who was a magician before being baptized, and who “was astonished when he saw the great signs and mighty deeds that were taking place” (Acts 8:13). And, “When Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power too so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 8:18-19). Of course, the apostles rejected this.
If we want to understand the spiritualist approach, it is fundamental to look at the common intention that underlies the abundant diversity of the gnostic beliefs or practices that go from intellectualism to magical forms of religiosity – in order to have access to the spiritual power of the spirits; that is to say, of the angelic world. This is a counterfeit of the Christian experience of the action of the Spirit and of the angels of God – for it is no longer with the Holy Spirit and these angels that one comes into contact. As much as messianisms are counterfeits of the redemptive action of Christ (it is a question of liberating and saving the world in the place of Christ, while basically claiming to do so in His name), spiritualisms are counterfeits of the Spirit (it is a question of liberating the human being from that which prevents him from accessing the world of spiritual powers; that is to say, of helping each one to save himself, primarily by following the “true” path opened by the guide Jesus).
(Raymond Aaron has clearly shown that totalitarian atheistic messianisms are in reality “secular religions.” Hannah Arendt’s work must also be reread from this angle. Gnosis, writes Jacques Lacarriere, appears in history from the first centuries of Christianity, preached by a character mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, by the name of Simon Magus. And we find there the essential principles that characterize it – the creation of the world is the work of a false God, the true God is unknown to man, the world is there only to separate him from Him. For Simon Magus, the only way for man to break the illusion of the world and to reach plenitude is to live out his desires freely. Desire, in all its forms, is the only divine part that resides in the human being).
Often, we take too lightly the beginning of the treatise, Against Heresies, where St. Irenaeus relates with precision how the proliferation of spiritualisms is historically rooted in Simon the Magician and his very inventive disciples – Menander, then Saturninus, Basilides, Carpocrates, Cerinthus, etc. It is especially Irenaeus in Against Heresies who endeavors to trace the genealogy of the first branches of spiritualism, and gives many details concerning their respective doctrines. But about the Nicolaitans, founded according to him by the disciple of the apostles named Nicholas, he says nothing more (I, 26,3) than Revelation.
Everything was at stake in the Jewish world, already well-established wherever access to great trade was possible, from Spain to China and from the steppes in the north to Ethiopia (Nubia at the time) in the south. It was a Jewish world which was prompted to take a position with regard to Jesus, which was far from simple. To want to look at spiritualisms as a type of extension of Greek philosophy (or a development of Indian Brahmanic thought) is a dead end that goes back a long way. “The Philosophoumena, a work of the 2nd or 3rd centuries,” notes Roland Hureaux, “examines the relationship of the gnostic doctrines with Greek philosophy, endeavoring to show, and not in a very convincing way, the filiation of this to those. The work is attributed without certainty to Hippolytus of Rome (170-234).” The spiritualist doctrines, which excel in taking on very diverse forms, do not hesitate to integrate elements of local or philosophical traditions, according to the inspiration of this or that teacher.
The knowledge of “hidden things” – occult powers, the future, etc. – is what Gnostics seek. Among the fragments found in the Dead Sea caves, only two, 4Q301 and 1Q27 – per present state of research – insist on the importance of knowledge by advocating a certain disdain for the world and an elitism – we are still far from gnosis. Moreover, we have seen that the manuscripts of the caves were often marked by that other post-Christianism, namely, messianism. On the other hand, when in Revelation it is a question of the “false prophet” at whose instigation the blood of the saints and prophets of the moment is shed (16:6), it is indeed of the Gnoses and their anti-Christianism that we are talking about: “I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come forth from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. These are demonic spirits with the power to work miracles. They were sent to the kings of the entire world to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty… In her [Babylon the great] In her was found the blood of the Prophets, of the saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (16:13-14; 18:24).
Escaping The Trap Of Post-Christian Dialectics
We have perceived the dialectic of current history.
Messianisms oppose their saviors against the enemies of God and who are doomed to be exterminated so that the world may be saved. There is, of course, the vision of a negative and obscurantist past, of a present filled with struggle and sacrifices to be made for the Cause, and of a future that will be filled with joy. Communism and Nazism functioned on this dialectic, and it has not yet finished functioning today.
Spiritualisms also have their dialectic, subtle as it should be – the dialectic of the divine man. Their common conviction can be stated as follows: Jesus is “God;” we all are “God,” but some more than others. In order to become divine and to dominate the spiritual world, man must free himself from his antagonisms, from the appearances of good and evil, and from suffering – the latter being the sign of the still unresolved clash between flesh and spirit. The dialectic by which Gnosticism justifies itself can be schematized in a single way – only the themes differ from one Gnostic group to another. Saint Paul again writes: “[you are] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph2:20); and, “[the mystery of Christ] was not disclosed to human beings in previous generations, but now it has been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph3:5):
The idea of metempsychosis, linked to the presumed imperfection of a previous life and taken up from old Indo-European traditions, is external to this system, and very marginal; it is mentioned by Iranaeus, Epiphanius, and the Philosophoumena – only when speaking about Basilides.
Philosophers will immediately notice here a Hegelian functioning – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – well known to be central in the dialectic of history. There is nothing surprising in this. The two dialectics, that of history and that of the divine man, are never more than two antagonistic counterfeits of the one and only dialectic that is true and that reveals in particular – the Revelation of Saint John.
And this is how we escape the traps of messianisms and spiritualisms, announced by Jesus himself – the former under the term, “false messiahs,” and the latter under that of “false prophets” (Mt 24:24). Revelation reveals to us the struggle, both historical and trans-historical, between the angels of God and the saints on the one hand, and the angelic and human forces of evil on the other. There are never two fixed human opposites that confront each other, even at the time of the Judgment, because Judgment will be the work of God alone and of his angels, and because the history of each person is played out in the course of his or her life. Nor is there a division in man in the sense of a part that is good (his spirit) and another that is evil (his body).
This apocalyptic revelation is much stronger and more precise than a similar passage in the letters written by St. John many years earlier. For example: “Dear children, this is the last hour. You have heard that the Antichrist was coming, and now many antichrists have already come. Thus, we know that it is the final hour. They went out from us, but they never really belonged to us” (1Jn 2:18-19); and: “Many deceivers have gone forth into the world, those who refuse to acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. Any such person is the Deceiver and the Antichrist” (2Jn 7). John does not yet see what exactly is at stake and what is to come.
For that, the revelation of an angel becomes necessary, through which Jesus speaks to him (Rev 1:1-2).
Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of the magisterial Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. For more information, see http://rootsofislamtruehistory.com and http://thegreatsecretofislam.com. Father Edouard-Marie also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.
The featured image shows an illustration from the Ottheinrich Bible (folio 295r, Revelation, chapter 12). ca. 1530-1532.
History records again and again that many world leaders think they and their kingdoms will last forever. They think in some cases that their armies will rule the world indefinitely for they are the greatest of all humans. Their nation will outlive and outperform all others.
But what is it that builds a nation? What are the ingredients that build a nation to be kind, generous, strong, and looking after the people that inhabit it? And what are the ingredients that destroy a nation? Second Chronicles 32 & 33 offers us a little insight into these important questions. Manasseh was born 700 years before Christ and came to the throne at the age of just 12. His father Hezekiah was a good king, in that he built up the kingdom of Judah in the ways of God. We are told that “he did what was right in the eyes of God.” Hezekiah had woven into the fabric of Judean life the standards and values of Almighty God including the Ten Commandments. And because of this God was with him.
Manasseh, his son, was brought up in the faith from birth. He would have known the ways of God, the Scriptures and the Ten Commandments. But instead of following in the ways of his father, he followed in the wicked ways of his grandfather, Ahaz. Isn’t it profoundly sad when a son, or for that matter a daughter, chooses to abandon, and turn away from the faith of their parents? All those years of setting an example, bringing them to church, Sunday School, and praying for them, seemingly come to nothing.
Manasseh, during his wicked and godless reign of 55 years, successfully carried out three things to good effect. Number one, he obliterated the godly principles on which the nation was founded. Second, he encouraged and accelerated the growth of heathenism by allowing any form of godlessness to grow and prosper; Third, he instituted the persecution of the prophets; they were muted or killed. These are the things that destroy a nation. Is it possible for one person to lead millions into untold evils? Yes, it is. Just one person, armed with an ideology can lead millions into untold evil. Manasseh did it. And he did it for a very long time. Of course, we don’t need to go back as far as Manasseh to see the evidence and outworking of systemic godlessness.
Josef Stalin was once a young man preparing for the Russian Orthodox Ministry. During training as a priest, he abandoned his faith to lead Russia on a purge where his Marxist regime slaughtered upwards of 20 million of its own people. To slaughter 20 million in the biggest country in the world, you need a lot of people to believe and implement your idealogy.
It was a Marxist philosophy with the core belief that there is “no God.” Stalin’s regime told the people a lie and brutally reinforced the lie. He and his regime lied and suppressed the truth. He and his cohorts denied people the truth. He systematically replaced the traditional orthodox belief by instituting Marxism. Marxism or the state would provide for and look after the people, from the cradle to the grave; Not God. God played no part in a person’s life or the state’s life.
On his death bed in 1953; as he lay dying, he raised a defiant clinched fist towards heaven. He died unrepentant. How did one person manage to lead millions into untold evil? Well, in days gone by, when many of the masses were illiterate and uneducated, people did not know how to think for themselves. In many ways they were easily led. The serfs or peasants were unable to think with logic and reason. Chairman Mao leader of the Communist Party in China had a similar approach as Stalin only he managed to murder around 50 million of his own people during the 1950 and 1960 purges.
It was Adolf Hitler, another tyrant in the same mould who said, “if you repeat a lie often enough it eventually becomes thought of as truth.” He started off by blaming the Jews for all of Germany’s woes and then justified it by gassing 12,000 a day.
Brainwashing people with ideologies is nothing new. Many influential people today clamour and exert pressure for the removal of any boundaries, any restraints, for a decent society to exist and any moral absolutes. Moral absolutes are seen as restrictive and abhorrent. The prevailing culture, mainly through education systems, are systematically brainwashing young, impressionable people into believing a lie – that there is no God. There is no such thing as sin or judgement, therefore, there is no need for salvation.
In the very beginning, God placed Adam in the garden of Eden and told him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” There was a restraint, a prohibition placed upon him. If you disobey, there will be consequences. GK Chesterton said, “Before you tear down a fence, you need to ask first, why is the fence there in the first place?”
One of the ways a nation’s morality can be measured is by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, particularly the elderly and children. How are we treating the elderly in care homes and those isolated in various communities? Is it a level playing field compared with younger sick patients in hospital?
How are we treating our children? What are we doing to the lives of thousands of unborn children killed in the womb for no other reason than that in the vast majority of cases it is inconvenient for the woman? No thought is given to a perfectly healthy child. The NSPCC reports 1 in 5 children in Britain have suffered some form of severe maltreatment, which includes all sorts of serious abuse.
Manasseh destroyed the godly principles on which the nation of Israel was founded – God’s law. He actively encouraged the growth of heathenism, allowing all godless beliefs to flourish; and he brought about the persecution of the prophets. He shut the prophets down. It was a three-pronged attack with the sole aim of removing any trace of God from society. Manasseh worshipped Molloch, who required new born babies as living sacrifices. As the babies cried out the priests beat their drums louder to drown out the cries. Disposing of babies as a commodity to be killed marked where the nation was. It can’t go much lower.
Where a nation is encouraged to live life without any restraints, where there are no boundaries, no absolutes, no sense of personal responsibility – everyone suffers. In particular the innocent, the unborn, and the vulnerable.
The depravity reached a new low when Manasseh even offered his own sons in the fire of Gehenna outside Jerusalem. Once you begin tearing down the things of God, you build up the things not of God, because the void has to be filled by something. As GK Chesterton reminds us, “When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” With all sin, wrong doing gives way to further wrong doing. It gets to a point where a person loses any sense of identity and sacredness.
Anthony Bourdain was a 61-year-old celebrity chef, who had it all. Money, fame, and food. In fact, he described it as the greatest job in the world. Yet in June 2018 his body was found in a Paris hotel room; he had tragically taken his own life. It was disclosed that he had been a heavy drinker and a heroin/cocaine addict most of his life.
A couple of years before his death, a member of the audience in one of his many TV shows asked him, “How could I get your job?” He replied; “Drop out of college, don’t concentrate, and do a lot of cocaine and heroin.” That was the helpful answer he gave to a young fan. Bourdain also said that he used his body as a play thing over the years.
In contrast, we have comments of the Apostle Paul on how we use our bodies: “Flee from sexuality immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually, sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?” Two very different thoughts on how we use our bodies.
If a person violates the laws of God, he violates himself; and, sadly, the world actively encourages you to do just that. It’s all a bit morbid, isn’t it? But it’s happening all around us. Look at the evidence. There is no Utopia, as many idealists think, round the corner. Man has dreamed of this since the debacle of building the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Let’s ditch the negative and concentrate on what are the things that build a nation to be kind, generous, just and protecting of its people and others.
In fact, a lawyer in Luke 10 knew the answer. He told Jesus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” Whatever we do and however we live our lives in any nation, it must begin and end with God. We give him our all; we live for him. The impact of this will greatly affect for the good how we see, understand and relate to others who live alongside us and beyond. When God brought the Israelites out from slavery in Egypt, he made it abundantly clear to them that when they obeyed his commands and precepts, he would be with them and things would work out well for them. The new nation would be a peaceful, wealthy and prosperous one.
But once they disobeyed him and chased after the idols and gods of other nations, they lost God’s special protection and blessing. Much of Deuteronomy speaks of God’s dealings with this new “nation.” The American film actor Denzil Washington recently released a video where he speaks about his faith in God and “Putting God First.” Something he says he has sought to do for most of his life. Life is relational. The strength and stability of any nation depends on our understanding of God as revealed in his word to all people.
In it, God tells us how to stop and prevent wars, how to solve problems, how to deal with sin and wrong-doing, how to avoid wrong choices, and be reconciled to others. How to deal with things we are drawn to we know are wrong.
How strange it is that the majority of people try to live their lives without the Bible. They wonder why their marriages fail, their bodies are in trouble, their minds are in turmoil, why they move from one mess to another mess, why they keep on making bad choices. And society suffers as a result. William Wilberforce, Mother Teresa, John Newton, Martin Luther King Junior, Florence Nightingale, Michael Faraday, Billy Graham, Isaac Newton – like Abraham were friends of God who understood him as revealed through Scripture. All influenced the lives of many for good and thus the peace and prosperity of the nation.
What about this wicked man Manasseh? What happened to him? God often allows a nation to hit rock bottom morally and spiritually before He acts. And before God acts, He always warns. That’s why He sent the prophets time and again to Israel to warn them. In His great mercy He gives people a chance to turn away from their sin, and turn towards Him. When we see the lawlessness, the contempt for God abounds today; God is very much aware of what is happening. He is not blind or incapacitated to do something about it. It’s just a matter of His time before He acts. And act He will.
It was the same with Israel and its people. We are told, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention.” The nation had become so God-resistant they did not want to know, they weren’t interested. God brings judgement on the nation because, He has a right to do so; He has the right to bring judgement on any nation on this planet; because “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” God brings a foreign army, the Assyrians, against Israel. Manasseh is captured, shackled and brought to the Assyrian capital Babylon, where he is held as a prisoner. Manasseh gets a touch of his own medicine, being led about with a hook in his nose, and the people laughing at him. If we are honest with ourselves, we are probably thinking and hoping that God will destroy this wicked man in much the same way he destroyed the lives of countless others.
Be amazed to know that Manasseh repented of his wickedness and turned to God. What an amazing turnaround. Is this the same man? How could a perverted, worthless, evil, individual comparable to the likes of Stalin come to believe in God? The answer is through God’s grace. Grace is undeserved merit. No human being deserves God’s grace but through his mercy his grace is freely given to all, including someone like Manasseh. Despite what he did, the terrible crimes he committed, the killing of little children, God through His grace and love for this wretched individual still gave him an opportunity to turn from his wicked ways; which he did. Manasseh had sunk so low; he knew that he needed God more than anything else. God not only forgave him, He gave him a new heart, a new purpose, and a new life.
Tragically the damage was done to a nation after 55 years of systematically destroying any remnant of what was sacred and encouraging the growth of paganism, and persecuting the godly. Judah would not recover. It would take someone else to come and lead the nation in the ways of God. And God had already a young Josiah in place. Josiah would lead the nation back to where it should be. It just takes one person to lead a nation into untold evil; or, lead it to receive God’s blessing.
Alan Wilson is a retired Presbyterian minister, who lives in Northern Ireland.
The featured image shows, “King Manasseh in exile,” by Maerten de Vos; painted ca. 1550-1603.
The history of Israel is so rich in meaning that it is the key to understanding the origin of the world (Gen 2-3).
God, whom we can call with the great Hebrew tradition “Elohim,” or “Adonai,” took Adam and put him in the garden. Elohim took Israel from the house of slavery and put it in the land of Canaan.
Elohim made a covenant with Adam and Eve by the tree of life. Elohim made a covenant and gave his Torah to Israel upon the slopes of Mount Sinai. “And the whole people agreed, “Whatever Adonai (YHWH) has said, we will do it.”” (Exodus 19:8)
We have not been created without a purpose. Being and continuance in being is given to us for a positive, high purpose: a Covenant with the Most High, the Creator! The God of heaven makes man a counterpart whom he raises to himself. It is a gift, it is a grace, and it is completely out of the question to capture this equality of strength, since we are to receive it. And if the story of Genesis also tells of a prohibition, it is because the Covenant presupposes reciprocity.
The tree of life is the symbol of the Torah, the book of the Covenant of the Most High (Si 24:23), given through Moses.
The Tree of Life is the place of the Covenant. You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of magical knowledge, of the so-called sacred prostitutions and of the sacrifices of children which are presumed to get a hold of the source that created you.
It is undoubtedly difficult when you are a Jew to talk about Mary with Catholics. The Talmud says, for example, that Christ is a bastard (Kallah 51 A), the offspring of a Jewish prostitute and a Roman soldier (Sanhedrin 106 A) and that he is plunged into hell in boiling excrement (Gittin 57 A).
As soon as the Jews find the Old Testament without the filter of the Talmud, everything becomes clear. For the prophets, virginity represents fidelity to the Covenant.
And this spiritual virginity was to be perfectly and bodily fulfilled one day, and it was the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Myriam.
At the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee, while the wine runs out, Myriam invites us to obey the Lord: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). And Jesus changes the water (of the Torah) into wine (the wine of the Torah explained by the Messiah). This was the first sign that Jesus did.
Thus, we can renew the Covenant contract with the Most High in the presence of Mary, “in Mary.” In a poetic way, she is the tree of life, the place of the renewed Covenant.
Francoise Breynaert is a secular oblate of the Fraternity of Our Lady of the Desert (Belgium). A doctor of theology, she has published foundational works (biblical, Christological) and also Marian and spiritual works. She has also done theological research on the salvation of non-Christians and the Good News for the deceased, and on the Coming of Christ, which the West often confounds, unhappily, with the end of the world, and finally on the exegesis of orality in connection with the Christians of the East. Her works are recognized (imprimatur, episcopal prefaces) in France and abroad. Her research has interested Islamologists who, in turn, have made her part of their studies.
The featured image shows the “Madonna and Child with Saints,” by Girolamo dai Libri, ca. 1520.
When Ron DeSantis, Florida’s conservative Republican governor and likely presidential candidate, said recently we need to put on the “full armor of God,” the media looked at him like he was crazy—or from another planet. But his supporters gave him a standing ovation.
As secular liberals, most of the press have no familiarity with the phrase, its origins, theology, or importance. They are bigots against religion and unschooled in what used to be the norms of American life, churches, and culture.
The press and nearly our entire elite ruling class, in academia, sports, politics, media, business, and culture are biblically illiterate and have no idea what the Jar of Nar (John 12:3) refers to; where the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35) led or who travelled on it; or even what happened in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26: 36-46).
Let me brief them on the context, content, and significance of the “full armor of God,” which are, of course, the words of St. Paul, found in Ephesians 6: 10-18. Yes, that is a book in the New Testament.
Paul, formerly Saul, was a Hellenized Jew and a Pharisee who converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus. This turning point in his life totally transformed him from a persecutor of Jesus’ followers into Christ’s primary missionary throughout all of Asia Minor. In the Acts of the Apostles and various letters to the churches of the ancient world—which are critical parts of the Bible—he inspired and offered sacred words of God.
The full armor of God that Christians are called upon to wear comprises: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit.
This armor of God is a metaphor that Paul (and now DeSantis) used to remind Christians about the spiritual battle they confront. It describes the protection the Lord makes available to be strong, to share his mighty powers, and to take a stand against the devilish schemes and temptations of this world.
The struggle Paul reminds us of is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers and principalities of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. DeSantis knows his enemies and they are already after him as an heir apparent to Trump.
By suiting up, so to speak, we can, like the governor of Florida, with much prayer and practice, implement the habits of God. What then exactly are these pieces of armor? I am sure the press is curious and dumbfounded when Christians—Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Charismatics, Mormons, and the Orthodox branches—use such language, which is their long tradition. I will explain.
The Belt Of Truth
The first and central piece of armor is the belt of truth. It is, by its very definition, what is true and therefore—not false. Every other piece of armor is attached to truth. We live in a constant battle of truth and light against falsehood and darkness. We need to cover ourselves in God’s word—His truth, not man’s lies and ideologies.
The Breastplate Of Righteousness
As a gift of God righteousness protects believers from sinful entanglements. It gives the heart of God. Obedience is the way of the Lord and this breastplate, when in place, provides that protection.
The Gospel Of Peace
Peace is an attribute of the Lord’s very person. In Greek it means a whole character. The Gospels, which brought “good news” also bring forgiveness and access to God through faith in Christ. The result of that faith is a deep and abiding peace. Paul in his various letters constantly reminds believers, often in travail and under persecution, to “stand firm.”
The Shield Of Faith
Taking up the shield of faith refers to the Roman soldiers’ shields dipped in water to extinguish fiery darts. The Christian shield is dipped in the water of God’s holy word. It is replenished and made real by hearing and doing the word of God. Faith is increased when tested.
The Helmet Of Salvation
Salvation is a helmet that comes from trust in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is also realized as a long and slow process of sanctification. The battlefield of the mind is the primary place where the spiritual battle is fought. As Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
The Sword Of The Spirit
This last piece of armor is God’s word itself. It is both offensive and defensive. When tempted by Satan, like Jesus in the desert, followers can find solace and comfort but just as critical, spiritual power, by using this weapon.
The press can now realize how strange and distant this all seems to their radically secular, liberal, atheist minds. This is why they hate devout believers like DeSantis, and conservatives generally. While they make noises about freedom of conscience, in fact, the Left wants the world rid of this and all theological content. For them there is no transcendence and only the material life of the flesh. It scares the hell out of them—and well it should.
In the face of foreign enemies who want to kill or enslave us, the full armor is the key differentiator between America and her communist adversaries. In these times of decadent and predatory cultures of death—from rap music to film to unlawful behavior and abortion on demand—the full armor is the alternative along with the civilized and ordered life, realized in America’s founding and faithfully lived for generations by her people.
In this unprecedented period of continual falsehoods against America—alleging its role in the world as a racist, rogue power—the full armor is the defense of faithful everyday Americans who are besieged and attacked. In our era of leftist politicians engaged in constant deception and pure evil, the full armor is the remnant of a believing past and a call to a better and faithful future. It is the spiritual essence of—making America great again.
Is there any reason why the detractors of DeSantis wouldn’t absolutely fear the full armor of God?
Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, scholar-diplomat-strategist, is CEO of the thought leadership firm The Roosevelt Group. He is the author of 18 books, including, The Plot to Destroy Trump and, with Felipe J. Cuello, Trump’s World: GEO DEUS. He appears regularly in the media, as a keynote speaker, and on television around the world. This article appeared in American Greatness.
The featured image shows an allegory of the miles christianus, from the Summa Vitiorum by William Peraldus, mid 13th century.
It was in the years following the Civil War, America was hard on the path to “becoming great.” The industrial revolution had moved into full swing, railroads criss-crossed the country, immigration was gaining speed, and wealth was accumulating at a rate never seen before. We were slowly moving from our original agrarian economy towards life as an industrial nation. The middle-class was growing, education was increasing, and the life of management was the aspiration of many. We were also getting sick in new ways.
In 1868, the first article on the term neurasthenia was published. Though the word had been around some thirty years, it was making its debut as a more wide-spread diagnosis. The symptoms associated with it were: fatigue, anxiety, headache, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, neuralgia, and depressed mood. If all of that sounds familiar, it’s because it never went away. We simply call it by different names now. And, speaking of names, William James (Varieties of Religious Experience), called it “Americanitis.”
This “disease” was blamed on a variety of causes. Many of them had to do with the modern lifestyle and more generalized circumstances of our existence. America, in the late 1800’s was already “losing its religion.” There was some vague sense that the religious ideas of earlier times (America’s earlier times) were inadequate. There were many new denominations (results of the various revivals of the 19th century). There were also a large wave of cult-like movements (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Science, etc.). Pentecostalism had much of its birth during this same period. Of little note to some was the rise of Anglo-Catholicism in this period, a movement within mainline Anglican thought that looked back to times prior to the Reformation for its inspiration. A number of leading figures in things like the Arts and Crafts Movement came from this religious background. They were looking for an older spiritual model (and an economic model) to treat the disease that modernity had unleashed.
It has to be acknowledged, I think, that many of us today are inheritors of the same interior sense that “something is wrong.” Early in the 20th century, writers such as GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc offered crititicisms of “modernity” drawn from a traditional, Catholic worldview. Serious thinkers have continued that same narrative (not all of them Christian) ever since. And so we have Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Jung, 1933), Man’s Search for Meaning (Frankl, 1946), and other such major works, decade by decade, fumbling towards a way of speaking about the emptiness of modern life. The modern liberation movements, as well as the youth movements of the 60’s should be read in this same light even though their critiques, in time, were themselves to become symptomatic of modernity.
A tragic attempt to address the malaise of modern neurasthenia was a sense that American men were growing too soft and unmanly towards the end of the 19th century. There were conversations that spoke of the need for a “good war” and of a “great cause” to regenerate what had become lacking. Such sentiments certainly played a large role in the Spanish-American War, the unabashed launch of America’s soft colonialism. The themes of that time have been replayed in every subsequent conflict. Whether we have been “making the world safe for democracy” or simply uninstalling various hostile regimes, variations of the same explanations and marketing have accompanied our efforts. Such explanations were plausible in World War II, but have rung increasingly hollow ever since.
Having largely lost our religion(s), modernity has seen fit to create new ones. If we wonder what constitutes a modern religion (or efforts to create one) we need look no further than our public liturgies. Various months of the year are now designated as holy seasons set-aside to honor various oppressed groups or causes. It is an effort to liturgize the nation as the bringer and guardian of justice in the world, an effort that seeks to renew our sense of mission and to portray our nation as something that we believe in. It must be noted that as a nation, we have not been content to be one among many. We have found it necessary to “believe” in our country. It is a symptom of religious bankruptcy. As often as not, major sports events (Super Bowls) are pressed into duty as bearers of significance and meaning. The pious liturgies that surround them have become pathetic as they try ever-harder to say things that simply are not true or do not matter. This game is not important – it’s just a game.
The difficulty with engineered religions, or causes that serve as substitutes, is that they fail to transcend. Regardless of how great many moments or ideas might be, they easily die a thousand deaths as their many non-transcendent failures come to mind. In the late 1960’s, the singer Peggy Lee registered a hit single, “Is that all there is?” It is a song with the lilt of a French chanson, à la Edith Piaf. It moves through the great moments of life, including love and even death itself, but offers its sad refrain:
Is that all there is, is that all there is? If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing Let’s break out the booze and have a ball If that’s all there is
This is our context, the world of modernity. It is also our sickness, an empty lassitude whose hunger invites never-ending experiments of conferring meaning on our world. The “better world” that modernity pursues shifts relentlessly and changes as though it were directed by Paris fashionistas. At the same time, it is met with increasing anger and frustration, a predictable response to what are essentially imposed religious views.
William James offered the interesting observation that war is a “sacrament” of the nation state. He had in mind the larger conflicts of his time. War grants a unity and a sense of purpose and participation to the country that is almost unrivaled. In our time, the response to the attack of 911 comes the closest to that sacramental purpose. However, with conflicts that dragged on for two decades, it began to wane in its effectiveness. It remains a touchstone at present, an event to which others are compared in efforts to foster another occasion of sacramental war. All of these sacramental efforts and the public liturgies that surround them, however, fail to serve any transcendent purpose. The nation state and modernity itself (which is primarily a form of economic activity) simply do not and cannot rise to the level of eternal significance. Indeed, their ultimate banality mocks us.
I am often asked, when writing on this topic, what response Christians should make. What do we do about the state? How do we respond to modernity? For the state – quit “believing” in it. We are commanded in Scripture to pray for those in authority. We are not commanded to make the state better or participate in its projects. We are commanded to serve our neighbors as we fulfill the law of God. However, I think it is important to work at “clearing the fog” of modern propaganda regarding the place of the nation state in the scheme of things. I would frame a response to modernity in this manner: we are not responsible for foreign religions. Though Christian language and carefully selected ideas are often employed in the selling of modernity’s many projects, it is a mistake to honor its false claims. Make no mistake, modernity will offer no credit, in the end, to Christ, the Church, or to people of faith. Its interests lie elsewhere.
The proper response to these things will seem modest. Live the life of the Church. The cure of modernity’s neurasthenia is found not in yet one more successful project, but in the long work of salvation set in our midst in Christ’s death and resurrection. Our faith is not a chaplaincy to the culture, or a mere artifact of an older world. The Church is the Body of Christ into which all things will be gathered, both in heaven and on earth. It is the Way of Life as well as a way of life. It is not given to us to control how we are seen by the world, or whether the world thinks us useful. It is for us to be swallowed up by Christ and to manifest His salvation to the world. We were told from the very beginning that would should be patient, just as we were promised from the beginning that we would suffer with Christ.
I think the sickness that haunts our culture is that we fail to know and see what is good and to give thanks for the grace that permeates all things. When that is forgotten, nothing will satisfy, nothing will transcend. There is no better world to be built, nor great wars to be won. There is today, and that is enough.
Over eight centuries before Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated his “Four Freedoms,” a shorter and much better list of freedoms was elucidated by the young abbot of the new monastery of Clairvaux, one Bernard by name.
In his work, On Grace and Free Choice (De Gratia et libero arbitrio), Saint Bernard (1090-1153) distinguished three kinds of freedom: of nature, of grace, and of glory. The first is freedom from necessity; the second, from sin; and the third, from suffering. All three concern man’s inner life, where all true freedom resides, rather than extrinsic factors. (For a timely example of what I mean by “extrinsic factors,” we might consider freedom from external compulsion to receive an unethically sourced, unnecessary, and ineffective vaccine against an illness that 99.7% of people who contract it survive.) For us moderns, like Roosevelt, the tendency is to locate freedom outside of ourselves, but that is not what Saint Bernard had in mind. Real freedom, I repeat, is an interior reality, and all three of these freedoms are interior.
The Calvinists and Lutherans, who exaggerated the effects of the Fall, denied that man’s will is free. They would have done well to read Saint Bernard, who based his argumentation solidly on Holy Scripture. So, too, do modern schools of psychological determinism deny — or at least detract from — the freedom of the will. But Saint Bernard, writing with great philosophical certitude and liberty, shows that the will by its very nature is free.
This innate freedom of the will, in addition to our intellect, is what makes us in the image and likeness of God, and the Master of Clairvaux notes that this first freedom has nothing to do with whether we are good or bad: “Freedom from necessity belongs alike to God and to every rational creature, good or bad.” This freedom, which makes our actions “voluntary,” is contrasted with that necessity of which brute beasts are possessed in all their actions. In dogs and cats, and all the rest of non-rational animals, there are no voluntary or free acts. They act by an interior compulsion to do what they do. Without having an intellect and a will, non-rational animals live exclusively on the level of the senses and the irascible and concupisciple appetites. We, too, have those faculties, but our intellect and will tower over them and make our acts human acts and therefore voluntary and free acts. As the Cistercian Doctor puts it negatively, “What is done by necessity does not derive from the will and vice versa.”
For clarity, I should note here that there are acts that men do that are not voluntary and therefore not free. These are things we have in common with the beasts, like respiration, digestion, and the myriad other activities our bodies perform every moment to keep us alive and functioning at the level of mere sentient activity. Philosophers call such acts “actus hominis” (acts of a man) as distinguished from “actus humanus” (human acts). “Human” here means rational and volitional.
The following sentence from On Grace and Free Choice may be long and need to be read two or three times, but it is very illuminating of the truth concerning man’s will being free and the consequent moral responsibility we all shoulder by virtue of our freely chosen acts:
Only the will, then, since, by reason of its innate freedom, it can be compelled by no force or necessity to dissent from itself, or to consent in any matter in spite of itself, makes a creature righteous or unrighteous, capable and deserving of happiness or of sorrow, insofar as it shall have consented to righteousness or unrighteousness. [All excerpts here are from the Cistercian Publications edition of the work, translated by Daniel O’Donolan, OSCO.]
The truth that “sin is in the will,” is an immediate conclusion from what Saint Bernard writes here. While we might be externally influenced, threatened, cajoled, directed, encouraged, etc., in our will we always remain radically free. This is an anthropological or psychological fact that follows from our very nature as it was created by God, prescinding from the Fall. It is the basis of all merit and culpability and, therefore, of the notions of reward and punishment.
Over and above this first freedom, the innate freedom of nature, are the two other freedoms (that from sin, and that from sorrow) which are not natural endowments but supernatural gifts.
Saint Bernard explains that freedom from sin is what Saint Paul described when he wrote, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). This second freedom is not innate in us, but results from grace, and stands in contrast — so the Abbot of Clairvaux notes — to that slavery to sin that the Holy Apostle describes elsewhere: “For when you were the servants of sin, you were free men to justice. [Saint Paul is ironically contrasting “slavery to sin” and “slavery to God (or justice)”. Being “free men to justice” means being “liberated” from God’s holiness or righteousness. This is a false and damning freedom.] … But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting” (Rom. 6:20, 22).
Citing Our Lord saying, “If therefore the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36), Saint Bernard tells us:
He meant that even free choice stands in need of a liberator, but one, of course, who would set it free, not from necessity which was quite unknown to it since this pertains to the will, but rather from sin, into which it has fallen both freely and willingly, and also from the penalty of sin which it carelessly incurred and has unwillingly borne.
We ought not quickly pass over the profound thought that “even free choice stands in need of a liberator.” The words are beautiful, yes, but there is more than mere aesthetics here. Our free will, after the Fall, contracted the defect Saint Thomas calls “malice,” and needs to be saved from it, or freed. The liberator in question is, of course, that Man who knew no sin, and who always was and always remains absolutely free from sin. Citing Psalm 87:6, Saint Bernard calls Christ, “[He who] alone of all men was made free among the dead; free, that is, from sin in the midst of sinners.”
Concerning this “second freedom” — freedom from sin — the Mellifluous Doctor eloquently addresses the question of good will versus bad will in words that should encourage us:
When a person complains and says: “I wish I could have a good will, but I just can’t manage it,” this in no way argues against the freedom [from necessity, the “first freedom”] of which we have been speaking, as if the will thus suffered violence or were subject to necessity. Rather is he witnessing to the fact that he lacks that freedom which is called freedom from sin. Because, whoever wants to have a good will proves thereby that he has a will, since his desire is aimed at good only through his will. And if he finds himself unable to have a good will whereas he really wants to, then this is because he feels freedom is lacking in him, freedom namely from sin, by which it pains him that his will is oppressed, though not suppressed. Indeed it is more than likely that, since he wants to have a good will, he does, in fact, to some extent, have it. What he wants is good, and he could hardly want good otherwise than by means of good will; just as he could want evil only by a bad will. When we desire good, then our will is good; when evil, evil. In either case, there is will; and everywhere freedom; necessity yields to will. But if we are unable to do what we will, we feel that freedom itself is somehow captive to sin, or that it is unhappy, not that it is lost.
The words here rendered “oppressed, though not suppressed” are premi non perimi, and are difficult to translate, but the sense is that, though the will is in part impaired (by sin), it is not rendered powerless. Moral theologians of later ages would develop in detail the Church’s accepted moral doctrine concerning the diminishing of the freedom of the will by habitual sin, yet the notion is here in seminal form in Saint Bernard. The doctrine here explained is very consoling. If we will the good but yet sin, there is still some good in us. The remedy is grace, the major burden of Saint Bernard’s book, which is there for us if we but ask of it. For that reason and others, in the practical order, prayer is the main point of contact between God’s grace and our free will. It opens us to the remedy our will needs. Without prayer, even the sacraments will avail us but little because we lack the necessary dispositions to receive the remedies they contain.
Concerning the “third freedom,” that from suffering, or, as he also calls it, “the freedom of glory,” the Cistercian abbot is clear that it is not for this life, but the next, for “it is reserved for us in our homeland” of Heaven:
There is also a freedom from sorrow, of which the Apostle again says: “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” [Rom. 8:21]. But would anyone in this mortal condition dare arrogate to himself even this kind of freedom?
He further adds that, by this third freedom,
[W]e are raised up to glory, a perfect creature in the Spirit. [And] … by it, we cast down death itself. … Finally, by the last-named, in our own more perfect submission to ourselves through victory over corruption and death — when, that is, death shall be last of all destroyed [1 Cor. 15:26] — we will pass over into the glorious freedom of the sons of God [Rom. 8:21], the freedom by which Christ will set us free, when he delivers us as a kingdom to God the Father” [Cf. 1 Cor. 15:24].
We are living in a time when our civic freedoms seem imperiled by an emerging biometric security state, an Orwellian oligarchic kleptocracy that demands we give up our freedoms for the lying promises of safety, security, and now health. In the midst of these mendacious statist shenanigans — so obvious to those not drinking the Kool-Aid of mainstream media and Big Tech — let us more and more cherish and cling to our real freedoms which are ours by Baptism and the giving of the Holy Ghost… and which no man can take from us.
In 401 AD, twenty-nine Saxon “slaves,” strangled each other to death with their bare hands in their prison cells. They chose this death rather than being forced to fight one another in Rome’s arena. Better death than shame. Their “owner,” the Senator Symmachus (famously known as the “Last Pagan”), wrote of them that they were a rebellious “band of slaves, worse than any Spartacus.”1
In the pages of the New Testament we see some interesting public events:
A woman taken in the act of adultery is dragged into the street by her accusers where she is threatened with public stoning. Jesus is nearly thrown headlong off a cliff after speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth. (Luke 4). Stephen the Deacon is publicly stoned after preaching about Christ. King Herod issues orders to arrest more Christians after his execution of James is seen to please the people. Public life in earlier centuries could be brutal and dangerous. In many locations across the world, little has changed. Recently, there has been a growing problem with spectators at American sporting events, shouting outrageous insults at players and throwing items (beer, bottles, etc.). No doubt, the problem is far more widespread.
But all of these events share something in common: the public use of shame. The language of shame essentially attacks who-a-person-is rather than what-they-have-done. A person who is guilty of murder thus becomes a “murderer.” And though this is technically true, it is also not true. The language of guilt isolates responsibility for a single event; the language of shame assumes that you are now that event waiting to be visited upon all. Guilt suggests punishment or restitution; shame declares that no matter what you might do, you will always be that person.
There is a world of difference, for example, between being wrong about something and being “stupid.” But, as one comedian has it, “There’s no cure for stupid.” Shame labels us as incurable.
The language of shame is far more powerful than the language of guilt. Guilt can be answered and atoned. Shame, however, has no atonement – it is a declaration of “who we are.” There is no atonement for stupid, ugly, incompetent, mean, evil, etc. On occasion, I have been accosted by those who use shame as a verbal weapon. Recently, in an exchange in which I was the object of someone’s labeling, I was told that no apology need be made when speaking the truth – that is, shame is fine so long as it is “true.”
Shame is not only permitted in our culture; it needs no apology.
There is a strange phenomenon about shame, however. I describe this as its “sticky” quality. When we see the shame of someone else, we ourselves experience shame. This can be as innocuous as watching someone’s public embarrassment and sharing the feeling of embarrassment. It is equally and more profoundly true in darker and deeper encounters. We cannot shame others and remain untouched. The very shame we extend reaches within us and takes us with it.
It is there, in its depths, that shame does its most devastating work. It is a primary creator and maintainer of the false self, an identity established largely through the energy of shame that leaves the truth of the soul shrouded in darkness. It becomes the source of acedia, in the words of the Fathers, or anger, anxiety, and depression, in modern parlance.
Unattended shame lives within us like a dybbuk, an angry hurt and hurting soul that breeds death. We ignore the role of shame in our lives to our own spiritual peril. Much that we imagine to be righteousness is only shame in a fancy disguise.
If you have ever engaged in one of the typical shame fights on social media, then think about how you felt when it was over (or even if you only read such a shame fight). There is no inner peace. There can be burning anger and a nattering inner voice of opposition that lingers for days. In terms of shame, it doesn’t matter if you are right. Shame loves the categories of right and wrong. It only matters that your opponent disagreed and that you shamed them. Shame is like the game of global thermonuclear war: the only option is not to play.
Shaming is easily justified by many. Whether it is doctrine, the Church, the state, the culture, whatever institution stands most in danger, shaming, like violence, is considered an effective tool in guarding the fort. However, it remains the case that shame cannot be used without causing damage to the one who uses it. Like the One Ring of Power, shame takes the one who uses it into the darkness and binds them there as well.
The mystery of our salvation cannot be found in living life on its most literal, surface level. Such a life can make no sense of forgiving enemies, doing good to those who hate you, rendering good for evil, being kind to all and sharing your stuff. In short, such a life cannot bear the shame of love. But only such love can know God. We only live by dying. We only heal shame by bearing shame.
The idea of an ideal world comes from the Christian idea of the salvation of the world. Al-Massih (the Messiah) has achieved the salvation of the world by his victory over Shaytan (Satan), obtained at the time of the Passion. This salvation has unhappily been rejected by one part of humanity, so in order that the world in its entirety may be saved, we must now await the manifestation of the Antichrist, Ad-Dajjal, and then the glorious Coming of Christ, who will purify the world of the Antichrist and of his supporters. (In the New Testament: Matthew 3:12; Matthew 13:36-43; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).
We can also say here that over the centuries, what we derived from Augustinism prevented Christians from announcing the true hope for the world and also from dialoguing with Muslims on the theme of the eschatological hope – for the world.
Those who reject the salvation of Al-Massih have kept the idea of the salvation of the world, or of an ideal world, but have charged themselves with the execution of the judgment of the world. The massacres perpetrated are an act of judgment, from which it is expected an ideal world will emerge, liberated or submitted, but pure and perfect. (And there is also satanic nihilism in which there is no hope at all remaining).
We find this idea in the secularism of the French Revolution where the revolutionaries massacred those that resisted them, in the illusory hope of a liberated world. We find it again in the ideal of the Soviet conquest of the world by the Socialist International.
Islamist thought also aims at massacring the unsubmitted in view of an ideal world which is “submitted” to the same logic (which would explain why global secularist movements are sometimes the first to finance these Islamic movements).
This thought is expressed in numerous hadiths of the Muslim tradition, but as it involves armed combat, these writings circulate in a rather private, non-official way: Muslim governments, conscious of the subversive charge against these traditions do not favor their exposition in the full light of day. In effect, on the basis of such a belief, the least bit of preaching or media campaign defining “the forces of Evil to combat” is capable of drawing believers into massive combat. And thus all manipulations are possible.
Francoise Breynaert is a secular oblate of the Fraternity of Our Lady of the Desert (Belgium). A doctor of theology, she has published foundational works (biblical, Christological) and also Marian and spiritual works. She has also done theological research on the salvation of non-Christians and the Good News for the deceased, and on the Coming of Christ, which the West often confounds, unhappily, with the end of the world, and finally on the exegesis of orality in connection with the Christians of the East. Her works are recognized (imprimatur, episcopal prefaces) in France and abroad. Her research has interested Islamologists who, in turn, have made her part of their studies.
The featured image shows, The Annunciation, from Mir’at al-quds (a Mirror of Holiness), Mughal India, ca. 1602-1604.
For a period of about three years in my late teens and early 20’s, I was deeply involved in a charismatic house church. It was a deeply committed group of people (some of us lived in a commune together). Our services could run for hours with very intensive Bible teaching. A feature of that time and the charismatic movement was a concern for the “latest word.” By that was meant new insights, new emphases, and a very heightened sense that we were hearing moment-by-moment what God wanted to say to His people. It was exciting. It was also exhausting. It was also spiritually problematic.
I will not describe all the problems (there’s not time). For myself, I had a growing sense of questioning and unreliability. If the Church is led by the “latest word,” then its reliability depends entirely on the personalities involved in bringing such news. A survey of the charismatic, pentecostal, and evangelical movements over the past 50 years would necessarily include the many failures of key leaders and of various dangers associated with ever-changing emphases and fashions.
My questions brought about a crisis of faith. I left that movement and floundered a bit, eventually settling into the Episcopal Church in a search for greater stability (mind you, this was the early to mid-70’s). Of course, that move was something of a jump from the “frying pan into the fire.” But my instinct was correct. Christianity is not rightly built on moment-by-moment updates, or “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). The history of the primitive Church is a consistent movement away from such excitement and towards the solidity of a reliable hierarchy grounded in a received body of teaching. Its instinct was that the locus of change was within the heart of each believer rather than a constant flow of fluctuating information.
The early heresies had just the opposite instinct. “Gnosticism,” a label invented by modern historians, was never a single thing. Rather it is a collective term for scattered individual teachers who promised new insights, exciting, even “secret” information, which would grant its adherents a quick passage to a higher existence. There is evidence that these teachers (almost always existing outside the eucharistic structure of the Church) were already a problem within the time span of the New Testament. Modern liberal thought has sought to describe these teachers as “alternate Christianties,” largely in an effort to discredit the traditional Church. Over time, these groups fell into silence, particularly in that they were deeply driven by single personalities. They lacked the institutional reality required for generational survival.
My abandonment of charismatic Christianity and move towards received tradition led me, over time, to Orthodox Christianity. It was a renunciation of the “latest thing” in order to embrace the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.” It was a movement from charismatic excitement towards sacramental stability. When people are young, there can be an excitement that surrounds dating, moving from relationship to relationship, dreaming of possibilities and riding the wave of romantic energy. That is a far cry from the daily life of a stable marriage extending through the years, giving birth and nurture to generations of children. Christianity, in its traditional form, is like marriage, not dating.
The most institutionalized element of Orthodox Christianity can be found in its worship. We have documents describing, in some detail, the structure of worship from as early as the 2nd century. It is worth noting that the word “Orthodoxy” is perhaps best translated as “right glory [worship]” rather than right opinion or doctrine. What the Church teaches is primarily found embodied in its worship. An old Latin formula has it: Lex orandi, lex credendi. It means, “The law of praying is the law of believing.” It explains how it is that Orthodoxy’s primary word of evangelism is “Come and see.”
There are roots for this understanding that run deep into the heart of the Old Testament. Exodus 25 describes Moses’ meeting with God on Mt. Sinai for a period of 40 days. In that encounter he is shown a “pattern” of the heavenly tabernacle, and given detailed plans for the building of the tabernacle and all that it contained. He is repeatedly told to build things “according to the pattern.” This heavenly pattern was of great interest within the writings of both Jews and early Christians. The instinct within that interest was that the heavenly pattern served as a template for God’s dwelling place among us. This was the understanding that marked the Temple in Jerusalem, and became a hallmark of Orthodox Christian understanding of worship, including the building itself. This pattern is itself an example of holy tradition. It was given by God [handed down] to Moses (not simply evolved through Jewish practices). But if what Moses saw was a “heavenly” tabernacle, then his vision was also of eternal consequence and merit.
Orthodox Christian practice recognized this fundamental layer of tradition. St. Paul describes Christians as the “temple” of God (1 Cor. 3:16). St. John’s apocalyptic vision centers around the temple in the heavens. The construction of Orthodox Churches has intentional parallels with the Jewish Temple, as do certain aspects of our worship. We speak of the Divine Liturgy as “heaven on earth,” and describe ourselves as doing here what is being done there.
“Let us, who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
This hymn was added to the Liturgy in the 6th century but represents a thought and understanding that is far older. Perhaps more striking, and echoing the deepest level of Orthodox tradition can be found in this excerpt from the first homily of St. Macarius. He looks at the imagery of Ezekiel’s chariot vison, often understood as an image of the throne of God in the heavenly temple. St. Macarius applies it to the soul:
And this that the prophet saw, was true and certain. But the thing it signified, or shadowed forth beforehand, was a matter mysterious and divine, that very mystery which had been hid from ages and generations, but was made manifest at the appearing of Christ. For the mystery which he saw, was that of the human soul as she is hereafter to receive her Lord, and become herself the very throne of his glory. (H. 1.2)
His thought is of a piece with St. Paul’s description of Christians as the temple of the Holy Spirit.
There is a dynamic present in these images that carries the very essence of tradition as a way of life. Modern thought imagines human existence and even its “improvement” as a process of ever-increasing personal choice and freedom. It is a product of the imagination in which the individual becomes whatever they might choose to be. It is a model well-suited to a market-driven world. In many ways, the constant change and “latest revelations” in many forms of contemporary Christianity, echo that instinct, with theological insights and biblical themes arriving as marketed ideas. Like clothing fashions, such changing insights help establish a spirituality that has its own sense of “coolness.”
In the spirituality of Orthodox Tradition the point is to receive that which has already been given. There is nothing new to be revealed (as information), even though what has been made known is constantly revealed as life-creating truth within the soul itself. It is a life grounded in the Divine Life both in the temple of the Church (in praise and sacrament) and in the temple of the soul. It is ultimately within the soul that we perceive the face of God in Christ. It is in the soul that we perceive Him in the least of those around us and serve them as our service to God. It is in the soul that we offer the Eucharist (our giving of thanks for all things) in union with the earthly/heavenly Liturgy of Christ’s Body and Blood.
There is a stability in this way of life, grounded in the stability of heaven itself (which never changes). That same abiding reality has weathered the storms of 2,000 years even as its saints and martyrs join themselves together with the souls who currently labor and fight on earth. It is not a movement, nor a revival, nor a new thing. It is stubbornly ignorant of market forces. It is a sweet promise and gift.
He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.