The new esoteric fashions that are springing up to fill the void left by the retreat of Christianity and the forgetfulness of the sacred, feature angels who supposedly connect us to invisible energies. Far removed from such figures, and far from maintaining our tendency towards egocentricity, the Archangel looks upwards, and invites us to do the same. Saint Michael teaches us to rediscover our sense of God. Abbé Paul Roy introduces us to this Archangel, whom we can only invoke more fully if we know him better.
After the centuries of Enlightenment, rationalism, scientism and faith in progress, our era marks a return to the sacred. Alas, the eclipse of the religious has not come to an end—rather than returning to the faith of the ancients, people remain radically modern, willing to do anything but acknowledge themselves as heirs, and prefer to build their own spirituality. Consciously or unconsciously, most are joining the ranks of what used to be known as the New Age, and what some today refer to as magical thinking. Esotericism is on everyone’s lips, attracting many souls clumsily in search of God.
Angels, spiritual beings halfway between man and heaven, are making a strong comeback in the contemporary imagination. A quick search on the Internet, however, leaves us wondering about the contemporary conception of angelic spirits: angels—in particular the “72 guardian angels”—seem to have become a means of connecting to energies and to an invisible world in which we are bathed without being aware of it, of developing our capacity for empathy and personal creativity.
This is reminiscent of the emanatist doctrine of the Platonists, who saw man as a quasi-divine being fallen to earth and enclosed in matter, separated from the original One by a ladder of intermediate beings, to be traversed in an upward direction, by illumination, to return to fundamental harmony. Thus conceived, angels are no longer ministers or auxiliaries of God, but obstacles in man’s relationship with the true God. Like the esoteric doctrines that flourish everywhere today, they lead our contemporaries down blind allies, distracting them from the profound religious quest for the true light that leads to a profound change of life.
A Powerful Defender
We have come a long way from the true nature of angels, and the figure of their prince, Michael. Far from keeping us in the egocentric attitude that characterizes modern religiosity, the archangel looks upwards, and invites us to do the same. Mi-ka-El, in Hebrew: “who is like God.” His name is a program. Saint Michael is an effective intermediary, a powerful defender of the human race, but a messenger who steps aside, so that man can once again be directed towards his Creator. The archangel thus appears on mountain tops—theophanic places par excellence in the Old Testament—to remind us that his role is none other than that of a hyphen, a signpost.
From Mont Gargan to Mont Tombe, now Mont-Saint-Michel, the sanctuaries where the Prince of Angels is venerated are invitations to contemplation of celestial things. The Prince of Angels is named in the Old Testament as the one who fights for the people of Israel (Dan 10:13), the “one of the chief princes.” In the Epistle of Jude (Jude 9), he is mysteriously designated as the one who disputed with the Devil over the body of Moses, who expired on Mount Nebo, in sight of the Promised Land, without anyone ever finding his remains. In the Book of Revelation (Rev 12:7), he leads the angels to fight the dragon—despite the latter’s counterattack, he has the upper hand, and from heaven, hurls Satan down to earth.
Saint Michael’s role in the history of the Church does not end there—soon the object of popular veneration in the East (the Copts dedicated up to seven liturgical feasts to him), then in the West (with a few excesses that the authorities were obliged to curb, as witnessed by certain letters of Saint Augustine), he appeared at Mont Gargan in the 5th century; then at the beginning of the 8th to Bishop Aubert of Avranches, to whom he gave an indication, by means of a strong pressure of his finger on his skull (the relic preserved in the church of Saint-Gervais d’Avances still bears witness to this), to build a sanctuary at the summit of Mont Tombe, an isolated rock in the middle of the large sandy bay bordering his diocese.
Centuries later, Christian peoples’ veneration for the Prince of Angels has not waned, and God allowed him to continue to intervene visibly on their behalf. When France found itself in distress, he was the messenger sent to Jehanne, the Pucelle of Domrémy, soon to be the liberator of Orléans. To prepare the children of Fatima for the apparitions of Our Lady, the angel appeared to them three times, taught them to pray and mysteriously gave them Holy Communion. St. Michael’s close relationship with the Eucharist is still visible in the rites of the Mass, where the angel is invoked on numerous occasions—in the Confiteor, in the blessing of incense at the offertory in the traditional Mass, and even in the Roman Canon (implicitly in the Supplication prayer), where the holy offering is even asked to be carried by him to the heavenly altar. On the Last Day, Saint Michael will again be our intercessor, as well as taking part in the judgment (1 Thess 4:16), as he is often depicted holding the scales that weigh our souls by the weight of their charity.
Saint Michael thus has a dual function, which is an important teaching for our spiritual life: tradition identifies him among the seven angels who stand continually before the face of the Lord (To 12, 15), and his very name is a praise of God’s infinite glory; but the archangel also presents to Him the prayers of pious men (as Raphael presented the prayers and religious acts of old Tobias, cf. To 12, 12), and he willingly serves as a messenger and intercessor.
As a divine sign, Saint Michael shows us that there is no creature too high or distant to condescend to support our misery, since God Himself became man in Jesus. An angelic model, he teaches us to keep our eyes raised to heaven, full of gratitude and admiration for the Divine Majesty, proclaiming with him: “Who is like God?” In a world so far removed from religion and yet so versed in spiritualities, could St. Michael, duly presented and venerated, serve as a bridge to bring our contemporaries back to the unity of truth and faith?
Father Paul Roy is a priest of the Fraternity of Saint-Pierre, and moderator of the site and training application Claves.
Featured: Saint Michael, by Guariento di Arpo; painted ca. 1350.
A former student at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, Henri Hude was Professor of Philosophy at the French Saint-Cyr Military Academy. (Saint-Cyr). His latest book, Philosophie de la guerre (Philosophy of War), is a call for religions to take a philosophical and spiritual leap forward in building peace for the world of tomorrow.
[This interview was conducted by Omnes Magazine, through whose kind generosity we are able to bring you this English version].
Omnes Magazine (OM): Faced with the risk of total war, can we sum up your approach in your latest book, Philosophie de la guerre, by saying that religions are the solution, not the problem, to achieving universal peace?
Henri Hude (HH): Total war requires the use of all available means. Today, it would lead to the destruction of the human race, thanks to technical progress. The terrifying possibility of such destruction gives rise to the project of eliminating war as a condition for the survival of humankind. But war is a duel between several powers. So, to eliminate war radically, there is the need to institute a single World Power, a universal Leviathan, endowed with unlimited power.
But plurality can always be reborn: through secession, revolution, mafias, terrorism and so on. To make the world safe, there is the call to destroy all powers other than that of the Leviathan. Not only must we put an end to the plurality of political and social powers, but we must also destroy all other powers: spiritual, intellectual and moral. We are far beyond a simple project of universal imperialism. It is about supermen dominating subhumans. This Orwellian-Nazi project is so monstrous that it has a paradoxical consequence. The universal Leviathan becomes common enemy number 1 of all nations, religions and wisdoms. Previously, these were often at war or in tension. Now, thanks to the Leviathan, they are allies, friends, perhaps. The Leviathan is incapable of guaranteeing peace, but his monstrosity, now forever a permanent possibility, guarantees the lasting alliance of former enemies. Religions and wisdoms are the primary guarantee of freedom and peace. This is another world.
OM: The Holy See’s diplomacy seeks to establish a solid dialogue with Islam in order to build “bridges.” In recent history, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran worked to this end by visiting Saudi Arabia, a first for a Holy See diplomat of such rank. In 2019, the emblematic meeting between Pope Francis and Ahmed Al-Tayeb, Imam of the Al-Azhar mosque, the most important Sunni institution in the Middle East, also marked a further step in this rapprochement (not to mention the successive trip to Bahrain). Do you think this diplomatic policy is a step in the right direction?
HH: I think so, because it is part of this logic of peace through an anti-Leviathan alliance. For who is the Leviathan? Certainly, to become the Leviathan is forever the temptation of every power in this world. The Leviathan is therefore first and foremost a fundamental concept of political science. But it also has a terrible application in the political and cultural choices made by Western elites, especially Anglo-Saxon ones. The Woke is a machine for manufacturing sub-humans. Democracy is transformed into plutocracy, freedom of the press into propaganda, the economy into a casino, the liberal state into a police state, and so on. Such imperialism is both odious and dysfunctional. It has no chance of success, except in the old, more controlled Western countries—and even then… The Pope is right to prepare for the future.
As far as Muslims in particular are concerned, the Leviathan’s strategy is to push the most violent and sectarian everywhere, who are its useful idiots, or its stipendiary agents, in order to divide and rule. Muslim religious leaders, who are as intelligent as the Pope, know this very well. Political leaders know it, too. See how they are taking advantage of NATO’s failures in Ukraine to take their freedom from the Leviathan. It is not at all a question of creating a single syncretic religion, because cheap relativism is the first principle of the sub-human culture that the Leviathan wants to inject into everyone in order to dominate everything dictatorially. It is all about finding a modus vivendi. It is about friendship and friendly conversation between people who are sincerely seeking God, not pseudo “interfaith dialogue” between modernist, relativist clerics or intellectual laymen, guilt-ridden to the hilt by the Leviathan.
OM: In the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, do the links between the Patriarch of Moscow and the authorities, or similar links in Ukraine and internal religions, make it almost impossible for religions to join forces to build peace?
HH: If you want to criticize others, you have to start by putting your own house in order. We might ask ourselves, for example, if we French Catholics do not have an ambiguous relationship with political power. In the face of Woke dogmatism, the canonization of the culture of death, invasive authoritarianism, servility to the Leviathan, the march to world war, we remain as if KO standing. Manipulated and/or careerist, we sometimes wade into guilt, asking forgiveness for existing in the public sphere.
If the Woke culture were to be universally imposed, it would be the loss of all souls and the end of all decent civilization. Resistance to the imposition of Woke culture can be a just cause of war. That is what the whole world thinks, except the West, and that is why Western soft power is evaporating so fast. This is without prejudice to the justice due to Ukraine and charity among Catholics.
OM: Is violence inherent to Islam?
HH: I would like to ask you, is cowardice inherent to Christianity? Christ said he had not come to bring peace on earth, but division. He also said that he spewed out the lukewarm. In many a Sunday sermon, there would be nothing to change if we replaced the word “God” with “Teddy Bear.”
In his book, Ecumenical Jihad, Peter Kreeft (pp. 41-42) writes: “…it took a Muslim student in my class at Boston College to berate the Catholics for taking down their crucifixes. ‘We don’t have images of that man, as you do,’ he said, ‘but if we did, we would never take them down, even if someone tried to force us to. We revere that man, and we would die for his honor. But you are so ashamed of him that you take him down from your walls. You are more afraid of what his enemies might think if you kept your crucifixes up than of what he might think if you took them down. So I think we are better Christians than you are.’”
We call blushing for Christ respect for freedom. We believe we have opened up to the world, when in fact we have abdicated all evangelical freedom. We believe we are superior to our elders, when all we are doing is participating in this lamentable evolution, which Solzhenitsyn called the “decline of courage.” To be a Christian, you must first not be a sub-human. And in order not to be sub-human, you have to be capable of resisting the Leviathan. If need be, by spilling his blood. Bismarck put thirty bishops in prison, and in the end had to abandon the Kulturkampf.
OM: Ten years ago, Pope Francis said: “True Islam and a proper interpretation of the Koran are opposed to all violence.” This phrase continues to provoke debate and divide Islamologists and theologians. What did Francis mean?
HH: I do not know what the Pope meant. The expressions “true Islam” and “proper interpretation” pose formidable problems, so the phrase can take on very different meanings. In the absence of precision, there is no way of knowing. The philosopher Rémi Brague, who knows the subject admirably, has just written a book entitled, Sur l’Islam, in which he displays a truly confounding erudition. He believes he must interpret the sentence as if the Pope were speaking as a historian of ideas. He proves that, if this were the case, this assertion would be wrong. But I do not think the Pope is speaking as a historian of ideas. (In any case, these are subjects to which the Petrine charism of infallibility does not apply).
OM: Should we understand the Pope’s statement as primarily political, confronting Muslim authorities with their contradictions and responsibilities, and inviting them to join him in building a world of peace?
HH: The Pope is no more Machiavellian than he is ignorant. In truth, we need to distinguish between force and violence. Violence is the illegitimate use of force. All the great religions and wisdoms are opposed to all violence, but none is opposed to all use of force. Every society has the right to self-defense. If the use of armed force were morally forbidden to any society in all circumstances, it would be morally obligatory to endure any aggression, by anyone, for any purpose. In other words, it would be morally obligatory to obey even those perverts who would destroy every moral principle. Societies therefore have a right, and sometimes a duty, to self-defense, armed if necessary. Some abusers understand no language but force. So, you draw a red line on the ground in front of them. “This line means that I would rather risk my life and suffer than undergo what you want to impose on me. If, therefore, you transgress this line, you will have to risk your life and suffer.” If you are incapable of this behavior, you are good for slavery.
Featured: The Return of the Crusader, by Karl Friedrich Lessing; painted in 1835.
One of the features which has accented Apocatastasis Institute from the word go has been the inclusion of the Divine Office in our daily schedule. I mean in this essay to explain why this is. Other and better men have done other and better jobs at explaining what the Office is, its mechanics, history, and spirituality. We are not rehashing that necessary material here. If you are deficient in those sciences, dear reader, put aside this paper and digest those topics before returning. By way of house rules, I will be using the terms Divine Office, the Office, the Discipline, the Liturgy Of The Hours, the Prayer (with a capital p), and the Liturgy (with a capital L) interchangeably.
In this exploration we will look at the Divine Office as a medicine for social wounds, one that is rightly administered in a school setting as schools ought to be directed toward this same end. It is a salve for the wounds of secularism, abstracted pedagogy, personal foibles, and historical accidents. Like any treatment it does not contain the totality of the solution. It nudges, it points, it guides towards the correction.
We are unrooted. Just as one’s posture can be thrown off by flat feet or a bum knee, from unrootedness come a flurry of other ills such as a low trust society, lack of agency, and discouragement. Exploiting these social and personal failures are unscrupulous men operating in unscrupulous combinations. Foundations once destroyed, what can the just do (cf. Ps.10/11)?
Part of our unrootedness stems from economic developments at first affecting Western man, and after the Second World War, all mankind. Part of this condition stems from deliberate schemes to make unrooted men. Modern education, marital laws, and telephonic communication, for example, appear deliberately to trip up natural personal, familial, and social harmony. Part of our unrooted condition is our own concupiscence, particularly our going with the flow of deracinating and deracinated culture. We may blame social institutions all we like, but at a certain point we must hold ourselves responsible for our cooperation with McWorld. The Office is a skeleton upon which to hang real life once more, and a school setting is an opportune place to do this. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and McWorld wasn’t either. If we are to build Christendom, we will need discipline. Hour by hour, brick by brick, the Divine Office is an handy trowel for this erection.
The Myopia of Alt Ed
When I was a little bit younger, I was quite enamored with the educational critique of homeschoolers and unschoolers. To a certain extent my subsequent exasperation with those communities is that they have not developed their insights into anything more significant than personal necessity. Singular interest is the mark of an immature mind. It is the manful intellect which grasps that the individual is a cell of a larger society; it is the manful body which labors to bring this about.
Howsomeever, I remember at one conference a mot just out of high school—or at least she was of that age, as unschoolers of course don’t go to high school—was asked how to make unschooling more popular. I’ll never forget what she said; it was wisdom in a nutshell, for all true wisdom is pithy. The girl said she didn’t want unschooling to become popular because more people would necessarily mean a watering down of that modality.
Well, she was right. For those of us who have dedicated our energies towards alternative education, we ought to have been careful what we wished for. Our educational critique has become popularized, and much of that critique has become sloganized. As so often happens in history, the subtleties of maxims which slogans assume are lost over time and after a while only the naked maxims are known without the scaffolding of assumptions the sayings originally assumed.
Thus, in Rabbinic Judaism their concept of “the Torah” migrated from the Pentateuch to first include, then prefer, the Talmud. This enlarged “Torah” became unwieldy and was condensed into a third collection, the Gamara, before the rebbes ignited a “back to sources” reaction which began the same cycle of condensation-cum-back to basics cycle again.
In the same way the Christian Fathers were summarized in the Summa and Sentences of Scholasticism which were further condensed into catechisms before triggering a “back to sources” Reformation which shortly found—to the horror of its instigators—that the meaty “Sola Scriptura” rule of thumb was being taken literally. Likewise, the educational critique has fallen fast and far in the last fifty years.
All of this is a long way of saying that men do not think twice in saying, and they’ve all started podcasts to say, that “Public schools should be ended,” “We don’t need schools,” or, my favorite, “Schools are brainwashing camps.” Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone! How men of mature years say such things without reddening at the stupidity of such statements is a testimony to what the media, even—perhaps especially—the conservative media, does to one’s thinking process. Fifty years ago, the likes of John Holt, Raymond Moore, Ivan Illich, and other early pedagogical pioneers made like statements, but they did so from a place of erudition and nuance. It is we, their unlettered grandchildren, who rehash their ideas sans the mountain of meaning they assumed.
As I have often written, the problem with the rainbow of religious and secular conservativisms is that they have no grasp of solving their problems. They spend so much time talking about how they want things to be that their comprehension of things as they are is retarded. Thus the conserved have a fair knowledge of what’s amiss with industrial learning but they have no ability of how to solve these problems, problems which they assert do great harm to souls. Perplexed, they self-contentedly stall out at, “I only have to worry about my family.” What traitors. To conservatism? No, to mankind. To see an evil and not move might and main to right it is cowardice. If one sees a social problem, and they merely respond to it personally, this is effeminate. Prophet Ezekiel said to these epigones of Burke, “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ez. 3:18).
So Here We Are
Into this cooling of public sentiment towards formal education came the COVID shutdowns and what is called Artificial Intelligence. As in many areas of life, these developments sped up processes already in motion. Casualizing trends of life were furthered. If education is simply the individual accrual of data, why not watch an appointed number of pre-recorded classes until the sufficient number of boxes are checked? Added to this is the demographic reality. Babies were not born 12 years ago during the Bush-Obama depression, what the Madison Avenue boys still spin as the “Great Recession,” babies who would just now be entering college. This has caused despair for private schools, who must shift for themselves, and glee for municipalities ever eager to trim the budget. So here we are. Schools are challenged to explain why they exist. We ought to embrace this challenge.
Whatever the level schools ought to begin at the beginning, we ought to encourage rootedness. Only from this stability can we as educationalists and as citizens address those above-mentioned foul fruits of unrootedness, and only from this can we strike a blow against predatory political, economic, and social combinations.
For twenty years I have seen men appraise what we broadly call the New World Order only to stall out in their attempt to push back. We must start with rootedness in our lives, in our children’s lives, and in those communities which ripple out from that. The environment of formal education is the ideal place to do this, and the Divine Office is the ideal framing of a school day.
Filling The Void
The godlessness of a child’s day is the greatest strike against modern education. Note that I did not say “god-againsted-ness,” but god-less-ness. It is worse to be blasé of the divine than to be hostile. The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is indifference. Before the carousel of errors which attend modern education, the absence of God is the greatest strike. It is the void of what should be there, like a missing limb or an empty seat so lately occupied by a departed. It is a crime that a young one not be told who made them and why they are on this earth. It is this void of meaning which chiefly explains the ever-rising percentage of teens who go mad.
You see, though, it is not enough to establish the fact of a student’s Creator, this must be often and commonly acknowledged. The school day is a liturgy of a sort, it certainly is ritualistic. The warm presence of God ought to assert itself in the educational rhythm just as formally and regularly as the schedule of instruction. Ergo, the Office. Rhythm
The holy Office grounds us in time as the holy Mass does in space. This is to say, the Divine Liturgy accents the physicality of Christianity while the Office highlights our temporal rootedness. In both instances the holy Liturgy insists that religion is not an amalgam of beliefs one ascribes to. This error of definition is the result of the one-two punch of the Reformation and Enlightenment. By assembling for the Prayer in groups at the regular times we are reminded that the Kingdom Of God is already on this earth, that Christian life is a social reality not a me-and-Jesus duo, and that a soul wherein God dwells is in heaven now.
An Inconvenient Truth
Religion ought to have a certain inconvenience to it; its very imposition asserts its importance. You may remember that nugget the next time a Day of Devotion—what is now flatly named an Holy Day of Obligation—rolls around. Yes, the point of religion is to be inconvenient, to impose itself upon the mundane.
Let us recall the old apologetic for Abraham’s sacrifice of Issac: What one will not sacrifice automatically becomes one’s god. If something, someone, or some habit stands in the way of God, that thing in se is one’s deity. Congratulations Liquor, Anger, and Sloth, you’ve been promoted! But once God busts those fellas down to size one gets God back and not some idol. The clock can be an idol as soon as anything else. Musha, in a school the clock is more liable to be an idol than anywhere outside of a stock exchange, a racetrack, or a prison. That the Prayer interrupts a school day reminds both pedagogues and learners that there is a divine order greater than our daily concerns.
While this dynamic is true for genuinely sinful things it also holds that legitimate pleasures, persons, and habits may be sacrificed to stay in good form. The sacrifice of time, of my precious personal schedule, is just as fitting a way for the inconvenience of God to assert himself as in my diet (fasting) and sleep (vigils). St. Paul gave up his persecution (Acts 9), but he also gave up his hair in a vow (Acts 18), one was a sacrifice of his sin, the other was part of an optional vow, both moved him closer to God. It is the genius of Catholicism to knead into daily life many opportunities to, “offer it up.”
The Office is a medicine to anomie by relentlessly and repeatedly squishing us together time and time again. It is a medicine to meaninglessness by taking our class time and sacrificing some of it to God.
Sacrifice is not a destruction, as Pope Benedict reminds us, “What then does sacrifice consist of? Not in destruction, not in this or that thing, but in the transformation of man. In the fact that he becomes himself conformed to God. He becomes conformed to God when he becomes love. ‘That is why true sacrifice is every work which allows us to unite ourselves to God in a holy fellowship,’ as Augustine puts it.” The Office provides the individual and social groups the opportunity to remember the imposition of the divine so often as he takes the Church up on the Discipline. The Prayer is work, and the manful soul does not shirk from the same. Whether I feel like praying or not, the Discipline reminds me that faith is not a feeling. In fact, the more disinclined I am to pray canonically the more I may learn this lesson.
Manys the father has warily contemplated how the generosity of manys his daughter may find itself in the arms of some roguish and unworthy Chad. Yet behind this so middle class of anxieties is a calm and beautiful observation. Young people are in fact generous by nature. Youth may benefit from the mature mien of the Divine Office precisely in proportion to the delightful excess of sentiment which characterizes that chapter of life.
The other-directed focus of liturgy is a defining characteristic of this highest of prayers. When this is rightly conveyed to young ones their natural generosity of spirit will ignite great attraction towards the Liturgy. Present to students the other-centeredness of the liturgy with the same tone of voice as one speaks of the Peace Corp, Teach For America, military service, and environmental protection and you will see them rise to the occasion.
We have seen the popularization of “service hours” as part of both grade and tertiary education in these states United. On the one hand it is laudable students be led to understand education is not the isolated accumulation of knowledge and successful completion of hoops jumped; on the other this codification is a sure sign of social decomposition. The moment virtue can only be furthered by institutionalization is the moment that virtue has died in a people. Ask Augustus if his sumptuary and fertility laws revived the Arcadian manliness of the early Republic. Forsooth, if authority must impose on students artificial charity via service hours this is a greater commentary on the sour parental souls which reared such lead-eyed children. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Join students at the generous prayer for the world which is the Liturgy Of The Hours and you will prime the pump for civic generosity in later life, Chads notwithstanding.
The Office in schools is advisable because it trains the student to a regime of prayers offered chiefly for others, not himself. The Discipline breaks the consumerist attitude which does such damage at present in the religious and academic spheres. It is a sacrificial work of charity where the young pray-er learns quickly he is not the star of the show.
The Discipline roots us in our neighborhood. Another poverty of Modernity which the Divine Office enriches is community. Over the last decade every Freemason town council from coast to coast has slapped “community” on their letterheads and welcome signs. Like “fresh” food and “democratic” government, it may be the use of the word expresses the desires for the thing more than the thing itself contains, but it’s a start.
The Divine Office forms community. It ought always be done in a group, and preference must be given to this aspect of the prayer over every other. Community before everything with it comes to the Office. Here we see once again how the Prayer checks our own eccentricities. It happens that when I say the Prayer myself I do tick off many liturgical boxes I do not when I go to my local parish. When I’m by myself I strike off, “Ad Orientem,” “Latin,” “posture,” and “chant.” Yes, in some ways my private performance of the ritual is in tighter conformity with the history and mind of the Church than it is at the church down the street, but those ways, alas, are Orthodox and protestant (sic) ways.
This is to say that Catholicism is the only Christian group which is realistic; Catholicism is the only group to say that the Church is a present reality, not a fetish of the First Century or the First Millenium. “Realistic” and “reality” come from the Latin word “res,” physical thing. Catholicism is the church par excellence which believes the Church is a social reality now, one may join its ceremonies now, pray with its adherents now, and phone up its ministers now. Most importantly, the Church Of Rome is the only church which at once umpires Christian heritage while adamantly refusing to become a slave of the past or of the present. It is the only church to see the Holy Spirit’s role in history in the eternal now, to see it in kairos time. It is on this point one must always prefer common celebration of the Hours over private.
At manys the church I’ve joined in at the Office there has rarely been a consciousness of orientation, sacred language, physicality, or musical quality. In fact, in the best bare bones American liturgical tradition, I am certain that the people at the local parishes I join at the Office haven’t the slightest idea that the normative setting of the Office is recto tono chant to say nothing of the other niceties. Theirs is a celebration as banal as we’ve come to expect from all suburban religion. The people there are befuddled by even minor calendric variations, even if those variations have been encountered hundreds of times before. These dear souls are like the forgetful Dory in Finding Nemo. I sometimes wonder how they operated a vehicle competently enough to get to the building. Nevertheless the communal dimension of the prayer outweighs all other considerations, and their common banality outweighs whatever traditional elements I may personally bring to the ritual.
This supremacy doubly wars against individuality, it wars against the inherent protestant tendency Americans are drawn to as a feature of our national character, and it wars against the individuality consumerism is eager to stoke in men. It’s all the easier to sells tchotchkes to isolated and lonely people than those who know they are cells in something great, be it a family, country, or church. When one is unrooted, your capitalist moneyman is the least of your problems. If one is isolated, he is prey to all sorts of personal and political tyrannies. If you think it is rough falling into the hands of the living God, you should try the embrace of a dead god. Isolate men and watch the attorney, the drug man, and the usurer come into their own… on your neck. Isolate men and you will learn what real chains are. But welcome school children into a living community in conversation with the living God, and all liturgy is conversation, and those ones will grow up and put to flight those pimps. One appreciates the common Office as one matures, and a chronic solo prayer when community participation is possible must be scorned as the fruit of a juvenile soul.
As Fr. Charles Miller writes in his handy commentary Making The Day Holy, “It is true that bishops and major religious superiors have the authority to commute the Office to some other form of prayer [for those under vows]. Such commutation may be justified in individual cases and for a period of time, but the arrangement and content of the Office allow for and even occasion a spiritual development and maturity which cannot be found elsewhere.” Vows or no’, the liturgy teaches the participant maturity.
The Office’s job is to cramp my style and yours. It’s easier to stay home and pray by myself. When online celebration of the liturgy came in vogue during the COVID days, it was easier not to boot up the computer. While the ease of saying the Office increased, I still was making excuses. What the Liturgy was inviting me to was to reach outside of myself into community.
What makes the Office especially appropriate to schools is the existing congregation of learners. In a sense the Office in schools sacramentalizes the academic community. This is nothing more than what all liturgy ought to do, take the work-a-day and point it, if only from time to time, towards God. This is true for sacramental ceremonies and the Divine Office all the way down to the objects of the Rituale, be it a blessing for a mug of beer, a motorcycle, or a puppy dog.
How often does the student ask quietly and out loud, why are we doing this? It is often an unsatisfactory or absent response from a teacher which triggers a life of intellectual apathy. If one’s teachers were not able to pitch a life of the mind, the student sensibly concludes, it probably isn’t worthwhile. The Office allows all those involved in an educational setting, instructors, students, and—my enemies until I had to become one—administrators—to take our time in school and in a concrete, ritualized fashion offer it in a meaningful way to God, the ground of meaning.
Finally, the regular celebration of the Hours breaks the isolation which the modern top-down classroom nurtures, and which the COVID days exacerbated. Surely, I cannot be the only man who has noticed the rise of people averting their gaze in daily interactions. Lowering eyes were once the province of the young child and the cutpurse. What does it say that a nation’s people comport themselves as such? Externals show internals, and you know as soon as I the feeble spirit which shifty eyes announce.
At Apocatastasis we smash shyness by lassoing all, including the reticent, into the ceremony. We do this by developing a schedule of who will be cantor and hebdomadarian from day to day; these roles throw the shy student into a role of leadership. In a low-stakes setting it breaks the shyness of our time. By inches student participation at the Divine Office builds confidence in the young learner, confidence being the necessary footing of an agentic life in years to come. Rear a generation weaned on agency and watch the tyrants run like rabbits.
A Gentle Reminder
It is the hour of the times that just as the nature of Postmodernity is making itself known, that the last fumes of Christianity are wafting off from the West. The Baby Boomers were hardly evangelized, but they had enough of the old-time religion to keep up some Christian habits. If they wouldn’t go to church each week, they’d at least go quarterly or annually; if their tongue wasn’t squeaky clean, they at least didn’t want cussing on television; if their personal creed likely had all sorts of heresies imbibed from pop culture, they at least put their child in CCD. Those Boomers have now aged out of active society. But as lukewarm as that generation was, they acted as a dam against nasty social developments. Should you wonder why one sees a quickening of unchristian social trends, know it is because that lamely Christian generation are going to their fathers. What is worse than lame faith? No faith. Lame religion at least is a start. Go ask Apollos if he had an easier time working with people who knew of the Holy Spirit or with those who didn’t (Acts 19). One has a better chance reaching people with a distant, sentimental memory of God than people who’ve no foundation a’tall.
The Great Speckled Bird is looking a bit rough. If we see a paganization of society, what purports to be Christianity itself has seen better days. The mainline protestant denominations have gone the way of all flesh. The old-time protestants who have successfully maintained the “mere Christianity” of the Reformation, those who have not been swept into the Church Of What’s Happening Now, are shattering into a hundred (more) ham-fisted sects in response to the stresses of Postmodernity.
If the secular conservative who baldly asserts, “We don’t need no education,” is incapable of seizing the authority in society—the actual authority, what we might call gravitas—worse by far is Pastor Billy’s Bible Church. The protestants are good men, and they’re Christian men, and they’re holy, but the Radical Reformation protestantism which defines American religion is hopelessly shattered. Unmoored from tradition, canon law, hierarchy, and the example of the saints, American low down, hoedown Christianity is more apt to speed up secularism as anything else. Who can blame men scandalized by these sectarians when they conclude that the husks of the World are more tolerable than the fads and eccentricities of the Saved.
Protestantism can do fughall in the face of an organizationally unified New World Order and the secularism which philosophically undergirds it. In fact, I make bold to say the abysmal failure of conservatism, particularly religious conservatism, to conserve anything stems from the absence of a liturgical consciousness. Until they put on this mind they will continue riding around as so many Lone Rangers. Then again, there’s a strange thrill many of the conserved get fancying they’re the last of the Mohicans. Anyone up for an hotel room Latin Mass or Gab group?
Mind you, all is not well in Catholicville. Near as I can tell, the Roman Catholic faithful are split on the one hand between normies who have no understanding of present dechristianization, and on the other hand, nervous Savonarola types who’ve made totems of the past, and the neither of them has the slightest interest or energy for evangelization. Sure, life gets you coming and going.
The Church Reaches Out
As we labor in the classroom to form an intelligent and agentic generation we see the Divine Office extending two arms, one to the lost World and one to a shattered and anemic Church.
Towards the Postmodern world it offers beauty. Things are far too far gone to make rational appeals to men. A wallop upside the head by beauty is the surest way to attract the lost. As Dostoevsky’s Idiot says, “Beauty will save the world.” Of course, rational appeals can be beautiful, but for a society given to images it is the physical which is fetching.
It is on this account care ought to be shown towards the chant tradition and posture, even in humble, mundane, and yes—grouch as I might—in individual celebration. While clerics are too easy to dismiss liturgical complexity on pastoral grounds, perhaps those with the care of souls have their finger on a pulse which ought to be heeded. Allahu a’alam. In a school, however, greater attention ought to be given to posture and music in the beautiful drama of the Office and the liturgy in toto. As scholastics we must see ourselves as marking time until general society has the maturity and appreciation of these elements of the liturgy once more.
What people often forget when discussing the simplification of the liturgy in the Twentieth Century is that the educational soil of the masses, which once had been fairly grounded in the Classics, including not just the rudiments of Latin but a familiarity with a canvas of ancient literature and allusions, was so eroded by the 1930s and ‘40s that the ceremonial of the Church necessarily had to change to be intelligible. This was not the fault of clerics but of schoolmen. That the New American Bible, the liturgical version of the scriptures used in Yankeeland, is written for a seventh-grade reading level is proof of how far general education has gone down the tubes. The liturgical simplifications we see are a loving condescension of the Church to the aliteracy of the modern man. Perhaps if enough teachers and students take our vocations seriously, we will raise the sophistication of mankind high enough to forge a people once again capable of enjoying a fuller rituale.
You never know who is watching, nor who might be struck by your diligent performance of the Prayer. In manys the field trip and like outing of Apocatastasis’ we have had occasion to establish the Prayer in public. The students always bring beauty and poise to the workaday bustle. The celebration of the Office is neither preachy, lengthy, nor self-important; three strikes against protestantized America Christianity (and I include much of Catholicism under this umbrella). Those elements of formal faith which has so turned off the mass of our countrymen are not present in the Liturgy. It is a chaste prayer, deliberately short and to the point in the Western tradition.
Towards those souls baptized into Christ but outside Christ’s Church, the Office poses neither the sacramental nor the sacerdotal difficulties encountered when the topic of ecumenism meets that of the holy Mass. At an hour where, on the one hand, Catholic schools for financial reasons must allow students from diverse faith traditions or none a’tall (and “nones” are the fastest growing religious demographic at present), and at an hour where the general population is more and more seeking alternatives to public education, many are the ecumenical possibilities of the Divine Office. You see, ecumenical celebration of the holy Mass runs aground because the sectarian is necessarily unable to receive communion, whereas the Office allows for full participation of the Catholic, the protestant, and the Orthodox, hell, even of your Druids and your voodoo men, without the climax of the prayer leaving some excluded. The Office may be an ecumenical halfway house between private prayers and that full liturgical participation which must await reception into the Catholic Church to enjoy. The Office is a gentle introduction of liturgical prayer which may in time, please God, invite the worshiper into the fullness of the Church.
At the same time the Hours pointedly assert the grave wound ecumenism means to address and heal: authority. By participating in the liturgy one de facto acknowledges the authority of the magisterial Church. One doesn’t make a de jure submission to the Church of Christ, true, but one at least verbs submission to the hierarchy and all that means, if only in the interest of practicality and order.
It is in the Office celebrated over a lengthy period one can see the Church’s mind on topics brought into contention by sectarians such as the sacraments, the role of Mary, and even the hierarchy itself known not as a statement to be asserted intellectually but as a reality manifested in living contact with the living God. Those doctrines proper to Rome are massaged into the rhythm of prayer in a manner disarming to American protestants so used to polemical disputation. Patience
The Office teaches patience with myself and with others. It teaches us that the perfect and be the enemy of the good. It does not take long with students new to the Prayer is realize that, “Today things won’t look like Solesmes!” This is good. The halting, the wrong pages and antiphons, the rough pronunciation, all of these are good in learning the beauty of imperfection; they check whatever of the anal retentive we may have.
The imperfection of our celebration is itself a sacramental. Various trends presently combine to make men more apt to sever ties. Regardless of one’s worldview, those others of his mind are more liable to end relationships as they purity spiral off their high horses. This is hardly a leftist or secular trait. The Office teaches us to bear with each others’ superfluities in patience.
It also instructs us in liberality. There was a time, and more than a passing phase, when I was personally quite strict with the easterly direction of prayer, chant, posture, and the like. The high point of this energy was when I said Terce on and in a MetroNorth train bathroom.
As I’ve gotten older, I turned into a terrible liberal. While I still keep up with the whole cursus of the Liturgia Horarum, I only mind the above trappings twice a day. The other hours are apportioned between online groups and pacing recitation; I’ve even taken to combining hours, using the Angelus as a palate cleanser between one prayer and another. Ah, musha, if I keep up like this, I’ll be a grunting Hottentot in no time!
In later years I’ve worked in a balance between the present books and prior editions of the Office. In doing so I’ve come across the subtleties different rites and orders have developed in their prayer. An especially happy invention and subsequent addition to my celebration has been the reading of monastic rules as part of the morning cursus. This develops of width of vision when it comes to life which nothing else can offer. The diversity of the Divine Office undermines the “my way or the highway” mien which affects both modern religious life, and—as politics serves the role of religion for many skins—differences of worldview.
A maturity develops in all of these. As one learns of the vastness of the liturgical tradition in one’s rite and in the Church at large it becomes obvious that one cannot reasonably do each facet of the Office each day and still see to their duty of state. In fact, the tradition is so grand that a monastic could not do as much. In response to this one, learns moderation, one learns that the liturgy is an organ which pulses on beyond oneself. Rather than being a watering down, this necessary moderation teaches one they are a living cell, part of a larger whole.
As a teacher of the humanities, the Prayer drives home points taught in class which only repetitious ceremonies can develop over months, years, and decades. Because of the nature of industrial education, a model which has largely been adopted into homeschooling, it happens that students come to the Institute with a nigh on impossible ability to imagine different sciences connected one to another. Because of the way disciplines are broken up, the learner’s mental muscle of seeing life in a united whole is atrophied.
The Liturgy Of The Hours is a corrective to this handicap. The hymns, antiphons, Psalms, lessons, and collects were written at widely different times, yet they speak of a united reality. It is a literary museum of sorts, with the different elements a pastiche of various cultures and personalities. The Office teaches not only a liturgical tradition, but it trains the mind to grasp what academic traditions are.
The Office is nothing more than the spiritual radio station of the Church. What an honor for schools to participate in educating a people fit to tune into this station. Yes, it is true that vernacular liturgy is permissible at present, and doubly yes, it is true that vernacular celebration is the expressed policy of the American episcopate. This is a sign not of liberalism or watering anything down; vernacular celebration is a pastoral allowance in the face of the population’s receding education. As hours in class increase, and more and more men sport advanced degrees, it seems the actual general education declines.
While acknowledging pastoral necessity—it may be the population is too dull to appreciate things like chant, for example—it is the charge of schoolmen to not just meet present needs but to make provision for a future society better educated. When that time comes what laurels teachers will have for having formed men capable of joining in the Church’s rich caeremoniale with all of its august trappings. Yes, it is as clear as clear can be the Church does not care about its liturgical heritage. Let us mark time until it does once more.
The Big Picture
Never have I ever blushed in saying that the fundamental telos of Apocatastasis Institute has been to form a people capable of personal, economic, political, and cultural self-defense. Indeed, the role of all right schools is to form such a people, men capable of asserting their rights against bullies and pimps. Forsooth, the Lord above only game man a body so that he may throw it against evil.
Here at home, it is certain that the tyranny which is building in one corner, and the liberty which men are nurturing in another, will meet in a fight. These two energetic lines will have it out in physical force. It is the solemn duty of all right education to form men mentally, spiritually, and socially capable for this exertion. Unlike what the goofy conservatives and truth community hold, that this row will happen when The Cathedral pushes too many people too far, this fight to the knife will not be won by free mankind for some generations out, not in this part of the world at least. Those who think they have a bead on events are bugged the hell out on The Patriot and Rambo films; the conservatives speak like little boys watching Westerns.
It is a point of record that the most muscular and competent response to the New World Order has been from the Ummah of Mohammed. If my above assertion about schools and self-defense is correct, then it behooves us to observe the role which canonical prayer played in forming a homogeneous Islamic population capable of the discipline of physical exertion. The point, and it is a point best learned early, is that spiritual liberation precedes physical efforts at the same. That is what the Muslims’ manly striving teaches us.
There will be a fight, forsooth, but it will not be in our time if it’s to be successful. It is for schoolmen to prepare a people fit for a national liberation struggle which is generations distant. Before men can responsibly assert themselves in arms, for a physical force struggle is the highest test of a community’s coherence and competence, there must be a spiritual, mental, and interpersonal revival.
I do not say it is given to us to arrange what must be, I do not say it is for us to advocate for it, I do not even say that when the time ripens to bring the tyrants to heel that it will be advisable to engage in a fight. I say that what goes for individuals goes for societies, that vigilance is the price of security, and that complete men capable of spiritual, mental, and physical self-defense can check criminals when they come looking for trouble. It is for schools to form such a pacific but prepared people.
Of all the lessons learned in school, the daily Office teaches a master class in the lessons of dedication, piety, patience, and comity, those things which prevent physical striving for liberty from becoming seven times more unjust than what preceded it. The errors of Islam notwithstanding, the discipline which their salah instilled in them was the biggest ingredient in their drubbing of the globalists’ armies.
Yes, the greatest opposition the confederates of the New World Order have faced in our day was from the Muslims when they trespassed on their lands. I have lost count of the number of amputees of a certain age I have come across hobbling about Connecticut as a grim testimony of this fact.
It is advisable that patriots note how the men of other lands have struggled against the New World Order. In all the times and climes, we may observe, the victory of the Taliban is the greatest triumph of self-determination in our lifetime. Close on the heels of that I adduce the insurgency of the Second Iraq War and elements of the Arab Spring. Now don’t worry, I’ll not be going in for that damn Islam anytime soon, and I am well aware of the fanaticism, insanity, criminality, and infiltration which characterized the Middle Eastern, if not the Central Asian, Islamic response to the New World Order. Still and all, the globalists were dressed down in their attempt to lasso the Dar al-Islam into their banking network. This Western banking scheme explains in a nutshell the last 20 years of the Western and Islamic tussle. Still and all, who is sitting in Kabul?
I followed the saga of the War On Terror closely, I follow it yet. How many stories are there of Muslims praying Salawat in the middle of military operations, sometimes amidst the red rush of battle itself. Who did not stare in awe to see the men of ISIS maintaining to the last their liturgical cursus even as the Kurdish communists set upon them in the football field of Baghuz Fawqani. I care not that Islam is a false religion, nor that ISIS represented the worst of the Muslim people, nor that the group was riven with supergrasses and madmen. What I hold up from that strange group at that desperate hour is the sociological value of canonical prayer as a stiffener against overwhelming odds.
The Divine Office is particularly fitted to a school because it grounds the student’s life and study in meaning, teaches by rote academic lessons which cannot be grasped in a lecture, refines our etiquette, and offers a calm onramp to liturgical prayer to a multiconfessional people.
Being an other-centered-prayer, the Office teaches us piety classically understood, piety as the outlay of energy and attention given for the health of the polis. The Prayer formalizes good citizenship as it calls us in the classroom and neighborhood together again and again and again and reminds us of our Creator and the symphony of salvation of which we are all a part. In so doing, the Divine Office checks the antisocial habits telephonic interaction not only tolerates but encourages. The Prayer is a gentle curative to the schisms of the last 500 years.
Finally, the discipline of the Office nurtures a cornucopia of sentiments and virtues which are prerequisites of any national liberation effort. We may say that the percentage of the community who regularly join in the Prayer will broadly be an indicator of the percentage of men capable of putting bullies in their place. All of this, bully banging as soon as anything else, are lessons best introduced during one’s formative school years. Root a child in his Creator, his community, and in meaning and watch an oak of a man grow.
Well, that’s that, as the girl said to the sailor.
An ascent of the soul in search of God, a dialogue, a true encounter, “an intimate friendship in which we often speak alone with the God we know we love,” a test of solitude, diligence, interiority and faith… what exactly is an “orison?”
The word “orison,” unlike many others in the religious vocabulary, has retained its Christian specificity; yet its quasi-synonym “meditation” is used in other religious systems, and even in a context that may be areligious, such as “mindfulness meditation.” There is a kind of irreducibility to the word’s passage outside Christianity. To help us understand this, three traditional definitions of prayer are presented.
An Ascent of the Soul
Following Evagrius, the Fathers teach us that prayer is an ascent of the spirit, or soul, towards God. It is thus an activity that enables us to seek out a transcendent Being beyond the human sphere; but contemporary mentality, which refuses with Kant that God can present Himself to us as an object of knowledge, rejects this claim, stigmatized as a dream of selfishly sought union with a transcendent divine, and opposes it to prophetic prayer, where ultimately it is “man who expresses himself.” However, far from being a contamination of Christian thought by Neoplatonism, this conception of prayer is rooted in the Word of God: man must seek God, but his thoughts are not those of man (Is 55:8).
Prayer is also defined as a conversation with God, a dialogue. It is a relationship between two people: the one who prays and the living God, both transcendent and accessible. The Latins wanted to explain the word orison, derived from the verb orare, from the word, “mouth,” “bone;” even if the etymology is not confirmed by specialists, we can retain the idea: the one who prays speaks, opens his mouth to address God. This is only possible if God has spoken first, revealed Himself. Prayer, then, is a response to God’s first word, the beginning of a conversation. Prayer is thus a face-to-face encounter, so to speak, as Deuteronomy says of Moses (5:4). The mystery of prayer is that, although we cannot see God’s face, we can nevertheless enter into a relationship with Him. Is this not also where He gives us His Spirit, His breath of life? It is a kind of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for those of us who are drowning—we need his vital breath. In the desert of Egypt, Saint Anthony the Great already understood this, pointing out in his last exhortation that prayer is a kind of supernatural breathing (Life of St. Anthony by Saint Athanasius, no. 91). Pope Francis takes up the image himself: Christians “find an exclusive concern with this world to be narrow and stifling, and, amid their own concerns and commitments, they long for God, losing themselves in praise and contemplation of the Lord” (Gaudete et exsultate, n. 147).
In Chapter 6 of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Christ gives us a valuable catechesis on prayer: “When you pray…” You must withdraw, close your door, pray to the Father in secret. You will not see Him, but He, your Father, sees in secret: He will hear you. Your Father knows what is best for you even before you tell Him. Could we not object that, in that case, there is no point in talking to Him? That would be a bit short-sighted, since our very relationship with God, regardless of what He may grant us, is already a great good for man. Dom Guéranger writes in the preface to his Liturgical Year: “Prayer is the first good for man, since it puts him in relationship with God, for there man is in his place before his Creator and Savior.” This is true of all prayer, of petition and thanksgiving, but more particularly of prayer itself.
Saint Teresa of Avila formulated the classic definition: “it is an intimate friendship, in which we often converse alone with the God we know we love” (Autobiography, 8.5; Gaudete et exsultate, n. 149). Solitude, assiduity, interiority, faith—these are the characteristics of interior prayer. We have already seen the dimension of dialogue. Saint Theresa specifies that it should take place in solitude, a faithful translation of the Gospel text mentioned above. Above all, she insists on the frequency of prayer: we must “converse often with God.” Repetition itself shapes our soul, refines its orientation. For it takes time to become accustomed to God, to detach ourselves from the things of the world. And at the same time, we need to give God time to work in us. “The Word of God dwelt in man and became son of man to accustom man to grasp God, and accustom God to dwell in man, according to the mind of the Father,” writes Saint Irenaeus (Adv. haer., III.20.2).. Aristotle had already pointed out that friendship can only be established “when the measure of salt has been exhausted,” i.e., when we have eaten so many meals together that we have emptied the salt shaker. If we want to grow in charity, that divine friendship with God, we need to devote time to it.
Finally, faith. We “converse with the God we know we love” through faith, without feeling or experiencing the charity of God that envelops us and calls us to His intimacy. God is Spirit, and it is spiritually that we go to Him, even if sometimes our very sensibility can be touched. The Spirit prays within us with unutterable groanings, St. Paul tells us (Rom 8:26), and this prayer is not perceptible to the one praying either. St. Anthony the Great said: “Prayer is not perfect when the monk is conscious of himself and of the fact that he is actually praying” (John Cassian, Conference 9:31).
The practice of prayer is intimately linked to God’s self-revelation in Christ. Faced with an absolutely transcendent God, man is called to submission, not to a trade in friendship; in a religious climate dominated by law, he may be content to observe commandments; but if God reveals himself as Father in Christ, then it is a need to seek Him in secret, to take time for Him, to wait for Him.
This meditation is offered by a monk of Fontgombault Abbey. This article comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.
Featured: Repentance, by Oleg Vishnyakov; painted in 1995.
Baudelaire died just over 150 years ago, having received the sacraments of the Church. It would be short-sighted to see him only as a hashish-smoking debauchee, a dandy crushed by ennui, an heir who squandered his fortune. If he took on to his very core the darkness of a world without hope and stirred up “the infamous menagerie of our vices,” he has nothing in common with the bourgeois who quietly confesses his atheism. It is worth rereading the contempt with which he holds, in Pauvre Belgique! the “prêtrophobes” and freethinkers who have stunted the scope of the world by extirpating from the conscience any idea of divine retribution: “Having imagined suppressing sin, the freethinkers thought it ingenious to suppress the judge and abolish punishment. This is exactly what they call progress.”
There is something prophetic in his denunciation of a soulless life, where everything is bought and sold. In this sense, Baudelaire is an anti-bourgeois, an “anti-modern” in the line of the Psalms: “And man when he was in honour did not understand; he is compared to senseless beasts, and is become like to them… They are laid in hell like sheep: death shall feed upon them.” (Ps 48:13;15). He could have written Nietzsche’s words, which mock the health-idolatry of the pagan world: “We have our little pleasure for the day, our little pleasure for the night, but above all we revere health.” Houellebecq also participates in his spirit when he writes: “I am a Catholic in the sense that I show the horror of the world without God.” The poet’s restless soul has something of the mystical about it, like an inverted kinship. He responds to the allure of the Divine by probing his own abyss. “His poetry of unrepentant supplication was so sacrilegious that it became, by antinomy, suggestive of adoration,” writes Bloy in Un brelan d’excommuniés.
He pursues an “unknown God,” masked and versatile, who gives “suffering / As a divine remedy to our impurities” (Bénédiction). Bloy wrote of him that he “was a reverse Catholic, like the demons who ‘believe and tremble’ according to the words of Saint James” (James 2:19).
Like Augustine, Baudelaire had a restless heart. He was implacably lucid on man’s lies, on wounded nature, on the ambiguity of beauty, whose gaze is at once “infernal and divine.” He scrutinized “to the very core the dark and obscure stone” (Job 28:3) of a world in despair. Like Job, who cursed the day of his birth, he made his mother’s mouth fill with the anguish of having given birth to a monster: “Ah! why did I not give birth to a whole knot of vipers, / Rather than nourish this mockery” (Bénédiction).
He is the poet of sin, which implies the knowledge of a deeper clarity and the revelation of a wounded love. He was the man of De profundis that cried out in the valley of tears. He regretted that the priest of Honfleur had not understood that his poems were based on “a Catholic idea,” that of the sinner who awaits redemption through death. Baudelaire descended into the underworld, into the opacity of a world that confusedly awaited the light. He is the poet of Holy Saturday. Did he rise again? Did he experience Easter morning? Nadar asked him just before his death: “How can you believe in God?” With “a cry of ecstasy,” he showed the Place de l’Étoile, illuminated by “the splendid pomp of the setting sun.” “He certainly believed,” concluded Nadar.
Little Thérèse was born just after his death, like a little sister. She lived in the heroic faith of a world devoid of hope. She faced the darkness of the ultimate temptation, that of despair. Her manuscripts should be reread as a mysterious response to the “cursed poet”: “I suppose I was born in a country surrounded by a thick fog…. The King of the homeland with the shining sun came to live thirty-three years in the land of darkness. Alas! the darkness did not understand that this Divine King was the light of the world… But Lord, your child… asks you for forgiveness for her brothers. She agrees to eat as long as you want the bread of sorrow and does not want to get up from this table filled with bitterness where poor sinners eat until the day you have marked…”
May she “throw flowers” to the picker of Les Fleurs du mal, who begged Beauty to finally open the door “to an infinite that I love and have never known.”
Father Luc de Bellescize is the Curate of Saint Vincent-de-Paul in Paris. This article comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.
Featured: Portait of Baudelaire, by Gustave Courbet; painted ca. 1848-1849.
August 9, 2023 is the 78th anniversary of the destruction of the oldest, largest and most historic Catholic community in Japan, that of the Urakami District of Nagasaki, whose Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception lay 1,650 feet beneath the airburst of the 21 kiloton Fat Man plutonium bomb.
Faith and Martyrdom in Nagasaki
The Catholic Faith was first brought to what is now the Nagasaki Prefecture by Saint Francis Xavier, following his arrival in Japan in 1549. The first Catholic missionary to evangelize the town of Nagasaki was a Portuguese Jesuit, Father Gaspar Vilela, who erected a church on the site of a pagoda in 1569.
The harvest of conversions was plentiful. By 1587, there were three parish churches and numerous chapels in the former fishing village, which was then growing into a city and a major seaport. Buddhism and Shintoism had all but disappeared from within its municipal confines.
By 1588, the year that the first Catholic diocese was established in Japan — the Diocese of Funai, centered on Nagasaki — there were at least 200,000 Catholics in the Land of the Rising Sun. Some place the figure above a half million.
Persecution however, would soon follow. Beginning in 1587, the Imperial Regent and Chancellor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, influenced by the Bonzes — Buddhist monks — issued the first prohibitions directed against the missionaries.
The pagan monks, affronted by the dramatic growth of Catholicism in their country, bore false witness against the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries, accusing them of territorial ambitions within Japan, on behalf of the then united Spanish and Portuguese Crowns.
In this lethal calumny they were to be abetted, later, by Protestant Dutch and English merchants and sea captains who hated the Catholic Faith.
In 1597, the Twenty Six Martyrs of Japan — Saint Paul Miki and Companions — were crucified in Nagasaki, the first of hundreds of thousands of Catholics to suffer for the Faith in Japan.
In 1614, Catholicism was proscribed in Japan and would remain so until 1873. For the next two and a half centuries, Nagasaki would give seed to the Church through the blood of her martyrs.
Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits and lay Catholics would die there in 1622, followed by Augustinian Recollects in 1632. Martyrdoms would continue until the end of the 1850’s.
When the first Catholic missionaries returned to Japan in 1865, they discovered the extraordinary phenomenon of a clandestine church, the church of the “Hidden Christians,” consisting of thousands of secret Catholics living near Nagasaki, and existing, impoverished, on the very margins of Japanese society. They kept the Faith, without priests and without most of the sacraments, and without contact with the outside world, for 250 years.
After several years of de facto toleration, the ban against Catholicism in Japan was finally lifted in 1873. Nagasaki then resumed its place as the religious and cultural center of the Catholic community.
As early as 1866, the Apostolic Vicariate of Japan was located in Nagasaki. The Diocese of Nagasaki was erected in 1891. By 1925, the great Romanesque Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Christian church in East Asia, was completed, to the immense joy of the Catholics of the city.
A saint of modern times was among those who preached the Gospel in Nagasaki. Saint Maximilian Kolbe spent six years in Japan, from 1930 to 1936. In 1931, the Polish martyr founded a Franciscan convent on the outskirts of the city.
Shortly before 11 am on Thursday, August 9, 1945, three Silverplate (nuclear capable) Boeing B-29 Superfortresses of the 509th Composite Bombardment Group, of the Twentieth United States Army Air Force, approached the City of Nagasaki, at an altitude of 29,000 feet.
The aircraft had left Tinian, in the Marianas, eight hours earlier. Upon the completion of their mission, they would land in U.S. occupied Okinawa.
The lead plane, the weather reconnaissance plane, was the already famous Enola Gay, which had dropped the first atomic bomb, Little Boy, on Hiroshima, three days before.
The second plane, the observation aircraft, carrying cameras and measuring instruments, was The Great Artiste.
The third B-29, Bockscar, carried a plutonium implosion atomic bomb named Fat Man. The aircraft was piloted by Major Charles W. Sweeney, an Irish American Catholic from Lowell, Massachusetts.
At 11:02 am, 43 seconds after its release from the bomb bay of the B-29, Fat Man exploded, with force of 22,000 tons of TNT, over Urakami District of Nagasaki, 1,650 feet above Immaculate Conception Cathedral.
The population of Nagasaki in 1945 was, officially, 263,000. Because of conventional bombing raids, thousands of children had been evacuated to the countryside. There were, perhaps, less than 200,000 residents remaining in the city on August 9th.
Of these, 40,000 were vaporized in a millisecond. Another 34,000 would die from burns, blast injuries and radiation poisoning before the end of the year. Because of the long term effects of radiation sickness, and the cancers it engenders, the total fatalities, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, may have approached 140,000.
Nothing survived within a kilometer of the epicenter. Everyone in the Cathedral died. The physical destruction was horrific, with 14,000 homes incinerated.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe estimated that there were a 100,000 Catholics in Japan in the 1930’s, of whom 60,000 lived in the Diocese of Nagasaki. Of these, 12,000 lived in the city itself, in the Urakami District.
Mortality estimates for the Catholic community range from 8,500 to 10,000 dead. This means that somewhere between 71% and 83% of the Catholic population of Nagasaki was destroyed, with perhaps as much as ten percent of the entire Catholic population of Japan killed in a single mass casualty event.
Ironically, only 150 Japanese military personnel died in the bombing, but the bomb killed 2,000 Korean forced laborers.
Although the plutonium bomb used at Nagasaki had, at 21 kilotons, a 40% higher yield than the uranium device detonated over Hiroshima, it produced less than 29% of the initial fatalities.
This was because the port city of Nagasaki, like the American seaport of Boston, is a geological basin, surrounded by a ridge formation. This contained the blast. Providentially, Saint Maximilian placed his convent on the reverse side of the mountain overlooking the city. It survived.
Major General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project which developed the A-bomb, was the chairman of the target list committee. He later claimed, implausibly, that he had no idea of how Nagasaki made the list.
Nearly eight decades on, the Nagasaki target map remains missing from the National Archives.
Kyoto, Hiroshima, Yokohama, Kokura and Niigata were on the initial target list. Yokohama, with its navy yard, was removed because of the extensive damage it suffered from the conventional munitions dropped in B-29 raids.
Kyoto, with its 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, was removed from the list after Secretary of War Henry Stimson personally interceded with President Harry Truman. Stimson said that the destruction of the religious and cultural capital of Japan would permanently alienate the Japanese people, whose support the United States might need in a future conflict with the Soviet Union.
It seems, sequentially at least, that Nagasaki was placed on the target list following the removal of Kyoto, possibly as its replacement. Its inclusion came in the form of a hand scrawled note, by an unidentified person, which was added to the already typewritten list.
On August 9, 1945, Kokura was the primary target. As it was socked in — no visibility — Major Sweeney, running low on fuel, turned to the secondary target. That was Nagasaki.
There Was Widespread Opposition in America’s Military Leadership to the Atomic Bombing of Cities
Conservative writers, journalists, intellectuals and media talking heads — including the putatively Catholic George Weigel — continue to defend the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite its clear contravention of Catholic just war doctrine, first expounded by Saint Augustine.
For decades, conservatives maintained that it was a binary choice between the A-bomb and the invasion of the Japanese home islands.
They cited Winston Churchill, who claimed that the invasion would cost the lives of a million American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, the lives of a half million British Commonwealth forces and the lives of untold millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians.
In recent times, their arguments have become more refined. Some now claim that the maintenance of the American naval blockade of Japan would have resulted in tens of millions of Japanese deaths from starvation.
Overlooked in all of this is the fact that while modern day opinion givers justify the use of nuclear weapons on civilians, most of America’s military and naval leadership at the time opposed it.
Of the six Allied Supreme Commanders in the Second World War, all three Americans, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and Chester Nimitz, opposed, on moral or practical grounds, the atomic bombing of Japan.
In his memoirs, President Richard Nixon said that what impressed him most about Douglas MacArthur was the General’s principled opposition to the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
As MacArthur would have led the invasion of Japan, and would therefore have been acutely aware of the potential for massive American casualties, this is no small thing.
President Eisenhower, in his 1948 memoir, Crusade in Europe, said he “disliked seeing the United States take the lead in introducing into war something as horrible and destructive as this new weapon.” Fifteen years later, in a second memoir, he charged that “Japan was already defeated and . . . dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”
America’s senior officer in World War II was Fleet Admiral William Leahy, who was the Chairman of the Joint Board of the Army and the Navy and the Chief of Staff to the President — the 1940’s equivalent of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and National Security Advisor.
Leahy called the atomic bombing “an act of barbarism.”
The entire leadership of the Navy was opposed to the bomb. Besides Leahy and Nimitz, the Chief of Naval Operations, Ernest King, and Nimitz’s two Pacific fleet commanders, Admirals Halsey and Spruance, were critics of the bomb.
Even the Twentieth Air Force commander, Curtis LeMay — whose planes dropped the bombs — said it was unnecessary.
LeMay’s objections were operational, not ethical. General LeMay always maintained that the war would have ended with a Japanese surrender in September of 1945. That is when his target list, for the obliteration of Japanese cities through conventional firebombing, would have been completed.
Stalin Did We Asked Him To Do
One of the more fatuous arguments made by defenders of the A-bomb was that the Soviet Union rushed, opportunistically, to enter the war against Japan after the U.S. bombed Hiroshima. This is an imbecility.
It presumes that the plodding and ponderous Russian Army was suddenly transformed into the Wehrmacht, ready to launch a blitzkrieg against the Japanese in Manchuria within 48 hours of the bombing of Hiroshima.
The truth is quite different.
At Yalta, in April of 1945, three months before the successful test of the atomic bomb in New Mexico, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were supplicants to Joseph Stalin, cajoling him and wheedling him to declare war upon Japan.
Suitably bribed with territorial concessions in the Far East, Stalin agreed. He promised to enter the Pacific war against Japan three months after the European war against Germany ended.
VE Day was May 8, 1945. Russia entered the war punctually, exactly on time, as Stalin said he would, three months later, on August 8, 1945.
If the bombs were dropped to shock the Japanese into surrender, then the question remains of why the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Japanese civilians two days before Japan’s greatest fear—a Russian declaration of war—materialized, which we knew was coming? And why did we drop a second bomb the day after the Russian entry into the war?
We will also examine the moral compass of Major Charles Sweeney.
C. Joseph Doyle is the Executive Director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. Since 2019, he has also served as the Communications Director of the Friends of Saint Benedict Center. This article appears courtesy of Catholicism.
Featured: Urakami Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Nagasaki, January 7,1946.
“In nature, in the cosmos, there is a divine, sacred dimension. In this sense modern “neo-paganism” is a hasty conclusion or, at least, a transitional phase” (Ernst Jünger, The Coming Titans).
When one speaks of the ideas of the “ND” (Nouvelle Droite/New Right), the intellectual current that emerged in France in the 1970s, there is a recurring theme: its position on the question of religion and in particular its option for “paganism.” What exactly does this paganism mean? Where did it come from? Are the ideas of the ND incompatible with a Christian confession? Where, intellectually speaking, has the paganism of the ND led? Here are the answers of someone whose intellectual formation is inscribed in the Nouvelle Droite/New Right and who, nevertheless, is Catholic. A text for debate.
The “Nouvelle Droite/New Right” was known—and is now less and less known—as the school of thought, led by Alain de Benoist, that was born in France in the 1970s and which, since then, has described a trajectory similar to that of meteors: on an unknown course, illuminating the night firmament, attracting attention, also arousing fears—even omens of catastrophe—and, along the way, shedding fragments of disparate behavior, depending on the atmospheric conditions. I am one of those fragments. I entered the intellectual orbit of the “Nouvelle Droite / New Right” (hereinafter “ND”) around 1982. I read absolutely everything published by the ND (which was and has continued to be a great deal), I attended its international colloquia and summer universities (very few Spaniards passed through there) and, for some time, I tried to see that here, in Spain, something similar to what arose there might emerge. This is to underline that these lines, which are intended to be a dispassionate analysis, nevertheless contain an important part of personal confession.
The ND and its Context
The ND was so called because it was a way of thinking different from what was in force at that time—in the 1970s and 1980s—which was the ideological monopoly of the left. It must be repeated: a way of thinking; that is, an intellectual attitude, not a political attitude. Since it was not left-wing, it was called “right-wing.” And since it did not fit into the usual molds of the ordinary right either—because it was neither traditionalist nor liberal—it was called “new.” Given the oppressive atmosphere that the Marxist intelligentsia had imposed on European thought and on the media since the 1960s, the attitude of the ND, uninhibited, intelligent and without complexes, represented a real breath of fresh air for many temperaments, and especially for those who, being by convictions on the right, needed (we needed) to think things in a new and deeper way.
What the ND contributed was a very extensive and intense critique of contemporary civilization, and it did so with a very broad philosophical base—there is no author whose ideas have not served it well, from the Frankfurt School to the great French reactionaries, and from the mystics of medieval Germany to postmodern sociologists—and with a properly multidisciplinary projection; that is to say, it applied to economics as well as to psychology, biology as well as to politics. Someday we will have to recapitulate this immense work, ignominiously reduced by hostile critics to a mere emanation of the “radical right,” and we will see that it is a real reservoir of ideas. As with all deposits, here too there are inexhaustible veins and others that are soon extinguished; galleries of infinite expanse and others that lead to dead ends; valuable materials and others that vanish on contact with the air. In any case, the deposit is there: in the huge collection of texts gathered in the volumes of the journals Nouvelle École, Éléments or Études & Recherches, not to mention the numerous publications published on the periphery of the ND, as well as in the overwhelming books by Alain de Benoist, and in the very long list of texts that have emerged around this initiative. It is a pity—and this says a lot about our times—that most of those who criticize the ND do so without having read a single page of this properly encyclopedic work.
What were the main lines of the critique of the ND? Synthesizing to the bare essentials—and, therefore, simplifying to the point of abuse—we can describe them in three vectors. The starting point was a triple refutation. In the first place, the reprobation of the social culture imposed since the 1960s—much before, in fact—by the left-wing intelligentsia, a social culture that translated into a singular mixture of forced egalitarianism, ideological materialism, generalized moral abdication and infinite hatred towards European identity. Secondly, a deep nonconformism towards the economic civilization imposed by the capitalist order in the West, that type of civilization where no other form of individual or collective life is understood, except through the selfishness of “best interest” and “profitability.” Thirdly, a very characteristic issue of the final years of the Cold War: the weariness of a Europe subjected to the despotism of a bipolar world and the anxious search for its own, European, way to regenerate the spirit of the old continent in the new and threatening world of the great superpowers.
From these three points of origin, the reflection of the ND unfolded in vectors that led naturally to identify; first, the root causes of the evil being criticized, and then to try to think of an alternative to the situation.
The critique of the cultural model of the left led to a dissection of egalitarianism, namely, that dogma of the essential equality of human beings. Such a dissection departed from the usual liberal critique of egalitarianism (that equality undermines efficiency because it inhibits ambition) and focused instead on underlining the anthropological foundations of difference, both among men and among peoples; difference which, in the discourse of the ND, was not so much aimed at creating a new legitimacy for this or that hierarchy as at proposing ways of thinking about diversity: of social functions within a community, of cultural identities, of forms of development, etc.
The second point, the critique of economic civilization—and its corollary, technical civilization—led to the identification of individualism as the origin of the process: Individualism, that is, the conviction that the ultimate horizon of all reflection and action is the individual; his autonomy identified as his “best interest;” his search for happiness interpreted in terms of material success, according to a pattern of behavior that extends from economic life to any other field; from politics to family relations. The need to propose a critical alternative to individualism—without falling, on the other hand, into the annulment of the individual typical of egalitarian systems—led to the search for an alternative sociality, a task in which materials as diverse as the “tribal” sociology of the postmodernists, Christian personalism or the theses of Anglo-Saxon communitarians were brought together: systems of life in common, where the person and the group are not antithetical elements, but complementary realities.
As for the third vector, which stems from dissidence with respect to the world order born of the Cold War, it took the form of a critique of universalism—although it would have been more accurate to speak of “globalism”—which led to a rejection of the idea of a planetary convergence around the North American model and the proposal of a sovereign Europe in the military, diplomatic and economic spheres, the defense of the cultural identities of all peoples, and an alliance of this sovereign Europe with the Third World.
These are, roughly speaking, the elements from which the thought of the ND developed. It would be too long to go into the derivations of each line; for example, the critique of the concept of “humanism,” the distrustful look towards technical civilization, the recovery of elements of the traditional ecological discourse, the proposal of an alternative conception of democracy and the State, the critique of nationalism as a “metaphysics of subjectivity,” etc. It would also be excessive to enumerate the theoretical materials that contributed to support this work; all of them can be found in the publications of the ND and to which we referred.
Criticism of Christianity
Within this work, there was a specific line of reflection that some consider fundamental and others secondary, but which in any case has had the virtue (or rather the defect) of absorbing attention to the point of obscuring the rest of the theoretical ensemble of the ND: the question of religion, resolved in an acerbic criticism of Christianity and in a vindication of a new kind of paganism.
Before explaining this point, it is necessary to point out that, in reality, the sources from which the attitude of the NR towards religion draws are very plural, very diverse, also contradictory: among the names that supported the birth of the Nouvelle École—the first great theoretical review of the movement—there are, for example, quite a few Christians. These sources, moreover, have not led to a homogeneous position, but to different attitudes, which, in turn, have undergone modifications over time. A perfect example of such heterogeneity is the survey, “Avec ou sans Dieu / With or without God,” organized by the magazine Éléments, where different authors related to the heteroclite galaxy of the ND (including myself) and explained their position on the matter. More than fifty years after the ND began its work of reflection, the balance in this matter is very abundant in terms of points of view and potentially rich in openings to other currents, but rather disappointing if one is looking for a solid and well-defined intellectual position. The “pagan drift” is an important feature of Alain de Benoist’s thought and, in this sense, it can be considered “canonical” with respect to the whole of the ND, since he is undoubtedly its main theoretician; but not even in this author can one speak of a continuous position over time, but rather of an evolution that is not always predictable. For the rest, the different strands that built the framework of the thought of the ND on religious matters have ended in dead ends or in an uncomfortable impasse. And this is what we must now examine.
When does the polemical question of Christianity—of anti-Christianity, rather—enter into the general discourse of the ND? It enters at the moment of genealogies, when we try to find the intellectual origin of egalitarianism, individualism and universalism. Christianity, in fact, has an important egalitarian component, since it endows all men equally with a soul of identical value for all, regardless of the place each one occupies in the world of the living; and all men equally will be submitted to divine judgment. Moreover, the Gospel message, abundant in formulas such as “he who humbles himself will be exalted and he who exalts himself will be humbled,” or “the last will be first,” seems designed to nourish subversion. Christianity also has an individualistic component, since salvation is entirely individual, affects only and exclusively the soul of each person and places man’s relationship with God on an eminently personal level. Christianity, finally, is a universal religion, where, as St. Paul preaches, after Revelation there are no longer Greeks or Jews, barbarians or Scythians, but we are all one in Christ, so that belonging to a community is expressly devalued and, in its place, a properly universal consciousness emerges: We are all one, in fact.
In this act of pointing to Christianity as the origin of the essential values of the modern world, it is easy to trace the influence of Nietzsche, both in the Genealogy of Morals and in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But, in the specific case of the ND, perhaps even more important was the influence of the positivist philosopher Louis Rougier, who had recovered the old allegory of the Roman Celsus against Christians. Thus, it was that towards the end of the 1970s, Christianity was characterized in the discourse of the ND as “the Bolshevism of antiquity.” In an environment such as that of European culture in the 1970s, where a Church disrupted by the Second Vatican Council was openly playing the “progressive” card, this criticism seemed to be quite in line with reality.
Let us talk a little more about Louis Rougier, because his role in this story is important. With Rougier (1889-1982), the logical empiricism of the Vienna circle entered the early ambit of the ND (early 1970s). This source brought, from the outset, a scientistic attitude towards reality: empirical truth—read, experimental—became an efficient alternative to the prevailing “ideological” truths of the time, generally derived from the Marxist-Leninist paradigm. Remember that this is the time when biology seemed to be dominated by the environmentalist model of the Soviet Lyssenko and psychology was dominated by Freudian psychoanalysis, both schools which, in their translation into social philosophy, coincide in proposing egalitarian doctrines. As opposed to these doctrines, the ND claimed, in psychology, the experimental work of Eysenck, Jensen or Debray-Ritzen, and in biology, the contributions of ethology (Lorenz, Eibl-Eibesfeldt, etc.) and of the first sociobiologists (Wilson, Dawkins), who coincided in proposing differentialist, i.e., non-egalitarian, models. From this period dates also, by the way, an old error of the interested critics of the ND—the assimilation between their positions and those of sociobiologists. But the ND very quickly distanced itself from sociobiology because it considered that its approach was nothing but a reductionism to genetics. In its place was adopted the vision of Konrad Lorenz, based on a much more elaborate, non-reductionist philosophical anthropology, which perfectly integrated the biological dimension of the human and his cultural dimension: the anthropology of Arnold Gehlen.
From the scientific point of view, it is obvious today that the ND was betting correctly: genetics has proved to be a key discipline, while Lyssenko’s environmentalist delusions are no longer remembered. However, this position had a drawback from the philosophical point of view: it made the discourse of the ND gravitate around a scientistic materialism that vetoed an objective approach to the sacred. And this, despite the fact that some of the inspirers of this scientific position were avowedly Christian, as in the case of Konrad Lorenz.
Louis Rougier is also important in the forging of the discourse of the ND for another contribution, this one in the field of the history of political culture: his book Du paradis à l’utopie (From Paradise to Utopia), which is an explanation (very remarkable, by the way) of how the egalitarian messianism of the left derives directly from a secularization of Christian eschatology, from an earthly-ization of the message of salvation. The thesis of From Paradise to Utopia is, in general terms, unassailable: most of the redemptorist concepts of the left in general and of Marxism in particular find their antecedents in equivalent concepts of the Christian heritage. Thus, Providence is transformed into the Necessity of history and the ultraterrestrial Paradise is transmuted, through utopia, into paradise on earth. The fact that this supposed paradise has led to the Gulag only goes to show the absurdity of the transposition and the correctness of Rougier’s criticism. Now, from this point on, Rougier’s thesis reproaches Christianity for carrying, in germ, the seed of subversion; and in this sense, he will recover—later on—the warnings of the Roman Celsus against the threat that Christians represented for the empire. If Christianity could be secularized into a revolutionary ideal, it is because the Gospel message carried within itself this virtuality. This is the aforementioned characterization of Christianity as “the Bolshevism of antiquity.”
In this way, the anti- or post-Christian line of thought that stemmed from the 19th century came to connect with a general philosophy of scientific matrix, very typical of the 20th century. The “pagan rebellion” that can be traced in certain streaks of German and French romanticism, in the philosophy of Nietzsche and even in works such as Wagner’s (before his Parsifal), went hand-in-hand with the logical critique of the Christian mental model and ended up giving birth, in the ND, to a position of simultaneous rupture with Christianity and with modern ideologies, which were seen as nothing but secularized prolongations of the evangelical message.
The Weakness of the Philosophical Critique of Christianity
Now, to focus the critique of modernity on Christianity was an intellectually risky operation. First, because Christianity, although it is not only a doctrine of the afterlife, is above all a doctrine of spiritual salvation, in such a way that its concepts cannot always be understood as principles of an intellectual-ideological order, ready to be applied materially to the social or political terrain. It is true that preaching an equal soul for all men can be understood as a form of egalitarianism, but it is also true that, according to Christian doctrine, some of these men are saved and others are not, and there are few things less egalitarian than this difference. On the other hand, the theme of man created unanimously in the image and likeness of God is opposed by the parable of the talents, which is a metaphysics of inequality.
The same is true of the other modern “ideologemes” that the critique of the ND attributes to Christianity. For example, in Christian discourse, the theme of individualism—the soul is an individual attribute and salvation is also a matter of the individual—is opposed by the theme of the negation of individuality, expressed in terms that lead to proposing the radical renunciation of all things in the world. The same contradiction is found in the theme of universalism: if in the proclamation that “we are all one” there is an evident affirmation of the unity of believers above the earthly powers, it is no less true that this unity leaves out non-believers; and, on the other hand, the doctrine itself exposes a clear separation of the earthly and spiritual spheres, according to the formula “to God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” In other words, Christianity can be reproached for one thing and also for the opposite. Focusing the discourse on only one of the facets means deliberately hiding the other and, in that sense, falsifying the whole. To put it bluntly, it is as if the ND, in its critique of Christianity, were describing an object other than the one it intends to criticize.
Let us stress the question of egalitarianism, which is crucial. In general terms, the identification between Christianity and egalitarianism suffers from an initial error, namely—from metaphysical equality does not necessarily derive physical egalitarianism. It is true that the Church, in other times—and precisely in the 1970s—did not fail to fall into this error, allowing or encouraging (depending on the strands) that the doctrine of metaphysical equality (all men are brothers because they all have a soul that is an equal child of God) be “recovered” by the dominant egalitarian discourse (all men are equal). But what the ND does is methodologically debatable: it does not combat the error of these ecclesial strands, i.e., it does not examine the initial premise, but takes it as valid—that is, it accepts the identification between metaphysical equality and political egalitarianism—and from there deduces a general critique of Christianity as the matrix of all egalitarian thought. All subsequent discourse is affected by this methodological error of departure. The results are intellectually very fragile: the equality of souls before God cannot be identified with the equality of men in the State, if only because, in the first case, some are saved and others are not; neither can Christianity be identified with egalitarian thought, if only because, historically, all egalitarian thought has tended to burn down churches and de-Christianize those societies where it triumphed.
In the end, the ND is criticizing a false, phantom Christianity, a mistaken idea of Christianity. Naturally, it could be objected that what the ND criticizes is not Christianity as a religion, but Christianity as a worldview. But the objection itself betrays the error: Christianity is first and foremost a religion, and it makes little sense to criticize an object as something other than what it is. Another thing is that forces arising from the Church itself have desacralized Christianity—for example, turning it into a very materialistic theology of liberation. But here the error is in the executioner; that is, in those who have executed the desacralization, not in the victim, that is, in the desacralized Christianity.
In all this, let us emphasize that the thesis that modernity is a secularization of religious concepts remains valid: modern discourse is really incomprehensible if we do not understand it as secularization. Here we are approaching that Schmittian formula of “political theology”: modernity transfers to the political terrain numerous concepts that were once part of the theological terrain. That is to say that the general pattern of Du paradis a I’utopie (From Paradise to Utopia) is objectively correct, as is much of Louis Rougier’s analysis (think of Le génie de l’Occident /The Genius of the West). But what can be deduced from this pattern of analysis is not so much the secularized triumph of Christianity as its corruption: the supernatural has been translated as natural and thus its essence has been distorted.
The Problem of Paganism
Faced with this Christianity secularized by modernity and supposedly unmasked as “Bolshevism of antiquity,” the ND did not opt for atheism or agnosticism, for that would have led it to a materialism similar to that of liberals and Marxists, but dug into the romantic trunk and revived the term “paganism”: A paganism reconstructed somewhat to contemporary tastes, braided with strands of heroic vitalism, sacred sense of nature, religious dimension of the political community, aestheticizing eroticism, “trifunctional” image of social life according to the model discovered by Georges Dumézil in the Indo-European pantheons, elements of “traditional thought” (Evola, Guénon) and of the “philosophia perennis” (Huxley), models of interpretation of the sacred extracted from Rudolf Otto and Mircea Eliade, and so on…
The mixture was of the most heteroclite, but it was very suggestive. At a time when either the flatter materialism or the neo-spiritualist sects were spreading everywhere, the paganism of the ND offered a beautiful and attractive panorama. Above all, it offered a way of understanding the sacred at a time when churches were becoming empty. De Benoist expounded this paganism in Comment peut-on être paien (How to be a Pagan) and then underwent successive reformulations. The most brilliant is undoubtedly the dialogue between De Benoist and the Catholic thinker Thomas Molnar (another of the Catholics who supported De Benoist in the founding years of the ND), in the volume, L’éclipse du sacré (The Eclipse of the Sacred), which is a fascinating exploration of the universe of the spirit. Of course, the pagan option of the ND allowed for the shaping of an alternative spirituality from positions that were not egalitarian, but differentialist; not individualistic, but communitarian; not universalist, but identitarian.
The problem was that, in reality, this paganism had no real correlation with European antiquity, but was an intellectual construction twenty centuries later. It would be more appropriate to speak of a “neo-paganism.” It was a matter of updating pre-Christian ways of thinking the spiritual in relation to the social. The ND does not “resurrect” the ancient gods; that of “resurrection” is a widespread argument among critics of the ND, but it does not fit the reality of the texts. What the ND does is to recover the pre-Christian mental structure, which is interpreted as an essentially pluralistic and diversifying structure, and to oppose it to the Christian mental structure, which would be supposedly monistic and homogenizing. The context of this recovery was not of a strictly religious nature (replacing some gods with others), but of identity: to recover a specifically European way of thinking. In this context, the aesthetic rehabilitation of pagan forms—from the Greek column to the Celtic interlace—does not have a theological function, but a symbolic one; it is a matter of manifesting the validity of a deep-rooted, specifically European cultural world. And in this rehabilitated neo-paganism, where was the sacred, religion, properly speaking? It was left out of the game—and this is the big question. Generally speaking, the paganism of the “de Benoist strand” was enclosed in a “sociological” interpretation. Now, we can talk about the gods, but, if we do not believe in their real existence, are we not in an empty discourse? To interpret the plurality of gods as a poetic representation of the plurality of social, natural and human forces is a valid option; but, ultimately, it is no more scientific than to represent all these things not with gods, but with saints or constellations. Why resort to the pagan pantheon? Out of loyalty to the European tradition? Fine, but why should the pagan pantheon be more “traditional” than the Christian one, because it is autochthonous, uncontaminated by extra-European elements? But are not St. George, St. Benedict or St. Bernard, the processions of the Virgin or the spirit of the Crusade, or the German and Spanish mystics exclusively European?
A similar contradictory atmosphere appears in one of the “aestheticizing” features with which the ND wrapped its pagan strand, namely that of the “liberation of customs.” In the context of the 1970s and 1980s, the theme of “pagan liberation” enjoyed a certain social presentability—as opposed to the caricature of a Christianity drawn with the thick strokes of sexual repression, intellectual narrowness and social egalitarianism, the pagan imaginary represented a lost paradise of freedom of customs, vital joy, intellectual pluralism and political health. Undoubtedly, the second picture is much more sympathetic than the first. The problem is that the portrait is arbitrary.
In the history of pre-Christian Europe, we find as many examples of intellectual pluralism as of fanatical closed-mindedness, of political health as of generalized corruption, of vital joy as of dark superstitious terror, of freedom of customs as of moral austerity. Conversely, in the history of Christian Europe there is no lack (on the contrary, there are plenty) of examples of relaxed social customs, existential joviality, bold thinking and healthy political institutions; especially if we make the prescriptive differences between the colorful Catholic Mediterranean universe and the gloomy Anglo-Saxon Protestant world, for example. All this without going into other considerations, such as, for example, the usual conjunction of political decadence and intellectual splendor, so frequent in history; or, to stick to religious matters, the wide gap that exists in pagan Europe between “religious” thought (where it is possible to speak of such) and popular religiosity. Thus, the radical distinction between the luminous pagan world and the gloomy Christian world does not cease to be somewhat arbitrary. This distinction comes, in reality, from an inverted intellectual process: two series of values are chosen—one positive, the other negative—and are projected a posteriori on referents that contain a lot of imaginary, fantastic and mental construction. The resulting picture is attractive, as usually happens with imaginary creations; but it cannot seriously support a philosophical interpretation of the History of Religions.
On the other hand, and concerning the specific point of freedom of morals, in the discourse of the ND a not minor contradiction arises—even accepting that the pagan moral world is a “liberated” world (which in itself is debatable), how does one combine the defense of freedom of morals with the critique of the narcissistic hedonism of modern Western civilization? For one of the essential characteristics of modern Western civilization is hedonism, the existence of the masses for mass pleasure; and the ND, quite rightly, rebukes that hedonism with such endorsements as Christopher Lasch’s critique of the “Narcissus complex.” The current hedonism is a direct consequence of individualism, of that way of living—typically modern—which consists in the fact that the individual tends to cut all links with everything around him in order to privilege the narrow interest of his own “I”, something that the ND rightly criticizes. What does this “freedom of customs” have to do with that other elementary religiosity of sex as it occurs in primitive societies? Strictly nothing, one thing and the other correspond to different mental worlds. This should warn us against choosing certain contemporary values and projecting them onto past worlds; this will inevitably be an exercise in decontextualization, i.e., a lax construction.
It is not possible to defend freedom of customs and at the same time reprove the narcissistic hedonism of Western civilization. In the same way that it is not possible to defend the importance of one’s own cultural tradition, the validity of the sacred and the European historical identity, and at the same time to proscribe Christianity, which in its Catholic form—more than in its Protestant form—is the form in which the sacred has traditionally manifested itself in the sphere of European identity.
But perhaps the point from which the inadequacy of the ND critique of Christianity is most clearly perceived is precisely that of the charges of the accusation; that is, all those themes in which the anti-Christian discourse of the ND believed it saw the origin of modern evil. For it turns out that those themes—individualism, egalitarianism, universalism—are not exclusively Christian. The idea of the immortal soul breathed into all men appears, in Europe, at least with Pythagoras, that is, in the 6th century BC. Likewise, the idea that there is an inherent quality in the individual, something that singles him out and makes him unique, appears in the Greco-Latin sphere and finds a concrete expression in the concept of “person” developed by the Roman jurists. Finally, the concept of the universal appears, in philosophy, with Plato’s theory of ideas, and in politics, with the praxis of the Roman Empire. Thus, those three “ideologemes” of modernity—egalitarianism, individualism, universalism—which in Christian doctrine appeared in an ambiguous and contradictory manner, appear with much greater clarity in the pagan cultural tradition. Nietzsche himself, in The Birth of Tragedy, did not so much point against the Nazarene as against Socrates, inventor of the “spirit itself.”
And even more, within the presumably pagan arsenal that the ND recovers, there are essential elements that, nevertheless, belong equally to the Christian order. This is the case, for example, of the trifunctional scheme that Dumézil interpreted—brilliantly—in the Indo-European pantheons and that structured at the same time the world of the gods and the world of men around three functions: the first, that of wisdom, identified with priesthood, kingship and law; the second, that of vital force, identified with war, the nobility of arms; the third, that of production and sustenance, identified with agriculture, work, craftsmanship. It is true that the pagan gods of the Indo-European peoples can be structured in these three families, and it is true that the scheme is likewise reproduced in the social order of ancient Europe. It is, moreover, the model that, as Plato tells us, Socrates imagined: a society of human aspect where there is a head (first function, ruling), a chest (second function, warrior) and a belly (third function, producer). Now, this is exactly the same model that Catholic Europe will maintain for a millennium and a half—with the degenerations we know—from the fall of the Roman Empire to the French Revolution, on the basis of the three medieval orders: oratores, bellatores, laboratories. Where is the Christian subversion?
These things are so obvious that, evidently, they could not escape the attention of those who worked in the field. Whether one held a strictly religious view, that is, of belief in supernatural realities, or whether one defined the sacred in philosophical-sociological terms, that is, as a way of representing a worldview, the pagan option was no less problematic than the Christian one. From this point on, the discourse of the ND began to describe theoretical ellipses that did not fail to raise interesting reflections, but which inevitably returned—by definition—to the starting point. We can mention some of them by way of complementary illustration.
A first ellipse was the scientific one: the reflections derived from subatomic physics—Heisenberg, Lupasco, Nicolescu, etc.—led to the identification of a sort of underlying order in the realm of matter and, therefore, to the perception of a sacred imprint in the world. Anne Jobert expounded this in her study, Le retour d’Hermès : de la science au sacré (The Return of Hermes: From Science to the Sacred). The question was of enormous interest and was linked to one of the great contemporary debates. It could have meant a way of thinking the sacred in intimate relation with the scientific interpretation of the world. However, no one in the ND—apart from Jobert herself—went further along that line. On the contrary, from the 1990s onwards, the inspiration of “spiritualist physics” disappeared and was replaced by a pure neo-Darwinism, a position represented in particular by Charles Champetier. Where the strand “scientific spirituality” was followed, so to speak, was no longer in the French ND, but in Italy (Nuova Destra Italiana), in particular with the work of Roberto Fondi, on organicism.
Another example of theoretical ellipsis was the opening of the ND—especially through the journal Krisis—towards Christian personalism, with an interesting debate between Alain de Benoist and Jean-Marie Domenach, Mounier’s intellectual executor—since the ND had marked a position contrary to modern individualism and mass society, nothing more natural than to converge with a current of thought that had arrived at the same position from a different starting point. But Christian personalism is, by definition, Christian, and its concept of the person is built on the conviction that all individuals possess a transcendent value that is identified with the soul. Perhaps the ND could have taken its cue from this convergence with Christian personalism to recover the Roman concept of “person,” but there was no such convergence. On the other hand, around the same time, Nouvelle École published a long work by Alain de Benoist on (against) Jesus of Nazareth, which in reality was nothing more than a recovery of the old and hostile Jewish literature against the “false Messiah.” Another road closed.
More ellipses? The philosophical one, for example. The ND emerged from the Nietzsche impasse by incorporating Heidegger into its theoretical stock. The Heideggerian critique of Western metaphysics—a critique to which the concept of the “will to power” does not escape—could be interpreted as a definitive diagnosis of the modern disease. And the Heideggerian imperative to “think what the Greeks thought, but in an even more Greek way” could well be interpreted as a demand for a return to the pagan origin. Now, Heidegger’s own interpretation, with its denunciation of the “forgetfulness of Being,” carries an implicit longing not only for the sacred as “enchantment of the world” (Weber), but also for the divine as an active presence in the realm of matter. This explains that famous statement to Der Spiegel: “Only a God can save us.”
Personally—and may I be excused for summarily dismissing a matter so subject to discussion—I believe that Heidegger tried throughout his life to speak of God, obstinately trying to do so without pronouncing the word God and personifying Him in the concept Being, and his last breath was precisely to say that only a God can save us. It is a similar path to that of another of the key thinkers for the ND, Ernst Jünger, with the relevant exception that he discovered the divine imprint with less makeup, invoked it frequently and ended up, as is known, converting to Catholicism, despite being from a Protestant background. The discourse of the ND, in this sense, returns once again to its own starting point: it does not hurry the reasoning, it stops before the necessary logical leap—thinking the sacred as divine presence—and goes back to the same place where the first question had been posed.
It is not difficult to suspect that these elliptical developments obey an objection of principle, a mental reservation, a prejudice of departure: the line of thought developed by Alain de Benoist, so fruitful in other fields, so ready to venture into diverse territories—so capable, for example, of reaching convergences with a certain intellectual left on the critique of the market or on the praise of the idea of community—nevertheless suffers from a clear taboo on religious matters, a kind of insurmountable inhibition. This taboo, this inhibition, is no mystery, but is a substantial part of modern thought. It is simply the impossibility of thinking of God—or, more generically, the divinity—as Someone endowed with real existence. The ND shares this modern prejudice that consists in discarding the hypothesis of God. It is interesting—the ND, which has criticized so much—and so rightly—the Western model of thought, both scholastic and Cartesian, because it desacralizes the world, because it separates the sacred from nature, nevertheless remains subject to that same model by implicitly discarding the hypothesis of God.
This is not a new phenomenon in the history of ideas. Let us recall the scene: University of Tübingen, 1791; three young students named Hegel, Hölderlin and Schelling attempt to enlighten a philosophy so spiritual as to satisfy people of a religious temperament and, at the same time, a religion so exact and systematized as to satisfy people of a philosophical spirit. The result was philosophically estimable, but, from the religious point of view, it was an entirely artificial construction. For religion necessarily demands the participation of mystery, and to create mystery is not something within the reach of men.
But let us stop here, because it would take us too far. We can limit ourselves to stating the ultimate conclusion of this journey through the religious problematic of the ND, namely—we are facing a dead end. Consequently, it is valid to think that the itinerary was badly traced from the beginning.
In the end, work in the field of the History of Ideas always runs the risk of Ideas emancipating themselves from History, so that we end up with formally estimable constructions, but with no real basis. To put it in a few words: if Christianity were really the seed of the modern world—materialist, egalitarian, etc.—it would be necessary to explain how it was possible for Christianity to reign in the West for a millennium and a half without the emergence of the modern order, and even more, it would be necessary to explain why the first providence of the modern order, wherever it arose, was always and unfailingly to proclaim the death of Christianity. Since it is impossible to explain these two things and maintain logical coherence, there is no choice but to think that the analysis of the ND, on this point, is wrong.
This does not prevent us from thinking that Christianity faces a major challenge, and this concerns Catholicism more specifically, because it is the last great reservoir of sacredness in the West. This challenge does not concern theological discourse, which is impregnable by its very nature, but the philosophical discourse with which the Church presents itself in the world of secularization; that is, in that world where the sacred has been confined to a corner and religiosity is an individual choice like any other. Before the explosion of modernity, religion, Western metaphysics and political order tended to be one and the same thing; on the contrary, after the revolutions, the Enlightenment—and its glories and its ruins—the triumph of technical civilization and the great wars of the twentieth century, world order goes one way, culture goes another and religion seeks a place in the sun. If in the past Western metaphysics was inseparable from ecclesiastical cathedrae, it is obvious that it has long since ceased to be so; if in the past the order of the world was inseparable from the authority of the Papacy, it is equally obvious that today there is nothing of the sort; if in the past culture and the feeling of the sacred could maintain a relationship of close intimacy, today it is also obvious, finally, that this bond has been broken.
In this regard, Rome has come a long way since the 19th century, and Christian thought (or, if one prefers, the thought of Christians who have dedicated themselves to thinking) has not failed to provide very interesting insights. But the major forces guiding the culture of our time—criticism, suspicion, doubt, uncertainty, fragmentation, nihilism—have shaken the Church as they have everything else, creeds and certainties, ideologies and philosophies. If it was difficult to make faith survive in the world of scientific positivism, as was the case in the 19th century, the task seems even more difficult in the world of technical nihilism, which is the one in which we live. Thus, Christian thought seems fundamentally problematic in matters such as man’s relationship with nature, the presence of religion in the political and social order or the validity of tradition in a culture of permanent change, to give just three examples of daily debates.
However, in this atmosphere of aftermath, where everything seems to have been pushed to its ultimate extreme, as if dragged by the hair by a demonic force, this is precisely where the fundamental questions come back to the fore. No one wonders what is on the other side of the river until their feet touch the shore; today we are already soaked to the waist. This, in any case, is a matter for another reflection. The only thing to be regretted, to return to the thread of our theme, is that the ND or the French New Right, due to its own inhibitions, is no longer in a position to attend this event.
José Javier Esparza, Soanish historian, journalist, writer, has published around thirty books about the history of Spain. He currently directs and presents the political debate program “El gato al agua,” the dean of its genre in Spanish audiovisual work. (Thank you to Arnaud Imatz for all his wonderful help).
This big fat book (571 pages), Rational Responses to Skepticism, is an anthology of Dennis Bonnette’s later writings. It contains more than forty essays on a variety of philosophical topics.
But who (you may ask) is Dennis Bonnette? For one, he’s a philosopher. More precisely, he’s a Catholic philosopher. More precisely still, he’s a Catholic philosopher of the Thomistic (hence Aristotelian) persuasion.
He is the author of two previous books, Origin of the Human Species (three editions so far) and Aquinas’ Proofs for God’s Existence.
Among Bonnette’s other achievement are these, that he is the father of seven adult children and the grandfather of twenty-five children.
Bonnette was a college professor of philosophy for forty years. Upon retirement, he found that he could not renounce his teacherly addiction to explaining difficult philosophical ideas. And so, no longer able to explain them orally to undergraduates, he took to explaining them in writing to broader and more well-educated audiences. It should be noted that, because these audiences included critics who issued critiques that were far more challenging than a teacher would find in a college classroom, Bonnette was compelled, in his written explanations, to work at a more precise and more sophisticated intellectual level. This book is made up of many of these later explanations, all of which first appeared in online journals.
Not the least merit of this volume is that it is written with clarity. My guess is that Bonnette’s ability to explain things clearly is the result of his old job requirement—he had to explain some rather difficult philosophical ideas to college students for whom philosophy was not at the top of the list of their worldly concerns. This is like Lincoln’s talent for plain writing, a talent very probably developed by his professional need to explain things to juries made up of prairie farmers and shopkeepers. Bonnette knows how to write a plain English sentence. He knows how to write economically; for instance, he will illustrate a point with one example instead of five or ten. And although his subject matter often compels him to use a technical vocabulary, he doesn’t revel in technicalities as many academics do.
In short, Bonnette writes for an audience of educated laypersons who happen to have an amateur interest in following philosophical arguments. He never forgets who makes up his intended audience.
It should come as a surprise to no one that Bonnette discusses a number of topics that have long been near and dear to the hearts of Thomists and Aristotelians. For instance:
The existence of God
The nature of God
The spirituality of the human soul
The immortality of the human soul
The distinction between sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge
The first principles of reason
The principle of non-contradiction
The principle of sufficient reason
The principle of causality
The impossibility of infinite regress
The existential contingency of everything that is not God
That an infinity being (God) alone can create being out of non-being
The distinction between time and eternity
That everything moved is moved by another
The problem of evil
But Bonnette also deals with some post-13th-century questions, questions that have emerged since the modern scientific revolution. For instance:
Modern naturalism and materialism
Modern skepticism and agnosticism
The compatibility of Thomism and modern physics
The idea of “existential inertia”
He even deals with some “current affairs” issues. For instance:
And he touches on a few specifically Catholic issues. For instance:
The heavenly knowledge of the Virgin Mary
Can the reality of Hell be reconciled with the goodness of God?
The apparitions at Fatima
Adam and Eve
Why Catholics are prone to believe in miracles
At first glance this book is a hodge-podge collection of articles dealing with this and that; a mere miscellany. But look closer and you’ll see that there is a unifying theme running through its nearly-600 pages. Bonnette sees that modern atheism or naturalism is the great contemporary danger faced by Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, and he further sees that skepticism—the belief that it is impossible for human beings (i.e., rational animals) to know anything with certainty—underlies atheism/naturalism. What’s more, he is convinced that Thomism is the philosophy best able to refute skepticism and naturalism.
I recommend this book for well-educated lay Catholics who are looking for an intellectual challenge. Professional philosophers and theologians will also profit from it. And it should be considered for advanced undergraduates taking courses in Thomism.
It is not a book that must be read starting at page one. You can start in the middle. You can begin with the book’s final essay. You can skip around. In fact you’ll be better off if you skip around (as I myself did). This is a book for grazing, the way cows in a field graze. They never try to eat everything all at once.
David R. Carlin is a former Democratic Majority Leader of the Rhode Island Senate, a retired professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the recent author of Atheistic Humanism, the Democratic Party, and the Catholic Church.
Featured: The Calmness of the Philosopher Pyrrho in the Storm, perhaps by the Master of Petrarch, ca. early 16th century.
David R. Carlin is a former Democratic state senator who was once a leading figure in Rhode Island politics. In his new book, Atheistic Humanism, the Democratic Party, and the Catholic Church, he explains that the “mind” of the Democratic Party has been converted to atheistic humanism, an ideology (or worldview) that is the deadly enemy of Catholicism. It is this ideology that has given America its present-day culture of sexual freedom, abortion, gay marriage, and transgenderism. More and more this atheistic ideology controls the chief propaganda organs of American culture, that is the entire Media-Education-Entertainment Complex, and of course the Democratic Party itself.
This excerpt from Atheistic Humanism, the Democratic Party, and the Catholic Church comes through the kind courtesy of Lectio Publishing.
When I had finished writing about ninety-nine percent of this book, I happened to be driving through my neighborhood one day (I was driving home following a periodic visit to my cardiologist) when I noticed a colorful cloth banner, rectangular in shape, hanging on somebody’s front porch. It said:
I slammed on my brakes in order that I might pause for a moment or two to admire the banner, which is a nearly perfect summary of the dangerous anti-Christianity mentality I am denouncing in this book, a mentality I call atheistic humanism. The person who made the banner is, I suppose, an atheistic humanist, and so, very probably, is the person who owns the porch in question.
If you know how to read the language of atheistic humanism, you will know how to interpret the many “pro” labels listed above.
“Pro-BLM” means “the USA is a systemically racist society, ruled by white supremacists”
“Pro-science” means “we don’t believe in the Bible or any other divine revelation”
“Pro-choice” means “pro-abortion”
“Pro-feminism” means “we deplore toxic masculinity”
“Pro-LGBTQ” means “we endorse an immense variety of sexual perversions”
“Pro-humanism” means “anti-Christianity and pro-atheism”
“Pro-immigrant” means “pro-open borders”
Atheistic humanists are smart people, at least usually, and so when making propaganda they know how to clothe their dangerous ideas in harmless, often even attractive, words and slogans. And so, instead of saying, “Let’s mass-murder unborn babies,” they say, “Let’s defend a woman’s right to choose.” And instead of saying, “Almost all white Americans are racists,” they say, “Black lives matter.” Instead of saying, “The Bible is bull***t,” they say, “We believe in science.” And so on.
Great civilizations sometimes collapse. If we have any doubts about that, we can read Arnold Toynbee’s multivolume work, A Study of History; or another multivolume work, Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In the second and third and fourth centuries AD, the old pagan civilization of the Greco-Roman world gradually but (as we now can see in retrospect) inevitably collapsed and was replaced by a new civilization based on Christianity.
It is possible that those of us living today are passing through a somewhat similar crisis of civilization, a crisis in which an old way of life is dying while a new is being born. If in those ancient days paganism, an old thing, was being replaced by a new thing, Christianity, so in our time Christianity, which is now an old thing, is perhaps being replaced something new, a worldview based on atheism. It is not easy for those living through one of these great transitions to know what is happening. Only after the transition is complete, only after the old thing has quite definitely passed away, can we be sure that it is truly dead and that it is therefore too late to save it. As the philosopher Hegel, meditating on the mysterious course of history, once said, “The Owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” So I’m not quite sure that our civilization is crumbling; perhaps we are simply going through a bad patch; maybe we’ll have to wait five hundred years before making a definitive judgment on that.
But something is happening, something momentous, whether we call it a bad patch or a collapse of our old civilization. Christianity is under severe attack by a great enemy, and it is this enemy—along with its political arm, the Democratic Party—that I plan to examine in this book. Although this attack is underway in many places, not just in the United States of America…
…But what is this new thing, this new thing that is a great enemy of Christianity? What should we call it? Many Christians, both Catholics and others, like to call it a new paganism, a neo-paganism. I think this is a great misnomer. The ancient paganism of the Roman-Greek world, quite unlike today’s anti-Christianity, was religious. All paganism is religious, paganism being the generic name for polytheistic religions. Ancient paganism certainly wasn’t religious in a Christian or monotheistic way, but without question it was religious. It had multitudes of gods, altars, rituals, and holy days. By contrast, this new thing, this candidate to replace Christianity, is not at all religious. Either it involves outright atheism, or it leans strongly in the direction of atheism. It is a decidedly secular or non-religious faith; more than non-religious, it is anti-religious; very specifically, it is anti-Christianity. At the same time, it is humanistic; or at least in its outwardly most attractive form it claims to be humanistic. A more or less accurate label for it would be secular humanism. A more accurate name still would be atheistic humanism—for atheism is the most thoroughgoing kind of anti-Christianity, and atheism lies at the core of this new and superficially benign faith.
There are various kinds of atheists. Some of them are beastly; they give vent to their basest, most animalistic impulses (think of violent criminals). Others are demonic; they love evil, not for the eventual good it may produce, but for its own sake (think of Nazis). The atheists I will be focusing on in this book are the (apparently) best kind, the humanistic kind. They are neither beastly nor demonic. They make an honest attempt to be human and humane. They even make an attempt (albeit a very unsuccessful attempt) to mimic what they imagine to be the ethic of Christianity. It is atheists of this kind—the “good” atheists, so to speak—that present the greatest danger to Christianity in general and to Catholicism in particular. I should point out, however, that once these “good” atheists are in command of society, the way will open for the entry of atheists of the beastly and demonic.
Ideological Structure of the Democratic Party
To understand today’s Democratic Party we must understand its ideological structure, and to understand this structure we have to see (a) who produces the party’s ruling beliefs and values, (b) who distributes these beliefs and values, and (c) who consumes them.
We may picture this structure as a pyramid. At the top of the pyramid are the producers, relatively small in number. Below them are the distributors, much larger in number. And at the base of the pyramid are the consumers, the enormous number of rank-and-file Democrats. The beliefs and values move downward, as with the force of gravity. They begin with the people at the top of the pyramid; they are eagerly seized upon by the people in the middle; and these middle people energetically pass these beliefs and values on to the party’s rank-and-file…
The producers of these strongly leftist beliefs and values are people who are commonly referred to as intellectuals, but who more correctly should be denominated as ideologues. “Intellectual” is a very broad category; it can refer to any highly educated person who has a lively and continuing interest in some field of thought. For instance, a Shakespeare scholar would be an intellectual, and so would a physicist, and so would a professor of constitutional law. But not all intellectuals are ideologues; in fact most of them are not. An “ideologue” is a sub-category of intellectual. He (or she) is an “activist” intellectual; an intellectual who is promoting a political agenda; an intellectual whose commitment to a more or less revolutionary outcome shapes his (or her) perception of political reality. The pure intellectual studies reality to see what conclusions ought to be drawn. The ideologue already “knows” the conclusions prior to beginning the study; he then shapes the evidence to fit his a priori conclusions.
The producers of the beliefs and values of the Democratic Party are ideologues, leftist ideologues—progressives they like to call themselves. They have a kind of ideal society in mind, and they believe that the Democratic Party is the political vehicle that can, if guided correctly—which is to say, if guided by themselves—contribute greatly to bringing this ideal society about.
Only rarely are these ideologues elected officials. Far more often they are professors at colleges and universities, including law schools; and these are often America’s very best colleges and universities and law schools. They can also be found in significant numbers at leftist “think tanks.” On some occasions they are journalists. Or they are writers of political or historical or sociological books (this last category largely overlapping with the earlier categories).
The distributors of these beliefs and values are persons who may be described as “passive ideologues” in contrast to the “active ideologues” just described. That is to say, they don’t create the leftist beliefs and values they adhere to, but they receive them with enthusiasm. These are the people who dominate what may be called the “command posts” of American popular culture—or what may alternatively be called America’s “propaganda industry.” I have in mind the leftists who dominate such fields as journalism (both electronic and print), the entertainment industry (Hollywood, TV, popular music, etc.), and our colleges and universities. It is also common for public school administrators to be distributors of these beliefs and values, less common (though far from unknown) for classroom teachers to be so. Minsters of liberal churches and theologian-professors at liberal seminaries are also distributors. Finally, we must count the great majority of Democratic elected officials, from local town councils up the President of the United States, as distributors—along with the political activists who help these officials get elected.
Some of these distributors are more enthusiastic in their leftism than others. Those who are very enthusiastic—an enthusiasm that sometimes, especially among young persons, verges on fanaticism—call themselves progressives, while the more temperate leftists prefer to call themselves liberals. Whether progressive or liberal, however, they take their beliefs and values from “above” and pass them along to the common people “below.” They are like missionaries, spreading a gospel they deeply believe in even though they didn’t invent it.
The producers and distributors of these leftist beliefs and values are of course also consumers of their beliefs and values. But the great majority, indeed the overwhelming majority, of consumers are rank-and-file Democrats who are for the most part non-ideological—or would be if left to their own devices. Their motives for adherence to the Democratic Party are various. Sometimes it is a matter of family tradition: “My parents were Democrats, my grandparents were Democrats,” and so on. Sometimes it is a matter of racial identity: “Most blacks are Democrats, I am black, therefore etc.” Sometimes it is a matter of labor union membership: “My union supports the Democrats, therefore etc.” Sometimes it is a matter of economic interest: “The Democrats are good for my paycheck or my welfare check, etc.” Sometimes it is a matter of personal inertia: “I have always voted Democrat, etc.”
Very often it is a matter of imagining that the Democratic Party today is essentially the same thing it was decades ago: “This is the party of FDR and JFK, so how can I not vote for it?” This is what may be called “the fallacy of essentialism.” Some things—geometrical figures, for instance, or numbers—have eternal essences. They never change. A square always was, is now, and always will be a plane figure with four equal sides and four 90-degree angles. Some people imagine that their favorite political party is rather like this; that it remains essentially what it was in its golden age.
Even though these Democratic voters are for the most part non-ideological, and even though they have little or no personal attachment to the leftist values of abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, recreational drug use, and euthanasia, and even though they don’t believe that the USA is a “systemically” or “fundamentally” racist society, and even though the whites among them (most of them are whites) don’t believe it is racist to assign heavy penalties for crimes of violence committed by blacks and other “persons of color,” and even though they have no wish that public schools should teach little kids to adopt an attitude of tolerance toward a variety of sexual perversions—even though all this, these rank-and-file Democrats are willing to go along with the ideological agenda handed down by the ideological rulers of the party. Why? Because it is their party. It is a party they are in the habit of trusting, a party they are in the habit of supporting. Besides, they don’t like the other party, the rival party, the Republicans—just as Red Sox fans don’t like the Yankees. Like good team players, they operate on the assumption that if the captains of their team say ABC while the other team says not-ABC, they will have to agree with leaders of their team; they too will have to say ABC. To do otherwise in the midst of battle would be an act of disloyalty.
In sum, that’s how a small number of people (the ideological leaders of the party), having persuaded a much larger number of people (the propaganda arm of the party), can shape the political preferences of a vast number of people (the rank-and-file members of the party). And that’s how an intellectual elite whose ideas and values are far out of the mainstream can shape the destiny of a nation. A small number of leftist ivory tower intellectuals/ideologues (at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, great state universities, etc.) win converts at vital propaganda outlets (the New York Times, MSNBC, Hollywood, etc.), and these leftist propagandists in turn tell ordinary Democrats what political and cultural agenda they should support.
Christ’s famous phrase, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6) provides Christians with an invaluable route to conversion. Here are some explanations.
I. “I am the Way”
First of all, whatever our vocation—our path is called Jesus. It’s all about following Jesus. He chooses the way, and I walk behind. Sometimes we’re tempted to organize our lives as we see fit, and once we’ve got everything organized, we pray to Jesus to make our plans a success. In other words, we say to Jesus: come and follow me! It seems to me, however, that in the Gospel it’s the other way around: it’s Jesus who tells us—come and follow me!
You can’t choose your path! “I would never have chosen to have a fourth child right away,” says one mother. We don’t choose our path; we accept it as a mystery.
However, we do choose how to move forward along that path—by dragging a ball and chain, or by saying a big “yes” to this path offered by providence. To say yes to the path is to say yes to Jesus; “I am the way” says Jesus!
So, I have to love my real situation today, however imperfect it may be. Of course, I can and must hope that this path will become smoother and clearer—I must hope to get married, have a child, find work, heal from a health problem or a wound of the heart—but in the meantime, I must love this path as it is, because it’s the one Jesus wants me to follow.
Let’s listen to the words of Wanda Poltawska, the spiritual little sister of Saint John Paul II, a Polish mother in great pain: “Loving God also means loving the path he has laid out for us. Very often, in fact, we sincerely want to love God… but we hate the path he leads us along!”
We need the strength of Grace to love the path God has laid out for me, to fully consent to what providence is giving me to live today. Let’s be gentle and patient with ourselves—sometimes we have to wrestle with God like Jacob, bumping up against His will, going through stages of inner anger or discouragement, before we can say a total, “Yes.” Yet however far we may be from true inner peace and authentic holiness, Jesus is with each and every one of us today; right where we are. Jesus did not say: “I am the end of the road”—but: “I am the way.”
II. “I am the Truth”
Jesus goes on to say, and here we hear something quite unexpected—truth is not a theory, nor a set of dogmas, however beautiful they may be. Truth is first and foremost—someone: “I am the Truth,” says Jesus. He is the Word in Whom God says everything, without the slightest lie.
Whereas for us, in our hearts and in our actions, truth and lies are inextricably intertwined. To say that someone is false does not inspire confidence! Only Jesus is “true”: “He was not yes and no,” writes Saint Paul, “but yes in him” (2 Cor 1:19).
So, it’s not just a question of adhering to a doctrine, but to someone, to Jesus. To know the truth is to know Jesus in an ever more personal way, to become a friend of Jesus, to live with Him, to stand close to Him, to listen to Him and talk to Him.
Isn’t my faith too cerebral, in the sense that it consists solely of my mind adhering to truths about God? Pope Francis often warns us against the danger of intellectualism. We need the Holy Spirit to bring our faith down from our heads into our hearts, to teach us to truly encounter Jesus, to let Him set His eyes on our souls, on our miseries, on our sins, not to shy away from the light of His gaze in order to get to the truth about ourselves.
III. “I am Life”
…says Jesus. Don’t we sometimes look at the banality of our daily lives and exclaim: “This is no life. I don’t want to go on like this! I want to live life to the full! We’re all waiting, more or less consciously, for something better, for fulfillment, for success, for liberation. Yet the years go by, life moves on, and nothing happens! Life remains the same, the daily dullness returns every morning!
But let’s make no mistake—the novelty we’re hoping for won’t come from external events, in a life that’s finally become exciting. The only novelty that can free us from routine lies within us. This inner source has a name and a face. It is not light or energy. It is Someone—the Holy Spirit. We sing in the Creed that He gives life: vivificantem. For Saint John Paul II, this was the most beautiful and important word in the Creed. This true life is expressed by St. Paul: “I live, but it is no longer I; it is Christ who lives in me. (Gal 2:20) This is the real liberation we’ve been waiting for! I live, but it’s no longer me. It’s no longer an existence confined solely to my ego—my health, my reputation, my plans, my fulfillment… We suffocate when we remain centered on ourselves! True life is the one that frees me from my ego, my isolation and my narrowness, and transforms the little things of each day into permanent praise.
So, in the words of Saint Elisabeth de La Trinité, “One is never banal! Oh,” she continues, “how empty is everything that has not been done for God and with God! Please, mark everything with the seal of love! If I were to start my life all over again, how I’d never waste another moment! It’s so serious, so serious, I’d like to live every minute full!”
Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us live in truth on the Paschal path traced out by Jesus. It is Jesus who gives the Holy Spirit, but it is Mary who draws Him!
Father Louis (Père Louis) is Prior of the Abbey of Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux, France. This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef
Featured: Christ Pantocrator and the Last Judgment, mosaic in the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, by the Florentine master, ca. 1300.