Secularism or Islamism: Two Nightmares?

The idea of an ideal world comes from the Christian idea of the salvation of the world. Al-Massih (the Messiah) has achieved the salvation of the world by his victory over Shaytan (Satan), obtained at the time of the Passion. This salvation has unhappily been rejected by one part of humanity, so in order that the world in its entirety may be saved, we must now await the manifestation of the Antichrist, Ad-Dajjal, and then the glorious Coming of Christ, who will purify the world of the Antichrist and of his supporters. (In the New Testament: Matthew 3:12; Matthew 13:36-43; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).

We can also say here that over the centuries, what we derived from Augustinism prevented Christians from announcing the true hope for the world and also from dialoguing with Muslims on the theme of the eschatological hope – for the world.

Those who reject the salvation of Al-Massih have kept the idea of the salvation of the world, or of an ideal world, but have charged themselves with the execution of the judgment of the world. The massacres perpetrated are an act of judgment, from which it is expected an ideal world will emerge, liberated or submitted, but pure and perfect. (And there is also satanic nihilism in which there is no hope at all remaining).

We find this idea in the secularism of the French Revolution where the revolutionaries massacred those that resisted them, in the illusory hope of a liberated world. We find it again in the ideal of the Soviet conquest of the world by the Socialist International.

Islamist thought also aims at massacring the unsubmitted in view of an ideal world which is “submitted” to the same logic (which would explain why global secularist movements are sometimes the first to finance these Islamic movements).

This thought is expressed in numerous hadiths of the Muslim tradition, but as it involves armed combat, these writings circulate in a rather private, non-official way: Muslim governments, conscious of the subversive charge against these traditions do not favor their exposition in the full light of day. In effect, on the basis of such a belief, the least bit of preaching or media campaign defining “the forces of Evil to combat” is capable of drawing believers into massive combat. And thus all manipulations are possible.


Francoise Breynaert is a secular oblate of the Fraternity of Our Lady of the Desert (Belgium). A doctor of theology, she has published foundational works (biblical, Christological) and also Marian and spiritual works. She has also done theological research on the salvation of non-Christians and the Good News for the deceased, and on the Coming of Christ, which the West often confounds, unhappily, with the end of the world, and finally on the exegesis of orality in connection with the Christians of the East. Her works are recognized (imprimatur, episcopal prefaces) in France and abroad. Her research has interested Islamologists who, in turn, have made her part of their studies.


The featured image shows, The Annunciation, from Mir’at al-quds (a Mirror of Holiness), Mughal India, ca. 1602-1604.

Mary, Queen Of Families: The Forgotten Apparition Of Le Ghiaie di Bonate

Last summer, during a brief break in the pandemic, I was sitting at a family dinner, close to my aunt, Emma (90 years old), and casually the conversation turned to St. John Paull II and the Holy Virgin’s apparition at Fatima.

All of a sudden my aunt Emma said, “Well, I was present at a Virgin apparition when I was young…”

“Sorry auntie, you were what?”

“Yes, I was present at two of the 13 apparitions that took place at Le Ghiaie di Bonate. I remember very well. It was spring 1944, because the war was still raging in our region, and it was very difficult to get there.”

“But auntie you never told us anything like that before!”

“When you grow old, you have very little concern about daily life in the present, and remembrance of old times comes back very easily and strong.”

And she briefly recounted to the amazed party her experience.
The apparition site was some 15 miles north of our home and the word spread instantly, despite censorship and harsh war-time. She and her friends first went on a small horse-cart from the farm, along adjacent country roads. But they did not get too far because all the roads were clogged with people; and so they had to walk the last 4 miles, thus ending up very far from the place where the seer was receiving the apparition.

Adelaide Roncalli in ecstasy at Le Ghiaie di Bonate, with doctors surrounding her.

Then she went a second time, two days later, and this time she and her friends rode their bicycles at night, so they could reach the apparition site. They made their way to the precise spot where my aunt could see the event from a very short distance.

Adelaide Roncalli among the faithful at Le Ghiaie di Bonate.

The seer was seven-year-old Adelaide Roncalli, a blonde girl of humble origins, who wore a white ribbon in her hair. She was standing on a podium and after some minutes she went into a trance glancing at a remote point. And thus she stood, despite the doctors crowding around her tiny body, piercing her arms and cheeks and monitoring her blood pressure and heart beat.

After few minutes, the seer came around and briefly released a short summary of the message received from the Holy Virgin to the surrounding crowd and then she was taken away by the police force that was in charge of her security.

Here aunt Emma finished her story; and she could not tell me what happened afterwards, and why this apparition has had so little recognition from the official Church.

I had driven tens of times through the village of Bonate and had seen the brown tourism road sign, showing the way to the “Site of the 1944 Apparitions.” (Yes, the road sign actually does say, “Site of the 1944 Apparitions,” but no mention of any sanctuary of the Virgin). And so now, the surprising revelation by aunt Emma ignited my desire to learn more about this event.

My research was not easy because most of the publications were written and published by local authors for use only by the supporters of the apparition. However, thanks to the help of my many Christian friends around Lombardy, I could put together enough details to arrive at a reasonable understanding of the events of that fateful May in 1944.

Most, if not all, Marian apparitions are marked by common features: One or more seer; very often young, but certainly always very simple persons, a message entrusted to the seer for universal revelation and miracles. Le Ghiaie was by no means less in this “standard.”

The Seer

Adelaide Roncalli (her grandfather was a relative of Angelo Roncalli, better known today as, St. John XXIII) was a country girl of seven at the time of the apparition. On May 13, she was playing with her siblings in the field close to her parents’ farm at Le Ghiaie (literally, “The Gravels” because it is located by the side of the Brembo river) when her aunt, Annunciata, asked her to gather some wildflowers to adorn the small Madonna altar at the farmhouse.

While Adelaide was picking some elder flowers she suddenly stood still, as if lost to the world. Her siblings immediately ran home yelling, “Come quickly, Adelaide is standing dead!” But her parents did not do anything.

Adelaide Roncalli on her first Communion.

Adelaide then recovered, eagerly walked home and told her siblings, “Do not tell anybody, but I have just seen the Holy Virgin.” Her younger sister, Palmina, however, told their parents about what had happened. They did not believe Adelaide and punished her. But the news spread like wildfire.

The Holy Virgin appeared to this very young girl, speaking in plain Bergamasco accent, over two successive periods: From 13 to 21 of May and, after one week of announced hiatus, from 28 to 31 of May. Most of the times, she was accompanied by St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, and a large part of the message received by Adelaide concerned the challenging time the Christian family was facing and on the importance of a faithful and honest life of the spouses as the key to a happy and virtuous life. The Holy Virgin also gave Adelaide some news about the war and the current times and predicted for her a troubled life, but for which She would compensate with eternal life in Paradise.

Poor Adelaide dearly paid for her visions of the celestial Mother. Due to the immense resonance of the Le Ghiaie facts, she was separated from her family and put into a religious boarding school for more than one year.

A priest (we will not disclose his name for mercy’s sake) entrusted by the bishop of Bergamo to stay close to the girl and prepare the evidences for the oncoming trial, exerted all possible psychological and moral pressure on the girl and literally dictated to her the terrible abjure memo that the child finally wrote and signed: “I am a liar I did not see the Holy Virgin and I made up the story myself.” Based on this forced confession, in 1948 the diocesan court of Bergamo ruled that there was no evidence of supernatural intervention at Le Ghiaie and forbade any type of Marian cult.

Adelaide spent the successive ten years wandering from one religious boarding school to another to keep her away from Le Ghiaie. Then at age 15, she entered the Sacramentine cloister as the Virgin had promised her. But after a few years of persistent gossip, and because she was held suspect when not in open hostility by the official Church and the other sisters, Adelaide was forced to quit the habit and returned to a secular life. She became a nurse, married, had children, lived in anonymity in Milan, and died in 2014. She disappeared from public life; and only in the late 1980s did she release a notarized declaration, in which she stated once and for all that she genuinely had had the apparitions of the Holy Virgin, in May 1944.

The Message

The apparitions occurred over 13 meetings, in which the Holy Virgin spoke of several subjects to Adelaide, including the then terrible war-conditions in Italy, fear for the life of the Holy Father who, at that time was made almost a prisoner in Rome by the German army. But without question the focus of the messages was on a few, core themes: Family, repentance and sanctification of suffering.

All the scholars that have studied the texts of the revelations to Adelaide are unanimous in understanding the three themes as being tightly interlinked, since the sins (THOSE SINS, as the Virgin told the seven-year-old girl) committed by mothers and fathers bring disruption to the family and open the door to sorrows and disgrace. Hence repentance from sins, a return to the sanctity of the family, and incessant prayer to restore disordered family life. It is also very notable that the last apparition of the first cycle (May 21) was purely a speechless vision which many analysts interpret as a fine theological sermon on the Christian family.

This was the vision: Adelaide saw the Holy Family sitting in a temple, together with some praying animals (a donkey, a dog, a sheep and a horse). All of sudden the horse left the temple through the wide-open door and began stomping a beautiful white lily field nearby. St. Joseph went for the horse and brought him back to the temple where he joined the praying group again. The horse is the father who is free (the temple is open) to destroy marital fidelity (the white lily): only the perseverance of prayer and the Christian life can sustain and keep the ordered life of the family. And yes, of course, according to the diocesan court this was the invention of a seven-year-old girl!

Well, you do not need to be an educated theologian to appreciate that the family-focused message of Le Ghiaie came right at the beginning of probably the very first period in the history of humanity when the destruction of the traditional family became a priority: Sexual revolution, divorce, abortion, homosexuality and its derivatives. It is to be remembered that the seer of Fatima, Lucia dos Santos, predicted that the last fight of the devil for the domination of the earth would be against the family.

The Miracles

As in all Marian events, the most glorious miracle of all generated by the apparition was the grand awakening of the people’s faith. Just from May to July of 1944, a multitude estimated at 3 million (3 million!) flooded the crumbled roads and the precarious railroads of North Italy to Le Ghiaie, to pray at the place where Adelaide saw the Holy Virgin. The pilgrims asked for the safe return of sons and husbands from Russia, for the end of the civil war, for healing of diseases; but most of all they prayed for the conversion of their households.

We have positive evidence of all this because a lot of visitors wrote their prayers on small slips of paper and left them at the apparition spot. A few thousand of them were happily preserved by Don Cesare Vitali, then the parish priest of Le Ghiaie, and lately studied by Ermenegilda Poli who confirmed that two appeals to the Virgin predominate: Bring back my husband/son from the war and convert my father/husband/son to the true religion. The endless processions marched day and night to the tempo of rosary and Marian chants and it is recorded in the newspapers that the bystanders at café terraces stood up and took their hats off at the passage of the pilgrims.

Spring 1944 was a severe war-time period for the North of Italy, with daily air raids, aimed at destroying the heavy war industry, as well as the morale of the population by massive bombing of cities. Nothing happened to Le Ghiaie, nor to any of the pilgrims heading there, though once back home they had to suffer the raids of allied aircrafts. Several times airplanes were seen and heard above the crowd gathered to attend the apparitions, but no harm came to the people.

According to Mons. Vittorio Bonomelli, a priest who acted as allied intelligence during most of the war, the news of the apparition quickly spread among the allied forces and particular attention and instructions were given to the pilots operating in the sector. He also disclosed that the apparitions of the Virgin saved the city of Bergamo from a massive bombing the allied HQ had already planned, one of the few cities in North Italy to be spared from a common and terrible fate.

Miracles are frequently, if not always, associated with healing from chronic disease or deformity, and Le Ghiaie was no exception to the rule of Marian apparition. During the two cycles of apparitions and for the first months afterwards unexpected and inexplicable healings happened at a very frequent pace: paralytics stood up and left their wheelchairs or crutches; children with impaired hearing returned to hear, totally or partially blinds recovered the sight and a lot of other healings occurred to youngsters, adults and elders alike. Many of the priests that were present at the time reported this incredible season of grace in their diary with the word of Matthew 11, 4-5 “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Among the tens of reported and evidenced graces during the first period of Le Ghiaie, I wish to single out the story of Bianca Nicoletti, a young girl of five, suffering of Pott’s disease, a tuberculosis of the spine, leading to the degeneration of the intervertebral joints and very often of the vertebrae. In 1944 there was very little chance to cure the disease; and the doctors of Udine treated the young girl with a cast back brace for her entire upper body, in the hope of a possible surgery when (and if) the girl turned 12.

In July 1944, her mother heard about the apparitions of the Virgin to Adelaide and decided to go there. Udine is approximately 200 miles from Le Ghiaie and mother and girl alone did the entire journey, travelling by railroad, in freight wagons when necessary. The girl could not walk, and the mother literally carried her for all the journey. And when the railroads were stopped because of the wreckage caused by air raids, they went by stealing passage on the few trucks that dared to defy the allied road bombing and strafing.

It took them some days, but eventually they made it to Le Ghiaie where, during a prayer session, the girl asked her mother to put her on the ground. The cast simply burst and she started walking, recovered forever. A lot of people witnessed the miracle, and all their records were collected, together with the incredible results of the new specialized medical examination back at home. The Holy Virgin had promised Adelaide that the pains of the infirm would always be compensated, if asked through prayers, perseverance and repentance of sins. The mother of Bianca is the perfect example of true devotion that leads to redemption.

Many observers see Le Ghiaie as the completion of the revelation of Fatima; and as at Fatima, thousands of people had the opportunity to appreciate the “sun dance” on May 21, at the occasion of the last apparition of the first cycle; and these people then left accurate records of the miracle of the sun, when it spun around fast, opaque white in color, which did not hurt the eyes to look at, and which radiated a light of many colors. The phenomenon was visible for ten minutes in many different places around Bergamo and was positively confirmed by the media of the time.

The Present

Despite the large quantity of evidence and the endless stream of pilgrims in the first ten years after the apparitions, the church is still denying the event and remains anchored to the extorted confession of a persecuted seven-year-old girl: “I am liar.” As a matter of fact, a lot of eminent churchmen were fully convinced of the truth of Le Ghiaie di Bonate, among them Pope St. John XXIII (who wrote a letter, stating that the confession of Adelaide was invalid from a canonical perspective). There was Blessed Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, who sent Father Agostino Gemelli, a physician and psychologist and founder of the Catholic University of Milan, to examine Adelaide whom he found perfectly normal and unable to make up this story. And there was Pope St. John Paul II, who introduced in 1986, in the Litany of Loreto, the invocation to the Queen of Families.

All bishops of Bergamo, from the time of the event up to now, are firm believers of Le Ghiaie, though none of them had enough courage to start a revision of the 1948 trial. Nowadays, at Le Ghiaie, there is still the old, small chapel that was built before 1948, surrounded by a little gallery and a lot of trees and greenery. Recently in 2019, the bishop of Bergamo, Francesco Beschi, authorized the cult of Mary Queen of Families at the small chapel, where flocks of believers still come to implore the Mother of the Family.

Le Ghiaie di Bonate chapel today.

At the end of this incredible story, I guess the readers will share the same simple questions that haunt all believers of Le Ghiaie: Why such a perseverance in rejecting the evidence? Why deprive the People of God of the comforting company and motherly care of the Holy Virgin? I am sure there might be hundreds of good answers, starting with the current preference of the Church for pastoral issues rather than supernatural events, or of smelling “the smoke of Satan in the temple of God,” as prophetically announced by Pope St. Paul VI. But I am not a theologian nor a cleric scholar. I am a believer and can suggest a couple of insights.

Sometimes the devil’s advocate wins the lawsuit, and in the case of Le Ghiaie this is particularly evident and true, when you look at the dramatic disruption that the family has endured over the last 50 years. The Virgin came to warn us about a terrible incumbent danger; but we simply shrugged our shoulders and went the easy way the devil had planned for us.

The faithful at Le Ghiaie di Bonate chapel.

No matter how powerful and formidable the intervention of heaven is, without man’s cooperation, nothing can be achieved on earth in virtue of the supreme liberty God has awarded to us. And this brings to my mind the Gospel of Luke (16, 19-31) when the dead and condemned rich man asks Lazarus to go back to his brothers and warn them, and Abraham replies, “If they did not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Note: Most of this essay was outlined and meditated upon, on May 13, the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin to Adelaide, while I was walking alone the 15 miles from my home to Le Ghiaie, to thank Our Lady Queen of the Families, for the unexpectedly fast and complete recovery of a very close friend of mine who had been struck by a life-threatening case of Covid.

Completed on May 26, Feast of Our Lady of the Fountain at Caravaggio.


Maurizio Mandelli is a businessman by trade and enthusiastic amateur scholar of local history and the arts. He has published two books (War of the Spanish Succession in Lombardy and The Italian Campaign of Napoleon III). He is a regular contributor to local magazines on religion, ethics, society, history and the arts.


The featured image shows, Our Lady of Le Ghiaie di Bonate. The painting of the Virgin in a red robe, with two grey doves in her hands, was made under the instruction of Adelaide herself.

Freemasonry In France: A Brief History

Masonic history has been (and still is) the area of predilection for inducements or hasty generalizations, made more hazardous by passionate allegiances, including the eternal conspiracy theory. Conspirators are definitely everywhere. The alleged Freemason plot comes to us from Abbé Barruel whose work consisted of asserting (more than truly establishing) that the French Revolution had been a process organized for decades in lodges and clubs, especially Jacobin, in order to allow the liberal bourgeoisie to seize power.

There is some basis to this intuition, but it must be examined through the small end of the telescope, if only to give some solid arguments to this entirely sensible idea which deserves to have its rational character and historical foundations demonstrated.

Freemasonry was introduced in France in 1725. The founders were three Catholic Jacobites with flowery names, exiles from their own country – Derwentwater, MacLeane and O’Héguerty.

At its beginnings in France, the movement was an almost exclusively Parisian even and even an event of the “Left Bank,” and was born and developed in the district dominated by the Maurist abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, that cosmopolitan district, where lived most of the foreigners to the capital. The meeting of the first Saint-Thomas Lodge took place at an English caterer’s, in the rue des Boucheries, in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; and the first known members were mostly emigrants.

The history of the beginnings of French masonry quickly becomes that of its divisions. Ideological diversification took place within this Parisian setting, around 1732. Very quickly, personalities from London set up Anglican rite lodges: the history of French masonry would be played out for a few years on this original duality.

After 1732, there arose ateliers, under the great lodge of England, whose spirit contrasted with that of the first Masonic houses of Jacobite origin. From its first beginnings, French Freemasonry encountered politics. The reason is not difficult to understand. Founded and animated by Jacobites, the first Saint-Thomas Lodge (the lodge of the grand master), could not but be suspect by the Grand Lodge of London, for it sought to create a rival masonry on the continent. Hence the recognition granted in 1732 by the Grand Lodge of England to Saint Thomas No. 2, which included the Duke of Picquigny, governor of Picardy; M. Chauvelin, State Councilor and former Intendant of Amiens; the poet Gresset, the marquises of Locmaria and Armentières; Mr. Davy de La Fautrière, adviser to parliament and former member of the Club de l’Entresol, who rubbed shoulders with a silversmith named Le Breton. If the left bank provided shelter for the first assizes of the order, soon enough, it became customary to hold meetings either on the right bank, in the hotels of Soissons and Gèvres – famous gaming houses in Paris – or outside the city walls, in some cabaret in the suburbs, at La Courtille or at the Quai de la Râpée.

Worried about the growth of predominantly Jacobite masonry and which therefore was hostile to the Hanoverian monarchy, the Grand Lodge of London created rival lodges. At the end of 1735 or 1736, a third lodge (of Louis d’Argent) was born in rue de Bussy, where the British Ambassador, Montesquieu, the Count of Saint-Florentin, Secretary of State, the Duke of Kingston met. It had for master the Duke of Aumont and for Worshipful Master, a painter and restorer of paintings, by the name of Collins, of English origin, who organized the new rite. A little later, in 1736, the lodge of Coustos-Villeroy was born (which had links with the Protestant bank) whose northern note was strongly marked – it included Germans and Scandinavians who outnumbered the French. Its most active and influential member was an English subject, Goustaud or Coustos, a goldsmith by trade, descendant of French Huguenots who had emigrated after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Paris therefore had four lodges at the end of 1736.

In 1737, Freemasonry, which had enjoyed rapid favor, particularly in high society, established itself in Lorraine with the new court, which gathered there around King Stanislas in 1737. Without being strictly certain, the affiliation of the king is infinitely probable and this Masonic affiliation coexisted without apparent inconvenience with the spirit of the Enlightenment and a religiosity with very emotional forms. You could call it syncretism.

There was thus very early a double current among the freemasons of France: the “Gallican” current, Catholic and anti-Hanoverian, and the “Anglican” current, of a democratic and Protestant tendency. This reformed and liberal tendency ended up supplanting the Catholic and Jacobite elements which, however, survived in the provinces, in particular at the court of Lunéville, thanks to the tenacious actions of three persons: Dominique O’Héguerty, Louis de Tressan and the abbot, François-Vincent-Marc de Beauvau-Craon, Primate of Lorraine.

Many of these noble-lineage Masons, often flanked by an enterprising commoner who was the real animator, did not go beyond snobbery. The Goustaud-Villeroy lodge maintained that the order was not an order of chivalry, but of society; and that although several lords and princes were happy to be in it, any man of probity could be admitted without wearing the “sword.”

The nobility was found more in the Scottish rite, with its glorification of the Christian knight, according to a very hierarchical ceremonial, and with all its traditions and its outlook. This explains the permanence of the two Masonic obedience. One according to the Jacobite rite, esoteric and chivalrous, refuge of an aristocracy still attached to its past splendor. The other, the Hanoverian rite, rationalist, liberal and anti-Roman, welcoming to the big bourgeoisie admiring the Enlightenment. The first developed in societies that remained both seigneurial and Catholic, such as that of Lorraine; the second, naturally, found its chosen ground in Paris.

How did they develop in the rest of France? It is up to historians to respond to that; and this is undoubtedly enlightening in the French regions and the differences in resistance.

These associations were then secret, in the sense of being unofficial and private. To the notion of association, the Masonic practice of the time added those of leisure, pleasure, agreement and spontaneous sociality (outside the State and traditional hierarchies) – all notions that cut across and transcended orders and classes. Put into practice, they had every chance of attracting everybody; and there were many, including those forms of sociability which fulfilled more or less avowed and expected egalitarian aspirations. Relations were based on the principle of equality between men as individuals; and the internal hierarchy of lodges was independent of the hierarchies of the surrounding society. According to historian Ran Halévy, Masonic lodges were thus at the origins of democratic sociability. We can certainly believe that.

It was not until 1737 that the existence of Freemasonry was revealed to a still small public, and at the same time as the political orientation of the movement was revealed. Before that date, the police gazettes made no mention of it. No more than that of London, the French government, could not ignore the activity of the lodges. Its attitude was quite embarrassed. The all-powerful Cardinal de Fleury, who narrowly prevented Louis XV’s initiation into the mysteries of the order, very much warned against Freemasonry. He was behind the police searches carried out in 1737, which brought to light rather suddenly the existence and activity of the Parisian lodges. The police confined themselves to harassment – they bothered a few accomplices, innkeepers who had hosted lodges, but they were careful not to prosecute influential Masons or dignitaries, which would have raised a considerable scandal, affecting the entourage of the king. It was difficult to question or arrest princes, dukes and peers, knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit, a Minister of State (Marshal d’Estrées), two Secretaries of State, not to mention magistrates, ecclesiastics, and so on.

On the eve of the Revolution, there were 650 lodges and some 35,000 affiliates, if not more. It was this new, predominantly Protestant Freemasonry that undoubtedly played a major role in the genesis of the Revolution. The revolutionary principle was at work there, all the more effective as it was more involuntary, implicit and discreet. From discretion to secrecy, there is only one step. The Grand Lodge was regulator until 1773. It was then that the Grand Orient took over. It emphasized the revolutionary trait, and therefore enforced it.

French freemasonry after 1773 was more clearly in contradiction with what remained of order in society – for instance that which traditionally embodied this order, in particular, the Church, which was often reproached for its tendency to recognize the authority of Caesar, and thus alienating the law of Jesus.

Faced with the event called “Revolution,” the “fourth estate,” that of the pen, was divided into two, regardless of rank, status, or fortune. But besides the means available to those who held state power, the fight of the Friends of the King was not fought on an equal footing and it was valued above all by the quality of a thought that asserted itself. It ended in a bloodbath. Those who left in time survived.

But it was easier to guillotine than extract the idea whose line of development (or survival) we can readily follow – from the Friends of the King to ultracism and legitimism, from legitimism to the moral order, from traditionalism to Action française. The continuity of such a current of though tests, in a way, the assertion of the Masonic conspiracy dear to Father Barruel, who had glimpsed a relationship that he was unable to explain and that serial history has begun to shed light on.

“Church of the Republic,” “Missionary of liberalism,” “School of equality” – all would gradually assert themselves as a true society within society.

There is hardly any chance that this history will find today the historical light which is necessary to understand how we went from a seemingly innocent association to a secret society, to a Church of the Republic, whose avowed aim today is to build a counter-Christianity – and therefore to destroy Catholicism.


Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.


The featured image shows the initiation of an apprentice Freemason, a colored engraving from ca. 1805, based on a French one of 1745.

Which “Ecological Conversion?”

Ecological frenzy feeds on the fear of collapse and gives rise to many very different attitudes. Between the excesses, the integral ecology of the Church traces a path respectful of all balances which only achieves its full coherence in a process of conversion.

To make the libertine of thought feel how dizzying their emptiness is before the Everlasting, which understands them and which they can only try to understand, in order to prepare their souls for conversion – such is the famous approach of Pascalian apologetics. Fright as a propaedeutic. Anguish as a preamble to metaphysical conversion. And this is also the method of a certain ecology of the doom-and-gloom variety.

The call for “ecological conversion” is fueled by the anguish of collapse. It is necessary to describe a crisis so that the feeling of ecological urgency arises, and with it the call for a radical change of lifestyle, a reversal of perspectives. The almost metaphysical vertigo, which engenders the consideration of the fragility of life and its conditions of existence, therefore, seems to entail a religious attitude.

It is one of the paradoxes of our time to seek in ecology the most ultimate contradiction to its technical frenzy. As if the consumption of organic quinoa seeds could make modern humans forget their addiction to new technologies. The recent investitures of so many mayors bearing this label of ecology, during the last elections in France, revealed both the omnipresence of the question of ecology in people’s minds and the great diversity of realities that it covers. There is Cassandra with apocalyptic prophecies, aka, Greta Thunberg now consecrated as priestess and pythia of this new spiritual order, which has given rise to public demonstrations of disturbing fervor, when it does not use openly pagan voodoo rituals, as in the case, for example, of the term “Demeter” used in viticulture.

It may be enlightening to read on this subject, Murray Bookchin, a thinker who worried about the epidemic rise of a “spiritual” ecology, and according to whom ecological problems are emptied of all social content and reduced to a mythical interaction of natural forces. Even among some Christian environmentalists, it seems that the way to Heaven sometimes resembles a bike trail, so that the question arises whether the way is even now clearly understood. Thus the “Green Church” label recently set down by the French Bishops’ Conference might well raise questions. Should the epidemic rise of this spiritual ecology worry Catholics? Is it a prelude to a radical conversion of the soul towards its Creator and Savior, or an ersatz conversion within the Church itself?

It appears that the relationship that man has with the Earth, which welcomes and precedes him, brings to light three possible attitudes that engage the individual in various ways.

Surface Ecology

The first attitude is a surface ecology, well-intentioned but really just navel-gazing, and steeped in inconsistencies. This explains the paradox of the Whole Food movement in the United States, offering “organic” products from all over the world, and also prospering on the awareness of the undeniable ravages of an ultra-productivist agricultural policy on the other side of the Atlantic. The recent takeover of this sector by the giant Amazon shows how much the logic of the market has taken hold of this attitude to better serve increasingly hegemonic group interests. In La Cyberdépendance: pathologie de la connexion à l’outil Internet (Cyberdependence: Pathology of the Connection to Internet Use), the psychiatrist Philip Pongy writes: “Capitalism is a past master in the art of recovering everything, including its most critical and virulent opponents. Promoting conviviality on Twitter strengthens Silicon Valley. To talk about degrowth on TV is to serve the entertainment industry.”

Thus, the consumer who eats quinoa seeds and soybeans from the ends of the earth, after leaving the overheated gym, can afford good intentions at little cost. The attention paid to the nutritional quality of food from large-scale distribution only reinforces the domination of a system of culture and consumption, sinful in its very essence. This ecology in no way educates the selfishness of consumers, governed by their pleasure principle, but rather adorns their impulses with a green polish. It is therefore not a question of a conversion of the individual but of the exaltation of his desire. It is not surprising that this pageantry-ecology can culminate in the apology for PMA, or in protests, because the endocrine disruptors contained in the waters of the Seine from the contraceptive pills discharged by Parisians which are causing a sex-change in fish, thus promoting “gender fluidity” among the lower orders. The primacy of the individual at the expense of the Whole is thus the matrix of this first green imposture.

“Deep Ecology”

The obverse of this surface conversion, is the second attitude, which is not mistaken in calling itself “deep ecology.” This Malthusian and guilty ecology, far more ideological, makes the Whole triumph over the individual. Humans are too many; they are a parasite; potential polluters who can be easily intimated by their carbon footprint, and must be destroyed. The appalling number of vasectomy treatments, the new face of this thousand-headed hydra that is the culture of death, illustrates the dissemination of this thesis to the general public. This ideology of Greenpeace activists, who immolate themselves when a whale is slaughtered, or castrate themselves to avoid giving life, is part of a vegan and animalist movement ranging from the agit-prop of League 214 (which wants to highlight the suffering of animals by shocking acts) to the candidates of animalist parties that we saw appear during the last European campaigns. It is no longer a question of exalting the desires of the subject, but of refusing any preeminence of human nature.

In this new face of transhumanism, man is nothing more than the link in a chain of mammals, all equally capable of suffering, and therefore all potentially subjects of law. The regulations protecting farm animals are thus underpinned by the recognition of their sensitivity; that is to say, of their capacity to feel pleasure, suffering and emotions. In France, it is Article L214 of the Rural Code (codification of a law of 1976) which mentions their character as sensitive beings. In 2015, the Civil Code recognized that animals are sentient beings, who yet remain subject to the regimen of property. On January 29, 2021, the National Assembly adopted at first reading, with modifications, the bill aimed at strengthening the fight against animal abuse.

Integral Ecology

Consideration of the singular vocation of the human soul and the duties which bind it to Creation, which has no rights but towards which the human sou has duties, can resolve this antinomy. Man is not an animal like any other precisely because his freedom makes him capable of taking care of Creation that is entrusted to him. This answers the anti-speciesist.

Ecology can thus only be chosen in an integral way; that is to say, by involving all dimensions of existence, and by requiring coherence. Such a consideration, to which the luminous encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si, beckons, is therefore at the same time an ecology of nature, a human ecology and an ecology of peoples, with each of these three orders meriting its balance to be preserved by the application of a principle of precaution. Ecology, which seems dangerous when it abolishes all transcendence in order to spiritualize matter, takes on meaning if it opens a Franciscan path of poverty and sobriety that takes care of the common home by considering creation as the image of the Creator, a mirror of His greatness. The “ecological conversion” is therefore neither ontologically nor chronologically first – it is the consequence of the choice to follow Christ, so that the most successful model of ecological life is undoubtedly the monastery.


Maylis de Bonnières is a French educator in philosophy. (This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef. Translated from the French by N. Dass).


The featured image shows, “Rocky Mountain Waterfall,” by Albert Bierstadt, painted in 1898.

Medieval Philosophy Redefined As The Latin Age

Through the kind courtesy of St. Augustine’s Press, we here offer to our readers an excerpt from Medieval Philosophy Redefined As The Latin Age, a newly published work of the late John Deely, one of the foremost semioticians of our time. He taught at the University of Saint Thomas and Saint Vincent College and Seminary. He passed away in 2017.

In this excerpted work, Deely brilliantly establishes the continuity of medieval thought in modernity.

Please do support the great work being done by St. Augustine’s Press by purchasing a copy of this book.


The 17th century crash and burn of Scholasticism—the tradition of commentary on Aristotle (in philosophy) and Lombard (along with the Bible in theology) begun in the late 1100s—resulted from accumulated abuses on the part of authorities civil and religious, abuses in which the scholastic “establishment” within the universities was all-too-often complicit. What discredited the Scholastics in the end was the actual demonstration b men we now call “scientists” of basic truths about the universe that scholastics denied—while encouraging church and state officials to take actions of repression and thought-control. Not until 1757 did the Roman Church lift its prohibition from 1616 of books dealing with Copernicus’ view that the earth was not the center of the physical universe, and not until 1835 did an edition of the Index of Forbidden Books appear which no longer listed as prohibited the works of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler!

However understandable, the turning away from scholasticism in philosophy turned out to be a matter of throwing out the baby with the bathwater; for thinkers of the time were so taken with the experimental and mathematical techniques that had shown the earth to move and the stars to be other suns that they came to believe that the whole edifice of human knowledge, without remainder, could be rebuilt on the basis of science in this modern, empirical and mathematical sense. The ascendancy of this belief defined the historical epoch that has come to be called the Enlightenment, the belief that philosophers might ask questions, but only scientists could actually give answers. If you think that this Enlightenment attitude is a thing of the past, you are mistaken. Yet increasingly has it come to be recognized that if the whole of the knowledge we acquire before becoming scientists has no independent validity, then science itself would have no validity.

The first major thinker seriously to recognize this situation, or at least most completely to do so, was Charles Sanders Peirce. Borrowing a terminology coined by Jeremy Bentham, Peirce pointed to the difference between critical knowledge based on common experience or “cenoscopy”, presupposed to the validity of the specialized foci of modern experimental and mathematical science, in contrast with the knowledge that only experimentation and mathematization of results can produce, or “ideoscopy”, which is science in the modern sense. Until now, philosophers generally, in desperation, have tried appealing to “common sense” as the basis upon which philosophy has a legitimacy of its own prior to and independent of science. But so discredited has the notion of “common sense” become in intellectual culture that appeal to it has little chance of persuading a wide audience. What is needed, rather, is the recognition that, while both science and “common sense” depend upon “the total everyday experience of many generations of multitudinous populations”, yet “such experience is worthless for distinctively scientific purposes”.

The “distinctively scientific purposes” includes, however, both exploration of human experience that requires experimentation to advance knowledge and the more general “scientific purpose” to evaluate and expose in critically controlled terms that overall framework of knowledge within and on the basis of which scientific research comes to be conducted in the first place. Articulation of the presupposed overall framework of knowledge and of independent results attainable within it too requires “science” (as critically controlled objectification), but not ideoscopic science: here is the domain proper to philosophy, cenoscopic science. It has a legitimacy of its own, and this is what the early moderns lost sight of in their enthusiasm for the then-firmly-established-possibilities of ideoscopy. Moreover, the most basic of the cenoscopic lines of investigation proves to be precisely inquiry into the action of signs, “semiosis”, because it turns out that cenoscopy and ideoscopy alike depend on this action throughout for whatever knowledge they succeed to establish.

Now it so happens that the first realization of semiosis as underlying the whole of animal experience and human knowledge — that it is the action of signs which makes experience and knowledge so much as possible in any form—was the distinctive achievement of the Latin Age. That is not the whole story of medieval thought, but it is the untold part of the story, the part without which (as all the modern “histories of philosophy” taken together illustrate) medieval philosophy cannot be seen in its distinctive unity overall, extending from the break with ancient Greek philosophy around Augustine’s time to the modern break with Latin philosophy in the lifetime of Galileo, Poinsot, and Descartes. The articulation and exposition of this cenoscopic foundation of all science, termed today “semiotics”, the Latins termed simply doctrina signorum.

Philosophy, then, as cenoscopic science, not only precedes ideoscopic science and provides its framework. Philosophy also, rightly understood, shows the inevitability of ideoscopic development in order for human thought to reach maturation—just what the authorities, Church and Civil, in the closing Latin centuries, failed to understand.

Exactly as Hannam says in the subtitle of his book: “the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science”; but the Latins achieved this feat, as it were, indirectly, mainly as a consequence or by-product of their exploring the dimensions and depths of cenoscopic knowledge out of which ideoscopic inquiries inevitably arise.

Latin focus on the doctrine of signs achieved clarity only late, and precisely in the closing scholastic centuries of the age glossed over or omitted entirely in the standard “history of medieval philosophy”; yet it is far from the whole or only story of medieval thought that this book aims to tell. Just as important are the broader results scientific in a cenoscopic sense that the Latins are able to achieve in exploring those dimensions of experience which cannot be reduced to experimental results available to sense-perception, as is required in ideoscopy. To restore in new light the remarkable preceding achievements of medieval philosophy in thinking through those larger dimensions of human experience which go beyond sensible instantiations is just as integral to the story of medieval philosophy as is semiotic as the doctrine of signs. So the doctrine of signs (or semiotics, as we now say) is only part of the “medieval story” that this book aims to tell; but it is that part which provides an “Ariadne’s thread” through the larger maze of medieval noetic development, the thread without which the whole does not appear.

This book, then, is a work equally of philosophy and of history. The two are not perfectly separable; for while it is possible to do history without doing philosophy, the converse is not equally true, as the Analytic tradition of late modern thought is just beginning to learn. Ideoscopic science requires laboratories to explore the consequences of its theories. Just so does cenoscopic science require historical awareness. The philosopher ignorant of the history of philosophy is crippled in ways that we have only to read Wittgenstein to realize—provided that we have ourselves come to that reading with an historical consciousness including Aristotle’s work (which Wittgenstein made it a point of pride not to read). (Plato provided the best prenotes to Aristotle; but in the history of philosophy after Aristotle, Plato himself becomes a footnote.)

So this book aims to redress the imbalance in human intellectual community that the “Enlightenment mentality” understandably introduced, and to do so mainly by restoring, while for the first time telling in the light of semiotics, something like the full story of Latin Age scholasticism, when cenoscopy achieved some of its highest peaks at the same time that it made the modern development of ideoscopic science inevitable in its own right—over the dead bodies of the “authorities” presuming to speak for God.


The featured image shows Saint Jerome offering his work to Saint Marcella, who is accompanied by Saint Principia. From a manuscript from the Notre Abbey in Citeaux, France; early 12th century. (Bibliothèque municipale, Dijon – ms. 132 folio 1).

The Necessity Of Christian Tradition

For a period of about three years in my late teens and early 20’s, I was deeply involved in a charismatic house church. It was a deeply committed group of people (some of us lived in a commune together). Our services could run for hours with very intensive Bible teaching. A feature of that time and the charismatic movement was a concern for the “latest word.” By that was meant new insights, new emphases, and a very heightened sense that we were hearing moment-by-moment what God wanted to say to His people. It was exciting. It was also exhausting. It was also spiritually problematic.

I will not describe all the problems (there’s not time). For myself, I had a growing sense of questioning and unreliability. If the Church is led by the “latest word,” then its reliability depends entirely on the personalities involved in bringing such news. A survey of the charismatic, pentecostal, and evangelical movements over the past 50 years would necessarily include the many failures of key leaders and of various dangers associated with ever-changing emphases and fashions.

My questions brought about a crisis of faith. I left that movement and floundered a bit, eventually settling into the Episcopal Church in a search for greater stability (mind you, this was the early to mid-70’s). Of course, that move was something of a jump from the “frying pan into the fire.” But my instinct was correct. Christianity is not rightly built on moment-by-moment updates, or “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). The history of the primitive Church is a consistent movement away from such excitement and towards the solidity of a reliable hierarchy grounded in a received body of teaching. Its instinct was that the locus of change was within the heart of each believer rather than a constant flow of fluctuating information.

The early heresies had just the opposite instinct. “Gnosticism,” a label invented by modern historians, was never a single thing. Rather it is a collective term for scattered individual teachers who promised new insights, exciting, even “secret” information, which would grant its adherents a quick passage to a higher existence. There is evidence that these teachers (almost always existing outside the eucharistic structure of the Church) were already a problem within the time span of the New Testament. Modern liberal thought has sought to describe these teachers as “alternate Christianties,” largely in an effort to discredit the traditional Church. Over time, these groups fell into silence, particularly in that they were deeply driven by single personalities. They lacked the institutional reality required for generational survival.

My abandonment of charismatic Christianity and move towards received tradition led me, over time, to Orthodox Christianity. It was a renunciation of the “latest thing” in order to embrace the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.” It was a movement from charismatic excitement towards sacramental stability. When people are young, there can be an excitement that surrounds dating, moving from relationship to relationship, dreaming of possibilities and riding the wave of romantic energy. That is a far cry from the daily life of a stable marriage extending through the years, giving birth and nurture to generations of children. Christianity, in its traditional form, is like marriage, not dating.

The most institutionalized element of Orthodox Christianity can be found in its worship. We have documents describing, in some detail, the structure of worship from as early as the 2nd century. It is worth noting that the word “Orthodoxy” is perhaps best translated as “right glory [worship]” rather than right opinion or doctrine. What the Church teaches is primarily found embodied in its worship. An old Latin formula has it: Lex orandi, lex credendi. It means, “The law of praying is the law of believing.” It explains how it is that Orthodoxy’s primary word of evangelism is “Come and see.”

There are roots for this understanding that run deep into the heart of the Old Testament. Exodus 25 describes Moses’ meeting with God on Mt. Sinai for a period of 40 days. In that encounter he is shown a “pattern” of the heavenly tabernacle, and given detailed plans for the building of the tabernacle and all that it contained. He is repeatedly told to build things “according to the pattern.” This heavenly pattern was of great interest within the writings of both Jews and early Christians. The instinct within that interest was that the heavenly pattern served as a template for God’s dwelling place among us. This was the understanding that marked the Temple in Jerusalem, and became a hallmark of Orthodox Christian understanding of worship, including the building itself. This pattern is itself an example of holy tradition. It was given by God [handed down] to Moses (not simply evolved through Jewish practices). But if what Moses saw was a “heavenly” tabernacle, then his vision was also of eternal consequence and merit.

Orthodox Christian practice recognized this fundamental layer of tradition. St. Paul describes Christians as the “temple” of God (1 Cor. 3:16). St. John’s apocalyptic vision centers around the temple in the heavens. The construction of Orthodox Churches has intentional parallels with the Jewish Temple, as do certain aspects of our worship. We speak of the Divine Liturgy as “heaven on earth,” and describe ourselves as doing here what is being done there.

“Let us, who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

This hymn was added to the Liturgy in the 6th century but represents a thought and understanding that is far older. Perhaps more striking, and echoing the deepest level of Orthodox tradition can be found in this excerpt from the first homily of St. Macarius. He looks at the imagery of Ezekiel’s chariot vison, often understood as an image of the throne of God in the heavenly temple. St. Macarius applies it to the soul:

And this that the prophet saw, was true and certain. But the thing it signified, or shadowed forth beforehand, was a matter mysterious and divine, that very mystery which had been hid from ages and generations, but was made manifest at the appearing of Christ. For the mystery which he saw, was that of the human soul as she is hereafter to receive her Lord, and become herself the very throne of his glory. (H. 1.2)

His thought is of a piece with St. Paul’s description of Christians as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

There is a dynamic present in these images that carries the very essence of tradition as a way of life. Modern thought imagines human existence and even its “improvement” as a process of ever-increasing personal choice and freedom. It is a product of the imagination in which the individual becomes whatever they might choose to be. It is a model well-suited to a market-driven world. In many ways, the constant change and “latest revelations” in many forms of contemporary Christianity, echo that instinct, with theological insights and biblical themes arriving as marketed ideas. Like clothing fashions, such changing insights help establish a spirituality that has its own sense of “coolness.”

In the spirituality of Orthodox Tradition the point is to receive that which has already been given. There is nothing new to be revealed (as information), even though what has been made known is constantly revealed as life-creating truth within the soul itself. It is a life grounded in the Divine Life both in the temple of the Church (in praise and sacrament) and in the temple of the soul. It is ultimately within the soul that we perceive the face of God in Christ. It is in the soul that we perceive Him in the least of those around us and serve them as our service to God. It is in the soul that we offer the Eucharist (our giving of thanks for all things) in union with the earthly/heavenly Liturgy of Christ’s Body and Blood.

There is a stability in this way of life, grounded in the stability of heaven itself (which never changes). That same abiding reality has weathered the storms of 2,000 years even as its saints and martyrs join themselves together with the souls who currently labor and fight on earth. It is not a movement, nor a revival, nor a new thing. It is stubbornly ignorant of market forces. It is a sweet promise and gift.

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.


Father Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


The featured image shows, “The Koimetesis” (The Dormition of the Virgin), ca. 1315-1321. Chora church, Constantinople.

We Have Two Memories

In the past, when ancient history was still being taught a little (in 6th grade, the part on great civilizations), our children learned of the worth of Egypt and Babylonia in the history of human adventure. Ancient Greece weighed heavily in these programs. The grand dame. We owe her a lot, not everything, but a lot. Little was known about Indian civilization. Their jumble of gods, it is true, would doubtless have panicked the schoolchildren: the teachers even more. Besides, with the two great ancestral lands alone, there was plenty to do, even before Sumer and the Epic of Gilgamesh were extolled. Above all, whether it is conscious or not matters little, this teaching around these various deities was accompanied by a questioning of the origin of civilizations: how they are born, how they die. With India, we must add: how they endure.

Having emerged and developed at the same time as the old ancestral lands of Mesopotamia and Egypt, this ancient civilization does not belong like them to a bygone past: the Indian adventure continues before our eyes. This durability, it owes to tradition. The literary texts on which all Indian conceptions are based were composed at a very ancient time, and transmitted orally for a surprisingly long period before being written. If alterations occurred, they manifested themselves very slowly; distorting an initial theme with flourishes, but retaining for millennia the trace of the initial theme. Buddhist texts also participate in this strange mania for an endlessly modulated motif, which explains a literature of overwhelming abundance, terribly repetitive and, let’s face it, deadly boring.

Our civilizations marked by writing have forgotten that before writing, we spoke. Philosophers would say in their learned (or curious) language that there is ontological pre-decision of speech over writing. Whether at the level of the individual, or at the level of an emerging society, all civilization has first of all an oral language, which it can fix in writing (or choose not to), grammar and tutti quanti. The birth of writing, we know thanks to Jean Bottero, is trivial, for accounting purposes – we need to calculate, record stocks, write a contract; it’s commercial recording. And then comes poetry, the ardent desire to constitute a romance of the people, the land, the kings. An ardent desire to last, therefore, to transmit. Because we have two memories, as the geneticist Pierre Grasset said. Culture must reprogram itself; hence the importance of this cultural memory, which increasingly depends on the written word.

But the written part of the transmission is analogously, as in the theater, the text. We transmit through practices, uses, doings, and know-how; and then also, in addition, through writing – which matters. Don’t get me wrong. But it is not the main thing.

We had a great orientalist university tradition, and in particular an Indianist tradition, which brought India into our episteme (with a lot of myopias and a few mirages). We also have had an anthropological tradition of Africanists who made known the gesture of the Dogons of Mali and the techniques of orality, of this African palaver which we must be careful not to speak ill of: it is a dimension of the “phatic” language. as much as instrumental.

Why is it so difficult for us to admit that the Gospels could have been spoken and recited? How come it is so difficult for us to admit that the Gospels could have been composed perfectly in Aramaic by Aramaeans, even though they are said to be crude people, except John? Simple people do not speak the language of culture; they do not speak Greek or Latin. How is it that it is impossible for us to come back to the question of these gospels supposedly written in Greek, despite the work of Jean Carmignac, Claude Tresmontant, and more recently, those of Pierre Perrier, Joseph Alichoran and Jean -François Froger? The work of Pierre Perrier in particular has made it possible to unearth this tradition of orality which comes to us from early Christianity. This obviously calls into question some dogmas that come from centuries of Protestant exegesis, from that critical historicism which is nothing but an apostasy shrouded in academic scientificity.

Coming from a Jewish religion, born in an eastern land, where Aramaic had been spoken for centuries, and where Hebrew was undoubtedly still spoken, Christ did not incarnate as a kind of an uneducated Aramaic man, among Aramaeans even more uneducated than he, from whom he chose men precisely for their ignorance, the supposed guarantor of an equally supposed humility, as certain ignorant priests tell us on Sundays in their astonishing homilies.

The language is not there first of all because men want to talk to each other and sign marriage or sales contracts. The language is there because there is speech; that is to say, the ultimate human fact. Language is there for man to enter the world of meaning and knowledge, starting with the knowledge of his own nature.

The Apostles were undoubtedly imperfect men; and their first imperfection was that they did not always fully understand what Rabbi Yeshuah was explaining to them, which from time to time made him nervous or at least insistent: “Do you understand what I am telling you?” Apparently, they did not fully understand these stories of the temple being His body; at least not until the Helper in charge of the rest of the company arrived.

Vedic India has transmitted for millennia texts it held to be sacred, the Vedas. A caste of Brahmins (people specialized in the management of the sacred word), assumed or arrogated to themselves the charge of the transmission of this revealed knowledge, transmitted orally; then fixed in writing, in Sanskrit say the specialists. On this point, we can believe them.

Thus, oral transmission did constitute a sort of monopoly of Indian and African civilizations, while the Christianized European world became incapable for all eternity of any memorization of texts considered important, so important that we too have specialists who are in charge of this sacred deposit and whose transmission comes from the Apostles. Yes, we too have a certain sense of Transmission.

Eastern Christians have the gospel in their hearts, memorized from childhood, through supporting each other with tonic-postural techniques and gestures linked to the bi-lateralization of the human body. The whole Bible is actually written in an oral style, intended to support this effort at memorization, something modern translations fail to capture and even carefully redact. In his time, Marcel Jousse had the intuition of these memorial gestures and had attempted a new anthropology. If it didn’t get the impact it deserved, it’s not just because of an unnecessarily complex formulation of these brilliant hunches. This is because the Himalayas of prejudice against our sacred texts, the legacy of two centuries of largely Protestant historicist exegesis, has continued to wreak havoc.

Eastern Christians knew the Gospel by heart, rooted in their very corporeality, with the language associated with it, the tongue of Christ. The ferocious hatred which persists against this heroic people, the last vestige of the divine Presence incarnate, through the spoken language and the kept traditions, invites us to take seriously the question of the Prince of this world. And their heroism makes the poverty of our lived and internalized Christianity all the more pathetic.

Our Christian children – those few that actually still go to catechism – have catechism books which begin with the great cycle of evolution from the primate cousin to the modern man, with the different stages that show how he gradually came to stand straight. How we were able to print this lamentable diagram on the first page – that should leave us speechless. And furious.

The question of evolution is obviously an intriguing affair. And it is arguably one of the most formidable questions about the chasm between the text of Genesis and the scientific fiction which accounts for our supposed evolution. The respective cemeteries of the history of science and that of philosophy are full of scientific fictions.

Children should be told that when faced with the question of the “historical” origin of man, we do not have and doubtless never will have a clear answer; and that it matters little to know that there is a very old skeleton that the stupid media hastens to proclaim “the first man.” A day will come when an even older skeleton will be found that will be claimed to be the prototype of humanity.

The answer that Genesis gives are the principles of intelligibility of our human nature that does not depend on time, since it comes from a creator God. Or that doesn’t just depend on the weather. Our horizon is not Covid 19, nor biological death that we wave before our eyes with great reinforcements of anxiety-provoking speeches. Our horizon is participation in Eternity – when history and creation will have entered into the fullness of what we call the “times.” Then we will see history as it really is – not an endless march of empires, a frightening succession of wars, of kingships, of dynasties, of destruction, of competing economies, of stories of pandemics, of techniques, great men and forgotten peoples – but like the march of Love, silent and yet royal.

Thomas Aquinas said that time is coextensive with Eternity. That’s a difficult concept. In the past, certain words, certain formulas were given to meditate in the night of intelligence – there, where a new light sparkles – that of the Helper who is waiting that we might enter it, during this dark night of our immortal soul – that we may hear and see what human language cannot teach us when it has become too poor or too arrogant. And that maybe which it wasn’t meant to teach us.

We have two memories, the cultural memory and the memory of Eternity. The one, singled out in one or more languages, in a country or a region, in a genealogy. It is precious and it is fragile. The other. carried by the history of Israel, and extended by 2000 years of Christianity and ecclesial history, in a Revelation that it is up to Christians to transmit, by way of all their living flesh, in all the languages of the world, because He who is its object is the living Word, the source of all living words.


Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.


The featured image shows, “Over Eternal Quiet,” by Isaac Levitan, painted in 1894.

Saint Bernard: The Three Freedoms

Over eight centuries before Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated his “Four Freedoms,” a shorter and much better list of freedoms was elucidated by the young abbot of the new monastery of Clairvaux, one Bernard by name.

In his work On Grace and Free Choice (De Gratia et libero arbitrio), Saint Bernard (1090-1153) distinguished three kinds of freedom: of nature, of grace, and of glory. The first is freedom from necessity; the second, from sin; and the third, from suffering. All three concern man’s inner life, where all true freedom resides, rather than extrinsic factors. (For a timely example of what I mean by “extrinsic factors,” we might consider freedom from external compulsion to receive an unethically sourced, unnecessary, and ineffective vaccine against an illness that 99.7% of people who contract it survive.) For us moderns, like Roosevelt, the tendency is to locate freedom outside of ourselves, but that is not what Saint Bernard had in mind. Real freedom, I repeat, is an interior reality, and all three of these freedoms are interior.

The Calvinists and Lutherans, who exaggerated the effects of the Fall, denied that man’s will is free. They would have done well to read Saint Bernard, who based his argumentation solidly on Holy Scripture. So, too, do modern schools of psychological determinism deny — or at least detract from — the freedom of the will. But Saint Bernard, writing with great philosophical certitude and liberty, shows that the will by its very nature is free.

This innate freedom of the will, in addition to our intellect, is what makes us in the image and likeness of God, and the Master of Clairvaux notes that this first freedom has nothing to do with whether we are good or bad: “Freedom from necessity belongs alike to God and to every rational creature, good or bad.” This freedom, which makes our actions “voluntary,” is contrasted with that necessity of which brute beasts are possessed in all their actions. In dogs and cats, and all the rest of non-rational animals, there are no voluntary or free acts. They act by an interior compulsion to do what they do. Without having an intellect and a will, non-rational animals live exclusively on the level of the senses and the irascible and concupisciple appetites. We, too, have those faculties, but our intellect and will tower over them and make our acts human acts and therefore voluntary and free acts. As the Cistercian Doctor puts it negatively, “What is done by necessity does not derive from the will and vice versa.”

For clarity, I should note here that there are acts that men do that are not voluntary and therefore not free. These are things we have in common with the beasts, like respiration, digestion, and the myriad other activities our bodies perform every moment to keep us alive and functioning at the level of mere sentient activity. Philosophers call such acts “actus hominis” (acts of a man) as distinguished from “actus humanus” (human acts). “Human” here means rational and volitional.

The following sentence from On Grace and Free Choice may be long and need to be read two or three times, but it is very illuminating of the truth concerning man’s will being free and the consequent moral responsibility we all shoulder by virtue of our freely chosen acts:

Only the will, then, since, by reason of its innate freedom, it can be compelled by no force or necessity to dissent from itself, or to consent in any matter in spite of itself, makes a creature righteous or unrighteous, capable and deserving of happiness or of sorrow, insofar as it shall have consented to righteousness or unrighteousness. [All excerpts here are from the Cistercian Publications edition of the work, translated by Daniel O’Donolan, OSCO.]

The truth that “sin is in the will,” is an immediate conclusion from what Saint Bernard writes here. While we might be externally influenced, threatened, cajoled, directed, encouraged, etc., in our will we always remain radically free. This is an anthropological or psychological fact that follows from our very nature as it was created by God, prescinding from the Fall. It is the basis of all merit and culpability and, therefore, of the notions of reward and punishment.

Over and above this first freedom, the innate freedom of nature, are the two other freedoms (that from sin, and that from sorrow) which are not natural endowments but supernatural gifts.

Saint Bernard explains that freedom from sin is what Saint Paul described when he wrote, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). This second freedom is not innate in us, but results from grace, and stands in contrast — so the Abbot of Clairvaux notes — to that slavery to sin that the Holy Apostle describes elsewhere: “For when you were the servants of sin, you were free men to justice. [Saint Paul is ironically contrasting “slavery to sin” and “slavery to God (or justice)”. Being “free men to justice” means being “liberated” from God’s holiness or righteousness. This is a false and damning freedom.] … But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting” (Rom. 6:20, 22).

Citing Our Lord saying, “If therefore the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36), Saint Bernard tells us:

He meant that even free choice stands in need of a liberator, but one, of course, who would set it free, not from necessity which was quite unknown to it since this pertains to the will, but rather from sin, into which it has fallen both freely and willingly, and also from the penalty of sin which it carelessly incurred and has unwillingly borne.

We ought not quickly pass over the profound thought that “even free choice stands in need of a liberator.” The words are beautiful, yes, but there is more than mere aesthetics here. Our free will, after the Fall, contracted the defect Saint Thomas calls “malice,” and needs to be saved from it, or freed. The liberator in question is, of course, that Man who knew no sin, and who always was and always remains absolutely free from sin. Citing Psalm 87:6, Saint Bernard calls Christ, “[He who] alone of all men was made free among the dead; free, that is, from sin in the midst of sinners.”

Concerning this “second freedom” — freedom from sin — the Mellifluous Doctor eloquently addresses the question of good will versus bad will in words that should encourage us:

When a person complains and says: “I wish I could have a good will, but I just can’t manage it,” this in no way argues against the freedom [from necessity, the “first freedom”] of which we have been speaking, as if the will thus suffered violence or were subject to necessity. Rather is he witnessing to the fact that he lacks that freedom which is called freedom from sin. Because, whoever wants to have a good will proves thereby that he has a will, since his desire is aimed at good only through his will. And if he finds himself unable to have a good will whereas he really wants to, then this is because he feels freedom is lacking in him, freedom namely from sin, by which it pains him that his will is oppressed, though not suppressed. Indeed it is more than likely that, since he wants to have a good will, he does, in fact, to some extent, have it. What he wants is good, and he could hardly want good otherwise than by means of good will; just as he could want evil only by a bad will. When we desire good, then our will is good; when evil, evil. In either case, there is will; and everywhere freedom; necessity yields to will. But if we are unable to do what we will, we feel that freedom itself is somehow captive to sin, or that it is unhappy, not that it is lost.

The words here rendered “oppressed, though not suppressed” are premi non perimi, and are difficult to translate, but the sense is that, though the will is in part impaired (by sin), it is not rendered powerless. Moral theologians of later ages would develop in detail the Church’s accepted moral doctrine concerning the diminishing of the freedom of the will by habitual sin, yet the notion is here in seminal form in Saint Bernard. The doctrine here explained is very consoling. If we will the good but yet sin, there is still some good in us. The remedy is grace, the major burden of Saint Bernard’s book, which is there for us if we but ask of it. For that reason and others, in the practical order, prayer is the main point of contact between God’s grace and our free will. It opens us to the remedy our will needs. Without prayer, even the sacraments will avail us but little because we lack the necessary dispositions to receive the remedies they contain.

Concerning the “third freedom,” that from suffering, or, as he also calls it, “the freedom of glory,” the Cistercian abbot is clear that it is not for this life, but the next, for “it is reserved for us in our homeland” of Heaven:

There is also a freedom from sorrow, of which the Apostle again says: “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” [Rom. 8:21]. But would anyone in this mortal condition dare arrogate to himself even this kind of freedom?

He further adds that, by this third freedom,

[W]e are raised up to glory, a perfect creature in the Spirit. [And] … by it, we cast down death itself. … Finally, by the last-named, in our own more perfect submission to ourselves through victory over corruption and death — when, that is, death shall be last of all destroyed [1 Cor. 15:26] — we will pass over into the glorious freedom of the sons of God [Rom. 8:21], the freedom by which Christ will set us free, when he delivers us as a kingdom to God the Father.[Cf. 1 Cor. 15:24]”

We are living in a time when our civic freedoms seem imperiled by an emerging biometric security state, an Orwellian oligarchic kleptocracy that demands we give up our freedoms for the lying promises of safety, security, and now health. In the midst of these mendacious statist shenanigans — so obvious to those not drinking the Kool-Aid of mainstream media and Big Tech—let us more and more cherish and cling to our real freedoms which are ours by Baptism and the giving of the Holy Ghost… and which no man can take from us.


Brother André Marie is Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond New Hampshire. He does a weekly Internet Radio show, Reconquest, which airs on the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel. This article appears courtesy of Catholicism.org.


The featured image shows, “The Liberation of Saint Peter,” by Juan de Valdés Leal, painted ca. 1650.

Jean Doresse And The Gnostics

The Chenoboskion-Nag Hammadi manuscripts are leather-bound codices (papyri, that is), dating from the middle of the 4th century AD, and found in 1947, northwest of Luxor, by Egyptian peasants, and since then kept at the Coptic Museum of Cairo. These compromise twelve papyrus codices, plus the remains of a thirteenth, totaling nearly 1,300 pages and over fifty Coptic texts, most of them completely unknown. Only one of these codices was acquired by the Coptic Museum in Cairo, as early as October 1946; it was not until 1975 that the entire collection was assembled there.

The result of a fortuitous find, the discovery of Nag Hammadi early aroused the attention of both antique dealers in Egypt and the authorities of the Coptic Museum. It was not one of those theatrical finds, which officials, journalists and the curious flock to. As with the Desert Scrolls of Judah (commonly referred to as “the Qumran”), almost all episodes of this discovery were suppressed, and almost all details of the history and actual content of the manuscripts have long remained unknown to this day.

Be that as it may, a whole apocalyptic and Gnostic literature then emerged from the earth. The direct sources that were so sorely lacking in research were finally found.

The first Europeans to have knowledge of the discovery were French personalities or scientists. This discovery involved several things: the search for the manuscripts dispersed by the peasants who had exhumed them; field investigations to find out the location of the find; the first readings of the pages less damaged by time; the identification of the writings that came to light there and the first inventory. All of this was the work of Jean Doresse (1917-2007), the main witness to the first stages of this major event in the history of research.

After auditing the lectures of Henri Charles Puech (in the section of religious sciences of l’École pratique des Hautes Études), Doresse joined the CNRS in 1941 and became a research grant holder in October 1944. In September 1947, he found himself in Egypt, in order to carry out, as “excavator for the Louvre museum,” the first of five missions, financed by the Archaeological Excavations Commission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October 1947 (he was thirty years old), he informed C.H. Puech of the existence of a papyrus volume,140 pages long and containing Gnostic writings in Coptic Sahidic (the current Codex III). Thus began an exchange of correspondence (which lasted until 1970) between the young researcher, who had privileged access to the manuscripts, and the recognized scholar who, although unable to read or translate the writings, was nevertheless best able to interpret them.

A scientific committee made up of various personalities was then created with a view to publication. It consisted of Doresse, of course, along with Togo Mina, curator of the Cairo Museum at the time of the discovery and who first recognized the importance of these manuscripts, Canon Drioton, renowned Egyptologist and director of the Antiquities Department of Egypt until 1952, Charles Henri Puech, arguably the best specialist in Gnosis and Manichaeism, and Walter Till, the specialist in the Berlin Codex. But bad luck of “an evil sort” (to use Doresse’s own words) would plague what concerned the acquisition and publication of these ancient documents. Two years in to the work, Togo Mina died in 1949; he was always hounded by the thought that these manuscripts would disappear from Egypt, and he thus made Doresse promise to protect them from the inevitable greed.

In 1958, Doresse published, Les livres secrets des gnostiques d’Egypte (The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics), the result of archaeological adventure with multiple twists and turns; the book went through several editions. According to Doresse, “the style [of the book] reflects the fever of the time when the characters involved in this find were still alive.” He presented the 44 unpublished Gnostic treatises, narrated the adventures of their discovery, the vicissitudes of their purchase by the Coptic Museum, and then he explained the unfortunate delays in their publication – revolutions and wars are not favorable times for archaeologists.

After gathering all the information provided by the heresiologists and quickly pinpointing the gist of the already known Gnostic treatises, he proposed a provisional classification of them into four categories: prophetic revelations; pseudepigraphic writings taking on the aspect of Christian writings; gospels of a Christianized gnosis; and finally, those treatises more or less close to hermetic writings. He summarized the content of each treatise, by first trying to identify it, often successfully, by way of the information provided by Irenaeus Epiphanes and the Philosophumena.

Doresse also spoke, in a veiled manner, in the introductions to each of the new editions, of the harmful consequences of this discovery for his own existence and his career. The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics was planned as a trilogy, the first volume of which was then titled, Introduction aux écrits gnostiques coptes découverts à Khénoboskion (Introduction to the Coptic Gnostic Writings Discovered at Chenoboskion), and published in Paris, in 1958. Two other volumes were planned. Doresse then outlined the main features of a Gnostic doctrine by taking up a suggestive study by Henri Charles Puech, la Gnose et le Temps (Gnosis and Time). From the start, Doresse understood that these texts from Chenoboskion, much more numerous and evocative than those of Qumran, had greater historical significance.

Like the Qumran manuscripts, they relate to an age which, for the development of human consciousness, remains the greatest. This is the moment when the individual found himself most intensely placed before the problems of personal destiny and the destiny of empires and civilizations, which he regarded as definitely established. The central moment for these ages is the Cross. We know this today, but that age was the first to say it – we were in the presence of a veritable library that attested to the existence of a Gnostic Church which maintained links with groups located in other regions.

Very quickly, Doresse formulated the hypothesis that in all likelihood these were documents from the library of the monastery of Saint Pachomius, hidden there at the end of the 4th century, after the prohibition on Gnostic literature by Athanasius of Alexandria, and by the decrees of Emperor Theodosius I.

The Gospel Of Thomas

Such a discovery was not without consequences. Gnostic studies were soon drawn into an ever-expanding whirlwind that was difficult to curb. The eye of the storm was the Gospel of Thomas.

The more or less Christian apocrypha, used by the sectarians of Chenoboskion, was then given the authority of well-known apostles: James, Thomas, Philip, Matthias, John and Peter. The content of these texts is often trivial, not fundamentally contradicting that of the canonical Gospels, but distorting Christian doctrine and deviating from it. In general, the Gnostics of Chenoboskion wanted to introduce into their doctrine a false Christianity by hatching so-called Gospels put under the names of the Apostles, or even by placing certain revelations in the mouth of the Savior. Basilides had also fabricated a compilation of this kind.

Among these adulterated Gospels, the Gospel of Thomas made a lot of noise and gave rise to many rumors, not always of good quality. Many newspapers of the time argued, on the strength of false, distorted, or misinterpreted news, that this was nothing less than a “fifth Gospel;” that it revealed “unknown facts” about the life of Christ; or that it seemed “almost certainly” translated from Aramaic.

C.H. Puech then pointed out, rather fittingly, that to speak of a “fifth Gospel” did not make much sense. If we believe this to be so, then we would have to exclude the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) whose authority and authenticity has been determined by the Church. Or, we would have to recognize all works of the evangelical type as “gospels,” whether or not they were canonical; and we would then be dealing with an abundance of extra-canonical texts. And in that case, why give only a fifth place to the Gospel according to Thomas, or reserve that spot just for him, rather than any other work of the same sort?

This Gospel of Thomas is, in fact, nothing more than a collection of one hundred and fourteen logia; but it is the largest collection ever transmitted of the “Sayings of Jesus,” or “Words” attributed to Jesus. After a short preamble of four and a half lines, (and which already contains the first logion), the text is just made up of a series of sentences or words independent of each other, mechanically juxtaposed, outside of any systematic narrative-frame, and most often introduced by the stereotypical formula: “Jesus said.” An exordium which itself seems fictitious (no doubt added afterwards) specifies that these are the secret words that Jesus the Living said and that Didyma Jude Thomas wrote. It is written in Sahidic Coptic, and dates possibly from the second half of the 3rd century or, according to other specialists, from the 5th century.

Complete and written with admirable care, the Gospel of Thomas is the second of seven writings in the collection, where it appears between the long version of John’s Apokryphon and another apocryphal piece, the Gospel According to Philip. It is “apocryphal;” in other words, an esoteric text, or which takes itself as such, and which claims to record hidden, secret words, namely, words of Jesus. It is also a pseudepigraphic work since, despite its title and its preamble, both obviously fictitious, the writing cannot be traced back to the apostle, Didymus Judas Thomas. Far from uncovering unknown aspects of the life of Jesus, it presents no historical or narrative character; nor does it contain any account. And, if it relates some act of Christ, it is in an exception and merely schematic. Apart from the few lines at the beginning, it is exclusively made up of a series of words attributed to Jesus and placed end to end. Not a single one of these Words has any chance of going back to an Aramaic prototype.

Indirect sources knew of the existence of this gospel, but what is said is very vague or confusing. According to a tradition reported in the Pistis Sophia, Jesus would have, after his resurrection, entrusted to Thomas, as well as to Philip and to Matthew (or rather, as Theodor Zahn conjectures, to Matthias), the charge of relating all his actions and to record all his words. The three apostles, or disciples, would be the three witnesses whose testimony, according to Deuteronomy 19:15, and the Gospel of Matthew, would be necessary for the establishment of the truth. Thus transformed, at the whim of the Gnostics, into those of essential intermediaries, if not exclusive guarantors, of the authentic transmission of the integral and hidden teaching of Christ, their names – one could imagine – must have served to legitimize the fundamentals of the Gospels.

The introductory lines of the Gospel of Thomas can also be read, exactly reproduced in Greek, on the back of a papyrus of the 3rd century, unearthed in 1903, namely, Oxyrhynchus Papyrus No. 654. The papyri of Nag Hammadi, in fact, have made it possible to complete and rectify the Oxyrhynchus texts.

But are both the 3rd century papyrus and the Gospel of Thomas inspired by the same tradition? This is the first important question. Another is even more crucial – are all the words of Jesus collected in this Gospel, or, at least, some of them, “authentic?” Can they be traced back to Christ himself? Origen asked himself this; and with regard to one of the Sayings in this collection, Saint Jerome had to admit that there could be “gold in this mud.”

Although refusing all canonical authority to the apocrypha because of the falsehood that abounds in them (propter multa falsa), Augustine recognized that we sometimes find “some truth” in there. Puech’s response is cautious. If there are strong reasons to be assured of the inauthenticity of many of these new Sayings, all that we can do about those ones that give us pause is to establish, by more or less fragile criteria, that it is not impossible to suppose them to come from the tradition – written or oral – of contemporary Christian communities or close to the apostolic age. But, from that to concluding that they go back to Jesus Himself is leap into the unknown, the unverifiable. The Christian Church is founded primarily on authority, as was the Synagogue. The truth is what was taught by the founder and which is binding on the believer. Hence the need to know what Jesus said and what his immediate disciples heard.

However, a good number of Manichean texts exhumed, either in Central Asia or in Fayum, cite Words of Jesus which are found exactly, or with some variations, in the Nag Hamadi Library. In particular, we have only to compare the beginning of the Letter of Foundation (Epistola Fundamenti) of Mani, and the prologue to the Gospel according to Thomas, as it is restored to us, to be convinced that the founder of Manichaeism knew the same writing and was inspired by it on occasion.

But to work on a text, you need a translation, and the translation of the Gospel of Thomas was slow to appear. Years passed and the editorial work still had not borne fruit. In 1959, Jean Doresse then published L’Evangile selon Thomas (The Gospel According to Thomas), Volume II of work that began with Les livres secrets des gnostiques d’Egypt (The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics). This scholarly work of his provided researchers with a working text. Three other editions were published at the same time as the French edition: English, German and Dutch.

But by publishing this work, Doresse pulled the rug out from under Puech. The following year, Puech published a so-called “critical” edition with three other researchers, all well-known scholars. They were in such a hurry to publish that they did not wait to include with the text and its translation the critical commentary which they were preparing or claimed they were preparing. The stakes were indeed high as to which would be the preferred scholarly reference edition, cited in prestigious journals, along with the name of the editor or editors.

By this time, however, Jean Doresse had already moved on from all this, having understood that it was all needlessly contentious, and had begun work on Ethiopia.

International Greed And The End Of Certain French Research

The first editorial project was not brought to a halt by Togo Mina’s death in 1949, as Professor James M. Robinson claimed. Rather, the project was hijacked by international passions, in particular Anglo-Saxon, which also put an end to French research that had remained of Christian and Catholic inspiration.

In the early 1960s, the Director General of UNESCO, the Frenchman, René Maheu, concluded an agreement with Saroite Okasha, the Minister of Culture, and the National Council of the United Arab Republic, to publish a complete edition, edited by an international committee, chosen by Egypt and UNESCO. But when it became known that several of the selected texts were already the subject of a publication project, the UNESCO endeavor was reduced to a facsimile edition which, in turn, remained more or less dormant.

Progress was not made until 1966, with the first International Colloquium on the Origins of Gnosticism, organized in Messina, at the initiative of Professor Bianchi, and which came at the end of three years of preparation. At the Colloquium, held from April 13 to 18, 1966, sixty-four topics, all mimeographed and distributed three months earlier to all registered participants, were discussed at length.

During one week and in general assembly, ten areas of research were reviewed: the current state of Gnostic texts; the definition of Gnosticism; Gnosticism and Iran; Gnosticism and Mesopotamia; Gnosticism and Egypt; Gnosticism and Qumran; Gnosticism and Judaism; Gnosticism and Christianity; Gnosticism and Hellenism; Gnosticism and Buddhism. The result was a document, which was first submitted for discussion and then went to approval by the participants. Then it was published in Italian, French, English and German, with a series of proposals concerning the scientific use of the terms, “gnosis” and “Gnosticism:”

“Gnosticism” – a term of modern creation – defines a movement of thought centered on the notion of “knowledge” (in Greek, gnôsis) which developed in the Roman Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. On the other hand, the term “gnosis” – whose use is attested since the 2nd century indicates universal tendencies of thought which has in common the notion of knowledge, from which, for example, also derive movements as diverse as the Kabbalah, Manichaeism or Mandaeism.

While relevant, this distinction is not widely accepted today. A pity, as it does reflect the historical reality of the great constructions restored by the Apologists; and it does make it possible to account for gnosis as an anthropological phenomenon – the same leaven making bread of different shapes, often bewildering, baked with adulterated flour, and in general, largely inedible.

The Colloquium, at least, gave occasion for direct contact with the vestiges of Egyptian monasticism: an immense religious domain, extending over twenty kilometers in length and which contains the ruins of a set of more than seven hundred monasteries and hermitages erected from the 4th to the 9th century. The delegates spent a day in Wadi Natrun and visited three of the four Coptic monasteries that remain in the Nitrian Desert. They were delighted that the monastery of Saint Macarius, reduced to six old monks by 1969, had then more than forty. What now remains, however, is a long way from the fifty convents, most of which founded in the 4th century, which covered the site, and attested to the flowering of Christianity, as well as to the destructive power of Islam.

In 1970, UNESCO and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture founded the International Committee for the Nag Hammadi Codices and appointed Professor James M. Robinson, an expert in religious sciences as secretary, which made it easy for him to supervise the project, in collaboration with the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at Claremont (California). The Facsimile Edition of the Nag-Hammadi Codices was then published by Brill, and Harper and Row, in 12 volumes, between 1972 and 1984. Robinson then edited the American edition of these texts, completed in 1995. He was then closely associated, as editor general, with the publication of another collection of manuscripts of great importance for the study of Judaism and Christian origins, that of the so-called “Qumran” texts.

In 1987 a new English edition was published by the scholar Bentley Layton (Harvard University), entitled, The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations. The volume included new translations of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, and also extracts from heresiarch authors and other Gnostic texts.

UNESCO Takes Over

In 1973, a new project took shape, a French one, this time. Professor Jacques-É. Ménard made numerous visits to the theological faculty of the University of Laval, at the invitation of Professor Hervé Gagné. It was only a matter of translating and editing the texts of Nag Hammadi into French. He considers the Gospels to be a matter of literature. Administrative responsibility for the first Quebec team was entrusted to Hervé Gagné, and Jacques-É. Ménard was appointed as the first principal researcher and scientific director of the project (he did also form and lead a team in Strasbourg). Michel Roberge was appointed as the second principal researcher, with the task of leading the Quebec team. The list of company employees varied over the years, among them Louis Painchaud, Anne Pasquier, Paul-Hubert Poirier and Michel Roberge.

This joint project between France and Canada aimed to produce, in separate booklets, critical editions of each of the Coptic texts of Nag Hammadi and Berolinensis Gnosticus 8502, accompanied by original French translations, followed by commentaries, indexes and a general index to the entire collection. The delays were chronic, and in the opinion of the Quebec team the French contribution did not match their commitments. In France, Jean-Pierre Mahé, director of studies in the section of philological and historical sciences of the l’École pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, Annie Mahé, as well as Bernard Barc, of the Jean-Moulin University of Lyon were early collaborators. As well, there were Einar Thomassen from the University of Bergen, Jean-Marie Sevrin, from the Catholic University of Louvain, and John D. Turner from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Despite the delays, an international network was set up, with French, as well as Belgian, Swiss, German, Italian, Norwegian and American, researchers. More than ten Quebec researchers and as many foreign researchers, historians of religions, biblists, philologists, Hebrew scholars, linguists, or specialists in ancient Christian literature, contributed directly to the three sections of the collection, Coptic Library of Nag Hammadi, published jointly by the Presses de l’Université Laval and Peeters of Louvain.

As well, a team of German academics, located in the former GDR, and composed of Alexander Bohlig and Martin Krause, as well as New Testament specialists, Gesine Schenke, Hans-Martin Schenke and Hans-Gebhard Bethge, prepared a German translation of the texts, which appeared in 2001, under the aegis of the Humboldt University in Berlin. From 1977, Laval University worked on a French edition of these texts under the editorship of Louis Painchaud, in a collection intended for scholars, namely, le Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi (The Coptic Library of Nag Hammadi). It was not until 2007 that the Pléiade edition appeared, by Gallimard, under the editorship Jean-Pierre Mahé and Paul-Hubert Poirier.

But in 2008, there was a new publication, in French, in the form of small pamphlets authored by Professor James Robinson, in the Jardin des livres collection. The back cover blurb was oddly sensational:

In 1945, manuscripts (revolutionary for Christianity) resurfaced in Egypt, in Nag Hammadi. But since their discovery, a sort of veil has covered their content since only specialists and enthusiasts know them. However, their importance is capital, because they complete the four Gospels of Mark, John, Matthew and Luke. It took the film Stigmata and the book The Da Vinci Code for the world to discover the presence of Mary Magdalene with Christ. the Jardin des livres collection is very proud to finally publish the work of Professor James Robinson, the great world specialist.

The world was supposedly “discovering” the presence of Mary Magdalene with Christ… The world had been aware of the presence of Mary Magdalene for two thousand years already. The nature of this presence, of course, varies depending on whether it is discovered under a Christian or a Gnostic propensity.

Each booklet was preceded by a long introduction by Professor Robinson, who described, with great precision, the conditions of the discovery (which Doresse never described with such precision), and Robinson gave the framework of the research. Then more sensationalism, to say the least:

And it was precisely through the exclusion of these texts and others of the same kind that the Jewish and Christian canons were formed. The second reason is that these texts were probably considered sacred by their ancient users, on par with the canonical Scriptures, if not more so. The third, which we tend to forget, is that these texts come back to life in contemporary religious culture. The Bible and the texts of Nag Hammadi are inseparable like the inverse and the reverse of the same tradition…

This is how the idea arose that Christianity was in a way a “gnosis” which gained succeed, with the corollary that the Catholic Church carefully concealed the evidence by preventing access by the faithful to these marvelous texts which contain hidden splendors.

But undoubtedly more seriously, this orientation of research has buried real perspectives opened by Doresse and Puech on the links between Gnosticism and Manichaeism.

Gnosticism And Manichaeism

By the discovery of the Chenosbokion manuscripts, the image of founders and their great Revelations was entirely shaken: they were no longer named Valentinus and Basilides (Alexandrian Gnostics that the heresiological Fathers had fought), but Nicotheus, Zoroaster and Zostrianos, Seth and Adam. Unlike the two Hellenized Alexandrians, the men who claimed to confer on these texts a status of great revelation most often concealed themselves under prestigious names, while the others taught under their own name, and no doubt wanted to be founders of schools.

We must therefore admit two successive moments in the history of Gnosis and Gnosticisms, and which perhaps have no close links: a pre-Gnosis which did not know Christianity and is supported by great names of “initiates” (and called to a great future), and a Gnosis, which was later more closely linked to Christianity and less discreet because it assumed itself as a clear rival. Pre-Gnosis, which perhaps preceded Christianity, preferred to remain discrete and in the shadows. While this pre-Gnosis was dying out in Egypt, when Pachomius launched Coptic monasticism, the great Alexandrian Gnosticisms took off in Eurasia, where they would meet Manichaeism and perhaps even Mani or his first disciples. The Acts of Archelaus (a work dating from the first quarter of the 4th century) is one of the main Christian works directed against the Manicheans, in which the author evokes a controversy that opposed Mani himself with the bishop of Kashqar in Mesopotamia. After the presentation of these discussions, the bishop recounts the life of Mani as well as that of his writings and we find in this part of the text a very precise passage on the Persian doctrines to which Mani would have resorted, as did also the Gnostic Basilides, one of whose works the bishop quotes.

Essentially, most of the Chenoboskion manuscripts do not belong to the Gnostic currents known to the Apologetic Fathers but to a current called “Sethiianism,” named after one of the alleged editors:

What forms the primitive basis of the doctrine of our Gnostics of Chenoboslion seems to be this set of revelations of Zoroaster and Seth, initially independent of Christianity, which may have arisen from daring speculations on the Old Testament.

These Gnostics had taken, it seems, something from a very particular literature of which only scraps now remain: writings composed in Greek and placed under the names of the Magi Zoroaster, Ostanes, Hystaspes, writings inspired by Iranian beliefs. From this literature arose a number of increasingly confused traditions, where Zoroaster, on occasion, changed faces to identify with the prophet Seth, son of Adam, while his descendant Saoshyant, became a figure of Jesus. This would explain why the Gnostics put some of their now lost writings under the names of Zoroaster and Zostianos, as well as of Seth and Adam.

It should also be remembered that we do not know much for sure about this mythical Zoroaster and the religion he founded, except that it is a Mazdaism reformed by a great religious genius (between a mage and prophet) about whom little has been written but much fantasized. As for Manichaeism, it is the sect founded by Mani (215-276), and which took an impressive rise in all of Eurasia. Mani claimed to be at the same time Buddha, Jesus and Zoroaster. An astonishing religious personality, he drew his doctrine from the few teachings of Baptist sects then active in Mesopotamia, (including the Elcesaites, in which he was educated, and is regarded as a Gnostic sect), as well as from Iranian mythical elements, and all blended with a very large part, the most important, of Gnosis which he knew directly.

Doresse summed up this complex story as follows: one day Manichaeism (the doctrine of Mani) came; he assimilated the main elements of expiring Gnosticism thus continuing them; he then transmitted them with his own doctrines in the Middle Ages.

At the end of the second century, with its more or less hidden multiform sects, Gnosis contaminated the entire Mediterranean world. Manichaeism appeared at the time when the great Alexandrian Gnosticisms disappeared, or more exactly spread into Eurasia where they disappeared. In reality, they undoubtedly disappeared less than melted into Manichaeism, attesting to this trait which is peculiar to it, as to Buddhism; a formidable lability, a capacity to penetrate into any apparently foreign body and to find its place there. We know that Mani claimed to be the Buddha, Jesus and Zoroaster. He thus assumed in his modest person the totality of religious history in order to bring it to the fulfillment it calls for.

When and how, then, were Christian elements, some authentic, others fictitious and fabricated, added to the oldest writings? Because it was from such a meeting that gnosis was authentically and definitively born, and without doubt, it should be pointed out, the Alexandrian Gnosticisms of the 2nd century (Basilides, Valentinus, Isidore, Marcion). There are better questions to ask. Is the Gnostic current of Chenoboskion rooted directly in Christianity already established in the manner of the great Alexandrian Gnosticisms (Basilides, Valentinus, Isidore), which founded a community after their excommunication from the Church? Is it transplanted directly into a composite, syncretistic soil? Is it related to currents of Judaism or to a specific rabbinical current, which we now know to have developed what is called “gnosis?” So-called primitive Christianity, in other words, apostolic, was already quite consistent, but it had given rise to all kinds of comments, questions, and also counterfeits. These Gnostics were able to draw inspiration either from these counterfeits or from apostolic Christianity which they then transformed substantially for their own ends, by mixing in Iranized or Egyptianized apocalypses.

The literature of these Lower Egyptian Gnostics includes great apocalypses presented as though composed in earliest times and kept under the care of fantastical powers in holy and mysterious places. The setting often presents Christian or Judeo-Christian characteristics: the Temple forecourt, the Mount of Olives. Not only that but also a geography from Iranian traditions.

Did this prepare for the advent of Manichaeism? This was the hypothesis made by Paul Monceaux in 1913. It was fair, but it was formulated at a time when only indirect sources were available (the notices of the Fathers). The hypothesis fell into the oblivion of university research, the cellars of which are deep. Puech and Doresse gave it new vigor. It was, however, buried again, thus neutralizing all research on the links between Gnosticisms and Manichaeism and their development throughout Eurasia.

Alongside this hypothesis, was the idea of a Eurasian inculturation of Christianity, parallel to the first Hellenistic inculturation which also saw itself buried for the benefit of extravagances nourished by literature and cinematographic fictions.

Gnosis: The Archetype Of Excessive Noesis

According to the historian of religions Mircéa Eliade, one of the great common denominators of all religions (or invariants), is a nostalgia for origins.

All… Except Christianity.

Gnosis claims to achieve an archetype of noetic plenitude, founded among other things on the idea of unity: it is a question of going beyond – most often by abolishing – the bipolarities and dualisms in which man finds himself a prisoner, or in which he thinks he is a prisoner; the first of these dualisms is that of spirit and matter. Gnosis implies nostalgia for a primordial Time, for a first origin where the soul is generally conceived as a divine spark which has fallen into matter and which has retained the memory of this divine origin.

This idea originated in the foothills of the Himalayas, and it gave birth to the doctrines of ensomatosis. Of all the symbol-religious systems, gnosis is the one that most often has recourse to those doctrines, thanks to which man projects himself and his destiny on to the screen of a mythical time where he relives endlessly his fall into matter and his ascent to imagined celestial origins. Hence the pervasiveness of the ideas of the circle, of paradise, of the pleroma, of hierogamy by which the pneumatic joins its ontological and transcendental “I.” It is understandable that Neo-Platonism played a preponderant role in Gnostic doctrines. We can better understand the mistrust of Christian theology, Byzantine as well as Latin, for Platonic philosophy.

Even though it is based on erratic and misleading thought, “gnosis” nonetheless responds to a powerful human need: the desire for heaven. The major idea is that of an ascent to a Primordial Unity, which implies a soul journey through which man rediscovers his soul, therefore himself. All ascension literature proceeds from this chimerical aspiration.

In fact, Christianity is the best antidote to this illusion of an archetype of noetic fullness. It frees us from images of the circle, of the obsession with origins, and when it postulates the immortality of the soul, it cannot be a divine particle, but a participating rational breath. If we admit that gnosis is knowledge, we must bring to light the fundamental Gnostic intuition which constitutes the ultimate hinge of this senseless quest, and it is of the noetic type.

However, our noetics has a complex philosophical history, since it inherited jointly, but not in the same proportions, nor at the same historical moment, from Aristotle and Plato. It was not until Thomas Aquinas that the idea of the substantial union of soul and body, and therefore of a soul (“form of the body,” animating principle, understood as an entelechy) was developed and formulated precisely, as being endowed with all that is necessary to live; that is to say to know God. But obviously the equipment is damaged by sin and it must be restored. When, in the quarrel with Averroes, Thomas Aquinas “bursts the Avicennian ceiling,” as Etienne Gilson rightly put it, he understood that the doctrine of Averroes, inherited from Avicennian gnosis, contained a Gnostic ferment.

Conclusion

Saint Irenaeus had seen with ironic perspicacity the nature of this spiritual charlatanism: “Nothing hinders any other, in dealing with the same subject, to affix names after such a fashion as the following: There is a certain Proarche, royal, surpassing all thought, a power existing before every other substance, and extended into space in every direction. But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced (and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves) a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus.”

Of all the elements of which Gnosticism is composed, none seems very original. The metaphysics is Neo-Platonism, with images and musings from the East, memories of Syria or Babylon. The moral is that of the Gospel, but often misguided, with Stoic formulas and tints of cynicism. The theories and rites of salvation, except for a few features which come from the Greek mysteries, are adventurous developments of conceptions which can be traced from Saint Paul to Origen. As for the mythology of Gnosticism, it is made up especially of borrowings from the old religions of the East, and marks a return to polytheism. Progress, if you will, but progress in reverse. And it is probably this mixture of Christianity and paganism, of religion and philosophy, East and West, which brought success to the Gnostic sects.
Gnostic pride has remained proverbial. Tertullian relates that they frowned in a mysterious manner when they said of their doctrine: “Hoc altum est” (This is profound).

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.


The featured image shows folio 32 of Nag Hammadi Codex II, with the ending of the Apocryphon of John, and the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas, ca. 4rth century.

Saint Augustine, First Archbishop Of Canterbury

Together with St. Gregory the Dialogist (Gregory the Great, according to the Western tradition), the Pope of Rome, St. Augustine (also Austin) is venerated as “the Apostle of the English”. He was most probably born in Sicily in the mid-sixth century and became a friend of the future Pope Gregory. In his youth St. Augustine led the monastic life at St. Andrew’s monastery in Rome, which had been founded by St. Gregory, and later became its prior (the abbot’s assistant; with St. Gregory as its abbot). St. Gregory praised Augustine for his brilliant knowledge of the Scriptures and excellent administrative abilities.

Around the year 596 St. Gregory sent Augustine at the head of the mission of forty Italian monks to England. The history of this crucial mission of English and even European history is well-documented and, specifically, described by Venerable Bede in his History of the English Church and People. The prehistory of this mission is also remarkable. Once St. Gregory happened to visit a slave market in Rome where he spotted three young male slaves with fair hair from northern England. He asked the slave trader who they were and where they came from. The latter answered that they were Angles and brought from Deira (then a kingdom in northern England). The future Pope with all his heart wished that these Angles would became like angels and come from the wrath of God (“de ira” in Latin) to eternal bliss.

So, when the time came, St. Gregory decided to fulfil his great ambition: to re-establish Orthodox Christianity in the now English land (we use here the word “re-establish” knowing that Christianity had existed in Britain during the Roman occupation perhaps from the first century till 410—when the Roman legions withdrew from Britain—but soon after almost completely and rapidly disappeared until the Augustinian mission; while in Wales, Dumnonia,1 Ireland, and Scotland, inhabited by Celtic peoples, a developed Church and monastic life was already flourishing by that time).

On their journey to Albion the missionaries stopped in Gaul, present-day France, where, it is said, St. Augustine performed his first miracle in Anjou: through his prayers a well with miraculous properties gushed forth there. The companions first stopped at the famous Lerins monastery in southern Gaul. Monks in Gaul told the missionaries about the life and customs of the Angles, especially that they were for the most part ferocious and cruel heathen. The fellow-missionaries of Augustine were scared and rather hesitant to go ahead, so it was decided to send St. Augustine back to Rome and ask the Pope Gregory what they should do further. The Pope encouraged Augustine, blessed him to go back, and commanded other brethren not to lose heart, but to go forward without any hesitation. He promised to pray hard for the success of their mission.

In spring 597 the Italian monks, accompanied by a number of Frankish priest-interpreters, arrived on the shores of Kent in the south-easternmost corner of England. According to tradition, they landed in or very near Ebbsfleet in Kent, on the Isle of Thanet which then was separated from the mainland England by a small river or channel, but now is part of the mainland (a memorial cross still stands on the site to commemorate the arrival of the missionaries). At that time Kent was the most influential of all the early English kingdoms and it had mostly been settled by the Germanic tribe of Jutes.

From the year 562 Kent had been ruled by the pagan Ethelbert (later to become St. Ethelbert). Fortunately, his spouse, Queen Bertha—a Frankish princess—was a Christian. Kent had permanent trade links with Gaul and communication with the continent and the Christian world, unlike other local kingdoms. Born in Gaul, Bertha had agreed to marry Ethelbert on condition that she was allowed to practice her Christian faith in England and to take her confessor, the priest Liudhard (+ c. 603) with her. Not only did Ethelbert consent to this condition, but even provided her with a small and ancient church of St. Martin of Tours in Canterbury (though it has since been rebuilt, this very ancient church, which is about 1700 years old, survives to this day).

King Ethelbert knew about the Christian faith and thus received St. Augustine very kindly, but at the same time with caution. He did not invite the saint to his palace, but preferred to talk with him “under an oak tree”, obviously hoping in this way to protect himself from “Christian magic”. The royal residence of the Kentish king was situated in Canterbury, which then was called Durovernum. Tradition tells that the first official meeting between the King and Augustine took place in Richborough near Ramsgate on the Isle of Thanet. Augustine was accompanied by his monks: all of them sang beautiful Christian hymns, and welcomed the king with a large silver cross and a large icon of Christ the Savior.

Ethelbert was impressed by the look of the monks and by their speech. There St. Augustine preached his first sermon to Ethelbert through an interpreter, and a chapel was later built there to commemorate the event. St. Ethelbert was more interested in Christ, though confessed he was not yet prepared to embrace the new faith. However, he allowed Augustine and all his brethren to be accommodated in Canterbury (the capital of Kent), to preach Christianity among his subjects freely, and provided them with the church of St. Martin.

According to tradition, on Pentecost Sunday of the same year, 5972, King Ethelbert was baptized at St. Martin’s church, together with many representatives of his nobility. Soon afterwards some 10,000 people of Kent voluntarily resolved to follow their ruler and be illumined by holy baptism. The mass baptism took place in the small River Swale in Kent. It was the first mass conversion to Orthodoxy in the English part of post-Roman Britain. This remarkable event was accompanied by numerous healings and miracles. It is noteworthy that neither Augustine nor King Ethelbert forced any of them to accept baptism—it was the voluntary decision of the people. Among those baptized were Jutes, Angles and Saxons. The monks began to live in Canterbury near the present-day Staplegate, to fast, pray, keep vigil, imitate Christ in their life, to go out to the people and preach the Good News to them. Soon further miracles followed. It was evident that the abundant grace of God had descended on this corner of the future England.

Meanwhile, in the following year of 598, St. Augustine travelled to Gaul for a short time where he was consecrated archbishop. Thus, he became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the English Church. The city of Canterbury ever since has been considered to be the English ecclesiastical capital. On account of his success in his mission in Kent and partly in neighbouring parts of England, St Augustine has been regarded as the enlightener of the Angles, and he shares this title with St. Gregory.

Among the monks who came with Augustine to England there were several other saints: St. Laurence, the second Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 619); St. Honorius, the fifth Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 653); St. Peter, the first Abbot of Canterbury (+ 607); and, probably, St. James (d. late seventh century), an illustrious deacon in York. In the year 601 new missionaries were sent from Rome by St. Gregory, some of whom later became saints as well: the future St. Mellitus, third Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 624); St. Justus, the fourth Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 627); and St. Paulinus, the first Bishop of York (+644). They brought relics, liturgical books, church vessels and vestments from Rome.

St. Augustine founded his Cathedral in Canterbury and dedicated it to Christ the Savior. It was said that an earlier church had existed on the same site, perhaps from Roman times. The present Canterbury Cathedral, the main Cathedral of the Church of England, is the successor of the Cathedral founded by St. Augustine. It is known that the archbishop began building a monastery in honor of Sts. Peter and Paul near the walls of Canterbury, which was completed after his repose. That was the first monastery in England. In Canterbury St. Augustine also built a school where many Christians of that period came to study, and produced many future saints and Church figures. A generation after St. Augustine’s repose this school had already sent missionaries to help enlighten the Kingdom of the East Angles.

St. Peter, mentioned above, became the monastery’s first abbot; but he unfortunately drowned during his journey to Gaul in 607 near Ambleteuse, not far from Boulogne, where his relics are still venerated. Among old Christian churches restored by Augustine in Canterbury let us mention the church of St. Pancras (an early Orthodox boy-martyr in Rome, some of whose relics were later translated to England, where, for example, one of London’s railway stations is called St. Pancras in his honor to this day). Of this once splendid church only ruins survive today.

St. Augustine also founded the diocese of Rochester in the kingdom of Kent. The first bishop of Rochester was St. Justus, who was afterwards raised to the rank of Archbishop of Canterbury. The first Cathedral at Rochester was dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle. One of his subsequent bishops in the seventh century was St. Ithamar, the first English-born bishop, from whose relics miracles were reported. The present Norman Cathedral in the port town of Rochester on the River Medway’s estuary is dedicated to Christ and the Mother of God. It is possible that under St. Augustine a fine church dedicated to St. Sophia, the Wisdom of God, was established in Reculver in Kent. Ruins of this church can be seen to this day.

By the end of his life St. Augustine had founded another diocese—in London, in the Kingdom of the East Saxons, which was at that time also under the control of Kent as St. Ethelbert was recognized as the supreme ruler of all the English lands situated to the south of the river Humber. In all his labors to spread Christianity and establish the Church throughout Kent, St. Augustine was helped by king Ethelbert. The holy king along with his wife Bertha were highly praised by St. Gregory from Rome, who in one of his letters even compared them to Sts. Constantine and Helen, Equal-to-the-Apostles.

During his ministry in England St. Augustine corresponded regularly with Pope Gregory. Their correspondence, all of which is considered by the majority of researchers to be authentic, survives to this day. Both hierarchs discussed numerous liturgical, pastoral and ritual matters, and methods of missionary work. On the Pope’s advice it was decided to bring the English people to the true faith gradually and not to force anybody to embrace Orthodoxy. All the idols were removed from pagan temples, but the temples themselves were not demolished – they were converted into Christian churches. The missionaries acted little by little.

In order to make the English people give up their old pagan habits, new Christian festivals were established, and the days of their celebration often coincided with the former heathen ones. However, the local customs and traditions which had nothing to do with paganism were not abolished, but were instead preserved and transformed in the light of the Christian life, so that the English people might cultivate their own distinctive Christian culture. The English Church thus was developed after the model of the Roman Orthodox Church but with local customs in mind.

It was recorded that during one of his journeys across the country St. Augustine healed a dumb girl by prayer in Chilham in Kent, and through his prayers, in the settlement of Cerne Abbas in Dorset a stream gushed forth which had healing powers. St. Augustine tried to reconcile the native British people—Britons3 who had a relatively developed Church life—with Angles and Saxons who had come to England from the continent. But despite his efforts, the Britons still regarded Angles as their invaders and enemies—they did not wish to reconcile themselves with them or communicate with them, although the Angles began to come to Christ in numbers. They also refused to recognize St. Augustine as their bishop. It was only closer to the end of the seventh century that the great archpastor, the Greek Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury, succeeded in reconciling and bringing together these two peoples—the British and the English.

Augustine’s mission played a huge role in the conversion of Angles and Saxons to Christianity, though the same can be said of that of St. Aidan, the Celtic monk from Ireland who organized a very successful mission from northeastern England some three decades after St. Augustine. The role of both these saints in introducing and spreading Orthodoxy in seventh-century England cannot be overestimated—they lived in somewhat different yet complementary traditions, in the same pure Orthodox spirit. The existence of these two different types of post-Roman Christianity in England enriched the Church and made it more diverse.

St. Augustine lived in England for only seven or eight years but by the end of his life could see the formation of the early English Church with his own eyes. Shortly before his repose, the Savior Himself appeared in a vision to St. Augustine. The holy archbishop passed away soon after his beloved teacher St. Gregory, either in 604 or 605, and was buried at the monastery he had built in Canterbury. It is known that he performed miracles in his lifetime. In the year 747 the official veneration of St. Augustine was confirmed by an English Church Synod in Clovesho.

Miracles continued especially in 1091 after his relics were translated to the new Norman church of the Canterbury monastery (it was at that time that the learned monk Goscelin wrote his famous Life of St. Augustine in two parts, and an account of the translation of his relics). There they were kept until the Reformation, when most of the relics were destroyed. However, small portions of them survived and later were translated to Chilham church in Kent where, unfortunately, they were destroyed as well. A tiny portion of St. Augustine’s relics is kept at the Orthodox Church of St. John of Shanghai in Colchester (Essex) and another small part of a bone was not ago acquired by St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Ramsgate (Kent) which also houses a relic of St. Laurence of Canterbury.

Many Catholic and Anglican parish churches are dedicated to St. Augustine of Canterbury in England, though more are dedicated to Blessed Augustine of Hippo. Only two of the eight ancient manuscripts brought to England by the Italian missionaries 1400 years ago still survive. One of them is a fragment of the Rule of St. Benedict from the early seventh century, which is kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Oxford also has a mid-seventh-century Gospel book associated with St. Augustine), and another is the illumined “St. Augustine’s Gospel” from the early seventh century, which well may have belonged to the saint himself (this is kept at the library of the Corpus Christi College, Cambridge). This Gospel is used at the enthronements of the Archbishops of Canterbury to this day (and each time is taken to Canterbury on this occasion).

There are ancient depictions of St. Augustine on a fourteenth-century stained glass window at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, at Canterbury Cathedral (c. 1470), on the miniatures of “the Breviaries of the Duke of Bedford” (1424) as well as on fourteenth-century frescoes at St. Gregory’s Church in Rome. For their contribution to spreading Orthodoxy in England and great support of the Augustine’s mission both King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha were venerated as saints after their repose in 616 and c. 603 (or 612) respectively, though no information on the official feast day of St. Bertha survives. Although after St. Augustine’s death a number of pagan reactions occurred in various parts of southern England, his mission revitalized life in the country and began the long process of its re-Christianization. This mission brought spirituality, learning, art, literature, music, and medicine to the English people who had been in isolation and regress for around two centuries before Augustine.

Let us now talk about the holy sites in Canterbury associated with St. Augustine.

The little church of St. Martin of Tours is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world still in use. A part of it dates back to the late Roman period. Though most of it was rebuilt, part of its construction still includes Roman brickwork. A section of a wall on the south side of its sanctuary is purely Roman. The doorway dates to the Saxon era. The church was obviously enlarged with time (because the number of the faithful townsfolk increased) as the original church was tiny even in comparison with the present structure. It was used as St. Bertha’s private chapel—her confessor, St. Liudhard, served here; after the arrival of Augustine it was restored, and the hierarch himself worshipped here before his main cathedral was completed. Both Sts. Ethelbert (who was baptized here) and Bertha are commemorated in this church: St. Ethelbert is depicted in stained glass which shows his baptism, and St. Bertha in a statue on the Roman wall.

The church font’s upper part is mainly from the twelfth century, while its lower part is much older, and it is quite possible that it was used for the king’s baptism. A curious find was made in St. Martin’s churchyard in the 1840s. A Saxon gold coin, or medal, which was probably used as a medallion, was found here in a woman’s grave. The name of St. Liudhard was inscribed on one side of the coin and a patriarchal cross is depicted on the other side. Thus the existence of St. Liudhard was confirmed for those academics who by that time had begun to doubt it. Now the unique relic is housed at the World Museum in the city of Liverpool.

The ruins of Canterbury Abbey, founded by St. Augustine, is another precious gem. They are located not far from the Cathedral and are now attached to Canterbury’s Kings School. Some consider this school to be the heir of the great school opened by Augustine himself. That school grew into one of the most important in the whole country. It was developed especially under St. Theodore of Canterbury and the Holy Abbot Hadrian of Canterbury (he was a Berber from Africa who ruled the monastery for over forty years until his repose in c.710). For a long time this monastery was the burial site of the abbots and Archbishops of Canterbury and Kings of Kent. It had a huge library and a scriptorium for copying manuscripts. The monastery, originally dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul, was rededicated in the tenth century by St. Dunstan in honor of its founder, St. Augustine.

The medieval monastery was so large that it could be compared with the present huge Canterbury Cathedral. Unfortunately, it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 and gradually ruined—after over 900 years of permanent monastic life, education and learning on this site. Now the ruins are cared for by English Heritage. Large-scale excavation work was carried out here recently and there is a museum/visitors’ center nearby that tells the story of this site—indeed one of the most significant sites in English history. Remains of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul and that of St. Pancras can be distinguished among the ruins. Big bronze statues of Sts. Ethelbert and Bertha stand by the ruins. This is a very holy place also because more early saints were buried here even than at the Cathedral. Lately English Heritage has put markers (some of them symbolic) on the supposed graves of the early saints on the territory of the abbey. (Who knows, maybe the relics of some still lie in the ground under them).

The names of the saints buried at the St. Augustine’s abbey are: St. Augustine (first Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Laurence (second Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Mellitus (third Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Justus (fourth Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Honorius (fifth Archbishop of Canterbury), St. Deusdedit (Frithona in baptism: the first English-born and sixth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 664), St. Theodore of Tarsus (eighth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 690), St. Berhtwald (ninth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 731), St. Tatwine (tenth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 734), St. Nothelm (eleventh Archbishop of Canterbury; + 739), St. Jambert (fourteenth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 792), St. Hadrian of Canterbury, St. Ethelbert of Kent, St. Bertha of Kent, St. Mildred of Minster on Thanet (d. early eighth century; some of her relics were translated here in the first half of the eleventh century to rescue them from the pagan Danes), St. Mildgyth (St. Mildred’s sister, late seventh century).

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Canterbury, the current edifice of which is mainly from the twelfth century and built of Caen stone, is one of the most visited buildings in England, and the historic heart of the English land. The first Cathedral was built by St. Augustine by the year 602. Not long ago part of the Saxon building was discovered under the nave of the present Cathedral. The earliest part of the Cathedral is the crypt—some of it is from the eleventh century. The Cathedral has very many memorials and artefacts, though most of its treasures were barbarously destroyed during the Reformation initiated by Henry VIII nearly 500 years ago. The Cathedral precincts are entered through the impressive Christ Church gates with the splendid figure of Christ above you. The west towers of the Cathedral along with the famous Bell Harry Tower are magnificent. The beautiful huge West Window of the Cathedral is reputedly the oldest surviving stained glass in England (dating to the 1170s).

The twelfth-century murals inside St. Gabriel’s Chapel depict scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. The high altar at the end of the Cathedral choir is dedicated to St. Thomas Becket who was murdered in 1170 by knights of King Henry II (the latter then tried to atone for his sin, walking to the Cathedral as a simple pilgrim, praying for his forgiveness at Becket’s tomb and even allowing the Canterbury brethren to whip him). On both sides of the high altar are markers showing the sites of the former shrines of Sts. Dunstan and Alphege, great Orthodox Archbishops of Canterbury. Many sites within the Cathedral are still dedicated to the memory of Thomas Becket, who is venerated by the Catholic Church—his shrine at this Cathedral attracted millions of pilgrims in the Middle Ages, as he was the most venerated Catholic saint of England and one of the most venerated post-schism saints in the whole of Western Europe. Though his shrine and major relics were destroyed during the Reformation, a tiny portion of his relics still survives at the Catholic Church of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury to this day.

Among other treasures of the Cathedral are thirteenth-century stained glass windows with images of various saints (for example, a twelfth-century image of St. Paul the Apostle with a snake), depictions from the life of Christ and, notably, the thirteenth-century Purbeck “St. Augustine’s Chair” on which each Archbishop of Canterbury is officially enthroned. There is also a remarkable chapel dedicated to all the modern martyrs of major Christian denominations, called “the Corona Chapel”. Here is the list of the saints buried within Canterbury Cathedral (nobody knows whether the relics of any of them still rest concealed there or not, though the Lord may reveal it one day):

St. Cuthbert (twelfth Archbishop of Canterbury; +760), St. Bregwin (thirteenth Archbishop of Canterbury; +764), St. Ethelhard (fifteenth Archbishop of Canterbury; +805), St. Plegmund (twentieth Archbishop of Canterbury; + c.923), St. Athelm, or Athelhelm (twenty-first Archbishop of Canterbury; + c. 927), St. Odo, or Oda the Good, or Severe (twenty-third Archbishop of Canterbury; + c.958), St. Dunstan (twenty-sixth Archbishop of Canterbury; + 988), St. Aelfric (twenty-ninth Archbishop of Canterbury; not to be confused with the learned abbot, scholar and spiritual writer Aelfric of Eynsham; +1005), St. Alphege the Martyr (thirtieth Archbishop of Canterbury; +1012), St. Aethelnoth the Good (thirty-second Archbishop of Canterbury; +1038), St. Eadsige (thirty-third Archbishop of Canterbury; + c.1050), St. Swithin of Winchester (his head relic rested here; +862), St. Wulganus (an eighth century British missionary who enlightened the Atrebati in Gaul and lived as hermit in Arras; a portion of his relics rested here).

As we can see, twenty-two early (and Orthodox) Archbishops of Canterbury were canonized—and St. Augustine is at the head of them. During the Second World War Canterbury was heavily damaged by Luftwaffe bombs but the cathedral was rescued by the city residents and, of course, through intercession of St. Augustine. As we know, a similar miraculous event happened in Durham in 1943: St. Cuthbert whose relics rest there saved the city of Durham and its cathedral from Luftwaffe bombs by hiding them in thick fog!

The Way of St. Augustine” is a pilgrimage trail from Ramsgate to Canterbury embracing some 20 miles and covering places associated with St. Augustine. It begins from the Catholic church-shrine of St. Augustine in Ramsgate and passes, among other places, through the village of Cliffsend (according to one version, it was here that the saint first landed in England; the Saxon leaders Hengist and Horsa also landed here in 449 A.D. to settle in England), St. Augustine’s cross, Minster-on-Thanet, and Fordwich near Canterbury (claiming to be the smallest English town; it has the old St. Mary’s church which houses a tomb believed to be the one that once contained St. Augustine’s relics).

Holy Hierarch Augustine, pray to God for us!


Dmitry Lapa writes about Orthodox history and faith. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Orthodox Christianity.


The featured image shows, “St Augustine at Ebbsfleet,” by Frank Brangwyn, painted in 1920.