Father Jean-Christophe Thibaut has been following the “new spiritualities” for over twenty years. He has published a fascinating book which allows us to better understand and apprehend this phenomenon.He is in conservation with Christophe Geffroy of La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we bring you this interview.
Christophe Geffroy (CG): How did you become interested in magic and esotericism?
Father Jean-Christophe Thibaut (FrJ-CT): From a very young age, I asked myself questions about the meaning of life. My parents, who were atheist and anti-clerical teachers, were unable to provide the answers I was looking for. So, I decided to do my own research with what I could get my hands on. At the age of 8, I discovered the use of the pendulum, then, at 13, spiritualism. From there, I devoted myself entirely to the study of esotericism and occultism. During my studies at the university, I even became a Luciferian. It was in this context that, against all odds, I experienced Christ the Savior. A few years after my conversion, when I entered the seminary, the bishop of my diocese asked me to train in this field in order to help those who, like me, are tempted by magic and esotericism.
CG: Could you define precisely what magic and esotericism are? And where do they come from, what are their stories?
FrJ-CT: Magic and esotericism are not synonyms. Magic uses techniques to obtain material results, but using supernatural means, with the help of rituals (incantations) and certain objects (crystal ball, wand, cards, pendulums, etc.).
Esotericism is a “catch-all” term in which we group together all the somewhat strange subjects (UFOs, divination, alchemy, etc.) without them necessarily having a link between them. But, originally, this neologism, coined in 1828 by a Protestant pastor, designated a group of beliefs that had Christian appearances, but were based on principles different from those taught by the Church. What they had in common was the belief that salvation depended not on divine grace, but on a primordial knowledge—the Tradition of the Ancients—which man had forgotten since the fall of his soul into matter (the body), but which he could recover thanks to a few initiates. Those who reach this “gnosis” (knowledge) are not satisfied with the “exoteric” teaching of the Churches, but reach a knowledge so powerful that it provokes an illumination, a “transmutation” of the impetus made capable of “going up” to its First Principle (God) from which it emanates. Occultism, for its part, designates the application of this esoteric knowledge in different fields, such as alchemy, astrology, divinatory arts, magic, etc.
CG: What do magic and esotericism represent today? What percentage of the population does it affect? And does it concern a particular fringe of the population or not, in other words who is affected by this phenomenon?
FrJ-CT: It is not possible to give precise figures, especially since some people today use magical principles without always being aware of it. For example, some alternative therapies or personal development methods are based on principles directly inspired by magic. What is certain is that sociologists note a development of a “magical mentality.” This phenomenon affects all social classes, cities as well as the countryside. The latest surveys show that one Frenchman in four consults fortune tellers and that 58 percent declare that they believe in an occult science. There are more than 100,000 declared astrologers and mediums, to which we must add those who practice secretly. But it is above all young people who are seduced by esotericism: 70 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds have a favorable opinion. We are witnessing a strong return of witchcraft, spiritualism and shamanism.
CG: How can we explain such a craze for magic and esotericism in a society where Christianity, although in retreat, proposes a much more coherent spirituality that has shaped our historical being?
FrJ-CT: First of all, it should be noted that many of our contemporaries differentiate between religion and spirituality. Religion is perceived as a confinement in dogmas and rites to be accomplished, where one must follow an imposed truth. On the contrary, spirituality is considered as a space of freedom where each one can seek God, the divinity, the absolute, as he wants and in the way he likes. Each person is the priest of his own religion, which he builds according to his desires and intuitions.
Moreover, for many, spirituality is necessarily Asian (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) and not Western, let alone Christian. Meditation is preferred to prayer as a deeper experience of the inner life. Instead of Mass, we prefer various practices (shamanism, sophrology, hypnosis, yoga, reiki, etc.) that claim to open people to spiritual dimensions buried within them. However, there is a profound misunderstanding, because these Eastern religions have been reformatted to Western taste, and, above all, emptied of their religious content. These pseudo-spiritualities are more like personal development techniques, where the search for God is only a pretext for a quest for oneself, for one’s deepest self.
Spirituality is only of interest insofar as it can bring something immediate and concrete: a well-being, an inner peace, a better physical and psychological health. There is therefore no gratuitousness, no search for truth and no love. Spirituality has become a marketing product, while the Christian religion is perceived as a relic of the past in the process of disappearing.
CG: How are magic and esotericism dangerous, and what are the possible consequences for people who practice them? How to get out of it?
FrJ-CT: Magic, like esotericism, is based on the principles of ancient paganism: there is no creator God, but everything that exists is an emanation of a first principle (God and the cosmos are one). The Earth is a living being. All the elements of the world, the macrocosm (Earth, planets, etc.) and the microcosm (men, organs, cells) are in correspondence: we are thus subjected to forces which exceed us. There is no good or evil; they are only polarities that must be brought into harmony, etc.
All this thinking is contrary to biblical revelation. By adhering to this thought, one rejects all that God has revealed to us from Abraham to Jesus Christ. And this, it seems to me, is the real danger: by following a false thought, by preferring to trust in spirits or occult forces rather than in God and His divine Providence, we play into the hands of the Liar. Esotericism is a form of idolatry and magic always ties us to a demon. By distancing ourselves from God and the truth, we risk losing ourselves. Damnation is the Devil’s primary goal. To practice magic is to open the door to demonic forces. We must close them with determination by returning to God, through the sacrament of reconciliation, or sometimes by asking for the help of the prayer of exorcism and deliverance when necessary.
CG: Why does the Church speak out so little on these issues?
FrJ-CT: I believe that if the Church of the first centuries was very attentive to preserving the “deposit of faith” and avoiding falling into the traps of the devil, the Church today perhaps does not pay enough attention to these questions which are nevertheless of primary importance. There is a fear of the irrational. But it is enough to return to what the Fathers of the Church and the theologians have taught us. There is an urgent need for formation and training of the clergy.
CG: What advice would you give, especially to parents, to avoid falling into the trap of magic and esotericism? Is fantasy literature a risk in this respect for young people? How to discern?
FrJ-CT: Magic and esotericism are fascinating. And yet, they often lead to a real confinement. I think it is important to talk about it, not to make it a taboo. We must also be careful when we adopt relaxation methods, seductive therapies. It is not because they “work” that they are necessarily good. One must accept to make a discernment.
Fantasy literature is not bad in itself, but one must be careful that it does not distill an esoteric message. It is good for parents to read these books or at least talk about them with their children. Television series currently focus on witchcraft and magic, while presenting Christianity in the cheesiest light. Peacefully, with humor and tact, but firmly, we must denounce all forms of manipulation of thought. The first Christians did it in their time. It is our turn to remain vigilant!
Featured: “Hermes Trismegistos,” from Stolcius, Viridarium Chymicun, 1624.
In keeping with the theoretical framework outlined in my book, Minima mercatalia. Filosofia e capitalism [Small Business. Philosophy and capitalism], absolute-totalitarian capitalism or turbo-capitalism, as it has been implemented since the sixties of the “short century,” acts by annihilating every limit that can hinder or even slow down its logic of development and reproduction. This logic consists in the colonization without residue of the real and the symbolic, according to the rhythm of omni- mercantilization [conversion of everything into market and commodity], whose only teleological orientation is the unlimited and boundless will to power, and whose foundation is the destruction of every material or immaterial limit—turbo-capitalism becomes absolutus, “perfectly complete,” as soon as it becomes “liberated from” (solutus ab) every limit that can contain it, discipline it and, perhaps also, halt its advance. The incessant demolition of frontiers and bastions of resistance to this conversion of everything into a market is what, with total intentionality, is celebrated as “progress” by the new mental order generated by the completely new world order under the banner of capital.
In contrast, “regression” [“involution”] is the term with which the order of the dominant discourse delegitimizes every figure of the limit or, more simply, of non-alignment, with respect to the enveloping global movement that transforms everything into merchandise, reifying the world and life. And this, in post-1,989, is valid both for “material” and political elements stricto sensu, such as the national sovereign State (which I dealt with in Glebalizzazione. La lotta di classe al tempo del populismo [Glebalization: The Class Struggle in the Time of Populism]—“glebalization,” the serial production of new exploited, underpaid and precarious servants)—the last bastion of popular sovereignty and of the autonomy of the political; and for the properly spiritual dimension linked to cultural identities (at the center of my Difendere chi siamo. Le ragioni dell´identità italiana [Defend Who We Are. The Reasons for Italian Identity], to critical thought (which I studied in Pensare altrimenti [Think Otherwise]) and, especially, to the religion of transcendence.
That unlimitedly self-empowered will to power, in order to be able to realize itself, must colonize the entire planet, following the dynamics of what we usually call “globalization” (a pious name for the new figure of all-inclusive imperialism), and must, “uno motu,” take hold of each and every conscience, provoking the destruction of any cultural and spiritual sovereignty, specifically the dis-identification (the annihilation of all identity) and the de-divinization of the world (the neutralization of all sense of the sacred and of transcendence).
In this perspective, Christianity is in every way incompatible with the new spirit of capitalism since, apart from guarding the sense of the sacred and of transcendence, it lives historically in concrete institutions which, like the Church of Rome, have their own autonomy and, if you will, their own political as well as spiritual sovereignty. So that the so fashionable slogan “war of religion,” with which the postmodern discourse tends to liquidate tout court all religion of transcendence, insofar as it can be assimilated to the fanaticism of potentially terrorist revolts, can perhaps be replaced by the opposite locution “war against religion,” a formula with which, by means of a gestalt reorientation of thought, we refer: A) to the already evident incompatibility between religion of transcendence and atheistic religion of the market, between Christianity and capitalism; and B) to the no less adamantine “war”—now open, now underhanded—that the civilization of markets has declared on the religion of transcendence “ut sic.”
The “retreat of Christianity” is also explained, in part, in connection with the struggle against religion led by the materialistic and spiritless inspiration characteristic of the technocratic order. In the context of this “war against religion,” which is deliberately concealed under the rhetoric of the “war of religion” from the sphere of the globalized free trade zone, Christianity is granted only one possibility: to adapt to relativistic nihilism by pretending to remain itself and thus to lead the faithful and the West itself into the abyss of the nothingness of the civilization of the markets. In other words, and in accordance with what has been pointed out, turbo-capitalist globalization asks Christianity either to allow itself to be “killed” by the nihilism of techno-capitalist civilization, or to “commit suicide” by voluntarily diluting itself in this nothingness; that is, to redefine itself as a mere appendix of the civilization of the markets, assimilating and spreading the same relativistic and nihilistic vision of the world, stripped of any link with transcendence and the sacred, to ultimately end up being transformed into a megaphone of the same political, social and economic conception based on the dogmas of the sans frontières market, the free circulation of merchandise and commodified people, the neoliberal and American-centric one world, and the whims of consumption with rainbow tones for the ruling classes, improperly designated with the noble title of “civil rights.”
In short, globalization asks Christianity, sic et simpliciter, to continue to exist by renouncing its being and becoming an integral part of the very project of globalization founded on the fanaticism of the free market. And when attempts are made to escape this destiny, recovering the spirit of transcendence and the sacred, of tradition and the divine, as occurred during the brief but heroic pontificate of Ratzinger, the clash between Christianity and capitalism becomes irreconcilable. There is shown, in all its crudeness, the real enmity that pits the religion of the sacred against the nihil of the “horrendous order”—as Pasolini called it—of the civilization of capital; an enmity that, in this case, has been resolved in favor of the latter, through the restoration—with the appointment of “Pope” Bergoglio—of a new and more stable compromise of Christianity’s submission to the neoliberal oligarchic bloc. Pope Ratzinger was the extreme and epic attempt of Christianity to reverse its own tendency of evaporation and self-dissolution, resisting nihilistic relativism, thanks to a recovery of the heart of Christian doctrine and tradition, and vindicating in the full sense the reasons of the sacred, the eternal, the transcendent and the Corpus Christianorum.
In the preceding figure of “dialectical capitalism,” just as we have codified it in Minima mercatalia, religion was presented as an essentially dialectical element: it could justify both revolt in the name of the kingdom of heaven and subordination to the constituted power as an image of divine justice, depending on whether the “hot current” or the “cold current” of Christianity prevailed, to use Ernst Bloch’s syntax in Atheism in Christianity. At the time, religion could be used as an instrument of government and it was possible to find a bilateral agreement with it, as for example happened in Italy with the Lateran Pacts (1,929).
Absolute-totalitarian capitalism, for its part, not only no longer needs the religious phenomenon to prop up its own power, but it must get rid of it, recognizing it as an impediment—potential or real, depending on the context—to its own logic of development and reproduction. From a different plane, the Christian religion refers to a higher order that, however, should not necessarily always be understood as a structure of domination and power. Undoubtedly, in the past Christianity has represented an obstacle, because power also needed a religious justification. The power of truly totalitarian neo-capitalism and potentially superior to everything that has preceded it, no longer needs a “celestial” justification: it is strong enough to be self-sufficient. Furthermore, it fears that any possible reference to the higher order of the transcendent may turn out to be intrinsically contradictory, if only because of its appeal to a different and higher dimension than that of the totally colonized real in the form of a market.
The world is round, so round that the schools of optimism and pessimism have been arguing from the beginning whether it is the right way up. The difficulty does not arise so much from the mere fact that good and evil are mingled in roughly equal proportions; it arises chiefly from the fact that men always differ about what parts are good and what evil. Hence the difficulty which besets “undenominational religions.” They profess to include what is beautiful in all creeds, but they appear to many to have collected all that is dull in them. All the colours mixed together in purity ought to make a perfect white. Mixed together on any human paint-box, they make a thing like mud, and a thing very like many new religions. Such a blend is often something much worse than any one creed taken separately, even the creed of the Thugs. The error arises from the difficulty of detecting what is really the good part and what is really the bad part of any given religion. And this pathos falls rather heavily on those persons who have the misfortune to think of some religion or other, that the parts commonly counted good are bad, and the parts commonly counted bad are good.
It is tragic to admire and honestly admire a human group, but to admire it in a photographic negative. It is difficult to congratulate all their whites on being black and all their blacks on their whiteness. This will often happen to us in connection with human religions. Take two institutions which bear witness to the religious energy of the nineteenth century. Take the Salvation Army and the philosophy of Auguste Comte.
The usual verdict of educated people on the Salvation Army is expressed in some such words as these: “I have no doubt they do a great deal of good, but they do it in a vulgar and profane style; their aims are excellent, but their methods are wrong.” To me, unfortunately, the precise reverse of this appears to be the truth. I do not know whether the aims of the Salvation Army are excellent, but I am quite sure their methods are admirable. Their methods are the methods of all intense and hearty religions; they are popular like all religion, military like all religion, public and sensational like all religion. They are not reverent any more than Roman Catholics are reverent, for reverence in the sad and delicate meaning of the term reverence is a thing only possible to infidels. That beautiful twilight you will find in Euripides, in Renan, in Matthew Arnold; but in men who believe you will not find it—you will find only laughter and war. A man cannot pay that kind of reverence to truth solid as marble; they can only be reverent towards a beautiful lie. And the Salvation Army, though their voice has broken out in a mean environment and an ugly shape, are really the old voice of glad and angry faith, hot as the riots of Dionysus, wild as the gargoyles of Catholicism, not to be mistaken for a philosophy. Professor Huxley, in one of his clever phrases, called the Salvation Army “corybantic Christianity.” Huxley was the last and noblest of those Stoics who have never understood the Cross. If he had understood Christianity he would have known that there never has been, and never can be, any Christianity that is not corybantic.
And there is this difference between the matter of aims and the matter of methods, that to judge of the aims of a thing like the Salvation Army is very difficult, to judge of their ritual and atmosphere very easy. No one, perhaps, but a sociologist can see whether General Booth’s housing scheme is right. But any healthy person can see that banging brass cymbals together must be right. A page of statistics, a plan of model dwellings, anything which is rational, is always difficult for the lay mind. But the thing which is irrational any one can understand. That is why religion came so early into the world and spread so far, while science came so late into the world and has not spread at all. History unanimously attests the fact that it is only mysticism which stands the smallest chance of being understanded of the people. Common sense has to be kept as an esoteric secret in the dark temple of culture. And so while the philanthropy of the Salvationists and its genuineness may be a reasonable matter for the discussion of the doctors, there can be no doubt about the genuineness of their brass bands, for a brass band is purely spiritual, and seeks only to quicken the internal life. The object of philanthropy is to do good; the object of religion is to be good, if only for a moment, amid a crash of brass.
And the same antithesis exists about another modern religion—I mean the religion of Comte, generally known as Positivism, or the worship of humanity. Such men as Mr. Frederic Harrison, that brilliant and chivalrous philosopher, who still, by his mere personality, speaks for the creed, would tell us that he offers us the philosophy of Comte, but not all Comte’s fantastic proposals for pontiffs and ceremonials, the new calendar, the new holidays and saints’ days. He does not mean that we should dress ourselves up as priests of humanity or let off fireworks because it is Milton’s birthday. To the solid English Comtist all this appears, he confesses, to be a little absurd. To me it appears the only sensible part of Comtism. As a philosophy it is unsatisfactory. It is evidently impossible to worship humanity, just as it is impossible to worship the Savile Club; both are excellent institutions to which we may happen to belong. But we perceive clearly that the Savile Club did not make the stars and does not fill the universe. And it is surely unreasonable to attack the doctrine of the Trinity as a piece of bewildering mysticism, and then to ask men to worship a being who is ninety million persons in one God, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.
But if the wisdom of Comte was insufficient, the folly of Comte was wisdom. In an age of dusty modernity, when beauty was thought of as something barbaric and ugliness as something sensible, he alone saw that men must always have the sacredness of mummery. He saw that while the brutes have all the useful things, the things that are truly human are the useless ones. He saw the falsehood of that almost universal notion of to-day, the notion that rites and forms are something artificial, additional, and corrupt. Ritual is really much older than thought; it is much simpler and much wilder than thought. A feeling touching the nature of things does not only make men feel that there are certain proper things to say; it makes them feel that there are certain proper things to do. The more agreeable of these consist of dancing, building temples, and shouting very loud; the less agreeable, of wearing green carnations and burning other philosophers alive. But everywhere the religious dance came before the religious hymn, and man was a ritualist before he could speak. If Comtism had spread the world would have been converted, not by the Comtist philosophy, but by the Comtist calendar. By discouraging what they conceive to be the weakness of their master, the English Positivists have broken the strength of their religion. A man who has faith must be prepared not only to be a martyr, but to be a fool. It is absurd to say that a man is ready to toil and die for his convictions when he is not even ready to wear a wreath round his head for them. I myself, to take a corpus vile, am very certain that I would not read the works of Comte through for any consideration whatever. But I can easily imagine myself with the greatest enthusiasm lighting a bonfire on Darwin Day.
That splendid effort failed, and nothing in the style of it has succeeded. There has been no rationalist festival, no rationalist ecstasy. Men are still in black for the death of God. When Christianity was heavily bombarded in the last century upon no point was it more persistently and brilliantly attacked than upon that of its alleged enmity to human joy. Shelley and Swinburne and all their armies have passed again and again over the ground, but they have not altered it. They have not set up a single new trophy or ensign for the world’s merriment to rally to. They have not given a name or a new occasion of gaiety. Mr. Swinburne does not hang up his stocking on the eve of the birthday of Victor Hugo. Mr. William Archer does not sing carols descriptive of the infancy of Ibsen outside people’s doors in the snow. In the round of our rational and mournful year one festival remains out of all those ancient gaieties that once covered the whole earth. Christmas remains to remind us of those ages, whether Pagan or Christian, when the many acted poetry instead of the few writing it. In all the winter in our woods there is no tree in glow but the holly.
The strange truth about the matter is told in the very word “holiday.” A bank holiday means presumably a day which bankers regard as holy. A half-holiday means, I suppose, a day on which a schoolboy is only partially holy. It is hard to see at first sight why so human a thing as leisure and larkiness should always have a religious origin. Rationally there appears no reason why we should not sing and give each other presents in honour of anything—the birth of Michael Angelo or the opening of Euston Station. But it does not work. As a fact, men only become greedily and gloriously material about something spiritualistic. Take away the Nicene Creed and similar things, and you do some strange wrong to the sellers of sausages. Take away the strange beauty of the saints, and what has remained to us is the far stranger ugliness of Wandsworth. Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.
And now I have to touch upon a very sad matter. There are in the modern world an admirable class of persons who really make protest on behalf of that antiqua pulchritudo of which Augustine spoke, who do long for the old feasts and formalities of the childhood of the world. William Morris and his followers showed how much brighter were the dark ages than the age of Manchester. Mr. W. B. Yeats frames his steps in prehistoric dances, but no man knows and joins his voice to forgotten choruses that no one but he can hear. Mr. George Moore collects every fragment of Irish paganism that the forgetfulness of the Catholic Church has left or possibly her wisdom preserved. There are innumerable persons with eye-glasses and green garments who pray for the return of the maypole or the Olympian games. But there is about these people a haunting and alarming something which suggests that it is just possible that they do not keep Christmas. It is painful to regard human nature in such a light, but it seems somehow possible that Mr. George Moore does not wave his spoon and shout when the pudding is set alight. It is even possible that Mr. W. B. Yeats never pulls crackers. If so, where is the sense of all their dreams of festive traditions? Here is a solid and ancient festive tradition still plying a roaring trade in the streets, and they think it vulgar. if this is so, let them be very certain of this, that they are the kind of people who in the time of the maypole would have thought the maypole vulgar; who in the time of the Canterbury pilgrimage would have thought the Canterbury pilgrimage vulgar; who in the time of the Olympian games would have thought the Olympian games vulgar. Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that they were vulgar. Let no man deceive himself; if by vulgarity we mean coarseness of speech, rowdiness of behaviour, gossip, horseplay, and some heavy drinking, vulgarity there always was wherever there was joy, wherever there was faith in the gods. Wherever you have belief you will have hilarity, wherever you have hilarity you will have some dangers. And as creed and mythology produce this gross and vigorous life, so in its turn this gross and vigorous life will always produce creed and mythology. If we ever get the English back on to the English land they will become again a religious people, if all goes well, a superstitious people. The absence from modern life of both the higher and lower forms of faith is largely due to a divorce from nature and the trees and clouds. If we have no more turnip ghosts it is chiefly from the lack of turnips.
Featured: “St. Columba Altarpiece,” by Rogier van der Weyden; painted ca. 1455.
Flavigny can pass for one of the most beautiful villages of Burgundy. Its houses of ashlar, noble, old places gnawed by lichen and moss, with the windows fashioned in the old way, surround the church at the center of the village, mounted like a crown upon a tooth. The narrow nave of the church of Saint-Genest shows vaulting of a delicate gothic style; a lace tribune connects the two lateral parts of the building. A whole battery of statues attracts the eye: the wooden monks of the stalls, the Angel of the Annunciation and the Virgin breastfeeding, with a little Jesus suckling greedily in her arms.
Downstairs, at the village gate, the seminary of the Society of St. Pius X sends out a number of young abbots who pass through the narrow streets in black cassocks, without buttons or buckles on their belts. The park where these good seminarians stroll opens onto the Alesia valley. A huge Crucifix at the end of the park dominates the view like a victory on a ship that triumphs over the horizon—the sentinel before the barbarians. We then learn that Louis de Funès participated in the renovation of part of the church and that one of the first bishops of Mosul rests in the cemetery among the sisters. At the entrance of the village, not far from the large gate of Saint Joseph, the old abbey of Saint Peter houses the confectionery, remarkable for its aniseed with exquisite perfumes: mandarin, violet, rose. The loving shepherd and the greedy shepherdess, he dowdy, she the pretty pearl, illustrate these very good sweets and never fail to charm.
There are abbeys which look like citadels in the scrubland; others are havens and border a river; the abbey of Flavigny is a castle in the countryside. These Benedictines lived happily first in Clairval, Switzerland, in the early 1970s, stemming from the Olivetan order. Then, following Dom Joly, they made their way through the peasant lands of Burgundy. No, they have not been there for a thousand years. Recently arrived, on the scale of Christianity, as if no accident of history had jostled them, they seem peaceful in their home. The abbey is housed in a former 18th century pleasure castle.
In the main street, in front of a Swiss household, owners of a black tractor, the facade of the abbey. Straight, severe, sober. A statue of Saint Joseph, another of the Holy Queen. The church is a kind of upturned ship’s hold, carved in one piece. On the polished and shiny marble floor is engraved the cross of Saint Benedict. At Compline, one can only see the cuckoo clock, as you let yourself be carried off by the wave of the Psalms in the darkness, borne by the determined voices of the monks. Then the statue of the Virgin lights up for the Salve Regina. Mary dazzled replaces the moon’s luminescence.
After crossing the courtyard of the Ursulines, where a crucifix is planted, bearing the words: “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis,” the sun turning around the cross like a dial, the main building, in the heart of the abbey, shows a classical and neat façade. The stone is round and polished, the forms majestic and masterful. From the main staircase, where a magnificent Piéta is enthroned, you arrive at the refectory of the 1950s, tiled as in a hospital. Through a door, you pass from a wooded and classical sacristy to the chapter house, a former ballroom with deep mirrors and precious moldings. From the outside, the courtyard of honor has cachet, the façade has allure; a kind of grace that a classical play of the walls and high windows, as was savored during the Regency period, gives this abbey, set on this Burgundian acropolis, the appearance of a hermitage and a hunting lodge; a place of retreat from the world without austerity or pain.
A statue of the merciful Christ rises above the building. The effigy, dipped in gold, shines. In front of this main courtyard is a terrace; from the terrace, an exquisite walk leads down to the gardens. From the fruit trees, the Mirabelle plums, one passes through an alley of narrow trees to a vegetable garden, where a brood of hens lives among fields of leeks and potatoes. Further down is a bush artfully trimmed according to the laws of topiary at the level of a remarkable belvedere. And further down still, sloping paths descend into the forests. You should see the monks dressed in white, on their monastic 31, processioning on August 15 with Mary crowned. The walls are then covered with a blue sheet printed with fleur-de-lis. Long live Mary, Protector of France, Mother of priests, Guardian of our homes!
October mornings are filled with joy: a sheet of light wool spins over the valley. Out of nowhere a polished amber stone rises, rolls into the sky and spreads its golden rays from west to east. The whole village ends up embellished in yellow gold. The trees rain their leaves in the park. The leaves die with their colors more varied, more sonorous than those of life. The splendor of autumn here results from a degradation of organs from which life has withdrawn. The singing services, the bellowing of the cows below, resounds in the cells and accompanies the awake monk in falsetto.
It was not only the delicate and powdered nobility that sought to flee the city and enjoy the relaxation of the countryside, nor even the great families of the cities to escape boredom, Schifanoia, or the monarchs of Prussia to covet without care. The Benedictines too are happy here; hermits of the pastures, dead to the world and alive in the woods. They themselves in this countryside seem carefree. They are quiet, quiescent, neither hurrying nor running. We see them getting busy and then disappearing, suddenly, going underground, we don’t know; or sitting in a tractor, unloading a lot of manure and a mound of vegetables. Sometimes they wander in nature. On Thursday, day of relaxation, they go around the lakes of the region and rest. Festina lente. Saint Joseph de Clairval is about joy.
Life turns with the flavor of the seasons, without hardness nor fatigue. Matins, rings the hour, when Paris wakes up. The monks in cool, white robes, shine for God, who rejoices their sparkling youth. And the wise bent monk carries his thirty years in white. The church, immersed in a skillful ballet of light and shadow, draws frozen figures of monks for Lauds, one in white on his knees, the other in black prostrate among the massive stalls. They take time for the short offices, and shorten the long ones; they never dine or lunch without abundance, with little wine, little fantasy, and a proportion to contemplative reverie.
The Abbot says a Pater noster in the measure of a military chant, at a walk. You might have known Father Thomas leaning on his cane, explaining masterpieces of Christianity, lucid and gifted with an unimaginable energy under the plenitude and the quietude that his blue eyes illustrate. And Father Alphonse, charismatic like those actors of the 70’s who have disappeared, serious and gentle, deep and slow like the rare old car engines; or Father Vianney, the pivotal tower of this chess game, prior, director of the printing house, father-hotelier, Catholic sphinx, with a face as thin as a mask, mobile gait of changeless time, measured transport of humility. These monks and others have practiced the retreats of St. Ignatius in Flavigny and everywhere in the kingdom of France.
These methodical exercises for the soul, comparable to a gymnastics of the body, are for the spirit the means of washing the soul with bleach. Alternating teachings and meditations, over five days, you passes from the underworld to the glory of the Lord, under the standard of Christ and against the standard of the devil. These exercises, which have made the merit of the saints, known and recognized in history, effervescent in consciences like a pill against stomach aches of passions and troubles, have the hardness about them, the memory of a Catholicism of combat. Everywhere one celebrates, and hell exists. While we had perhaps forgotten it, here are the meditations reminding us of it. We are not laughing. We are faced with our creaturely misery, as if we were fat, grey, bloated, in the mirror, in front of the portrait of our condition. It is with a fear mingled with love for the good God that you make your way to the end of the retreat, falling moved, after the general confession, reassured by the preacher monk as to his own discouragement. And after five days of silence, the world comes back to us, and we come back to ourselves reassured, strengthened, galvanized in the perspective of our salvation and our duty.
Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité and teaches Latin. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.
Pierre Manent has published a new book, entitled Pascal et la proposition chrétienne (Pascal and the Christian Proposition). It is a rich and dense work which seems to us to be of the utmost importance. It is nevertheless a demanding work, and I fear that many of our contemporaries will not be able to penetrate it, so much has Christianity in particular and the question of God in general have become foreign to their preoccupations and even to their culture.
It is on this theme that Pierre Manent’s reflection opens. The doubt that assails Europeans, the self-hatred that they often manifest, the forgetfulness and even the rejection of their history, stem from the fact that “Europeans do not know what to think or what to do with Christianity. They have lost the intelligence and the use of it. They no longer want to hear about it” (p. 7). We no longer perceive the new radicality of Christianity, nor do we measure the change brought about, after the Reformation and the Wars of Religion, by the progressive implementation of the “sovereign State” which, in the name of a supposed philosophical and religious “neutrality,” has ended up monopolizing all authority, including the spiritual authority of “values”—”There is no law above that of the Republic”—so much so that the power of the Sovereign State has become limitless.
A Religion Like No Other
Now, it was in the middle of the 17th century that the sovereign State was being fashioned, and it is in this unprecedented context that Pascal, in an unfortunately fragmentary and unfinished way, reflected afresh on the “Christian proposition,” to use Pierre Manent’s expression, namely that of the Christian faith, of the very possibility of the Christian faith. Because of this reflection, Pascal is particularly adapted to our time, a precious guide, but a guide difficult to follow without a sure master to lead us. This is what Pierre Manent does in a pedagogical and luminous way, by developing for us the way Pascal envisages this “Christian proposition.”
We know that Pascal was very engaged in the quarrel between grace and freedom and that he chastised the Jesuits for advocating a more accommodating religion so as not to see so many lukewarm souls, indifferent to the Gospel, drift away from the Church—the parallel with a certain current situation will not escape anyone! Yet, Pascal pleads, Christianity is not a religion among others. He does not justify it by the authority of the Church or of Scripture, but by the unique fact that it alone “adequately accounts for the principal ‘contrariety’ of the human condition, divided between greatness and misery” (p. 361)—it alone also dares to go against some of the most universal springs of human nature, such as love of enemies or forgiveness of offenses. The dogma of original sin accounts for this “contrariety”: “Certainly nothing strikes us more harshly than this doctrine [of original sin], and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves. The knot of our condition takes its twists, and turns in this abyss. So that man is more inconceivable without this mystery than this mystery is inconceivable to man” (Pensées, 122, quoted on p. 239-240).
The Enlightened Choice of the Heart
Pascal is not a theologian who seeks to rationally prove the existence of God. Faith does not need proofs; these are addressed to reason but it is not there that faith is decided: it is a gift of God who puts it in the heart of man. Pascal thus seeks to address the will—the famous “wager”—more than the intelligence, an approach which, nevertheless, is in no way opposed to reason: “The prophecies, the very miracles and the proofs of our Religion are not of such a nature that one can say that they are absolutely convincing, but they are also of such a nature that one cannot say that it is to be without reason to believe them” (Pensées, fr. 682, quoted p. 316). And Pierre Manent adds: “Nothing is more foreign to Pascal than the ‘leap of faith.’ He gives us rather a course of reason which leads us to a choice of the heart, of the knowing heart” (p. 361), because it is not a blind choice, but a reflected and enlightened one.
And yet, Pascal points out, few seem to make this choice: “The most significant fact is not the authority acquired by Christianity but, on the contrary, the theoretical or practical atheism of the immense majority of human beings, Christians included” (p. 365). Today even more than in Pascal’s time, the idea that the only great matter of life is the choice of God with what it implies for the salvation of the soul or its eternal loss does not interest many people. This brings us back to the problem of God’s grace being offered to all, and human freedom having that power to refuse it. “There is enough light for those who only wish to see, and enough darkness for those who have a contrary disposition” (Pensées, 139, quoted on p. 367).
To make the believer and the non-believer “live together” is not easy: the solution of modernity has been to push religion to the margins of public life. Pascal does not provide a political solution; but he does provide us with a demanding path, and one that is adapted to our time of incredulity: “And all we need to know is that we are miserable, corrupt, separated from God, but redeemed by Jesus Christ; and this is what we have admirable proof of on earth” (Pensées, fr. 402, quoted on p. 406).
Christophe Geffroy publishes the journal La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we are publishing this article.
Featured: “Blaise Pascal” portrait. Unknown artist, ca. 17th century.
The general public is being reduced to a state where people not only are unable to find about the truth but also become unable to search for the truth because they are satisfied with deception and trickery that have determined their convictions, satisfied with a fictitious reality created by design through the abuse of language (Josef Pieper).
Vision will blind. Severance ties. Median am I. True are all lies (Meshuggah).
There is a broad spectrum, as broad as the distance between heaven and hell, describing the level of awareness of people as to what is truly happening now in the world today, and why. The awareness abyss between those who know the truth and those who don’t is a result of many things, including bad education and formation, a culture of lies, and the effect of the innumerable choices for or against reality people have made in their lives, from the moment they became responsible for their choices, at the dawning of the age of reason, to the present moment. But the main reason for where people stand today vis-à-vis reality is the state of their souls vis-à-vis God. If I know and love God as a saint does, I will be aware of reality as it is; if I know and love God as a demon does, I will not be.
Let me try to describe the awareness of someone on the lower side of the spectrum. There are myriad varieties of these people, depending on accidents of education, culture, socio-economic status, belief system, and political leanings, but at core the lack of awareness and alienation from reality is the same for all of them, and for the same reasons. I will begin from the most specific and superficial, in terms of geopolitical awareness, and end with the most general and profound, in terms of spiritual awareness. I don’t pretend to be at the highest level of awareness, but as Plato teaches us, it is true that when we leave one cave, we do know that we’ve left it, even if there are many more to discover and escape from.
The low-level-awareness persons think that there actually was a global pandemic, and that it is, for all intents and purposes, over, as Biden has told them, thanks to the Vaccine, the wise leadership of people like Tedros and Biden and Fauci and Gates, the heroic efforts of the best and brightest scientists and doctors, and the sacrifices and cooperation of the many good, responsible, loving citizens throughout the world—and it would have been over a long time ago if it weren’t for Trump and the small number of his selfish, irresponsible, and disobedient followers, who, like spoiled children, wouldn’t lockdown and mask-up and get the shot, and who believed in and promoted conspiracy theories that endangered public health and led to many deaths that could have been avoided. Biden said that they are an imminent and grave threat to our democracy, and he told the truth.
These low-level-awareness persons think that in Ukraine the entire world is defending freedom from Russia that is led by an insane new Hitler, and who is being opposed by a courageous hero and new leader of the free world. Such persons think that Ukraine is winning and will win, thanks to American assistance, just like in World War II when America rescued the Jews and the entire world from Hitler. These persons think that once Ukraine is liberated and Russia justly punished and chastised into submission (like Germany was), we can get back to the real and most formidable evil the world is facing, climate change. Such persons are ready for all the sacrifices our leaders will ask us to do in order to bring about the final unification of the world under a global government, which will come about when divisive, racist, and outdated nations disappear; and just like with the pandemic, we will vanquish this great evil of nationhood that our unenlightened predecessors bequeathed to us, which is the final obstacle preventing us from establishing a new world order of peace and prosperity and happiness for all. Oh, and the high gas and food prices? Those will go away soon, these persons assure us, just as soon as the MAGA people are eradicated, Putin is assassinated, and everyone gets their eighth booster. Sit tight and be patient and get used to less white privilege. Eating bugs isn’t that bad. Less calories.
Such persons see the recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade as only a temporary setback in the ongoing and inexorable struggle for individual freedom, whose victory is assured and imminent, as witnessed by the exponential increase in freedom over the last decade, with the right to gender-reassignment surgery for children being only the latest triumph among many more to come. These persons await eagerly the new technological advances that will, like contraception and abortion pills, mRNA vaccines, and the Metaverse, enable humans to further evolve into full adulthood and take control over that evolution, so that the last vestiges of our imprisoning givenness can be sloughed off and we can finally become the kind of beings that we for way too long have projected onto gods and God due to the ignorance, self-hatred, and cowardice of our religious forebears. These persons like what they sees in Pope Francis, and especially the German Synod, because he is taking the Catholic Church in the right direction, although it has a lot of catching up to do.
Why these views? For the answer, we have to move from a description of these persons’ low-level, reality-averse awareness of what is happening socially, culturally, and politically to their even lower-level awareness of historical, metaphysical, and moral reality from which they derive their asinine opinions. The following is one version of their historical narrative, translated into the highfalutin English of the typical idiotic academic:
Only in secular modernity did man finally achieve his liberation from oppression and ignorance, from superstition, magic, tyranny, and priestcraft, from the dark forces of religious power, fanatical belief, and sectarianism. Man achieved this liberation primarily through the secularization of reason, morality and society, which included the separation of religion from the political order, the church from the state. Ever-increasing religious and ideological pluralism ensued as soon as men of good will were permitted to exercise freely their reason and act on their consciences. It is certainly the case that when Christendom was finally broken up in the wake of the Reformation, religiously intolerant, confessional, monarchical states emerged, but these evolved quite quickly, historically speaking, into the secular, tolerant, pluralistic, democratic states we have today. The rise of secular society after the sixteenth and seventeenth-century wars of religion was rendered possible only by the removal of religion from all positions of political significance and power. Good-willed, reasonable people were ready and willing to accept the desacralization of the state after decades of incessant bloodshed over religion. Sequestered, depoliticized, and privatized, religion and the sacred would now no longer cause war, divisiveness, and oppression, and the newly liberated, autonomous, politically secular individual could finally thrive. In the religiously tolerant, secular, pluralistic liberal democracy governed by the rights of men, not God, the sacred would still have a place and a capacity to exert influence over politics, but now it would have to coexist with the many competing sacreds residing in the same city, proliferating and dwelling together in peace precisely because none are permitted to obtain societal, cultural, and political power, let alone a monopoly on power.
In short, secular modernity was born when the archaic, violence-inducing sacred lost its public, political hegemony and influence, being relegated to the sub-political, private sphere of men’s fancies and hearts. What took its place in the public square is what should have always been there in the first place, the right of individuals to self-determination, to freedom of thought, action, speech, and religion. In modernity man had the courage and intelligence to attempt, for the first time in human history, to construct a political order not based upon the religious, the sacred. While not denying the right of every citizen to believe in a sacred, superhuman, cosmic, divine, transcendent power as the true ground of man’s existence, both personal and social, the theoreticians of the modern paradigm, people such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Madison, decided that secular values and rights, codified in a social contract, would replace any supposed power or will higher than man. And we are so thankful they did.
Such are these persons core metaphysical beliefs: Mindless Matter is all there is, well, except for my Mind, which is free and limitless, though determined by economics—but I’m free. I am a free spirit. And truth is the opinion of the powerful, which is oppressive and untrue, unless I’m in power; or perhaps it’s the opinion of the marginalized. And all opinions are equal, except those that aren’t, like Science and Critical Race Theory.
And as for morality—it’s relative, period. Except for racism and sexism and homophobia, which are absolute evils. And MAGA is evil. But good and evil are the labels of the intolerant, or the rationalizations of class consciousness, but vaccines are absolutely good and people should be forced to get them, and Putin is evil. And we today in the 21st century are morally superior to everyone who lived before us, except that we’re all equal. And abortion is good, so it should be imposed on everyone, but morality is relative. Freedom is the Good, and the Good is Freedom—except for the freedom to try to make something other than freedom the Good, which must be stopped, by force if need be.
Spiritually, these persons believe in love, or power, or both, or nothing. The diversity of religions is willed by God, except those religions that claim to be the true religion, which God, who probably doesn’t exist because we are God, hates. Jesus was a nice man and a good moral teacher, but some of his disciples were antisemitic, such as St. John and St. Paul. Crusades. Inquisition. Nazism. Trump. We know this now, and have sought or demanded forgiveness and groveling, and that’s why we love Pope Francis. The universal religion of love is sweeping across the planet, as we await its definitive spokesperson. It is already showing itself, as evidenced by divinely inspired masterpieces of art like this one:
The lockdowns were the first fruits of the New Spirit, bringing us all together in sacrificial love and Science. And the Vaccine is our new sacrament:
The moral, metaphysical, and spiritual beliefs of the low-level awareness people are, in a word, incoherent, a mishmash of relativism, absolutism, particularism, universalism, self-righteousness and self-deprecation, individualism and collectivism, nihilism and crusaderism, materialism and idealism, atheism and idolatry. They indicate the lowest level possible of spiritual awareness because, in spite of the illusion of diversity, they all reject the law of non-contradiction, which is the first principle without which truth-knowing and truth-telling are impossible. It would evince a higher level of metaphysical awareness to be a full-fledged materialist or atheist or nihilist, for at least there would be an implicit recognition of the possibility of truth, even if the truth claim itself is self-contradictory and false. But this eclectic spirituality, rooted in a chaotic moral and metaphysical soup, is the very nadir of human consciousness and is the perfect breeding ground for global totalitarianism and the Antichrist who will soon embody it, literally.
Why would someone holding this set of moral, metaphysical, and spiritual attitudes or moods—let us not dignify them with the word beliefs—endorse the forced covering of one’s face and injections into one’s body, the placing of the entire world under house arrest, the censoring of all speech not in line with arbitrary “expert” claims, the requiring of papers to merely exist in society, the greatest wealth transfer in history to the richest elites on the planet, and a NATO war of aggression against a nuclear power, on the one hand, and the genital mutilation and sexualization of children, the goodness of murdering babies, sodomy, and cannibalism (coming soon), and the replacement of popular entertainment with satanic occult rituals, on the other? It is because the upshot of those “beliefs” is the promise of power to their adherents, for they are all predicted on the rejection of any authority above man’s will, either his individual or collective will. And since the collective will always trumps the individual one due to the dynamic of sheer power, which is all that is left when there is nothing above the human will; since the most powerful and ruthless elites always dominate the collective will; and since Satan always dominates the most powerful and ruthless, the will of Satan will be done on earth as it is in Hell when the conditions are ripest for his enthronement, and those conditions exist perfectly among the lowest-level awareness people, and to only a slightly lesser extent among those of higher-level awareness, which, apart from the very highest, is still very, very low. It is only those with the very highest-level awareness who stand in the way of the Antichrist at this time.
What are the geopolitical, moral, metaphysical, and spiritual beliefs of those with this highest level of awareness? Well, I wish I knew them, and to say that I do is to arrogantly imply that I am among these. I daresay that I try to follow those institutions, traditions, and personages that have proven their exquisite level of awareness by their works and fruits, their holiness, integrity, courage, charity, and prophetic witness. Suffice it to say, I try to know, love, and obey reality, a sign of a high-level awareness in an Age of Unreality. What is this reality according to these authorities?
For geopolitical reality, if it is true that we are in a state of full-fledged global totalitarianism, and to see this one must already have a high level of awareness, then those institutions and people telling the full truth would be infallibly detected by the vehemence of the attacks against them by the Global Regime of Lies. The highest level of awareness, then, can be described accurately and simply by compiling the claims of these.
There is no institution that is attacked more frequently, ferociously, and insidiously than the Catholic Church, both from without and within, both by intimidation and persecution, seduction and infiltration. Therefore, just read the Catechism of the Catholic Church for an infallible description of the highest level of awareness in terms of moral, metaphysical, and spiritual truth. For a more detailed account of metaphysical awareness in terms of the history of philosophy, I would recommend E. Michael Jones’ Logos Rising: A History of Ultimate Reality:
In terms of historical narrative, the highest level of awareness can thus be found by rejecting any political history that denigrates the Catholic Church and rejects its true reality as the Mystical Body of Christ, and that doesn’t see the Incarnation as the center of human history. For example, awareness knows that The City of God is founded on a love of God that leads its citizens to contempt for themselves, counting all earthly things as worthless…. Augustine argues that the temporal ought to be ordered to the eternal (Civ. Dei XIX,17), but that this ordering will never be achieved entirely harmoniously till the second coming of the Lord. For, there is a second city here on earth in addition to the city of God— the civitas terrena, the earthly city. This city is founded on a love of self to the contempt of God (Civ. Dei XIV,28). And these two cities are in conflict… The earthly city is always opposed to true religion…. Justice consists in giving each his own, thus no society is just that does not give God the worship due to Him.
The following narrative of liberal democracy and the so-called Enlightenment is the high-awareness counterpoint to the low-awareness narrative described above, based upon the fact that anyone holding anything like this narrative would be immediately fired from any mainstream academic or government position:
Since his creation, man has attempted to flee the ubiquitous reality of God through creative abstraction from the natural things of His creation and the supernatural plan of His redemption. Fallen man has always been offended at the “scandal of particularity,” always seeking to live in a universe of his own devising, always abstracting from the concrete, contingent, particular, fleshy, historical realities in which he, as a creature of matter and spirit, finds himself, and through which God has chosen to communicate Himself to him.
All was well in the Garden until Adam and Eve began abstracting: “It can’t be this particular fruit on this particular tree that could be so significant to God and to our happiness!” For the ancient Greek philosophers, God’s existence was knowable; for the Jews, He was a living presence. But that he would limit Himself to a backwater village in the Middle East, or become anything less than a divine conqueror, was foolishness to the former and a stumbling block to the latter. Martin Luther accepted the truth that the universal became particular in the Incarnation, but denied that this Incarnation should be seen as continuing mystically in a particular, historical, visible institution demanding man’s obedience. Enlightenment man accepted the existence of God and absolute truth, but demanded that these be universally accessible solely through man’s reason. “Enlightenment” would be the result of abstracting from one’s particular and contingent cultural and religious “superstitions” to attain the universal truth transcending them. But such a position was tantamount to abstracting the Incarnation out of reality, to rejecting the entire supernatural order made manifest in and through Our Lord, and denying the necessity of His grace and teachings for an accurate understanding and practice of even natural truth and virtue. Postmodern man appeared to have overcome this error, rightly rejecting Enlightenment man’s facile claim to have discovered self-evident absolute truths in abstraction from particularist commitments. He discovered that the historical, the cultural, the societal, that is, the particular, cannot be so easily cut out of the picture. “Self-evident”—to whom? A fair question, that. Yet by denying the possibility of attaining universal truth through and in its particular embodiments, the atheist-oriented postmodernists rejected the reality of transcendence for the abstraction of pure immanence. In short, every error of man throughout history has been the result of missing the balance between immanence and transcendence, the human and the divine, the particular and the universal, by abstracting out some particular realm of natural or supernatural reality.
The diabolically fomented World Wars of our past century, the plandemic, and the WWIII we are now in, sapped the life out of the religious and cultural tradition of the West, with the anti-traditional abstractions of communism, fascism, Nazism, neo-liberalism, and the Great Reset serving as demonic parodies of the Catholic Church. But Lucifer’s coup de grâce would be saved for our century. To his dismay, his all-out destructive assault on tradition in the first half of the twentieth century had provoked a robust counterattack by men of goodwill in the second half. Lucifer learned his lesson: men cannot exist without some sort of tradition. Thus, instead of attempting again the direct destruction of the Western Christian tradition (rendered rather vestigial, decrepit, and paltry, it must be admitted, from his first assault), this time he pursued a subtler but more effective method. Realizing that any authentic tradition, even a barely-breathing one, is a receiver and transmitter of the divine, his stroke of genius was to inspire the construction and establishment of an abstract anti-tradition that would receive and transmit nothing. Although similar in its unreality to the abstractions of communism, fascism, Nazism, and globalism, it would bear such a striking resemblance to the Christian tradition that it would escape detection. Implemented surreptitiously and cloaking itself in the form of its host, it would serve as the tradition to end all tradition. Not only would there be no counterattack this time, men of good will would have no idea what hit them—or even that they had been hit.
Secular liberal democracy is the cave, liberalism the shadows on its walls, and “conservative,” “liberal,” and “radical” shadows of various shapes and sizes. For those in the cave, reality is contacted by comparing and choosing among the shadows; certain shadows appear “true,” while other shadows seem “false.” But since shadows are all they know, it cannot be said that they really know any of these shadows at all. They do not know the shadows as shadows. They may use the word “shadow” in their many echoey, cave discussions, but they do not know of what the shadows are. Indeed, if they ever recognized the shadows as shadows, they would escape the cave.
Liberalism is just such a cave. People in the modern West may use the term “liberalism,” and identify “other” points of view in contrast to it, but because they are inside liberalism and do not know it, they do not recognize the liberalism of liberalism. They do not see it as an alien, artificial ideology projected upon the walls of their minds by the elitist puppeteers of academia, religion, bureaucracy, and media, but simply as “just the way things are.” They are like fish that never recognize their immersion in water because they know of nothing else.
Liberalism claims to provide a religiously neutral social framework within which individuals can autonomously determine their own vision of the world in perfect freedom. But we must reject liberalism’s official public claim that it lacks any particular conception of the good and any restrictions on others’ conceptions of the good. Since liberal culture is founded upon a particular conception of the good and a particular doctrine of truth—namely, the good of the privatization of all claims to truth, and the truth of the irreducible plurality of conceptions of the good—and since the publicly authoritative rhetoric of liberal culture denies having any substantive conceptions of its own, what liberalism amounts to is an established and intolerant belief system—a religion—that indoctrinates citizens into disbelieving in its very existence. Just as the puppeteers must ensure that the shadows are never recognized as shadows, lest the cave be identified as a cave and the prisoners break their chains; liberalism must never be exposed as liberalism, that is, as a historically contingent, non-necessary, manmade ideology. It must at all costs be identified with “the facts,” “the way things are,” as the inexorable social reality. In short, as the great Nietzschean ironist Stanley Fish, a cave-puppeteer with a genius for exposing his fellow puppeteers to the light, has confessed: “liberalism doesn’t exist.”
The problem, however, is that it does, and its existence is no longer limited to an abstract idea or a revolutionary experiment—it is now a well-established social reality. The liberal incubus has found a willing consort in the decrepit culture of the secularized West, and unfortunately, we citizens of the modern liberal democracies of the West are its traditionalists. Cavanaugh’s name for liberalism is the “worship of the empty shrine”: “The public shrine has been emptied of any one particular God or creed, so that the government can never claim divine sanction and each person may be free to worship as she sees fit…. There is no single visible idol, no golden calf, to make the idolatry obvious . . . officially the shrine remains empty…. The empty shrine, however, threatens to make a deity not out of God but out of our freedom to worship God. Our freedom comes to occupy the empty shrine. Worship becomes worship of our collective self, and civil religion tends to marginalize the worship of the true God. Our freedom, finally, becomes the one thing we will die and kill for.”
And the priests of the empty shrine have become quite zealous of late to evangelize, both through preaching in a variety of media (McDonalds, MTV, pornography, gender-reassignment surgery, poison “vaccines”…) and, especially since 2003, through inquisition—democracy and freedom at the end of a gun, a white phosphorous bomb, or an electric shock to the genitals. The god of the liberal state is a jealous god, commanding its devotees to kill for it. As Cavanaugh writes: “You may confess on your lips any god you like, provided you are willing to kill” for the State—and to be killed for it. As MacIntyre wryly put it: “It is like being asked to die for the telephone company.”
With a track record of human sacrifice, how has the empty shrine of liberal nothing-worship (to conflate names for a moment) managed to escape our detection? The short answer is that it has removed our eyes. Authentic traditions, both natural and supernatural, embody and transmit the ultimate realities of man’s existence, the transcendent origin, end, and meaning of things that cannot be grasped by the isolated individual, and cannot be fully rationalized or defined.
Ultimate reality must be experienced through and in its incarnation in tradition. It is in this sense that tradition is the eye that allows men to see the spiritual, eternal, and transcendent meanings hidden in the physical, temporal, and mundane facts of everyday existence. Participants in the anti-tradition of liberalism, however, are prevented from ever seeing themselves as participants in a tradition, even though they are its slaves. They are blinded to their God-given identity as members of a common good higher than themselves, even as they serve as mere cogs in the liberal machine. The freedom cult includes all others, even the cult of the Eucharist, and so it is more universal, more “catholic,” and therefore more divine than the Eucharist. By not prescribing any particular object of public devotion, the State’s empty shrine appears to allow all devotions to exist and thrive more successfully than if there were an exclusivist, established cult, such as Catholicism. However, all of this is a grand illusion. As David Schindler points out: “The state cannot finally avoid affirming, in the matter of religion, a priority of either ‘freedom from’ or ‘freedom for’—both of these imply a theology.”
As for the geopolitical reality described by high-level awareness, if you look at what those whom the Regime of Unreality hate the most are saying, it amounts to something like this:
The incredible evil we have witnessed and suffered over the past two years amounts to the greatest crime against humanity ever committed. The plandemic was an all-out assault on every human being on the planet. Though its most obvious effects were economic and political, at its core it was a spiritual and psychological-terror operation knowingly and deliberately orchestrated by a small global elite of unspeakably evil and psychopathic people. It was executed by a larger group of lower-tier cooperators ignorant of the master plan but vicious enough to use their power and influence to inflict untold harm on those in their charge. And it was enabled by the masses of idolatrous, fearful, alienated, rootless, selfish, and cowardly men, the rotten fruit of a godless and decadent liberalism, a liberalism that encourages children to mutilate their bodies, allows mothers to murder their babies, and celebrates when men penetrate the rectums of other men.
In the end, we are each responsible for our level of awareness, and God created us to aspire to the highest level possible, the intimate awareness of Him. We can only become aware of our unawareness by His grace, and we need His minute-by-minute help to ascend to higher and higher levels, lest we fall backwards into our own darkness and blindness. Let us practice the presence of God always so that we become more and more aware of His indescribable love for us and share this awareness with all whom we meet.
With modernity a Copernican turn occurs in philosophy, as Kant observes, and the metaphysics that until then started from the question of the entity as entity, now starts from the subject. It is thus transformed into a metaphysics of subjectivity, as Heidegger rightly noted.
This metaphysics that is born from Descartes’ ego cogito has a second stage that is inaugurated with the detailed analysis of consciousness. And the first to study it in itself and in detail was Franz Brentano from 1860-1870, until he finally published his The Classification of Mental Phenomena (Von der Klassifikation der psychischen Phänomene) in 1911.
Let us begin with Brentano, a German philosopher of Italian origin who taught in Vienna. José Gaos, a Spaniard living in Mexico, who was Brentano’s first translator of Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874), affirmed that Brentano was a heteroclite philosopher; that is, he departed from the ordinary rules of what a philosopher should do or say. Thus, Brentano had as disciples and students important figures, such as Edmund Husserl, Sigmund Freud, Christian von Ehrenfels, Alexius Meinong, Carl Stumpf, Kazimierz Twardowski, Anton Marty and many others—who excelled in phenomenology, psychoanalysis, Gestalt theory, object theory, language theory, logical positivism, symbolic logic, value theory, etc. Moreover, behind the Vienna Circle and the great contemporary studies on Aristotle (Jaeger, Ross, Owens, Zürcher, Aubenque) is the figure of the philosopher Marienberg.
But then why has Brentano not been studied in the universities as his contemporaries have, such as Stuart Mill, Nietzsche, Frege, Dilthey? Because Brentano subjected Kant to a merciless and severe criticism. He called Kant prejudiced by his a priori. He called him ignorant of the history of philosophy and mathematics. And this was not forgiven by the German universities and thereafter by the rest of the universities. Thus, it was that the Catholic universities, where scholastic philosophy is taught, ignored him thoroughly, even though Brentano was an excellent connoisseur of Thomas Aquinas whom he quoted assiduously and knew to perfection. [Without delving further, on the subject of conscience, he often resorts to Aquinas whom he cites in his support. It is a subject that has not been studied, the use of Thomas Aquinas in Brentano. It would be good if someone would do it]. All this explains why Brentano has never been studied. And if he is mentioned in the faculties of philosophy, it is only in relation to the intentionality of consciousness when Husserl and phenomenology are taught.
Let us now turn to the subject at hand.
There are at least two terms to speak of consciousness: consciousness and conscience. The first is closer to its Latin roots and indicates the capacity of the human being to know and perceive reality. And the second, which is in common use, indicates rather a knowledge of what is right or wrong. The former translates the German word Bewussbeit, which alludes to our capacity to have psychic phenomena and to realize that we have them and which refers to that special capacity we human beings have—often manifested in the form of an inner voice—to know what we should do and what we should not do.
Both terms are limited to the phenomena of knowledge in such a way that they do not contribute much to the study of consciousness itself or whatever its meaning may be. Brentano makes his contribution: “I prefer to use the word consciousness as equivalent to psychic phenomenon or psychic act.” Thus, psychic phenomena are those to which something is inherent. Consciousness is always “consciousness of.” As the great Spanish philosopher Xavier Zubiri maintained in his thesis on Husserl in 1921: “Brentano discovered that things are something independent of experience but consciousness is not something empty.”
The experience of psychic phenomena that are the constitutive of human consciousness and of which the rest of reality is the object or intentional correlate are lived as immediate and original evidence. And these phenomena are true in themselves: “as they appear to be, so they are in reality; a fact attested by the experience through which they are perceived.” That is to say that each psychic act is lived as such before any conceptualization. This way of living the psychic is the true way of experiencing the real. And consciousness lives and experiences it at the same time, representatively, judicatively and affectively. Internal perception is infallible and there can never exist in us a psychic phenomenon of which we have no representation.
Thus, consciousness as a psychic act is composed of three fundamental kinds of psychic activities: representation, judgment and emotion, interest or love. If psychology, psychoanalysis and psychiatry are clear about this Brentanian liminal distinction, which he traces back to Descartes and J.S. Mill, they will advance on a sure step, otherwise they will get lost in a thousand confusing and sterile subtleties. Or worse, be harmful.
[In his Metaphysical Meditations III, Descartes calls “representations” ideae, “judgments” judicia, and “emotions” voluntates sive affectus. Aristotle calls the latter ορεζις, “desires,” and all the medieval philosophers “representations” and “judgments”].
In representing, something always appears to us. Thus, when we see something, a color appears to us; when we hear something, we represent a sound; when we imagine something, a product of the imagination, and so on. The purpose of names is to arouse representations: “We understand by representation not what is represented but the representing. This representing constitutes not only the foundation of judging, but also of craving and willing.”
Those representations, when we accept them as true or reject them as false, bring abouit the judging. And although representing and judging are phenomena of thinking, judgment cannot be reduced to simple representations or combinations of these. If I say “mountain of gold,” I express a representation; and as long as I do no more than that, I express no judgment.
As for the emotions or phenomena of love or interest, they comprise the phenomena that affect our appetite or will. And so, every judgment takes an object to be true or false, every emotion takes an object to be good or bad.
Basically, all three are different modes of reference of the consciousness to the object. The difference between them is that the intentional mode in judgment is to admit if it is true, or reject if it is false, while the intentional mode of reference in the emotions is to like or dislike.
Whereas in representing (the term best expresses the psychic act of representation) there can be no analogy, for I can represent to myself black or white, but I cannot represent to myself, for example, black or white in two opposite ways.
The internal experience of consciousness immediately shows the difference in the content of the three primary psychic activities.
It should be clarified that every psychic act is conscious because it gives itself a consciousness of itself; but at the same time it has a consciousness according to three modes: the representation of it, the knowledge of it and the feeling towards it. “Every psychic act, even the simplest, has a fourfold aspect from which it can be considered.” Thus, we can distinguish, even though the psychic phenomenon is unitary, a primary object (e.g., sound, the act in which we hear), and a secondary object (the phenomenon in which the sound is heard). The object of consciousness is only represented in the first place; knowledge constitutes a second moment, the same as feeling or interest because “representations are also the foundation of craving and feeling.”
Just as the content of a judgment insofar as it is true is admissible and as false rejectable, in the same way, in the case of feeling and liking, of sentiment and will, the good is pleasant and the bad unpleasant: “It is about the value or disvalue of an object.”
All these representations arise from the internal experience of these phenomena. This third kind of activity of the consciousness is not a judgment “this is to be loved or that is to be hated;” but it is simply a loving or hating that the internal perception shows us in an evident way.
At this point, Brentano argued that there is no fundamental distinction between feeling and will as proposed by Hamilton, Lotze, Kant and Wolff, among others, because the term appetite (apetitioI) is not adequate “to cover all psychic phenomena other than thinking,” so that the acts of joy and sadness cannot be considered appetitive acts.
[Brentano states in note 27 of Psychology from An Empirical Standpoint: “Only occasionally do we see signs of an emancipation from this tradition – of designating with the term appetite the psychic phenomena of feeling and will – for example, in Thomas Aquinas (cf. Summa theologicae I, q.37, a.1 and elsewhere) uses the term amare as the more universal name of the class].
To this also contributed the ignorance of the relation between representation and judgment that led to confusion about the relation between feeling and will. And he reproaches Kant for limiting the feeling of pleasure and displeasure “unilaterally to the judgment of aesthetic taste.”
If representation and judgment are psychic phenomena of a different class, and feeling and will are phenomena of the same class when the ideas of the true, the good and the beautiful are applied to them, they will correspond in this way: “The supreme perfection of the representative activity resides in the contemplation of the beautiful, whether through the influence of the object or independently of it”… The supreme activity of the judicative activity resides in the knowledge of truth, naturally and above all, in the knowledge of truths that reveal to us a rich fullness of being more than others… Finally, the supreme perfection of loving activity lies in the free elevation to the higher good.”
The ideal of ideals consists in unity of all that is true, good and beautiful whose representation shows infinite beauty, infinite truth and infinite goodness. “The triad of ideals (of the beautiful, the true and the good) can very well be explained by the system of psychic phenomena.”
We see once again, as it happened with other great philosophers of the twentieth century (Heidegger, Eugen Fink), how the classical theory of the transcendentals of the entity appears, although in a different form from that formulated formerly. In this case through the system of psychic phenomena of representation, judgment and emotional phenomena.
Moral Conscience—it is understood as the instance that deals with our own moral experience. Modern philosophy established it as the main mode of moral knowledge, as opposed to the “prudence” of classical antiquity and medieval prudentia. In introspection it allows us to delve into both our personal life and the life of the historical world. That is why when we speak of ethical questions, we speak at the same time of ourselves, of our experience, especially the older we get.
Moral conscience exists above all as an “inner voice” that guides us in our actions, but we cannot base ethics on moral conscience as Kant and the neo-Kantians tried to do, who, in order to understand ethics, started from the analysis of moral conscience. But this is not possible because we cannot free ourselves from the quantum of subjectivity of our conscience. And science cannot be built on subjectivity.
The philosopher does not draw the norms from himself but finds them in his vital situation; he finds them in that which governs the tasks of an epoch, as the most intimate conscience of this epoch. Of course, he can dissent and propose others, but this is only for a great philosopher who can leap over his time, thus contradicting Hegel’s saying that no one can leap over his time.
If we would like to use moral conscience as a norm, we must necessarily complete it with historical objectivity, with the great cultural systems; that is to say, great effective and affective nexuses that unite men to carry out historical achievements, in order not to keep reinventing the wheel. This explains the tremendous effort made by Hegel, the greatest philosopher of the metaphysics of subjectivity in his Phenomenology of Spirit, as a science of the experience of consciousness (1807), in order to justify the experience of moral and political consciousness.
Moral consciousness emerged as a process of emancipation from theology carried out by the Enlightenment in order to achieve with it an internal subjection of the modern subject. This was known by the term of the “principle of autonomy,” which began from the certainty of internal experience, and ended with the exaltation of the individual over the community, in an exaggerated liberalism: “I look after Number One”—in a society of exorbitant consumption and in a man transformed into a homunculus.
Moral conscience is there, present, it exists and we make daily use of it; but that does not mean that we can transform it into a norm, nor as a principle of freedom, for as Nicolai Hatmann, a former member of the Marburg School, observes very well in his magnificent Ethics: “One cannot make a conclusive argument for the freedom of the will from the phenomenon of the consciousness of freedom. Therefore, neither from the consciousness of self-determination, a more reduced consciousness, but qualitatively equivalent to it.”
And still less to raise it as a paradigm of universal history, as Hegel pretended in that enormous “sulfur factory” in which German idealism ended.
Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles.
Featured: “Man repels the Appeal of Conscience,” by Frederic james Shields; painted in 1910.
Editions Artège has brought out an unpublished French translation of Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies. By showing how the great heresies of Catholicism result from permanent forms of mind in history, the British thinker underlined the genius of Catholicism and its incompatibility with modernity, itself the fruit of the Protestant mind.
The publication of this translation is an opportunity to discover the prolific author that was Hilaire Belloc. A historian by training, a close friend of G. K. Chesterton, but also a poet, novelist, member of parliament and military chronicler, Hilaire Belloc was British on his mother’s side but a fervent Catholic, born in France in 1870, to a French father. In Les Grandes Hérésies (The Great Heresies), first published in 1938, Belloc presents and analyzes the main heresies that successively opposed Catholicism: Arianism; what he calls the Mohammedan heresy; the Albigensian heresy; and Protestantism.
In the introduction to the book, the author recalls the etymology of the word “heresy” which comes from the Greek hairetikos meaning “who chooses.” A heretic is one who adheres to a dogma except for one aspect of it that he specifically chooses to reject. Heresy is characterized by the nature of that choice which corrupts the unity of the dogma in question. Belloc thus defines heresy as “the enterprise of deconstructing a unified and homogeneous body of doctrine by the negation of an inseparable element of the whole.” For example, the heresies of the early centuries of the Church specifically attacked the mystery of the incarnation. With Arianism, then Nestorianism and Monophysitism, it was a question of debating first the exact nature of Christ, then the ways in which his two human and divine natures coexisted.
The Permanent Temptation to Rationalize Dogma
Behind the conceptual and dogmatic battles waged between the Church and heresies, Hilaire Belloc perceived, however, something other than simple intellectual quarrels over dogmatic details. The great heresies actually embodied permanent types of mindsets in history. Belloc thus highlights the propensity of the great heretical currents to rationalize, simplify and demystify Catholic dogma.
The first great heresy that was Arianism illustrates this tendency. Arianism, doctrine professed by the Alexandrian Christian theologian Arius at the beginning of the 4th century, denied the divine nature of Jesus Christ. For the Arians, Christ was the Son of God, but he was still a man and not a God. It was by confronting the supporters of Arius that the Catholic Church proclaimed the dogma of the consubstantiality of the Son and the Father at the Council of Nicaea in 325.
Despite all the care taken by the Church to choose the vocabulary used to qualify the relation between the Son and the Father, the Arian heresy continued in new forms which refused to admit the strict equality between the Son and the Father. Arianism therefore sought to elucidate the question of the incarnation, the mystery of which it refused.
Other ancient heresies such as Nestorianism and Monophysitism pursued this desire to rationally solve the “problem” of the incarnation. It was necessary to explain by reason the nature of this son of God who was Christ. For the Nestorians, the divine and human natures of Christ were necessarily strictly separated, man and God cohabited in the figure of Christ. For the Monophysites, it was the human nature of Christ that was called into question. In both cases, God did not become fully man. In the midst of these attempts at logical and rational explanations, the Church maintained its complex and mysterious dogma of the one but triune God.
It is this same desire for simplification and rationalization that Hilaire Belloc perceives in Islam, which he qualifies as Christian heresy. Coming from a pagan background on the margins of the Roman Empire that had become Christian, Muhammad adopted a Christianity purged of its dogmatic complexities.
Islam takes up the idea of a single god, creator of the world and granting life after death, but denies the incarnation by making Jesus a prophet. For the British historian, Islam foreshadows the heretical quest for rationalism and the abolition of the Catholic mysteries that was then the Reformation. All these great heresies had in common the simplification of Catholic dogma by trying to purge it of the mysteries that proud human reason could not grasp.
The Heretical Rejection of Matter
For Belloc, the study of heresies reveals another tendency of the mind that also emerges chronically in history—that consisting in condemning matter. This matter is bad while the spirit is the only source of the good. The Albigensian heresy perfectly embodied this tendency by condemning any carnal compromise with matter: sexual relations, marriage, procreation, consumption of meat and alcohol were prohibited. The ideal of purity advocated by the Cathars (from the Greek katharos: pure) conceived matter as intrinsically evil. Belloc sees in it the resurgence of the ancient Manichean heresy but also the precursor of Protestant puritanism. These heresies are all based on the mortifying detestation of matter and carnal life; whereas the Catholic Church condemns this dualism and values the union of spirit and flesh.
Rejection of mystery, thirst for rationalism and refusal to inhabit the world carnally are the pillars of the great heretical currents. However, Belloc does not reduce heresies to their religious and spiritual dimensions. As a historian, he is interested in the practical reasons for the success of the great heresies. He thus notes the social dimension of heresies, which can feed on worldly postures and use the dynamics of local particularisms to prosper. Arianism thus spread within the old pagan elites and in Roman military circles, anxious to differentiate themselves from the very popular religion that Catholicism was becoming.
The Albigensian heresy was also a means for local identities to assert themselves in medieval southern France. Belloc is fascinated by the continuing success of Islam. He attributes this success in particular to the fact that the Mohammedan heresy developed outside the Church and was able to benefit for centuries from a constant renewal of its fighters who also came from barbarian worlds. Noting the possible compatibility between Islam and the modern world, he prophesied a probable return of the vitality of Islam, despite the “physical paralysis” in which this religion found itself, when he wrote his book in the middle of the 20th century.
The Revolution of the Protestant Heresy
But it is to the Protestant heresy that Belloc devotes his longest chapter. It is a fundamental heresy from which modernity emerged and which shook the foundations of the Church. He traces its genesis in detail during the 14th and 15th centuries. Belloc considers, however, that Protestantism was not condemned to become the heretical religion it has become. The Reformation could have been a simple reform of the Catholic Church without altering its faith or dogma. The historian finely traces how Protestantism finally became heretical and above all how it altered Catholicism and then generated the spirit of modernity.
For Belloc, the particularity of Protestantism is to constitute more a “moral atmosphere” and a disposition of the mind than a religion. Calvin’s doctrine no longer governs the modern world, but its spirit would endure: “the fruits of Protestantism prove to be permanent, despite the fact that its doctrine has disappeared.” Founded on the contestation of authorities and the primacy of rational individual examination, Protestantism dissolved its own theological and scriptural foundations to give birth to modernity.
Belloc’s entire book tends to highlight the specificities of Catholicism, which has never yielded to the temptations of simplification and rationalization of the mysteries of its dogma. For the English author, however, the Protestant Reformation constitutes a turning point which manages to make Catholicism doubt its own dogma. Secularization of the Protestant spirit, modernity also appears as the fruit of this doubt of the Church on itself.
The Great Heresies is the work of a historian who assumes his Catholic fervor and tries to explain why the study of heresies allows us to better understand both Catholicism and the modern world. By becoming incarnate on Earth to save mankind from original sin, the Christian God irrevocably entered into history. The great religious currents that appeared afterwards are all linked to Christianity. Religion can only be Catholic or heretical.
For Belloc, the advent of modernity cannot be a return to the noble paganism of antiquity. This return is impossible after the coming of the Savior. Unable to make people forget Christ, modernity can only be an inversion of Catholicism. Modernity and Catholicism are then be engaged in a struggle to the death. Belloc admits that the organic laws of history could support the near-end of Catholicism. But the faith of the Catholic author forces him to maintain the hope of a safeguard of the Church and the resurgence of its mysteries.
Bertrand Garandeau is an anarcho-conservative sovereignist, based in France. This article appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.
Featured: “First Temptation of Christ,” fol. 28v, Livre d’images de Madame Marie; ca. 1285-1290.
The Last Enemy (as named by St. Paul in 1Cor 15:26) was also the first enemy, and has been our enemy throughout human existence: it is death. Death is more than the separation of the soul from the body, it is the threat of non-being. In the writings of the Fathers, particularly those of the East, being is equated with goodness. For it was God who called all things into existence and saw that they were “very good.” As such, being and goodness are deeply and utterly intertwined. We do not say that any created thing is inherently evil. If it has existence, that existence is good. This same fundamental understanding yields its opposite: non-being has the character of evil, or, more accurately, we can say that what we term as “evil” is simply the character and work of non-being. So, Jesus says of Satan that “he was a murderer from the beginning,” and “he is the father of lies.”
In the work of the fathers, most famously in St. Dionysius, evil is described as a “parasite.” It has no existence of its own but rather works to pervert that which does have existence. So evil is not a “thing” or something “existing.” Rather, it is a will, a perversion, a misdirection and an attempt to direct being towards non-being. This is the ultimate rebellion against the goodness of God who is Being, “Being beyond all being,” the source of all existence and every good thing.
There are a variety of ways that this movement towards non-being manifests itself in our lives.
Christ describes two of them. He tells us that if we are angry with our brother, we have committed murder. He also says that if we lust after someone, we have committed adultery. Both this “murder” and this “adultery” are true on the level of being. They are actions that attempt to reduce the being of another. As such, they are actions of Satan, “the murderer from the beginning,” and the “father of lies.”
We also seek to kill ourselves throughout the day. In subtle ways and choices, we often make moves towars lesser being or even non-being itself. The false identities and consumer-based personalities that often fill our closets or inhabit our anxieties are not part of the path to the truth or the reality of being. When Christ says that He has come to “bring life, and that more abundantly,” He is pointing towards the fullness of being that is grounded in God Himself.
It is the nature of our modern culture that it constantly drives us to be what we are not or to become someone (or something) other than ourselves. The ground of our culture is the economy, while the ground of being human is communion with God. Christ is quite clear: “You cannot serve God and mammon (money).” The power of money, and its alure, is its ability to generate pleasure, and forestall pain, neither of which are sinful nor death-dealing in and of themselves. It is, however, the secular nature of the context in which they occur that make them harmful.
Christ said, “There is none good but God.” It is a grounding of the good, as it is the grounding of being as well. A plant that has been up-rooted dies. Human beings do as well, though the death is slow and takes a myriad of forms.
Our rooting in God (“in Him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:28) is essential. The moral compass of a culture in which the Christian tradition is dominant is insufficient to give life. It is, however, of use in preventing a culture from spinning into worlds of death-dealing nonsense. For all intents and purposes, that compass has disappeared for the larger part of our culture purveyors. We are not only dying, but dying in increasingly bizarre ways.
The New Testament occasionally makes comments about “lawlessness.” St. John equates sin and lawlessness (1Jn 3:4). When our communion with God is disrupted, lawlessness is the result. That is to say, the inner law, the natural compass of our well-being, begins to malfunction. We lose our direction. Our actions (even intended “good” actions) can become corrupted and serve only to destroy our lives. That this takes place on a cultural level is deeply alarming. Historically, cultures serve as something of a hedge around our lives. They cannot make us good, but they encourage us towards the good and turn us away from evil. Today, this is decreasingly true.
God has given us more than the background of culture with its shifting laws and mores. He has primarily given us the Church, together with its Tradition, and the life of the sacraments. This is more than a protective “garment of skin” (as the Fathers sometimes described the protection of laws and customs). The Church makes possible our active grounding in the communion of life itself. This is the content of all of the sacraments and the basis for the whole reality of the Church. The canons and moral teachings serve the purpose of nurturing us in the true life of Christ (they are not mere laws of outward conformity).
This reality makes it utterly important that the voices who seek to change the Church’s teaching or discipline to conform it to modern cultural norms should be ignored and resisted. Our culture in no way reasons in accordance with our life in Christ. It is the whisper of death that is of a piece with the first lying whispers in the Garden.
Some time back I ran across an interview with Tom Holland, a non-Christian historian, who readily admits that our civilization is rooted in Christianity and is in great danger of losing that grounding. It is deeply honest and worth a listen if you’re interested. We often take for granted the stability of the culture (at least this was once the case). Today, the case for cultural change is not being driven by rebellious, seditious groups, but by the most powerful political, social, and corporate structures themselves. Not since the Protestant Reformation has such a sea-change been marketed from the “top down.”
I take consolation from two thoughts (and a few others). The Scriptures have this:
Surely men of low degree are a vapor, Men of high degree are a lie; If they are weighed on the scales, They are altogether lighter than vapor. (Psalm 62:9)
And, famously, this:
The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6–8)
The life of God given to us in the Church abides forever. It is heard in His word. It is written in every rock and tree, every element and molecule of our body.
My prayer, “O Breath of God, blow in our world. Reveal your life in our lives and save us!”
The condemnation of abortion by followers of Christ is not new. From the earliest days of Christianity, it has been considered a sin and preached against. Although the truth of this teaching has not changed, some seem to want to redefine both truth and sin. On Women’s Equality Day 2022, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called restricting abortion “sinful.” Specifically, on August 26, this U.S. representative twisted the idea of sin, stating, “The fact that this is such an assault on women of color and women [in] lower income families is just sinful. It’s wrong that they would be able to say to women what they think women should be doing with their lives and their bodies. But it’s sinful, the injustice of it all.” Pelosi’s idea of sin regarding abortion is the opposite of Church teaching. Her postmodern thinking has made her believe, or present as her belief, that rather than abortion being sinful, the restriction of it is “sinful.”
We will look at what the early church fathers had to say regarding the issue of abortion. For the record, this author has looked, but could not find, any church father that agreed with the U.S. Speaker Pelosi. In fact, every church father that addressed the issue roundly condemned it.
The Jews in the ancient world forbade abortion. The Jewish historian Josephus described the Mosaic law with respect to abortion. In his work Against Apion, Book 2, written circa 80 AD, he stated: “The law, moreover, enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have done so, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing humankind.” Christianity, rooted in the Mosaic law to which Josephus referred, did not change this understanding of the fetus as a living child, and of the deliberate destruction of it as murder.
In ancient pagan Rome, abortion was legal. Some people at the time thought that the soul was introduced into the body after the birth of a child. The church father Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 AD) refuted this idea. As part of his refutation, he described in chilling detail the process of the abortion procedure, which does not seem to have changed much in two thousand years. In chapter 25 of his work A Treatise on the Soul, he writes:
“Accordingly, among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted frame for opening the uterus first of all, and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted and covered hook, wherewith the entire foetus is extracted by a violent delivery. There is also (another instrument in the shape of) a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in the furtive robbery of life: they give it, from its infanticide function, the name of ἐμβρυοσφάκτης, ‘the slayer of the infant’, which was of course alive.”
Tertullian made it clear the fetus was alive, even if unborn. (For more details on abortion in ancient Rome and the Christians, see here).
One of the earliest Church Fathers who spoke on the topic of abortion was St. Barnabas. Writing between 70 and 100 AD, he exhorted “You shall not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shall you destroy him after it is born.” St. Barnabas clearly views the fetus as a living human child, and equates abortion with “slaying,” that is, murdering, the child. Notice also that St. Barnabas addresses abortion and infanticide in the same sentence, considering them equivalent sins.
St. Hippolytus, writing around 225 AD, explained in his work Refutation of all Heresies, Book IX, that “Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time!” Clearly, the practice of sidelining one’s religion [“reputed believers”] in order to accommodate [“for the sake of their family and excessive wealth”] or approve of pet sins did not originate recently.
St. John Chrysostom states that abortion is worse than murder. His Homily 24 on Romans, written in the late 300s AD, asked: “Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makest her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do you abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?” His heartfelt preaching against sin arose from certain conviction of the Gospel of life. How striking, and how current it seems, when Chrysostom upbraids those who “follow after a curse as if a blessing.”
Other early church fathers who spoke out against the sin of abortion were St Cyprian of Carthage (c. 210 – 258 AD) in his letter to Cornelius, (number 48, numbered 52 in some sources); St. Basil the Great (329 -379 AD), in his epistle 138; St Jerome (c. 347 – c. 419) in his epistle 22; and St Ambrose (339 – 397 AD), in his work On the Hexaemeron. The practice of abortion is likewise forbidden in the Didache also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles which was written in the first century or at the latest, the first part of the second century.
From the historical record, it is clear that the early church fathers condemned abortion as a sin. To speak otherwise is to confuse reality.
Phillip Cuccia is a retired army officer, who served in armored and cavalry units, and then taught Military History at West Point, before joining the Army attaché corps, and serving in Italy at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He has a Master’s degree in security studies from Sapienza University in Rome and a Master’s and Ph.D. in Napoleonic Studies from Florida State University. He currently teaches history for Liberty University. He established the Eusebius Society in 2019.
Featured: “Kronos devouring his Children,” by Goya, ca. 1797.