To Be Really Creative

The first time I heard the suggestion that human beings should think of themselves as “co-creators” with God was in a liberal, mainline, seminary (Episcopal). This was in the 1970s.

The meaning at the time was something of a mish-mash of culture-notions that was little more than a way of underwriting the myth of cultural progress as a God-given program, as well as a windfall of new-age silliness. We were not only making the world a better place, we were doing so as Co-creators. I must confess that every time I hear anyone speaking about making the world a better place I hear echoes of Cabaret with a pretty blonde Nazi-boy singing, “Tomorrow belongs to me!”

I offer this as a preface to my reflections on current language regarding “co-creation” and “sub-creation” with the far healthier pedigree found in Tolkien and Lewis. Both authors, with some variation, recognized the human participation in myth-making in genres such as fiction and fantasy. But the question remains: to what extent is it right to describe ourselves with such lofty language?

The sobriquet of co-anything with God immediately raises questions concerning “synergy.” Eastern Orthodoxy is supposedly famous for its thoughts on synergy, in that we “co-operate” with God in our salvation. This stands in stark contrast to certain early versions of Protestant theology in which there is literally nothing contributed by human beings to the work of salvation: God’s work is strictly “monergistic,” belonging only to Him. That extremist view (still found in Reform circles) came to be balanced in Protestant practice by the sentiments of free-will Pietism in the mid-19th century.

Orthodoxy traditionally holds to a synergistic approach to salvation, though, I have come to think of this as problematic for those whose minds have been shaped in modern thought (whether consciously, or not). Modernity is steeped in the concept of our own freedom and the imagined power of our choices. We are said to be creating and shaping our own reality – even our own being.

The doctrine of synergy, as I’ve encountered it in contemporary Orthodox conversations, seems to me to overstate the case. It is accurate to say that we “participate” in our salvation through our freedom, that there is a necessary cooperation on some level, but, I think it is wrong to say much more than this. For one, we simply have little or no clue of the truth of our salvation: it is hidden (Col. 3:3).

The content of our salvation is nothing less than the image and likeness of Christ Himself. This is being made known to us, though in a glass darkly (I Cor. 13:12). Our participation and synergy consists in our persistent “yes” to the work of God. Our role as sub-creators is not unlike that of the Theotokos. She says, “Yes,” to God, and without her ‘yes,’ there is no incarnation. She contributes her “flesh” to that incarnation and participates in the life that grows in her womb.

This is important, even in the world of fiction and fantasy. Not every work of fiction or fantasy can properly be said to belong to “sub-creation.” Nor is every work of art a work of sub-creation. A work succeeds in these acts of creation inasmuch as it participates in the work of God, and fails inasmuch as it rejects that same work. Tolkien famously thought of his fantasy as an act of “sub-creation.”

He definitely did not see it as “allegory” (in contrast to Lewis’ fantasies). But Tolkien’s sub-creation can be described as such, not because it stands as a complete world, but in that it works with the same truth as the creation in which we live. To be good in Middle Earth would count as goodness in this world as well. Tolkien’s world is not an allegory, but every sub-creation must “rhyme” with God’s creation in order to be worthy of the term.

Tolkien succeeds, I suspect, because he was a Christian down to the deepest level of his soul. He would have been repulsed by an anti-creation fantasy. This is another way of saying that all created things are created “through the Logos,” and that “apart from Him, nothing was made that was made.”

The Logos can be discerned in Tolkien’s work, as He can in much of great literature, many times in an unconscious manner. But, there are works of anti-Logos that fail. When such things, lacking in any true beauty, have influence or popularity, it is almost certain that they do so only as a result of a sort of propaganda rather than any popular love. That which is natural coinheres in the Logos. That which is contrary to nature does not, and eventually collapses in on itself.

This same process can be applied to the human life. There is much about us that is a work of “creation.” In our present culture, we speak of individuals “re-inventing” themselves. But that which we “invent” is not at all the same thing as “co-creating.”

The work of creation that is the true self is a gift. It is discovered and welcomed, but not formed and shaped. The deepest act of creation in the human life is that of repentance and the life of true humility.

We do not create ourselves – for one, we stand at the wrong point in time to do such a thing. The Scripture tells us that our life is “hid with Christ in God” (Co. 3:3). Additionally, we are told that: “…it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know, that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2).

The causality of our life is not found in the past or the present; it lies in the age to come. That which we shall be draws us forward towards our true end. God said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” The truth of our existence is eschatological and its manifestation in our present life is itself a glimpse into the Kingdom of God.

This is not only true of ourselves, but of creation itself. The “new heaven” and “new earth” are not the eradication of what exists; they are the revelation and fulfillment of creation in the “glorious liberty of the sons of God” (Romans 8:21).

But what of fiction and fantasy? Both Lewis and Tolkien were greatly influenced by the theories of Owen Barfield. They shared a common belief in a transcendent realism – that behind and beneath creation as we see it are realities that form and shape the world.

None of them should be described as Platonists, but all shared the worldview that was common to the perceptions of the early Christian fathers that had much in common the Hellenistic Platonism. Lewis’ Professor Digory declares, “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!”

That greater reality is a manifestation or reflection of the Logos (Christ), “by whom and through whom all things were made.” As this is the case, even fiction and fantasy, at their best, themselves participate in this deeper and greater reality. They serve, in their own way, to reveal what might otherwise be hidden.

It is also possible for fiction and fantasy to distort and obscure the Logos, though nothing can truly efface all evidence of His work. If you will, the very existence of language, thought, reason, cogency, etc., that mark every form of human communication is Logos-bearing. The very act of denying Him is itself impossible without Him.

This serves, as well, as a model for thinking about the self. The narrative of our own self is under constant revision. Each day’s part of the story serves to re-write what has gone before.

The beginning is always being revised by the end. The creativity that marks our own participation in creation (including the revelation of the self) is, most properly, a variation or improvisation on a theme that is being sung by the Logos. This means that listening and observing are among our most essential activities. You cannot sing along if you do not hear the music.

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

The image shows, “Artists Sketching in the White Mountains,” by Winslow Homer, painted in 1868.

The Great Banquet

The story is told of a young man who lived a long time ago in Southern England. He had heard of a huge white horse which had been mysteriously carved into an unknown hillside centuries ago.

He was so captivated by this rumour that he set off in search of the fabled horse, travelling the full length and breadth of Southern England. But alas, he could not find it. Eventually he returns home disappointed, concluding that the white horse of his dreams didn’t exist, after all.

Then one day as he surveyed his own village after climbing a very tall tree and getting a good vantage point, he was astonished to see the object of his search. The White Horse had been there all the time. In fact, his village lay at the very centre of it, but he’d never been able to recognise it before, concealed as it was among the fields, trees and rivers.

The point of that story is that people particularly young people, set off on quests, like travelling the world, going to exotic places, sampling foreign cultures, do so as they look for answers about life. Sadly, in spite of all their efforts and as time goes by, they can become, increasingly disillusioned, cynical or agnostic. They don’t find the utopia, the White Horse’ they’re searching for.

Perhaps, they need to return home. Maybe if they did, they would be amazed to find that the answers they’re looking for are there already, as close as the bible on the book shelf, or the church on the street corner. They simply haven’t recognised the unique value of these things because they are too common place, too familiar. Familiarity breeds contempt.

To try to break down such a wall of indifference, or even contempt, and to help people discover the importance and the relevance of the Christian message, is not an easy task.
This is especially so when many people think they know that message already. It’s a bit like the measles vaccination given to babies. All too often a dose of religion, especially if given in childhood, simply increases your resistance to the real thing when you encounter it later in life. Sunday School Exams, Unhelpful RE teachers at school, tedious morning assemblies in chapel, and the minister’s boring monologues.

They all come back into your mind like a flood, immediately an evangelist stands up to speak. ‘Oh no, not again’.

It’s like antibodies descending upon some invading virus in your blood stream. Those memories all conspire to ensure your spiritual immunity to everything that preacher might want to say. Even the best sermons fail to penetrate such defences.

If you don’t believe me. Read what Jesus says. As the world’s greatest biblical teacher and evangelist, he experienced the exact same problem. Frequently the people he had the hardest trouble with, were those with strong religious backgrounds, who carried round the biggest copy of the Torah they could get their hands on. And who looked the part.

It’s the Sabbath Day. Jesus has been invited to have a meal at the home of a ‘prominent Pharisee.’ Someone who comes from a strong religious background.
Everybody is wary of each other, at this nibbles and wine function; all trying hard to make a good impression. Vying for position. Jesus of course knows this so he tries to change the atmosphere by offering some controversial advice on how to organise a really good dinner party.

Don’t invite wealthy friends and neighbours, they’re boring he says. Instead invite the homeless youngsters and street kids you see begging on the streets. Invite the poor, the destitute, the crippled and you will be blessed. I’m sure Jesus’ words went down like a lead balloon. This was a real conversation stopper. As Jesus looked round upon the gathering, he would have noticed that there were NO street kids, poor people, or the homeless there.

During the awkward silence there is usually someone around who makes some wise comment to try and keep the conversation within everyone’s comfort zone. There was such a guy at Jesus’ table who adds his own pious comment; ‘blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’ We can just picture him can’t we. Measured, all the religious trappings, nodding head, full beard.

It was a coded way of saying, ‘oh you don’t have to worry about me Jesus, I’m very religious. I know all about the kingdom’. Now he may have been expecting Jesus reply; Amen brother, well said or a hallelujah’. But he miscalculated. Jesus was far to shrewd to be deceived by his hypocrisy and far too good a teacher to allow it to pass unchallenged.

You see this was a classic case of familiarity breeding contempt. This guy thought he was spiritually ok. He knew about and believed in heaven and was quite sure he was going there.
He naturally assumed Jesus would want to support him. But Jesus doesn’t. Instead Jesus thinks quickly and tells a close to the bone story. And no doubt everyone in the group is all ears.

Jesus starts telling the story which has a strong Old Testament theme about the prophets preaching preparing the way for the coming Kingdom. All good so far, they think. But then Jesus veers off in a slightly different direction. He says; ‘at the time of the banquet he (God) sent his servant (Jesus) to tell those who had been invited, come for everything is now ready.’
The kingdom of God is here. Don’t have to wait any more. It’s arrived. Therefore, time to act and enter. Everything is ready, come on in.

But then read what happens. But they all began to make excuses. Yes excuses. The first one said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see to it. Please excuse me’. Second one said; ‘I have just been to the market and bought oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me’. Another said; ‘I just got married; so, I can’t come either’.

The amazing thing in all of this, is that people could be personally invited by Jesus to share in the kingdom of God and his promise of eternal life in heaven. And yet decline. They say NO thanks. It doesn’t add up. It’s not being arrogant, it’s just plain stupid. It’s like buying an expensive house without even looking at it. Or buying 10 oxen without seeing whether or not any of them were lame. In fact, these excuses that are offered are so flimsy they cannot be even regarded as real excuses.

Jesus is saying that when men and women turn their backs on the kingdom of God and the joy of heaven, they do so for the sake of mere trivialities. Like the pursuit of material gain, personal adventure, or sexual desire.

They choose such things above accepting God’s gracious invitation. Especially now perhaps more than ever, there are far too many counter-attractions bidding for the time, money, and attention of people. They may have been interested in going to the party once, but all sorts of things have invaded their life since then. What flimsy excuse are you the reader holding on to that is preventing you from entering God’s kingdom?

The so-called religious people Jesus is saying will be excluded; because they are basing their faith on their religious pedigree, or their back ground.

Well. then, who is to be included? Those who will be at the great banquet will be the poor, the crippled, the lame, the outcast, the destitute. Those who you least expect will be there, many of whom have no religious back grounds at all. And they haven’t offered any excuses to Jesus.

Having wealth, being busy with various interests even though they are good and wholesome like our family, can be obstacles, and distractions. And we use them as excuses. I’m too busy lord. I’ve to get my family through university; I’ve to move house, go on a holiday, change jobs. Go into a nursing home.

These poor and destitute people who have nothing to distract them or invade their personal lives will be there. But the good news is there is still room for many more. Jesus is saying the kingdom of God will be removed from you Jews, because of your hardness of heart and your feeble excuses and given to others; the invitation will be given to the Gentiles for them to come in.

This group did not like what Jesus was saying. God’s chosen people not allowed into the kingdom of heaven. It’s not that the door to heaven is permanently bolted shut for all Jews for ever and a day; it’s still open, but others will be there, besides the Jew.

Those who were expecting to enter the kingdom because they had received advance invitations through the prophets and the law would miss out. But those who expected to be shut out because they were not good enough, or had never heard of the banquet because they were complete pagans, would be the ones to enjoy it.
Familiarity, this parable emphasizes, does indeed breed contempt, and Jesus responds that contempt is a sin that God does not lightly forgive.

What does the twist in this parable mean for you and me? Some, like Jesus’ dinner guests at the Pharisee’s table come from a good religious back ground.

We have been baptised or dedicated as children by believing parents. Which is a good start. Maybe we have attended Sunday School or Bible class. That’s good too. We have come out to church regularly over the years and have heard all about the Christian faith many times. And as a result, we think we’re Christians. But are we?

That’s the question this parable puts to each one of us. We may know how to say grace before meals, and recite the Lord’s Prayer, but Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God demands more of us than just piety.

In the film, ‘A Few Good Men’ Tom Cruise is the young flash Navy attorney who questions the integrity and honesty of one of the officers Keffer Sutherland who is stationed at a military base.

Sutherland takes offence at the tone of the question. He claims he is a good US Marine, passed with flying colours from Westpoint. Comes from a good military back ground; and that only two books sit on his bed side table. The US Marine Code and the King James Version of the bible. Not just any copy of the bible but the King James Version.

He never said that he actually read either book. But the implication is that these books define who I am. I am a good patriot. We need to be so careful and ensure that ‘Familiarity does Not breed Contempt’, where we switch off, thinking I’m ok. Some may be thinking this invitation to the heavenly banquet is not for me. I have messed up my life. I’m not good enough. I put on a good front but I know inside I’m a waster. Well you are in good company with Jesus.

Heaven is made for people like you. People who know their failings, who know how they have fallen; their sin is before them. But you have to want to do something about your situation. How do we do that. Follow Jesus’ guidance. He tells people young and old to ‘repent and believe’. Repent means to change your sinful ways and believe in Jesus as the Son of God.

Don’t feel you are excluded in any way. This story tells us clearly that there is more room in the kingdom of God for misfits and sinners. The gospel is exclusive in that no one else can save you except Jesus Christ. ‘Salvation is found in no one else under heaven’.

But it’s also inclusive in that Jesus turns no one away. The invitation is for everyone under heaven no matter who you are.

So why delay, ‘come’ he says, ‘everything is ready’.

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The image shows, “L’Invitation au festin” (Invitation to the Feast), by Eugène Burnand, painted imn 1899.

Who Killed the Classics? Or, How to Ennoble Democracy

“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ Has Got to Go …” (Jessi Jackson, Stanford University, January 15, 1987).

Defending Classical education, or the Classics, is not easy. Many attempts have been made, but they were rather unsuccessful. Even the best arguments of distinguished classicists and scholars of Antiquity sound like desperate plea for survival. One can also wonder why it is only the classicists who defend their discipline. One does not hear, for example, the Medieval or Renaissance scholars weeping over lack of interest in their periods, and low enrollment in their courses.

One explanation is that they know that as important as the knowledge of their historical period is, their epoch is a closed chapter, and the ideas those periods generated have little significance for our lives. This does not seem to be the case with the Classics, particularly the Greeks. Their world is, or that is what the Classicists believe, as important today as it was over two thousand years ago.

Before I explain why Classical education is important and why it died, or is dying, let me briefly recount a few historical facts. If one looks at the history of roughly six centuries in the West, the Classics had many moments of good fortune.

The first was the Renaissance, the epoch which resurrected Classical or Greco-Roman antiquity, and whose literal definition is “Rebirth.” It was a rebirth of the Greco-Roman world, the world whose institutional structures collapsed in 476 AD. However, the Renaissance was not only a rebirth. It was also the time in Western history when, after almost a thousand years, Europe achieved a comparable level of cultural development which we find in the late Roman Empire.

The 17th-century was by no means a continuation of the Renaissance. Despite the fact that 17th-century thinkers attacked the ancients, 17th century was a classical age par excellence. It was an “age of eloquence”; an age of French theatre, of Corneille and Racine, who applied strict classical rules in their plays and rhetoric. Were it not for the genius of Shakespeare, who broke those rules, the ancients would have been indisputable winners in this contest. Painters (Paul Rubens, Nicholas Poussin, Claude Lorraine, and many others) made Greece and Rome the subject of their many works.

The 18th-century was different, but equally lucky. Rome seized the imagination of the artists, major and minor. One can easily discern Classical motives in Baroque and Rococo ornaments. Giuseppe Vasi was obsessed with antiquity, just like his student, Giovani Baptista Piranesi. He was particularly taken by Rome; so were his successors Luigi Rossini and Gabriele Ricciardelli. Those who are lovers of Roman antiquity cannot free themselves from the memory of the dark ink dripping from Piranesi and Rossini’s engravings.

Late 18th-century “inventory” of antiquity, initiated by German historian and archeologist, Johann Joachim Winkelmann, was at the root of the West’s second love affair with the world of Greece and Rome. Prints with details and measurements of ancient temples and sculptures became a commonplace at the end of the 18th century. Their cheaper, less illustrious versions flooded the printing and book market in the first half of the 19th-century.

“Greeks are Us,” was the motto of all European Romantics, from Goethe to Byron, to Keats and Shelley, to Chateaubriand and Valéry, to Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki. Some of them could even compose their poems in Latin. In contrast to copper plates, which were used in the 17th- and 18th-centuries, the invention of steel-plates in the 19th century made it possible for thousands of ordinary readers of weekly magazines to familiarize themselves with the images of Greek and Roman architecture.

Albums with steel plates illustrations were printed in countless editions, and their prices were sufficiently low for anyone interested in antiquity to purchase them. The last act in the Greco-Roman tragedy of decline was the rise of the school of Neo-Classicism in painting and architecture. At the beginning of the 20th-century, the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans came to an end.

Paradoxically, this happened when Classical scholarship was at its peak, when complete critical editions of the ancient authors had been published. Individual editions were widely available, and Classical scholars could start working on their meticulous interpretations of each and every individual work that survived.

Proceeding roughly from the end of WWII, the number of hours devoted to studying Greek, Latin and the ancient authors would decline decade after decade. Today, learning Classics in most Western countries is not even required.

There are reasons why we find ourselves where we are and why the Classics have been demoted. The reading of Henry Nettleship’sClassical Education in the Past and at Present” (1890) and John Stuart Mill’s “Inaugural Address to the University of Saint Andrew’s in Scotland” (1867), makes today’s reader aware that the mid-19th-century mind was already aware of the necessity of making room for science. The number of hours devoted to the study of different branches of science had to increase, but it was not the reason why the teaching of Greek and Latin started declining. The decline had roots in the rise of democratic mentality.

In 1816, in his speech “On the Liberty of the Ancients and the Moderns,” occasioned by Napoleon’s imperial adventures, rebuilding an empire, Benjamin Constant made an important observation: Napoleon was a ghost from the past, the man who tried to revive the ancient world, incompatible with the spirit of modern times.

Modern times, modern liberties, Constant argued, are incompatible with the bellicose and aristocratic spirit of ancient republics; modern life is based on commercial transactions, the desire to cultivate the private realm, independent of the collective, characteristic of the ancient Greek polis. The famous painting by Jacques-Louis David of Napoleon standing by a desk, under which there are two massive tomes of Plutarch’s Lives, is an allusion to where the spirit of the Empire comes from: The Greeks and the Romans.

In 1864, the French scholar Fustel de Coulanges published an influential book, La cité antique (The Ancient City). In it, he argued, that the state and religion in ancient Greece dominated every aspect of individual existence. Ancient democracy meant collective sovereignty; not individual independence protected by individual rights. Imitation of ancient republics would mean, as it did during Napoleon’s reign, giving up individual freedoms for the sake of ancient virtues.

The insights we find in Constant and de Coulanges do not make a case against Classical education, but they do point to the differences between the Greek and Roman world and Modern commercial democracies. The message was rather clear: modern man’s commercial spirit, need for privacy, and independence are incompatible with the ancient way of life. If so, it appeared more and more clear, classical education was unnecessary, or even useless.

Modern life and modern democracy called for a new, practical, form of education. Education meant no longer education to virtue – this being different in men and women – but education to democratic citizenship. The works by Rousseau (Emile and La nouvelle Heloise), or Laclos (On the Education of Women) looked out-of-date in the new world, just like reading Homer and Plutarch. Enough to contrast 20th-century books for children with their 19th-century counterparts, which were still heavily influenced by the Classics and told children stories about virtuous Greeks and Romans, to see the difference. Contrasting them with today’s children’s books, one gets the full picture. The characters are ordinary “kids,” living ordinary life, having ordinary problems. Hardly if ever they are inspired by a sense of greatness or excellence that the classics taught.

John Stuart Mill who since childhood was steeped in Classical education was reconciled to the advent of democracy, but saw it as fundamentally lacking in excellence. In his analysis of the differences between the ancient and modern mind, he finds the modern mind to be superior only in one respect.

Modern poetry, Mill writes, “is superior to the ancient, in the same manner, though in a less degree, as modern science: It enters deeper into nature. The feelings of the modern mind are more various, more complex and manifold, than those of the ancients ever were. The modern mind is, what ancient mind was not, brooding and self-conscious; and its meditative self-consciousness has discovered depths in the human soul which the Greeks and Romans did not dream of, and would not have understood.”

This is certainly true, and in this regard, the Moderns, who invented the novel – a form of writing unknown to the ancients – could indeed claim superiority. However, Mill also notices that in the manner of expression, the ancients were superior.

Their superiority stemmed from the fact that they addressed their writings to a small leisure class: “To us who write in a hurry for people who read in a hurry, the attempt to give an equal degree of finish would be loss of time. But to be familiar with perfect model is not the less important to us because the element in which we work precludes even the effort to equal them. The shew us at least what excellence is, and makes us desire it, and strive to get as near to it as is within our reach.”

Mill was not isolated in his observation, and most likely borrowed it from the French aristocrat, Alexis de Tocqueville, who, during his visit to America, observed a degenerative tendency of literary style in democratic societies. The claim of the superiority of the ancients in the realm of style, eloquence and historical analysis, to which Mill refers, invoking Thucydides, Quintilian, Cicero, Demosthenes, could, it would seem, serve as a strong argument for the mandatory teaching of the Classics in a democratic society: If the modern democratic mind cannot achieve the same level of excellence on its own, then, it follows logically, it should and ought to learn from the voices of their ancient predecessors.

This is what the American writer Henry David Thoreau postulated in the chapter on “Reading” in his Walden (1854). “For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave… Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind… No wonder that Alexander [the Great] carried the Iliad with him on his expeditions in a precious casket. A written word is the choicest of relics.”

Thoreau’s use of the word “aristocracy” reveals the essential point in the discussion over the problem of classical education in a democracy. When, in 1987, Allan Bloom, The University of Chicago professor and a lover of Plato, published The Closing of the American Mind, he was viciously attacked. His book sold over a million copies. Bloom, the critics claimed, was an “elitist,” which was another way of saying, Bloom supports hierarchy!

But Bloom’s “elitism” was of a strange kind. Bloom encouraged students to read the Classics to understand what virtuous life is. He understood that the Greek and Roman Classics contain a world’s greatest treasure which cannot be found anywhere else. Ancient Greece, and Rome which perpetuated and spread the Greek intellectual heritage, was not one of many civilizations. It was the civilization par excellence, a yardstick against which we measure every other civilization.

The college curriculum given predominance to the Classics, in the language of his critics, was “discriminating” and based on “exclusion” of other cultures. And they were right! What is an elite, if not an aristocracy, and a class? But this strange class was not, like in the past, a class with hereditary privileges, but a class of readers – readers of the Classics. Bloom’s American “aristocracy” was not an aristocracy of color, ethnicity, hereditary privilege. It consisted of several thousand diverse students each year who read Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Cicero and others.

Instead of imposing “the elitist” curriculum on all, turning the American youth into the “elite,” the partisans of change – with Rev. Jessi Jackson, a loud proponent of educational destruction — did the opposite: They decided to close students’ access to the Greek playwrights, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Plutarch, and others by doing away with Western Civilization courses.

Why did they do it? They did in the name of multiculturalism, which is nothing other than intellectual egalitarianism. It claims all cultures are equal and none should be privileged. Therefore, the authors from other cultures are as good as the Greeks and Romans. They perceived the existence of Great Books programs, as we call the Classics in America, to be a mechanism of perpetuating educational—and thus social and political—inequality. Paradoxically, in doing destroying the traditional curriculum, they did what the Founding Fathers feared.

Thomas Jefferson – the man whose obsession with equality and hatred of hereditary aristocracy finds no equal in modern times – thought of natural aristocracy as a pillar of the democratic system of government, one without which democracy is bound to degenerate.

In his letter to John Adams (October 28, 1813), he wrote “For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents… The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trust, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectual for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the office of government.”

A similar sentiment can be found in the English poet and a great literary critic Matthew Arnold: “We in England have had,” he writes in The Popular Education of France (1861; later published under the title, Democracy (1879): “in our great aristocratical and ecclesiastical institutions, a principle of cohesion and unity which the Americans had not; they gave the tone to the nation, and the nation took it from them… Our society is probably destined to become much more democratic: who will give tone to the nation then? That is the question. The greatest men of America, her Washingtons, Hamiltons, Madisons, well understanding that aristocratical institutions are not in all times and places possible; well perceiving that in their Republic there was no place for these; comprehending, therefore, that from these that security for national unity and greatness, an ideal was indispensable, would have been rejoiced to found a substitute for it in the dignity of and authority of the State.”

In contrast to Jefferson, who cherished the hope that we might find a mechanism to determine and select natural aristoi, Arnold understood that hierarchy is an indispensable component of every healthy society. Abolishing institutional hierarchy – written into the very fabric of society, either ecclesiastical or aristocratical – would mean to find an alternative mechanism that would make the wise govern. Reading Jefferson’s letter to Adams reveals that he had no clear idea how to solve the technical difficulty of finding democratic philosopher kings, without which – he, Hamilton, and Franklin thought — democracy could not last.

This asymmetry between democracy, understood as a universal right to vote, and the selection of the best (aristoi) from among the mass of enfranchised masses, has been resolved by neither Jefferson nor Mil. Retrospectively speaking, Arnold turned out to be more perceptive than Mill and Jefferson. He understood that aristocracy is not just a class of privileged people, but an idea, an idea inducing a sense of higher aspiration in ordinary people to ascend “higher” than where they actually are.

Such aspiration can be propelled only by the sense of greatness which the Classics teach us. When this sense of spiritual aspiration is no longer part of social and individual existence, a society is bound to lose the sense of cohesion and aspiration, and will slide into a moral abyss and lawlessness. And when it does, we will be forced to vest in the state power it should never have.

When undereducated, ignorant and vulgar citizenry lays claim to politics, one should not expect politicians to be anything other than demagogues. The annals of Greek political history are full of examples of demagogues, like the despicable Cleon. His power and influence were due, as we learn from Thucydides, to his understanding how weak depraved masses are and how to manipulate them. Anyone who happens to wonder why modern democracies display cultural malaise and galloping vulgarity in public and political realm should realize that there is a natural connection between virtue of citizens and the quality of public and political life.

In his quest for natural aristocracy in democracy, Thomas Jefferson reminds us of the Athenian philosopher Diogenes with a lantern in day-light. The latter was looking for an honest man; the former was looking for nobility in democracy. Their respective quests seem futile. After over two hundred years of modern democracy, one can say with certainty that we are unlikely to find nobility in democracy.

The only way to ennoble democracy is to teach young people the Classics. As Henry Nettleship wrote in his Classical Education in the Past and at Present (1890): “It must be remembered that the classics have still more than a merely literary function to perform. Greece was the mother not only of poetry and oratory, but—at least for the European world—of philosophy. And by philosophy I do not mean merely a succession of metaphysical and ethical systems, but the active love of knowledge, the search for truth. Will it be said that this spirit is not now as necessary as element in civilized human life as it ever was? In the long run it would almost appear as if it were mainly this which saves society from degeneracy and decay. The charitable instincts die out in an atmosphere of ignorance, for ignorance is the mother of terror and hatred…This is an inheritance as precious as Greek art and literary form; nay, if the continuous life of the nations be regarded, an inheritance even more precious.”

As a society, we have a choice between voluntary obedience to moral precepts we find in the Classical texts, or being forced to follow rules and regulations imposed on us by the State. Classics are not just about reading outdated works written by Dead White European Males. They also teach us virtuous behavior.

Zbigniew Janowski is the author of Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes’ Quest for Certitude, Index Augustino-Cartesian, Agamemnon’s Tomb: Polish Oresteia (with Catherine O’Neil), How To Read Descartes’ Meditations. He also is the editor of Leszek Kolakowski’s My Correct Views on Everything, The Two Eyes of Spinoza and Other Essays on Philosophers, John Stuart Mill: On Democracy, Freedom and Government & Other Selected Writings. He is currently working on a collection of articles: Homo Americanus: Rise of Democratic Totalitarianism in America.

The image shows, “The Sack of Rome by the Vandals in 410,” by Joseph-Noël Sylvestre, painted in 1890.

Should Faith Just Be Private?

Culture in the broadest sense can be defined as a way of life. The great historian Christopher Dawson created an entire corpus focused on the intersection of religion and culture. He claimed that four central pillars form the foundation of culture: people, environment, work, and thought. He describes how “the formation of culture is due to the interaction of all these factors; it is a four-fold community—for it involves in varying degrees a community of work and a community of thought as well as a community of place and a community of blood.”

When Dawson refers to the importance of thought, he means especially religious thought, which provides the inner form for the material organization of society. He describes how “every social culture is at once a material way of life and a spiritual order,” because “it is the religious impulse which supplies the cohesive force which unifies a society and a culture.”

Although Dawson recognizes that we live in the first secular culture in human history, he also rightly claims that the modern world has its own spiritual ideas, or pseudo-religions, that guide how we organize the material world: ideas of inevitable social progress, extreme individual liberty, the primacy of material prosperity, and the dominance of empirical science. These ideas have created a spiritual imbalance, which made Dawson aware that “the real evil lies deeper—in the breach that has taken place between the technical development of our civilization and its spiritual life.”

Dawson not only recognizes the problem, but also offers a solution: “The recovery of our civilization is therefore above all a question of restoring the balance between its inner and outer life. The unlimited material expansion of our civilization has weakened it by making it superficial, and the time has come for a movement in the reverse direction—a movement of concentration to recover its inner strength and unity.”

Our culture has displaced faith from its central role, relegating it to the private sphere. Dawson recognizes that this has created a deep spiritual crisis within the individual, with material needs satisfied in abundance, but deeper, spiritual ones neglected. Christians play into this crisis by accepting the divide between the interior and exterior elements of life – communicating only spiritual ideas, while leaving them divorced from their social and cultural context.

The crisis can be resolved by placing religion back at the heart of culture, for “it is only through the medium of culture that the Faith can penetrate civilization and transform the thought and ideology of modern culture.” And he continues: “A Christian cul­ture is a culture which is oriented to supernatural ends and spiritual reality, just as a secularized culture is one which is oriented to mate­rial reality and to the satisfaction of man’s material needs.” And for Dawson, only the faith is strong enough to penetrate and transform the depth of the crisis facing the West.

The Church has increasingly recognized the importance of culture and has given it a central role within her efforts of evangelization. The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes provides the Church’s first extended treatment of culture, stating that “man comes to a true and full humanity only through culture” (§53).

Ten years later in 1975, Paul VI emphasized the importance of culture for evangelization in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, teaching that “the split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time . . . Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures. They have to be regenerated by an encounter with the Gospel” (§20).

John Paul II strengthened this focus on culture by stating that “creating a new culture of love and of hope inspired by the truth that frees us in Christ Jesus . . . is the priority for the new evangelization.” He explains this priority further in Christifidelis Laici: “Therefore, I have maintained that a faith that does not affect a person’s culture is a faith ‘not fully embraced, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived’” (§59). Faith must be lived out as a way of life and cannot remain simply an interior belief; it must shape and guide all that we do.

Building upon these insights from Dawson and the directives of the Magisterium, I propose to address how our efforts at rebuilding a Christian culture should begin with the family. First, I will look generally at how family life relates to culture and culture and then propose four points to give direction for our catechetical efforts to help families live the faith as a way of life.

Culture, Catechesis, And The Family

Building upon the principle that the family forms the foundation of society, Pope John Paul II stated prophetically: “The future humanity passes by way of the family.” In light of the deep crisis we face in family life, it is imperative that we increase our efforts to support the family. Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that “the evangelization of the family is a pastoral priority.” When faith enters the family, it naturally forms culture, for “Christianity is a creator of culture in its very foundation.”

He also said in an address to the members of the Roman clergy on March 2, 2006: “Only faith in Christ and only sharing the faith of the Church saves the family; and on the other hand, only if the family is saved can the Church also survive. For the time being, I do not have an effective recipe for this, but it seems to me that we should always bear it in mind.” We have to help come up with this recipe. Catechesis plays an important role in forming the members of the family in faith, but it must also assist them to connect their faith to life as a whole.

Catechesis aims at deepening one’s faith: The General Directory for Catechesis (1998) states: “Catechesis is nothing other than the process of transmitting the Gospel, as the Christian community has received it, understands it, celebrates it, lives it and communicates it in many ways” (§105).

In relation to the family, its goal should be to strengthen the belief and practice of the faith in its domestic life. Family catechesis constitutes an urgent task, for as Pope Benedict affirmed, “only if the family is saved can the Church also survive . . . We must therefore do all that favors the family: family circles, family catechesis, and we must teach prayer in the family.”

With this focus, catechesis forms habits of faith. Family catechesis requires that families receive the message of evangelization and the content of catechesis, but the effort to form family culture through catechesis looks to the next step of how to apply and live that message or content. The goal of family ministry cannot focus on content alone, but should look to the incarnation or inculturation of faith in daily life, translating patterns of belief into a hostile surrounding culture.

In Catechesi Tradendae, §20, John Paul speaks of “the specific aim of catechesis,” which is to enact change in how one thinks and lives. He describes this aim as the development of faith, “which he explains is “a matter of giving growth, at the level of knowledge and in life, to the seed of faith sown by the Holy Spirit with the initial proclamation and effectively transmitted by Baptism. Catechesis aims therefore at developing understanding of the mystery of Christ in the light of God’s word, so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by that word. Changed by the working of grace into a new creature, the Christian thus sets himself to follow Christ and learns more and more within the Church to think like Him, to judge like Him, to act in conformity with His commandments, and to hope as He invites us to.”

This catechetical approach points to the family as the means for translating faith into the concrete expressions of daily life. The General Directory of Catechesis makes clear that “the care of the family always remains central, since it is the primary agent of an incarnate transmission of the faith” (§207). Faith meets culture primarily within the family. John Paul taught that “God’s plan for marriage and the family touches men and women in the concreteness of their daily existence in specific social and cultural situations.” The family constitutes the domestic church, where the faith of the parish and school meets the outside world, where the work of inculturation happens (or does not happen) in one’s life.

The family should be recognized as a cultural unit and producer of culture. John Paul proposed that “it is necessary to demand a healthy primacy of the family in the overall work of educating man to real humanity,” because it is the “fundamental creative environment of culture.” The basic cultural task of the family is to transmit culture by initiating children into a way of life. “The family transmits cultural heritage. It is in the bosom of the family that culture is passed on ‘as a specific way of man’s ‘existing’ and ‘being.’” We all enter into a specific way of life through our family.

Creating a Christian culture occurs simply “when the truths of the Faith are applied by the laity in their daily lives.” The Catechism speaks of “creating a home,” where children receive an “education in the virtues,” learn how to “subordinate ‘the material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones,’” are shown a “good example” or witness of the Christian life, and receive discipline (§2223). The home is a locus of Christian culture, as it should embody the spiritual realities of the faith concretely in the many small ways of interaction, instruction, rejoicing, and even correction. The home should be a sacrament of the Church’s broader life.

We generally design catechesis narrowly in relation to sacramental preparation for children or adult faith formation. These tasks flow from the mission of the parish, but as parents are the primary educators of the faith (See: Gravissimum Educationis §3), catechesis for the family should assist the family in recognizing and fulfilling its distinct, catechetical role.

In his Letter to Families, John Paul situates religious education within the domestic church, stating that this role should “make the family a true subject of evangelization and the apostolate within the Church.” Catechesis makes the family the subject not just the object of imparting the faith, enabling the family to fulfill its own unique ministry. This mission “builds up the Kingdom of God in history through the everyday realities that concern and distinguish its state of life,” creating conditions which “foster . . . a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life.” This makes clear that the role of religious education does not consist in a function, but in the creation of a family environment that conduces to faith. The creation of a culture, that is, a way of life, in which faith can grow organically in the fertile soil of family life.

Forming Culture Tn The Family

he constituent elements of family culture relate to the four general pillars proposed by Dawson. First, its foundation consists in a particular bond between people, particularly the members of the family but also the broader community. Second, the locus of culture or the family’s environment, found primarily in the home, but also the parish and places of work. Third, the function or mission of the family, its work and social life, which includes education. Finally, we have Dawson’s notion of thought, which includes the religious beliefs and practices of the family.

Pope Francis, in his long series of Wednesday audiences on the family, stretching from December 2014 to September 2015, affirms these key elements that form the rhythm of the family’s way of life: “celebration, work, prayer.” In addition, in this same group of audiences, he addresses the topics of education, evangelization and community. These six topics provide the central themes for a catechetical revitalization of family. I will address them as follows: Prayer and celebration first; then education through the lens of imagination; followed by work; and finally, community. All of these themes relate to the overarching goal of the evangelization and catechesis of the family.

Prayer As A Way Of Life

Just as religion stands at the heart of culture, so faith should provide the center of the family’s way of life. There can be no Christian culture unless a supernatural, grace-filled, relationship with God animates the life of the family. The supernatural life comes to us from the sacraments, which we receive in the parish. It from the domestic church, however, that we enter parish life and we live out the sacramental life within the home. As Pope Benedict noted: “The family . . . is the fundamental school of Christian formation on the supernatural level.”

The family will become a school of the Christian life primarily through prayer. Prayer is the font of Christian culture. If this is true, then the first and most significant priority of our catechetical efforts consists in teaching families how to pray. Prayer should set the rhythm of life in a fundamental way, as we “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16) or as Pope Francis said, give “time back to God.” The liturgy shapes time by creating a rhythm for the day, by praying in the morning and evening, for the week, by keeping the Lord’s day, and for the year, by celebrating the seasons and feasts of the Church. The supernatural life of the family springs from its “worship in church . . . and as its prolongation in the home” through family prayer.

Ordering the life of the family through prayer constitutes no small task. The domestic church may find inspiration from the monastery, with its daily rhythm of prayer and work within the stability of the monastic family: “Just as the monastery’s life is ordered toward God, so must the family home be.” Ordering life through prayer must be taught, and in this endeavor another religious community, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, provides helpful advice: “Please remember that merely saying the prayers is not the goal. The goal is praying: personally encountering the Lord, listening to Him, and giving Him your heart.” We may be tempted to focus simply on outward rituals with children, but the heart of the family community, like the religious life, is a search for God (quaerere Deum), meeting God in silent prayer.

Interior silence, though, progresses to outward celebration, arising naturally from the festivity built into the Catholic cycle of the liturgy. Sofia Cavaletti speaks of “celebration [as] a universal expression; it is not restricted to the religious world. Rather, it corresponds to the need of human beings to periodically experience basic realities of daily life in a particularly intense and focused way.” She says further that liturgical celebrations help us to live our biblical history: “Liturgical celebration is an essential instrument in rendering past events concrete and powerful in the lives of believers.”

The liturgical seasons provide opportunities to celebrate God’s goodness and the blessings he has bestowed upon the family. Echoing the thought of Josef Pieper, Pope Francis describe the nature of this affirmation: “Celebration is first and foremost a loving and grateful look at work well done . . . It’s time to look at our home, our friends we host, the community that surrounds us, and to think: what a good thing! God did this when he created the world. And he does so again and again, because God is always creating, even at this moment!” Pieper also affirms that “to celebrate a festival means: to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole.”

Sunday is a moment each week to stop and to make this affirmation with rest and the enjoyment of family life.

Enlivening The Imagination

Although it may not be obvious, focusing on the imagination relates to prayer. Prayer builds upon our experience of reality, as the soil from which it draws life. Msgr. Timothy Verdun describes how the family cultivates the foundation for prayer by imparting language and by stimulating the mind through experience: “There is in fact an art of prayer that can be transmitted from masters to disciples as from parents to children. The places designated for its transmission are indeed, first, the family, where children initially learn words and gestures with which to enter into relation with God, and then the community of other believes.” He continues, speaking of the lex orandi, lex credendi, as “a rule in the service of creativity, for faith and prayer in effect are creative responses.” In the “long history of the Church, the ‘art of prayer’—the system of words and gestures with which believers turn to God—in fact has often been transmitted through the visual arts and architecture.”

What does this mean concretely for the family? The family’s mission of education must compensate for the poverty of schooling today and overcome obstacles, such as technology, which impede the development of the imagination. I think of the immense importance Pope Benedict XVI ascribed to listening to Mozart as a family when he was young: “You might say that there Mozart thoroughly penetrated our souls, and his music still touches me very deeply, because it is so luminous and yet at the same time so deep.”

Contrast this experience with the normal child today, deprived of beauty and immersed in distraction. The basic education parents can give their children, essential for any schooling, career, and even prayer, should focus on learning to listen (no small task today), to understand, and to communicate. We can no longer take these foundational points for granted. In terms of the imagination, we have to teach children how to see, to appreciate, and to discern the worth of things.

Pope Benedict reflects on the need for “the formation of children to respond appropriately to the media . . . Within this framework, training in the proper use of the media is essential for the cultural, moral and spiritual development of children.” Interestingly, he continues by insisting that we introduce our children “to what is aesthetically and morally excellent,” such as “children’s classics in literature, to the fine arts and to uplifting music.”

Without this formation in beauty, in a cultural patrimony, we experience a breakdown in identity: “The crisis of a society begins when it no longer knows how to hand down its cultural patrimony and its fundamental values to the new generations.”

Catechetically speaking, we have to impart a Catholic identity through the imagination, so that the family’s way of thinking and values reflect the Gospel. Cardinal Francis Arinze challenges us to consider the effectiveness our catechesis in this regard: “The Church in every country can ask herself what image of the Gospel is present in the mass media and in cultural thought patterns in the country in question . . . How much are they contributing to cultural patterns in their society? . . . What are the laity contributing to the fabric of society so that life in society will be as near as possible to the Gospel ideal?” We cannot bring the Gospel to the world, if it has not penetrated our own minds and habits.

Family Work

Unlike immersion in the digital world, we form imagination most profoundly through a direct experience of reality. This experience in turn draws us naturally to work, our creative encounter with the physical world. Many thinkers have described the crisis of the family in modern culture as arising in large part due to a lack of common work, common purposes that hold family members together.

This element of family formation consists literally in helping families to form culture, that is, to learn to make things, to shape their home environment, and to become co-creators with God. John Paul exhorts us: “family, become what you are” and the Church needs to help families achieve this even in a natural sense.

John Paul describes what he means by this phrase: “Accordingly, the family must go back to the “beginning” of God’s creative act, if it is to attain self-knowledge and self-realization in accordance with the inner truth not only of what it is but also of what it does in history.” Pope Francis describes this looking back to the beginning for families as well: ““The family that responds to the call of Jesus consigns the stewardship of the world back to the covenant of man and woman with God. Let us imagine that the helm of history is entrusted entrusted—finally!—to the covenant of man and woman. . . . The themes of earth and home, of the economy and work, would sing a very different tune.”

Pope Francis affirms that work must be taught in the family for the “family is a great workbench.” Teaching work is not drudgery, but emphasizes the need for creative expression in the formation of Christian culture. David Clayton notes that we have been “good at forming consumers of Catholic culture, but not good at forming creators.” We need to learn “the practice of beauty-in-the-making. We are incarnational and learn by imitation and doing, and ultimately, as this progresses, by the creation of new works.” Teaching work as a cultural expression elicits the creative potential of each child. Clayton continues: “Each of us is called to be creative in a special way and to contribute to the culture. Our formation also, therefore, ought to involve a process of discovery of personal vocation.”

Work is also good for the family, drawing the members of the family together in a common effort, rather than allowing work and school to isolate members of the family in their own individual activities.

James Stenson, in his essay “On Fatherhood,” looks back to past home dynamics: “The home was a place of social and intellectual activity; people talked, read, played, worked, and prayed together.” Now, however, “the home itself has become a place of play rather than work,” even to the point that for our children, “life is play.”

Stenson also gives a description of how fathers should teach their children about hard work and the right use of material things: “Successful fathers . . . work alongside their children at home, teaching the relationship between effort and results, along with the satisfaction of personal accomplishment. They are sparing in allowances. They make the children wait for things, and if possible, earn them. They give generously of time and money to the needy, and they encourage (but don’t force) the children to do the same. They don’t fill the home with expensive gadgets and amusements. They budget and save for the future, and thus teach the children an important lesson: Money is an instrument, a resource for the service of our loved ones and those in need. And that’s all it is.”

Work is a key element of culture and families will have to rediscover its value as something that gives life and creativity to the home. Catechesis does not teach this work in itself, but rather helps families to understand the role of work in human development and its importance for family life and culture.

Forming Intentional Family Community

Families must overcome what has become a key characteristic of modern culture, isolation. The restoration of culture will not occur as long as this isolation remains, especially within families. The culture they form does not exist for themselves alone, but for the world more broadly. Families also need support for their efforts, as children see the values of the family reinforced by other adults and peers.

Pope Francis has urged us to recognize that “strengthening the bond between the family and the Christian community today is indispensable and urgent.”

Providing an example, Rod Dreher quotes Marco Sermarini, the founder of a community of families, the Tipi Loschi in Italy: “It’s becoming clear, Sermarini says, that Christian families have to start linking themselves decisively with other families. ‘If we don’t move in this direction, we will face more and more crises.’”

The mission of culture-building necessarily includes community, as culture itself, as a common way of life, unites people to accomplish a common vision. Therefore, “true Christian communities and culture at large, then, arise from the association of Catholic families that take it upon themselves to enculturate the Faith.”

Dilsaver continues: “For the formation of communities is but the extension of the formation of families.” Pope Francis also emphasized that the building of community by the family should have a broader impact: “The family and the parish must work the miracle of a more communal life for the whole of society.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Ireland has taken this principle farther, in looking at the future of parish life: “The parishes of tomorrow will be “communities of intentional disciples” sustained by committed and formed lay people. The key to this will be the formation of cells, or smaller gatherings of committed people who meet and pray and develop together their understanding of faith, and who find there the courage to engage in mission and outreach.”

The family must counteract the individuality that fragments modern culture, reversing “the community desertification of the modern city.” Intentional and committed fellowships of families will recreate a sense of belonging, stability, and support so lacking in our parishes and families today. John Paul has called for a “special solidarity among families” and an “apostolate of families to one another.” The more families embrace their mission to form culture in the home, the more this culture will spread to other families throughout the Church and society.

Families also have a gift to offer others in opening their homes for this fellowship and to those especially without a sense of belonging. Familiaris Consortio notes that we should recognize an “ever greater importance in our society of hospitality in all its forms”

Hospitality indicates that a family does not simply exist for its self, but to serve by opening the life of the family to others. This points to a mission the family exercises in sharing the culture it forms without even leaving the home. Christian culture overcomes isolation in that it exists not for its own sake, but as a service for the good of humanity.

We should focus our catechetical efforts on helping families to live their Catholic faith, both within the home and in conjunction with other families. I call this effort the creation of an “open source movement.” It is a “movement” in that it encourages particular, spiritual practices. It is “open source” in that it inspires families with a vision, assisting them to form the culture with, in, and through the parish. This approaches makes the family central, relying on their own initiative, rather than on an office or program (although they will need inspiration to begin this process). This entails a movement from the family as object to the family as subject of catechesis.

The final consideration, and one that requires further elaboration, consists in how to bring about this new approach to family catechesis. We have relied traditionally on classroom settings to impart the content of faith. This will need to continue, but the task of forming culture focuses rather on establishing practices and habits to change family life. Therefore, it is necessary to model Christian culture to families. This can be done through retreats, small group mentorship, and parish missions. Any such event must include the formation of relationships and family communities so that families receive support in following through with their new practices.

John Paul affirmed that faith requires culture to be true to itself and complete (see, Christifidelis Laici, §59). Families need Christian culture to be faithful to their mission to live and communicate their faith in the modern world. In light of the general crisis of culture, catechesis cannot remain focused solely on imparting the content of faith, but must embrace the work of rebuilding Christian culture.

Families, as the foundation of society, are the ideal place to begin this slow, but necessary, work. Family catechesis ordered toward imparting a Christian way of life provides our best opportunity to begin the renewal of public Catholic culture.

R. Jared Staudt, PhD, works in the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries of the Archdiocese of Denver and serves as Visiting Associate Professor at the Augustine Institute. He earned his BA and MA in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN) and his PhD in Systematic Theology from Ave Maria University. He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate. This article appears courtesy of Church Life Journal.

The image shows, “A Girl Praying,” by Roberto Ferruzzi (1853-1934).

A Matter Of Truth

Surveys in business magazines and management books confirm that the personal characteristic employees most value in their employer is Honesty. Above all employees want to be dealt with truthfully. The same is true of employers.

What they most want from their employees is the assurance that they can believe what their employees say and trust what they do.

When single people describe the perfect partner, they dream of meeting and someday marrying; they inevitably say they want an Honest man or woman who can be trusted in every way. They can’t conceive of a marriage based on any other foundation than absolute trustworthiness.

Friends who have walked through life together for many years often name Honesty as one of the keys to the success of their relationship. We made a commitment to never lie to one another they say, and we never have.

In an age and a culture in which lies, fake news, and deceit are common currency of news articles, movies, talk shows and politics; the pursuit of Honesty in personal life and relationships sometimes seems like a lonely and outdated endeavour. You need to put a spin on things. Distort it so that it seems like the truth.

Of course, public displays of dishonesty are not the only sources of our repugnance. Most of us have been betrayed or lied to at some point in our lives in a brazen hurtful way, where recovery has been difficult.

Do you remember the first time you were betrayed or lied to? The first time a confidence was broken or the truth twisted in order to hurt you. I am sure you remember the experience in vivid detail. Did it make you want to withdraw from the human race or scream out in anger? If it’s any consolation God feels that way as well.

The ninth commandment says, “Do not bear false witness against your neighbour.” In other words, don’t Lie. Don’t distort the truth. Don’t use your words to play around with reality.

God knew from the beginning of time that without a total commitment to truth telling; marriages and families would disintegrate, friendships would disappear, business dealings would fall apart, churches would be split by divisions, governments would not be able to govern. The very fabric of relationships and society would unravel.

Throughout the Bible we are called to the standard of truth telling, but nowhere more graphically than in the book of Proverbs, where a man ‘with a corrupt mouth’ is called a scoundrel and villain. Proverbs 6: 12. And where the suggested antidote to lying is that a perverse tongue will be cut out. Dishonesty is bad stuff, says the writer of these proverbs, and we need to get rid of it; whatever it takes.

One reason the writer of these proverbs spoke so strongly against a corrupt mouth is that he knew how deeply dishonesty disrupts one’s relationship with God. The Lord detests lying lips. That’s pretty strong stuff. To detest something is repulsive. Its abhorrent.

Seldom does the Bible use such strong language than this to describe God’s response to sinful behaviour. God simply detests lying. It like saying; it turns his stomach; it makes him vomit. That’s why he cannot maintain a relationship with a person who lies.

The reason God detests dishonesty so much is due to the second consequence; it destroys other people. Proverbs 15 verse 4: “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life; but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

She promised to be faithful, sobs a devastated husband who has just learned that his wife wasn’t faithful. He said, he would never come home again drunk cries a teenager reeling from the rages of his alcoholic father. He promised me that he would never place another bet, as the wife checks her bank account. I finished the job because the contractor gave me his word that he would pay me, but he didn’t. Now how can I pay my workers? I transferred my savings into the account that would give me 8 per cent interest. The company left no forwarding address.

On and on it goes; people’s spirits crushed by dishonesty and deceit. I suspect that if successive Governments wanted to save billions through austerity measures, they should launch a major offensive outlining what dishonesty and deceit costs the tax payer every year. If people complied by being honest in their financial dealings The national debt would be eradicated in twenty years.

The main reason why Greece is in financial meltdown is because the majority of its tax paying citizens refuse by deceit to submit any income tax returns. In fact, it’s seen as a badge of honour to get away with it. Children are taught to do the exact same thing and follow their parents’ example. And they wonder why they are in the state they are in.

I know of several people and perhaps you do as well who lament that life is not working well for them. They are left with broken dreams, faded hopes and thwarted goals. However, in many cases, if you trace their disappointment back far enough you discover a trail of dishonesty.

It may have started with a slight departure from the truth; but all too often that first dishonest step leads to deeper forms of deceitfulness and from there to downright lies. Along the way, the dishonest person begins to experience the inevitable breakdown of his or her relationships with God and with others; whether in the home, at school, on the building site, in the office, or at church.

It’s easy to place the blame on other people or on forces beyond one’s control when the real cause of trouble is one’s own careless or malicious mishandling of truth. Have you told any lies lately? Any harmless ones. We’ll do lunch sometime. I’ll pay you back next month. Can I have a minute of your time. My door is always open. Will phone you tomorrow.

Do you ever exaggerate the truth? Tell a story and put an extra spin on it. Describe a personal achievement in inflated terms? Do you ever minimize the truth? Confess to a sin less serious than the one you committed? Do you ever twist the truth to make someone look bad? The list is endless.

Have you ever described another person’s words or actions without explaining their context and thereby made that person appear stupid or cruel? Have you ever got yourself into a jam and then told a whopper to get yourself out of it? The wife was driving the car, so she gets the penalty points.

Do you remember the last time you lied? Most of us feel a little queasiness in our stomachs or a little heat on the back of our necks. But the worst thing is that we don’t know what to do with our eyes.

We have only two choices; to look the person we’re lying to straight in the eye or to look at the floor.

Lying is a messy business. It’s always going to be a messy business because we’re created in the image of a truth telling God.

At the core of God’s character is an essence of purity that renders him incapable of dishonesty. Wherever Jesus went, he often spoke to the crowds saying; I tell you the truth. I tell you the truth. As he did so he was holding himself up for public examination and scrutiny. Check it out and see if there is anything incorrect, I am telling you. That was the undercurrent of his message.

Could anyone point the finger at Jesus. No not one. The closest any of our politicians come to this; is when they are being interviewed and an awkward question is thrown at them, they say; let me be clear about this. But it’s not quite the same thing. Or if a politician is asked, “do you condemn IRA or IS violence?” ‘Do you condemn anti-Semitism?” Some will say blandly, “I condemn all violence.” But they still have not answered the question. They are not telling the truth.

Because of the piece of that purity which God has placed in our own core, it will always feel unnatural for the majority of people to lie. There are of course professional liars; spin doctors and the like; but God has given up on them. They are destined for destruction according to scripture.

There will always be warning bells and whistles going off in our minds and that sick feeling in our stomachs, because we were not created to lie. The only reasonable response for any of us is to stop lying; completely. No more half-truths, no more exaggeration, no more verbal twisting of reality.

No more only telling part of the story. For those of us ready and willing to make a firm commitment to honesty the book of Proverbs offers some refreshing practical hints for our journey from deceitfulness to truth telling. What do we do about it?

The Bible says; If you want to sin less with your words, then talk less. Proverbs 10.19” “When words are many, sin is not absent; but he who holds his tongue is wise.” I wish I could meet the man who wrote that and have a chat with him.

If you have a propensity to talk a lot, the facts state you will lie more. Generally speaking, if you talk less, the less you will lie. The less you talk the less you will exaggerate. The less you talk the less you say things you will regret. The less you talk the fewer promises you make, that you can’t keep.
Proverbs says, “the heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”

The wisdom of Proverbs also tells us something important; that we don’t have to participate in every conversation. You don’t have to chip in. You don’t have to express every thought that you hear or comes to mind. But we do have to pause and carefully consider our words before we speak.

When we are writing a letter on the computer there is a spell check. If you spell a word incorrectly it will be underlined in red. Your attention is drawn to it to correct it. Well Proverbs says that we have to have a lie check feature, a little switch that is flipped on just before we open our mouths.

When our ideas and words are forming in our brains, it will ask us two things; are our forthcoming words necessary; and are they true. If they’re not we should not spend more than a minute thinking about them.

There is so much we could say in this area of truth telling. One more thing. There is a potential downside to all this. Truth telling is not always easy especially in the age of obsessive PC correctness. People are sacked in jobs for telling the truth; whistle blowers. Others are shunned or passed over for promotion. ‘We don’t rock the boat in this company’.

We are called to avoid unnecessary words, or to keep silent rather than utter untruths. But at the same time when a given situation demands that a word of truth be spoken, we are commanded to speak it without holding back, even if it costs us dearly.

When it comes to saying the hard truths that certain people, need to hear, we find ourselves hesitating. At least I do. Such as the proverbial round peg in a square hole comes to mind. Someone who is doing a job they are basically useless at and at the same time they are keeping back the best person for it.

Why do we stay silent and hold back from telling the truth? And how you say it; how you go about it. It’s not easy. You can be seen as always being critical, always on the lookout for mistakes or self-righteous.

The person with the pushy attitude, who succeeds wherever they go in getting everyone’s backs up without even trying. Better to say nothing in case he is offended. We are afraid to speak the truth. What is wrong with me? A close relation who hasn’t a clue about money matters and who is utterly unreliable and reckless. Just leave it. Someone else might say something. What’s the matter with me? There are a million and one scenarios.

Or, you have become acquainted with someone. A decent, kind, hard working person who always sees the good in people. You have numerous conversations with them about all manner of things. But to date you have not had the courage to tell them the most important truth in life; that God loves them and he has opened the gates of heaven to them because of what Jesus did on a cross on their behalf. He died for their sin.

This person told me they do not attend church; yet you have not shared one word with them about the basic truths of the Gospel. What’s the matter with you? Why have you not said anything to them of God’s love and forgiveness.

Well, you know what’s the matter. You shrink back from telling the truth because it might cost you something. It might create discomfort in the relationship. You might be misunderstood or rejected. Heaven forbid that that person would say, stay out of my life, its none of your business. Get lost. Would that really be the end of the world? There is a balance here between peace keeping and truth telling. But most of us, most of the time choose the former.

I silence words of truth because they might create ripples on the pond of my life and I would much prefer to have the seas of tranquillity lapping around me. I want smooth waters; not rough seas. We need to remind ourselves of Proverbs 3 verse 3: “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them round your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”

The writer of Proverbs says cling to the truth and reveal the truth in your marriage, family and friendships.

Have you ever been thankful that at some point in your life someone dared to speak the truth to you and it helped alter the course of your life? I know I have.

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Do you really know what it means to follow Jesus? Please think carefully about those two questions.

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The image shows, “The Capture of Christ,” by Guercino, painted in 1621.

The Christian Life: A Three-Dimensional View

But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6: 11-12).

Paul wrote these words to Timothy, his disciple/student, his spiritual son. He repeatedly calls Timothy “son.” Timothy faithfully accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys, but at a certain point when Timothy was 30 or in his mid-thirties, he was appointed to supervise the church at Ephesus. The first letter was about the time he assumed those responsibilities. Timothy was not an Apostle, but he clearly was given a lot of authority by Paul, as well as these two letters of advice and encouragement in the Lord. Many of the directions given to Timothy apply to the clergy and laity of today as well, although some might be seen as Timothy-specific.

He describes to Timothy how he can be “salt and light” (Matthew 5: 13-16), and lead his church to be salt and light. Like Timothy, the Holy Spirit of God calls us and supports us as we strive to be salt and light as we follow Jesus Christ. The above passage is a three-dimensional depiction of how we as faithful Christians can be, and should be

Dimension One: The Bible is filled with virtues. In addition to this list of six virtues in 1 Timothy, there is another list of nine virtues in Galatians 5:22: Love, faith, and gentleness are found in both lists. However, in addition, the Galatians list has joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, and self-control.

Righteousness is the first virtue on the list. Righteousness is inevitably linked with holiness, and holiness is linked with God. If one is an atheist and deems themselves as a “good person” that is not the same, and no atheist would refer to himself or herself that way, as a holy person. The Lord said, “Be ye holy even as I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; 21:8) We may be starting to see that there is a vocabulary that the non-Christians do not ever use, and increasingly are omitted from the vocabulary and thoughts of Christians: Righteousness, holy, evil, sin, abomination. These words come under the heading of religious exaggerations or hyperbole.

Today’s mantra in our unbelieving society is that it is sufficient to be a “good person.” Yet, we know that we must strive for righteousness. However, the idea of being right with God and thus “right” in a bigger sense is considered up-tight by many. We are apt to be told that that is just our interpretation, or the Bible was written by people who were limited in their perspective by the time and place when and where they lived or it may have been believed by many and for many years, but that does not make it “right” in any ultimate sense.

Righteousness and holiness are repudiated by so many because they entail accepting the words “sin” and “evil.” I once referred to “our sick and sinful society” in a column in our union newsletter, and one of my colleagues, a woman with a Ph.D. in microbiology and a sociable and pleasant lady, came to my office to complain about my using the word “sinful.” “There’s no such thing as sin,” she said. I asked her, “What would you say about people who have intimate relations with animals,” and she replied “different strokes for different folks.” Then I asked her if sin could be applied to the kidnapping and murder of a four year old child, and she replied, “It’s a crime, but not a sin.” Are you, dear reader, stunned? Well, there are millions of people, even in churches who, tragically, think the same way.

Dimension Two: Paul tells Timothy and us to “Fight the good fight of faith.” Very often faith is portrayed – even by the Danish Christian existentialist Soren Kirkegaard as simply belief, a purely subjective attitude or belief in an eternal, changeless, perfect, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God. By, referring to fighting the good fight, Paul not only sees faith in an active mode, but also emphasizes that it is public and associated with confession. It is not private and subjective.

Faith is our public testimony and manifestation of our faith, and of those virtues or the virtues in Galatians 5:22 that are the expressions of our faith. Confession here is not going into a confessional booth, but of exhibiting Christian virtues in a lost and fallen world! Then Paul really shakes up our 20th and 21st century sensibilities by pointing to Christ before Pilate as the pinnacle example or manifestation of fighting the good fight of faith.

In Matthew, Jesus is asked if He is King of the Jews and answers, “It is as you say.” (Matthew 27:11) He is listed with the same reply in Mark 15: 2 and Luke 23: 3, but in John, Jesus replies, “Are you speaking for yourself or did others tell you about me?”(John 18:33-34) A few verses later in the Gospel according to John, Pilate asks Jesus “Are you a king then?” And Jesus answers, “You say rightly…I came into this world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

Jesus’ good confession was not His many words, but his firmness in silence or in few words in the face of great personal danger, in a public place where this firmness and/or silence could be witnessed by others, and by His clear attestation of Himself as the Jewish Messiah (who was prophesied to be the universal Messiah of both Jews and Gentiles).

So. we are to fight the good fight of faith not by much speaking, but by holding firm whether to public ridicule or public threats or public slander or public opprobrium… matter-of-factly, without fanfare. Even if our firmness or our faith is perceived as irrelevant by others. When I was teaching in a public high school, one of my co-teachers called across to me in the teachers’ lounge. “Mr. Ludwig,” he called out. “Is God a he or a she?” I answered “God is a he, but not in the sense that you or I are ‘he’s’. He knows everything about us, things we would be ashamed to repeat in this room, but He still loves us, and his forgiveness is there for us if we would turn to Him and receive Him and the forgiveness He offers.”

Dimension Three: Paul tells us and Timothy to lay hold of eternal life. It cannot be seen or heard. We can’t take a weekend flight into the invisible heavenly realm. We have had reports of near death or death experiences related by people who died and were resuscitated. However this Scripture says that the heavenly realm has not been seen, nor can a person see it. So please greet such reports with a dose of healthy skepticism.

The King of kings bestows immortality with God himself. He dwells in unapproachable light. We cannot see Him, but we can hear him. God’s Ten Words were heard at Mt. Sinai (Mt. Horeb). But hearing Him was overwhelming for the Israelites and they cried out for relief from “hearing” (Deuteronomy 4:9-13; 4: 32-36; 5: 1-4; Exodus 20:19). With the hearing of God’s voice so painful, and being in His presence so impossible, how then can we lay hold of eternal life? On Earth He has given us His Word that we might hear Him without immediate terror; yet, we are to go forth in response to His Word in “fear and trembling.”

Further, the Word was made flesh in the person of Christ Jesus, second person of the Holy Trinity. Judgment awaits those who are not living in and through His Word. Here is where we understand that we must take up our Cross daily, deny ourselves, and follow Him to the very end. Only covered by the Blood of the Lamb can we hope to stand in God’s full presence.

Biblical morality was never intended to be a pathway to God, but a response of God’s people to His love and faithfulness. We appropriate Christ by faith, not by our good deeds. That is why application of and obedience to a list of virtues can never save our souls. Yet, when we are saved and lay hold of eternal life by faith, we then are called upon to walk on a path of righteousness or holiness by implementing the virtues found in the Bible.

Jeffrey Ludwig is presently a lecturer in philosophy in New York City and has taught ethics, introduction to philosophy, American philosophy, and philosophy of education. He also spent many years teaching history, economics, literature, and writing. For ten years he served as pastor of Bible Christian Church; and his theological focus is on the five solae. He has published three books, the most recent, The Liberty Manifesto, being a series of essays about the importance of reasserting liberty as a social, political, economic, and theological value. His other two books are The Catastrophic Decline of America’s Public High Schools: New York City, A Case Study and Memoir of a Jewish American Christian.

The image shows, “The Disciples in Emmaus,” by Abraham Bloemaert, painted in 1622.

The Coronavirus And Providence

The theme of my conversation is, the new scenarios in Italy and in Europe during and after the Coronavirus crisis. I will not speak about this theme from a medical or scientific point of view, as I do not have this competence. I will instead consider the argument from three other points of view: The point of view of a scholar of the political and social sciences; the point of view of a historian; and the point of view of a philosopher of history.

As A Scholar Of The Social Sciences

Political and social sciences study human behavior in its social, political and geopolitical context. From this point of view, I am not inquiring into the origins of the Coronavirus and its nature, but rather the social consequences that are happening and will happen.

An epidemic is the diffusion on the national or world scale (in this case it is called a pandemic) of an infective illness that afflicts a large number of individuals of a determined population in a very brief span of time. The Coronavirus, which has been renamed Covid-19, is an infective illness that began to spread through the world from China. Italy is the Western nation that is now apparently the most afflicted by it.

Why is Italy under quarantine today? Because, as the most attentive observers have understood from the very beginning, the problem of the Coronavirus is not its fatality rate but the rapidity with which the contagion spreads among the population. Everyone agrees that the illness in itself is not terribly lethal. A sick person who contracts the Coronavirus and is assisted by specialized health care personnel in well-equipped health care facilities can heal.

But if, because of the rapid spread of the contagion, which can potentially strike millions of people simultaneously, the number of sick people rapidly increases, there will not be enough health care facilities and personnel – the sick will die because they are deprived of the necessary care. In order to cure grave cases, it is necessary to have the support of intensive care in order to ventilate the lungs. If this support is lacking, the patients die. If the number of those who are sick increases, health care structures are not capable of offering intensive care to everyone and an ever greater number of patients will succumb to the disease.

Epidemiological projections are inexorable and they justify the precautions being taken. “If uncontrolled, the Coronavirus could strike the entire Italian population, but let’s say that in the end only 30% become infected, that would be about 20 million people. Let’s say that out of these – reducing the rate – 10% go into crisis, meaning that without intensive care they will succumb to the disease. This would mean that 2 million people die directly, plus all of those who will die indirectly as a result of the collapse of the health care system and the social and economic order.”

The collapse of the health care system, in turn, would have other consequences. The first is the collapse of the nation’s production system.
Economic crises usually arise from the lack of either supply or demand. But if consumers must remain at home and stores are closed, and those selling goods cannot get their products to market because of logistical breakdown, then the supply chain collapses.

The central banks would not be capable of saving such a situation: “The crisis after the Coronavirus does not have a monetary solution” writes Maurizio Ricci in La Repubblica on February 28. Stefano Feltri in turn observes: “The typical Keynesian recipes – creating jobs and artificial demand with public money – are not practical when the workers do not leave their homes, trucks do not circulate, stadiums are closed and people do not schedule vacations or work trips because they are sick at home or afraid of the contagion. Aside from avoiding liquidity crises for businesses by suspending tax payments and interest payments to banks, the political system is powerless. A government decree is not enough to reorganize the supply chain.”

The expression “perfect storm” was coined several years ago by the economist Nouriel Roubini to indicate a mix of financial conditions that are such that it leads to a collapse of the market. “There will be a global recession due to Coronavirus”, Roubini declares, adding: “This crisis will spill over and result in a disaster.”

Roubini’s forecasts have been confirmed by the drop in the price of oil after the failure of OPEC to agree with Saudi Arabia, which has decided to increase its production and cut prices in defiance of Russia; and Roubini will likely be further vindicated as events unfold.

The weak point of globalization is interconnection, the talisman word of our time, from the economy to religion. Pope Francis’ Querida Amazonia is a hymn to interconnection. But today the global system is fragile precisely because it is so interconnected. And the system of distribution of products is one of the chains of this economic interconnection. It is not a problem of the markets but of real economy. Not only finance but also industry, commerce, and agriculture, that is to say, the pillars of the economy of a nation, can all collapse, if the system of production and distribution enters into a crisis.

But there is another point that becomes evident – there is not only the collapse of the health system; there is not only a possible crack in the economy; but there can also be a collapse of the state and public authority – in a word, social anarchy. The riots in Italian prisons indicate a trend in this direction.

Epidemics have psychological consequences because of the panic that they can provoke. Between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, social psychology was born as a science. One of its first exponents was Gustave Le Bon, the author of a famous book, entitled, Psychologie des foules (Psychology of Crowds, 1895).

Analyzing collective behavior, Le Bon explains how in a crowd the individual undergoes a psychological change by which feelings and passions are transmitted from one individual to another, “by contagion,” like that which happens with infectious diseases.

The modern theory of contagion, which was inspired by Le Bon, explains how, protected by the anonymity of a crowd, the calmest individual can become aggressive, acting at the suggestion of others or in imitation of them. Panic is one of those feelings that is spread by social contagion, as happened during the French Revolution in the period that was called the “Great Fear.”

If a health crisis is compounded by an economic crisis, an uncontrolled wave of panic can trigger the violent impulses of the crowd. The state is then replaced by tribes and gangs, especially in the outskirts of large urban centers. Social war has been theorized by the São Paulo Forum, a conference of Latin American ultra-leftist organizations, and is practiced in Latin America, from Bolivia to Chile, from Venezuela to Ecuador, and may soon expand to Europe.

Someone might observe that this process corresponds to the project of the globalist lobbies, the “masters of chaos,” as Professor Renato Cristin defines them in his excellent book. But if this is true, it is also true that what emerges defeated from this crisis is the utopia of globalization, presented as the great road, destined to lead to the unification of the human race.

Globalization actually destroys space and pulverizes distances: today the key to escaping the epidemic is social distance, the isolation of the individual. The quarantine is diametrically opposed to the “open society” hoped for by George Soros. The conception of man as a relationship, typical of a certain school of philosophical personalism, dissipates.

Pope Francis, after the failure of Querida Amazonia, focused heavily on the conference dedicated to the “global compact,” scheduled at the Vatican for this coming May 14. This conference however has been rescheduled and has become more distant, not only in time but in its ideological presuppositions.

The Coronavirus brings us back to reality. It is not the end of borders that was announced after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Instead, it is the end of the world without borders, the end of the “global village.” It is not the triumph of the new world order: it is the triumph of the new world disorder. The political and social scenario is that of a society that is disintegrating and decomposing. Is it all organized? It’s possible. But history is not a deterministic succession of events.

The master of history is God, not the masters of chaos. The killer of globalization is a global virus called the Coronavirus.

As An Historian

At this point, the historian will step in to replace the political observer, seeking to see things from the perspective of a greater chronological distance. Epidemics have accompanied the history of humanity from the very beginning, and all the way to the twentieth century. And they are always intertwined with two other scourges: Wars and economic crises.

The last great epidemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918, was closely connected to the First World War and the Great Depression that began in 1929, also known as “the Great Crash,” an economic and financial crisis that convulsed the economic world at the end of the Twenties, with grave repercussions which extended well into the 1930s. These events were followed by the Second World War.

Laura Spinnay is an English scientific journalist who has written a book called Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World. Her book informs us that between 1918 and 1920 the virus which infected approximately 500 million people, including even inhabitants of remote islands of the Pacific Ocean and of the glacial Arctic Sea, causing the deaths of 50-100 million individuals, ten times more than the First World War.

World War I contributed to the flu’s virulence, helping the virus spread throughout the globe. Spinnay writes: “It is difficult to imagine a mechanism of contagion more effective than the mobilization of enormous quantities of troops in the height of the autumn wave, who then reached the four corners of the planet where they were greeted by festive crowds.

In essence, what the Spanish flu taught us is that another influenza pandemic is inevitable, but whether it will cause ten million or one hundred million victims depends only on what the world will be like in which it spreads.”

In the interconnected world of globalization, the ease with which contagion can spread is certainly greater than it was a century ago. Who can deny it?

But the historian’s perspective goes even further back in time. The twentieth century was the most terrible century of history. But there was another terrible century, “The Calamitous Fourteenth Century,” as Barbara Tuchman calls it in her book A Distant Mirror.

I would like to focus on this historical period that marked the end of the Medieval era and the beginning of the Modern era. I do so by basing myself on historical works that are not Catholic but serious and objective in their research.

The Rogations are processions convoked by the Church in order to implore the help of Heaven against calamities. The Rogations contain the prayer “A fame, peste et bello libera nos, Domine:” – from famine, plague, and war, deliver us, O Lord.

As the historian Roberto Lopez writes, the liturgical invocation present in the Rogation ceremonies “unfolded with all of its drama over the course of the fourteenth century… Between the tenth and twelfth centuries,” Lopez continues, “none of the great scourges that mow down humanity seem to have raged in any great measure; neither pestilence, of which there is no mention during this period, nor famine, nor war, which had a greatly reduced number of victims. Moreover, the expanse of agriculture was widened by a slow softening of the climate. We have proof of this in the retreat of the glaciers in the mountains and of the icebergs in the northern seas, in the extension of wine growing into regions like England where today it is no longer practical, and in the abundance of water in regions of the Sahara that were later reconquered by the desert.”

The picture of the fourteenth century was much, much different, as natural catastrophes combined with serious religious and political upheavals.

The fourteenth century was a century of deep religious crisis – it opened in 1303 with the famous “slap” of Anagni against Boniface VIII, one of the greatest humiliations of the papacy in history. Then, it saw the transference of the papacy for seventy years to the city of Avignon in France (1308-1378). And it ended with forty years of the Western Schism from 1378 to 1417, in which Catholic Europe was divided between two and then three popes. A century later, in 1517, the Protestant Revolution lacerated the unity of the Christian faith.

If the thirteenth century was a period of peace in Europe, the fourteenth century was an era of permanent war. We need only think of the “Hundred Years’ War” between France and England (1339-1452) and of the assault of the Turks against the Byzantine Empire with the conquest of Adrianople (1362).

In this century Europe experienced an economic crisis due to climatic changes caused, not by man, but by glaciation. The climate of the Middle Ages had been mild and gentle, like that era’s customs. But the fourteenth century experienced an abrupt harshening of climatic conditions.

The rains and floods of the spring of 1315 led to a general famine that assailed all of Europe, above all the northern regions, causing the death of millions of people. The famine spread everywhere. The elderly voluntarily refused food, in the hope of enabling the young to survive, and historians of the time write of many cases of cannibalism.

One of the principal consequences of the famines was agricultural de-structuring. In this period there were great movement of agricultural depopulation, characterized by flight from the land and the abandonment of villages; the forest invaded fields and vineyards. As a result of the abandonment of the fields, there was a strong reduction of soil productivity and a depletion of livestock.

If bad weather causes famine, the subsequent weakening of the body of entire populations causes disease. The historians Ruggiero Romano and Alberto Tenenti show how in the fourteenth century the recurring cycle of famines and epidemics intensified. The last great plague had erupted between 747 and 750; almost six hundred years later it reappeared, striking four times in the space of a decade.

The plague came from the Orient and arrived in Constantinople in the autumn of 1347. Over the next three years it infected all of Europe, all the way to Scandinavia and Poland. It was the Black Plague, of which Boccaccio speaks in the Decameron. Italy lost about half of its inhabitants. Agnolo di Tura, the chronicler of Siena, lamented that no one could be found to bury the dead, and that he had to bury his five sons with his own hands. Giovanni Villani, the chronicler of Florence, was struck by the plague in such a sudden way that his chronicle ends abruptly in the middle of a sentence.

The European population that had surpassed 70 million inhabitants at the beginning of the 1300s was reduced by a century of wars, epidemics, and famines to 40 million; it shrank by more than one third. The famines, plague, and wars of the fourteenth century were interpreted by the Christian people as signs of God’s chastisement.

Saint Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444) admonished: Tria sunt flagella quibus dominus castigat. There are three scourges with which God chastises: War, plague, and famine. Saint Bernardine belongs to a number of saints, like Catherine of Siena, Bridget of Sweden, Vincent Ferrer, Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, who warned how throughout history natural disasters have always accompanied the infidelities and apostasy of nations.

It happened at the end of the Christian Middle Ages, and it seems to be happening today. Saints like Bernardine of Siena did not attribute these events to the work of evil agents but to the sins of men, which are even more grave if they are collective sins and still more grave if tolerated or promoted by the rulers of the peoples and by those who govern the Church.

As A Philosopher Of History

These considerations introduce us to the third point in which I will consider the events not as a sociologist or historian but as a philosopher of history.

Theology and the philosophy of history are fields of intellectual speculation that apply the principles of theology and philosophy to historical events.

The theologian of history is like an eagle that judges human affairs from the heights. Some of the great theologians of history were Saint Augustine (354-430), Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704), who was called the eagle of Meaux, from the name of the diocese where he was bishop, Count Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), the marquis Juan Donoso Cortés (1809-1853), the abbot of Solesmes Dom Guéranger (1805-1875), professor Plinio Correa de Oliveira (1908-1995), and may others. There is a Biblical expression that says: Judicia Dei abyssus multa (Ps 35:7): the judgments of God are a great abyss. The theologian of history submits himself to these judgments and seeks to understand the reason for them.

Saint Gregory the Great, as he invites us to investigate the reasons for divine action, affirms: “Whoever does not discover the reason for which God does things in the very works themselves, will find in his own meanness and baseness sufficient cause to explain why his investigations are in vain.”

Philosophy and modern theology, under the influence above all of Hegel, have replaced the judgments of God with the judgments of history. The principle, according to which the Church judges history, is reversed. It is not the Church that judges history, but history that judges the Church, because the Church, according to the Nouvelle théologie, does not transcend history but is immanent, internal to itself.

When Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said in his final interview that “The Church is 200 years behind” with respect to history, he assumed history as the criterion of judgment for the Church. When Pope Francis, in his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2019, made these words of Cardinal Martini his own, he is judging the Church in the name of history, overturning what should be the criterion of Catholic judgment.

History in reality is a creature of God, like nature, like all that exists, because nothing of what exists can exist apart from God. All that happens in history is foreseen, regulated and ordered by God for all eternity.

Thus, for the philosopher of history every discussion can only begin with God and finish with God. God does not only exist; God is concerned for His creatures, and He rewards or chastises rational creatures according to the merits or faults of each. The Catechism of Saint Pius X teaches: “God rewards the good and chastises the wicked because He is infinite justice….”

Justice, theologians explain, is one of the infinite perfections of God. The infinite mercy of God presupposed his infinite justice.

Among Catholics, the concept of justice, like the concept of divine justice, is often removed. And yet the doctrine of the Church teaches the existence of a particular judgment that follows the death of every person, with the immediate reward or punishment of the soul, and of a universal judgment in which all angels and all human beings will be judged for their thoughts, words, actions, and omissions.

The theology of history tells us that God rewards and punishes not only men but also collectivities and social groups: Families, nations, civilizations. But while men have their reward or chastisement, sometimes on earth but always in heaven, nations, which do not have an eternal life, are punished or rewarded only on earth.

God is righteous and rewarding and gives to each what is his due: He not only chastises individual persons, but He also sends tribulations to families, cities, and nations for the sins which they commit. Earthquakes, famines, epidemics, wars, and revolutions have always been considered divine chastisements. As Father Pedro de Ribadaneira (1527-1611) writes: “wars and plagues, droughts and famines, fires and all other disastrous calamities are chastisement for the sins of entire populations.”

On March 5, the bishop of an important diocese, whom I will not name, declared: “One thing is certain: this virus was not sent by God to punish sinful humanity. It is an effect of nature, treating us as a stepmother. But God faces this phenomenon with us and probably will make us understand, in the end, that humanity is one single village.”

The Italian bishop does not renounce the myth of the “single village,” nor the religion of nature, of the Pachamama and Greta Thunberg, even if for him the “Great Mother” can become “stepmother.” But the bishop above all forcefully rejects the idea that the Coronavirus epidemic or any other collective disaster can be a punishment for humanity. The virus, the bishop believes, is only the effect of nature.

But who is it that has created, ordered, and guided nature? God is the author of nature with its forces and its laws, and He has the power to arrange the mechanism of the forces and laws of nature in such a way as to produce a phenomenon according to the needs of His justice or His mercy. God, who is the first cause above all of all that exists, always makes use of secondary causes in order to affect His plans. Whoever has a supernatural spirit does not stop at the superficial level of things, but seeks to understand the hidden design of God that is at work beneath the apparently blind force of nature.

The great sin of our time is the loss of faith by the men of the Church: Not of this or that man of the Church but of the men of the Church in their collective whole, with few exceptions, thanks to whom the Church does not lose her invisibility. This sin produces blindness of the mind and hardening of the heart: Indifference to the violation of the divine order of the universe.

It is an indifference that hides hatred towards God. How is it manifested? Not directly. These men of the Church are too cowardly to directly challenge God; they prefer to express their hatred towards those who dare to speak of God. Whoever dares to speak of the chastisement of God gets stoned: A torrent of hatred flows against him.

These men of the Church, while verbally professing to believe in God, actually live immersed in practical atheism. They despoil God of all His attributes, reducing Him to pure “being” – that is, to nothing. Everything that happens is, for them, the fruit of nature, emancipated from its author, and only science, not the Church, is capable of deciphering nature’s laws.

Yet not only sound theology but the sensus fidei itself teaches that all physical and material evils that do not come from the will of man depend on the will of God. Saint Alphonsus Liguori writes: “Everything that happens here against our will, know that it does not occur except by the will of God, as Saint Augustine says.”

On July 19 the Church’s liturgy recalls Saint Lupus (or Saint Loup), bishop of Troyes (383-478). He was the brother of Saint Vincent of Lerins and the brother-in-law of Saint Hilary of Arles, belonging to a family of ancient senatorial nobility, but above all of great sanctity.

During his lengthy episcopate (52 years), Gaul was invaded by the Huns. Attila, at the head of an army of 400.000 men, crossed the Rhine, devastating everything he found in his path. When he arrived before the city of Troyes, Bishop Lupus, in his pontifical vestments and following his clergy in procession, came to meet Attila and asked him, “Who are you that you threaten this city?” And the response came: “Don’t you know who I am? I am Attila, king of the Huns, called the scourge of God.” To which Lupus replied: “Well, then, be the welcome scourge of God, because we merit divine scourges because of our sins. But if it is possible, let your blows fall only on my person and not on the entire city.”

The Huns entered the city of Troyes, but by divine will they were blinded and crossed it without being aware of it and without doing evil to anyone.

The bishops today not only are not speaking about divine scourges, but they are not even inviting the faithful to pray that God will liberate them from the epidemic. There is a coherence in this. Whoever prays, in fact, asks God to intervene in his life, and thus in the things of the world, in order to be protected from evil and to obtain spiritual and material goods. But why should God listen to our prayers, if He is disinterested in the universe created by Him?

If, on the contrary, God can, by means of miracles, change the laws of nature, avoiding the sufferings and death of an individual man, or great loss of life throughout an entire city, He can also decree the punishment of a city or a people, because their collective sins call down collective chastisements.

Saint Charles Borromeo said, “Because of our sins, God permitted the fire of the plague to attack every part of Milan.” And Saint Thomas Aquinas explains: “When it is all the people who sin, vengeance must be made on all the people, just as the Egyptians who persecuted the children of Israel were submerged in the Red Sea, and as the inhabitants of Sodom were struck down en masse, or a significant number of people must be struck, such as happened in the chastisement inflicted for the adoration of the golden calf.”

On the eve of the second session of the First Vatican Council, on January 6, 1870, Saint John Bosco had a vision in which it was revealed to him that “war, plague, and famine are the scourges with which the pride and malice of men will be struck down.” This is how the Lord expressed himself: “You, O priests, why do you not run to weep between the vestibule and the altar, begging for the end of the scourges? Why do you not take up the shield of faith and go over the roofs, in the houses, in the streets, in the piazzas, in every inaccessible place, to carry the seed of my word. Do you not know that this is the terrible two-edged sword that strikes down my enemies and that breaks the wrath of God and men?”

The priests are silent, the bishops are silent, the Pope is silent.

We are approaching Holy Week and Easter. And yet for the first time in many centuries in Italy, the churches are closed, Masses are suspended, and even Saint Peter’s Basilica is closed. The Holy Week and Easter liturgies urbe et orbi will not be drawing pilgrims from all over the world.

God, also punishes by “subtraction,” as Saint Bernardine of Siena says; and today it seems like He has removed the churches, the Mother of all churches from the supreme Pastor, while the Catholic people are groping confused in the dark, deprived of the light of truth that should illuminate the world from Saint Peter’s Basilica. How can we not see in what the Coronavirus is producing a symbolic consequence of the self-destruction of the Church?

Judicia Dei abyssus multa. We ought to be certain that what is happening does not prefigure the success of the sons of darkness, but rather their defeat, because, as Father Carlo Ambrogio Cattaneo, S.J., (1645-1705) explains, the number of sins, whether of a man or of a people, is numbered. Venit dies iniquitate praefinita, says the prophet Ezekiel (21:2), God is merciful but there is a final sin that God does not tolerate and that provokes His chastisement.

Furthermore, according to a principle of the theology of Christian history, the center of history is not the enemies of the Church but the saints. Omnia sustineo propter electos (2 Tim 2:10) says Saint Paul. History revolves around the elect of God. And history depends on the impenetrable designs of Divine Providence.

Throughout history there are those who oppose the law of God, whether men, groups, or organized societies, both public and secret, who work to destroy all that has been ordained by God. They are able to obtain apparent successes, but they will always ultimately be defeated.

The scenario we have before us is apocalyptic, but Pius XII recalls that in the Book of Revelation (6:2) Saint John says, “did not behold only the ruins caused by sin, war, famine, and death; he also saw in the first place the victory of Christ. And, indeed, the path of the Church throughout the centuries is a via crucis, but it is also always a march of triumph. The Church of Christ, the man of faith and Christian love, are always those who bring light, redemption and peace to a humanity without hope. Iesus Christus heri et hodie, ipse et in saecula (Hebrews 13:8). Christ is your guide, from victory to victory. Follow him.”

At Fatima, the Blessed Mother has revealed to us the scenario of our time, and she assured us of her triumph. With the humility of those who are aware that they can do nothing by their own strength, but also with the confidence of those who know that everything is possible with the help of God, we do not retreat, and we entrust ourselves to Mary, at the tragic hour of the events foretold by the message of Fatima.

This article is a transcription of a video made by Professor de Mattei.

The image shows “The Plague of the Philistines at Ashdod,” by Pieter van Halen, painted in 1661.

Are Pandemics Evil?

Recent conversations have brought up questions about good and evil, particularly in the natural world. When the world is locked down in response to a virus, it is easy to wonder about the nature of things. Can a virus be called “evil?” Is that the right word for it? In truth, we use words in a very loose manner in our common speech.

We say “evil” about many things, without thinking carefully (or meaning to) about what we’re actually saying. This changes, however, when we attempt to do theology. For theology is always something that involves words, and often turns on the right use of the right word for the right thing. Classically, some of the largest controversies turned on a single iota.

We do not speak with precision in our daily life, and it is silly to expect that we should. But, it is also good to pause, now and again, to think carefully about our speech and what we mean. This article is a small attempt to speak carefully about the nature of good and evil and how Orthodox theology, at its most careful, speaks of them. I’ll also try to define my terms with some care. Here goes.

The Fathers, particularly the Cappadocians through Dionysius and St. Maximus the Confessor, belonged to a school of speech that took great care to hammer away at certain terms, reaching consensus on use and meaning. The seven Great Councils all belong to a single vocabulary project that, over time, developed a working consensus on terms and their application. Some of those words are key:

Being
Nature
Essence
Substance

Person
Hypostasis

Existence
Subsistence

Will
Energy

Movement
Change

This list could be expanded even further, but I’ll stop with this. There are some fundamental ideas in all of this. First, and foremost, is the understanding of “being.”

Being, like goodness, and beauty, is foundational. Everything that exists, apart from God, is created out of nothing. And everything(!) that is created is good. God is not the author of evil. Thus, nothing can be said to be “evil” in its actual being. And here we have to think carefully about our language.

When reading classical theology, “essence” or “ousia” or “substance” all refer to the actual being of something – the simple reality that it is. Further, the word “nature,” or “physis,” is used to describe the “what-ness” of something. Thus, a tree has the nature of a tree; a rock has the nature of a rock; an angel has the nature of an angel, etc. If we ask what the “nature” of a tree is, we would answer “to be what a tree is.” A tree is not a rock nor an angel. Again, these are words that describe “being” or “what something is.”

The terms “person” and “hypostatic” are a bit more problematic. For nothing simply “is.” Everything that exists, exists in a particular manner. The tree outside my window is a unique tree and not just the essence of treeness. This expresses something of the uniqueness of what exists. It not only has being (essence), but a particular being (hypostasis).

When speaking of human beings, “hypostasis” or “person” have a quality that is more than mere particularity. There is a relational aspect of our unique existence. I am not fully “who” I am except as I am also in communion with others (more or less).

Related to this, with regard to all things, are the words “existence” and “subsistence.” Something not only has “being,” but the actual being it has is expressed in some manner that is describable. My “existence” encompasses everything that I am doing and every way that I function. Thus, if something is “existential,” it is a matter of the basic expression of my being in a way that can be described and experienced.

Two additional words are quite interesting: “will” and “energy.” Interestingly, the “will” in its most proper meaning, is a faculty and property of the nature (our essence or being). It is a nature’s drive to naturally be what it is created to be. Trees never want to be anything else. A virus wants what a virus wants (by nature). It does not do something else. You can count on it.

Human beings, however, have a different experience of the will, a consequence of our brokenness and lack of communion with God. We have a natural will (the will of our nature), that always tends towards our proper end, that is, what we were created to do and be. But there is what St. Maximus termed the “gnomic” will – a sort of experience of choosing.

That will is not governed by our nature but has a kind of unguided freedom. Generally, when we speak of the “will,” we mean this “gnomic” will. The very fact that we have one is not natural. It is unnatural and is a cause of great suffering in our lives. Christian ascesis, to a large extent, concerns itself with the healing of this disruption in our makeup.

Indeed, according to the authoritative teaching of St. Maximus, Christ Himself did not have a “gnomic” will – a separated, fallen, choosing sort of confusion about His actions. He acted with complete integrity and union as a human being (united with His Divine nature). This can quickly become a very complicated discussion, so I will leave it at that. I will say that we often speak about the human will and human freedom in a manner that ignores this distinction and leads to some very false assumptions about what it means to be human.

For what it’s worth, we see a somewhat similar kind of integrity in the actions and life of the Theotokos. But that’s for another day.

“Energy” is a very interesting word. For years I imagined it in terms of physics, thinking it described some sort of force emanating from a being. However, it’s far more simple. “Energies” are our actions, our “doings.” With God, His actions and His being are one. God is what He is and He is what He does. We’re a bit more problematic.

Our doings are often in contradiction to our being. For example, anything we do that is a movement or action against true existence (our being) is a contradiction of who and what we are. Murder is an action that is inherently evil. Note, it’s not the “being” that is evil, but the misuse of the being in its evil actions.

The Fathers (particularly the Cappadocians, Dionysius, Maximus, etc.) view the creation as inherently good, which is also the same thing as saying that it exists and has being. But they do not see the creation as having the fullness of the Good.

Everything that exists is created to move towards union and full participation in the Good (God Himself). Creation is dynamic and moves and changes. Sin and evil are a deviation from this dynamic. The path the Fathers describe is: being, well-being, eternal being. Being is a given. Our present life should be an increasing acquisition of well-being. Our final goal is full participation in eternal being, the very life of God.

I have found it very helpful to keep all of this in mind when thinking about sin and evil. Orthodoxy makes a strong link between sin and death. Sin is a movement, a misdirection, a drive and direction towards non-being. It displays as murder, lies, deceit, etc., everything that moves us away from the path to God. It is, however, a false path, and not the thing itself.

We may say that a man is evil, but, if we are precise, we must say that his actions (energies) are evil. It was certain errors in the West that led some to speak of human beings as totally depraved and actually evil – or, in Luther’s phrase, “a mass of damnation.” That imprecise language did much harm.

What about the things in the world that are called “natural evil?” This would include events (earthquakes, floods, plagues, etc.). What is “evil” about such things? There is nothing inherently “evil” in the shifting of planetary plates (earthquakes). It’s what planets like ours do. It creates continents, mountains, etc. It is normal. We use the word “evil” in describing these things because of the suffering and death that comes in their wake. But earthquakes are not death and suffering itself, nor is a virus.

Sometimes people speak of the world as “fallen,” and go on to describe the world as therefore bad or evil in some manner. “Fallen” is not a term found in the Scriptures, and can sometimes be a bit problematic. St. Paul speaks far more carefully about creation’s problematic state. He says that it was made “subject to futility.”

What he meant by that was that creation (like human beings) was made subject to death, decay, and destruction. It does not mean that creation itself is death, decay, and destruction. Those things are a sort of anti-creation, part of that drive towards non-existence. But they are not part of the natural order itself. They are its destruction.

The problem is death, not creation. Christ’s relationship with creation is interesting. He is asleep in a boat during a storm, unperturbed. The disciples are afraid (they fear death). They wake Him up. He speaks to the winds and the sea and says, “Peace. Be still.”

I suppose He went back to sleep after that. There was nothing “evil” about the winds and the sea, though they could well have sunk the boat and drowned the disciples. Christ “rebukes” fevers. He tells demons what to do. He withers a fig tree.

In Christ, we see a foretaste, or a small glimpse of humanity and creation in its right order. St. Paul describes creation as “groaning like a woman in child-birth” longing for the restoration of this relationship in its fullness. He calls it the “glorious liberty of the sons of God.”

St. Dionysius the Areopagite’s The Divine Names, has a very dense passage on all of this, in chapter 4. He uses a very interesting verb in describing evil, borrowing from an earlier usage of St. Gregory of Nyssa. The word is paryphistimi (παρυφιστημι – a sort of “standing beside”) which essentially equates with the noun, παρυποστασις. It is an attempt to describe the “parasitic” character of evil. It doesn’t exist in and of itself, but is spun out of the will of sentient creatures.

In dealing with the so-called “problem of evil,” it is important to place it squarely in the realm of God’s providential care for all creation. The death and decay to which we are subject certainly have the capacity to draw us towards non-being. Conversely, they also draw us toward repentance, turning towards God and the path of life.

We are not dualists. The battle between good and evil is not a level playing field. The whole of the field is the arena of our salvation and the working out of the whole of creation’s union with God. Even death has a strange place in all of this.

In Christ’s Pascha we hear echoes of this place. Christ tramples down death by death. The very thing that is our enemy is the same thing used to destroy our enemy. It is the ultimate statement of God’s good will triumphing in all things.

Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered. Let those who hate Him flee before His face!

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

The image shows Christ healing the Leper; a mosaic in the church of Monreale.

What Lies Ahead?

The year that King Uzziah died was in 740BC thus ending a period of national prosperity for the nation of Judah. He had been one of Judah’s finest kings and greatest leaders since he was crowned king at the tender age of 16. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. God was with him right up until the last few years of his life when pride led to his downfall.

However, he had defeated Judah’s enemies over the years, built Jerusalem up into a fine city and the people enjoyed great success and prosperity. The full account of his reign is told in 2 Chronicles and he reigned in Jerusalem for 52 years which is a long time. Isaiah opens with the words; “In the year King Uzziah died.”

He did so because that marked the closing or the end of a significant period not only in Isaiah’s life but in the life of the nation. Isaiah had grown up over the years under various kings like Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. But it was in the year King Uzziah died that marks a watershed in the life of the nation. The people no doubt will fondly remember their good king Uzziah.

There comes a time in all of our lives when someone who seems to have been there for a long time dies. It may be a husband or a wife, a parent, a close friend, a grandparent, a work colleague, a good neighbour. They die. And as we look back, we remember the year they died.

A flood of thoughts come back as we bookmark in our minds the year when they died. We bookmark in our minds the anniversary of their death and contemplate their passing. For some of us it’s something we cannot ever get over; we somehow cannot deal with life in the same way we could when they were alive. The year when Uzziah died. The year when Winston Churchill died, the year when Princess Diana died. The year when Elvis died.

For the people of Judah, it was a huge and sad loss, losing Uzziah. It was a loss too for Isaiah as he contemplated his passing and was now left wondering what will happen next. Although Uzziah had quelled many an uprising against Judah’s enemies and defeated the armies of Syria, the Philistines, and Assyrians; he knew like a pack of jackals they would be back to attack once again.

Would the new king be strong enough; would Judah’s armies fight the same way they did for Uzziah? The Northern Kingdom of Israel would fall into the hands of Assyria; would Judah be next?

The peace and prosperity that Judah had known for many years would it now all come to an end? The future looked bleak and uncertain. But then Isaiah sees the Lord and that changed his total understanding of things. ‘Sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings.’

Isaiah’s thoughts of Uzziah are put on hold as his mind is filled with the presence and radiance of God upon the throne. A great king may have left his throne on earth, but the greatest king was still seated on the throne of heaven. The one who presides over all earthly kings and rulers; who places them in power and removes them. For Isaiah the outlook was bleak but; the up look was glorious.

You or me will probably never see in this life what Isaiah saw because it transformed him as a person. You see our own lives may seem to be shattered or falling apart. The future uncertain, fear and apprehension grips us like a hard frost; but know this God is still on the throne and reigning as the king of kings. Our light and momentary troubles will pass away. But there is a higher throne than the earthly one Isaiah has looked to, more exalted and never ending.

Quite often we are transfixed by ourselves, by our own problems, by our own circumstances and sometimes it has to be said we prefer to remain there. But it’s not a good place to stay. Self-pity causes us more problems than its worth. The prophet Habakkuk felt this way when God told him that he would use Babylon as the rod of correction for his people. Habakkuk was understandably gripped with fear on hearing this looking to save his own skin and the skin of his people.

Dare we imagine, that when we glimpse Almighty God our attention will be drawn away from ourselves, to him seated on the throne over all the earth. It’s a difficult thing. Isaiah’s vision of God as one whose robe fills the temple speaks of God’s presence in Zion, another name for Jerusalem.

God will be at work in and through Zion throughout all of human history; but if only the train of God’s robe fills the temple, then He is bigger than the temple, beyond it, and not contained by it. He is bigger than the church. And bigger than the universe He created. Mind boggling really.

In our tradition, we are not generally good at imagining, and contemplating. But it is good to think beyond the hard facts and allow our minds to create vivid pictures of God in his glory. Can you imagine yourself if this was a picture on a canvas, where would you be in the picture.? If you were an artist where would you even start to paint such a picture.

The Lord’s realm of course is not just Jerusalem it is the whole earth v3.
But Jerusalem and Israel he has not abandoned and he will work through them which he is doing even today. Isaiah gives us a glimpse of heaven. Other creatures will be there like the Seraph’s who have wings like angels. They are living flames of pure praise and sinless. They are fantastic heavenly creatures yet beside God they are insignificant. God is as high above an archangel, as an elephant is above an ant.

These are holy creatures but even they have to cover their faces and their feet from the perfect and pure presence of a Holy God. The seraphim hover in constant motion like a humming bird in their beauty ready to do God’s will. How many of them will there be in heaven; six or seven. John in his vision in Revelation says he saw; ‘ten thousand times ten thousand’ and more encircling the throne.

These are creatures who serve and worship in the presence of God in heaven who are not even able to gaze upon the beauty of God such is his holiness and radiance.

It’s beyond words. If seraphs are not allowed to gaze at the beauty and wonder of God what about ourselves? And this is the conviction of Isaiah’s heart. Here we have a great prophet of Israel, a holy man, a champion of God. He saw himself with the eyes of God and what did he say. Did he say; “Oh, look at me Lord, and how important I am, and look at the great things I have been saying about you. Afterall I am your prophet.”

He said; ‘Woe to me, I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.’ What a devastating confession to make.

Here was Isaiah the prophet who reads from the holy scriptures in the temple. His lips and mouth are his greatest asset, his words are sent on wings to bring healing and repentance to the people; and here he is confessing before God that he is a man of unclean lips. What hope is there for the rest of us?

In the West the vast majority of people no longer know the difference between right and wrong. Moral absolutes no longer exist. Truth has been replaced by feelings and opinions. All that matters for the majority is to worship the god of personal happiness and freedom to do whatever they like. Cultural Marxism aided and abetted by academics and the media hold court as judge, jury and executioner.

But Isaiah’s eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts. When we look away from ourselves and glimpse Almighty God things change. What happens is that God’s spirit convicts us of our sins. We realise that our good deeds amount to dirty rags in his sight. Our sins rise up in front of us and we are deeply ashamed.

We have nowhere to go except fall at the feet of the risen Saviour Jesus Christ and beg his forgiveness and cleansing. No one else can do anything for us except Jesus. Unclean lips are caused by an unclean heart. Isaiah cried out to be cleansed inwardly and God met his need. His lips were touched, his guilt taken away and his sin atoned for. Such is God’s salvation for each person. Before we can minister to others, we must permit God to minister to us.

What troubles Isaiah the most is not Assyria or the Philistines, or a pending war, of Judah losing her prosperity or independence. What troubles Isaiah the most is himself. He is the problem and he is part of a people who have a problem, as all have unclean lips and unclean hearts.

Malcom Muggeridge, one of the twentieth century’s greatest journalists and satirists, wrote: “the depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality, but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

Isaiah cries; “Woe to me; I am ruined.” Even for someone like Isaiah who had great faith’ his faith at times was lukewarm and dull with little understanding of the grandeur of God. He despaired of himself. Now for the first time Isaiah sees himself as he really is, because he sees God. And when that happens something new occurs; pride is swept away and humility gushes in.

This is the way to Salvation. Friends until we move away from ourselves, our little idols and our little empires we are ruined; we are lost. Sheep wandering without a shepherd. If you try to compare your good deeds with someone else you will always win. That’s why we do it; it’s a win-win-win situation for us. But when you do that you deceive yourself. Instead compare yourself always to Jesus. When you do that you will discover it’s a lose-lose-lose situation. But it’s also a reality check. And its where and how we receive his grace.

A seraph peels away from the throne and heads for Isaiah holding a burning coal that he took from the alter with tongs, but not because it is hot; after all a seraph is a ‘burning one’. He took this coal with tongs because it is a holy thing. This holy thing touches Isaiah’s dirty mouth, and it does not hurt him, instead it heals him. This burning coal symbolizes the finished work of Christ on the cross. He went to the place of sacrifice called Calvary. His dying love for you and me is the only power that can awaken people in a moral stupor. And awaken us he does.

He touches us with his presence and through the Holy Spirit he says again, “I have made atonement for you; your guilt is taken away. You are released from your sins that bound you.” The price we pay for this liberation is a traumatic self-discovery. A new you emerges. The remedy for our lives of deadness is the touch of God himself as his truth breaks into our lives.

People in Isaiah’s day had heard the message in the synagogue over and over again; but they remained unmoved and unconvinced. You see every time we hear the word of God being preached on a Sunday morning something happens.

You come away from the service; and either what you have heard moves you closer to God or moves you a little further away from God. Either way you are never just the same as you entered. The gospel is designed for a purpose to move a person closer to God or further away from God.
Now if you think you can hold the middle ground you delude yourself.

If you think you can keep Christ at a safe distance and yet within view, you are facing God’s judgement. Tragically God was finished with Isaiah’s generation, he had promised them his blessings, he provided for them. He pleaded with them; he performed miracles for them, all to no avail. They weren’t interested and God leaves them to it.

I wonder if God has left us in Europe, Australia and North America to get on with it considering the vast majority have left him and his church.
Oh, he will always be there as Sovereign God, but not in the way he once was. His Spirit has departed.

Israel’s prophetic leader Samuel tells us twice later on after Isaiah that, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” This resulted in national disaster for Israel at the time. God’s Spirit can depart from any generation and he does not have to give us the reasons why. But the evidence why, is observable. Yes, a revival can take place and we pray for that, but so can the departing of God’s glory; his Shekinah glory.

When we hear such a message from Isaiah, we need to beware that we do not fall into the same trap as the Israelites did. Isaiah’s message is one we need to heed.

Beware of being too wrapped up in yourself.
Beware of a heart that is never satisfied.
Beware of a mind that looks for excuses not to believe.
Beware of an impulse that always finds a reason to delay a response.

Beware of thinking how the sermon applies to someone else.
Beware of thinking that you are not good enough.
Beware of thinking that you are good enough.
Beware of thinking what can I get, rather than what can I give.

Muggeridge writes when in his seventies; “When I look back on my life as I sometimes do what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd. For instance, success in all its various guises, being known and being praised, ostensible pleasures like acquiring money or seducing women or travelling to and fro over the earth like Satan. Exploring and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer. In retrospect all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, a licking of the earth.”

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The image shows, “God the Son,” by Viktor Vasnetsov, painted, ca. 1885-1896.

Human Rights – Not All That Universal

The intellectual hegemony that the proponents of the human rights ideology claim to exert has made us somewhat forget that it was vigorously contested in 1948.

In the opinion of a good number of political commentators, the moralization and ideologization of human rights has led to formidable abuses. Contrary to the international diplomatic tradition of negotiation and dialogue, the concept of human rights is nowadays widely used to exclude, ostracize, or humiliate adversaries.

Since the 1990s, nothing has proven more dangerous to stability and world peace than the Manichaean precept of, “human rights or chaos.” A key element of the new globalist Bible (along with individualism, consumerism and multiculturalism), human rights have become a sort of Trojan horse for Western military interventionism.

This risk had been anticipated by the most prestigious intellectuals in the immediate post-war period. Gandhi, Harold Laski, Benedetto Croce, Emmanuel Mounier and many other thinkers from all walks of life, were severe, or at least reserved, when drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948. They did not question the uniqueness of human nature, but challenged the unreal or Utopian nature of the universality of human rights. A critical attitude, widespread at the time, is today ignored or overlooked by the mainstream media.

The profusion of texts published on the occasion of the preparation of the Universal Charter, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations – in Paris, at the Palais de Chaillot – on December 10, 1948, deserves an in-depth analysis. We will limit ourselves here to recalling the main philosophical and legal objections, which were made during the drafting project, before presenting a choice of edifying reflections and testimonies.

The first step is to destroy a myth. The French Revolution was not the “founding event” of democratic modernity on a planetary level; it was only a case in point. It takes gross ignorance or bad faith to identify the ideas of democracy, liberalism and human rights with those of 1789.

The liberal economist, Wilhelm Röpke, wrote precisely on this subject: “Democratic and liberal history can claim dates that are much more convincing than 1789.” To be convinced, in addition to evoking the role and place of local assemblies in the Middle Ages, we can list a host of dates that have been forgotten or passed over in silence.

We can indeed evoke the Cortes of Leon of 1188, the Catalan Cortes of 1192 (in the Iberian Peninsula); the Magna Carta of 1215 (in England); the Golden Bull of 1222 (in Hungary); the Swiss Federal Charter of 1291, the general Swedish code of King Magnus Erikson (around 1350); the Dutch Federation of 1579; the Petition of Right of 1628 (in England), the Mayflower Compact (of the Pilgrim Fathers of America) of 1620; the Bill of Rights of 1689 (in England); the Declaration of independence of 1776 (in the United States of America); the Constitution of the United States of 1789 with its famous amendments; the Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848 and 1874, and so on. Unlike the French Revolution of 1789, these dates do not mark breaks, but stages of a slow and progressive evolution.

A brief historical reminder helps to break a second myth. A certain French chauvinism leads to claim that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is directly inspired, on the initiative of René Cassin, by the Declaration of Human and Citizen Rights of 1789. A similar reading leads the Americans to claim the model of their own Declaration and the “motherhood” of Eleanor Roosevelt.

The reality is much more complex because the contributions are multiple. The history of this text teaches us that very many personalities from countries as different as Australia, Canada, Chile, China, the United States, France, India, Lebanon, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the USSR actively participated in its design. Among the eighteen members, who made up the Human Rights Commission, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, eight were on the Drafting Committee responsible for drafting the preliminary text.

Among them, the Canadian John P. Humphrey, the Chilean Hernán Santa Cruz, the Chinese Peng Chung Chang, the French René Cassin, the Indian Hansa Mehta, the Lebanese Charles Malik, and the Filipino Carlos Rómulo.

Debates in the Commission and in the Committee saw deep philosophical and ideological differences when the Cold War began. The rights of women and ethnic minorities, freedom of religion, the right to property, the importance of individual rights, the place that should be given to economic and social rights, the freedom to contest, the concepts of duty and of responsibility, and finally, the role of the State – all proved to be formidable stumbling blocks. In the compromise, finally adopted in 1948, it was the western, liberal and individualist conceptions which prevailed.

As the past few decades have shown, human rights are written in history and vary in time and space. Several international declarations have been adopted, emphasizing the relative and evolving nature of each. This was the case with the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950 and the Additional Protocol of 1953. In 1966, two international covenants supplemented and corrected the Declaration of 1948, introducing the rights of peoples, minorities, women, the concept of duty and the concept of cultural heritage of humanity.

Then, there were the Pacts and the Program of Action of the World Conferences in Vienna (1993) and Durban (2001), the Declarations of UNESCO (notably the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity of 2001), and the International Labor Organization (ILO), without forgetting the charters adopted at the regional level (Africa, Asia, Pacific, Latin America, Arab and Muslim world). Thus, a declaration of human rights in Islam, under the influence of sharia, was adopted in 1990 in Cairo by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

All of these texts have tried to take greater account of the diversity of cultures. All have rewritten, amended and outgrown the 1948 Universal Declaration, which can no longer be viewed as the sole reference.

Human rights are a concept according to which all human beings have universal and inalienable rights, whatever their nationality, ethnicity or religion. These rights, which aim to protect the dignity of the individual, are enforceable in all circumstances against society and the State.

But the origin, validity and content of human rights are a constant subject of debate. The most diverse personalities and authors, such as, Bentham, Burke, Marx, or the popes who preceded John XXIII and Paul VI, to name but a few, underscored these rights’ specious, impracticable, contradictory, ethnocentric and Utopian character.

Legions of historians, theologians and philosophers of law have criticized their alleged universality and their ideological character. They have shown that, under the guise of granting infinite satisfaction to all, the system works exclusively for the benefit of the few.

Theologians regard these rights as a political instrument in the hands of the powerful. Marxists denounce class rights within them. Historians and geopoliticians commonly see them as a political weapon, a means for powerful nations to maintain their domination or the status quo. Jurists often argue that the law presupposes a relationship between men, an objective factor external to the person, while human rights derive only from man himself, from his nature.

Many, finally, denounce the erroneous vision of an individual barricaded in his sovereignty, when the person must be considered within the framework of a social group (family, ethnicity, nation, religion) strongly bound by social duties and ethical norms.

On a metaphysical and religious level, it has been possible to criticize human rights for being based only on man, instead of being founded first on the rights of God. This is how we usually oppose the American Declaration (1776), which intended to transcribe and proclaim the rights conferred by the creator and legislator God, to the French Declaration (1789), which founds human rights on human will and ignores God.

For sociologists, the ideology of human rights considers the sovereign individual, locked in his citadel of inalienable rights and more important than his community of belonging, as the ultimate goal of political association. Faced with the “natural” aspiration of men to obtain universal, absolute and abstract “rights,” cultural traditions are secondary, incidental, even illegitimate.

Moreover, these rights generally refer to the satisfaction of quantifiable needs. Finally, the ideology of human rights considers that a world organization, conceived as a last resort, is always preferable to sovereign nations. All these principles implicitly assume the existence of a universal reason common to all men, a reason which, because of its universality, must prevail over the cultural and historical specificities of peoples.

Law historian and philosopher, Michel Villey, notes that “respect for the human person is not the invention of Kant or even of Christianity. There was no more exalted virtue in Rome than humanitas, which is both the duty to perfect human nature in oneself and to respect it in others.” Christian revelation undoubtedly exalts human dignity more, but the expression “human rights” remains absent in Christian literature.

The Spanish thinkers of the School of Salamanca (1483-1617), at the origin of the great concepts of modern public international law, ignore it and prefer to draw from the natural law of duties, obligations borne by individuals, rather than rights.

All of them extol the community values of solidarity and cooperation between human beings and against the individualist values of selfishness and competition. “Catholicism is not the cradle of human rights,” insists Villey. The papacy, until John XXIII, remained constant in its attitude of hostility to human rights. In fact, “human rights originate in a deviated Christian theology… They are the product of modern philosophy, hatched in the 17th century,” with Hobbes and Locke playing the founding roles here.

Michel Villey, therefore, points out that “Each of the alleged human rights is the negation of other human rights, and practiced separately generates injustices.” And again, “We have never seen in history that human rights were exercised for the benefit of all. The problem with human rights is that no one can participate, except to the detriment of certain men.”

For his part, the Spanish philosopher, Raimon Panikkar, specialist in the comparative history of religions, stresses that “human rights are a Western intellectual construction.” He further adds that “It is clear that the Declaration (of 1948) was constructed according to the prevailing historical currents of Western thought over the past three centuries, and in accordance with a certain philosophical anthropology, or a certain individualist humanism, which helped provide a rationale.”

The political scientist, specialist in ethnic and linguistic minorities, Joseph Yacoub, also notes that human rights are eminently culturally dependent and that they are dependent on political manipulation and instrumentalization: “Human rights actually vary from place to place and from time to time. The underlying values, freedom, equality, tolerance, non-discrimination, etc., are historically relative and evolving.”

France has known a succession of declarations since 1789. The Constitution of the United States, the oldest in force, has been amended twenty-seven times. The 1948 Universal Declaration was supplemented by a series of subsequent texts. The various nations, conglomerates of nations and international organizations of Africa, Asia and America have adapted human rights to their worldviews, thus demonstrating that the human person is perceived and protected distinctly according to civilizations and cultures.

It is often unknown that a good number of intellectuals, in particular French, such as Emmanuel Mounier, Jacques Maritain, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, or Georges Gurvitch, in their time, severely criticized the excess of individualism and rationalism of rights human, their lack of reference to duties and obligations, their ignorance of the rights of natural communities born outside the State (the family, the nation, the economic and working communities, the international community), and finally, their silence on social and economic rights.

In 1947, UNESCO carried out an inquiry into “the theoretical problems raised by the drafting of an International Declaration of Human Rights.” A questionnaire was sent to various personalities from the member nations of the organization and a document was published on June 15, 1948, under the title, A Collective Approach to the Problems of Human Rights, preceded by a preface by Jacques Maritain. This “manuscript” contains the answers of Gandhi, Harold Laski, Teilhard de Chardin, Benedetto Croce, Aldous Huxley, Salvador de Madariaga, Emmanuel Mounier, Richard P. McKeon, E.H. Carr, Luc Somerhausen, and many others.

Among the responses published, many would today bring their authors the wrath of the censors of social welfare. Let us see what they say.

Mahatma Gandhi sneeringly objected: “I learned from my mother, illiterate but very wise, that all the rights worthy of being deserved and preserved are those which come from accomplished duty… One could show that any other right is only a usurpation for which it is not worth fighting for.”

The English historian of international relations, Edward Hallett Carr, said for his part that “No declaration of rights which does not also include a declaration of the corresponding obligations can have real meaning.”

Socialist theorist Harold Joseph Laski, former president of the British Labor Party (1945–1946), warned: “Any attempt by the United Nations to draw up a Declaration of Human Rights, based on individualist conceptions, would inevitably be doomed to failure… In fact, if a declaration of this kind does not take into account the important ideological differences which exist between political societies and their effects on individual and collective behavior, there will be nothing to gain and much to lose by formulating it… We do not have the right to awaken the hope of humanity, if we are not able to create the conditions without which this hope cannot be realized.”

The anti-fascist philosopher Benedetto Croce, founder of the Italian Liberal Party, was even more severe: “I do not even see how it could be possible to formulate a declaration which constitutes a compromise and that would not thus be meaningless or arbitrary. It may be that you and your colleagues, when you set to work, discover the futility and impossibility of this work, and even if I may say it, the danger of making readers smile at the naivety of men who have designed and formulated such a declaration.”

The Belgian lawyer, J. Haesaert, drove the point home: “The lawyers know very well that the laws are impotent without mores… In short, the essential is not the law, but the common conduct to which it is the adminicle… It is to prepare for new disappointments in seeking slogans rather than educating people: the spirit of good neighborliness would advantageously replace the most eloquent declarations of the world, and propagating it is a matter more of the educator than the lawyer.”

Cautious, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin declared that “the human races are not equal but different and complementary like the children of the same family.”

The Unitarian political scientist Quincy Wright, a professor at the University of Chicago, noted that human nature is the product of a particular culture. Consequently, “human rights must be stated taking into account their relativity.”

Censor of rationalism and individualism, Emanuel Mounier, suggested a “rectified draft declaration of human and community rights,” based on an investigation by the journal, Esprit, published in May 1945.

Philosopher Filmer Stuart C. Northrop, a professor at Yale University, warned: “A bill of rights for all countries cannot be based solely on the values and traditional ideological claims of one or the other.”

The Chinese philosopher, Chung-Shu Lo, developed the Confucian concept of human rights: “Man must fulfill his duties towards others rather than claiming rights. This is the moral foundation of social and political relations in China. The notion of mutual obligations is the essential teaching of Confucianism.”

The English journalist and novelist, Aldous Huxley, insisted on the importance of the economic rights of the most underprivileged.

The Bengali Muslim poet, philosopher and politician, Humayun Kabir, emphasized that “the Western conception of human rights has a fundamental flaw. Whatever these rights are, in theory, they are very often recognized, in practice, only by Europeans, and sometimes even by certain Europeans only.”

Indian thinker S.V. Puntambekar, professor at the University of Nagpur, warned: “Thinking only of liberties by neglecting the virtues which are their corollaries, would lead to an imbalance of life and to stagnation or even to degradation of personality as well as chaos and social conflicts.”

Neurophysiologist Ralph W. Gerard, President of the American Physiological Society, provided the biologist’s perspective: “Human rights and duties cannot be absolute, but always relate to the environment.” They are “a function of culture. Any doctrine which sees in man only the individual or the unit within the group, is necessarily false. The duality of man, both individual and element of society is inevitable.” Life evolves, and as a result “any declaration of rights will become imperfect at some point, and can only lose its value.”

The Australian anthropologist, Adolphus Peter Elkin, professor at the University of Sidney, points out: “Out of society, the individual would have no rights.” On the other hand, “all human rights are also relative, because they have for their origin and as a condition the necessities of common life, which shapes and nourishes personal life.”

In his preface to this survey, Jacques Maritain justified belief in human rights, but only as a “common ideology limited to the practical order.” He emphasized that “for peoples to agree on how to effectively enforce human rights, they should have in common… at least a practical conception of man and of life, a shared philosophy of life.”

And Maritain was forced to develop an absurd theory that in the area of human rights action precedes thought. Instead of trying to justify and define human rights, he said, “put them into practice and protect them.” As early as 1942, Maritain had published in New York a harsh criticism of the individualism of human rights, in which he said, “We ended up treating the individual as a god, and we gave him all the rights so that we might see him with absolute and unlimited rights of a god.”

In 1952, UNESCO published the famous brochure by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Race and History, which the latter finalized, almost twenty years later, with his conference, Race and Culture (1971), delivered at the headquarters of the same organization. On this double occasion, the famous anthropologist also manifested a singularly critical attitude towards the Western conception of human nature, “universalist and ethnocentric,” which is at the heart of the declaration of human rights.

There are so many texts, comments, reflections and arguments that are today “politically incorrect,” that the mainstream media has, for the long term or temporarily (?), swept under the rug.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “Flachsscheuer in Laren (Flax Barn in Laren),” by Max Liebermann, painted in 1887.