Dostoyevsky: The Taste for Literature and the Taste for Life

I remember the writers who gave me a taste for reading: Richard Matheson, Bram Stoker, Eiji Yoshikawa. Adventure and fantasy stories were my first literary loves; and both genres do have an unparalleled strength to capture imagination. The pleasure was always immediate: a mysterious or epic world opened up to us. Evil and heroic characters appeared there. A breathtaking plot, respecting certain codes specific to entertainment, was set up. Knowing how to appreciate such a narrative structure, enjoying the simple fact of opening a book, but also closing it, knowing that the story will continue the next day, this is what we could call “having a taste for reading.”

The “taste for reading,” I distinguish from the “taste for literature,” without discarding the hypothesis that the second is the maturation of the first. This “taste for literature” was given to me by Fedor Dostoyevsky; and I would like to show here that these are two different aesthetic events; that one can be awake to the first without being so to the second; that one can love to read without loving literature.

I discovered Dostoyevsky as a teenager. It was a purely chance encounter, almost a misunderstanding. But it had the charm of an encounter made without a go-between. As was the family tradition, I was on vacation in the Vendée, on the island of Noirmoutier. In the bookstore, where a few years earlier I had unearthed the novel, Stone and the Sword [first book of Musashi], I found myself intrigued this time by a name, “Dostoyevsky,” and by a title above all, The Possessed (it was only much later that I learned that this translation was incorrect and that it should be The Demons). Not knowing anything about the writer—the name vaguely reminded me of something—I thought I was in the presence of a fantastic work, a true story of possession. I bought the book hoping that this Dostoyevsky was a kind of Russian Stoker or Shelley.

What a surprise it was for me when I waded into those boring first pages (hardly the best beginning among Dostoyevsky’s novels), which had those exchanges, whose issues I did not understand, between Stefan Trofimovich (old idealist, father of Piotr Verkhovensky) and Varvara Petrovna (Stavrogin’s mother). I stuck it, however, for hours on end, waiting for the moment when the story of possession would occur. But nothing of that nature happened. In fact, something much more important appeared in the person of Stavrogin, a charismatic and shady character who dominates the novel with his fascinating presence.

It is a known fact that Dostoyevsky worked on his characters like no other writer; that he did so not by giving them a detailed physical description nor by placing them in a particularly coherent social and historical framework, but by giving them a deep psychology, in the sense of Nietzsche; and by playing on certain behavioral traits (gestures, manner of expression or, on the contrary, the unspoken). Some observers have made of this particular talent a pinnacle of “realism.” This is the case, for example, of the Welsh writer John Cowper Powys, who writes in his Dostoievsky (1946): ” I would add as a codicil that not only must what happens to the characters be of absorbing interest but the backgrounds, while entirely realistic, must have about them that something else without which, by some strange law of the mind, things do not remind us of that deeper reality of our own experience which must always remain on the brink of mystery.” In his eyes, the superiority of Dostoyevsky’s art over other realist novelists lies in the fact that it takes into account a dimension of reality often hidden, irreducible to the materiality of events. Dostoyevsky was able to show something that the others do not show, trapped by certain traditional codes of realism—codes that Dostoyevsky hijacked to transcend the genre and forge a realism “in four dimensions”: “Here we are at the heart of the problem: it is located between the ‘realism’ of Zola, say, or De Maupassant or Tolstoy or Hardy, and the more real realism of Fedor Dostoyevsky.” But is that what Dostoyevsky is all about? Is the issue only that of literary genre? Should we be satisfied with the fact that Dostoyevsky shows us “the mystery,” the hidden reality in a kind of overcoming of realism? In my opinion, it is something more powerful than that, which has to do with the very definition of literature.

Powys is right to make this point, but we think he does not go far enough. It is not enough to say that types like Stavrogin (based in part on the nihilist theorist Neshayev) or like Myshkin (after all, Christ is a historical figure) can be met in reality, can find a real equivalent in terms of intensity. It is necessary to go further and affirm—and here is perhaps the key to the mystery of literature—not only are exceptional historical characters not “novel characters,” but novel characters are exceptional “historical” characters. This is perhaps where Dostoyevsky’s genius lies in particular (but also that of a Balzac, despite Powys’ displeasure); and this is why his encounter with him is so disturbing.

By showing the mysterious dimension of the world, by exposing the souls of his characters, Dostoyevsky reaches a level of reality that is higher than the one we encounter in everyday life. This is why the meeting with Stavrogin is a shock (a shock that is renewed with Raskolnikov, Myshkin or the Karamazov siblings later). Dostoyevsky shows, through fiction, the essence of reality; that is to say, life. He does not only show us appearances, pretenses, social conventions, hypocrisy, which is the tragic and grey daily life of our reality. He shows the interiority of the soul. He shows the naked man. He exposes him in his greatest vulnerability. Dostoyevsky allows us to know his characters, not as we know others—since their interiority remains fatally inaccessible to us—but as we know ourselves.

In a strong sense, Dostoyevsky shows subjectivity. He manages to show what is usually invisible. André Suarès had already noticed this in his Dostoïevski (1911): “No power is closer to life. The great dreamers are the great living. Where they seem to be farthest from life, they still touch it more closely than others.” Or again, “Everything is interior. It is not even the thought that creates the world, by figuring it. It is the emotion which creates all life, by making it sensitive to the heart. The world is not even the image of a mind. The universe is the creation of intuition.”

This is what one realizes when confronted with the presence of Stavrogin: this unique character is indeed a “real man,” a living man. He is a real man because of the radical nature of his baseness, because of the unhealthy fascination he exerts on others, because of the absurdity of his behavior. For sure, a real hero of a novel would never have acted like this, with this ambiguity, this perpetual balancing between the greatness of the commitment and the emptiness of the conviction. Stavrogin expressed something extremely powerful and completely new for me—literature is the most adequate expression of reality, of life itself.

The encounter with Dostoyevsky, which I had first thought of as entertainment, as the possibility of reading a pleasant book on the beach, turned out to be something else entirely. From then on, I understood something new—books are not only there to amuse us, to give us aesthetic pleasure, nor even, as we trivially say, to make us think. Books, in so far as they are authentically literary works, are manifestations of reality. They are both the expression of a subjective life, that of the writer, and the concrete realization of a new “objectivity.” Stavrogin exists, like Raskolnikov or Prince Myshkin. But they exist in a certain way outside the world, outside the lies of the world. Or rather, trapped in the world’s theater, they drop a veil and participate in its indictment.

For Dostoyevsky, the world (both in the “worldly” sense and in the sense of the strict objectivity of what is visible) is the place of lies. This is what gives Dostoyevsky’s astonishing power—he teaches us, often for the first time, that the world as it is, is a scandal. This constitutes a sort of exit from innocence. The staging of abjection and injustice functions as a revelation. In Crime and Punishment, the hero Raskolnikov is the murderer of an old pawnbroker, while Sonia, a redemptive figure, has sacrificed everything for her family, even going so far as to prostitute herself in order not to starve. In The Demons, the hero Stavrogin rapes a little girl. Shatov, on the other hand, is killed while his child is being born. In The Idiot, Myshkin, a Christ-like figure and main character, is mocked for his benevolence. Nastasia Filipovna, the woman he loves, eventually marries his rival Rogozhin, who eventually kills her. Hyppolite, a young phthisic who wants to go on a rampage, is unable to commit suicide.

It is a commonplace to say that certain books or writers accompany us throughout our lives. But it would be a mistake to say that Dostoyevsky is a simple companion. He does not only accompany us in the world, he shows us the reality of the world. He brings with him the world as it really is by exposing the souls of men. He tears the veil of appearances to show a man, often mediocre, unhappy, sick, sometimes ignoble, sometimes fortunately close to sanctity. Dostoyevsky’s work constitutes, as we said, an indictment of the world and its hypocrisy. Hypocrisy in the social conduct, in the respect of certain hierarchies and, more generally, in the value that one can grant to men. Dostoyevsky asks this radical question: what is a man worth? Not in the lowly material sense of professional success, but in the sense of the purity of his heart, of his closeness or distance from the Christian model. And Suarez knew how Dostoyevsky answered: “He considered that the first in rank are often the last in life; and the last in the world, the first in the hidden soul of the world. There he learned to put himself above all appearances. There he made himself to live in depth—for all the work of Dostoevsky is a life in depth and, no doubt, in the secret truth, which is the only truth.”

With Dostoyevsky, the world of childhood, the reassuring cocoon—the one where the book is a fiction that we look at from the outside and that cannot reach us—suddenly collapses. It disintegrates before our eyes and reveals its nightmarish nature. This is perhaps the fundamental difference between “reading” and “literature.” The book, which constitutes a simple “reading,” can be closed, put on our night table, put at a distance of our conscience. Its history does not follow us afterwards, except perhaps in our dreams. The book, which belongs to “literature,” never closes. We start to read Dostoyevsky, but we never finish. His work becomes for the reader a perpetually turning page. The world that Dostoyevsky brings with him is not only a fiction, a repulsion imagined to make the readers shudder, it is the face of the world itself.

This is why Dostoyevsky was very critical of Turgenev, whom he considered a writer of good conscience. Dostoyevsky is the writer of the bad conscience! The writer of sin! That is why he speaks to us so much. Because we all know in the end that nothing is right. Or rather, every sane man knows that he has something to blame himself for. In 1928, Freud showed in his preface to the German translation of The Brothers Karamazov, “Dostoyevsky and Parricide,” that Dostoyevsky was fundamentally a figure of the sinner, that he was haunted by the idea of sin at the same time as by that of freedom. For the one does not go without the other; there is no sin without freedom; and, conversely, there is no freedom without sin. It is this very human tension that Dostoyevsky meditated on throughout his work, that he experienced in his flesh; and we with him.

Dostoyevsky obsesses the reader because he confronts him with his faults, with his most unavowable desires and with the vertigo of freedom. The latter offers man the possibility to do everything, to act beyond good and evil, to accomplish the greatest things, but also the lowest. But there is something that limits our use of freedom, and that is the consciousness of sin. To what extent can a free man assume to be a sinner? This is the question that Dostoyevsky’s characters ask themselves; it is the question that he asks himself; and it is the question that we ask ourselves.

Dostoyevsky shows the disturbing abyss implied by the very possibility of an unlimited use of freedom. But at the same time, he says: can you assume the odious character of such a freedom, of a freedom without God or in place of God? Can you assume the freedom of a Raskolnikov, a Kirilov, a Stavrogin? The first takes the path of redemption; the second commits suicide to show that he is God himself; the third, who believed he could make his conscience evolve in an amoral space, ends up hanging himself, caught up in his terrible sin: the rape of a girl.

The supreme act of nihilism—the outrage inflicted on the child (the most innocent of innocents), reveals the very failure of nihilism. Nihilism is impossible for man. It claims that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” But God does exist insofar as He is the condition of possibility of freedom itself. Pierre Boutang does not say otherwise when he writes in an article entitled “Stavrogin”: “When Stavrogin wants to explain, in his confession, the effect of Matryosha’s suicide on his existence, he cannot hold his own judgment within ethics. Despite his desire for the Cross, without faith in the Cross, he fails to be a Christian, to conceive of the evil and shame of his crime. No, in this fragmentation of inner time, he oscillates between an almost social, extremely low and diabolical idea of the act as ridiculous, and a metaphysical view, beyond ethics, but which can only lead to madness and death.”

For Dostoyevsky any attempt to evolve beyond good and evil is doomed to failure. And this is also the case of literature. This is why, as André Markowicz points out, his conception of literature is not aesthetic but ethical (or rather, contrary to the proponents of art for art’s sake, it identifies ethics and aesthetics). Dostoyevsky’s work cannot therefore be consumed as entertainment. Its goal is not to please us. It is fundamentally an indictment of the world and a revelation of the profound reality of existence. In his quest for truth, which is synonymous with the quest for God, Dostoyevsky tells us what man is. And with him we understand—it is through literature that we gain access to the radical interiority of life, that is to say, to the person of Christ who is the only beauty.

Matthieu Giroux is a Dostoyevskian sovereignist and the editorial director of PHLITT. This article appears through the generous courtesy of PHLITT.

Featured image: “Dostoevsky in St. Petersburg,” by Ilya Glazunov.

The Poor and the Love of the Poor

“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy… And you shall go out through the breaches… you shall be cast forth…” says the Lord” (Amos 4:1-4).

Beyond all the various humanitarian trappings that have been used to dress up Christian charity, the idea of the “preferential option” for the poor, which is widely accepted in the official Catholic Church, is not without similarities to a phenomenon that occurred in the fourth century, in the history of the Roman Empire. In this respect, a close analysis can help us to better understand the abstract and ideological character of this option for the poor that has contributed in the transformation of the Church into a mega NGO, with all the great waste of money that we know well—the insistent letters asking for donations, various forms of communication, cheesy postcards accompanied by useless objects—all designed to force the recipient of all this revolting prose to give. Some NGOs actually hide commercial activity under the humanitarian envelope. Father Ponchaud in Cambodia, where he has been living for 60 years, has described this deception very well.

The concern of the early Church began with helping the faithful in need, welcoming newly arrived co-religionists from other cities, and protecting the widows and orphans of Christian families (a very clearly Judaic heritage). On both sides of the Euphrates (Roman and Greco-Latin East), the development of the Church in the first centuries took place under Roman domination; and this was not without consequences.

From the second century onwards, the universal penal code of the Roman Empire made only one distinction, between honestiores and humiliores, i.e., between the rich and the humble. The problem with these two categories is the gap between them. Beyond a certain threshold, it is justice that is compromised; and justice is the cement of peace.

But in the fourth century, things changed. The growing importance of the Church contributed to notable social transformations. The Christian representation of the role of the Church in Roman society (unprecedented at the time) was supported by great combativeness in the proclaimed will of the Christian bishops to act according to this “love of the poor.” This theme began to exert a force of attraction that could be considered out of proportion to the actual action of Christian charity at that time.

Have things changed that much?

For the Roman Empire, as for any state, the problem of poverty was closely linked to that of social peace. It was necessary to ensure that the inhabitants of the cities, and particularly the populations of the great metropolises of the Eastern Mediterranean, kept their peace. However, the poor, as we know when we have looked at a little history or sociology, can become restless—especially when they are hungry. In the city, in particular, hunger-riots, clashes between competing religious groups and later fights between circus factions, were regarded with relative indifference. Except in rare cases, these riots did not turn into a general insurrection.

In the end, things didn’t change much in this respect either. Sports stadiums have replaced the circus games.

Civic peace was thus the Achilles heel of the traditional municipal elites of 4th century Rome. They had to face a rival: the Church. The latter proclaimed the inanity of the privileges of the system of elite training (the paideia). The urban notables regarded themselves as the summit of a social pyramid encompassing all the active members of the city.

In contrast, the Christian bishop (often from the educated social class) based his claim to authority on a social vacuum. Indeed, the demos, the “civic body” did not include all the inhabitants of the city. To belong to the demos, one had to come from a family of citizens and be a member of a recognized civic group. It was vital for the city’s representation of itself that it not be made up exclusively of poor people. And it was vital for the real city, too, that it not be made up exclusively of the so-called poor. These poor people defined themselves by not belonging to an urban group. Not belonging to any group, they remained on the margins of the attention given by the great to the city as a whole. They were not fed by anyone. Indeed, the homeless and destitute were excluded from the demos.

Have things changed that much?

In the fourth century, the number of poor people seems to have increased considerably in many cities of the Roman East. The cities of the late Empire were characterized by massive unemployment. Immigration also increased. Metropolises traditionally tended to absorb wealth and populations from secondary provincial centers. Not all of these immigrants were necessarily destitute, but they were “poor,” in the sense that they were foreign to the city. Their mass eroded the clear distinction between members of the demos, many of whom were poor, and the bulk of the lower classes, who, while not poor in the strict sense of destitute, were nonetheless vulnerable and eagerly sought a group to which to attach themselves.

In the fourth century, the notion of the poor broadened its range while taking on the colors of the Old Testament (the complaint of the righteous found in certain psalms). The lower classes were no longer considered fellow citizens but as disadvantaged people, entitled to demanding justice from the new patriarch, the bishop. And it was then that the lower classes as a whole, and not only the poor on the Church rolls, helped to ensure the election of certain bishops.

If we do not know, region-by-region, what the Christian Church actually did for the urban poor at the end of the Empire, we do know how crucial this assistance had become as a component of the Christian representation of the bishop’s authority over the community. Even if it was still in the minority, compared to the polytheists and the Jews, this Church, which reached the furthest fringes of society, “spectacularly embodied by the poor,” to use Peter Brown’s expression (his is the only study, to my knowledge, of poverty), established for the future its moral right to represent the whole community. Hence the concern for the monopoly of almsgiving. Not only was the bishop supposed to know well those in need, but a mystical bond was even supposed to unite him with the city’s poor. The actions of the Christian bishop resulted in making the poor more visible. Food was distributed in the churchyards. By being visible, the poor were also easier to control. By becoming the poor of the Church, they were stabilized. Constantine encouraged this action by the bishops by ordering that the distribution of food and clothing to the poor be organized by the bishops alone.

This foray into history invites us to take a closer look at the question that should be examined with some care: “Who are the poor today?”

If we follow the Old Testament, the poor are the ones who are the object of iniquity. They are the nes who cry out to God. It is on them that the rich man fattens himself like those cows of Bashan of the prophet Amos. When Jesus is asked about the identity of the neighbor (who is my neighbor?” Luke, 10-25, 37), it seems impossible to ask “who is poor to me?”—except to recall Jacques Brel’s atrocious and brilliant song about lady bosses, who “knit everything in goose-poop hue, which lets you recognize your poor on Sundays at high mass.”

In the light of this analysis, what can be said about the “poor” today and about the love for them that is so much sung in parishes and echoed by secularized NGOs?

Beyond a wide range of poverty, it is difficult to distinguish in this complex sphere between the religious and the profane, the Christian and the political. On the side of the values of the Republic, we observe the obsession that the poor not to be excluded from the “demos.” But in order to vote, that shining sign of belonging to the citizenry, one needs a home, preferably a somewhat stable one (and not a hotel room). The problem is even more difficult with migrants and the whole mass of men and women (mostly single and men) who cross the porous borders of Europe. The right of asylum brings them into the “demos.” They are usually not rich; but they also transcend the category of the poor as we understand it in the light of this analysis (if we admit that it is still valid today).

As in the fourth century in the Roman Empire, this entire mass of migrants erodes the distinction between the class of poor and destitute “citizens” within this broad spectrum of modern poverty and the non-citizens. The group-affiliation of the Muslim majority that crosses our borders is religious. There is nothing egalitarian about the Muslim world. Woman is a sub-group; the younger brother obeys the elder who obeys the father. The Islam of the Maghreb is not that of Central Asia. But all the followers of Mohammed obey a concept that is not well known to Europeans, but which is formidably operative: the Ummah.

And the Church? It vaguely maintains the idea of the poor of the Old Testament. But it is like a kind of appogiatura that it plays from time to time, with all the piping, in a deafening symphony about the “poor,” of which the Bishop of Rome makes himself, here and there, the badly inspired singer. However, today, this is a reality amplified by the revolting iniquity of which many small people are victims, in a society that has abolished the very idea that founds the concept of justice—any fault requires reparation.

The figure of the poor in the Gospel is recognizable: the blind, the paralyzed; in short, the invalids who are dependent on their families. For illness deprives a family not only of the strength of the sick person, but also of the person or persons who are supposed to take care of them. Double punishment.

The paradigm of the traditional opposition between the rich and the poor is provided by the parable of Lazarus, this man who camps on the threshold of a rich man, dressed in bissus (an extremely expensive fabric) and linen, and who banks daily without even distributing the remains of his feasts. The poor man dies and ends up in Abraham’s bosom; the rich man dies and ends up in a place where flames burn him.
This is not Hell. For a simple reason: he can still see and he can hear. And he has not forgotten because he does not ask Lazarus directly to come and ease his suffering—he calls “Father Abraham.” So, there is possible communication between the two spheres (or the two states of the soul). But Lazarus is not allowed to come and ease the suffering of the rich man. “A great chasm has been established between you and us, so that those who would pass over to you cannot, and from there also they cannot cross over to us.”
Only the prayer of the living can alleviate the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory, a dogma that Vatican II suppressed with the stroke of a pen.

We thus have here a figure of these states of the soul, symbolized by Hell and by purgatory. The ultimate characteristic of Hell is the radical absence of communication, when not only is it not allowed to be refreshed by the prayers of the living, but where no communication is possible—neither by sight nor by sound. This has a name—the punishment of the damned.

The inhabitants of the great metropolises, harassed by all forms of begging poverty, do not dress in bissus; they do not feast every day; they usually have a family to support; sometimes a sick person to support… No, they are not rich in the sense of the Gospel. Those who dress today in bissus and linen and feast every day live carefully protected lives; they have bodyguards; armored doors, gated villas. They travel in five-star hotels where beggars are not allowed to come near.

The official Church seems to have forgotten this great figure of Lazarus, a paradigmatic figure of poverty, who is also a figure of the virtue of strength; this virtue which is also a breath of the Spirit and which consists in enduring. Lazarus has known suffering here on earth; he knows consolation in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man did not console, did not relieve; he gorged himself in insolence. Now he knows suffering.

Nothing says that it is eternal.

The rich man has five brothers. He would like to warn them, because they too will undoubtedly behave like his older brother. But it is not possible to warn them either: they have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.
The message is clear; and it comes from the mouth of the Lord himself. Do we hear it echoed in our parishes, in our Christian structures?

Is there a mystery of poverty? Yes, and it is linked to the mystery of iniquity that reason cannot face, without the risk of breaking down; that sin of the world which increases with the weight of history, as St. Augustine saw. So, there will always be poor people; and the Christian soul remains inconsolable. And if the soul can find, in a night of prayer, some strange and enigmatic answer to this mystery, only the cross can give a full account.

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

Featured image: “Charity,” or “The Indigent Family,” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1865.

The Genealogy Of Jesus

We are very excited to introduce an important undertaking in the area of Patristics and Church history. This initiative is the undertaking of Dr. Phillip Cuccia, who is a retired army officer and who served in armored and cavalry units before changing his job specialty to teaching Military History at West Point. He changed his job specialty once again to work in the Army attaché corps, serving in Italy at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He has a Master’s degree in security studies from Sapienza University in Rome and a Master’s and Ph.D. in Napoleonic Studies from Florida State University. He currently teaches history for Liberty University. He established the Eusebius Society in 2019.

Welcome to the Eusebius Society, whose mission is to promote the study of Patristics through learning and sharing about the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea and other early Church Fathers, in order to gain a better understanding of the world of the early Christians and the Sacred Scriptures. My interest in writing about Eusebius and early Church history developed out of the intersection of my general interest in writing history and my interest in the mutual effect that culture has on religion and religion has on culture. I hope that these writings may spark some interest in the topic of the early Church Fathers, encouraging the reader to pursue further independent reading and study of the early Christian Church.

Eusebius is considered the first church historian. He was born about A.D. 260 and was probably a native of Caesarea, the limestone city built by Herod the Great on the coast of Palestine. Early in life, he became the disciple and close acquaintance of Pamphilus, a teacher who greatly influenced him. Pamphilus established at Caesarea a large and well-stocked library of theological books, which contributed greatly to Eusebius’ education. Eusebius had already published many books when he paused his own publications to help his tutor with composing the work, Defense of Origen.

In A.D. 309 Pamphilus and Eusebius were imprisoned as confessors of Christ. However, they continued to labor with their writings until Pamphilus was put to death for the Faith—a martyrdom which greatly affected Eusebius. When released from prison, Eusebius went to Tyre, where he honored his mentor’s memory by assuming the name Eusebius Pamphili “Eusebius, son of Pamphilus,” and contributed the sixth and final book to the Defense of Origen. Completing his tribute to his mentor, he wrote a Life of Pamphilus, which, like his part of the Defense of Origen, is lost.

In A. D. 311 Eusebius left Caesarea for Egypt where he was once again imprisoned, but only briefly, and the next year he returned to Palestine. It is unknown when he was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood but it is known that in A. D. 314 he was consecrated Bishop of Caesarea, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Although twice imprisoned, he toiled his whole life edifying his fellow Christians. His publication output was phenomenal: he is credited with no less than 46 works, some of them in 10, 15, 20 and even 25 volumes. He was not content to write books and forget about them, as he revised and enlarged them, putting forth newer and better editions.

As an introduction to the Eusebius Society, I thought it would be interesting to look at the genealogy of Jesus. St. Matthew’s Gospel gives an account of the genealogy of Jesus – the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and hence the first story in the New Testament. But St. Luke’s Gospel gives a totally different genealogy of Jesus. Why does Matthew give Joseph’s father as Jacob and trace a different genealogy from Luke’s gospel, which states that Joseph was the son of Eli?

Can they both be right?

Today people who dismiss the Scriptures because of this apparent discrepancy, are no different than people in ancient times who used it to dismiss Christian beliefs. Several early Christian authors responded to these criticisms. The Manichaeans used this discrepancy to promote their heresy. The Church Fathers Irenaeus, Augustine, Africanus, and Eusebius responded to the heretical writings concerning questions about these two divergent genealogies.

This quick video concerning these discrepancies aptly uses Eusebius’ writings as one of the possible explanations:

Eusebius explains in Book 1, Chapter VII of his Church History:

  1. “Matthew and Luke in their gospels have given us the genealogy of Christ differently, and many suppose that they are at variance with one another. Since as a consequence every believer, in ignorance of the truth, has been zealous to invent some explanation which shall harmonize the two passages, permit us to subjoin the account of the matter which has come down to us, and which is given by Africanus, who was mentioned by us just above, in the epistle to Aristides, where he discusses the harmony of the gospel genealogies. After refuting the opinions of others as forced and deceptive, he gave the account which he had received from tradition in these words:
  2. For whereas the names of the generations were reckoned in Israel either according to nature or according to law – according to nature by the succession of legitimate offspring, and according to law whenever another raised up a child to the name of a brother dying childless; for because a clear hope of resurrection was not yet given they had a representation of the future promise by a kind of mortal resurrection, in order that the name of the one deceased might be perpetuated—
  3. Whereas then some of those who are inserted in this genealogical table succeeded by natural descent, the son to the father, while others, though born of one father, were ascribed by name to another, mention was made of both of those who were progenitors in fact and of those who were so only in name.
  4. Thus neither of the gospels is in error, for one reckons by nature, the other by law. For the line of descent from Solomon and that from Nathan were so involved, the one with the other, by the raising up of children to the childless and by second marriages, that the same persons are justly considered to belong at one time to one, at another time to another; that is, at one time to the reputed fathers, at another to the actual fathers. So that both these accounts are strictly true and come down to Joseph with considerable intricacy indeed, yet quite accurately.
  5. But in order that what I have said may be made clear I shall explain the interchange of the generations. If we reckon the generations from David through Solomon, the third from the end is found to be Matthan, who begot Jacob the father of Joseph. But if, with Luke, we reckon them from Nathan the son of David, in like manner the third from the end is Melchi, whose son Eli was the father of Joseph. For Joseph was the son of Eli, the son of Melchi. [Eusebius quotes Africanus verbatim. In Africanus’ original Epistle to Aristides, it does in fact state “For Joseph was the son of Heli, the son of Melchi.” But Luke 3: 23-24 states “Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of …” Africanus, and hence Eusebius, leaves out two generations skipping over Matthat and Levi.]
  6. Joseph therefore being the object proposed to us, it must be shown how it is that each is recorded to be his father, both Jacob, who derived his descent from Solomon, and Eli, who derived his from Nathan; first how it is that these two, Jacob and Eli, were brothers, and then how it is that their fathers, Matthan and Melchi, although of different families, are declared to be grandfathers of Joseph.
  7. Matthan and Melchi having married in succession the same woman, begot children who were uterine brothers, for the law did not prohibit a widow, whether such by divorce or by the death of her husband, from marrying another.
  8. By Estha then (for this was the woman’s name according to tradition) Matthan, a descendant of Solomon, first begot Jacob. And when Matthan was dead, Melchi, who traced his descent back to Nathan, being of the same tribe but of another family, married her as before said, and begot a son Eli.
  9. Thus we shall find the two, Jacob and Eli, although belonging to different families, yet brethren by the same mother. Of these the one, Jacob, when his brother Eli had died childless, took the latter’s wife and begot by her a son Joseph, his own son by nature and in accordance with reason. Wherefore also it is written: ‘Jacob begot Joseph.’ (Matthew 1:6) But according to law he was the son of Eli, for Jacob, being the brother of the latter, raised up seed to him.
  10. Hence the genealogy traced through him will not be rendered void, which the evangelist Matthew in his enumeration gives thus: ‘Jacob begot Joseph.’ But Luke, on the other hand, says: ‘Who was the son, as was supposed’ (for this he also adds), ‘of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of Melchi’; for he could not more clearly express the generation according to law. And the expression ‘he begot’ he has omitted in his genealogical table up to the end, tracing the genealogy back to Adam the son of God. This interpretation is neither incapable of proof nor is it an idle conjecture.” [Eusebius, Book I. Church History]

Thus, Eusebius gives an explanation to this apparent discrepancy in the genealogy of Jesus. There are many apparent biblical discrepancies that people bring up today. By looking at some of the earliest Christian writings, one can discover logical explanations to various apparent inconsistencies.

Featured image: “The Root of Jesse,” attributed to Jan Mostaert, ca. 1500.

Vaccination As An Act Of Love?

We are very pleased to provide this excerpt from Fulvio di Blasi’s forthcoming book, Vaccination as an Act of Love? which appears through the kind courtesy of Phronesis Editore.

The advent of the so-called “anti-Covid vaccines” was marked by the largest institutional fraud in history, to the detriment of informed consent: a fraud made easier and more disturbing by the power that finance and politics wield today in the world of global communication.

This fraud triggered a time of unprecedented violence, hatred, and persecution against all those who expressed doubts, sought the truth, and never tired of defending their freedom. The schizophrenic and almost demonic paradox of this campaign of hatred and violence is that it was carried out under the banner of terms, such as “love” or “civic duty,” now devoid of any meaning other than the demagogic use (typical of totalitarian systems) of the terminology of good to carry out evil policies. Transforming good into evil and evil into good is the most the Devil could wish for; it is his greater enjoyment. For those who believe, it is easy to see the Devil’s hand in these times.

Vaccination as an Act of Love? retraces the foundations of the analysis of the moral act to rediscover what it means to do good or evil, both in the Christian tradition and in that of Western thought. The ethical choice presupposes adequate knowledge of all the relevant factors of the action.

Fulvio Di Blasi is a practicing lawyer who holds a Ph.D. in the philosophy of law. He is an expert especially in Aristotelian Thomist thought and natural law theory. He has taught at several universities, including the University of Notre Dame (USA), The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland), the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome), and the LUMSA (Libera Università Maria Ss. Assunta, Italy). He has more than 200 publications, including articles, editorials, books chapters, edited books, and translations.


From The Pandemic To This Book

Since the pandemic began, I have resigned myself like everyone else to everything we all had to resign ourselves to. The first lockdown, the second lockdown, curfews, masks, hand sanitizers, work and family difficulties, the rules for going to Mass and to the supermarket, the abolition of travel and holidays, the new waves, the hopes for vaccines that, perhaps, would save us; and, again, the economic crisis, the monopolization of existential and mass media news, focused every day on the bulletin of deaths and infections, on new outbreaks, on new yellow or red areas, on the latest rules to follow, on the reactions of individual states, but also on some new TV show personalities, especially virologists and epidemiologists or those presumed to be such.

I’ve become familiar with things that I almost didn’t know existed before, at least from an existential point of view, but which have forcefully entered my daily sources of interest and information. Things like drug agencies, the World Health Organization, their protocols and conflicts of interest, emergency approval procedures, journals, and university departments of medicine. I reluctantly agreed to read and discuss all these things every day in social networks. I have also lived through new experiences of which I have a positive or still uncertain balance.

My young children have had contact with their parents that few children have ever had in our busy world. My baby girl was born just before the first lockdown. Thank God, we had just managed to repair the house from serious mold problems and to return there between the end of January and February 2020. I and my wife, who is also a lawyer and scholar passionate about culture and everything else, had never imagined spending such long periods of monastic isolation, work, and intimacy.

We too, at home, have had our waves and regulatory changes. There was that of pizza and homemade desserts. There was that of sports played with children on the terrace (also to work off sweets and pizza). There was that of the camping on the terrace, where we set up a large family tent on an artificial lawn for Christmas 2020, surrounded by solar-powered Christmas lights (the holiday budget was spent in 2020, and with better results, in this way). There was that of the giant terrace nativity scene, with water pump and waterfalls and real ornamental plants, built at home with the children by carving and painting polystyrene and wooden boards for the stable. There have been attempts at homeschooling, also with the help of heroic grandparents who have come over as much as possible, despite the curfews and occasional swab tests, also to allow us to isolate ourselves from time to time in a room to get some work done. There have been such beautiful and genuine family experiences that, at times, with my wife, we even were thankful for the pandemic, roughly with that spirit with which, in the Easter Mass, since St. Augustine, we refer to original sin in terms of felix culpa.

Smart working and the development of new online work options are certainly among the positive aspects of the epidemic. Today we have learned more about how many things can be done remotely with the technologies we have available. Smart or remote working allows many people, in many ways, to better reconcile their professional life with their personal and family life. Let’s hope there is no turning back in this area, after the emergency is over.

I think back on all this, not without ardor, to say that, even in the worst moments of the pandemic, I had never thought of making a professional effort to talk about it. Even when, taking seriously some of my wife’s perplexities, I had a second thought about vaccines and government policies, and when I began to study relevant sources of information with greater professional attention and to listen to online lectures and specialized conferences on the subject, I didn’t think even for a moment of writing a book about it. Even when the witch hunt against the so-called anti-vaxxers began, when the mass media and politics started to treat me, my wife, and many of our friends and colleagues who had doubts about vaccines and about the decisions to be made about them as if we were fools and idiots to mock and publicly insult…. Even in this predicament I didn’t think about writing a book on the subject. In fact, my initial reaction was the opposite. I decided to stop reading many newspapers or watching television and instead to concentrate on other books I was writing. Unfortunately, hateful excerpts of pseudo-journalistic talk shows conducted in the name of ignorance, arrogance and insult still tormented me through the clips that inevitably populated social media. Still, not even this additional pressure incited me to the point of turning everything I had studied and found out about the pandemic into a book. Posting some occasional ironic, outraged, or staggered comments on social media was enough to distract me so I could let it out and go back to my regular work.

There was one thing that broke the camel’s back, though, and it was not about my professional life but about my life of faith. Political institutions had breached their fundamental duty to respect the truth and freedom of their citizens. They violated the right of every free person to receive correct and honest information. They had tried demagogically to bend and control people’s will, intelligence, and conduct. Physicians, after the first wave of heroism, so charged with magnanimity and exemplarity, had finally allowed themselves to be harnessed and standardized downwards by a political power that wanted them to be bureaucrats who stayed far away from patients, at least until hospitalizations. They had allowed themselves to be replaced by sloppy and generic directives from impersonal government agencies, reduced to paper pushing, thus mortifying the exercise of a profession that always begins and ends with care and attention for the patient. Scientists had also failed by letting a generic, magical, and mystical reference to a higher and nonexistent entity called “Science” take the place—in the common feeling and in the demagogy of ignorant and unscrupulous politicians and journalists—of serious and real discussion among scholars and of critical thinking. Journalism had died, replaced by the will to power of those who have the media in their hands and decide to use the media only and exclusively to convince everyone of their prejudices and to make the masses conform to the decisions of the political class. But shouldn’t journalism be the bulwark of investigation and real democracy precisely in times when politics risks having too much free rein and too much power?

Yet, despite everything, despite all these failures, it was still enough for me to turn off the TV, close the online pages of the new regime’s newspapers, and concentrate on my family, my research, and my books.

One thing, as I said, finally stopped me from simply closing the door and staying at home doing my own thing: the failure of the church. I am referring, of course, not to the true Church, that is, to the Mystical Body of Christ, which lives in the mystery of His People, and which walks in history assisted by the Spirit of Truth. The true Church is the humanity of Christ, God incarnate who becomes a sacrament, who becomes the mystery of God’s presence among us. When God becomes man, matter becomes direct contact with the supernatural: “Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14: 9-10).

The Incarnation does not end with the ascension of Jesus into Heaven. The Incarnation remains until the end of time. It’s just that, after the Ascension, the sacramental mystery doubles. While two thousand years ago, we saw Jesus and, by touching His humanity, we really and mysteriously touched God, now we don’t see Him, but we really and mysteriously touch God by touching His sacramental humanity, which is truly present in His People. Whoever does not understand that the Church is the Body of Christ incarnate which continues to walk and act mysteriously in history with the legs and arms of His faithful has not understood anything significant about the Church. This Church, for a believer, can never fail. Men, however, are fallible and sinful. Even the righteous sins seven times a day, which is an important warning against any presumption and idolatry of personalities. Here on earth, no one is holy, and we all must always be very careful. Only the People of God as a whole are Holy, because they are the Body of Christ.

The church as a human institution is made up of men who are all fallible, starting with the Pope (except of course for those very rare times in history in which he speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals). The Church as a militant People (that is, without considering those in Purgatory and Paradise) is made up of three types of faithful, all called to be saints in the same way and all cells of the Mystical Body of Christ: there are clerics (deacons, priests, and bishops), there are the religious (who make vows and who could also be clerics at the same time), and there are the lay faithful. Nobody is in the big-league team, and nobody is in little, or very little, leagues. The dignity of every believer is rooted in the call to communion with God and in letting Christ work in him to impact the history of the world. Clerics have an institutional responsibility, but if some or many clerics make a mistake, Christ will work more through other faithful, because the true, sacramental Church is never in the hands of any single person or group of mere men.

When I talk about the failure of the church in these times of pandemic, I am therefore referring to the failure of many clerics (not all, thank God), who should be talking about the saving message of the Gospel and the truths revealed by God and who instead talk about vaccines and of the green pass as if these things belonged to the depositum fidei. I speak of the failure of a church that generates ethical doubts about things that belong to the conscience and prudential reasoning of every faithful individual. I am speaking of a church that aligns and allies itself with political or economic power, mistaking its supernatural ministry for assistance to the dubious or questionable policies of the rulers of the moment. I speak of a church that remains silent in the face of demagogy and disinformation. I speak of a church indifferent to the persecution of so many righteous. I am speaking of a church that discriminates and generates conflicts among its own faithful for the benefit of the transitional policies of utilitarian rulers. I’m talking about a church that has turned its priorities and value hierarchies upside-down. Where are the atheists and anti-Catholics, who always scream at alleged medieval obscurantism, in these days when spiritual power and temporal power seem to inexplicably walk hand in hand?

When the “churchmen” praise politicians too much or rejoice too much in their attention or seek them too much or manifest too many inferiority complexes with respect to political institutions or no longer know how to distinguish the freedoms of the Church from the freedoms of politics, I become particularly worried. Clerics are no more intelligent than the lay faithful. It is often the other way around. And this is the reason why they make themselves so often ridiculous with the politicians and the powerful on duty. Many clerics have an inferiority complex because they do not feel equal to the world. Economics, politics, and science are too high for them, too unreachable, and, without realizing it, they end up kneeling facing the wrong way, no longer in the direction of the Altar. We lay people do not have these problems. We are the politicians, the scientists, and the economists. We cannot have any inferiority complex towards ourselves. And I am convinced that it is also for this reason that, in times like the present ones, in which the church of clerics is the victim of its own inferiority complexes and generates too much confusion and division among the faithful, the Mystical Body tends to inspire the laity more to the responsibility of distinguishing the boundaries of the depositum fidei, on the one hand, and of what belongs to Caesar, on the other.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, and that led me to this book, was hearing the greatest religious authority in the world say that getting vaccinated is an act of love, thus providing an assist to the political authorities who sought to proclaim that vaccination is a civic duty. At this point, the poor faithful Catholic who has doubts about the vaccine, and that he is also a good citizen, is surrounded. Is his doubt then an act of selfishness? Is it a temptation from the devil? Is it an act contrary to the common good? In addition to his own religious and political authority, he is at the same time discriminated against and persecuted by all with the complicity of the mainstream media. He has become the villain to be ridiculed as the selfish enemy of the common good, with the blessing of the Pope and the Presidents. All this is unacceptable and, in my own little way, it required me to at least put my professional skills to use in the service of the persecuted righteous.

Featured image: “Lucifer devouring Judas Iscariot, Brutus and Cassio.” Opere de Dante. Woodcut printed by Bernardino Stagnino, ca.1512.

Dangers Of The Vaccine Passport

“Health, what madness is committed in your name.” This paraphrase of Madame Roland’s words (“Freedom, what crimes are committed in your name”) illustrates the dangers of the vaccine passport. While freedom is the first word in the French national motto, the passport tramples on public liberties, already undermined by three confinements and a long curfew.

Having to show a medical document (normally covered by medical secrecy) and an identity document to a bar owner, a museum guard or a private security guard (transformed into a police auxiliary) to prove that you have been vaccinated against a disease with a mortality rate of less than 0.5% is a liberticidal fury. The non-vaccinated will thus be deprived of their fundamental rights and freedoms. But the vaccinated will not enjoy a completely normal life either—having to show identification and proof several times a day for quite ordinary activities (eating in a restaurant, having a coffee on the terrace—when there is no contamination outside—travelling by train, being treated in hospital…. This is not “normal life” at all.

It should be noted that the French vaccine passport is at the confluence of several rationales (if we dare say so). On the one hand, it is fully in line with the French statist, administrative and bureaucratic tradition, which dates back to the Ancien Régime and which was so fond of forms, controls and constraints. Already in March 2020, we had to stay in lockdown because we did not have masks, no tests, not enough hospital beds or respirators—but we did not lack discharge certificates or forms. Let’s remember that during the Revolution, in order to avoid trouble, it was better to have a certificate of civism issued by the sans-culotte officials who populated the offices of the Parisian municipality. This document attested to the good political conduct of the bearer.

Today, the vaccination passport is the certificate of good citizenship of our time. It is a formidable machine for producing stamps, certificates, QR codes, fines and various bureaucratic regulations… The decree of July 19, 2021 mentions that the vaccination passport is mandatory in “tents, marquees and structures, falling under type L (establishments mentioned in 10°, of article 34 and 6 of article 35), falling under type R (covered sports establishments of type X)”. This is French Absurdistan at its best.

On the other hand, the vaccine passport imitates the rationale of the “social score” that Chinese totalitarianism practices. In China, if you criticize the government, your social score will go down and you will not be able to travel abroad or buy an apartment. This is the same principle that is applied to another area with the vaccination passport. And new technologies facilitate this tracking system. In this pandemic, many things come from China (the virus itself, the containment, the introduction of the “social rating” mechanism…) and this should worry us deeply about our model of society and our conception of freedom. The vaccine passport constitutes a dangerous precedent and opens the door to all kinds of abuses.

We will be told that the health emergency takes precedence and that pragmatism is required. However, even from a health perspective, the passport is not a good idea. With the vaccine passport, the government is persisting in its initial mistake, which had already determined the choice of lockdown: taking non-targeted measures when the virus itself is extremely discriminating. Moreover, the vaccine—which protects very effectively against severe forms (which is an excellent thing)—does not protect against contamination and has no impact on the circulation and spread of the virus. A vaccinated person can be contaminated and can also contaminate.

At the end of 2020, without a vaccine, we were at 50,000 contaminations per day, and we thought that was already high. On January 18, 2022, when we had vaccinated 90% of the eligible population, we broke an absolute record with more than 460,000 cases. Everyone knows many people in their circle who were vaccinated with two or three doses but who nevertheless tested positive. Jean Castex and Olivier Véran both, although vaccinated, tested positive. So, we come to this completely crazy conclusion: a person who has been vaccinated and tested positive for Covid can take the TGV or go to the movies or to a restaurant and thus infect many other people. On the contrary, a person who is not vaccinated but negative to the Covid (and who can’t transmit the virus because he doesn’t have it) will be refused access to these same places. Such ineptitude should lead all of us, vaccinated or not, to protest against the vaccine passport.

Jean-Loup Bonnamy is a specialist in geopolitics and political philosophy. He recently published, with Renaud Girard, Quand la psychose fait dérailler le monde (Gallimard).

Featured image: “Sanity and her Son and the Credulous,” by Jordan Henderson, painted in 2020. This article comes to us through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

A Pseudonymous Epistemology

There are those so convinced pigs fly and cows regularly hurdle the moon they would confidently bet your life on it. They are credulous to a fault, those who with absolute conviction “believe in the science” yet know nothing of the science. They lack, first and foremost, a meddlesome mind, being perfectly content, unquestioningly accepting the protestations of experts who smarmily admit to having no appetite for whatever they would profess, but rather, own an affectation for hubris embellished with a tankard of bravado and a truck of prevarication on a power trip to “bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

Chesterton points to this tendency of the facile mind for oversimplification and ready conviction, scrubbing the shine off truth, gilding what it knows nothing about. “They talk of searching for the habits and habitat of the Missing Link; as if one were to talk of being on friendly terms with the gap in a narrative or the hole in an argument, or taking a walk with a non-sequitur or dining with an undistributed middle.” To illustrate, Chesterton notes of professors of antiquities and prehistoric man: “Strictly speaking of course we know nothing about prehistoric man, for the simple reason that he was prehistoric. The history of prehistoric man is a very obvious contradiction in terms. It is the sort of unreason in which only rationalists are allowed to indulge.”

That people are so convincible, so mentally malleable toward accepting the provably absurd is a question desperately seeking, never finding a satisfying answer. Former Soviet KGB informant and defector, Yuri Bezmenov once described it as a decades long process of demoralization, what he called ideological subversion, that succeeded largely from the absence and lack of moral standards. There is a penchant to consider demoralization as a loss of confidence or hope, a deliberate process of dispiriting the soul, and such is entirely one claim for it. But, it is crucially important to note, the ideological subversion Bezmenov described was of a different sort, a manifest defenestration of the morals of a people, for in the process of demoralization, man loses a thing essential: the objective meaning for being.

Bezmenov claimed that for the demoralized, exposure to truth no longer had any perceivable effect; a person who was demoralized was incapable of assessing the accuracy or truth of any information presented. Even when showered with authenticated data, verified truth, facts backed up with documents, with pictures and hard irrefutable evidence, the thoroughly demoralized would refuse to accept the truth—until a military boot crushed him. Then he would understand but not before.

It is in the process of demoralization that man’s relationship with his Creator is destroyed, or, at a minimum, distorted beyond reason. Fulton Sheen (Religion Without God, 1928) foresaw this ideological assault on religion, culture, history and tradition; the abject purpose being the complete devaluation of the rational creature: man.

Present day religion is not in evolution, but in revolution. Evolution implies growth from a germ, revolution a rupture with a principle; evolution has antecedents, revolution knows not its parentage. When we say that there is revolution in religion, we mean not merely a break with the past, but an abandonment as well of much that is best in the culture and heritage of tradition.

Until a generation ago religion was generally understood in terms of man’s attitude toward a Supreme and Perfect Being; today, it is understood in terms of man’s friendliness to the universe or as “faith in the conservation of human values.” The term “God” is still retained by some thinkers, but it is emptied of all content and dissolved to fit every volatile idea and fleeting fancy. God has been dethroned, the heavens emptied, and man has been exalted to His place in fulfillment of an evil prophecy that some day he would be like unto God. Problems which once centered about God now revolve about man, and those which were concerned with man are now fused with the universe. Theism is reduced to humanism and psychology to cosmology, for there is no longer a distinction made between man and matter. God is humanized and man is naturalized. The science of physics and not the “flower in the crannied wall” has come to tell us what God and man are.

Then again, George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty Four) coined perhaps the perfect word for it.

—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it; in Newspeak, “doublethink.”

Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.

It is pointless to point to the meanest error among those so convicted of their absolute absolutions; simply put, they are correct to the point of absurd infallibility, therefore, it is useless to argue, there can be no allowance for dissent or debate. It is as the psalmist pondered “But who can discern his errors” (Psalm 19:12)?

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) offered this insight (Conscience and Truth, 1991) comparing the guilt of the Pharisee to that of the tax collector.

No longer seeing one’s guilt, the falling silent of conscience in so many areas is an even more dangerous sickness of the soul than the guilt that one still recognizes as such. He who no longer notices that killing is a sin has fallen farther than the one who still recognizes the shamefulness of his actions, because the former is further removed from the truth and conversion.

Not without reason does the self-righteous man in the encounter with Jesus appear as the one who is really lost. If the tax collector with all his undisputed sins stands more justified before God than the Pharisee with all his undeniably good works (Luke 18:9-14), this is not because the sins of the tax collector were not sins or because the good deeds of the Pharisee were not good deeds. Nor does it mean that the good that man does is not good before God, or the evil, not evil or at least not particularly important.

The reason for this paradoxical judgment of God is shown precisely from our question. The Pharisee no longer knows that he too has guilt. He has a completely clear conscience. But this silence of conscience makes him impenetrable to God and men, while the cry of conscience that plagues the tax collector makes him capable of truth and love.

Ratzinger, with a well-deserved reputation for Teutonic sobriety, could on occasion evoke a wry humor. In a 1984 workshop at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, examining the relationship between the magisterium of the Church and theologians, i.e., theological experts, he quipped, “It is strange that some theologians have difficulty accepting the precise and limited doctrine of papal infallibility, but see no problem in granting de facto infallibility to everyone who has a conscience.”

Ignorance Is Strength

The sainted apostle Paul admitted what anyone who has matured into adulthood should readily acknowledge, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11). These days, the pedagogy necessary to reach maturity, to grow up and relinquish childish ways has been usurped by those who would wield unconstrained power over the thoroughly demoralized. Far too many, through vincible ignorance, ideologically contrived, find themselves in Neverland willing to believe what they have been sold—fairy dust and flights of metaversal fantasy—never wanting to outgrow their childhood.

It is the ambition of post-modern philosophers pushing pseudonymous epistemologies to replace reality with conjured self-medicated fantasies via the digital metaverse; to churn the mind into gelatinous masses of human dross, entertained but never enlightened; controlled and manipulated by the few, as Lewis so accurately predicted.

According to Wesley Smith “The Great Reset is placing the world under control of invisible bureaucrats.” Smith writes of the growing dangers concomitant with the encroaching “rule by experts.”

What do I mean by “technocracy?” In essence, the word translates into “rule by experts.” But in its currently gestating iteration, it means much more than that. The looming technocracy threatens to impose substantial control over most important aspects of life by “experts”—scientists, bioethicists, and societal “influencers”—but it also poses the threat of iron-clad enforcement of cultural orthodoxies and policies, not only in law, but also via the voluntary actions of powerful segments of the private sector.

Technocracy is a soft authoritarianism. It establishes no gulags to imprison dissenters and pronounces no tyrannous executions to punish the rebellious. Instead, a technocracy smothers democratic deliberation by removing most decision-making about essential policies from the people (through their elected representatives) to an expert class whose decisions are based on their education and experience, and the data they think matter.

It is far too easy to ignore the expert, never questioning their expertise, never doubting their power to control what men must or must not think; the aim for man to never think at all. The truth as C.S. Lewis surmised in The Abolition of Man, is man’s “conquest of nature” meaning some men possess a power which is, “in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by.” Such men must inevitably—it is in man’s nature—wield such power “over other men with Nature as its instrument.”

There is another view worthy of consideration for it speaks to how such power over other men corrupts absolutely. Smith writes of the “quality of life ethic” in which a person needs to earn his or her value by possessing identified capabilities and characteristics. According to most bioethicists, Smith writes, “the most influential among them adhere more toward a “quality of life” utilitarian approach in which some lives count for more or are perceived as having a greater claim to legal protection than others.”

Here is the problem: Quality-of-life considerations are fine when they are a factor in medical decision-making—that is, does the patient think the potential harmful effects of a proposed treatment are worth risking to attain the health benefit sought. But it becomes a form of bigotry when the judged quality of a patient’s life becomes determinate of his or her moral worth.

Here is how the Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer explains the “quality of life ethic” as it pertains to life and death issues:

We should treat human beings in accordance with their ethically relevant characteristics. Some of these are inherent in the nature of being. They include consciousness, the capacity for physical, social, and mental interaction with other beings, having conscious preferences for continued life, and having enjoyable experiences. Other relevant aspects depend on the relationship of the being to others, having relatives for example who will grieve over your death, or being so situated in a group that if you are killed, others will fear for their own lives. All of these things make a difference to the regard and respect we should have for such a being.

Smith adds that the danger of such an approach should be obvious. “The standards Singer uses to measure human worth are his standards based on what he considers important and ‘relevant.” Such thinking is insane, irrational, and displays a level of ignorance no human being should ever claim. On such ignorance, Chesterton notes those who ought to be able to reason rightly so seldom are of a mind to do so. “It is necessary to say plainly that all this ignorance is simply covered by impudence. Statements are made so plainly and positively that men have hardly the moral courage to pause upon them and find that they are without support.”

Memory is fleeting and yet it first must be memorialized, it must be come by through honest effort, through reality experienced not imagined, otherwise, it is like Winston (Nineteen Eighty Four) struggling to remember even what year it might have been.

He tried to squeeze out some childhood memory that should tell him whether London had always been quite like this. Were there always these vistas of rotting nineteenth-century houses, their sides shored up with balks of timber, their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs with corrugated iron, their crazy garden walls sagging in all directions? … But it was no use, he could not remember; nothing remained of his childhood except a series of bright-lit tableaux occurring against no background and mostly unintelligible.

Ignorance is strength but for whom? A thought must not be thought, a question never asked. Fear and anxiety are the external manifestations of a hypnotized society exhibiting Mass Formation Psychosis (MFP). According to Clinical Psychologist Dr. Mattias Desmet, there are four conditions for MFP:

  1. Lack of social bonds
  2. Lack of meaning making
  3. High levels of free floating anxiety. They don’t know why they are anxious and it is very distressing/painful for humans to experience because of the lack of control, resulting in risk of developing panic attack. They actively look for something to which they can attach the free-floating anxiety, something they can control.
  4. High levels of free floating frustration and aggression.

Whenever such social conditions exist, as they do now, the experts disseminate a narrative providing an object for the anxiety (White Supremacy, domestic terrorism, systemic racism, pandemics) and a strategy/solution (more power to the State) that will remove or diminish the object of anxiety, thus, all the free-floating anxiety attaches to the object suggested by the narrative, resulting in a willing participation in the strategy by the hypnotized masses. In effect, the people believe that by participating in the strategy they are in control of their fear and anxiety. When large groups of people participate in the strategy, it leads to a new social bond, new connectedness, a new solidarity, and this leads to a new sense-making in life. In other words, life becomes meaningful through the heroic struggle with the object of anxiety. As Erich Vieth explains:

Those caught up in the narrative don’t do so because the narrative is correct. Rather, they do so because they seek the new powerful social bonds. Many of the measures are not relevant or true, but they function as rituals in which people participate in order to connect to the masses of others caught up in the narrative. The more absurd and unscientific the … measures and the more that sacrifice is demanded, the better the measures function as rituals. This fits the general function of rituals: a behavior that you participate in not because it is functional … but to show to the tribe/collective that the collective is more important than the individual. You would be in error to think that as [these] measures become more absurd, more people will wake up to the insanity, but that is an illusion. The more absurd the measures become, the more blinded certain people will become.

During the Nuremberg Trial (1945) Hermann Goering was asked “How did you convince the German people to accept all this?” to which he replied: “It was easy… The only thing a government needs to turn people into slaves is fear. If you can find something to scare them you can make them do anything you want.” Perhaps it was Frank Herbert (Dune) who said it best: “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”

According to a University of Minnesota health report,

Fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately.

It is difficult to overcome fear, especially when you are surrounded by it. Power corrupts and fear is an awesome weapon in the hands of those who would wield it. And yet, it should never be forgotten that such corrosive power exists within each of us, the power over future generations.

C.S. Lewis (The Abolition of Man) stated it with alarming perspicuity:

In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them.

This then is the result of our progressive madness. We have successively been made weaker as we have engineered machines (technology with artificial intelligence) progressively stronger, more to our image and likeness. Our weaknesses, in the hands of the experts, will be our undoing. The greater our ignorance, the more terrible our fear; the greater our reliance on technological advances, the less in the image and likeness of God we appear to ourselves. Man thus becomes a poorly made, vulgar, dispensable machine. “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means… the power of some men to make other men what they please.” And what they please, their protestations to the contrary, is to make disposable machines of us all. Lewis said it with a bluntness that should shock us all.

But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger.

The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditionings, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have taken the ‘thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?

The last thing Lewis would have wont to say, I am sure, would have been “I told you so,” but he did tell us, and even the most naïve among us must surely recognize the truth of it now realized.

No longer do men look to the past as to their Golden Age; no longer do they have a memory of a Garden wherein man walked with God in the cool breezes of evening. The Golden Age is now placed in the future, but not one wherein man re-finds at the foot of a Tree the gifts he once lost there, thanks to a God-Man unfurled on it like a banner of salvation, but rather a future in which, due to a cosmic evolutionary urge, man not only makes but becomes God. Man in the supernatural state, it is said, needs no Redeemer as in the natural state he needs no God. As a result of this philosophy of self-sufficiency we have the strange modern phenomenon of a religion without God and a Christianity without Christ.

The Abstraction Of Man

In a bit of retrospective pique, I found it rather an unlikely miracle to discover the meeting of two of the greatest literary and philosophical minds of the twentieth century: G.K. Chesterton and the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Nearly a century in the past (1925), Chesterton introduced the first of what would eventually come to sixty-six books written by Dr. Sheen as he then called him, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy. In his introduction Chesterton recalled an “incident of a modern skeptical heroine going into a confessional box and telling the priest that she did not believe in his religion.”

He asked her what she did believe in and she said reflectively, “Well, I don’t believe in the Bible, and I don’t think I believe in the immortality of the soul, and I’m not sure that I believe in God,” and so on. And the unmoved cleric replied, “I didn’t ask you what you didn’t believe, but what you do believe.” “Well,” said the lady, “I believe that two and two make four.” “Very well then,” said the priest, “live up to that.”

Chesterton followed noting that it was probably around the same time that Ibsen would have been writing: “Who knows that two and two do not make five in the fixed stars?” This seems to me the cruces of the crises now before us. Just as Orwell imagined in Nineteen Eighty Four: we are terribly slow learners.

“You are a slow learner, Winston,” said O’Brien gently. “How can I help it?” he blubbered. “How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.” “Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

“These are the times that try men’s souls” wrote Thomas Paine two-hundred forty-six years ago, then, evermore so today. The trying, however, is exacerbated by a foolish agnosticism that wills neither to acknowledge nor deny the very existence of the soul or God for the matter. In God and Intelligence, Sheen considers the nature of God as perceived by the nature of man, pointing out that the problem is much confused by a sort of sentimental version of the divine dignity of man. “As in every other modern matter,” Chesterton writes, “the people in question seize on the sentiment without the reason for it.”

This sentiment is a sediment; it is the dregs of our dogma about a divine origin. They begin by bowing down to man as the image of God; and then forget the God and bow down to the graven image. … It is the view that Being is Becoming; or that God does not exist yet, but may be said to be living in hopes. The blasphemy is not ours. It is enough for us that our enemies have retreated from the territory of reason, on which they once claimed so many victories; and have fallen back upon the borderlands of myth and mysticism, like so many other barbarians with whom civilization is at war.

The problem is generational: each succeeding generation grown in vitro weaker and, through ever more selective grooming, less ‘human’. It is as Lewis saw so clearly: “They are, rather, not men (in the old sense) at all.” Our humanity has been sacrificed at the altar of the Conditioners, the experts, in order for the high priests of Nature to “devote themselves to the task of deciding what ‘Humanity’ shall henceforth mean.” It is ironic how as man conquers—or believes to have conquered—Nature, “we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’—to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammeled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity.” The evidence is obvious and yet, so few find themselves the least interested in the knowing. The preponderance of men prefer not knowing for they have been indoctrinated into believing ignorance is strength.

We no longer rule with the mind but with unquestioning sentiment. Reality and truth are what one is wont to make believe through the oracle of Oculus. “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.” As Lewis would claim, “those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse. We may legitimately hope that among the impulses which arise in minds thus emptied of all ‘rational’ or ‘spiritual’ motives, some will be benevolent.” It is a false hope doomed to utter despair. Lasciate ogne speranz, voi ch’intrate (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here).

Sheen wrote in God and Intelligence of the radically different ways of approaching God. The Intellectualist once argued for the God-proved-by-reason-to-be-existent while the post-modern argued that such a God was and is too far removed from human needs, therefore, the God-I-feel-I-can-use is of much greater value. “The gods we stand by are the gods we need and can use.”

Hence it follows that, although we cannot prove the existence of God, it does not mean that God has lost all His value. The idea may be “theoretically worthless,” it is quite true, but it still has a “regulative use.” Individual need is to be the judge of God. “The voice of human experience within us, judging and condemning all gods that stand athwart the pathway along which it feels to be advancing,” is the measure by which individuals prefer certain gods at one time and certain gods at another. Professor Leuba writes:

The truth of the matter can be put this way: God is not known, He is used—sometimes as a meat-purveyor, sometimes as moral support, sometimes as friend, sometimes as object of love. If He proves Himself useful, the religious consciousness asks for no more than this. Does God really exist? How does He exist? What is He? are so many irrelevant questions. Not God but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is in the last analysis, the end of religion. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse.

There once was an age when man searched for truth no matter where it lay or how hard it rubbed raw the ragged scars of mindless preconception. Once upon a time, wisdom was an aching hunger seeking satisfaction, knowing (epistemology) what was true and real was the noblest of pursuits, the pursuit of knowledge attained through reason was held essential to becoming fully human. And no one cared to be considered subhuman or in the least inhumane. Not everyone could walk with Aristotle, argue Plato or Socrates, philosophize with Augustine or Aquinas, theorize as Galileo, hypothesize as Einstein, or follow faithfully the teachings of Jesus Christ. And yet, all could aspire to know more truth than yesterday, to dream of one day standing on the shoulders of such formidable ancestral giants and reaching the heights of heaven.

Man knew he had been made in the image and likeness of God; he could not explain it, but he knew it because the Church was God’s voice, instituted by Christ, the Word Incarnate, instituted to teach all that he had commanded. In order to fulfill its mission, the Church founded schools and universities where the fundamentals of education through rigorous research and open debate were not only encouraged, but rigorously defended. Reasoned argument was the overarching pedagogical approach to learning. Each successive generation passed on what was then known, with frustrated taunts to the yet to be discovered unknown, with the firm resolve that the next generation would add further wealth to the treasury.

Anthony Esolen, “Our Church and Our Elites” recently observed that at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, they teach students who read and discuss Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Shakespeare and Cervantes, Michelangelo and Rodin.

When the young Augustine was at Carthage studying rhetoric among other young men who strove for power and influence in the world of law, he happened upon a book we have since lost, the Hortensius, by Cicero. That book changed his life, because it kindled in him a hunger for wisdom, what the Greeks called philosophy. I guess that in a bad world, we need a Hortensius now and again.

Many other works belong, so to speak, to all the world, but the world has cast them aside, or slandered them, or mangled them beyond recognition. The world will have to turn to the Church not only for Christ, then, but for Cicero too, not only for wisdom regarding the things of Heaven, but for human wisdom about human things, not only for Paul, but for Plato. And more.

Alas, somewhere, somewhen the passing on has become passé, or perhaps, merely too much to bear repeating. Truth has become an itch one dares not scratch. Those obligated to pass on the accumulated wealth of knowing have found it easier and more entertaining to tilt at windmills and chase social butterflies than form novice minds so that they too can increase and pass on their ancestral inheritance. Disinherited from the past, each succeeding generation has become more an abstraction, further distanced from the knowing that was rightfully their inheritance of Nature and of Nature’s God. Lewis acknowledged as much when he said, “no generation can bequeath to its successors what it has not got.” As Walter Hooper wrote (1970) in the introduction to God in the Dock, “I can see that much of the ignorance today is rightly attributed by Lewis to ‘the liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel.’”

This is the truth that now confronts us: generation upon generation upon generation of the blind teaching the blind to see what they care not nor do not know. Consider an art class. The teacher knows little and cares less about art than what nose ring to wear—a reminder of the now ancient practice of ringing the snouts of pigs to prevent rooting in the dirt—or the insanity of asking what pronouns the students might most prefer. The students are told to paint, not an object before them such as a vase or lamp, but their internalized interpretation of Pablo Picasso’s Totem Faces which they have never seen but contextualized through the impoverished eye of the pink-haired, thoroughly inked and illustrated instructor. Now, consider a subsequent art class where the students are instructed to express their internalized interpretation of the previous class’s internalized interpretation of Pablo Picasso’s Totem Faces which they are not shown, have never seen, only described. And so on, generation upon generation upon generation. As abstract as Picasso’s art is, ever more garish gibberish would be the product of each succeeding generation of novel artistry.

Chesterton, speaking of prehistoric man, wrote of what we know and do not know; of what “we do know is that they did have pictures; and the pictures have remained.”

And there remains with them, as already suggested, the testimony to something that is absolute and unique; that belongs to man and to nothing else except man; that is a difference of kind and not a difference of degree. A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.

No matter how convinced one might be that a thousand monkeys given enough time sitting before a thousand typewriters might reveal the Word of God, it is but a foolish fantasy. The same must be said for the countless students who will to become “educators” by matriculating in pseudonymous studies of gender, ethnicity, identity, culture, multiculture, diversity, or the étudier du jour.

Thus, it is with the approaching abstraction of man. As man is confounded into abstraction, the value of man qua man becomes mundane, worth less, worthless. No more is individual man in the image and likeness of an unseen, unknowable God; man is crudely drawn and redrawn in the poorest image and likeness of his carnival mirrored self, as his Controllers deem sufficiently compliant and, to the end, but useful idiots.

The elites have been in the vanguard of cultural evisceration, in all kinds of ways. Only the Church can recover the abandoned land, and till it with love. By comparison with what people still within living memory once took for granted, there are now no dances, no socials, no local ball leagues, no community singing, few parades—and those but exercises in garishness and obscenity. And no genuine common life.

While I agree with Esolen in so far as the Church may be the only hope for recovery of the soil that has long been abandoned and now lies barren, the questions which must be asked are “Will it? Can it?” Where is the traditional Catholic stainless steel, the zeal to till the fallow soil, to catechize, to teach all the nations all that Christ commanded? I am reminded of a parable. Jesus once told the crowd:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold (Mark 4:3-8).

As Jesus explained, the sower (clergy) sows the Word but not all the seed will fall on fertile ground. That is as it must be, but if the sower refuses or neglects to sow the Word, it matters not where the seed may fall. If the sower prefers popularity, avoids or stirs controversy, speaks not of the existence of evil, bears false witness, mixes bad seed with the good and thus fouls the harvest: of what good will come of it. Likewise, if the sower knows nothing or little of the proper method for sowing, how fruitful the harvest?

Like the aforementioned remarks by Lewis, no generation of prelate (sower) can bequeath what they have not got. Over decades, liberal theologians and wastrel prelates have continually whittled down the truth of the Gospel, subjected the faithful to false or erroneous teaching, and promoted controversy by their personal behavior and public pronouncements they then hubristically nailed to the cathedral door. Jesus told Peter three times to feed his sheep. Tragically, too many of the current crop of successors have failed to feed their flocks a healthy meal.

It is generational. There are so few heroes anymore, no Thomas More (beheaded), no Stephen (stoned), Lawrence (grilled), Sebastian (clubbed), no Andrew (crucified) or Bartholomew (skinned). Fewer today: Clement Shahbaz Bhatti (gunned down), Annalena Tonelli (shot in the head) or Father Jacques Hamel (throat slit). Such as these seldom get any notice beyond the customary tabloid obituary. Those that are noticed seldom practice what they preach and what they preach is often heretical and at times nothing more than apostatizing rhetoric. And poor rhetoric anointed with the salve of heretical clerisy.

For the most part, it is vincible ignorance that fortifies their teaching; years of advanced education provides no assurance of proper preparation for the care and feeding of their appointed flocks. To put it bluntly, ignorance knows both saint and sinner, and yet, it would seem, so few have been given even a modicum of well-trained tongue. A cleric is equally as capable as a historian in propounding a pseudonymous epistemology, that is: uttering falsehoods and heresies. The only difference, the cleric proudly proclaims to be speaking in Persona Christi when in truth his breath smells of rotten eggs and sulfur and his silver-tongued oratory leads the flock on a crooked path to the very gates of Gehenna.

Lewis never identified the Conditioners, those high and mighty few who would form men into something more—but ultimately no longer—human. It is easy, far too easy, to recognize those who aspire to such a lofty throne. Be they heads-of-state or bureaucrat, rich as Croesus corporate oligarchs, or pompous hierarchs seeking earthly glory, they wear their green badge of C(onditioner) with overweening pride. They are in it for themselves; they are masters of their own unwinding, masters of none, even of themselves. They believe they are lords of the universe and hold such power over men to use and discard. Like Saruman standing atop Orthanc, they believe they are in command of all they survey, but they are but fools, ensnared by the Dark Lord Sauron who would rule them all.

This then is the conundrum of the times in which we find ourselves participating: there are signs everywhere of corruption, both societal and ecclesiastical. We could say never has there been such a time but that would be untrue. Less than six months before this aging soul breathed his first, the Venerable Fulton Sheen delivered a radio address (January 26, 1947), a sermon to begin the seventeenth year of the Catholic Hour. In it he spoke of what was “contained in the Papal Encyclical Divini Redemptoris: the all important subject of Communism.” He began by asking, “Why is it that so few realize the seriousness of our present crisis?” a question that remains on many lips today. He went on to answer and his answer should give us more than a moment’s pause:

Partly because men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times. If there is no fixed concept of justice how shall men know it is violated? Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world. The great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on. The tragedy is not that the hairs of our civilization are gray; it is rather our failure to see that they are. The very day Sodom was destroyed, Scripture describes the sun as bright; Balthasar’s realm came to an end in darkness; people saw Noah preparing for the flood one hundred and twenty years before it came, but men would not believe. In the midst of seeming prosperity, world-unity, the decree to the angels goes forth but the masses go on their sordid routines. As our Lord said: “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not till the flood came, and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:38, 39) Well may Our Savior say to us what He said to the Sadducees and Pharisees in His time: “When it is evening, you say: It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning: Today there will be a storm, for the sky is red and lowering. You know then how to discern the face of the sky: and can you not know the signs of the times?” (Matthew 16:2, 3)

The signs of our times point to two inescapable truths, the first of which is that we have come to the end of the post-Renaissance chapter of history which made man the measure of all things. More particularly the three basic dogmas of the modern world are dissolving before our very eyes. We are witnessing: 1) The liquidation of the economic man, or the assumption that man who is a highly developed animal has no other function in life than to produce and acquire wealth, and then like the cattle in the pastures, be filled with years and die. 2) The liquidation of the idea of the natural goodness of man who has no need of a God to give Him rights, or a Redeemer to salvage him from guilt, because progress is automatic thanks to science—education and evolution, which will one day make man a kind of a god as H.G. Wells said, with his feet on the earth and his hands among the stars. 3) The liquidation of rationalism, or the idea that the purpose of human reason is not to discover the meaning and goal of life, namely the salvation of the soul, but merely to devise new technical advances to make on this earth a city of man to displace the city of God.

Sheen finished his sermon with words still true and relevant now seventy-three years advanced: “The only way out of this crisis is spiritual, because the trouble is not in the way we keep our books, but in the way we keep our souls. The time is nearer than you think.”

Deacon Chuck Lanham is a Catholic author, theologian and philosopher, a jack-of-all-trades like his father (though far from a master of anything) and a servant of God. He is the author of The Voices of God: Hearing God in the SilenceEchoes of Love: Effervescent Memories, and four volumes of Collected Essays on religion, faith, morality, theology, and philosophy.

Featured image: “Gate,” by Pawel Kuczynski, 2016.

Ethics Of Anti-Covid Vaccines

We are so very pleased to present this excerpt from The Death of the Phronimos: Faith and Truth of Anti-Covid Vaccines, the recent book by Fulvio Di Blasi.

The great importance of this book lies in the many and essential questions that it raises about our current crisis. Questions such as:

  • Are vaccines a safe and effective remedy against Covid-19?
  • Are Covid Passports useful tools for pandemic prevention, or are they rather instruments of torture and the basis of social conflict in the service of political power?
  • Are agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) credible?
  • Can mainstream journalism be trusted?
  • What about pharmaceutical companies? Can we trust them?
  • And hat about “science?” What is to be understood by this term?

Fulvio Di Blasi is a lawyer and professor of mediation, accredited by the Italian Ministry of Justice. He also holds a PhD in Philosophy of Law from the University of Palermo, and is a well-known Catholic philosopher, with expertise in ethics and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas.

He has taught, and carried out research, at various universities, including the University of Notre Dame (USA), The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland), the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome), the Internationale Akademie fuer Philosophie in the Principality of Liechtenstein, and the Libera Università Maria Santissima Assunta (Palermo-Rome). He was also Research Fellow for the Italian National Council of Research (CNR), the highest governmental research institution in Italy, Research Associate at the Jacques Maritain Center (University of Notre Dame, USA), and Director of both the Thomas International Center (USA) and the Centro Ricerche Tommaso d’Aquino (Collegio Universitario ARCES, Palermo). He has also served as contributor, reviewer, editor, and board member for several philosophical, legal, and bioethical journals and book series.

He has over 200 publications, including God and the Natural Law, John Finnis, Ritorno al diritto, Questioni di legge naturale, Ancient Wisdom and Thomistic Wit: Happiness and the Good Life, From Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, Vaccination as an Act of Love? The Epistemology of Ethical Choice in Times of Pandemic.

Make sure to pick up a copy of this important book—and get all your friends to buy a copy, too.

Anti-Covid vaccines and the pandemic are issues that now completely permeate our entire existence both as individuals and as citizens of single states and the whole world. They are complex issues, with a thousand facets, which are dealt with by many public and private subjects, parliaments and rulers, research agencies and institutes, the press, the media, scientists, and experts from various disciplines. It is impossible for the individual to form an adequate reference framework without learning to conveniently move between the various sources of information, clearly understanding their differences both regarding the specific competence of each source and regarding its quality and reliability. From whom should we learn the truth about vaccines and the pandemic? How exactly should we compare the numerous individuals providing information in the media and political market? What value should we give to the statements of the various people and institutions that tell us about these truths?

It is essential that we learn to answer these questions in a sufficient and reasonable way, because from the information that is transmitted to us depend, not just opinions on who will win a championship or on what will be the next seasonal fashion or on which are the most popular places for the holidays, but crucial decisions that each of us must make: decisions about our own health and that of our loved ones, about the common good, and about the fundamental rights and freedoms of the society in which we live.


The underlying theme of this text, which unifies and delimits all the topics addressed, is the way in which we acquire the truths and certainties that guide our choices concerning vaccines and the pandemic. And, since these truths come indirectly or directly from other people, we need to ask ourselves specifically who are the people to turn to and what exactly they can tell us.


The epistemological analysis of individual sources of information will lead us more and more towards the need for the deepening of another philosophical topic, this time related to so-called “virtue ethics”. In fact, the study of the reliability of the various individuals who talk to us about vaccines reveals, on the one hand, the many shortcomings and critical or problematic issues that characterize these people and, on the other hand, the profile of the ideal witness who, from my point of view, is glaringly absent in the current public debate on vaccines and the pandemic. I am referring to the Aristotelian phronimos, a mysterious character to most, but whom I hope my readers will eventually learn to know and appreciate and, why not, also love.


For reasons that will become increasingly clear, this text, not only in the opening chapter, but also in the discussion of the individual subsequent chapters, methodically uses the legal science of witnesses in a court trial. This choice moves in parallel with the analysis of faith as a form of knowledge, which, as mentioned, I am about to explain in the first chapter. A correct epistemology of the way we relate to witnesses is essential to understand how to make ethical decisions in areas where our knowledge of the relevant factors depends on other people or institutions. In this book, all the most important sources of information on vaccines that we have will appear as if they were called or summoned by a judge, who, as the first formal act of his procedural science, must assess their reliability and their ability to testify.

The activity of the judge is epistemologically analogous to the activity of the moral conscience, which is in fact traditionally compared precisely to a judge. Many think that this is just a metaphor. It is not so. Conscience really works through a symmetrical rational path similar to that of a judge in a trial. The best way to visualize or analyze the path that rationally leads us to good decisions is therefore exactly to imagine ourselves as judges sitting in a courtroom where we find ourselves having to listen to witnesses and acquire all relevant documents and evidence.

Among the witnesses that will successively appear in our courtroom are pharmaceutical companies and drug agencies (Chapter 2), Science (Chapter 3), public authorities and the mass media (Chapter 4). Of all these witnesses, we will have to ask ourselves about which facts they can testify, or what they can actually tell us about vaccines. However, we will also have to ask ourselves about their reliability and credibility. We will do this by observing their criminal record and conflicts of interest, or their curriculum and modus operandi. When you have a possible witness in the courtroom, you need to understand as much as possible about who he is and how much we can trust him. In some cases, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the World Health Organization (WHO), or even the current functioning of medical science, this will give rise to various ideas regarding hypotheses for reforming some systems or some institutions.

This phase of our trial activity, so to speak, will also be a valuable opportunity to retrace together some very important and interesting judicial, political, or journalistic cases. However, it must always be borne in mind that when I refer to court cases or some specific issues of the vaccine debate of the past months or weeks I will only do so as an example and to the extent that this helps to evaluate the witnesses. My goal is not to offer an exhaustive treatment of single cases or events but to use elements of them exclusively for the specific purpose of evaluating the witnesses.

It should also be remembered that the activity of the judge who assesses the reliability of the witnesses is different from that of the judge who assesses the guilt of a defendant. In the second case, precise and consistent evidence is needed to reach a decision. In the first, a generic criterion of reasonableness is sufficient. It is the same with all the rules on conflict of interest. Those in conflict of interest may not have done anything wrong and could also, if called upon to testify (against their wives or against the company that pays them), tell the truth and nothing but the truth. It is best not to take risks, however, or not to put the person in a conflict of interest situation, or in a situation where he may be tempted to lie or to alter the truth. Nothing I will say in this book about the possible unreliability of some witnesses can be interpreted as an accusation of their having committed crimes or wrongdoing of any kind. An accusation of this type is not up to me, but to prosecutors. The case is different for offenses of a moral nature, which fall under my jurisdiction and on which I will not make allowances for anyone.


In this regard, I must also clarify that, on an ethical level, I must always save the “internal forum.” I will often be very hard on sin but nothing I say will imply a judgment on the sinner, except in hypothetical terms. I could say, for example, that a certain person’s actions or statements are false or that they objectively generate hatred and violence. Yet the person may have acted in good faith, without realizing what he was doing, or out of ignorance.

I will be especially hard on the overall behavior of professional classes or sectors of society, which of course does not imply that there are no good people in those classes or sectors. Often, a wrong or corrupt system unknowingly makes even good people bad, which is all the more reason to express the condemnation of that system clearly. The harshness of moral condemnation is directly proportional to the corruption of the system and serves precisely to awaken the dormant consciences of good people. Analogically, it is the same positive rhetoric as the prophetic spirit of the Bible. The prophet must condemn with clarity and harshness proportional to the corruption of society, or the people of that society will not wake up from their ethical slumber. Applied moral philosophy, from my point of view, can never lose, at least in the most serious cases of social torpor, a certain prophetic spirit.

In my condemnations of the system (and never of individuals) I will often use biblical language and the image of the great prostitute. This is not meant as a personal insult to anyone. It is a strong prophetic moral condemnation with a precise conceptual connotation. The Apocalypse announces the fall of Babylon the great, which “has become a haunt for demons. She is a cage for every unclean spirit, a cage for every unclean bird, (a cage for every unclean) and disgusting (beast). For all the nations have drunk the wine of her licentious passion. The kings of the earth had intercourse with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her drive for luxury” (Rev 18:2-3). In the Apocalypse, however, Jesus fights with the double-edged sword of His mouth, with the truth (Rev 1:16). From this point of view, the great prostitute is society or that part of it which, in view of some advantage, fear, or vice, corrupts the truth and prostitutes itself to the falsehoods of the world.

Some people, because of their role or their profession, have a special duty to testify to the truth, or to speak with the double-edged sword of the Apocalypse. Towards these people, when they prostitute themselves, the prophetic condemnation is worse and more resounding. In many ways, at the intellectual level, the great prostitute coincides with the sophistry against which Plato lashes out through the mouth of Socrates. The Sophists are the experts, not of true argument, but of the winning one. They are the ones who return home in the evening happy, not because whoever listened to them learned something true and good, but because whoever listened to them was convinced that they were right.

Sophists are concerned with winning (in politics, with the audience, in commerce, in advertising), not in learning or teaching. They prostitute the truth for their own profit. There are, however, people who have drunk so much of the wine of Babylon that being called Sophists might even please them; it could give them the idea that deep down they are good at something: that is, at convincing and manipulating people. Biblical terminology, on the other hand, could create that positive discomfort that leads to a possible ethical conversion. Better therefore, at least in some cases, not to condemn the sophistication but the prostitution. And I will proceed accordingly.


This book is part of a larger work in several volumes aimed at addressing the problem of anti-Covid vaccines as an object of moral choice, both individual and collective. The first volume, which also includes the plan of the entire work, is Vaccine as an Act of Love? Epistemology of Ethical Choice in Times of Pandemics.

The overall architectural structure of this larger work is based on the analysis of ethical choices regarding vaccines in terms of object, circumstances, and end. As I explained in the introduction to the first volume, this type of analysis originates in Greek philosophy, develops above all in the tradition of Christian thought (also through canon law), and is now part of the fundamental structure of both civil and criminal Western law. In fact, the responsibility of the person in front of the law is measured on the basis of the identification of a human act defined objectively (will, theft, parking offense, etc.), of the assessment of the circumstances that influence in various ways the choice of that act, and of the analysis of subjective responsibility based on the intent of the agent (which can also be more or less serious depending on the circumstances).

For the purposes of this overall analysis, I had to distinguish between internal circumstances and external circumstances with respect to the “vaccine” object. In fact, there may be elements that influence the ethical choice to get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated, but which do not relate to the characteristics of the vaccine as such. The present book concerns precisely these latter circumstances, the ones external to the so-called anti-Covid vaccines. These circumstances do not concern the vaccine or drug as such or its characteristics with respect to the good of health, but affect the ethical choice to get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated—or to take this new drug or not, in whatever way it is defined and by any term it is referred to—based on other considerations.

With respect to the overall work, this book represents a part that conceptually and chronologically follows both the general explanation on the structure of the moral act (first part), the detailed explanation of the internal circumstances of the anti-Covid vaccines that I call structural and institutional (second part), and the explanation, in general terms, of all the epistemological issues involved in the whole question (which I also deal with in the second part). This book is partially independent of the analysis of other types of circumstances that I tackle in other volumes, but with which it is still intertwined in various ways. None of these volumes can be completely isolated from the others even if each volume maintains its own methodological and conceptual autonomy. This volume, however, precedes the last on the ends of the action, which, for various reasons, presupposes all prior analyses of the object and circumstances.

As I explain in the first volume, almost all the external circumstances that affect the choice to get vaccinated fall within the order of ends. That is, they concern the assessments of the good of health compared to different goods or ends. In the context of the analysis of the human act, the distinction between circumstances and ends is difficult, largely useless, and should in any case be delayed to a specific discussion of the agent’s intentionality and of the ends to which it aims. In the previous parts of the work included in the first volume, I made some hypothetical examples centered on the role of the Pope or other characters with public responsibilities who decide not to get vaccinated, or not to get vaccinated immediately, to convey or testify to a certain ethical message. In these cases, we could speak, from a third person point of view, of an external subjective circumstance that pertains to the role or office of a certain person. However, from the point of view of the agent, the choice indicates the preference for a certain hierarchy among the goods involved in the action: a hierarchy such that a higher good (such as that of faith) leads to overshadowing, at least temporarily, the good of health. It is therefore a topic that belongs to the analysis of the ends and intentionality rather than to the analysis of the circumstances as such.

With regard to anti-Covid vaccines, the only relevant external circumstances that I believe should be identified regardless of the analysis of the ends pertain, for the gnoseological reasons that I am about to explain, to faith. It is this, therefore, the strain of circumstances that will be the specific subject of this volume. Each of the following chapters is about individuals or institutions who in one way or another are or should be witnesses to the truth about vaccines for us.

Before leaving the reader to the individual chapters, I further clarify that, from my point of view, what I am talking about here is not enough for a prudent person, the phronimos (to put it in Aristotelian terms), to make a rational and good choice concerning the anti-Covid vaccines. The reason is precisely what I have just mentioned: that is, that the ethical choice implies the evaluation of both the object, the ends, and all the relevant circumstances, and not just of those (external) circumstances discussed in this volume. However, the themes developed here play a crucial role in enabling the ethical subject to rationally address the relevant sources of information to be used to form his own conviction. From this point of view, the volume holds a special methodological autonomy, and is perhaps the most essential for building the adequate framework within which to approach one’s choices wisely.


As always, I thank God for giving me the opportunity to make another small contribution in this world with the time and the talents that have been given to me. I thank my wife Francesca for the patience, support, encouragement, and enthusiasm with which she always deals with the things that concern our cultural commitments for the common good. With respect to the specific issue of anti-Covid vaccines and pandemic management, it was initially she who stimulated my critical approach and prompted me to study the relevant issues more in depth. I also thank my children, Riccardo and Ottavia, because their cheerful presence alone, even if it makes it difficult to concentrate, gives a joy and hope capable of overcoming any obstacle and fatigue. The other day I found Riccardo, five years old, drawing in a notebook while sitting on the sofa and who, as soon as he saw me, immediately told me that he too was writing a book. Ottavia (two years old) is at this moment on my lap, between me and the computer, enjoying herself while listening to kids’ songs on television and while I stretch my arms around her trying to reach the keyboard and finish this introduction. Deo gratias!

I thank my friend Mauro Ghilardini who was one of the immediate causes of this work because, since he decided to publish some of my posts on a blog, so many comments and requests for clarifications or insights followed that it was easier for me to think of writing a book than responding to a thousand posts online. I thank Francesco Zambon for the useful discussions on WHO and the management of the pandemic. I thank Marisa Gatti-Taylor Ph.D. and Steven Millen Taylor PhD—as well as a friend who needs to remain anonymous to avoid possible negative employment repercussions—for their precious editorial help and for their encouragement. Of course, I am solely responsible for errors and opinions expressed in the text. I thank all the friends, colleagues, physicians, and scientists who maintain rationality, integrity, and serenity in these times of collective panic and madness. I thank all the people of good will who do not give in to violence, insult, and social hatred and who never tire of demonstrating publicly for the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the human person. Finally, I thank all the bishops and priests who continue to preach the Gospel of Christ instead of the new vaccine and Green Pass religion.

Featured image: breaking of the sixth seal (Rev. 6), the Douce Apocalypse, ca. 1272.

On The dignity Of Man: The Idea Of The Good And Knowledge Of Essences. Part III.

Ayn Rand And Willard V.O. Quine On Analyticity

At that stage, I will develop my understanding of the issue of knowing whether definitions are true or wrong independently of reality (i.e., true or wrong in an apodictic mode); then on the issue of knowing whether material existence can be deduced from ideational essence. In this regard, I will compare and evaluate Ayn Rand’s and Willard V.O. Quine’s respective criticisms against the notion of analyticity (i.e., the notion of truth independent of reality by the sole operation of the logical laws admitted in some system of formal logic). Then I shall return to my assessment of Plato’s approach to the Idea of Good. Just as a statement allegedly true in an apodictic mode is a statement allegedly true in a mode independent of reality; a statement allegedly true in an analytic mode is a certain variety of an allegedly apodictic statement: namely a statement that the laws of formal logic are sufficient to make it true and to make it apodictically true.

In Viennese empiricism, two kinds of purported analytical truth are recognized: on the one hand, tautologies, i.e., statements which, in the eyes of a certain system of formal logic, are true by the sole operation of the accepted logical laws in the system in question. On the other hand, statements that are allegedly reducible—independently of reality—to a tautology via the play of the synonymy between two terms or between a term and a sequence of terms. Whereas the former are allegedly analytical by the sole reason of their tautological character, the latter are allegedly analytical by the sole reason of their alleged reducibility independent of reality to an analytical truth of the tautological type.

Faced with the notion of the existence of these two varieties of analytical truth, at least two questions arise: on the one hand, would a statement that, via the play of synonyms, would be effectively reducible (independently or not of reality) to a tautology have a meaning equivalent to the one of a tautology? On the other hand, are the laws of any mode of formal logic actually sufficient to make a tautology analytically true—and is the play of synonyms effectively sufficient to make a statement reducible (independently of reality) to a tautology? Whoever investigates the relation of definitions to reality cannot refrain from seeking the answer to those two questions: the former because, if a definition were indeed of a meaning equivalent to the one of a certain tautological statement, then a definition would be of no interest with regard to what the tautology in question already says; the latter because, if a definition were effectively reducible independently of reality to a tautological analytical truth (via the play of the synonyms recognized in the language), then reality would be of no interest in judging the truth of a definition.

A fault in the Randian critique against the notion of apodicticity (which it amalgamates with the notion of analyticity) is that said critique distorts the theses and arguments in favor of said existence to the point where it attacks ghosts. Here I will leave aside the tasks of listing and dissecting the many scarecrows of Ayn Rand on that subject. Another fault in the Randian critique against the idea of apodicticity is that it lacks a clear distinction between the generic entity and the singular entity; but the inclusion of a clearer (or completely clear) distinction on that subject does not require the Randian argument against the idea of apodicticity to be significantly overhauled.

The argument in question (especially developed in Leonard Peikoff’s article “The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction”) is, in essence, the following. A concept encompasses all the characteristics of its object and not only those that have to be included in its (true) definition; a concept and its true definition are therefore not true synonyms (any more than terms considered to be synonymous in a certain language are really synonymous—although neither Rand nor Peikoff, to my knowledge, say so openly). Accordingly, a statement associating a concept with a true definition is neither reducible to a tautology via the play of synonyms nor endowed with a meaning equivalent to a tautology. Yet the definitions are true or false depending on whether they are in agreement with the entities exhibited in the sensible experience—and in agreement with the logical laws objectively deduced from the ontological laws objectively exhibited in the sensible experience.

According to Rand, all human knowledge (including that of the ontological laws underlying the valid logical laws) is an account of sensible experience articulated according to logical laws deduced from ontological laws themselves known through sensible experience. A definition in agreement with the concerned entity is a definition that subsumes those characteristics of the entity that are best able to distinguish the entity in question in view of what is currently known about it through the sensible experience. Because a definition that correctly subsumes those characteristics (from sensible experience) is therefore in (perfect) agreement with reality, it cannot be refuted by progress in knowledge; it can certainly be complemented, not be refuted. Conclusion: there is no truth independent of facts; but any definition that correctly subsumes the characteristics best capable of distinguishing the object in view of the present state of knowledge about the universe is true—and true in an objectively undoubtable mode.

The Randian answer to the two questions mentioned above is therefore the following. On the one hand, there is no true synonymy because the meaning of a concept is its object taken from the angle of all of its properties. A statement that would be reducible to a tautology via the play of synonyms is absurd; but the meaning of a statement associating a concept with its true definition is actually irreducible to the meaning of a tautology. On the other hand, tautologies are not analytical (nor apodictic) but remain objectively certain when constructed from logical laws objectively grasped in sensible experience; just as definitions and those statements which are limited to associating terms deemed synonymous (for example, “no single person is engaged”) are not analytical (nor apodictic), but remain objectively certain when faithfully descriptive of the sensible experience.

The Randian criticism arrives to a partially true conclusion; but its argument is wrong on two levels, at least. On the one hand, a concept encompasses only those characteristics of its object that have to be included in the definition; but it does not only encompass them, it identifies them as constitutive of its object. Accordingly, a statement reducible to a tautology does have a meaning that is not equivalent to that of a tautology; but not for the reasons given by Ayn Rand.

On the other hand, a definition admittedly subsumes the characteristics that it considers best able to distinguish the correspondent concept’s object in view of what one currently knows or believes to know about the universe; but, in addition to the fact that it precisely amounts to subsuming those characteristics which seem to be constitutive, it does not render true nor objectively certain a hypothetical definition correctly subsuming the characteristics in question. To complement a definition always amounts to refuting it, just as to relativize it always amounts to refuting it.

For example, replacing a definition of the swan as “a large web-footed bird, with white plumage, long flexible neck” with a new definition of the latter as “a large web-footed bird, with white or black plumage, long flexible neck” amounts to relativizing the first definition; but to substitute for a definition of the swan as “a large web-footed bird, with white or black plumage,” a definition of the latter such as, this time, “a large web-footed bird, with white or black plumage, with a long flexible neck” amounts to complementing the first definition. In both cases, the second definition comes to refute the first.

Finally, I think the following answer is the correct one to the two questions mentioned above. On the one hand, if certain statements were effectively reducible to a tautology via synonymy, that reducibility would be no more independent of reality than it would make the statements in question equivalent in their sense to a tautology. A statement reducible to a tautology via synonymy is not impossible stricto sensu (as Rand wrongly asserts); but neither its reducibility nor its truth would be independent of reality. On the other hand, a tautological statement can neither be analytical nor true independently of the facts (since the logical laws themselves cannot be valid independently of the facts); just as no statement can be reduced to a tautology independently of the facts.

A mistake by Rand is to represent to herself that synonymy does not exist between a concept and its true definition (because a concept allegedly means its object taken from the angle of all its properties—and not only from the angle of all those properties that are to be related in its definition if true). But the fact is that such synonymy does exist (because the meaning of a concept is strictly confused with its object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties, those which are to be related in a true definition). As we will see more closely a few lines later, another mistake on her part is to represent to herself that sensible experience allows us to objectively grasp ontological laws that objectively establish valid logical laws; and that there are indeed statements that are true by the operation of those laws alone, but that those statements, though objectively certain, are not apodictic.

Quine’s criticism against the analytic-synthetic distinction, which is (quite in a convoluted, fuliginous mode typical of the so-called analytical philosophers) presented in his article, “Two dogmas of empiricism,” is carried out at two levels. Quine, who amalgamates the notions of analyticity (i.e., truth by the sole operation of logical laws independently of reality) and apodicticity (i.e., truth independent of reality), does not deal with the first above-evoked question but only the second one. On the one hand, Quine addresses the case of those statements that are claimed to be—independently of reality—reducible via a synonymy relation to a tautology (i.e., a statement that some system of formal logic holds to be true by the sole operation of the admitted logical laws in the system in question); and which are claimed to be thus inheriting the purported analytical character of the tautology in question.

Quine rightly points out that the notion that some statements are, independently of reality, reducible to tautological analytical statements via synonymy relations actually supposes the notion that synonymous terms are synonymous independently of reality—and that the notion that synonymous terms are synonymous independently of reality actually supposes the notion of a truth independent of reality. Hence a logical circle when it comes to elucidating, characterizing, the way a statement allegedly reducible to a tautological analytical statement would be indeed reducible to a tautological analytical statement. (Quine then rightly shows that any other conceivable way of alleging some statement to be reducible to a tautology results into a logical circle as well).

On the other hand, Quine addresses the case itself of tautologies and logical laws. He points out that the logical laws one resorts to at some point in the pursuit of knowledge are actually interdependent (and totally interdependent) with the whole of the ongoing scientific theories—and that the former are completely and only dependent on the latter and the latter, in turn, completely (but not only) dependent on the former. The logical laws are accordingly susceptible to be themselves revised when a new scientific theory with a better empirical corroboration comes to replace a former one. Hence the tautologies are neither analytical (i.e., true by the sole operation of the logical laws) nor objectively certain; but instead faced with the tribunal of experience themselves and objectively uncertain. Just like that criticism on Quine’s part is actually exaggerated on the issue of logical laws and tautologies, it unfortunately stops along the way on the issue of synonymies.

To be completely dependent (qualitatively speaking) on something is one thing; to be only dependent (either completely or partly) on it is another thing. The fact for some house under construction of being completely dependent on those specific bricks specifically available in some building-supply store is one thing; the fact for the house in question of being dependent (or partly dependent) on nothing else than those bricks—for instance, cement—is another thing. When two things are interdependent only to some extent, the dependence is either partial on both sides or complete only in one side; when they are dependent only of each other, the dependence is exclusive on both sides.

It is true that, if a statement were actually reducible to a tautology via the play of synonyms independently of reality, its analyticity couldn’t but be supposed by its reducibility; but Quine does not identify what is the reason for such impossibility. Namely that, when two terms (or a term and a sequence of terms) are in some language claimed to be synonymous with each other, the latter are actually synonymous depending on whether reality confirms (instead of refuting) what the considered language claims to be their synonymy.

As for the issue of tautologies (i.e., the issue of those statements that the logical laws one follows claim to be true by the sole operation of those laws), Quine’s claim that the logical laws (i.e., the rules one follows in the construction of reasonings in order to reason in a coherent mode) as they stand at some point are (completely) interdependent with the whole of the ongoing scientific theories—and dependent only on them (though not reciprocally)—is actually exaggerated.

Instead, the logical laws one makes use of at some point are obtained strictly as much through one’s empirical impression or empirical conjecturing as, besides, through one’s hypothetical suprasensible impression, through one’s hypothetical conjecturing from one’s hypothetical suprasensible impression, and through one’s hypothetical conjecturing from other hypothetical conjectures (whether they are borrowed—and whether they are scientific claims) from sensible experience, other hypothetical conjectures (whether they are borrowed—and whether they are also empirically conjectured) from suprasensible impression, and other hypothetical conjectures (whether they are borrowed—and whether they are also empirically conjectured) from sensible impression—and are therefore dependent to some extent (and only to some extent) on the ongoing scientific theories, but not only dependent on the ongoing scientific theories. While the latter are obtained strictly as much through one’s conjectures from one’s logical laws, as through one’s hypothetical sensible impression as through one’s hypothetical suprasensible impression, as through one’s conjectures from sensible experience as through one’s hypothetical conjectures from (hypothetical) sensible impression, as through one’s hypothetical conjectures from (hypothetical) suprasensible impression, as through one’s hypothetical conjectures from hypothetical other conjectures from (hypothetical) sensible experience, hypothetical other ones from some logical laws, hypothetical other ones from (hypothetical) suprasensible impression, and hypothetical other ones from (hypothetical) sensible impression (whether those hypothetical other conjectures are one’s conjectures or borrowed to someone else)—and are therefore dependent (in a complete mode) on one’s logical laws, but not only dependent on one’s logical laws. Hence the logical laws are interdependent to some extent (and only to some extent) with the scientific theories—and notably (but not only) dependent on them, and reciprocally.

Other problems with “Quine’s epistemological holism” should be addressed, which I’ll leave aside here. Regarding the question of whether a logical law can be objectively certain, O.W. Quine is right against Ayn Rand that no logical law can be objectively certain. The Randian ontology (which Quine, to my knowledge, does not address) is notably flawed in that it believes the traditionally admitted logical laws in formal logic (namely the laws of identity, non-contradiction, excluded-middle, etc.) to be deduced from ontological laws objectively grasped through sensible experience.

The fact is that sensible experience allows us to notice that those entities inhabiting our fragment of the universe are characterized with identity (i.e., the fact of being what they are—and only what they are—at some point in some respect), non-contradiction (i.e., the fact of not being both what they are and what they are not at some point in some respect), excluded-middle (i.e., the fact of being either something or something else, but not both, at some point in some respect), etc.; but allows us to notice neither that those characteristics are (either intrinsically or extrinsically) necessary in that moment of the universe nor that they are (either intrinsically or extrinsically) necessary in any moment of the universe nor that they are necessary in any entity inhabiting the universe at any moment of the universe.

Though the human mind can conjecture (from sensible experience) or have the impression (from sensible experience) that those characteristics are present in all entities at any moment and intrinsically necessary (in a strong mode), or come to the belief that they are present in all entities at any moment and intrinsically necessary (in a strong mode) following suprasensible experience (which is, at best, approximative), it cannot grasp those alleged omnipresence in time and space and intrinsic necessity through sensible experience. Just as both Quine and Rand are right that no logical law one makes use of at some point can be true independently of reality, both unfortunately miss the fact that is suprasensible experience (in some humans) and the fact that a logical law used, trusted, at some point in someone’s mind (whether it is one universally admitted in the community of scientists and scholars at the considered moment) is sometimes the fruit, notably, of suprasensible experience (or notably its fruit to some extent).

Another flaw in Randian ontology is that it conceives of the claim that the world is eternal (i.e., endowed with no temporal beginning and with no temporal ending) and intrinsically necessary as a claim merely describing an objective component of sensible experience. Yet sensible intelligence allows us to notice that there is existence around us, but not that “existence exists” in an eternal, intrinsically necessary mode; such claim is really a conjecture from sensible experience or an account of a sensible impression, not a description of all or part of sensible experience. Sensible experience does not even allow us to notice whether those entities around us are existent outside of the sensible experience we have of them, i.e., are existent as external rather than simulated entities.

Just like a concept correspondent with reality is one whose object with its constitutive properties such as posited in the concept’s attached definition exists in reality (whether one speaks of the material realm of reality), a concept not-correspondent with reality is one whose object with its constitutive properties such as posited in the concept’s attached definition lacks in reality (whether one speaks of the material realm of reality). (Since a concept’s meaning, i.e., its object taken from the angle of its constitutive properties, is socially held as synonymous with the concept’s socially attached definition, saying that a concept’s object is correctly or incorrectly posited, defined, in the concept in question is a convenient way of saying that it is correctly or incorrectly posited, defined, in the concept’s socially attached definition).

In contradiction with its own claim that no statement can be true or wrong independently of reality, the Randian ontology surreptitiously conceives of some kind of statement as being one wrong (and proven wrong) independently of reality. What the Randian ontology calls a “stolen concept” is a concept that, in some statement, finds itself used in such a way that the statement in question finds itself both asserting the validity of that concept (i.e., its correspondence with reality) and denying the validity (i.e., the correspondence with reality) of another concept on which “it logically and genetically depends.” According to the Randian ontology, the self-contradiction present in any statement stealing a concept B from a concept A is not only independent of reality; it proves (despite itself) the validity of the concept A (i.e., the correspondence of the concept A with reality).

Further, according to the Randian ontology, the Proudhonian statement that “property is theft,” as well as, for instance, the statement that “the laws of logic are arbitrary,” are such cases of a statement stealing a concept B from a concept A. While the allegedly self-contradictory character of the statement that “property is theft” allegedly proves the legitimate, not-stolen character of peacefully acquired private property, the allegedly self-contradictory character of the statement that “the laws of logic are arbitrary” allegedly proves the existence of objectively certain laws in logic. A fact worth recalling as a prelude to identifying the flaws of the Randian ontology on the issue of the “stolen concept” is that most concepts are endowed with a general meaning and sub-meanings, i.e., modalities of the general meaning, such as the general meaning itself taken in isolation. (The several sub-meanings contained in a same concept are not to be confused with the several concepts a same word subsumes).

Thus the concept of color includes a sub-meaning for which the correspondent definition in language is a “visual characteristic distinct from the size, the thickness, the transparency, and the shape”—as well as a sub-meaning for which the socially correspondent definition is a “visual characteristic associated with a wavelength.” (Since a meaning or sub-meaning is socially deemed to be synonymous with the socially attached definition, saying that the concept of color includes the sub-meaning, for instance, of a “visual characteristic distinct from the size, the thickness, the transparency, and the shape” is a convenient way of saying that the definition socially attached to one of its sub-meanings is as put above).

The statement that “the red is not a color” is one that the Randian ontology would qualify as a theft of concept. Said ontology would have us believe that, in “the red is not a color,” the concept of color is a necessary condition for the concept of red; and that the statement in question is thus rendered self-contradictory and that the contradiction in question proves the existence of “color” in the world.

The statement that “the white and the black are not colors” is also one that the Randian ontology would qualify as a theft of concept. It would have us believe that, in such statement, the concepts of white and black are “stolen;” and that their allegedly stolen character proves the correspondence of the concept of color with reality. Yet the statement that “the red is not a color” is admittedly self-contradictory (in that the concept of color—regardless of which sub-meaning for the concept of color is retained in the statement in question—serves as a necessary condition for the concept of red); but that self-contradictory character does not prove the concept of color to be correspondent with reality.

A statement saying two things that contradict each other does not prove the existence of one or other of those things—including when it comes to a statement both denying the correspondence (with reality) of a concept A and claiming the correspondence (with reality) of a concept B for which the concept A serves as a necessary condition. The self-contradictory character of such statement proves no more the correspondence of the concept A than it proves the correspondence of the concept B.

As for the statement that “the white and the black are not colors,” instead of such statement being necessarily self-contradictory, it is actually self-contradictory when taking the concept of color in the general meaning of “a visual characteristic distinct from the size, the thickness, the transparency, and the shape;” but not when taking that concept in the more precise meaning of a visual characteristic that—besides being distinct from the size, the thickness, the transparency, and the shape—finds itself associated with a wavelength. In such statement, the concepts of white and black find themselves “stolen” when it comes to the concept of color taken in the above-evoked general meaning, not when it comes to the above-evoked more precise meaning. Even when the concept of color finds itself taken in the above-evoked general meaning, the statement that “the white and the black are not colors” does not prove the concept of color to be correspondent with reality.

The Randian claim that a statement stealing a concept B from a concept A proves (despite itself) the correspondence of the concept A—and that those statements that are “property is theft” or “the laws of logic are arbitrary” accordingly prove the respective correspondence of the concepts of (legitimate) property and of (objectively certain) logic laws—is flawed at two levels. On the one hand, it misses the fact that a statement stealing a concept B from a concept A does not prove the concept A to be correspondent with reality; on the other hand, it misses the fact that a same statement can be both a statement stealing a concept B from a concept A when A or B is taken in a certain sub-meaning—and a statement making use of the concept B coherently with the concept A when A or B is taken in another sub-meaning. Thus if, in the statement “property is theft,” one takes the concept of property in the sub-meaning of “private property,” and the concept of theft in the sub-meaning of “the private property of what is given to everyone without any distinction,” then the use made of the concept of theft is actually coherent with the concept of property.

The statement “property is theft” is indeed to be taken then in the sense that “private property is the private property of what is given to everyone without any distinction, what allows to speak of private property as a theft of what is everyone’s property.” Likewise, if one, in the statement “the laws of logic are arbitrary,” takes the concept of laws of logic in the sub-meaning of “the laws one expects oneself and others to follow in the construction of reasonings,” and the concept of arbitrary in the sub-meaning of “the fact of not being objectively corroborated or, at least, of not being objectively certain,” then the use made of the concept of arbitrary is actually coherent with the concept of laws of logic. The statement “the laws of logic are arbitrary” is indeed to be taken then in the sense that “the laws one expects oneself and others to follow in the construction of reasonings are, if not deprived of an objectively corroborated character, at least deprived of an objectively certain character, what allows to speak of them as arbitrary.”

The Idea Of The Good And The Jump From Ideational Essence To Material Existence

In its investigation of the relationship of concepts (whether they are “stolen” or coherently used) to reality, the Randian ontology systemically misses the fact that concepts are corroborated rather than confirmed by reality; and the fact that definitions when updated are not left intact on that occasion but instead dismissed then rectified—whether the update consists of extending or relativizing them.

If we were to discover an animal that, without being a bird, would be endowed with a beak, then the definition associated with the (generic) concept of beak would be rectified from such discovery (rather than updated in a paradoxical mode leaving intact the definition). The concept in question would define, henceforth, its object no more as “a horny, teeth-less mouth only found in birds;” but instead as “a horny, teeth-less mouth like the one, for instance, of a bird.”

On that occasion, the concept of beak would evolve with its definition and, accordingly, the sequence of terms “a horny, teeth-less mouth only found in birds” would be no more claimed in the language to be synonymous with the term “beak.” Yet the Randian ontology would have us believe that, in the statement “I saw a kind of animal which looked like a bear except it was endowed with a beak like a bird,” the concept of beak is “stolen” from the concept of bird. The fact is that, in such statement, the concept of beak is implicitly updated in such a way that the use made of said concept in said statement is one coherent with the concept of bird (rather than one stealing the concept of beak from the concept of bird). Holding such statement does not prove that a beak is indeed a horny, teeth-less mouth that is notably (but not only) constitutive of a bird, which is also constitutive of a certain genre of animal that (except it is endowed with a beak like a bird) looks like a bear.

Yet the human knowledge of an individual material entity’s material essence (i.e., the sum of an individual entity’s constitutive properties over the course of its existence—whether those are generic or unique, and whether those are intrinsically necessary or extrinsically contingent or extrinsically necessary) only occurs through conjecturing from the sensible datum (or from sensible impression)—and through suprasensible intuition. It cannot occur through mere sensible intuition as the latter, while allowing us to touch, see, etc., some individual entities, gives us empirical access neither to the material essences of those empirically accessed individual entities—nor to their ideational essences.

While the material essence of an individual material entity is the sum of all the entity’s constitutive properties over the course of its existence, the ideational essence of an individual material entity, which finds itself inscribed in an ideational model, is the sum of all the entity’s properties over the course of its existence (including those properties that are accessory rather than constitutive). Humans could deduce the material essences from empirical intuition if—and only if—empirical intuition of the universe’s whole infinite content and whole past, present, and future history were possible to humans; but such mode of empirical intuition is impossible to them.

What they are left with if they are to grasp the material essences is the following two options. On the one hand, conjecturing what are those material essences from our sensible intuition of a certain portion of the universe—namely that portion of the universe that is empirically offered to us at a certain point of its history. (Induction is part—and only part—of such conjecturing process). On the other hand, grasping suprasensibly the ideational essences of the individual material entities—more precisely, the modeled constitutive properties inscribed within those ideational essences contained in ideational models. Both processes are doomed to be endless ones which can only obtain results that are, at best, approximative. Just like suprasensible experience can only grasp a deformed, mutilated echo of the ideational realm taken as a whole or of an ideational entity within it, sensible experience can only grasp a singular entity as it stands at some point, not its material essence nor the universe taken as a whole at some point nor the universe taken as whole in its whole past, present, and future history.

As for the (material) existence of some entity at some point of the universe, it is no more a product of the fact that the correspondent ideational essence includes the property of existing than it can be deduced from the fact that the concept for the singular material entity in question includes (if correctly constructed) the property of existing. The existence itself of God, whom I perhaps should clarify is not to be confused with what, following Plato’s wording, can be called “the Idea of Good,” cannot be deduced from the fact that the concept of God (if correctly constructed) includes the impossibility for God not to exist in an eternal mode.

In essence, Plato correctly referred to the Idea of Good as being itself not an ideational model for some hypothetical singular entity—but instead the ideational entity allowing for several ideational models to exist, to be what they are, and to be an object of knowledge. It should be added that the Idea of Good is, more precisely, a sorting, actualizing pulse that, while encompassing (and expressing itself through) the whole realm of the ideational models (both generic and singular), chooses in an atemporal, virtual mode which of the hypothetical material singular entities are to be concretized at some point in the material, temporal realm.

Also, it should be added that the universe taken as a whole—and perhaps each parallel universe taken as a whole—are a material, temporal incarnation of the Idea of Good (which thus serves as an ideational model for the universe taken as whole—and perhaps for other universes parallel to ours); and that the Idea of Good nonetheless remains completely external to the universe while incarnating itself into the universe. The same applies to those ideational models for possible singular material entities which are concretized—namely that they incarnate themselves into the correspondent material singular entities while remaining completely external to them and completely virtual.

While our universe is temporal and endowed with a temporal beginning from the nothingness, the Idea of Good whose incarnation it is is both atemporal (i.e., subject to a time in which past, present, and future are simultaneous) and eternal (i.e., subject to a time with no beginning and no end); but neither the Idea of Good nor the universe nor any material singular entity can have its existence deduced from its concept. The existence of a hypothetical material entity (within the universe) modeled in some correctly posited, defined, concept could be deduced from the inclusion of the property of existing in the concept in question if—and only if—the property of existing inscribed in an ideational essence were implied by all or part of the non-existential properties inscribed in an ideational essence. Just like the same applies to the universe, the same applies to the Idea of Good and to God himself: namely, that the (ideational) existence of the Idea of Good could be deduced from the fact its (correctly defined) concept includes its existence (in an eternal, intrinsically necessary mode with an eternal, intrinsically necessary permanence) if—and only if—its property of existing were implied by all or part of its non-existential properties; but an existential property has something to do with all or part of the non-existential properties neither in the Idea of Good nor in God nor in any hypothetical singular material entity modeled in an Idea nor in any material singular entity present at some point within our universe.

Our universe is not only made of the presence of those material singular entities inhabiting it at different stages of its history; it is also made of the absence of those material singular entities which, in an other scenario for the universe, would have been perhaps present but that, in the actual universe, are lacking at any stage of its history. Any (purely) fictional entity in our universe is an entity whose absence is a component for our universe; but not any absent entity is a fictional entity, i.e., an entity present in the fictional realm imagined in our universe. Whether an absent entity is fictional, its absence is an ingredient of our universe; whether it is fictional, its absence cannot be deduced from the fact its concept (if correctly posited, defined) includes its property not of (materially) existing.

Each ideational model in the virtual, atemporal plane includes a set of existential properties, i.e., a set of properties about whether the concerned modeled entity is modeled as an existing entity (and about the modeled mode of existence in the general sense for the concerned modeled entity—if the latter happens to be modeled as an existing entity); but the fact for a certain ideational model of including the property that the concerned modeled entity is endowed with existence does not render said entity an actually existing entity in our universe. Reciprocally, the fact for a certain ideational model, of including the property that the concerned modeled entity is deprived of existence, does not render said entity an actually inexistent entity in our universe. Just like, in an existent singular material entity, the property of existing is not implied by all or part of the non-existential properties, the presence of the property of existing in a modeled hypothetical entity is not implied by all or part of the included non-existential properties.

The fact that the presence of the property of existing in some ideational essence has nothing to do with what are the non-existential properties present within the ideational essence in question serves as a necessary, sufficient condition for the fact that the fact for an existent singular material entity of being has nothing to do with the fact for said entity of being what it is (in addition to its existential properties).

The only way for material existence of being deduced from the presence of the property of existing within the ideational essence would be that the property of existing included in the ideational essence is implied by all or part of the included non-existential properties; but none of the existential properties included in the ideational essence has something to do with the non-existential properties included in the ideational essence. If the fact for the ideational model of some hypothetical singular entity of including the modeled property of existing were a product of all or part of the non-existential properties modeled in the ideational model in question, then the hypothetical singular entity in question would be rendered materially existent by the sole presence of the property of existing within its ideational essence, then its material existence could be deduced from the sole fact its ideational essence includes the property of existing.

Conversely, if the fact for the ideational model of some hypothetical singular entity of including the modeled property of existing has nothing to do with all or part of the modeled non-existential properties inscribed in the ideational model in question, then the hypothetical singular entity in question is not rendered existent by the sole presence of the property of existing within its ideational essence, then its existence cannot be deduced from the sole fact its ideational essence includes the property of existing. The sorting, actualizing pulse that is the Idea of Good is instead what renders actually existent some modeled hypothetical singular entity endowed with the property of existing; just like it is what renders actually inexistent some modeled hypothetical singular entity endowed with the property of not existing—and some modeled hypothetical singular entity nonetheless endowed with the property of existing.

When selecting which immaterial, atemporal Ideas are concretized in our material, temporal universe, it is quite conceivable that the Idea of Good does not only get incarnated into our universe, but also into other universes parallel to ours. Thus it is quite conceivable that, in some universe parallel to ours, there can be found some singular entities that instead belong to fiction in ours and some fictional characters that are instead real in ours: for instance, there may be some parallel universe in which Tong Po and Attila are real, but Mohamed Qissi and Abdel Qissi fictional characters…

Conclusion—And The Idea Of The World’s Contingency

The “dignity of man” lies in his intermediate position between a beast (but one with chaotic instincts) and a being-like-divine (but who is only like-divine rather than divine strictly speaking). Whether when it comes to combatting bad magic in the name of good magic, or bad technique in the name of good technique, “the former is the most deceptive practice,” but “the latter is the deepest and the holiest philosophy.” “The former is sterile and vain,” but “the latter firm, trustworthy and unshakeable.” God does not only expect the human to hunt the material essences, the knowledge of which in humans can be approximative, but can never be achieved; he also expects the humans to co-create the universe alongside God himself, what is an endless task which asks to be carried out through knowledge, technique, and magic—and in complete submission to the laws that God established in its work and faces Himself.

The universe is neither meaningless nor God-forsaken; but the cosmic march proceeding under an ideational sun whose materialized light it is proceeds through mistakes which man as the bearer of a torch imitating the sun is expected to repair in complete humility to the sun. The question of whether the universe is contingent is, precisely, to be asked, on the one hand, from the angle of meaning: is the universe meaningful—rather than gratuitous, vain? On the other hand, it must be asked from the angle of factuality: is the universe’s existence intrinsically necessary, i.e., self-sufficient and inescapable? Yet the universe—in that it is God’s incarnation—is driven by God’s persistent, fallible attempt to engender increasingly higher order and complexity within the universe, an attempt that is carried out in turn for what is the tendency towards entropy in the universe’s isolated systems. Thus the universe is endowed with meaning—the meaning that is purposeful creation of order and complexity, in which the human is invited to take part. Also, the universe’s existence is endowed with a temporal beginning—and therefore devoid of that mode of intrinsic necessity that is the one consisting of existing in an uncreated, inescapable mode.

If the universe had created itself from nothingness without its existence being inescapable, then its existence would be neither intrinsically nor extrinsically necessary; instead it would be extrinsically contingent. If the universe had created itself from nothingness without its existence being escapable, then the universe’s existence would be intrinsically necessary (rather than extrinsically necessary, intrinsically contingent, or extrinsically contingent); but the involved mode here of an intrinsically necessary existence would be the one consisting of existing in a self-created (rather than uncreated), inescapable (rather than avoidable) mode. If the universe was a product by God, then the universe would be extrinsically necessary (rather than intrinsically necessary or extrinsically contingent); whether it was created by God as permanent in an intrinsically necessary mode—or instead as provisory in an intrinsically necessary mode or even as permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode.

For my part, I claim the universe was created by God—but created neither as an emergent property of God nor as a product of God, but instead as an incarnation of God. Though God’s self-incarnation is a relational intrinsically necessary property co-eternal with God, the universe’s existence is not eternal—but instead endowed with a temporal beginning. Though the relational, innate property that is God’s self-incarnation finds itself occurring in a strong intrinsically necessary mode, the universe’s existence is both intrinsically contingent (and therefore extrinsically necessary)—and permanent in an extrinsically necessary mode—with regard to God; and extrinsically contingent—and permanent in an intrinsically necessary mode—with regard to the nothingness chronologically prior to the universe’s chronological start.

Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. He also worked on a (currently finalized) conversation book with the philosopher, Howard Bloom. See his website:

Featured image: “Earthbound,” by Evelyn De Morgan, painted 1897.

Pope Saint Leo The Great: A Christmas Sermon

This sermon, by Pope Saint Leo the Great, was delivered on Christmas Day, 450 AD. It is here translated by Jane Patricia Freeland, C.S.B.J., and Agnes Josephine Conway, S.S.J. and extracted from Leo The Great: Sermons.

When the faithful meditate about divine things, dearly beloved, the Birth of our Lord and Savior from his Mother comes to mind every day and all the time. For, a mind that is poised to acknowledge its Maker—whether occupied in the sighs of entreaty, or the exultation of praise, or the offering of sacrifice—such a mind touches upon nothing more frequently in its spiritual insights, touches upon nothing more confidently, than the fact that God the Son of God, begotten by his co-eternal Father, was also born through a human birth.

But no day suggests to us more than today that this Nativity should be worshipped in heaven and on earth. With a new light radiating even in the atoms themselves, no day more than today impresses the entire splendor of this amazing mystery upon our senses. We recall not only to mind, but even—in a way—to sight, the conversation of Gabriel with the astonished Mary, the Conception by the Holy Spirit (as marvelous in being promised as it was in being actually granted), the Maker of the world brought forth from a virginal womb, and the one who established all natures made the Son of her whom he had created.

On this day, the Word of God appeared clothed in flesh, and, what could not even have been seen by human eyes before, “could” now “be touched with the hands.” On this day, the shepherds learned from angelic voices that a Savior had been born in the substance of our body and soul. On this day, a new archetype for proclaiming the Gospel was deposited with those who preside over the Lord’s flock, so that we too might say with the celestial host: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good Will.”

That infancy, which the majesty of God’s Son did not scorn, was eventually brought to perfect manhood with the increase of age. When the triumph of his Passion and Resurrection had been brought to completion, all the activities of the lowliness he had undertaken for our sake passed away. Today’s feast, nevertheless, renews for us the sacred beginnings of Jesus’ Birth from the Virgin Mary. As we worship the Birth of our Savior, we find ourselves celebrating our own origin as well. For the Conception of Christ is the origin of the Christian people, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body.

All of the elect have their own special place, and the Church’s children are set off from one another by the passage of time. Yet all of us, the whole sum of believers who have sprung from the baptismal font, just as we have been crucified with Christ in his Passion, been raised with him in his Resurrection, and been set at the right hand of the Father in his Ascension, so too have we been born along with him in his Nativity.

Whenever believers in any part of the world undergo regeneration in Christ, they become transformed into “new human beings,” through a rebirth—once the path of their original “former selves” has been cut off. They are no longer considered to be in the lineage of their carnal father, but are counted among the descendants of their Savior. It was precisely so that we might be able to become children of God that he was made the child of a human being. Had he not come down to us in this humility, none could come to him by any merits of their own.

May earthly wisdom not bring murkiness here into hearts of the elect. May this dust, possessed of earthly thoughts and destined to go back soon into the depths, not raise itself up against the sublimity of God’s grace. Now, “at the end of ages” what had been arranged “before time began” has been accomplished. Now that the symbolism of figures has given way to the actual presence of reality, the law and prophecy have been turned into truth.

Abraham has indeed become “the father of all nations,” and “the promised blessing” has been given to the world “in his seed.” No, it is not only those whom flesh and blood has begotten that are Israelites. Rather, the whole adopted group have entered into that inheritance prepared for the children of faith. Let the deceitful insolence of foolish questions not cause an uproar. Let human reasoning not dilute the effects of God’s work. We “with Abraham put our faith in God, nor do we hesitate in reservation.” “Instead, we know full well that God has the power to bring about what he has promised.”

Our Savior, dearly beloved, was born not from the seed of flesh, but from the Holy Spirit. As a result, the condemnation of that first transgression did not have a hold on him. Hence, the very magnitude of the gift that was bestowed demands of us a reverence worthy of its splendor. As the blessed Apostle teaches, therefore, “we have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we might know what things have been given to us by God.” He cannot be duly worshipped except by offering back to him what he himself has given.

What can we find in the treasure of the Lord’s generosity so appropriate to the honor of this celebration as peace? Peace was the first thing proclaimed by the angelic choir at the Lord’s Nativity. It is peace which gives birth to “children of God.” Peace nurses love, engenders unity, gives repose to the blessed, and provides a home to eternity. It has for its own particular work and special benefit the joining to God of those whom it separates from the world. Wherefore, the Apostle urges us to this good when he says, “Justified then by faith, we are at peace with God.” In this brief sentence is contained the force of almost all the commandments. Where the truth of peace has been, no virtue can be lacking.

Indeed, what is it, dearly beloved, to be at peace with God except to will what he bids and to refuse what he forbids? If like minds and similar wills seek one another out in human friendships. and differences in lifestyle can never attain to a stable concord, how will someone have a share in peace with God if that someone takes pleasure in things that displease God and purposely takes delight in things by which he knows God to be offended?

Children of God do not take that kind of attitude. No, adopted nobility does not admit of such wisdom. Let the “chosen and royal race” respond to the dignity of its regeneration, let it love what its Father loves, and let it not rebel from its Creator in anything—so that the Lord might not say once again: “I have given birth to children and raised them, but they have repudiated me. Oxen recognize their owner, while an ass knows its master’s stall; but Israel does not realize who I am, and my people have not understood me.”

This favor involves a great mystery, dearly beloved, and this gift surpasses all gifts—that God should call a human being his child and that human beings should refer to God as their Father. From these titles, we perceive and we learn who it is that can rise up to so great a height of affection. If, in human offspring and earthly lineage, the vices of an evil life draw a cloud over the children of illustrious parents, if unworthy descendants are put to shame by the very reputation of their ancestors, how badly will they finish up who for love of this world are not afraid to be disowned from the lineage of Christ. But, if it wins praise among men for the honor of fathers to be reflected in their progeny, how much more glorious is it for those born of God to mirror brightly the image of their Creator and to show in themselves the one who created them? As the Lord said, “So must your light shine before human beings, that upon seeing your good works they may extol your Father who is in heaven.”

We know too well that, as the Apostle John says, “the whole world rests under the sway of the evil one.” Laying down traps, the devil and his angels strive through innumerable temptations either to scare off human beings (with obstacles) from their struggle toward the things above or to corrupt them (with success). But “greater is the one with us than the one” against us. No battles can overpower us, no conflicts harm us if “we are at peace with God,” and continually say to the Father with all our heart, “Thy will be done.”

When we accuse ourselves by our own confession and deny a consent of the heart to carnal appetites, we of course rile up against us the enmity of the one who gave rise to sin, but we build up an invincible peace with God. In rendering service to the grace of God, we are not only made subject to our King through obedience, but are even joined to him through the will. If we are of one mind with him (willing what he wills, disapproving of what he disapproves), he himself will bring us victory in all our battles. He who has given the “will” will bestow also the ability. In this way can we “cooperate,” with his works, speaking that prophetic utterance in the exultation of faith: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?”

Let those then “who were born not from blood, nor from the will of flesh, but from God” offer concord to God as peace-loving children. Let all the adopted members join together into that “firstborn” of new “creation” who came “not to do his own will, but that of the one who sent him.” For the Father’s grace has not adopted as heirs those who disagree or differ, but, rather, those who “think the same thing” and love the same thing. Those who have been “re-fashioned” according to one and the same image ought all to have the same kind of heart.

The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace, for, as the Apostle says, “He is our peace who made both things one.” Whether Jew or Gentile, “we have access to the Father through him, in a single Spirit.” On the day before his Passion (a day chosen beforehand according to a voluntary arrangement), it was this doctrine especially in which he instructed his disciples, so as to say: “My peace I give you, my peace I leave you.” So that the particular characteristics of his peace would not lie hidden beneath a generic word, he added [the following qualification]: “Not as the world gives do I give to you.” He was saying that the world has its own kinds of friendship, joining many hearts together with a distorted love. There are even some who are like-minded in vices, and the similarity of their desire engenders an equivalence in their affection.

If perhaps some should be found who take no pleasure in perverse and dishonorable things, who exclude unlawful concords from the bond of their mutual affection, they do so—if they be Jews or heretics or infidels—not out of a friendship with God, but from the peace of this world. When it comes to those who belong to the Spirit and who have kept the universal faith, peace comes down from above and leads right back up. It does not wish to mingle in communion with lovers of this world, but, rather, to resist all obstacles and to fly away from destructive pleasures to true joys—as the Lord says, “Where your treasure has been, there also will be your heart,” that is to say, if the things which you have affection for are down below, you will go down to the depths; if the things which you love “are up above,” you will go up to the heights.

May the Spirit of peace guide us and lead us there, with us willing the same thing and “thinking the same thing,” with our hearts joined in faith, hope, and love. For, “whoever are guided by the Spirit of God, they are children of God,” who lives and reigns with the Son and with the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

The featured image shows the adoration of the Magi. Panel from a Roman sarcophagus, 4th century AD. From the cemetery of St. Agnes in Rome.

A Fatherless World: A Reading Of Dostoevsky’s Demons

Did the great writer Feodor Dostoevsky know when he was writing his landmark novel, Demons (also translated as, The Possessed) that he was recording a prophecy? This novel astounds its readers again and again with its description of revolutionary forces past, present, and future—descriptions that span a number of levels: psychological, spiritual, and mundane, and the subtle interconnections between each. It is set in the microcosm of a nameless provincial Russian town, but history shows that the blueprint, the seeds, and the mentality are universal. Anyone who wishes to understand how the bloody revolution gained momentum in Russia, and how it could do so anywhere, must definitely read this book.

This topic is enormous, and surprisingly little has been written in English on the subject of revolution and Dostoevsky’s Demons. Needless to say, it was banned after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, and an aura of prejudice remained around it in the late soviet era. Perhaps in the West, the subtleties are harder to grasp—one needs to understand at least a little the Orthodox Christian soul of Russia. But one sub-theme that is painfully relevant to us everywhere seems to run through the novel, linking the chain of personalities and deeds that lead up to the final breakdown of a once stable society: It is the theme of fatherlessness.

The phenomenon of fatherlessness has a name in Russian that evokes a whole modern portrait. It is the word, “bezotsovshchina”—bezotsov meaning “without fathers”, with the suffix “-shchina” implying a state or phenomenon. The suffix is usually attached to something negative, or at least nuanced in a negative direction. Demons seems to break the record for its number of pointedly fatherless anti-heroes.

It must first be noted that part of what makes Dostoevsky such an outstanding writer is that there are no unnecessary details, no useless digressions, or picturesque descriptions simply for the sake of beauty (or ugliness) itself. The absence of fathers in the characters’ family is but a passing detail—but an important detail. Even the names are descriptive and indicate to the reader what purpose each character serves in his tightly-woven story. We begin with the first character whom the narrator introduces in the novel: Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky.

“In approaching the recent, very strange events that occurred in our hitherto rather unremarkable town, I feel that I must start further back by supplying some facts about the life of the gifted and well-respected Stepan Trofimofich Verkhovensky. This may serve as an introduction to the story to come.” Note that the story begins with Stepan Verkhovensky, whose not irreproachable yet loveable personality is immediately explained by his childhood daydreams of “taking a gallant civic stand”—that is, becoming a romantic, important figure. The narrator points to his role in the future terrible event, but at the same time offers an excuse for him, saying that “after all, his behavior was milder and less offensive, for he was really a very nice man.” This indicates that those to come after him are not nice, mild, men, and were rather more offensive. His surname is also points to the fact that he would be the first in a line of people bearing his “seed”—the root “verkh” indicates “upper” or “over the others”.

Stepan Verkhovensky is described as man of letters, a scholar, who in reality has no academic achievements—something generally overlooked by those in his town, who generally indulge his vanity. He is basically spat out by the revolutionary circles of Herzen and Belinsky because they understand that he hasn’t the real stuff of a revolutionary, but his imagination is able to transform his “exile” from St. Petersburg to this provincial town and general irrelevance into something like martyrdom.

His main social coin is his elegance, which was acquired and not inherent, as the narrator shows in a passing remark that could almost go unnoticed: “Verkhovensky felt he had to make a good impression, which should have been easy with his elegant manners. For, although he was, I believe, of humble origin, he had been brought up from earliest boyhood in a well-known Moscow family and spoke French like a native Parisian.” So, Stepan Verkhovensky is also fatherless, otherwise he would not have been brought up in someone else’s family. But that is all we know about his origins. We know that he is basically good and decent, but severed from his real family he grows up nursed on his own daydreams of greatness, a fantasy supported by his highly cultured environment in what was probably a noble family of very old lineage.

Because he grew up in this fantasy world without a real father, he is basically incapable of having a serious family life of his own—only a series of romantic monogamous relationships without any responsibility. The fruit of one of these relationships would become the novel’s main monster, but more about him later.

We find Stepan Verkhovensky in the novel no longer young, and because he has no real achievements, and no real family, he has become the de facto dependent of a wealthy widow—Varvara Petrovna Stavrogina—whose estate is located near the small house he inherited from his first wife. Mrs. Stavrogina hired Stepan as a tutor to her only son, Nicholai, and her other underaged wards.

Mrs. Stavrogina and Stepan Verkhovensky had a “strange relationship”. She became the mother he perhaps never had, but when a man is fifty years old and dependent upon a “mother”, the relationship is bound to be strange. The narrator points out early in the novel that “he had become, above all, a sort of son for her—a creation, her own invention… She had invented him, and she was also the first to believe in her own invention. He was a bit like a part of her private daydream. Consequently, she made great demands upon him, almost making a slave of him.” Varvara Stavrogina also dreamed of becoming an important public figure, and thus she needed this man whose main asset was his learned refinement.

Nevertheless, for all the dysfunction in their platonic friendship they were truly, deeply attached to each other, and as the narrator first described it, “Separation is unthinkable because the one who loses his temper and decides to break it up would probably die himself if he went through with it.” So, Varvara Petrovna continually seeks to put Stepan to good use. However, when they go to St. Petersburg to offer their services to the “Cause”, they leave utterly humiliated. The new generation of liberals, spawned by the older generation of liberals, turns out to be completely without any veneer of refinement, and only mocks and ridicules their forebears. S. Verkhovensky finds that his supposedly noble ideas have become the “toys of mindless brats”.

Nicolas Stravrogin, Varvara’s son, grew up essentially fatherless. Even when his frivolous father was alive he was estranged from his wife, who was by far the wealthier of the two. Verkhovensky was invited to be Nicholai’s tutor when he was eight years old. With an absent father he was completely under the care of his mother, who “didn’t talk to him much and hardly ever prevented him from doing what he wanted”. She was not the kind of mother who could even have pretended to replace a father, and to make matters worse she tried to fill the gap with Stepan Verkhovensky. “In fairness to Mr. Verkhovensky, it must be said that he knew how to gain the affection of his pupil. His secret was quite simple: he was a child himself.” However, Verkhovensky indulged himself in a way totally impermissible for a professional tutor: He would wake the boy up at night and confide family secrets in him, pour his heart out to him about his own grievances against his mother, and they would sob in each other’s arms. “We may assume that the tutor was to some extent responsible for upsetting his pupil’s nerves…”

Amazingly, Dostoevsky touches here on what is now well known in psychology concerning the psyche of some men who grew up fatherless, and their vulnerability to a father figure, no matter how that figure fails as an example of manhood. “We may assume that the two friends’ tears, when they sobbed in each other’s arms at night, were not always caused by domestic intrigues. Mr. Verkhovensky had managed to touch the deepest-seated chords in the boy’s heart, causing the first, still undefined, sensation of the undying, sacred longing that a superior soul, having once tasted, will never exchange for vulgar satisfaction. (There are even people who value that longing more than the more radical fulfillment, even when it is possible.)” This gives us a hint as to why Nicholai Stravrogin, a handsome, gifted, and elegant man, was not only incapable of loving the women who adored him, but took a certain pleasure in tormenting them. He was guilty of serious crimes and various outrages, but he was never held accountable because no one seemed to be able to decide whether he was a tormented superior soul, mentally ill, or simply an evil man wearing a mask of mystery and elegance.

This unhealthy relationship was observed, and Nicholas was sent to boarding school, where he became even more distant from his mother, who nevertheless sends him all the money he requests. He becomes a reckless, wanton bully who exploits high society women and then insults them publicly. It is in this depraved St. Petersburg period that he takes an action that is interpreted in turns as either noble or base, but around which the entire novel ultimately revolves, and which triggers the tragic finale.

The implications of the surname Stavrogin clearly come to rest in Nicholas. The root “stav” means “to put”, while “rog” means “horn”. These two words together also form an idiom used in reference to marital infidelity.

Having failed miserably in the capital, Stepan Verkhovensky becomes the ideological leader to a group of young people in the province. But soon his real son Peter arrives, and takes what was deemed lofty ideology to its next level, causing great harm to people’s lives and in fact, disrupting the life of this staid provincial town. Peter Verkhovensky was born to Stepan Verkhovensky’s frivolous first wife while the couple was living in Germany. This fact also points to a kind of fatherlessness—Russians often call their country either the Fatherland—Otechesvto, or the Motherland—Rodina. This child was born without a Fatherland, so to speak. Stepan Verkhovensky had sent his little son back to Russia “like a package”, where he was raised in a foster family. He grows up to be precisely what the apostle talks about: “Without natural affection” (Rom. 1:31; 2 Tim. 3:3). If out of Nicholai Stravrogin, Verkhovensky senior’s “foster son”, some noble feeling or passion would occasionally break loose, the senior’s natural son is utterly devoid of any real feeling, never mind anything noble or Christian. To the contrary, he’s like the devil himself.

Even the physical description of him given when he appears on the scene as an intruder at a provincial evening gives us the impression of a reptile, a serpent: “No one could say he was bad-looking, yet nobody liked his looks. His head was elongated at the back and seemed compressed at the sides, making his face rather pointed. His forehead was high and narrow and his other features small and fine: a sharp nose and long, thin lips.” He had deep folds on his cheeks and wrinkles on his cheekbones. “He moved and walked hurriedly, even when he wasn’t pressed for time… He spoke rapidly and hurriedly, but with assurance, and without having to search for the right word… One began to imagine that the tongue in his mouth had something special about it, that it was very long and thin, very red, and exceptionally pointed, with a constantly flickering tip.”

Peter Verkhovensky, who openly despises his own father, seems to be seeking a father in Nicholai Stavrogin. Stavrogin is the only person Peter looks up to, even idolizes. Stavrogin is everything Peter is not, and the latter is well aware that his own image is not polished or charismatic enough to take charge of the Cause outside their provincial town. He wants to make Stavrogin the figurehead of a movement Peter would control behind the scenes, and he is even willing to humiliate himself before Stavrogin’s contempt. Peter, like a devil, wants to use Stravrogin as his antichrist.

Of course, the simple fact that Peter Verkhovensky grew up fatherless is not intended to show that fatherlessness is itself an indictment, that such children will always turn out bad. I think that Dostoevsky uses this very negative figure to characterize a revolutionary leader, types he had himself been involved with in his youth, who were basically “spawned” by the previous generation of poetic liberals who had given them no real upbringing, no rootedness, and no faith in God. The result was that many of them became not only atheists, but even antichrists.

Besides, there are two other characters in the novel who would prove that growing up without their natural father did not ruin them completely; however, they do not escape spiritual harm, because only a caring father can completely protect a child from the evils of the world. These are the Shatovs: Ivan Pavlovich and his sister, Daria (Dasha) Pavlovna. Ivan Shatov was the son of Varvara Petrovna’s valet, and Dasha became her ward. Varvara Petrovna was a complicated woman but very generous. She gave both of these peasant-born children educations and provided for them. Stepan Verkhovensky was also set as a mentor for them, inculcating liberal ideas into Shatov.

These ideas would cause him to be expelled from university. He goes down the path of the liberal “Westernizers”, travelling to Europe and entering into a “free-love” marriage with an “emancipated woman”. He even travels to America to see what life is like without a monarchy. After returning to Russia, he completely sheds his revolutionary ideas and begins to earn his own meager living, accepting no more charity from his former benefactors. Stepan Verkhovensky considers him an ungrateful traitor to his ideas, saying that he is constantly shouting about “Holy Mother Russia—notre sainte Russie.” He supposes that it’s due to the violent upheaval in his personal life: His wife had amicably parted with him to pursue “freedom”, only to be abused by Stavrogin abroad. But the story shows that Shatov’s change of heart and return to his roots is more complex and profound—and he ultimately suffers for it.

Shatov is disgusted with the revolutionary “five” that has been commandeered by Verkhovensky Jr., and he becomes a morose loner. But the more we get to know him the more we see that he is a deep and noble soul, who has returned to his Christian roots. He is a defender of the downtrodden; and when his “emancipated” wife shows up at his poor home, he receives her lovingly and chastely, ready to start a new, wholesome life with her.

His sister, Dasha, also stumbles in that she is ready to do anything for the profligate Stravrogin because she is hopelessly in love with him. Her love is self-sacrificing, expressed in a readiness to forever serve a man whom she knows is incapable of loving her back.

But here we see a higher level in the ongoing theme of “fatherhood”. While Stravrogin makes nervous attempts to return to a “father”—he even visits the holy Bishop Tikhon to confess a grave sin—the demons in him always get the upper hand. Whereas although Dasha and Ivan Shatov are cut off in a sense from their natural father, they are able to return to the embrace of their Heavenly Father, and their earthly Fatherland. They are wounded, but capable of becoming whole.

More tragic is Elizaveta Nicholaevna Tushina (Liza), the daughter of Varvara Petrovna’s childhood friend, Praskovia Ivanovna Drozdova. Liza also lost her father in childhood, and also received the tutelage of Stepan Verkhovensky. She is lively, attractive, and intelligent, but capricious, and also fatally drawn to the dangerous Stravrogin like a moth to the flame. He ultimately destroys her—almost against his own will, urged on by the devilish Peter Verkhovensky. She is a good soul, with natural religious piety. Her distant relative Maurice Drozdov loves her tenderly, chastely, and selflessly. That such a man would love her is already an indication of her goodness.

It is interesting that the most noble, religious, wholesome, and self-sacrificing person in the whole novel is also possibly the only character coming from a normal family. His father was well known, upright and respected. Maurice, incidentally, is the only person that Peter Verkhovensky can’t manipulate. He has a firm understanding of right and wrong, and sees through all his evil machinations. Notable again is the surname, Drozdov.

The holy hierarch Philaret (Drozdov), Metropolitan of Moscow, was an important figure in the Russian literary world. It was he who answered Pushkin in the lofty, impeccable verses entitled, “Remember Me, Who Have Forgotten Thee”. In one episode, Maurice also very symbolically knees before a holy man whom his companions, which included Liza, had come to visit out of idle curiosity. To everyone’s astonishment, the holy elder bows down before him. As the tragic story unfolds, it becomes clear that this was a prophecy concerning the good Maurice, about whose fate at the end is only known that he left that town. Does he leave the world and become a holy monk?

There is one more fatherless child who appears only at the ominous end—Erkel, a young ensign artilleryman. “Erkel was the sort of “little fool” who lacked the real sense that should rule a man’s head… He was fanatically and childishly devoted to the Movement—that is, essentially to Peter Verkhovensky… Carrying out orders was a vital need of Erkel’s shallow, unthinking nature, which longed instinctively to be subordinated to another’s will. Oh, it goes without saying, it could only be in the name of some ‘great, common cause’—but what cause made no difference.” Erkel looks up to Peter Verkhovensky as the father he never had, someone to tell him what to do and guide him to something worthwhile. But in fact, Peter is really more like one of our modern cult leaders, teenage idols, or Antifa-type gang leaders who only use such youthful “zeal without knowledge” to their own egotistical ends, than he is a true father replacement. Erkel will do anything to gain his approval, even murder. His fanatical devotion to Peter makes him ready even to go to prison rather than betray him, imagining himself to be a kind of martyr for the “cause”.

Dostoevsky’s Demons portrays many more important psychological types who all contribute to the birth and growth of a Movement, the stated goal of which is “systematically to undermine the foundations of the existing order, to bring about the disintegration of the social structure and the collapse of all moral values, which would cause general demoralization and confusion. Then the broken, decaying society, sick and in full ferment, cynical and godless, but thirsting for some guiding idea and for self-preservation, could be taken over when the banner of revolution was raised…”

Most of those contributing to the movement don’t even realize that they are digging their own graves. One can’t help but recall the fate of the Russian intelligentsia who so blithely, simply to make themselves relevant in the academic world, conveyed their liberal ideas to the youth, who then bore that seed and produced a vast, satanic meatgrinder, even murdering the main father of the Russian land—the “Tsar Batiushka” as Russian folk used to call their “Little Father, the Tsar”. The elder liberals ultimately spawned the younger nihilists. These cultured surrogate fathers could only look in horror at their own creations before either escaping the country, or disappearing into the hopper themselves. But they had no authority to control them, and were no match for their infernal dedication.

Fatherlessness is a tragedy, and the cause of so many blighted lives. But the worst kind of fatherlessness is when people have lost their connection with God the Father. They become like the lost souls who follow the devil, symbolized in Demons by the younger Verkhovensky, into the abyss of lawlessness. Dostoevsky, however, showed by his own life that when one remembers God and seeks Him, he can be pulled out of that abyss—albeit not without profound suffering.

Nun Vornelia Rees is an Orthodox religious who writes on literature and theology. This article appears courtesy of Orthodox Christianity.

The featured image shows, “The Flight of Faust and Mephistopheles,” by Mikhail Vrubel; painted ca. 1890.