Michel Onfray and the Question of Christ

With his Théorie de Jésus, recently published by Bouquins, Michel Onfray once again returns to the (in)existence of Christ, and aims to dust off the “mythist” arguments. What does this book offer?

The thesis of the old rationalists is simple, and Onfray’s updating of it is not particularly original in its arguments: since there is “no proof” of the historical existence of Jesus, He can only be a conceptual, “paper” figure. Beyond the usual denials concerning the value of the testimonies of the Gospels and Christian writings (subjective and suspect), the “mini-biography” of Christ given by Flavius-Josephus (a forgery), the mentions of Roman historians (which would prove nothing other than the existence of Christianity), not to mention the material traces (shroud, relics…), Onfray indulges in an astonishing rereading of the life of Jesus.

His “theory”—undoubtedly influenced by a certain fascination with pagan myths—is that the character of Jesus is ultimately no more than a fictional construction, devised to fulfill the expectations and prophecies of the Old Testament. The correspondence between the prophecies and their fulfillment in the life of Christ, piously noted by Christian interpreters and apologists, thus became “proof” of His mythical reality.

The bulk of the book is taken up by an astonishing commentary on the Gospels, oscillating between classical interpretations, highlighting numerous Old Testament parallels, Gnostic flights of fancy and murderous remarks. The author’s Gnostic tropism is apparent in his repeated recourse to apocryphal sources and comparisons with pagan legends, as if Christianity were just another mythology—the only one, however, to have succeeded in establishing itself as real.

The figure of the “Onfrayan Christ” that emerges is not without its paradoxes: a “Judeocidal Jew,” a “nihilist,” who “takes God hostage,” distills a teaching that is sometimes universal, sometimes esoteric, who flouts the commandments of Jewish law and ultimately attracts the deserved wrath of the Jerusalem establishment. On the other hand, any literal reading of the Gospel accounts, especially those relating Jesus’ miracles, is discredited as “rationalism” and “positivism.”

Two hundred and fifty-some pages for a Théorie de Jésus is both a little and a lot, from an author who has already said and written so much on the subject. Reading it, one cannot help but wonder about his own positioning and personal biases. If Jesus is a myth, what is the point of these pages designed to deny His Mother’s virginity, to give this “paper character” blood brothers? If the Gospels are pure fiction, why take the time to question their authenticity and the identity of their authors, and why delay writing them?

Some of the arguments Michel Onfray uses seem decidedly crude and worn. The contradictions and clumsiness of the writing of the New Testament have been the object of pagan mockery since Roman times, but are they a sign of inauthenticity? On the contrary, the overall concordance of the accounts, in the midst of discrepancies in detail, reinforces the idea that the Gospels are indeed eyewitness accounts of real events. The numerous references to the Old Testament do not seem to us to be the hallmark of a legendary narrative, but rather the “touch” of the Jewish authors of the New Testament, deeply rooted in their own culture and references (just as Onfray cannot help quoting Flaubert when he speaks of Jesus). Are Scripture quotations the mark of an artificial character? When Jesus, on the cross, begins Psalm 22 (“My God, my God…”), he is simply using one of the fundamental prayers of His religion, learned from childhood and so often recited, just as a Christian recites his Pater or Ave on his deathbed.

We cannot help but arrive at the end of Théorie de Jésus with a taste of unfinished business. The stumbling block on which its author stumbles is indeed that which, rejected by the builders, became the cornerstone: Christ, God made man, Word incarnate. For the Body of Jesus, His concrete historical reality, refers to our own body and to that incarnate nature which our age rejects. Michel Onfray’s book will hopefully have the merit of raising the question of Christ in the spiritual desert of our time. For us Christians, it contrasts the realization that Christ is a concrete figure, flesh and blood, a real body given and real blood shed out of love to redeem our sins.


Father Paul Roy is a priest of the Fraternity of Saint-Pierre, and moderator of the site and training application Claves. This interview comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.


Featured: Christ on the Mount of Galilee, Siena Cathedral, by Duccio di Buoninsegna; painted ca. 1308-1311.


The Religion of Individualism

When friends understand each other well, when lovers understand each other well, when families understand each other well, then we believe ourselves to be in harmony. Pure deception, mirror for larks. Sometimes I feel that between two who smash each other’s faces with blows there is much more understanding than between those who are there watching from the outside (Julio Cortázar, Rayuela).

There are those who see in postmodernism a break with the rationalist tyranny of modernity, but that is only part of it, because it is not so much a separation from modernity as a continuation of its individualistic anthropology.

Postmodernism holds that only the individual knows, so that the person could and should self-identify as he or she chooses. Not only that, but the Promethean act of self-definition would be precisely the rebellion necessary to reformulate a system where all knowledge is really a pretension, a tyrannical lie to gain access to power. I did not invent this; it is Foucault who says so.

Postmodernity goes against the idea of truth because it states that truth cannot be known in its totality, and that any pretension to the contrary is an absolutist lie. Far from feeling defeated by this, it vehemently maintains the need to express itself without justification. It does not care about contradiction because no one can be a valid interlocutor. Only oneself can know oneself, and that is enough, since understanding between two different beings is fundamentally impossible.

It is curious how this doctrine justifies itself in order to take power and even to lie shamelessly. On the one hand, it says that real sense and real knowledge are impossible; on the other hand, it uses language instrumentally, cynically, to seize power. What matters to the postmodern is his “authenticity,” his own preconception of his being, his subjectivity. He claims to be an oppressed victim, but he does not care about oppressing in order to express himself, nor about being incongruent, since congruence is impossible. His is inevitable, autochthonous, natural selfishness.

In fact, for postmodernity the only thing that really exists is power and the need to use it: that would be knowledge. Put this way it sounds like the speech of a Hollywood villain, but it is not fiction. Or at least it is not just fiction, but faith in something, in a new religion; or in one that perhaps is not as new as one would like to believe.

The “new religion” is very much like Gnosticism, an ancient belief that paraded on the same individualistic catwalks as modernity and postmodernity. It proposed that full knowledge of this world was impossible, since Earth and Heaven were at war. Creation had been a failure: the demiurge (or “artificer”), trying to emulate a superior deity, created the world without the necessary wisdom, and therefore evil and ignorance existed in the world. That is to say, it is based on alienation from reality as a fundamental principle.

Some Gnostics said that the creation was deliberately misguided, in order to mock the main god; others, that it was simply ignorance without evil intention. However, these Gnostic views agreed that, in spite of the creator’s mistakes, he was unable to eliminate the spark of divinity that lies in man. As a consequence, they proposed that man must find and recognize in himself that spark of divinity in order to transcend the world and free him from the tyranny of this creator-traitor to become what he should always have been, a god.

It is somewhat similar to Christianity, on which it was superficially based, but it is also similar to humanism (and empiricism), which believes that man has the capacity to know the world if only he uses a certain faculty natural to the individual. Such is the Gnostic apotheosis: to search within oneself for the essence of the divine, in practice presupposing that “I am god” in the human eagerness to feel good. That is the religion of today, the mystical background of Freemasonry, the worship of one’s own human nature as an image of the divine.

For the modern, the spark of divinity is the human faculty of discursive reason by which, if man studies reality deductively, then he can attain knowledge, create utopia and even transcend himself as man.

For the postmodernist, the divine spark is that everyone can know himself if he has the courage to do so. His desires are “his truth” to be expressed as existential daring, since in his interiority he knows himself to be good, and if he were not good it would be due to ignorance of that truth which he resists (and which is recursively his intrinsic goodness to be expressed). I-me-me. More of me.

If modernity sought technical mastery of the world in order to impress its own reason (and identity) on the universe, postmodernity seeks to impose politically its own arbitrariness: the emotional and political expression of its particularity.

To achieve its goal, postmodernity needs to engender gigantic monsters, disparate groups that claim to be tolerant and that the only thing they do not tolerate is “intolerance” (as in the alphabet crew). In reality, it is intolerance of everything which implies restricting their full vital expression, understood as their freedom to define reality. (In other words, psychotics at perpetual war with reality, seeking love and recognition at gunpoint).

Such is the problem of “free expression.” Since nothing exists outside of expression, if we choose to prohibit something we would either have arbitrariness and incoherence, or it would not be legitimate to prohibit anything. What would be left of freedom of expression then? It would be one more entelechy for the pile.

The point is that the error of these people is not exclusively theirs, but of the entire liberal culture that surrounds them. Carrying the rainbow banner, they represent the vanguard of the cultural ambitions of their environment in its maximum expression. They thus believe themselves to be redeemed.

Such an attempt to free man from himself can only end in a war against humanity itself, creating imaginary enemies so that some can feel good about themselves. Therefore, if today there are not enough racists, it would be necessary to invent them so that the eternal warriors would never have to face their limitations, or it would become clear that the problem is not so much external as of their own heart.

If individualism makes the individual a god, postmodernity is not so much a critique of modernity as its more maudlin “side-B” Stripped of its intellectual garb, postmodernity is the victory of the human drive in its irrepressible desire for expression, an inveterate contradiction that claims to disbelieve in the word because it would only be an instrument to prohibit or enable its insatiable hunger for recognition and fruition. The fundamental thing would be to express oneself, and congruence would be a tyrannical fiction. But why believe those who admit to lying and deny the possibility of truth?

Hegel argued that from the sum of all these processes we would arrive at full knowledge. If only everything were expressed, a synthesis would emerge from their conflict: a total order and peace. But this overcoming dialectic was neither a new idea nor is it real, but a rationalistic recapitulation of previous cosmologies—such as that of ancient Greek religion, or that of the Egyptians or the Babylonians, which extolled the human capacity to unite the disparate, the power of man to order. This is what the deistic Freemasonry that founded the new republics believes.

For the Greeks, the world was the product of a war between the gods to order each other, and Prometheus had stolen for men the reason of the gods, who did not want man to have it. The Egyptians, for their part, worshipped Horus, the god who reunited the limbs of their father Osiris, who had been betrayed and torn to pieces by his brother Set. And the Babylonians worshipped Marduk, who established the world from the corpse of Tiamat and a whole lot of the same.

All those cosmogonies as a starting point presuppose an evil creation, war as the mother of the world, which conveniently expels the guilt of evil outwards (and incidentally glorifies conflict as fruitful), as well as glorifies the consolidation of self-improvement: to unite by one’s own means physically and conceptually disparate fragments to order the cosmos. They are humanist religions!

Fascism, Marxism and social democracy were nourished by the same myths. It also turns out that the libertarian “self-made man” is not entirely a new myth, since it is again the individual imposing an overcoming order that he himself imagined to be superior.

In psychological terms, these myths express the mentality of a wayward child who believes that he can scream and kick and get his way if he is competent enough. That is, it is the idea that reality is established by tantrum or brute force, and that reality is pure power: virtue is power and weakness is insufficiency. It is the usurper who kills his own father to be king, Cronus castrating Ouranos: the man who kills god to define reality and thus attain divine fullness. It is power for power’s sake.

Gnosticism complains that the demiurge usurped the true god who, being good, would have given us the perfect paradise, without evil, and that we should therefore usurp the usurper by finding the true god within ourselves and thus awaken others from their error. Heroic and populist, he nobly pretends to enlighten us all, believes himself to be the savior, seeks to show himself virtuous, like a millennial in networks, and explains the globalist or neoconservative impulse to export democracy to the whole world as a universal panacea.

For this perspective, the biblical God is the true devil, since He tried and tries to hide the truth from us: that we are gods. It is only a matter of finding that secret knowledge within us; of eating of the forbidden fruit. “Believe in yourself,” or what is the same: “do your will.” From that lens, the devil was a Promethean hero who tried to alert us to the original betrayal so that man would be free to define himself and become god, since such divine knowledge could only be found within oneself (or we would have no way to know it).

We can keep trying to ignore religion and believe it to be empty mysticism—but religion will not ignore us. Man always has beliefs and worldviews, and they always come into play. They are what determine our identity, our loyalties and our destiny. That is why it is necessary, first, to question the idea that it is possible to be neutral, to lack cosmological axioms (which are also psychological), and then to establish how it is possible to understand or know ourselves.

On that metaphysical plane one can converse and compare beliefs; the alternative is modern primitivism. The only thing left is war—the banal struggle for power, believing that we are absolute and that the world must submit. This fatal arrogance that wants to define everything from the individual, sooner or later, will kill us.


Iván Engel writes from this Spain. This article appears through the kind courtesy of El maifiesto.


Featured: Jeune homme à la fenêtre (Young Man at the Window), by Gustave Caillebotte; painted in 1875.


The Synod as Seen by an Ordinary Paris Priest

We don’t know much about the Synod, because we’re not directly involved. We’re out in the field, patiently ploughing through parish life and “smelling the sheep.” We pick up a few scattered rumblings, which are generally met with indifference; but for some they fuel a vague concern, for others the hope of reforms concerning the place of women or the end of a supposedly “rigid” morality. The advent of a “synodal” Church is also presented, at least implicitly, as a response to the crisis of sexual abuse committed by certain clerics. One of the unstated aims of the “synod fathers and mothers” seems to be to deconstruct the authority of the pastor in favor of collective “decision-making processes,” which would destroy the seeds of clericalism, seen as the root of all evil.

To constantly evoke the dangers of clericalism in an almost totally de-Christianized world and a Church bereft of priestly vocations, which has seen a spectacular drop in the last decade (for Paris, the number of seminarians has fallen by over 50%)—isn’t this just shooting point-blank into what’s left of our feet to walk on? We’d like to hear words about the beauty of the priesthood, implore the Lord to send laborers into His harvest, and pray that priests will be good servants of God’s people, rooted in the interior life. ” Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear,” says the Apostle (Eph 4:29). Priests, especially the younger ones, need so much encouragement and consolation in the trials of ministry.

The least we can say is that this synod is not arousing the enthusiasm of fervent young Catholics, who attended very little of the preparatory phase. In Paris, only 14% of participants were between the ages of 20 and 35. The figure speaks for itself. Young people have a thirst for identity and clarity, a desire for formation and a certain flexibility in expressing their sensibilities. They go from the Christian pilgrimage to the Mission Congress, from the Gloria of the Angels to an evening of praise and healing.

In his homily at the opening Mass of the Synod on October 4, which was overshadowed by his responses to the dubia and its many possible interpretations, Pope Francis tried to strike a balance. He wants to avoid making debates over controversial issues too tense, and dismisses both the temptation of “rigidity” and submission to an “agenda dictated by the world.” The Synod is called upon, says the Holy Father, to build “a Church that has God at its center and that, consequently, is not divided internally and is never harsh externally.” He warns against “an immanent gaze, made up of human strategies, political calculations or ideological battles.”

The Church is Not Her own Creator

It’s obvious that behind the scenes at synods and conclaves, worldly strategies, intimidations and seductions are all around us. This is the way of man, and even more so of the ecclesiastical world, which is easily covered by a veneer of Roman charity and unctuousness. We can only agree with the Holy Father’s desire for unity. This does not prevent us from reflecting and offering constructive criticism. “You can take off your hat in church, but not your head,” said Chesterton. Cardinal Fernandez accuses those who criticize the “doctrine of the Holy Father” of heresy and schism (National Catholic Register, Sept. 8, 2023). Strictly speaking, there is no “doctrine of the Holy Father,” but the Catholic faith revealed in Jesus Christ, of which we are the servants and not the masters, whatever the orientations of a pontificate.

Basically, things are simple. Does the truth about faith and morals, the fundamental structure of the Church, the sacramental life, the final ends, emanate from “below,” through a democratic dialogue supposedly “in the Holy Spirit” that finally reaches a consensus? Or is it to be accepted “on our knees” by the Revelation of a demanding love that surpasses us, transmitted in fullness by Christ and borne by the living tradition of the Church, by those who have borne witness to the faith at the price of their blood? The Church is not the creator of herself, and we don’t have to define our own moral criteria, but listen to the Lord’s Law. “Be holy, for I am holy”, says the Lord (1 Pet 1:16).

Nonetheless, it’s true that new issues are constantly arising in the parish, and that they are growing in scope, and that the Church can’t ignore them. For example, the number of “remarried” divorcees, some of whom claim the right to receive Holy Communion, invoking “the spirit of Pope Francis;” homosexual “couples” who ask baptism for an adopted child or a child born through MAR; engaged couples, almost all of whom live in a form of cohabitation; the ignorance, for many who knock on the Church’s door, of the most elementary foundations of catechesis. Priests ordained for a traditionalist community generally have the grace of being surrounded by trained, culturally homogeneous faithful who take care of them and don’t question the Church’s constant teaching. A priest in a de-Christianized parish, following decades of “inclusive” pastoral care based on an unconditional welcome that strives to avoid any “cleavage,” and focused more on the charitable pole than on catechetical formation, doesn’t have the same support. The Church needs all kinds of people. Pastors who take care of families anchored in the faith, and others who are more on the front line in the shifting sands of a “liquid” society where the Church is trying to make its way along a difficult path that rarely avoids trial and error, pitfalls or lapses in judgment.

What Catholic, what bishop, would not be preoccupied by concern for all souls? How much hidden sufferings, buried guilt and wounds we must encounter by listening to and soothing, just as the Good Samaritan poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds and led him to the inn: the image of the Church? But to love all men is also to show them, as they grow, the way to a demanding and holy life in line with the objectivity of goodness.

Don’t Try to Legislate Everything

Rome must leave it up to the pastors in the field to discern the best path to take in the face of the particular cases that arise, and avoid at all costs trying to legislate everything, at the risk of falling into unbearable casuistry and aggravating divisions. The pastoral charity of a parish priest strives to reach out to people in complex or objectively sinful situations, but “love and truth meet” (Ps 84). Giving milk does not mean renouncing solid food, still less maintaining the vagueness of revealed truths, at the risk of creating extreme confusion. Loving all people means recalling their vocation to holiness.

The wisest thing to do is to do good where we are, to keep our spleens in check, and to continue teaching the faith of the Church, taking care of the sheep where they are, with as much pastoral delicacy as possible, but never giving up on leading them to the holy mountain which, as priests, we must climb first in a tireless conversion. Not primarily that of reforming structures by initiating ecclesial “processes,” but that of a heart resolutely turned towards the Lord. Conversion is personal, or it is not. The rest will pass like snow in the sun, and the mountain may simply give birth to a mouse. Let’s hope it doesn’t nibble away at the threads that bind us to the long tradition that comes down to us from the Apostles, and that it leads us to take one more small step towards the Lord of life, who remains eternally, beyond the contradictions of mankind, Master of time and history.


Father Luc de Bellescize is the Curate of Saint Vincent-de-Paul in Paris. This article comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.


Featured: Fridolin Assists with the Holy Mass, by Peter Fendi; painted in 1833.

Scita Et Scienda: The Dwarfing of Modern Man

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (1909 – 1999) gave this lecture at Hillsdale College in 1974. He was true Renaissance Man, with expertise in linguistics, theology, history, economics, philosophy, political science and art.

A few years ago a friend of mine, a professor of zoology at an American university, invited several of his colleagues for a little party in my honor. I was curious to know their attitude towards Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, but when I raised that question I received only blank looks. I spelled the name—still no reaction. “Well,” I finally said, “Teilhard was, after all, mainly a paleontologist and his works might not be of direct interest to you, but surely you know those of Pierre Lecomte du Nouy, a biologist. Like Teilhard he also died in this country and his books have been translated into English.” And again the learned assembly shook their heads. I gave up. Now, I do not want to be misunderstood. There was nothing specifically American about this conversation; exactly the same might have happened almost anywhere in the world—nowadays.

When all the guests had left my friend explained. “You must know,” he said, “that these professors are not only unable to coordinate zoology with the neighboring disciplines—paleontology or biology for instance, not to mention philosophy—but neither have they ever acquired a truly comprehensive knowledge of zoology as a whole. Like surgeons at an operation, denuding only a minute part of the patient’s body, they work in their own small, special compartment of science and except for their admittedly very thorough specialized research, nothing really interests them. They watch ball games and TV, read detective stories, play golf and canasta, but that’s about all. Erudition requires an enormous effort, and although it would be of an intellectual interest, it no longer has a practical, least of all a cash value.”

This kind of specialization is found all over the modern world and one of its immediate results is the Hillsdale College Hillsdale, Michigan 49242 Vol. 3 No. 10 October 1974 extinction of the polyhistor, the all-round scholar. Men like William Graham Sumner, or more recently like Roepke and Ruestow, two economists who also were at home in history, sociology, philosophy, theology, geography, politics and the fine arts, are becoming rarer and rarer. As a matter of fact, in many fields of scholarship and research—especially so in the natural sciences—great names appear hardly anymore, since larger tasks can only be accomplished by groups and teams. Prizes and honors are then accredited to an individual merely as a sort of primus inter pares. There still are discoverers, but exceedingly few inventors. The computer gradually takes over large sectors of learning, though not of the humanities, because it is unable to create a new philosophy with a new vocabulary, and so forth. It might be able to replace engineers and chemists, but not Kierkegaard, St. John of the Cross or Rouault. Thus technology, strangely enough, restored a certain hierarchy of knowledge, thought and creative work.

Specialization, however, has other effects as well. While it concentrates a man’s knowledge within restricted areas, it produces in others an increasing ignorance. And this ignorance is growing in an absolute as well as in a relative sense. A theologian-philosopher-scientist on the scale of St. Albert Magnus is quite inconceivable today. Shrinking in width, though gaining in depth, the areas of specialized knowledge are surrounded by fallow wastelands of neglected and abandoned fields of research. This relative ignorance increases inevitably and quite independently of the curse of specialization simply due to the accumulation of “registered” knowledge which the individual mind no longer can cope with.

This applies by no means only to the natural sciences; it occurs in the humanities as well. In theory somebody could develop a new, original philosophy without having gone through either extensive or intensive philosophical studies. The historian, on the other hand, has to deal with the steadily growing volume of stocked knowledge (“on file”). The subject matter grows and grows. Are men like A.J.P. Taylor to be called “historians,” an honorary term formerly bestowed on scholars of the caliber of Macaulay or Trevelyan? However, this decline is not only, nor even mainly due to narrowness, laziness, parochialism, superficiality or to the lack of a universal point of view, but is simply the result of the “practical” and excusable inability to master the Gaurisankar of classified and codified knowledge. Thus today specialization seems—justifiably? unjustifiably?—”realistic” (the great art of limitation!), whereas a universalist outlook unfortunately appears to be amateurish. The alternative seems to lie between “serious limitation” and “irresponsibly unfettered dilettantism.” “Research” today has come to imply narrow specialization.

In order to grasp the fatal proportions of our relative ignorance we have to take another aspect into consideration: the steady “shrinkage” of our globe in regard to subjective distances. In the old days it more or less sufficed to know what went on in one’s own and a few adjoining countries. Before World War I many French professors flatly refused to accept references from foreign sources in the doctorial dissertations of their students. Quotations from “barbarians” were not admitted. An “educated person” (as against a scholar) was judged and evaluated from this rather provincial point of view. But in an age when a jet takes one around the world in less than 24 hours and the daily news contains at least as many items from overseas as from the “home front,” the scholar’s outlook is necessarily directed towards other continents. The American library, the Canadian laboratory, the Australian research center, the badly (or not at all) translated Japanese or Russian periodical—he cannot disregard either of them. In fields of politics and economics, to quote some especially glaring examples, this geographical shrinking process makes even greater, more time-consuming and more expensive efforts necessary. Often we can merely cast a glance at a subject which needs to be studied thoroughly. The abundance of material within the various domains of learning leads or, rather, misleads modern man into a helpless eleaticism, and this in the very age when specialization and “complete” knowledge are trumps.

Thus we are faced with an insoluble dilemma. The desperate attempts on the part of modern medicine not to lose itself in details but to see the patient as an entity to heal, to cure man as a whole, encounters serious difficulties due to the lack of a truly comprehensive knowledge. Here especially the abyss between the scita and the scienda, between what is (generally) known and what should be known, widens from year to year. The result? On the one hand, because it has become indigestible, recorded knowledge is unavoidably more and more neglected and replaced by sheer intuition. One has to guess whenever it has become impossible to know and, therefore, to think rationally. (In medicine the diagnostician often does just that.) On the other hand, authoritarianism grows beyond measure. A layman, even a thoroughly educated one, can only listen in awe to the specialist’s elaborations, just as we listen respectfully to the watchmaker’s verdict about our ailing timepiece and pay grumbling and reluctantly whatever he charges. Gone are the times when an educated person was able to form an opinion on all the subjects that interested him or were necessary for his work. Specialized knowledge can still give strength and freedom in certain instances; thus an otolaryngologist suffering from ulcers still can judge the therapy proposed by a surgeon because, after all, he too has studied medicine. But from a general point of view the increase of accumulated and recorded knowledge also has increased our dependency in so many domains. Our self-confidence is being constantly weakened. Again and again we find ourselves facing a specialist who points out the sanction we incur if we do not follow his—to us, most incomprehensible—orders. Thus a new and outright humiliating fideism is being bred in the very shadow of rationality and scientism.

The result is man’s reduction to a dwarfish slave. The watchmaker who just pronounced a verdict beyond appeal on a customer’s alarm clock trembles before the diagnosis of his ophthalmologist or urologist who again prescribes in “good faith” medications concocted by a team of biochemists. There exist entire chains of “authorities” which, thanks to their individual monopoly of certain fragments within the gigantic complex of accumulated knowledge, exert very definite power in certain areas. This knowledge has become esoteric not only due to an artificial screening, but also due to its colossal volume. For the individual it is available only in part and with great effort. (The time required for a university degree is becoming longer and longer: the average mechanical engineer in Europe is today at least twenty-six, the practicing physician in the United States twenty-eight years old.) School knowledge too is affected by this development. A hundred or a hundred-fifty years ago a boy left school (lycee, Gymnasium) with an adequate fund of “general knowledge.” Today he has managed to grasp only a measly fragment of the scienda, the things he really needs to know in order to rate as an “educated man.” Whoever in the old days understood the working principle of the steam engine or the electromotor today ought to grasp the principles of the atomic reactor or the computer. But does he? Mathematics, philosophy, history and literature also constantly enlarge the body of accumulated knowledge. Homo discens, learning man, is being dwarfed by an immense, if not to say monstrous material.

Only the artist, the man who gives form to ideas and feelings, escapes this process. One can give piano concerts at the age of twelve, write poetry when eighteen and paint pictures not much later. This is possible. But it is interesting to see that today even art has become highly esoteric and subject to Horace’s Odi profanum vulgus. The art of the Middle Ages, of the baroque period, even of the Renaissance was somehow accessible to the average man. But how do most of the contemporary Germans react to the paintings of Marc, Klee, Kandinsky or Feininger? And the average American just managing to comprehend Melville, has he any relations to Robert Lowell or Karl Shapiro? National socialism which must be regarded as a “left” rebellion of the masses, the “regular guys” against all sorts of elites, revolted also against the esoteric character of the so-called “degenerate art” which gave little minds an inferiority complex or filled them with gnawing envy for the “easily earned money” of “infantile paint brush clowns.”

Now, there are two domains which, in theory, should be esoteric due to their great complexity, whereas in practice they are still the layman’s happiest hunting grounds: religion and politics. However, the situation is different in each case because religion has not only intellectual, but also spiritual and psychological aspects. The purely personal element which dominates in religion (as in love, whether we mean Eros or friendship) cannot be rationalized or reduced to mathematical formulas. We all are called to religious life, but not to shoemaking, cooking, race-driving or journalism. Without particular learning we can legitimately hold certain opinions in regard to religion in general, but not on a systematized level, not to theology. We can complain about the pains brought upon us by a serious illness, we can voice our despair or our impatience with the results of the treatment, but this does not give us the right to produce a scientific analysis of our ailment. Most cancer specialists have never suffered from cancer, few ear specialists from deafness. And daily communion does not put one in a position to pontificate about the Eucharistic mystery. In practice, however, the situation is quite different and, curiously enough, theology has. become an intellectual free-for-all. The tendency has always existed, but now the enterprising religious amateur has intrepidly rushed into theology. Atomic scientists will nowadays be pleased to give interviews on theological problems, zoologists lecture about the divinity of Christ and in television we find physicians and biologists dogmatizing about the Immaculate Conception (which they most invariably mix up with Christ’s birth from a virgin). Ignorance does not hamper anybody. On the other hand, a theologian would hardly ever attempt to lecture on nuclear fission, inheritance factors or the origin of thyroid diseases. He knows—or, at least, until recently knew—only too well that in this case scita and scienda are too far apart. (The intrusion of theologians into the fields of sociology, politics and economics, with very little preparation, is a very modern phenomenon.)

Theology, indeed, is a “last frontier,” as D. Riesman conceives this term, but so is politics. Man is doubtless an animal religiosum, but whether he is also a zoon politikon (and not only an animal sociale) is debatable—in spite of Aristotle. He naturally reacts towards political events and decisions and is not indifferent about administrative measures. But whether he has a natural bent to be politically active on the national level is not unequivocally established. On the other hand it is evident that the political systems of our time, either honestly motivated by ideological convictions, or hypocritically and for the sake of propagandistic “managing,” invite or force all adult citizens to go to the polls. Thus one cannot avoid the polls even in a totalitarian dictatorship. In that case, of course, only the most naive voter can harbor the illusion that he has been seriously asked for his opinion.

Things are different in the still free world because there a certain accumulation of votes has usually a decisive impact on the political process. The voter is called upon to consider and judge important questions and to form an opinion about subtle points by voting for or against the advocates of specific viewpoints. He is forced to take sides, to join this or that party, to express preference for one man or the other. This is easily said and often also too easily done.

This procedure was meaningful in the past and still is in narrowly circumscribed areas. The history of democracy in Athens has shown that there the general level of education was perhaps, in a way, sufficient for self-government, but that the passions whipped up by the demagogi (most of all envy!) had disastrous effects. Socrates was condemned to death by the democrats because he ridiculed their system of government and held monarchical views (as we know from contemporary sources). Plato, his disciple, despised democracy, and Aristotle fled from Athens in order to avoid the hemlock cup. On the other hand, direct democracy is successful and impressive even today in certain Swiss Cantons. Thus the citizens gather on the market place of Glarus in order to vote for the various propositions. In this limited framework scita and scienda are still very close. The problems concerning the Canton can be grasped by almost everybody. But this is an exceptional case in the present age.

We have the data of numerous polls in a great variety of countries which prove that the vast majority of the population is utterly baffled by the great problems facing their countries in our day. Their replies to the questionnaires testing their knowledge of current affairs would often be hilariously funny if the implications were not so tragic. However, it must be born in mind that the politics of a larger country (as against a village or small province), not to mention the global ones which directly concern the citizens of large nations, cannot be grasped without thorough preparation. This, in turn, presupposes years of time and money consuming studies far beyond the means of the average voter. True, subconsciously many people begin to suspect that they know less than they should and, in addition, they sometimes have the sinking feeling that their vote is a drop in an ocean. Their votes, as Aristotle a long time ago has stated, are counted and not weighed. The young playboy’s or prostitute’s vote has the same effect as that of a scholar or of an elder statesman. This realization still rarely affects the people in the newer democracies, but does it all the more so in the countries where the voting has been customary for centuries—in the United States and in Switzerland, for example, where now only 68 to 75 percent of the qualified voters go to the polls. In Austria and in Germany participation is way above 90 percent and in the totalitarian tyrannies it is almost one hundred.

The situation is not so very different wherever persons rather than parties are voted for. If the voter’s task facing parties is overtaxing his intellectual equipment, he is humanly helpless when he has to make choices between individual candidates. The demand on his psychological (if not psychiatric) experience is even bigger. In an age of TV and broadcasting a photogenic candidate has a huge advantage over a rather unattractive candidate, the brilliant speaker over a reticent though highly educated and experienced thinker. Undoubtedly a Hitler-type excites the masses far more than a personality like Heinrich Bruning. Here we see the fatal effects of what Ernst Junger once called “the fleeting Eros.” And since the candidates’ wives also appear in television, the male voters too can be emotionally attracted. Here, too, scita and scienda diverge sharply because the intrinsic superficiality of the mass media avoids all depths. “To dislike him properly you have to know him really well,” a disillusioned Republican once said about a Presidential candidate whose main handicap was his shortness.

The discrepancy between scita and scienda appears not only among the voters but also among those who govern. In former times rulers and administrators used to come from those layers who had the tendency to train their male progeny from childhood on for the higher forms of civil service. Promoters of the monarchist system could point out that future monarchs were given a very special education beginning in their infancy and this, together with the initial guidance of their predecessors (often the father or a near relative) enabled them to assume their duties fairly well prepared. In addition, a monarch could learn from experience in the course of many years, whereas in the modern republics a head of government is always suspected of wanting to monoplize all power and when, at long last, he finds his balance and acquires the necessary experience, he is dismissed like an insolent servant and replaced by another amateur who has to start from scratch. Of course, the monarchic system gave no special regard to talent, but is not the ungifted expert preferable to the green amateur? Who will make you a better coat: a bad tailor or a bright endocrinologist? The history of Europe with its steady ascent from 800 to 1918 and its cataclysmic descent from then on gives us without pity the right answer.

Similarly the statesman is more and more frequently replaced by the politician. The Congress of Vienna created a system for Europe which, in spite of certain deficiencies and misconstructions (like the continued partition of Poland), staved off another great war for 99 years. In this connection one also should remember the Paris Peace Treaties of 1919-1920 where rancor, meanness and sheer ignorance celebrated true orgies. At the Congress of Vienna, Talleyrand, the representative of a defeated nation, was allowed to play an important and highly constructive part, whereas in 1919 the German representatives were humiliated and the Austrian ones handled like obnoxious criminals. The Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgar delegates were, of course, given a similar treatment.

What interests us here in the first place, however, is not the purely political or moral aspect of these fateful conferences, but the problem of scita and scienda. At the time of the Vienna Congress the economic factor was not yet generally recognized as of great importance; geopolitical considerations were rare; the psychology of nations was not studied since the masses, the plebs only intermittently became politically active. All nations represented at the Congress of Vienna had more or less only one common ideological enemy: la Revolution, The Revolution, that is to say, nationalistic democracy. This alone united them all in one camp as far as Weltanschauung was concerned. For the statesmen at the Vienna Congress it sufficed to know history, geography, the genealogy of royal families, international law and a few items taken from military science. In addition, one had to be able to move deftly on the slippery parquet of the great salons and to speak French well (the language of the “enemy”), for the mere thought of conducting important and confidential discussions with the help of interpreters would have seemed preposterous (and dangerously inadequate) to everybody.

For a politician of international status today the knowledge held by a Metternich, a Talleyrand, a Castlereah or a Hardenberg would be utterly insufficient. In addition to the informed expertise of the statesmen 150 years ago he ought to be versed in economics, finance, agriculture, mining, religious affairs, nuclear fission, electoral laws, the psychology of nations, party politics and the personal background of his foreign colleagues—a truly encyclopedic volume of information. To all this comes an endless variety of problems due to a shrinking globe! A newly accredited ambassador in Washington now has to call on over 120 heads of foreign missions. And not only the number of politically active countries has increased, international organizations, too, have mushroomed. There is the Red Cross, the UNO, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNIDO, the World Bank, ILO, FAO, NATO, GATT, the European Common Market, Euratom, Comecom, the Warsaw Pact, the OAS, the World Council of Churches, the Council of Europe, the CENTO and SEATO pacts. The world has become immensely complicated and, politically speaking, all information and knowledge pertaining to government must, one way or the other, be integrated. The minister of defense has to know about nuclear fission, the foreign minister about fishing rights, the minister of commerce about gold mining in distant continents, and so forth.

Still, the specific learning of our present-day cabinet ministers and presidents is not greater—although it desperately needs to be so—than that of the statesmen at the end of the Napoleonic Wars: it is, in fact, often vastly inferior. And do not suggest that modern politicians, having been raised to the highest offices through elections or parliamentary procedure, can simply rely on the advice of experts. The effects of such advice on the mood of the electorate has seriously had to be considered, as well as the effects on the coalition partners, if any. But let us, for argument’s sake, assume that a given politician, filled with a sense of genuine moral responsibility, is prepared to proceed according to his best knowledge and without regard to public opinion, perhaps even ready to accept unpopularity and to withdraw into private life after the next elections. If he really wants to listen to the experts, what does he do if the experts disagree? This is frequently the case. How does he get the insight to coordinate the contradicting specialists, to separate the wheat from the chaff? Even the experts are sometimes overwhelmed by the immense material confronting them. How is the politician to cope with the conflicting data offered him by the various experts?

In the case of the peace conferences and treaties one has to add the passions aroused by war (and war propaganda) which render balanced decisions almost impossible. Remember the “Hang the Kaiser!” slogan of a demagogue like Lloyd George who later became a boundless admirer of Hitler. With his catchword he won the Kaaki-Elections of 1918. His ignorance of historic and geographic facts equalled that of Clemenceau and was surpassed by Wilson, a former professor of government at Princeton. Here specialization made itself felt with a vengeance. To this helpless “scholar” with a Messiah-complex, who was thoroughly duped by Italian informants with forged maps, we owe the fact that the South Tyrol is still a political cauldron. (There are some worse contemporary problems too.) After World War II only few formal treaties were signed, but the decisions of Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam are ample proof for the continued decline since 1919-1920. Compared to Roosevelt, Wilson was a sage and a saint, just as the German chancellors in World War I were geniuses when compared to Hitler.

Thus we observe in the present political development twin tendencies which, at first glance, seem paradoxical. On the one hand there is the growing number of experts who, however, are not rarely chosen for all too personal reasons; on the other hand, in democracies as well as in dictatorships, we encounter the rule of the absolute amateur who is at the mercy of experts, provided he does not arrogantly disregard all advice. Thus reason, knowledge and experience are all too frequently neglected. In the desperate dilemma caused by the contradictory suggestions of experts, clear thinking and serious study are rejected in favor of intuition and “prophetic visions.” This leads only very occasionally to the desired goal but in many more cases to disaster. Wilson, Roosevelt and Benes also boasted of their “inspirations,” and we still remember Hitler’s claim to his “inner security of a sleepwalker,” his traumwandlerische Sicherheit. They all had fatally transferred artistic principles to the art of governing. Art, religion and love are generally human, generally accessible, and universal. But, as Goethe already had pointed out, a work of art is complete, perfect in itself, whereas knowledge knows no bounds. Through art (as through religion, through love) man grows, but the realization that knowledge and science are bottomless makes him feel dwarfed. The wise will thus say with Socrates, resigned but calmly: “I know that I know nothing.” Knowledge and science are acquired with enormous efforts, yet they always remain fractionary. One also has to ask oneself whether the dictum that “knowledge renders free” is true to fact or whether it does not rather weigh man down with added responsibilities, make him his brother’s keeper, create a kind of thirst which in this life cannot be quenched. The fulfillment which art, religion or love can give is unknown to mere knowledge.

But—and this is a great “but”—knowledge brings power, or is at least a means to power. And precisely for this reason we have to ask what lies `historically’ beyond the amateurism of the popular intuition-motivated visionaries. Is the rule of experts, who still lack in scienda but represent the scita to a remarkable degree, somewhere in sight? Such a development began in Europe between the 17th and 19th centuries when the monarchs, realizing their limitations (and the increasing importance of the bureaucracies), ruled with the help of specialists. (These, in turn, had to correct subtly the blatant mistakes of diets and parliaments.) Even if today we speak of `statesmen’ we rarely think of truly popular presidents or prime ministers but rather of men who had the confidence of their monarchs and sometimes, to a certain degree, of the elected parliaments, men like Bismarck, Cavour, Witte, Disraeli, Guizot, Metternich, Richeliem, Oxenstjerna, Kaunitz, Pasic, Bratianu, Stolypin, Schwarzenberg.

This phenomenon has largely disappeared in the age of dictatorships because although the dictators need not respect the “will of majorities” they were or are almost all ideologically bound amateurs, which makes them disregard facts) The only exception is the non-ideologic military dictatorship (as in Spain, for instance) which, due to its already basically bureaucratic nature, can enter into a symbiosis with the civil service. What threatens us now in the free world is the premature fading out of our parliaments which frequently resemble low-level debating clubs, the discrepancy between microscopic scita and unassimilated scienda. Power as well as authority is shifted more and more to the ministries—and, of course, also to the trade unions. For the latter the disharmonies between the scita and scienda are not of vital importance. They make things easy for themselves: they are not genuine stewards, they merely claim to represent certain interests; they do not administrate (except if they themselves conduct enterprises); and if they feel no responsibilities toward the common good (which happens), they merely postulate and engage in blackmail.

l When once a student remarked to Hegel, the father of modern ideologies: “But Herr Professor, the facts contradict your theories,” the old gentleman looked down on him through his spectacles. “All the worse for the facts!” was his severe reply.

This growing discrepancy can become—directly or dialectically—a true threat to freedom. The masses might one day lose their self-confidence and their enthusiasm for their amateurish leaders. And the outlook is not much rosier in the case of experts who begin to feel the dormant possibilities for their power and wrangle for positions. Behind the political stages and the still party-oriented cabinets the various braintrusts make themselves more and more felt.

Governments consisting purely of experts would be exceedingly brittle, narrow and merciless. They could rule with ice-cold objectiveness in the name of reason and knowledge. We would thus be ruled “from above” without the patriarchal element and the father-image which characterized the monarchies of old. Against this concept liberal democracy promotes a fatherless “fraternity” and consequently, we only too often get the tyranny of Big Brother. The oligarchy of experts without controls might assume the character of a dictatorship of professors or, at least, of a government of governesses. But eventually it would go to the way of all flesh because of its inability to cope with the abyss between scita and scienda among its own members. Without an effective coordinating center which, I am sure, only a dynasty can provide, it would fall apart into nagging, fighting factions. Only an optimist can manage to regard our political and cultural future with equanimity.

The way to avoid a development which spells catastrophe for our freedom lies in the creation of sacrosanct domains beyond the grasp of power-hungry centralist forces, areas where the individual or limited groups can act freely, because there scita and scienda are still correlated—in the family, the small enterprise, the village, the borough, the county. Yet as far as the big central governments are concerned, we have coldly to face the realities of our technological society, which means an unavoidable increase of the technocratic element and of expertise. Nobody doubts that technocrats must have a high degree of knowledge, experience and even wisdom (which is more than cleverness). It is less realized that they also must have a high degree of character, that they must have virtue, that they have to be good men, which means men capable of love, magnanimity, tolerance, filled with humility in spite of their importance and responsibility. If this is not the case everything will be lost and the most ingenious political design come to naught.

Our freedom, after all, is menaced far more by the totalitarian than by the authoritarian principles. The latter came into being with our first parents, the former was born by the French Revolution. What we must avoid is turning humanity into an ant-heap; instead we ought to create small, individual “kingdoms” which can be governed with reason, understanding and, at least, a modicum of affection. “Where there is no love there is no law.” The tiniest of these kingdoms lies within the four walls of each home. And the thickness of these walls, as Ortega y Gasset has already pointed out, is the measure of our freedom.


This article appears through the kind courtesy of Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.


Featured: Atelierwand (Studio Wall), by Adolph von Menzel; painted in 1852.


Louis Veuillot, Lay Preacher

Louis Veuillot (1813-1883), head of L’Univers, exerted a powerful influence on 19th-century French Catholicism. He was also, quite simply, an extraordinary personality. Portrait of a social “ultramontane.”

Rome, 1838. Louis Veuillot, 25, on a mission to the Orient, stopped off in the Italian capital. A journalist for the government press at the time, the young man was disillusioned, having nothing but contempt for the nihilism of his time, whether it had the face of the Voltairean bourgeoisie or revolutionary anarchism. This soul, a friend of religion, yearned for the Absolute, and it was in the Eternal City that he was struck by light: “I was in Rome. At a bend in the road, I met God. He beckoned me, and I hesitated to follow. He took my hand and I was saved.” This “veritable first communion,” which he recounts in Rome et Lorette (Rome and Loretto), was a conversion in the most radical sense of the word. He, the self-taught son of an illiterate cooper living in Bercy, already a bulimic reader and soon an insatiable writer, had just found his way.

A Journalist on Fire

“As soon as he became a Christian, he felt like an apostle,” said his nephew François. Indeed, Louis returned to France animated by a religious zeal that would never leave him, and he chose to dedicate his life to bearing witness to this fire, to making Catholic truth resound everywhere, and also, with the ardor of a convert, to scourging freethinkers of all kinds (including the bourgeois louis-philippard “preceded by his belly and followed by his behind”): “These gentlemen have a great virtue that they preach to us incessantly: tolerance. They tolerate everything, except that we do not tolerate everything they tolerate. And that is where our quarrels come from.”

And it was journalism that was to be the instrument of his apostolate. In 1840, he landed at L’Univers, a moderate Catholic paper with a small readership (1,500 subscribers) and no resources, run by Charles de Montalembert. He soon became its chief editor—along with his brother Eugène, a writer without a genius for the pen but with good business sense—and for forty years made it the leading organ of French Catholicism. Its success was phenomenal: by 1860, the daily had become France’s fifth-largest newspaper, with 13,000 subscribers (and an audience estimated by Mgr Gerbet at 60,000-80,000).

The recipe for such success lies in his popular base. While the bishops always looked on him with a distant, even accusatory eye, the lesser clergy championed this plebeian from the same national bowels. In seminaries, in small parishes and among provincial notables, the flamboyant journalist—whom Thibaudet would say was the greatest of his century—was worshipped. Far from the mundane, he was above all the herald of a faith full of social solicitude, as witness the passage on the death of his father: “On the edge of his grave, I thought of the torments of his life, I recalled them, I saw them all; and I also counted the joys that, despite his servile condition, this heart truly made for God could have tasted. Pure joys, profound joys! The crime of a society that nothing can absolve had deprived him of them! A glimmer of mournful truth made me curse not work, not poverty, not sorrow, but the great social iniquity—impiety—by which the little ones of this world are robbed of the compensation God wanted to attach to the inferiority of their lot. And I felt the anathema burst forth in the vehemence of my pain…”

Veuillot’s journalism continued to be combat journalism, sometimes virulent, driven by a burning concern for the truth, unencumbered by convenience or recognition (he refused the decorations of the Académie française and the Académie des sciences morales): “The journalist forces the stragglers to walk, engages and compromises the timid, holds back the reckless; he binds up the wounded, comforts the vanquished, makes the clumsy understand their false maneuvers and repairs them.” His pen, wielded to wound evil, was genial as it was merciless, as full of ethos as it was of pathos. Hence the polemics and scandals that marked his life.

Church First

Although a staunch monarchist who even drafted a constitution, Louis Veuillot was never a politician—and twice refused to run for parliament. His mantra: “The Catholic Church first, and then what exists; the Catholic Church to improve, correct and transform all things.” His political choices were subordinated to religious interests—a position that heralded the Ralliement. The question is, how to act in a positivist age that has broken with Christianity? Against centrifugal modernity, for fear of dilution, Veuillot opted for centripetal forces: the empire, the Pope, the Church.

However, in the name of the same Catholic interests, the “liberal Catholics” went for the opposite gamble—and this marked the start of a fratricidal war with the “intransigent” Veuillot, who at the same time introduced the writings of the counter-revolutionary Donoso Cortés to France. Born out of the fight for freedom of education, the “Catholic party” fractured over the Falloux Law (which Veuillot disapproved of), then tore itself apart from 1852 onwards. While L’Univers sided with Napoleon III, the “liberals” defended the virtues of parliamentarianism, and considered that the modern regime of freedom (of conscience, expression, the press, association, etc.) allowed and would allow Catholic interests to triumph. The free Church in the free State: “The triumph of the Church in the 19th century will be precisely to vanquish her enemies through freedom, as she vanquished them in the past through the sword of feudalism and the scepter of kings,” professed the sensitive and introverted Montalembert (Les intérêts catholiques au XIXe siècle).

For three decades, infamous adjectives rained down from all sides, and people accused and replied to each other in books. Ozanam, Mgr Dupanloup and de Broglie accused Veuillot of fanaticism. Supported by Mgr Pie, bishop of Poitiers, and reinforced by the encyclicals of Pius IX, the massive plebeian denounced in L’illusion libérale a “rich man’s error which could not have occurred to a man who had lived among the people and who would see the countless difficulties that truth, especially today, experiences in descending and maintaining itself in those depths where it needs all the protection, but particularly the example from above.” In the end, historian Émile Poulat summed up this unfortunate quarrel best: “So-called liberal Catholics are the recurring expression of an unresolved problem in the Church—its place and relationship within our society that has left God behind—while Veuillot remains the witness to an imprescriptible requirement within an anachronistic situation.”

“Lay Legate of the Infallible Pope”

Ironically, L’Univers was banned from publication by the Emperor, between 1860 and 1867, for having published the encyclical Nullis certe verbis, in which the Pope blamed French policy in Italy. A temporary death with apotheosis value. As a reader of Joseph de Maistre, Veuillot was devoted to the papacy—he was very attached to Pius IX—and, along with Dom Guéranger, took up the cause of papal infallibility, a dogma proclaimed at Vatican I (see Veuillot’s Rome pendant le ConcileRome during the Council). These debates were also an opportunity for him to battle against the “provincial spirit” of the “Gallicans,” whom he accused of threatening the unity of the Church—thereby fueling clear tendencies towards centralization. Together with the apostolic nuncio Fornari, Veuillot was the linchpin of French ultramontanism, the “lay legate of the infallible pope,” as the Journal des Débats put it. On the other hand, the “liberals,” supported by a large part of the French episcopate, feared that infallibility was a cover for political authoritarianism, and, along with Montalembert, denounced the “idol of the Vatican.” The truth surely lay somewhere between these two positions, as Cardinal Newman summed it up in his famous formula: “Conscience has rights because it has duties.” And indeed—a second irony of fate—in 1872, Pius IX reprimanded Veuillot for his vehemence against Dupanloup on the Italian (Roman) question, putting side-by-side “the party which fears the Pope too much” and the “opposite party, which totally forgets the laws of charity.” A rebuke tempered by a benediction that Veuillot would say “enters by breaking the windows!”

A genius of polemic to the point of excess, Louis was not a bad guy. A tender and delicate man, a kind-hearted father of six daughters, he lived and died firmly waving the flag of faith: “In all my life, I have been perfectly happy and proud of only one thing: that is to have had the honor and at least the will to be a Catholic, that is, obedient to the laws of the Church.” All is forgiven.


Rémi Carlu is a French journalist. This article appears courtesy of La Nef.


Only a God Can Save Us

The modern occidental world, roughly from the Renaissance onwards, sprang from a secularization of culture and its culmination is the main reason for the polarization of the contemporary world. The modern phase of culture has seen an antinomy of opposite values squeezed together, like a nuclear fission, a building of energy and dissonance and spewing out its contents in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. This was the ambivalence of the Platonic- Christian world against the spectre of “reason” raging like tectonic plates. After Plato had brought man down from a cosmic order of the “holy city,” and introduced reason to the world, it was only left to Kant to make God immanent in the human mind. The death of God was then accomplished by Marxism and exhibited in its sibling—liberalism. Nietzsche had articulated where this “decadence” came from, and in his mind, decadence was the affirmation of the nihilism of the liberal world and all its monstrous contradictions. It was for him, beyond good and evil. He had foreseen the “polemos of night” creeping in, manifested in the blackness of the twentieth century, from the First World War to Stalin, to technological death. It was the secularization of the world, a period of “total mobilization” where the human subject (the worker) becomes one of industrial atrophy, mobilized in work and in war. Total mobilization is achieved by incorporating every facet of life into technics. It is not the end of history, but the apex of a Spenglerian cycle of decadence.

Carl Schmitt noted the essence of values of modernism in that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.” So, the fundamental questions such as God, of morality, of society are secularized theological ideas. Liberalism being the successor to Christianity. At the same time this secularization of salvation was seen in the parallel contortions between democracy and liberalism: democracy coming out of a Greek emphasis on participation in the polis and Liberalism as one of limiting participation (representative democracy) and community. The culmination of the tensions, this build-up of energy in the twentieth century, its decadent nature, is the “secularization of man.” The events of the twentieth century (the First World War, the Russian Revolution, Mao and Stalin), are the manifested practical events of a political philosophy shedding its vestments for the lore of materialism. Our modern world is nothing other than the secularization of worlds. But in this was the overarching dominion of reason; a dominion which Kant himself had forbid, as he stated that the quest for the limits of knowledge was to “make room for faith.” Although he later went more secular with his Opus postumum, Kant had calibrated the point at which reason becomes self-defeating. Therefore, liberalism is based on an erroneous conception of its own origins; the Albertian monks after a nuclear winter, adrift in the wasteland, with no books, drawings or tragedies—would assume that the liberal world was, in fact, completely irrational.

So, there is an encompassing heuristic secularization from the Russian revolution onwards, yet one based on the ghosts of Christianity; theology then secularized. The contemporary liberal sentiments, of diversity and equality, adrift in this sea of anonymous individualism, cling to the flotsam of Enlightenment values, the residues of Christianity. Del Noce called it the “history of the expansion of atheism.” Yet we are not here talking of organized religion. We are highlighting the turn from the sacred to the profane. What Patocka called the loss of the “care for the soul.” Liberalism adopts quasi-religious symptoms and constructs a diabolical otherness: “populism,” ”Catholicism,” “community,” are denoted as “heresies” from orthodoxy, hiding this painful denouement to the twentieth century. History is shrouded then in the motifs of secularization and progress. Anything else is “unreason.” Whilst the French Revolution started the motifs of Christian relical values in liberalism, transposed to Russia, and then rolled out through liberalism and materialism—the Cold War was merely a logical outcome of materialist Grossraum competition. This was only realized late on by Marxists such as Adorno, Horkheimer, when they realized that liberalism was a partner of Marxism. So liberal faith has morphed into purely cultural realms, i.e., sexuality, gender, race. Marxism realized then the paucity of a material philosophy and resorted to abandoning the working class for the now ephemeral values of the contemporary milieu. The variations on a theme in the liberal canon are all rooted in one source: the valorization of Christianity into liberalism, and its resurrection into nihilist secularity. The sacred has been firmly buried. What began as the Schmittian inheritance of theological concepts has descended into pure secularity.

The “truth” and the “good” are taken down from the altar of the sacred, from a metaphysical position. But what replaces it? Nietzsche had proclaimed that a new set of values are necessary amidst the death of god. Historicism comes alive, there are no metaphysics anymore. The explanation is rooted in the “now,” there are no permanent features of morality or values, they are constantly transcended, it is the Heraclitan river rushing and formless, the “eternal return,” a punishment by the gods for abandoning them. The transcendence from the sacred involved three steps. The first was the Copernican scientific revolution. It was followed by the grounding of liberalism in this scientific ethos. And the final step was the contemporary ennobling of economic liberalism into cultural liberalism. It is the final phase of the Liberal Cycle which began during the Renaissance. Yet there is a forgetting. The triumphs of cultural liberalism are assembled like relics on a cold alabaster altar with no knowledge of their origin, except for a vague remembrance that it is right, or correct, or should be: a Kantian imperative with no forefather. For there is no real essence to secularization or now its hybrid forms of LGBTQ and gender shaking, a peculiar softness and sensibility surrounds liberal rights; easily offended by a remark, a gesture, whilst bodies stack up in a graveyard near Bakhmut.

Now it seems nothing is sacred against the liberal behemoth. In a recent address the Pope took aim at “conservative” thought, especially those inclined to sacred thinking within the Catholic Church:

I want to remind these people that backwardness is useless, and they must understand that there’s a correct evolution in the understanding of questions of faith and morals that allows for Catholic doctrine to progress over time.

Secularization works by a continuous dismantling of tradition and the sacred. In this all innovation, art, AI, works by constant “progress.” These features, like theatre, literature, art, only have value if they are constantly seen to be moving, shaken. This becomes so vacuous that only a nihilism is left behind, devoid of eternal truth or good. In fact, any form of morality is in an eternal revolution. The west’s liberal Marxism is engrained into institutional settings, in government, in corporations: this march through the institutions by the Frankfurt School, opposing democracy and populism, a trojan horse of secularism, is merely the elites mutatis mutandis: having opposed liberalism they then set up and work for it. So, opposition to liberalism and secularism, in all arenas, blends with the original, due to its essential nihilism.

These two plates then, Christianity and Liberalism clash in this confusion of modernity. Russia, never at home with Marxism, clung to orthodox sacred values. The present conflict is, in fact, a residue of the two plates still in opposition. Russia having residual claims to the sacred, whereby the true intellectuals of Russian life, like Dostoevsky, Ilyich, espoused a rural, blood-and-soil sacredness. Therefore, homo progressivus is not universal and this can be seen also in Chinese Tianxia in the way it expresses a cultural reformation rather than a colonial one. In essence it is particularity which opposes the tsunami of secularization and liberalism works by a push back against any heresy. Islam, Tianxia, Pan-Slavism, Eurasianism, Communitarianism, are always “the other”—the savage in the colonial jungle, that sickly border post with Captain Kurtz surrounded by skulls.

The complete dismantling of Plato; the separation of polis and God, marks the modern secular world. It is democracy, however, which should be sacred, which needs the “holy city” as a sacred guide. Yet liberalism removes democracy, community, participation. Plato had envisaged the “city of God” where the polis is enlightened by the sacred, by the good. But in the contemporary occidental world only echoes of the theological remain, in a vast ocean of secularity. A practical example lies in the prelude (and cause) of the war in the Ukraine. The US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership was, de facto, an alliance for secularization. As well as a military alliance and potential incorporation of Ukraine into NATO, it spoke of “fighting racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, and discrimination, including against Roma and members of the LGBTQI+ communities.” This is universal secularization in action; it has little to do with strategy or geopolitics. It is colonial exchange. It fights against the heretics, imposes a world view which attempts to negate the theological Platonic world of the sacred. Therefore, the Ukraine war is not seen as merely a resource war, but a war about culture, a war about the triumph of secular values. The odd championing of nationalism of the Ukraine seems contradictory in the light of domestic opposition to such movements (the Basque, Republicanism in Ireland, Populism). However, as long as it serves in the secularization crusade, then the Ukraine flags will wave from the town halls of Europe and America. On a philosophical, historical stage of Spenglerian cycles, the war will be seen as a battle for the “value” of the world, between secular liberalism and the remnants of a holy sacred city.

The human polis, separated from the sacred, reverts to the ordinary, to the secular. Life becomes a simulacrum of the sacred, the values of Christendom replaced with the values of a liberal secular credo. Art, politics, religion become a daguerreotype of secularization. The Holy City, replaced by Bentham’s circular “Panopticon” prison, is defunct. On the contrary, there is pushback by the civilizational states against this conquering secular monism. That is, states such as Iran and Russia, see the survival of their cultural realm, their civilization, as existential, and not in the limits of their state frontiers. Civilization consists of an idea, a telos. States consist of artifice and progress, of material scarcity, of the borderlands.

In Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, one of the characters exclaims:

“You’re not Dostoevsky,” said the Citizeness, who was getting muddled by Koroviev.

“Well, who knows, who knows,” he replied.

“Dostoevsky’s dead,” said the Citizeness, but somehow not very confidently.

“I protest!” Behemoth exclaimed hotly. “Dostoevsky is immortal!”


Brian Patrick Bolger studied at the LSE. He has taught political philosophy and applied linguistics in Universities across Europe. His articles have appeared in various magazines in the US, the UK, Italy, Canada and Germany. His latest book is Nowhere Fast: Democracy and Identity in the Twenty First Century.


Featured: The Burning of Troy, by Agostino Tassi; painted ca. 16th-17th centuries.


School of Prayer, Medicine of Life: The Divine Office as Social Salve

Setting Out

One of the features which has accented Apocatastasis Institute from the word go has been the inclusion of the Divine Office in our daily schedule. I mean in this essay to explain why this is. Other and better men have done other and better jobs at explaining what the Office is, its mechanics, history, and spirituality. We are not rehashing that necessary material here. If you are deficient in those sciences, dear reader, put aside this paper and digest those topics before returning. By way of house rules, I will be using the terms Divine Office, the Office, the Discipline, the Liturgy Of The Hours, the Prayer (with a capital p), and the Liturgy (with a capital L) interchangeably.

In this exploration we will look at the Divine Office as a medicine for social wounds, one that is rightly administered in a school setting as schools ought to be directed toward this same end. It is a salve for the wounds of secularism, abstracted pedagogy, personal foibles, and historical accidents. Like any treatment it does not contain the totality of the solution. It nudges, it points, it guides towards the correction.

The Sickness

We are unrooted. Just as one’s posture can be thrown off by flat feet or a bum knee, from unrootedness come a flurry of other ills such as a low trust society, lack of agency, and discouragement. Exploiting these social and personal failures are unscrupulous men operating in unscrupulous combinations. Foundations once destroyed, what can the just do (cf. Ps.10/11)?

Part of our unrootedness stems from economic developments at first affecting Western man, and after the Second World War, all mankind. Part of this condition stems from deliberate schemes to make unrooted men. Modern education, marital laws, and telephonic communication, for example, appear deliberately to trip up natural personal, familial, and social harmony. Part of our unrooted condition is our own concupiscence, particularly our going with the flow of deracinating and deracinated culture. We may blame social institutions all we like, but at a certain point we must hold ourselves responsible for our cooperation with McWorld. The Office is a skeleton upon which to hang real life once more, and a school setting is an opportune place to do this. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and McWorld wasn’t either. If we are to build Christendom, we will need discipline. Hour by hour, brick by brick, the Divine Office is an handy trowel for this erection.

The Myopia of Alt Ed

When I was a little bit younger, I was quite enamored with the educational critique of homeschoolers and unschoolers. To a certain
extent my subsequent exasperation with those communities is that they have not developed their insights into anything more significant than personal necessity. Singular interest is the mark of an immature mind. It is the manful intellect which grasps that the individual is a cell of a larger society; it is the manful body which labors to bring this about.

Howsomeever, I remember at one conference a mot just out of high school—or at least she was of that age, as unschoolers of course don’t go to high school—was asked how to make unschooling more popular. I’ll never forget what she said; it was wisdom in a nutshell, for all true wisdom is pithy. The girl said she didn’t want unschooling to become popular because more people would necessarily mean a watering down of that modality.

Well, she was right. For those of us who have dedicated our energies towards alternative education, we ought to have been careful what we wished for. Our educational critique has become popularized, and much of that critique has become sloganized. As so often happens in history, the subtleties of maxims which slogans assume are lost over time and after a while only the naked maxims are known without the scaffolding of assumptions the sayings originally assumed.

Thus, in Rabbinic Judaism their concept of “the Torah” migrated from the Pentateuch to first include, then prefer, the Talmud. This enlarged “Torah” became unwieldy and was condensed into a third collection, the Gamara, before the rebbes ignited a “back to sources” reaction which began the same cycle of condensation-cum-back to basics cycle again.

In the same way the Christian Fathers were summarized in the Summa and Sentences of Scholasticism which were further condensed into catechisms before triggering a “back to sources” Reformation which shortly found—to the horror of its instigators—that the meaty “Sola Scriptura” rule of thumb was being taken literally. Likewise, the educational critique has fallen fast and far in the last fifty years.

All of this is a long way of saying that men do not think twice in saying, and they’ve all started podcasts to say, that “Public schools should be ended,” “We don’t need schools,” or, my favorite, “Schools are brainwashing camps.” Hey, teacher, leave those kids alone! How men of mature years say such things without reddening at the stupidity of such statements is a testimony to what the media, even—perhaps especially—the conservative media, does to one’s thinking process. Fifty years ago, the likes of John Holt, Raymond Moore, Ivan Illich, and other early pedagogical pioneers made like statements, but they did so from a place of erudition and nuance. It is we, their unlettered grandchildren, who rehash their ideas sans the mountain of meaning they assumed.

As I have often written, the problem with the rainbow of religious and secular conservativisms is that they have no grasp of solving their problems. They spend so much time talking about how they want things to be that their comprehension of things as they are is retarded. Thus the conserved have a fair knowledge of what’s amiss with industrial learning but they have no ability of how to solve these problems, problems which they assert do great harm to souls. Perplexed, they self-contentedly stall out at, “I only have to worry about my family.” What traitors. To conservatism? No, to mankind. To see an evil and not move might and main to right it is cowardice. If one sees a social problem, and they merely respond to it personally, this is effeminate. Prophet Ezekiel said to these epigones of Burke, “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ez. 3:18).

So Here We Are

Into this cooling of public sentiment towards formal education came the COVID shutdowns and what is called Artificial Intelligence. As in many areas of life, these developments sped up processes already in motion. Casualizing trends of life were furthered. If education is simply the individual accrual of data, why not watch an appointed number of pre-recorded classes until the sufficient number of boxes are checked? Added to this is the demographic reality. Babies were not born 12 years ago during the Bush-Obama depression, what the Madison Avenue boys still spin as the “Great Recession,” babies who would just now be entering college. This has caused despair for private schools, who must shift for themselves, and glee for municipalities ever eager to trim the budget.
So here we are. Schools are challenged to explain why they exist. We ought to embrace this challenge.

Whatever the level schools ought to begin at the beginning, we ought to encourage rootedness. Only from this stability can we as educationalists and as citizens address those above-mentioned foul fruits of unrootedness, and only from this can we strike a blow against predatory political, economic, and social combinations.

For twenty years I have seen men appraise what we broadly call the New World Order only to stall out in their attempt to push back. We must start with rootedness in our lives, in our children’s lives, and in those communities which ripple out from that. The environment of formal education is the ideal place to do this, and the Divine Office is the ideal framing of a school day.

Filling The Void

The godlessness of a child’s day is the greatest strike against modern education. Note that I did not say “god-againsted-ness,” but god-less-ness. It is worse to be blasé of the divine than to be hostile. The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is indifference. Before the carousel of errors which attend modern education, the absence of God is the greatest strike. It is the void of what should be there, like a missing limb or an empty seat so lately occupied by a departed. It is a crime that a young one not be told who made them and why they are on this earth. It is this void of meaning which chiefly explains the ever-rising percentage of teens who go mad.

You see, though, it is not enough to establish the fact of a student’s Creator, this must be often and commonly acknowledged. The school day is a liturgy of a sort, it certainly is ritualistic. The warm presence of God ought to assert itself in the educational rhythm just as formally and regularly as the schedule of instruction. Ergo, the Office.
Rhythm

The holy Office grounds us in time as the holy Mass does in space. This is to say, the Divine Liturgy accents the physicality of Christianity while the Office highlights our temporal rootedness. In both instances the holy Liturgy insists that religion is not an amalgam of beliefs one ascribes to. This error of definition is the result of the one-two punch of the Reformation and Enlightenment. By assembling for the Prayer in groups at the regular times we are reminded that the Kingdom Of God is already on this earth, that Christian life is a social reality not a me-and-Jesus duo, and that a soul wherein God dwells is in heaven now.

An Inconvenient Truth

Religion ought to have a certain inconvenience to it; its very imposition asserts its importance. You may remember that nugget the next time a Day of Devotion—what is now flatly named an Holy Day of Obligation—rolls around. Yes, the point of religion is to be inconvenient, to impose itself upon the mundane.

Let us recall the old apologetic for Abraham’s sacrifice of Issac: What one will not sacrifice automatically becomes one’s god. If something, someone, or some habit stands in the way of God, that thing in se is one’s deity. Congratulations Liquor, Anger, and Sloth, you’ve been promoted! But once God busts those fellas down to size one gets God back and not some idol. The clock can be an idol as soon as anything else. Musha, in a school the clock is more liable to be an idol than anywhere outside of a stock exchange, a racetrack, or a prison. That the Prayer interrupts a school day reminds both pedagogues and learners that there is a divine order greater than our daily concerns.

While this dynamic is true for genuinely sinful things it also holds that legitimate pleasures, persons, and habits may be sacrificed to stay in good form. The sacrifice of time, of my precious personal schedule, is just as fitting a way for the inconvenience of God to assert himself as in my diet (fasting) and sleep (vigils). St. Paul gave up his persecution (Acts 9), but he also gave up his hair in a vow (Acts 18), one was a sacrifice of his sin, the other was part of an optional vow, both moved him closer to God.
It is the genius of Catholicism to knead into daily life many opportunities to, “offer it up.”

The Office is a medicine to anomie by relentlessly and repeatedly squishing us together time and time again. It is a medicine to meaninglessness by taking our class time and sacrificing some of it to God.

Sacrifice is not a destruction, as Pope Benedict reminds us, “What then does sacrifice consist of? Not in destruction, not in this or that thing, but in the transformation of man. In the fact that he becomes himself conformed to God. He becomes conformed to God when he becomes love. ‘That is why true sacrifice is every work which allows us to unite ourselves to God in a holy fellowship,’ as Augustine puts it.” The Office provides the individual and social groups the opportunity to remember the imposition of the divine so often as he takes the Church up on the Discipline. The Prayer is work, and the manful soul does not shirk from the same. Whether I feel like praying or not, the Discipline reminds me that faith is not a feeling. In fact, the more disinclined I am to pray canonically the more I may learn this lesson.

Generosity

Manys the father has warily contemplated how the generosity of manys his daughter may find itself in the arms of some roguish and unworthy Chad. Yet behind this so middle class of anxieties is a calm and beautiful observation. Young people are in fact generous by nature. Youth may benefit from the mature mien of the Divine Office precisely in proportion to the delightful excess of sentiment which characterizes that chapter of life.

The other-directed focus of liturgy is a defining characteristic of this highest of prayers. When this is rightly conveyed to young ones their natural generosity of spirit will ignite great attraction towards the Liturgy. Present to students the other-centeredness of the liturgy with the same tone of voice as one speaks of the Peace Corp, Teach For America, military service, and environmental protection and you will see them rise to the occasion.

We have seen the popularization of “service hours” as part of both grade and tertiary education in these states United. On the one hand it is laudable students be led to understand education is not the isolated accumulation of knowledge and successful completion of hoops jumped; on the other this codification is a sure sign of social decomposition. The moment virtue can only be furthered by institutionalization is the moment that virtue has died in a people. Ask Augustus if his sumptuary and fertility laws revived the Arcadian manliness of the early Republic. Forsooth, if authority must impose on students artificial charity via service hours this is a greater commentary on the sour parental souls which reared such lead-eyed children. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Join students at the generous prayer for the world which is the Liturgy Of The Hours and you will prime the pump for civic generosity in later life, Chads notwithstanding.

The Office in schools is advisable because it trains the student to a regime of prayers offered chiefly for others, not himself. The Discipline breaks the consumerist attitude which does such damage at present in the religious and academic spheres. It is a sacrificial work of charity where the young pray-er learns quickly he is not the star of the show.

Community

The Discipline roots us in our neighborhood. Another poverty of Modernity which the Divine Office enriches is community. Over the last decade every Freemason town council from coast to coast has slapped “community” on their letterheads and welcome signs. Like “fresh” food and “democratic” government, it may be the use of the word expresses the desires for the thing more than the thing itself contains, but it’s a start.

The Divine Office forms community. It ought always be done in a group, and preference must be given to this aspect of the prayer over every other. Community before everything with it comes to the Office. Here we see once again how the Prayer checks our own eccentricities. It happens that when I say the Prayer myself I do tick off many liturgical boxes I do not when I go to my local parish. When I’m by myself I strike off, “Ad Orientem,” “Latin,” “posture,” and “chant.” Yes, in some ways my private performance of the ritual is in tighter conformity with the history and mind of the Church than it is at the church down the street, but those ways, alas, are Orthodox and protestant (sic) ways.

This is to say that Catholicism is the only Christian group which is realistic; Catholicism is the only group to say that the Church is a present reality, not a fetish of the First Century or the First Millenium. “Realistic” and “reality” come from the Latin word “res,” physical thing. Catholicism is the church par excellence which believes the Church is a social reality now, one may join its ceremonies now, pray with its adherents now, and phone up its ministers now. Most importantly, the Church Of Rome is the only church which at once umpires Christian heritage while adamantly refusing to become a slave of the past or of the present. It is the only church to see the Holy Spirit’s role in history in the eternal now, to see it in kairos time. It is on this point one must always prefer common celebration of the Hours over private.

At manys the church I’ve joined in at the Office there has rarely been a consciousness of orientation, sacred language, physicality, or musical quality. In fact, in the best bare bones American liturgical tradition, I am certain that the people at the local parishes I join at the Office haven’t the slightest idea that the normative setting of the Office is recto tono chant to say nothing of the other niceties. Theirs is a celebration as banal as we’ve come to expect from all suburban religion. The people there are befuddled by even minor calendric variations, even if those variations have been encountered hundreds of times before. These dear souls are like the forgetful Dory in Finding Nemo. I sometimes wonder how they operated a vehicle competently enough to get to the building. Nevertheless the communal dimension of the prayer outweighs all other considerations, and their common banality outweighs whatever traditional elements I may personally bring to the ritual.

This supremacy doubly wars against individuality, it wars against the inherent protestant tendency Americans are drawn to as a feature of our national character, and it wars against the individuality consumerism is eager to stoke in men. It’s all the easier to sells tchotchkes to isolated and lonely people than those who know they are cells in something great, be it a family, country, or church. When one is unrooted, your capitalist moneyman is the least of your problems. If one is isolated, he is prey to all sorts of personal and political tyrannies. If you think it is rough falling into the hands of the living God, you should try the embrace of a dead god. Isolate men and watch the attorney, the drug man, and the usurer come into their own… on your neck. Isolate men and you will learn what real chains are. But welcome school children into a living community in conversation with the living God, and all liturgy is conversation, and those ones will grow up and put to flight those pimps. One appreciates the common Office as one matures, and a chronic solo prayer when community participation is possible must be scorned as the fruit of a juvenile soul.

As Fr. Charles Miller writes in his handy commentary Making The Day Holy, “It is true that bishops and major religious superiors have the authority to commute the Office to some other form of prayer [for those under vows]. Such commutation may be justified in individual cases and for a period of time, but the arrangement and content of the Office allow for and even occasion a spiritual development and maturity which cannot be found elsewhere.” Vows or no’, the liturgy teaches the participant maturity.

The Office’s job is to cramp my style and yours. It’s easier to stay home and pray by myself. When online celebration of the liturgy came in vogue during the COVID days, it was easier not to boot up the computer. While the ease of saying the Office increased, I still was making excuses. What the Liturgy was inviting me to was to reach outside of myself into community.

What makes the Office especially appropriate to schools is the existing congregation of learners. In a sense the Office in schools sacramentalizes the academic community. This is nothing more than what all liturgy ought to do, take the work-a-day and point it, if only from time to time, towards God. This is true for sacramental ceremonies and the Divine Office all the way down to the objects of the Rituale, be it a blessing for a mug of beer, a motorcycle, or a puppy dog.

How often does the student ask quietly and out loud, why are we doing this? It is often an unsatisfactory or absent response from a teacher which triggers a life of intellectual apathy. If one’s teachers were not able to pitch a life of the mind, the student sensibly concludes, it probably isn’t worthwhile. The Office allows all those involved in an educational setting, instructors, students, and—my enemies until I had to become one—administrators—to take our time in school and in a concrete, ritualized fashion offer it in a meaningful way to God, the ground of meaning.

Finally, the regular celebration of the Hours breaks the isolation which the modern top-down classroom nurtures, and which the COVID days exacerbated. Surely, I cannot be the only man who has noticed the rise of people averting their gaze in daily interactions. Lowering eyes were once the province of the young child and the cutpurse. What does it say that a nation’s people comport themselves as such? Externals show internals, and you know as soon as I the feeble spirit which shifty eyes announce.

At Apocatastasis we smash shyness by lassoing all, including the reticent, into the ceremony. We do this by developing a schedule of who will be cantor and hebdomadarian from day to day; these roles throw the shy student into a role of leadership. In a low-stakes setting it breaks the shyness of our time. By inches student participation at the Divine Office builds confidence in the young learner, confidence being the necessary footing of an agentic life in years to come. Rear a generation weaned on agency and watch the tyrants run like rabbits.

A Gentle Reminder

It is the hour of the times that just as the nature of Postmodernity is making itself known, that the last fumes of Christianity are wafting off from the West. The Baby Boomers were hardly evangelized, but they had enough of the old-time religion to keep up some Christian habits. If they wouldn’t go to church each week, they’d at least go quarterly or annually; if their tongue wasn’t squeaky clean, they at least didn’t want cussing on television; if their personal creed likely had all sorts of heresies imbibed from pop culture, they at least put their child in CCD. Those Boomers have now aged out of active society. But as lukewarm as that generation was, they acted as a dam against nasty social developments. Should you wonder why one sees a quickening of unchristian social trends, know it is because that lamely Christian generation are going to their fathers. What is worse than lame faith? No faith. Lame religion at least is a start. Go ask Apollos if he had an easier time working with people who knew of the Holy Spirit or with those who didn’t (Acts 19). One has a better chance reaching people with a distant, sentimental memory of God than people who’ve no foundation a’tall.

Ecumenism

The Great Speckled Bird is looking a bit rough. If we see a paganization of society, what purports to be Christianity itself has seen better days. The mainline protestant denominations have gone the way of all flesh. The old-time protestants who have successfully maintained the “mere Christianity” of the Reformation, those who have not been swept into the Church Of What’s Happening Now, are shattering into a hundred (more) ham-fisted sects in response to the stresses of Postmodernity.

If the secular conservative who baldly asserts, “We don’t need no education,” is incapable of seizing the authority in society—the actual authority, what we might call gravitas—worse by far is Pastor Billy’s Bible Church. The protestants are good men, and they’re Christian men, and they’re holy, but the Radical Reformation protestantism which defines American religion is hopelessly shattered. Unmoored from tradition, canon law, hierarchy, and the example of the saints, American low down, hoedown Christianity is more apt to speed up secularism as anything else. Who can blame men scandalized by these sectarians when they conclude that the husks of the World are more tolerable than the fads and eccentricities of the Saved.

Protestantism can do fughall in the face of an organizationally unified New World Order and the secularism which philosophically undergirds it. In fact, I make bold to say the abysmal failure of conservatism, particularly religious conservatism, to conserve anything stems from the absence of a liturgical consciousness. Until they put on this mind they will continue riding around as so many Lone Rangers. Then again, there’s a strange thrill many of the conserved get fancying they’re the last of the Mohicans. Anyone up for an hotel room Latin Mass or Gab group?

Mind you, all is not well in Catholicville. Near as I can tell, the Roman Catholic faithful are split on the one hand between normies who have no understanding of present dechristianization, and on the other hand, nervous Savonarola types who’ve made totems of the past, and the neither of them has the slightest interest or energy for evangelization. Sure, life gets you coming and going.

The Church Reaches Out

As we labor in the classroom to form an intelligent and agentic generation we see the Divine Office extending two arms, one to the lost World and one to a shattered and anemic Church.

Towards the Postmodern world it offers beauty. Things are far too far gone to make rational appeals to men. A wallop upside the head by beauty is the surest way to attract the lost. As Dostoevsky’s Idiot says, “Beauty will save the world.” Of course, rational appeals can be beautiful, but for a society given to images it is the physical which is fetching.

It is on this account care ought to be shown towards the chant tradition and posture, even in humble, mundane, and yes—grouch as I might—in individual celebration. While clerics are too easy to dismiss liturgical complexity on pastoral grounds, perhaps those with the care of souls have their finger on a pulse which ought to be heeded. Allahu a’alam. In a school, however, greater attention ought to be given to posture and music in the beautiful drama of the Office and the liturgy in toto. As scholastics we must see ourselves as marking time until general society has the maturity and appreciation of these elements of the liturgy once more.

What people often forget when discussing the simplification of the liturgy in the Twentieth Century is that the educational soil of the masses, which once had been fairly grounded in the Classics, including not just the rudiments of Latin but a familiarity with a canvas of ancient literature and allusions, was so eroded by the 1930s and ‘40s that the ceremonial of the Church necessarily had to change to be intelligible. This was not the fault of clerics but of schoolmen. That the New American Bible, the liturgical version of the scriptures used in Yankeeland, is written for a seventh-grade reading level is proof of how far general education has gone down the tubes. The liturgical simplifications we see are a loving condescension of the Church to the aliteracy of the modern man. Perhaps if enough teachers and students take our vocations seriously, we will raise the sophistication of mankind high enough to forge a people once again capable of enjoying a fuller rituale.

You never know who is watching, nor who might be struck by your diligent performance of the Prayer. In manys the field trip and like outing of Apocatastasis’ we have had occasion to establish the Prayer in public. The students always bring beauty and poise to the workaday bustle. The celebration of the Office is neither preachy, lengthy, nor self-important; three strikes against protestantized America Christianity (and I include much of Catholicism under this umbrella). Those elements of formal faith which has so turned off the mass of our countrymen are not present in the Liturgy. It is a chaste prayer, deliberately short and to the point in the Western tradition.

Towards those souls baptized into Christ but outside Christ’s Church, the Office poses neither the sacramental nor the sacerdotal difficulties encountered when the topic of ecumenism meets that of the holy Mass. At an hour where, on the one hand, Catholic schools for financial reasons must allow students from diverse faith traditions or none a’tall (and “nones” are the fastest growing religious demographic at present), and at an hour where the general population is more and more seeking alternatives to public education, many are the ecumenical possibilities of the Divine Office. You see, ecumenical celebration of the holy Mass runs aground because the sectarian is necessarily unable to receive communion, whereas the Office allows for full participation of the Catholic, the protestant, and the Orthodox, hell, even of your Druids and your voodoo men, without the climax of the prayer leaving some excluded. The Office may be an ecumenical halfway house between private prayers and that full liturgical participation which must await reception into the Catholic Church to enjoy. The Office is a gentle introduction of liturgical prayer which may in time, please God, invite the worshiper into the fullness of the Church.

At the same time the Hours pointedly assert the grave wound ecumenism means to address and heal: authority. By participating in the liturgy one de facto acknowledges the authority of the magisterial Church. One doesn’t make a de jure submission to the Church of Christ, true, but one at least verbs submission to the hierarchy and all that means, if only in the interest of practicality and order.

It is in the Office celebrated over a lengthy period one can see the Church’s mind on topics brought into contention by sectarians such as the sacraments, the role of Mary, and even the hierarchy itself known not as a statement to be asserted intellectually but as a reality manifested in living contact with the living God. Those doctrines proper to Rome are massaged into the rhythm of prayer in a manner disarming to American protestants so used to polemical disputation.
Patience

The Office teaches patience with myself and with others. It teaches us that the perfect and be the enemy of the good. It does not take long with students new to the Prayer is realize that, “Today things won’t look like Solesmes!” This is good. The halting, the wrong pages and antiphons, the rough pronunciation, all of these are good in learning the beauty of imperfection; they check whatever of the anal retentive we may have.

The imperfection of our celebration is itself a sacramental. Various trends presently combine to make men more apt to sever ties. Regardless of one’s worldview, those others of his mind are more liable to end relationships as they purity spiral off their high horses. This is hardly a leftist or secular trait. The Office teaches us to bear with each others’ superfluities in patience.

Liberality

It also instructs us in liberality. There was a time, and more than a passing phase, when I was personally quite strict with the easterly direction of prayer, chant, posture, and the like. The high point of this energy was when I said Terce on and in a MetroNorth train bathroom.

As I’ve gotten older, I turned into a terrible liberal. While I still keep up with the whole cursus of the Liturgia Horarum, I only mind the above trappings twice a day. The other hours are apportioned between online groups and pacing recitation; I’ve even taken to combining hours, using the Angelus as a palate cleanser between one prayer and another. Ah, musha, if I keep up like this, I’ll be a grunting Hottentot in no time!

In later years I’ve worked in a balance between the present books and prior editions of the Office. In doing so I’ve come across the subtleties different rites and orders have developed in their prayer. An especially happy invention and subsequent addition to my celebration has been the reading of monastic rules as part of the morning cursus. This develops of width of vision when it comes to life which nothing else can offer. The diversity of the Divine Office undermines the “my way or the highway” mien which affects both modern religious life, and—as politics serves the role of religion for many skins—differences of worldview.

A maturity develops in all of these. As one learns of the vastness of the liturgical tradition in one’s rite and in the Church at large it becomes obvious that one cannot reasonably do each facet of the Office each day and still see to their duty of state. In fact, the tradition is so grand that a monastic could not do as much. In response to this one, learns moderation, one learns that the liturgy is an organ which pulses on beyond oneself. Rather than being a watering down, this necessary moderation teaches one they are a living cell, part of a larger whole.

Applied Education

As a teacher of the humanities, the Prayer drives home points taught in class which only repetitious ceremonies can develop over months, years, and decades. Because of the nature of industrial education, a model which has largely been adopted into homeschooling, it happens that students come to the Institute with a nigh on impossible ability to imagine different sciences connected one to another. Because of the way disciplines are broken up, the learner’s mental muscle of seeing life in a united whole is atrophied.

The Liturgy Of The Hours is a corrective to this handicap. The hymns, antiphons, Psalms, lessons, and collects were written at widely different times, yet they speak of a united reality. It is a literary museum of sorts, with the different elements a pastiche of various cultures and personalities. The Office teaches not only a liturgical tradition, but it trains the mind to grasp what academic traditions are.

Rebuilding

The Office is nothing more than the spiritual radio station of the Church. What an honor for schools to participate in educating a people fit to tune into this station. Yes, it is true that vernacular liturgy is permissible at present, and doubly yes, it is true that vernacular celebration is the expressed policy of the American episcopate. This is a sign not of liberalism or watering anything down; vernacular celebration is a pastoral allowance in the face of the population’s receding education. As hours in class increase, and more and more men sport advanced degrees, it seems the actual general education declines.

While acknowledging pastoral necessity—it may be the population is too dull to appreciate things like chant, for example—it is the charge of schoolmen to not just meet present needs but to make provision for a future society better educated. When that time comes what laurels teachers will have for having formed men capable of joining in the Church’s rich caeremoniale with all of its august trappings. Yes, it is as clear as clear can be the Church does not care about its liturgical heritage. Let us mark time until it does once more.

The Big Picture

Never have I ever blushed in saying that the fundamental telos of Apocatastasis Institute has been to form a people capable of personal, economic, political, and cultural self-defense. Indeed, the role of all right schools is to form such a people, men capable of asserting their rights against bullies and pimps. Forsooth, the Lord above only game man a body so that he may throw it against evil.

Here at home, it is certain that the tyranny which is building in one corner, and the liberty which men are nurturing in another, will meet in a fight. These two energetic lines will have it out in physical force. It is the solemn duty of all right education to form men mentally, spiritually, and socially capable for this exertion. Unlike what the goofy conservatives and truth community hold, that this row will happen when The Cathedral pushes too many people too far, this fight to the knife will not be won by free mankind for some generations out, not in this part of the world at least. Those who think they have a bead on events are bugged the hell out on The Patriot and Rambo films; the conservatives speak like little boys watching Westerns.

Hayya ‘Ala-l-falah

It is a point of record that the most muscular and competent response to the New World Order has been from the Ummah of Mohammed. If my above assertion about schools and self-defense is correct, then it behooves us to observe the role which canonical prayer played in forming a homogeneous Islamic population capable of the discipline of physical exertion. The point, and it is a point best learned early, is that spiritual liberation precedes physical efforts at the same. That is what the Muslims’ manly striving teaches us.

There will be a fight, forsooth, but it will not be in our time if it’s to be successful. It is for schoolmen to prepare a people fit for a national liberation struggle which is generations distant. Before men can responsibly assert themselves in arms, for a physical force struggle is the highest test of a community’s coherence and competence, there must be a spiritual, mental, and interpersonal revival.

I do not say it is given to us to arrange what must be, I do not say it is for us to advocate for it, I do not even say that when the time ripens to bring the tyrants to heel that it will be advisable to engage in a fight. I say that what goes for individuals goes for societies, that vigilance is the price of security, and that complete men capable of spiritual, mental, and physical self-defense can check criminals when they come looking for trouble. It is for schools to form such a pacific but prepared people.

Of all the lessons learned in school, the daily Office teaches a master class in the lessons of dedication, piety, patience, and comity, those things which prevent physical striving for liberty from becoming seven times more unjust than what preceded it. The errors of Islam notwithstanding, the discipline which their salah instilled in them was the biggest ingredient in their drubbing of the globalists’ armies.

Remember Baghuz!

Yes, the greatest opposition the confederates of the New World Order have faced in our day was from the Muslims when they trespassed on their lands. I have lost count of the number of amputees of a certain age I have come across hobbling about Connecticut as a grim testimony of this fact.

It is advisable that patriots note how the men of other lands have struggled against the New World Order. In all the times and climes, we may observe, the victory of the Taliban is the greatest triumph of self-determination in our lifetime. Close on the heels of that I adduce the insurgency of the Second Iraq War and elements of the Arab Spring. Now don’t worry, I’ll not be going in for that damn Islam anytime soon, and I am well aware of the fanaticism, insanity, criminality, and infiltration which characterized the Middle Eastern, if not the Central Asian, Islamic response to the New World Order. Still and all, the globalists were dressed down in their attempt to lasso the Dar al-Islam into their banking network. This Western banking scheme explains in a nutshell the last 20 years of the Western and Islamic tussle. Still and all, who is sitting in Kabul?

I followed the saga of the War On Terror closely, I follow it yet. How many stories are there of Muslims praying Salawat in the middle of military operations, sometimes amidst the red rush of battle itself. Who did not stare in awe to see the men of ISIS maintaining to the last their liturgical cursus even as the Kurdish communists set upon them in the football field of Baghuz Fawqani. I care not that Islam is a false religion, nor that ISIS represented the worst of the Muslim people, nor that the group was riven with supergrasses and madmen. What I hold up from that strange group at that desperate hour is the sociological value of canonical prayer as a stiffener against overwhelming odds.

Conclusion

The Divine Office is particularly fitted to a school because it grounds the student’s life and study in meaning, teaches by rote academic lessons which cannot be grasped in a lecture, refines our etiquette, and offers a calm onramp to liturgical prayer to a multiconfessional people.

Being an other-centered-prayer, the Office teaches us piety classically understood, piety as the outlay of energy and attention given for the health of the polis. The Prayer formalizes good citizenship as it calls us in the classroom and neighborhood together again and again and again and reminds us of our Creator and the symphony of salvation of which we are all a part. In so doing, the Divine Office checks the antisocial habits telephonic interaction not only tolerates but encourages. The Prayer is a gentle curative to the schisms of the last 500 years.

Finally, the discipline of the Office nurtures a cornucopia of sentiments and virtues which are prerequisites of any national liberation effort. We may say that the percentage of the community who regularly join in the Prayer will broadly be an indicator of the percentage of men capable of putting bullies in their place. All of this, bully banging as soon as anything else, are lessons best introduced during one’s formative school years. Root a child in his Creator, his community, and in meaning and watch an oak of a man grow.

Well, that’s that, as the girl said to the sailor.


John Coleman co-hosts Christian History & Ideas, and is the founder of Apocatastasis: An Institute for the Humanities, an alternative college and high school in New Milford, Connecticut. Apocatastasis is a school focused on studying the Western humanities in an integrated fashion, while at the same time adjusting to the changing educational field. Information about the college can be found at their website.


Featured: Modi orandi sancti Domini, ca. 14th-15th centuries.


The Collapse of Anglo-American Liberalism, or The Genealogy of “Wokism”

A genealogy is here understood as analogous to a genetic analysis or family history. Later thinkers “inherit” or appropriate some genes from one source but some genes from other sources. Earlier thinkers would not necessarily understand, approve of, or agree with what later thinkers did with the original inheritance.

In its intellectual journey, the key question concerns the relation of the moral dimension to the political dimension.

Biblical

The Hebrew prophets made the moral dimension define the political dimension. That is the whole point of being a “prophet.”

Greek Philosophy (Plato vs. Aristotle)

Plato: dualism: reason should control passion; ideal moral world (should) define the political structure. It’s the Laws, not the Republic, stupid. The role of government is negative, restrain the bad guys. Major relevant inheritors of this line of thought are Augustine, Protestant Reformation, Kant, and (yes) J.S. Mill.

Aristotle: monism: the social world is to be understood in the same way we understand the physical world. For Aristotle, this means teleology. Each institution has a goal; (b) institutions form a hierarchy; (c) the state is the supreme institution because it aims at the highest and most comprehensive collective goal. By making the state (the polity) the supreme institution, the political dimension defines the moral dimension: to be good is to conform to the natural goal of an institution. The political institution (state) has a positive/therapeutic role – to promote fulfillment; utopia (achieving fulfillment) is possible because the “form is in the matter.” Inheritors of this genetic line include Aquinas, Bentham, Reich, modern liberals, socialists, Marxists, and “wokists.”

Christianity (Augustine vs. Aquinas)

Augustine “Platonized” Christianity: As a dualist, he argued that we lived in two worlds: “passion” is the product of original sin and free will; “reason” becomes the insight or vision of the “whole” imparted to some by the mystery of God’s grace. Augustine’s “dedivinized the state,” detaching the spiritual/moral dimension from the political and legal dimensions. The moral dimension defines the political dimension. Personal (positive) fulfillment comes by participation in the spiritual/moral realm (Church). Public life (politics) is a necessary evil wherein the role of government is negative to inhibit or punish the bad guys.

Aquinas reconceptualized Christianity from an Aristotelian point of view. He transformed Augustine’s subordination of politics to morality to the subordination of politics to law understood as deriving in hierarchal and teleological fashion from divine law. The earth and all of its inhabitants are members of a divine community. The Church claimed leadership of the world by appropriating the Aristotelian notion of a totalizing and encompassing institution. The Church asserted its independence of and the subordination of political institutions to itself by claiming access to a natural law derived ultimately from divine law, codified as canon law. This sounds like Augustine but it is significantly different. The Roman Catholic Church offers therapeutic salvation through habitual practices such as the sacraments including confession and penance.

Institutionally, the hierarchical/monarchical structure of the Church terminates logically and historically in a Pope who eventually claims infallibility. Alternatively, some lay Catholics advocate integralism. This is but another way of saying the institutional/political structure defines the moral dimension.

Physical Science (a) Plato vs. Aristotle; (b) Newton vs. Descartes

(a) Modern 17th-century physics is totally Platonic, rejecting Aristotle’s naturalism and teleology. In its place we get mathematical models (Descartes, Leibniz, Galileo, Newton). Despite the popular distinction between empiricists and rationalists, every modern philosopher from Descartes onwards presumed that the mind in some way or other constructs our experience.

(b) The directly relevant contrast is between Newtonian atomism and Cartesian holistic plenum (denial of empty space and action at a distance).

The fundamental Anglo-American orientation is, historically speaking, a fundamental opposition to the concentration of power. This is originally directed against government. British Enlightenment philosophers conceptualize this opposition by opting for Galileo and (anti-teleological deterministic/mechanized) Newtonian atomism. Ethics (teleological) is replaced by moral philosophy. Initially, classical liberalism seems to be a political stance seeking a moral grounding.

Human beings are understood as atomistic strivers [Galilean Hobbes] wherein reason does not overrule passion [first law of motion, Hume] but operates, when properly contextualized (second law of motion), within a contractually harmonious social context [Hobbes, Locke, Mandeville; Hume and Smith on sympathy] sometimes guaranteed by God [Locke]. In political economy [joined by French Anglophiliac acolytes such as Montesquieu, Constant, and Tocqueville], the non-teleological moral dimension seemingly overrules the political dimension by demanding negative liberty on the assumption that self-interest is rightly understood (Bentham’s felicific calculus).

Hume will have misgivings and revert to a quasi-historical understanding. Absent Macaulay historicism, this is where the evolution and collapse of liberalism will be initiated.

French Enlightenment philosophers were not part of the liberal tradition because they were generally influenced by Descartes’ physics with its emphasis on a holistic plenum rather than atomism and hence its commitment to a kind of collectivism. This is clear in the philosophes, Rousseau, Comte but also in Marx who was swayed by the Comtean notions of sociology and scientism. The operative position was that the political (whole) defined the moral and thereby authorized a social technology. These theorists opted for social technology within a (nationalism-socialism) framework and/or fascism {totalitarian democracy (Talmon on why this is different from authoritarian conservatism)}, or (internationalist) Marxism but not “wokism.”

The German Enlightenment and its romantics were influenced by the Platonic and religious (Reformation) cultural inheritance with its emphasis on the individual control of desire as in Kant. This required Kant to reinterpret the whole of human knowledge from a transcendental Platonic perspective invoking alleged synthetic a priori guarantees for God, freedom, and immortality.

Curiously, both Kant and Hegel (Kojeve, Fukuyama) provided a moral foundation for political liberalism only recently recognized and appreciated.

Neither Kant, nor Hegel, nor Nietzsche has anything to do with Nazism. Nazism is the German version of (anti-semitic) nationalist-socialism eventually theorized as fascism (Schmitt) in opposition to liberalism and internationalist Marxism. Post-WWII Germany reverts to gemeinschaft-moral demands on their constitution as opposed to gesellschaft ones.

The Degradation of Liberalism

All modern moral philosophy began with the Renaissance (Mirandola) postulation of an individual human being choosing and pursuing his/her own directions of activity. What needs to be explained is what obligations we have to others. The negative liberty of the British Enlightenment presupposes a self (selves) pursuing its (their) self-interest properly understood. In a deterministic (Newtonian) world there is no telos that guarantees that any individual possesses an individual homeostasis or that a group of individuals has such a homeostasis that would enable proper understanding. This lack of a guarantee becomes all the more problematic in democratic societies (threat of the “tyranny” of the majority in Tocqueville and in J.S. Mill). Whatever the shortcomings of other positions, there is no knock-down argument that any individual is better off always respecting the interests of others (Hume’s sensible knave).

Absent such a guaranteed convergence, other alternatives arise. First, the British Idealists (T.H. Green, Bradley, Bosanquet) rejected the “atomistic” form of individualism. Instead, they argued that humans are fundamentally social beings who by their very nature owed obligations to help others. The British Idealists did not, however, reify the State but became what we know as Modern Liberals promoting a welfare state version of the felicific calculus in opposition to classical liberals. Other writers such as G.B. Shaw and the Fabians (Webb) promoted this view in popular culture

Second, (A.V. Dicey), socialistic ideas were in no way a part of dominant legislative opinion earlier than 1865, and their influence on legislation did not become perceptible until 1868 or dominant until 1880. Moreover (Dicey) the opposition between the individualistic liberalism of 1830 and the democratic socialism of 1905 conceals the heavy debt owed by English collectivists to the utilitarian reformers. From Benthamism the socialists inherited a legislative dogma [principle of utility], a legislative instrument [parliamentary sovereignty], and a legislative tendency [constant extension of the mechanism of government]. The specific ends of Benthamite legislation were subsistence, abundance, security, sexual equality, environmentalism, and animal rights “each maximized, in so far as is compatible with the maximization of the rest.” The principle of the greatest happiness of the greatest number is inimical to the idea of liberty and to the idea of rights (Himmelfarb). Socialists acknowledge social dysfunction and even moral depravity as the product of the market economy’s threatening concentration of great power which requires, in response, using the political institution to correct or counterbalance the perceived degradation of the moral domain.

The third significant feature is the sexualization of liberalism, socialism, and Marxism. Enter Wilhelm Reich, incorporating his version of psychoanalysis into dialectical materialism. The most powerful and potentially self-destructive and socially disruptive drive in human beings is sex. In his mis-appropriation of Freud, Reich argued that neurosis (and all other dysfunction) could only be cured by having a proper orgasm understood as the full discharge of the libido in which you lose your ego and embrace your social self. Reich is the “founder of a genital utopia” (Sharaf). Reich has had a remarkable influence on popular culture from Foucault to Norman Mailer to films and pop music.

Liberalism in general has always known what it is against but not what it favors. It inherited a moral compass but it philosophically rejects custom and tradition and history as sufficient grounds. The consequence is no moral compass. Hence, the modern liberal welfare state does not have a clear conception of the nature and limits of the use of social technology. Instead, it has used social technology to redefine morality. It struggles to design education as a way of dealing with the challenges of parliamentary democracy, and continually expands the role of government until it becomes indistinguishable from democratic socialism. The perceptive Marxist critique of democratic socialism ultimately nudges it to discard the “democratic” qualifier as inhibiting long-term planning. Hence the embrace by some of “wokism” indistinguishable in practice from totalitarian Marxism and fascism.

Summary

From Hobbes to Bentham, the liberal view is that human nature is nothing but appetites. The role of liberty is to mediate between appetites unbound and the binding required by other appetitive beings. This requires removing the restrictions on appetites. The politics of emancipation in the Anglo-American world is the dialectical resolution of this role. It incorporates the satiation of one’s appetites, the right of respect for having one’s appetites and determinations (being/identity), control of education to enable the breaking up of traditional/oppressive forms of social reproduction to enable this appetitive self, as well as the political demand that this emancipated self receives the resources (reparations, career and office holding opportunities) distributed on the basis of one’s identity that enable its perpetuity. The emancipation of self requires for its realization a complete overhaul of the entire political, economic, pedagogical, and social spheres.

The alternative view of the self is that liberty is in the service of internal freedom or autonomy (self-control). That is why Mill rejected Bentham, and why he reconstructed utilitarianism to reflect all four versions of Kant’s categorical imperative, and reasserted the Platonic view that the “moral” defines the “political.” As opposed to the other forms of liberalism, Mill, following Kant, maintains that no one can or should promote or have an obligation to promote from the outside the moral perfection of another person because that contradicts and undermines the internal freedom that is a condition of moral perfection. Mill saved liberalism from itself, but it was too late.


Nicholas Capaldi is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University, New Orleans.


Featured: Collapse of the Roof, by Nicholas Evans; painted in 1978.


Catholicism’s Vital Forces: Finally Seeing Reality!

On May 5, La Croix published a survey on the subject of “Why Catholic families have difficulty passing on their religion,” pointing out that in France 91% of Muslims, 84% of Jews and only 67% of Catholics retain their religion from one generation to the next. Admittedly, the minority phenomenon no doubt goes a long way to explaining the high rate of transmission in Muslim and Jewish families, whereas disaffection is more likely to affect a “majority” religion in a socio-political context where Christianity is marginalized.

That said, this “majority” status of Christians is now outdated, with only 25% of 18-59 year-olds declaring themselves to be Catholic, compared with 43% twelve years earlier. The situation is therefore worrying. La Croix notes, however, that some of the faithful pass on the faith far better than others:

“These observant and rather conservative Catholic families successfully steer their spiritual reproduction, carefully selecting the religious socialization of their children (Catholic schools, youth movements, friendship circles).”

And the fact that Catholicism is becoming a minority religion accentuates this phenomenon, notes Yann Raison du Cleuziou, interviewed in the La Croix article:

“In a minority landscape, a religion tends to restructure itself in order not to disappear. This reconfiguration leads to an intensification of the “familiar” around distinctive practices.”

Drawing Conclusions

What’s extraordinary is the incredible contrast between the fairly unanimous agreement on the observation, relayed even by La Croix, a newspaper hardly known for its “conservative” positions, and the total absence of conclusions drawn from this observation! What more will it take for our Catholic elites to understand that what attracts and remains fruitful in the Church is in no way akin to the hackneyed assumptions of progressivism?

These assumptions—ordinations of married men and women, blessing of same-sex couples, acceptance of contraception, softening of Christian morality, etc.—have solved nothing wherever they have been used. Wherever they have been implemented (as in Protestantism), they have solved nothing, if not simply worsened the situation. So why do these demands occupy such a disproportionate place in the concerns of the media and religious bodies? Why do we remain with an overly horizontal vision of the Church, where grace no longer seems to count, where the priest is desacralized to ward off any form of “clericalism?” And why is it that those who, on the contrary, advocate a return to a certain verticality by placing the Eucharist, properly celebrated, at the center of Christian life, the regular practice of confession, the promotion of adoration and popular piety, are given too little encouragement and support by the authorities, when they are not simply persecuted?

“Progressive” Christians are our brothers and sisters, and have the right to express their positions—which should nevertheless be circumscribed by the Magisterium. But is it normal, when they are a minority and far from representing the Church’s vital forces, for there to be such a gap between the power they still wield and the reality of the grassroots of French Catholicism, which is poorly represented at all levels and sometimes even suspected of being too conservative?

Is Vatican II Really Under Threat?

In an interview with the Jesuits of Hungary published on May 9, Pope Francis expressed his concern: “the resistance [to the Vatican II Council] is terrible;” “there is an incredible restorationism;” the fruit of a “nostalgic illness;” “the danger today is the return to the past, the reaction against modernity.” This is how he justifies his motu proprio Traditiones custodes (2021).

Apart from the Society of St. Pius X, whose canonical position means it is not affected by this motu proprio, and a few easily identifiable traditionalist figures, it’s hard to understand who the Pope is talking about! And yet, the Pope’s remarks are unusually violent, targeting a small part of his flock—he castigates his own sons, without ever naming them precisely or demonstrating the validity of his accusations, as if “modernity” were in itself unassailable. He discredits an entire movement which is not homogeneous, and most of whom no more question Vatican II (which they have not read) than ordinary Catholics.

In the present context of the “collapse” of Catholicism (G. Cuchet), is the priority really to punish indiscriminately the faithful who don’t recognize themselves in the description given of them? And thus marginalize a part of the Church that is bearing much fruit, fervently practicing a beautiful liturgy, transmitting the faith better than elsewhere, inspiring vocations? The “tradiyionalists” are not the only ones to have stood firm on these issues—they are part of the much broader conservative orbit evoked by the La Croix survey. Our poor European Church is already far too fragmented, so why exhaust ourselves in vain divisions instead of trying to unite all its vital forces?


Christophe Geffroy publishes the journal La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we are publishing this article.


Featured: Wrisberg epitaph, central panel: Distribution of the divine graces by means of the church and the sacraments, Hildesheim Cathedral, by Johannes Hopffe; painted in 1585.


When Miracles Ceased

One of the stranger ideas that accompanied the Reformation, was the notion that miracles had ended at the time of the New Testament’s completion. Never stated as a doctrinal fact in the mainstream of Protestantism, it remained a quiet assumption, particularly when joined with an anti-Roman Catholicism in which the various visions, weeping statues, and saints lives were considered to be fabrications of a corrupt priesthood. Stories abounded during the Reformation about how this or that well-known miracle had been debunked. What replaced that Medieval world was the sober thought of the Bible as answer book.

Many held that miracles were quite unnecessary after the Bible was “completed,” since everything necessary for salvation was contained within its covers. Miracles, visions or revelations from God were considered not only unnecessary but positively dangerous in that the faithful might imagine such things to carry an authority equal to or greater than the Scriptures.

Various groups within the Protestant world have actually codified this idea into a matter of their denominational doctrine. It is known as “Cessationism,” referring to the “cessation” of the gifts of the Spirit. The Modern Project itself, particularly in its secularized perception of the world, is a version of Cessationism. Indeed, the Cessationist ideas of early Protestantism were a primary force in the creation of the secular concept.

A secular worldview holds that things are just that – things. The world consists of a collection of self-existing objects (some of which breathe and think), that live within the bounds and limits of the “laws” of nature. If God is to be known or perceived, then either He must disturb the laws of nature or become an object among objects. The modern world, in the words of Max Weber, is “disenchanted.” It is as if you found your way into Narnia, only none of the animals speak, the trees have fallen asleep, and magic seems to have ceased.

This is the context in which we live. It is also a perception that, to a great extent, shapes how we ourselves perceive the world, whether we intend it or not. Secularism is the default setting for those born into modern culture. The world is mute.

This is in stark contrast to the traditional (Orthodox) Christian understanding. Only God is self-existing. Everything else not only depends on Him for its existence and continuation but is moment-by-moment sustained only by the will and goodness of God. As such, the world itself is a manifestation of the “divine energies” (the actions and working of God). Those actions and working of God are not something done “at a distance,” for His actions and works are themselves God. He is both essence and energies. And though the effects of His actions and works are not themselves God (the tree that He sustains is not Him), nevertheless, the effects cannot exist apart from Him (“in Him, we live and move and have our being” – Acts 17:28). Cessationism would be non-existence. Miracles not only continue, everything we see is a constant abiding miracle (including ourselves). There is only miracle.

The perception of God and our relationship with Him are inherently difficult for a modern or secular mind. For us, the world is mute, and we perceive God to be equally mute. As such, we think that He either does not exist or doesn’t wish to make Himself known. From the position of classical Christianity, just as there is only miracle, so there is only the action and working of God everywhere.

And so, we read such things in Scripture: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts; heaven and earth are full of Your glory!”

Confessing this to be the case slowly brings a shift in our perception and represents the renunciation of the Modern Project. Another way of describing this would be to say that the whole of creation is a sacrament. The bread and wine of the Eucharist, as the Body and Blood of Christ, are not exceptions: they reveal the truth of creation. The whole of everything is given to us for communion.

The Eucharist also reveals something of the nature or character of God’s divine energies (His actions and will). The God made known in the Eucharist is Christ crucified and risen. It is the Paschal mystery, the God who empties Himself and enters the depth and emptiness of our suffering that He might fill all things with His love. The modern person, upon being told that everything is sustained by the will and action of God often leaps to the many tragic sufferings within the world – as though they contradict that reality or suggest God’s incompetence. But they imagine a God other than Christ crucified, a God apart from His Pascha.

The Resurrection of Christ is the revelation of the goodwill of God, the promise of the final outcome of all things. The world that is being “gathered together in one in Christ Jesus,” is, through His suffering and death (within them), being united to His resurrection.

This is the context in which we pray and worship and in which we come to perceive God (with what the fathers describe as the “noetic” faculty). We pray and we listen and we think there is only silence. This itself is the secular perception. Everything around us and we ourselves exist, sustained by the voice of God. Their existence is the eloquence of His good will.

But what of miracles? If the whole world is a miracle, then what of those things that are commonly described as miracles? First, they do not belong to a separate category. That someone is instantaneously healed of a disease does not belong to a category of exception: it is a miracle among miracles that happen in a way such that we see the truth that might otherwise seem hidden. The danger in miracles for the modern mind is to think of them as exceptional. In doing so, we imagine the world as divided into the miraculous and the ordinary.

When we pray, if we expect the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), we will grow weary with the ordinariness of our experience. We imagine that we hear nothing, for we have already decided that the sound of the ordinary is nothing miraculous. I always caution inquirers and catechumens in the Church to be prepared to be bored. Though Orthodox services can be beautiful and profound, they are no more beautiful and profound than the world around us. The modern mind becomes bored by the so-called “ordinary,” because it has become accustomed to distractions that play to our passions. “Boredom” is what you get when you are not being entertained – it is a modern phenomenon.

Christianity does not begin as a discussion of the inner life. The Christian faith begins with the death and resurrection of Christ. That reality, which spans and unifies all things, is both present as a point in history with abundant testimony of eye witnesses, and as an eternal and ever-present moment that exists before all things and for which all things exist. Regardless of our subjective questions, the concrete reality of Christ’s death and resurrection remains.

Subjectivity itself, the world as we experience it inside our heads, is notoriously changeable and fails every test of reliability. It is the chimera of our existence, and can never be its foundation.

Years ago, when I was in college, I suffered a severe bout of depression. I was hospitalized for a week. After the hospital, I “white-knuckled” my way through the world and found a path back to sanity. One of those paths was to distrust my subjective experience. Nothing “sounded like fun” (that’s the nature of depression). But I reasoned that I needed to have fun and decided to treat fun as an objective activity. My now-wife and I began doing things that were the “kind of things people do for fun,” in an effort to teach my brain and body how to do something they had lost. It was very therapeutic.

It is a great joy when our inner and outer world agree. The tradition describes a pattern of life that strengthens “noetic” perception, and thus our awareness of communion with God. Largely, that pattern consists of the quieting of the passions and the acquisition of inner stillness. But this pattern, or its result, is simply a description of something within the spiritual life that is of value – it is not its basis or foundation.

To a great extent, modern skepticism presumes a world whose “ordinary” existence has nothing to do with the miraculous. Our existence and the providential character of the world are thus reduced to the random workings of chance. The world is inert and opaque and says nothing about God. As such, only the extraordinary, the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), can reveal God. It is a demand that God should agree to be a secular God, to reject His world as sacrament.

The Orthodox life is a consent to the world as sacrament, inasmuch as it is revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Christ. We do not believe in the death and resurrection of Christ because we see the world as sacrament, but the other way around. It teaches us that the fullness of our existence reaches beneath the surface into the providence of God’s goodwill at work everywhere and in all things. That we “see” this is always a gift and a joy. It is also a difficult thing in a world whose self-explanation has been 500 years of unrelenting disenchantment and anti-sacramentalism.

Will wonders ever cease?


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


Featured: Christ healing many diseases. Mount Athos, Icon of the 14th century.