Wrong Order

Last week it was suggested that everything matters because everything is properly an expression of the order of God’s own glory, with glory identified as the transcendent ground not only of ideas but of every event, action, and object, its highest term being Christ Glorified, with the art of living being the summary expression of glory with holiness in this life the anticipation of eternal glory. 

Glory promotes in this life an order which it imposes in eternity, the order of glory.   That this is not recognized as such by many is not disqualifying; our history began in rebellion against God’s order.   What the left-minded call Fascism, to the confusion of those ignorant of Woke political philosophy, is order gone wrong, or order they see as illegitimately proposed and inauthentically imposed, order that is superficial, not rooted in broad consent, Thus to argue that there are two genders or to defend the family or to disapprove of deviant sexual behavior is for the Woke on its face the imposition of an alien and unjust order.   Parents who want their children taught to use the pronouns of Tennyson or Shakespeare, like traditional Catholics, who are suspected of doubting that the state is the ultimate authority, are a shame and a scandal, to be suppressed.      

The twentieth century offers several examples of attempts to impose a cultural-political order by violence.  The number of Russians who really wanted Marxism will always be unknown, but there is enough evidence that the system in the beginning was not a majority movement but was imposed by the revolutionary zeal of  bourgeois theoreticians.   Similarly, long before the 1939 start of World War II, Adolf Hitler proclaimed a ‘European New Order’ publicly on 30 January 1941: “The year 1941 will be, I am convinced, the historical year of a great European New Order!.”  Peronism in Argentina and Bolivarian Populism in Venezuela are examples of order imposed nationally having the consent of part of the population.  All of these imposed orders are inimical to human flourishing; some, National Socialism, Marxism, Wokeism are demonic.   

All are substitutes for the Christian order that prevailed before 1789, the principal character of this order being the inculturation of Christianity by way of God-approved Kingship, with religion rooted in a near-universally practiced liturgy which reflected a common morality, a situation now unimaginable.  The old order was hierarchical, which endured for about a thousand years, reflected the fact that creation and every classical political order is hierarchical, including contemporary egalitarian, democratic political orders, in which hierarchies of wealth and power are carefully disguised, while the real hierarchy of morality and beauty is suppressed.  

The splintering of Christendom, with its complex causes, followed by the Peace of Westphalia, with its cuius regio eius religio (whose the  regime, his the religion)  doomed that order, and since that time there has been a struggle, sometimes violent as in Spain in the thirties, sometimes contained within a political system, between the remnant of the old Christian order and various attempts to stabilized government and culture on a popular basis such as the consent of the governed, with the old Christian order dying (politically), slowly, under the assault of rationalism packaged as science, presenting itself as a better alternative to the older un-scientific order.   What is now taking place is the last act of this drama, with Progressivism (now Woke) challenging the cultural space occupied as recently as the 1950s by the ghost of the old order.

The difficulty at the heart of cultural unrest is the existential fact that no cultural-political order is effective, or even legitimate, unless it is rooted in the heart of the people it proposes to represent and, in a sense, govern, which is more than the consent of the governed.  This dissonance occurs when an older order is failing because it has become inorganic, dissociated from the heart of the culture.   It happened in the late eighteenth century when the feudal order collapsed.  It happened in the twentieth century, becoming obvious in the 1960s and institutionally dominant by 2000, as what we might call the bourgeoise order, with its notes of responsibility, property, and religion gradually collapsed.   In both of these examples the old organic order was unable to defend itself culturally.  Not that it lacked adherents, but in the contest the best lacked zeal and the worst displayed demonic energy.   Resistance was scattered and was itself divisive.  The zip had gone out of the old culture.  In a sense the payoff for Deism was the French Revolution.   The payoff for the abandonment of revelation in the early twentieth century is wokeness.  

Be it remembered that the sixties  were the days of the ‘Death of God’ theology;  In 1961, Gabriel Vahanian’s The Death of God was published, arguing that modern secular culture had lost all sense of the sacred, concluding that for the modern mind “God is dead.”   An Emory religion professor Thomas J. J. Altizer offered a radical theology of the death of God that drew upon William Blake, Hegelian thought and Nietzschean ideas. He conceived of theology as a form of poetry; however, he no longer accepted the possibility of affirming belief in a transcendent God.  The October 1965 and April 1966 issues of Time featured the theology of Thomas J. J. Altizer. The April issue, published at Easter time, put the question on its cover in bold red letters on a plain black background: “Is God Dead?”   And not to forget Paul van Buren and William Hamilton.  Somehow Dietrich Bonhoeffer got caught up in this movement.   Had it not struck a nerve It would never have achieved currency in the theological communities; probably it never really penetrated popular Christianity.  Certainly not the Roman Church.    But you could feel the starch leaching out of the professional academic class and their book-reading colleagues in the broader population.   

It occurred to everyone all at once that God really might be dead as far as American and Western European culture was concerned. The movie “The Graduate” told the story.    What the civilization for which hundreds of thousands had died in two world wars was a career in plastics and a tryst with one’s fiancé’s mother.  The seeds of hatred of western civilization, now a university commonplace, was planted by books such as The Making of a Counterculture and Paul Goodman and Herbert Marcuse.  Reason, as represented by Aristotle, was now under attack.   I recall that friendly author remarking that he was a bit ashamed of his book, which I had asked him to sign, because rational defenses of Christianity, which his work offered, were now impossible.    

The difficulty was that the Death of God theology, perceptive as it was in a gently cynical sense, left the remnants of Christian civilization naked in the public square.   The sixties saw the de-criminalization of homosexual behavior with Illinois in 1961, no fault divorce began in California in 1969.  The birth prevention pill became universally available in 1963, the year of Kennedy’s assassination in November. The Vietnam War festered, hated by the communicating class, ambiguously supported in the general population, finally, by 1969, requiring 500,000 US troops, only to lose to the rag-tag North Vietnamese Communists amid a repudiation of the cause by prominent Christians:  William Sloan Coffin and the Berrigans.   Contributing significantly to the unsettling of American religion was the Second Council of the Vatican.  Whatever the intention of the Council was, it succeeded in showing that there was nothing permanent; the Church, in Tolkien’s words, ceased being a refuge and became a trap.  Catholics, having been told for 400 years that the mass of Pius V was sacrosanct were confronted with change that occurred in a day, replacing the august Latin of perhaps seventeen centuries with a liturgy not so much wrong as ordinary and marginally patient of the banal.   In 1967 the Episcopal Church replaced the 1928 Book of Common Prayer with the Green Book, thereby destroying on of the props of the English language   In the same year in a resolution supporting changes in abortion laws, the General Convention expressed its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter and to act upon them.”  

When the hope of glory goes, what remains is corruption and decay.  There was no will to resist these rebellions and innovations.  The unraveling of the mainline protestant denominations begun intellectually in the sixties worked its way through church culture until in 2022 there were two varieties of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists, the issue being the behavior for which God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, now defended by the Mainlines.  And not to suggest that this and related moral issues have not put the Roman Church under great stress. 

The response to this catastrophic decay has all too often been an attempt to restore Christian culture or Christian civilization.  Restoration is noble and foredoomed because the arena in which the war must be pursued is only secondarily and marginally civilization.  The battle is fought in two arenas not accessible to politics, the heavens, the realm of glory, where the battle goes on until the end, and the human heart, and while the first of these must be left to the powers and authorities, the second presupposes the mystery of conversion, which is the work of the Holy Spirit wrought upon witness.  On the years before Constantine, when Hellenistic culture was certainly debased and the leadership often depraved,  the fathers took little notice; generally,  they wrote about the truth and prayed.

Glory

We beheld His Glory the glory as of the Only Son of the Father.

                                                                      I John 1: 1 

 

We were witnesses to His majesty.  For when He  received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved son.’

                                                                      II Peter 1:17

The Feast of the Transfiguration commemorates the day when Jesus took Peter James, and John to the mountain top, where he appeared in glory with Elijah and Moses, when the voice from heaven named Jesus God’s beloved son (Matthew 17:1–8).  So powerful was this event that when the Apostle Peter thought of proof of the Lord’s divinity, it was not Christ resurrected that he remembered but Jesus’ appearance on the mountain (I Peter 1:16–17).  The glory of God was present when the blind man was healed; he was afflicted not because of sin but so that the glory of God might be revealed (John 9).     Where God is there is glory.  Glory is not ephemeral but real; Paul writes that Christians will bear “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (II Corinthians  4:17).   It is glory that we will share and in which we will live when Christ returns.  Glory is the characteristic of the existence of Christ in His kingdom, which is shared by all those who love Him and who live in Him.

         Glory is the teleology, the end, the fulfillment of creation, the end toward which creation and redeemed humankind are moving.    In one of Paul’s most moving and fruitful passages, he describes a world we know, subjected to sin not of its own choosing but by God who, after the great rebellion and because of it,  subjected nature and human nature in  the hope that these will be redeemed in glory.    Glory is the name of the perfection we glimpse beyond the object and events of life, the perfection dimly apprehended that makes the imperfection of existence present even as it inspires hope of something better.    Glory is the realm of the good, beautiful and true dimly perceived by philosophers, by Plato, Plotinus, and Berkeley, often by poets, proclaimed by revelation as the true, supernatural cosmos for which the revealed name is glory, a realm of which the true center is Jesus, and the ultimate purpose of which is not simply to serve as the home of ideas but the reality of which is a divine-human person, who is “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation,” in whom “all things were created.”  “He is the first-born from the dead . . .  In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19–20).      

         The clues to the existence of the realm of glory are all around those in whom  wonder has not been subsumed into an obviousness that blinds the eye of the heart.   As Saint Paul wrote:   the knowledge of God, of His divinity, is evident in creation (Romans 1:19–20).   Where there is beauty there is glory.    It is not the sound of the Bach Mass; it is what you hear beyond the sound of the Bach Mass, what you see beyond the beauty of Raphael and Van Gogh.  It surrounds a bride on her wedding day . It is the solid something that inhabits love.     Glory is the perfection of order.   It is a sign of the presence of the holy.   Glory is the reward of fidelity, “if only we will fix our eyes on what is unseen, not on what we can see.  What we can see lasts for a moment. What is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17). 

         Glory has an antonym, for which it is difficult to find a single word:  the disordered, ordinary, the ignoble, the flat and undistinguished, the low and debased.   The best New Testament word is translated “corruption” or “decay.”  The promise of God’s will for the salvation of both nature and his elect is the overcoming of decay:  “for creation itself will be set free from the bondage,” the slavery, from the decay to which all things crested are subjected since the rebellion in Eden (Romans 8:21).  Corruption or decay is the inevitable companion of time.  Peter describes it as “the corruption that is in the world because of passion,” by the escaping of which we may share in the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4).   Passion:  the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, pride of life (I John 2:16), which corrupt whatever  they touch.   Of this threat to the soul nature provides the effective analogy.   Now the roof, which was repaired just short years ago, must be repaired again.    Now I must do my exercises because my body is decaying before my very eyes.   There is the cosmic reality:  sin leads to decay or corruption which leads to death.  Righteousness, the acceptance of grace,  leads to holiness, to participation in Christ, which leads to glory, with its ordered permanence and beauty.  

It is the anticipation of glory that shines in the life of every saint.   Every life, says Paul, is like a seed falling into the ground, given to God, ready to bear the fruit of glory.   “So it is with the resurrection of the dead.   What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.   It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. . . .  We have borne the image of the man of dust, of Adam, “ we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (I Corinthians 15:42–50). 

Among other realities, this truth, that glory is the reality and the end,  casts into vivid relief the terms and conditions of human existence.   One consequence of sin is the distortion of the created order, the existence of ‘natural’ evil—no evil is natural in God’s eternal plan—from tornados to plagues.  Another is the persistence of sin that so easily colonizes the human will so that while sin can be resisted it cannot be overcome, driven out of creation utterly and completely, until Christ returns; indeed it is the revealed pattern that the world untouched by grace grows worse.    This makes the anticipation of glory as it exists in the lives of saints, in order, in beauty, precious and worth defending, indeed celebrating.  This is why the good things of this life, beginning with the care of our own souls,  deserve our loyalty.   This is why civilization, always impermanent, and fragile, never a good in itself, ladened as it is with intimations of the life to come, deserves our loyalty.   But while the damage sin may do to the temporal order is severe, the damage sin inflicts upon the soul by denying it the fruition in glory that is its supernatural end  is far worse.   The end of disorder and decay that belong to this world may end in nothing, in the bleeding away of the very forms of reality, but the destruction of the form of souls destined for the glory and created for eternal life of holiness in God’s presence is an eternal sorrow.  

The Christian account of creation and Its destiny shines over the hopelessness of this present age.    While on one hand it is the task of the apostolic mission to teach the death-giving power of sin and the inevitability of God’s judgment upon it, it is more important to awaken in souls the hope of glory, the awareness that goodness and beauty and truth, wherever we find these in the world, point beyond themselves to the glory that is coming.  For glory is the promise:  called, justified, glorified (Romans 8:30).  The early Church, as soon as it possessed spaces that focused worship with apses presenting images, offered worshippers the vision not of Christ crucified—this would come later—but of the glory that is about to break in, of the paradisial world to which Christ will return making all things new (Revelation 20).        

Democracy and Danger

Mr. Eden in the house the other day expressed pain at the occurrences in Greece, ‘the home of democracy.’  Is he ignorant or insincere?  ‘Democracy’ was not in Greek a word of approval but was nearly equivalent to ‘mob-rule.’                                           

J. R. R. Tolkien, 1944

          The United States as a polity has survived for 247 years because it was not and still is not a democracy.   Our government as it happened was envisioned as a constitutional republic, in a world of monarchies, variously absolutist (Austria-Hungary, Prussia) or constitutional (United Kingdom) .  The term republic, res publica, is from Cicero, the public thing or public arrangement.   There was an ancient Roman  republic pre-Augustus, admired by no less than St. Augustine, that had, as Aristotle might have predicted, devolved into a euphemistically presented autocracy.   Attempts to revive the republican model in its native terrain had been ephemeral.    But there were certain characteristics that belonged  (at least in theory) toe republican government:  a constitution, written or unwritten, a ruling oligarchy,  a numerous and successful m middle class, broad consent of the governed, and a restricted or qualified franchise, limiting electoral power to property owners or others thought foresightful.  Founded as a republic, the United States has become more and more a democracy:  abolition of any property qualifications, direct election of senators, proposed abolition of the electoral college (which represents states not populations}, expansion of suffrage so that in some cases citizenship is not required.   

           Above and beyond these considerations there was and remains the question of authority.   For the Hellenistic world in which Aristotle wrote his Politics, authority came from the gods, and government was instituted with prayer and sacrifices.  In Rome the Capital was associated with the worship of Jupiter, the Father of all. In the Christin monarchies that followed, the prince was installed at a coronation assumed to represent the blessing of God with whose authority the prince then ruled. 

          In the anglosphere what remained of the theory of the divine right of kings was stringently qualified after 1689 by the theory that authority came from the consent of the govern med., a doctrine formalized by John Locke in the Second treatise      Republican government was largely an invention of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.  It took different forms:  the quasi-constitutionalism of 1689 in England, the revolutionary republic of France after 1789.  Authority no longer descended from God, giving the king or prince rule by divine right.   This was essentially settled when the axe fell on Charles I in 1648.   

          In the late eighteenth century there were books and authorities; the world was full of theories: Hobbes,  John Locke, Montesquieu, the Cromwellian experiment, and above all in the background Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics..  And there was Aquinas.    “In his later years, in the Summa Theologica, Aquinas proposed a hybrid of the three. The best form of government, he argued, would be one where a monarch would be kept in check by a group of elected aristocrats who were put into power by a polity of the masses.”  It is difficult to know whether  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison ever read Aquinas, but they were influenced by these ideas five hundred years later as they wrote the founding documents of America.  They resemble Aristotle’s prescription for the best government.  

          If authority is not divine, the prince is the people.     Authority in the American republic was to have two sources;  the consent of the governed framed by certain truths held to be self-evident:  that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which rights were to be rendered specific by the Constitution.  Whether these truths are in fact self-evident, as well as the definition  of ‘equal,’ have become increasingly vexed over two centuries,  In American jurisprudence it is toxic to make reference to something as harmlessly transcendent as natural law.   This leaves democracies with the appeal to themselves.   First Things quotes Oliver O’Donovan The Desire of the Nations:

 The doctrine that we set up political authority, as a device to secure our own essentially private , local, and un-political purposes, has left the Western democracies in a state of pervasive, moral debilitation, which from time to time inevitably throws up idolatrous and authoritarian reactions

          Lacking any transcendent ground for their authority, democracies are not especially stable because they are subject to the political passions of the electorate,   an electorate that inevitably increases from the limited numbers of those fulfilling certain qualifications as the founding of a republic to an expanded franchise that does not sometimes include non-citizens.  Masculine republics (valuing justice and truth) give away to feminine democracies (responding to electoral priorities), and feminine democracies give way to tyranny.  “Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.”  “In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme. Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.”  Thus Aristotle.  

In democracies the masses, that is you and I, are notoriously subject to short term interests, passions, and resentments, and more than a little subject to the influence of demagogues, political leaders who seek support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of the electorate rather than to justice.  And causes do not always mean a leader; they simply need a cause.   The hard times of the thirties and forties were laid on by the failure of liberal democracy: in Italy in 1921, in Germany in 1933, in Spain in  1936.   In two of these the idea of a political savior who would set things right and avenge past wrongs  [ It could be argued that democracy was weakened in the United states by the economic measures of Franklin Roosevelt, who, had he lived until 1948 might well have been elected again. ]  In the case of Italy, Germany and Spain, the precondition for the collapse of democracy was a bitterly divided people. 

          Who should have stopped the slide of these governments into self-destruction?    Aristotle and Aquinas would have answered that it is the business of the wise men, the aristocrats or ‘ ‘the best ” to have put a halt to the descent of societies into chaos.   Where are the wise men unmoved by political passions and dedicated to the political peace and good of the country?    Such men are, alas, the products of a culture and of an education.    

The salvation of contemporary democracy lies in keeping the attention of the population carefully focused on their economic blight, ministering to that successfully and avoiding deeper questions, but those questions will arise.

Suffering and Glory

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.

                                                Romans 8:18

The world has its glories; as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, there is a goodness “deep down things” that no evil can obscure, and yet the world is full of pain, to say nothing of the difficulties and inconveniences of life that must be borne.    And it is among the illusions of modernity that this condition is the result of ignorance that can be overcome by education and science.   And like most really great errors,  there is some truth in this.    Thought can still lead to insights that help heal the heart. Medical science can meliorate pain and even lengthen life.    Labor-saving devices sometimes do save labor.   There are a thousand technical helps that make life easier.   

            But while there is evil in the world there will be pain.   Animals endure it; we rational sons of Adam may suffer it, which means that accepting of evil that  transforms it into love, for which the cross of Christ is the consummate reality, a reality in which Christians share.  It was Victor Frankel, the famous psychologist who wrote “Every man’s suffering is his own and no one has a right to take it from him.”    Along with such miracles as restraint, the bearing of evil is the uniquely human action.  One will think of rope and fire, but most of the suffering we are called to bear is not of the dramatic kind that comes to mind when we think of the English martyrs being hung by chains so that their toes barely grazed the ground, or, ultimately, when we think of the cross of Christ.   It may be that someone will be called to die for Christ in Kenya today, but this will  not be our vocation.  Our suffering will more probably be found in ordinary bending of the human will toward virtue that is properly called discipline, which discipline is rooted in duty and which is caused because in all its goodness nature and human nature are warped out of the shape which goodness requires and must be woven back into virtue and holiness at the cost of discipline,  or suffering borne.   It is not a mistake that toast often falls jelly- side down or that consistent commitment to boring tasks require discipline or that the human soul, unwatched, unguarded, left to itself, devoid of relationship to Christ in the Holy Spirit, will go wrong, so that vigilance is a condition of the good life.    The whole point of the noble doctrine of the fall or rebellion of man is not simply  that this condition of fatal imperfection exists but that we are ourselves endemically its cause;  we have met the enemy and he is us.  Jordan Peterson’s advice to begin the day by making the bed may seem jejune, but it is a first step toward a disciplined life that might on another day be able to oppose a greater evil than domestic disorder.         

If one looks around us at the world outside or looks inward to our own hearts what can be seen is the rejection of suffering, not only in the dramatic form represented by the cross, which is in a sense understandable, but in the commonplace sense of patience in the face of the necessity that enables us to undergo and welcome discipline.  This meets us as children in the cultural misconception that learning should always be fun, which it often is,  but only   as the result of hard work.    It meets us later in the wearing attempt to overcome some sin or vice, which must be defeated not only once but day by day.   It meets us in the eternal temptation to sloth, which, modernity to the contrary, is a sin.   

Why do we do this?   We might do this, accept moral challenges, seek to overcome difficulties rather than yielding to them, pursue perfection that we know will in this life elude us?    In the first instance we bear up under suffering because, as the Stoics tell us, it is the human thing to do.   But Saint Paul, knowing human nature, convinced that the capacity to bear suffering, while noble in itself, is not the fulfillment of human life, tells us that it is for the sake of the glory that will be revealed for us or in us that we willingly suffer in and with Christ.   For we look forward to a new creation in which the tears caused by things borne for Christ and neighbor will be wiped from our eyes by Emmanuel, “God Himself will be with us,” and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more neither mourning, nor crying , nor pain.  For the former things have passed away (Revelation 21: 3-4).  

We are assured by the revealed words of our religion that in the end that world of glory is prepared for those who love the Lord enough to bear his discipline in this life, which means accepting his perfecting love for us.  That love is not, as many are now likely to believe, a sentiment founded in affect, although charity does have its affective rewards, but is an engagement with God the Holy Spirit through which our souls are formed, often painfully,  to the holiness that will enable us to see God.  “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:6).  He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24); that to enter eternal life we must give up our lives.    As Saint Thomas More reminded his children, God does not take us to heaven on a feather bed.   The lives of none of the saints were marked by the pain-free, pleasure-filled existence we imagine for ourselves in moments of weakness and unreality.  “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

For in this world glory lies on the other side of suffering,   When Paul wrote the words: “If we suffer with him we shall reign with him” (II Timothy 2:12) he may have  had in mind the threat posed by the Roman authorities to Christians who would not sacrifice to the gods of the state.   But even then, nearer to the condition of typical Christians was the note struck by the prophet John when in the reign of Domitian he wrote:  “I John share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance” (Revelation 1:9).  It is that patient endurance that makes us fit to see God, fit for the glory that will be revealed in us.   For bearing the evils of this world is not without reward.  We will leave behind the world in which things tend to go wrong for the world of glory at whose center is Christ, Lord of Creation, King of Angels,  and every truly good thing that has ever existed.    Meanwhile the flawed beauty of creation, its scarred goodness, is the imperfect mirror through which we see the glory that will be revealed. 

 

Dr. Patrick’s book The Making of the Christian Mind, Volume I

is available at Amazon or from St. Augustine Press, South Bend, IN

Chosen

Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant,
you shall be my special possession,
dearer to me than all other people,
though all the earth is mine.
You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.”

                                                     Exodus 19:5–6

When God called Abraham there were mighty empires, the Hittites, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, but He appeared in the village of Haran to a nomadic shepherd Abraham, and from his progeny, borne  by God’s grace and will, there would be formed the people Israel, setting his people free from slavery in Egypt, leading them by a circuitous route through the desert, finally bringing them to Canaan, where their city Jerusalem, city of peace, was established with its temple, dedicated to the Creator of heaven and  earth, on Mount Zion.   God told us our duty:  to love him with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.  But from the beginning they were a rebellious people, full of complaint, worshiping a golden calf even as Moses spoke to God on the Mountain, easily succumbing to the allure of strange Gods.  But the God, having purposed in the beginning to create from the sons of Adam a race who would answer when He called their name (Genesis 3:9), never abandoned His plan.  It was as the Evangelist John wrote later not so much that we love God but that He loved us (I John 4:10).   Israel, bearing the God-given name of Abraham’s grandson Jacob,  was God’s chosen people.  Even after it became clear that they would reject the Messiah Paul would write “to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises, to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all and blessed forever.” (Romans 9:22–24).    

That might have been the end and perfection of the story, but Paul goes on to quote the prophet Hosea:  “Those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not my beloved I will call my  beloved.   I will say to a people not my people, ‘You are my people,’ and he shall say, ‘Thou art my God.’”  And the blessed apostle Peter writes to the followers of Christ scattered across the empire:  “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood , a holy nation, God’s own people” (Hosea 2:21–23).  The German-derived word Church (kirsche, kirk) obscures the Greek it translates: ekklesia, a compound of ek (out as in exit) and a substantive form of kalleo̅ (to call) which is klesia, meaning invitation.  Taken together the New Testament word for Church, ekklesia, used in Athens to describe those elect called out of the citizenry to participate in the counsels of state,  means chosen or called out  of the world into Christ and His Church.   Every Christian is chosen by his baptism, an act in which he renounces Satan and all his works and receives God’s promise that He who made heaven and earth has claimed the newly baptized for His kingdom on earth and in heaven.   

Being chosen and beginning well does not mean that we are home; life is a way that leads past the dragon lurking by the roadside;  Paul writes that there are Jews who are the recipients of all the gifts that call them into the covenant who yet are not really Jews (Roman 9:6–8), Being chosen, again as Paul point out, is not the result of our achievement or effort, but it the will of God; it is not our place to quarrel with God’s choosings, for He says: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I will have mercy on him on whom I will have mercy” (Exodus 33:19).  And again:  God “has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction in order to make known the riches of His glory for the vessels of mercy . . . even us, whom He has called not from the Jews only but from the Gentiles” (Romans 9:22–24).  Having mercy on the  sons of Adam whose choice of the Serpent’s way had condemned them to death, God chose Israel out of many nations; He chose the elect who are His Church out of all mankind.   

Peter and Paul, all the apostles, must have realized that their proclamation of the kingdom would touch only few of those who lived around the Mediterranean. Given the revealed fact that God wishes “all should  reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9), how in every generation does God touch those outside who will not reach repentance as Christians understand it?  One answer is that it is God’s inscrutable will to save something out of the chaos with which the rebellion of the angels and men have afflicted it, while others’ hearts He will harden against the truth (Romans 9:18).   In a cosmos so vast as to be immeasurable there are a million stars but only one small blue planet bears the race that can answer when God calls.  There are a million flowers, but only one rose.   Many can capture the world in lines on paper, but there is only one Raphael; many saintly Christians but, as far as our knowledge runs,  not so many saints; many nations but only one chosen people; many religions but only one through whom all men desiring to know God must come (John 14:6).  

We have some small knowledge about why this must be because the Lord gave us the parable of the seeds sown generously in the field of the world, with only a few surviving and thriving unto eternal life because there are thorns; the ground is hard and rocky, and the birds of the air are waiting to snatch the seed sown (Matthew 13:1–23).  Ultimately the field of the world is invested by the Devil (Matthew 13:28), who tirelessly devises ways to oppose God’s work in the world (Revelation 12:17–18).   Not until the end, when justice rolls down like waters (Amos 5:24),  when Satan and his angels are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10), will that opposition end.     

To be chosen, and to accept the nomination, is to check out of Satan’s prisoner of war camp, wherein so many are deceived in the belief that there is no conflict; it is to be enlisted in the battle in which there will be no end of temptations and trials, yet fed by participation in Christ and his company and encouraged unfailingly by the hope of glory in the Presence forever.

 

Dr. Patrick’s book The Making of the Christian Mind, Volume I

is available at Amazon or from St. Augustine Press, South Bend, IN

Oppression and Its Victims in a Perfect World

Presented at Text & Talk with Dr Patrick – Saturday, 17 June 2023

Oppression and its victims are not to my knowledge topics heavily canvassed in Hebrew culture, classical or medieval culture.   It is remarkable that in the Old Testament God is the defender of the poor and the judge of usurers and oppressors, the poor, we would say economically disadvantaged, the vast majority of the population, were not conceived to be victims.  In the New Testament, not only the poor in spirit, the humble, but the poor generally were considered blessed, and the entire moral apparatus of the Gospel of Matthew is directed toward the ultimate reward of those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked.     Wealth, on the other hand, is seen as a stumbling block, a frustrum, capable of keeping souls out of the kingdom if they became attached to it and confident in its safety.    As far as I know, neither the slaves who threatened Rome with servile rebellion nor the peasants who revolted in the fourteenth century were considered victims of an oppressive system.

The absence of the categories victim and oppressor is due in part to a deep seated belief ensconced in a hierarchical society that the order of things in the world, down to and particularly including every man and woman, was the result of God’s providential will.   

The makers of Upstairs, Downstairs depicted the butler Hudson offering evening grace in the servants hall of Eaton Place recognizing that God is to be thanked for putting them in the place they occupy as servants of the Bellamys.   That represented, about 1900, the end of something.  The undermining of these ideas had deeper roots.    There was that contemporary of the Bellamys  Hudson, one Karl Marx, who thought that “oppression largely involved the consciousness of being forced into living an undesirable life.” By which standard most of the world was oppressed.

For Lenin, “the key was for the Great Russian working class and the revolutionary party to make clear their unequivocal opposition to every manifestation of Great Russian oppression, privilege and racism. The party had to be the leader in fighting for equality of language rights, equality of education and of cultural rights.”  One wonders how many of the millions who died at the hands of Russian Marxism shared these concerns.

But something happened along the way to the twenty-first century.     And what happened was rationalism, the popularity of the conviction that the knowledge could be gained and the condition of mankind ameliorated by reason alone.  Rationalism and revolution are twins. The philosophers of the eighteenth century, determined to philosophize without God, wrote as though a perfect world, hitherto fore obscured by the fraudulent claims of the Church, was now within reach.   Voltaire so despised the Christian dogma of the Original Sin that he actually wrote one long treatise dedicated to this, which he titled Pache Originel.  

This doctrine, according to Voltaire, is an insult to God.  [Here one might remember the revolutionary attempts to make a religion out of worship of the goddess Reason.]   Rousseau was not quite so vehement, but the Christian doctrine of original sin could not survive in the context of Rousseau’s theory of original goodness.   

But this doctrine, far from being a mere ecclesiastical footnote, is the lynchpin of Christian thought and practice, the first presupposition of a system that requires a Savior for a race caught inescapably in a condition that as it justifies the necessity for punishment of the great rebellion explains the conditions of partial achievement and partial  discomfort and dissatisfaction in which ordinary people live.    It is the doctrine of original sin that explains what is to contemporary Christians a scandal:  Saint Paul’s letter to Philemon, in which Paul advised a beloved servant to be a good slave to the glory of God.  What undergirded this view was the belief that slavery was emblematic of the condition of every man, with slavery to sin seen as worse than bondage.   

Without recognition of the fact of original sin philosophy enthusiastically opens upon a utopian world and it follows that the often unsatisfactory conditions of human life must be the result of human failure, although since that failure cannot be personal it must be political, and if it is political it ought to be set right through reason itself.   What followed was the abolition of feudalism, the remnant of the dying system of promises and obligations that had provided social stability for about a thousand years, with its own set of securities and injustices,  in favor of  the new industrial system that Marx so much hated.  [In this forum we have often pondered: why did so many leave the gentle hills of the Cotswolds or the lush terrain of the Midlands for Leeds or Manchester?]

Chronologically, the first opportunity to test the new theory of the perfectibility of everything came just as the marriage between rationalism and revolution was consummated.   Slavery, which had all but disappeared in Europe, made a dramatic comeback when the plantations of the British and Spanish empires needed cheap labor, slavery being the least expensive.  The system, the evils of which will not be cataloged here, offered an ideal opportunity to test the theory that all men should be free in the modern sense.    Thus for about a century, until 1865, those parts of Europe that were involved in the settlement of the new world fought a war against the oppression of slavery.    Who was the British critic; was it Samuel Johnson, who pointed out the irony of the eighteenth century American defense of freedom in a social context that tolerated slavery?   It had to go.   What went with it were many very bad things, but also something good:  the acceptance of the truth that in a fallen world there will for most of mankind always be bondage of some kind.   

Naturally, in a new world that did not labor under the disabilities previously attributed to original sin, in which no one was responsible for the vast cavalcade of human follies that characterized human society, in which the world if it could be perfected should be,  other victims of oppression were identified.   Patriarchy had been considered normal and inescapable, established by divine revelation in the third chapter of Genesis, which had pronounced as Eve’s punishment difficulty in childbearing and this:  your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.   [The same text condemned the descendants of Adam to labor against a resistant nature, and punished the entire race with death.]  Although Christianity transformed Genesis 3 with Ephesians 5, the ideal of mutual obedience, patriarchy survived and flourished.   

In 1793 William Godwin published Political Justice,  arguing that “humanity will inevitably progress: it argues for human perfectibility and enlightenment”  Political Justice is … first and foremost a critique of political institutions. Its vision of human perfectibility is anarchist in so far as it sees government and related social practices such as property monopoly, marriage and monarchy as restraining the progress of mankind. “Godwin proposes a society in which human beings use their reason to decide the best course of action.”   From Political Justice to John Stuart Mill’s 1861 “The Subjugation of Women,”  through  the novels of Thomas Hardy to Betty Friedan is a straight line arguing that women have been victims for millennia and must now be freed.  

It is part of  the perfect world theory that progress requires the dismantling of every law, form, tradition, manners and custom, and finally of nature itself, which in giving form to human life is seen as oppressive.   Having done away with acknowledging the imperfect form of human life as of divine decree, it is now loudly proclaimed that oppression is simultaneously everybody’s’ and nobodies’ fault .  It is built into the system and until consciousness is reformed to see oppression for what it is, there will be near-universal victimhood.   

This is an aspect of oppression that is largely missed in popular culture when we consider whether we or others are being oppressed. Indeed, when living day to day in concert with the constraints of a given cultural milieu, we seldom consider whether we are actually being oppressed. Instead, we tend to think that one who wants to live according to the constraints of her culture is making a free choice.

Here is a different concept of oppression in contrast to the Marxian one, that of “willing” rather than “forced” slavery. Indeed, a significant number of women living in the United States today (those who have what social workers call a “victim mentality”) still believe they are lucky to be under the control of men who treat them abusively or like possessions. (Wikipedia)

An African who is reasonably content with his or her situation is, under this paradigm obviously oppressed, a victim of systematic fascism which is no one’s fault but is pervasive.    Obviously these oppressed victims must be liberated.   So must those enslaved by heteronormativity, by the belief that anything is normal, or tending to reflect the norm or rule.  

Since the pervasive oppression that threatens universally is nobodies’ fault, the fault must lie in the political system, which must be seen as itself oppressive and against which on a certain day violence of any kind is justified.   The failure of the cultural ability to accept the brokenness of nature and human nature, the project to remand all evil, even all discomfort, to the faults of political society has created at center the culture of grievance and disappointment and at the margins  the culture of the enraged. 

Felix Culpa, Happy Fault

Master, was this man guilty of sin, or was it his parents, that he should have been born blind.   Neither he nor his parents, Jesus answered; it was so that God’s work might be made evident.

                                                                                                              John 9:1-3

There was an argument among Jesus’ disciples.   Broadly, the question was, why do bad things happen.  More particularly it was, why was this man  born blind?  Various answers were proposed:  because he was a sinner, and thus somehow brought punishment on himself; or perhaps his parents sinned.   Somebody must be to blame.   Some evils are indeed blameworthy.  When the bridge fails, it may be the fault of the builder.  When the crop fails it may be due to slothful husbandry.   When a bank fails, it may be the fault of improvident investment.      But in the case of the man born blind there was no one to blame; his blindness was that kind of evil that puzzles and afflicts us all:  small children with leukemia, a sudden tornado that destroys the work of a lifetime in an hour, pandemics from nowhere,  the inexplicable failure of vast plans well designed and well intentioned.    

      Why do these evils exist; why does evil exist in God’s good world at all?  Because God created man with freedom.   No freedom, no love, no obedience.  But where there is freedom there may be sin, and as it happened sin came into the world first through the rebellion of angels (Isaiah 14:12–15) and then through the rebellion of our first parents (Genesis 3:6).   The Lord God Almighty is not bound by anything outside himself  but He is constrained by the revealed determinations of His holy will.     We know from the fact of the persistence of the cosmos through patient millennia that on that day when our first parents sinned,  God choose not to destroy His creation but determined to see His plan, which He had intended to be perfect in Eden, fulfilled through long ages during which He would, after the catastrophe of the fall, bring humankind to the end for which He had destined them before the foundations of the world.    

       To do so required that evil be permitted in order that it might be overcome.  The theological history of the world is the story of God’s indefeasible love overcoming  the evil He has permitted in a warfare that lasts from Genesis 1:3 to Revelation 19:13–16.  Because mankind is a creature of will who in accordance with God’s plan must not be destroyed  but converted, and because the victory over sin and death is a work in time, the healing of the world is a process, the crown of which is the healing of souls, which must be accomplished not against the human will but through the human will.  Evil was and is permitted to exist, as Jesus told His disciples in John 9:3,  in order that God’s power might be evident.   Evil exists to be overcome by the salvific actions of God as He pursues His determinate will to make all things new.   In Saint Augustine’s words:  “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.”

       This is the answer given in the story of the man born blind.   Is he blind because he sinned?   Or because his parents sinned?   Not so: the man was born blind, suffering in some mysterious way from the deformation of nature called original sin that was inflicted on nature and human nature by God’s permission, so that the work of God might be revealed in His healing.    Evil was and is permitted only to be overcome.  The answer rings in the darkness of the  Easter Exultet: “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” The sin of Adam was permitted  so that it could be destroyed by the death and resurrection of Christ.”  The blindness of the man who sat by the road was permitted so that God’s glory could be revealed.  

       From the broad brush of God’s providential government of creation to His particular healings of  this man’s disease to His particular protection on occasion to the healing of man and cosmos through His death,  His Resurrection, and His sending of the Holy Spirit, evil has been allowed to persist only to be overcome to the glory of God.  This is what inspired Paul to give the Romans, and the world, the image of creation groaning and travailing, not because of some evil of its own, not because of some flaw intrinsic to it, but for the sake of Him who condemned it in hope.  Nature and human nature, with divine permission invaded by evil, is groaning and travailing looking forward to the redemption of man and nature (Romans 8:16–22).  

       The story of the Creator’s battle with evil begins with the  Genesis account of God’s overcoming  of the darkness, chaotic formlessness, and emptiness inflicted upon creation by the rebellion of the angels with light, form, fullness of being.  Later there would be the cleansing of the earth with the great flood after sin left only one righteous man (Genesis 7:1–9),  then God’s tutelage of the rebellious chosen people who killed the prophets He sent, and finally the sending of the one who as man could accept His holy vocation, who could resist Satan, and in whom the loving obedience God had sought in Eden was finally realized.    

          The last act of creation’s story is not the gradual emergence of the peaceable kingdom in history, not the fruition of some evolutionary progress,  but the last battle, described by the Prophet John, when the Word of God, Himself leading the armies of heaven (Revelation 19:12–18) , defeats Satan so that the time comes “for the wedding feast of the Lamb” (19:7).  The last act is  not the emergence of the utopian kingdom of earth but a penultimate last battle, after which, finally and consummately, God’s will that there should be a race of free, rational, men who will love Him and praise Him in a perfectly in a renewed Eden is realized.                                                                                                                                                           

       The warfare  goes on forever in the heavens (Ephesians 6:10–12), until at the birth of the Savior warfare is absolute, with Satan cast into and on earth (Revelation 12:13, 17), until in the nineteenth and twentieth chapters of John’ s Apocalypse, death and hell are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14), making way for the twentieth and twenty-first chapters which describe God’s victory in the New Creation, the New Jerusalem, and a renewed nature.  The battle begun in the Garden  only becomes more acute in this present age when the Holy Spirit calls and forms the Church, the time  called in Scripture the Last Days, when Satan is opposed by the power of God the Holy Spirit.  

           Because man was the means through which sin came into the world of Genesis, and because man restored was in the beginning the object of God’s  indefeasible love and purpose,  it must be that through man sin must be taken out of the world.   No man enmeshed in sin from birth could make the perfect offering of life to the Father, restoring in obedience what our first parents had refused to offer when they opted for the serpent’s proposal that they should be their own lawgivers.    So God sent His Son, to take perfect human nature from the woman preserved from sin by the merits of Christ foreseen, to become incarnate, in the greatest of the works of God through whom His power is shown and evil overcome in those who live in Him.    

       In God’s wise dispensation the part played by every human in the story of God’s victory over evil is each person’s willingness to allow God to enter and heal in himself the sin-afflicted soul of every man and woman through the means He has decreed, the sacraments or holy-makers: baptism, confession, sharing in Christ’s body and blood.    Through these we live in Christ, our lives hid in him.  By so doing we join that number whose names are written in the book of life and who will be with Christ forever in the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from God.   And  the last chapter is the healing of nature, the renewal of Eden described in the last chapter of the last book in the Bible (Revelation 22:1–5, Ezekiel 47:1–7).  In this the work of  God is made evident and glorious. 

       In the long arc of God’s purpose evil let into creation by rebellious angels and men will be permitted until the end.  It will be evident in creation, in which God’s struggles to create and maintain an ordered world for man in the face of the malevolent powers of this world’s darkness, who ever seek to return nature to the formlessness, emptiness, and darkness from which God rescued it.  Evil was in the in the Garden, in which God permitted the most subtle beast to tempt (Genesis 3:1–7), evident in the temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:1–11), evident in the doubt displayed (and overcome) in Gethsemane (Matthew 25:37–39).   Jesus  described the character of these times, in which the power of God is displayed in the coming of the Holy Spirit while Satan, knowing that his time is short (Revelation 12:12), continues to exercise as much of his power as God will allow; a time of glory for redeemed souls amidst a history marked by wars and rumors of wars, by the failure of love, of betrayal and disturbances of nature (Matthew 24–25).   All this permitted so that God’s power may be revealed in His final victory.    Jesus miraculously healed the man born blind so that the work of God might be made evident.   In the end He will heal every blindness, every defect of nature, every sorrow, wiping away every tear, with the light of his glory in the new creation.

From the Archives: George Orwell, Democratic Socialism, and 1984

Originally Presented at Text & Talk, August 15, 2020

George Orwell, Democratic Socialism, and 1984

Eric Arthur Blair, who later became George Orwell,  was born in 1903 in MotihariBiharBritish IndiaHis great-grandfather, Charles Blair, was a wealthy country gentleman in Dorset who married Lady Mary Fane, daughter of the Earl of Westmorland, and had income as an absentee landlord of plantations in Jamaica. His grandfather, Thomas Richard Arthur Blair, was a clergyman. Eric Blair described his family as “lower-upper-middle class.”     His father was in the opium department of the British imperial civil service.  His mother was the daughter of a French entrepreneur with interests in French Indochina.  

            The family, without their father, whom they would not see again until 1912, returned to England in  1904, and Eric began his school career at Wellington, which he hated, and Eton, which he admired.  When his classmates were at Oxford and Cambridge, Eric was in the Burmese police, perhaps the first notice of his interest in justice and fairness, a disposition his sister claimed was characteristic even of the boy.   In  his late twenties he made the investigation of the poor and of poverty a principal project, visiting the East End and similar scenes in Paris. 

           These experiences gave Orwell the material for Down and Out in Paris and London; the book’s publication in 1933 earned him some initial literary recognition. One critic catalogs Orwell’s early novels thus: “Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days (1934), established the pattern of his subsequent fiction in its portrayal of a sensitive, conscientious, and emotionally isolated individual who is at odds with an oppressive or dishonest social environment. The main character of Burmese Days is a minor administrator who seeks to escape from the narrow-minded chauvinism of his fellow British colonialists in Burma. His sympathies for the Burmese, however, end in an unforeseen personal tragedy. The protagonist of Orwell’s next novel, A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935), is an unhappy spinster who achieves a brief and accidental liberation in her experiences among some agricultural labourers. Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) is about a literarily inclined bookseller’s assistant who despises the empty commercialism and materialism of middle-class life but who in the end is reconciled to bourgeois prosperity by his forced marriage to the girl he loves.”

       Orwell’s first socialist book, The Road to Wiggan Pier, published by Gollancz in 1937 was a two-part work, the first describing the lives of a Sheffield family who lived at the top of the category called “the poor.”   The second was a defense of what he later called Democratic Socialism, and which he would persist all his life.  The boy born into the imperial civil service was moving away from that culture and into a life-long defense of the poor and of the system he believed would bring them relief.   It was a complex mission, for although Orwell had the acuity to see that although oppression may begin, as he, in common with about a million upper middle-class Englishmen saw it,  with poverty, there was a deeper darkness afoot.   

       1984 is not a critique of any particular regime, although one can see in it references to elements of the Marxist terror and to the rise of Fascism in Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Spain.  It is a futuristic dystopia built of demonic uses of communications technology to provide universal surveillance; appropriation of all property and all means of production by the party; the systematic destruction of the past so that memory cannot challenge the present, partly through the direct ‘correction’ of history, more significantly through the conversion of English (and presumably every other language) into Newspeak so that Oldspeak and the ideas it carried with it are simply unavailable—recall that Winston’s friend Ampleforth had been sent to Room 101 for using in desperation, there being so few rhymes for ‘rod,’ the word ‘God;’ the sewing of distrust and fear among the population so that no one quite knows who has betrayed whom; the use of what we would recognize as deconstruction so that there is no objective reality that might challenge the party;  political control through a single ideology supported by a single party; dark uses of psychology, and above all the use of terror, all justified by the endless pursuit of unwinnable wars the purposes of which have been forgotten.  Who would like to argue that these policies and ideas are not represented somewhere in the political temper of the West today?  Perhaps triumphant in the various Marxist regimes (China, Venezuela, North Korea), perhaps as a shadow on the horizon in most western democracies. If Orwell was wrong about anything, it was his assumption that sexual pleasure would wither away.   It has its uses; in directing desire toward this pleasure as destructive of Oldspeak. 

       If the above is even in part an apt analysis, it is difficult to see why Orwell so consistently supported Democratic Socialism.  Understand first that there are a dozen well-represented Socialisms.  Social Democracy (Norway and some other European states) is not Democratic Socialism.   In the former the state does not own the means of production; in Democratic Socialism the state may and often does.   The 1945 government of Clement Atlee exemplified Democratic Socialism, with the government owning mines, railroads, airlines, and gas and electrical services.  Presumably, George Orwell approved of this.  But the controversy centers around the fact that socialism is always a threat to property, and while it does not always exert its power to the fullest extent, it may at any moment do so.  And property. As Richard Weaver wrote, is essential to personality.   Orwell knew this: “Everywhere, always, the eyes watching you, he voice enveloping you . . . .  Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your head” (Winston,  BNW, 26).

       Was Orwell correct in seeing capitalism as the cause of poverty?  One may wonder if there is any other society on earth in which home ownership stands at 64%? 

        Of course there are other problems.  One is the inability of African-Americans to move above 42% home ownership since 1994, while Asian ownership in the same time-period has increased almost 10%, and this in a period when black applications were seldom turned down.  Another is the inability to control the monopolistic drift that characterizes capitalism.  There have been many federal anti-trust laws, but there is a tendency not to use them.  And never to be forgotten is the cash nexus between politicians and donors.  A swing senate race may cost a cool million, or more.  And donors consider themselves worthy of a little respect.  

             Even if one considers Orwell’s politics as contrary to his broader goals, his political insight is a permanent treasure. Consider:

  • “Television will tell them what to believe and they will believe it.”
  • “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people something they do not want to hear.”   
  • “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”
  • “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
  • “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” 
  • “War is peace.  Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.”
  • “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
  • “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
  • “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.”
     

       This last quote is an opportunity, obliquely,  to consider Orwell and  religion, specifically  Christianity.  Of course he disliked Roman Catholicism.  Sometimes he called Christianity the lesser of evils.  When he died, he surprised his executors by commanding that he be buried according to the rites of the Church of England, that he not be cremated but buried in the church yard.  In the hospital he befriended Waugh and Muggeridge, who was asked to write Orwell’s biography but failed.  This is, like almost everything Orwellian, complicated.  Let me add as a subscript that I understand  only superficially the pleasures of power for its own sake. Perhaps others can shed some light.

Come, Lord Jesus

 

“From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand
       

                                               Matthew 4:17

       It is not possible to know what Galileans thought of heaven or how deeply the Hellenistic cosmography which saw the earth as nestled at the center of seven spheres had penetrated the Jerusalem Judaism familiar to Matthew; Paul does speak of being caught up to the third heaven (II Corinthians 12:2).    We can know that in the Hebrew Scriptures as in the New Testament Heaven is the dwelling place of God, from Deuteronomy to Our Lord’s prayer to our Father who art in heaven that His will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.   In the Hebrew Scriptures the kingdom is David’s  kingdom or its successor, an earthly kingdom promised by God to His chosen people, but in the New Testament the Kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of the Messiah is not of this world (John `18:36). 

       In its fullest sense the Kingdom of Heaven is the home of the Blessed Trinity, although it is perhaps better to think of the Trinity as somehow containing heaven rather than conceiving heaven as the location of God, with Christ at His center, Jesus the crown of creation, himself including everything that is the will of the Father and therefore good.    John and Paul, apostles but as well the greatest theologians, saw that Christ is from the beginning, and that everything that belongs to God’s good will exists in him from the beginning,     So John says of Jesus, “He was God; He was in the beginning with God and all things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:2–3).  And Paul:  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things were created, in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities of authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things and in him all things find their place.  He is the head of the body the Church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:15–20).      

       The Revelation of the prophet John shows us the glory of heaven:  A door was opened into heaven and the prophet saw Christ enthroned in the rainbow glory of the Father, the sevenfold spirit proceeding from him as the elect of Israel, the Gentiles, and animate nature sing endlessly to the glory of the Lamb who although slain lives forever (4:1–5:14).   The Book of Hebrews gives us a rough census of the kingdom of heaven: innumerable angels in festal gathering, the assembly of the firstborn, God who is judge of all,  the spirits of just men made perfect, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant (12:31–34).      

       This is the glorious kingdom of heaven that Jesus tells is very near, even at the door.  So how does this glory enter human history?    Through the mission of Christ, the Second Person made flesh, His forgiveness of our sins by His death, His vindication as judge with His resurrection, and His gift of the Holy Spirit.  Through the apostolic mission that He appoints those whom Christ calls are privileged to enjoy what Saint Paul calls the firstfruits of the Kingdom. Those firstfruits are realized at Pentecost, when the prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the other prophets were fulfilled.  They had prophesied of a New Covenant.   “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. I will put my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people,  and I will forgive their iniquities”  (Jeremiah 31: 32-34).  “And it shall come to pass that I will pour out my Spirit in all flesh” (Joel 2: 38, cf. Ezekiel 18:30–32; Hebrews 8:8–13).  This is the covenant whose blood Jesus established when He said:  “This is my blood of the New Covenant” (Luke 22:20).   

       The kingdom of heaven in this world is the kingdom of the new heart created by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, when Peter, reciting the word of the prophet Joel, stood up and said to the pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost:  “This Jesus God raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this which you see and hear. “  What they saw was tongues of fire, the fire to whose kindling Jesus had looked forward eagerly (Luke 12:49), resting on every head; what they heard was the message of the universal knowledge of the Gospel of Christ, spoken by Galileans, heard and understood by each in his own native language (Acts 2:7–8).  The result of this display of the power of God was repentance and a desire to receive the Holy Spirit (2:38–42).   

       This is the first fruits, the presence of the Kingdom of heaven in this world’s history, its ability to renew the human heart attesting  the promise that in the end the new city of God will come down from heaven to earth, to a renewed creation that fulfills God’s purpose that He will be our God and we His people in the kingdom of no hurt when He wipes the tears from our eyes and there is no more pain or death (Revelation 21:1–22:5).        

        The mission of Jesus and of the apostolic mission He commissioned is  to colonize the fallen earth on behalf of the eternal and glorious kingdom of heaven (Matthew 28:18–20, 10:40), made present at Pentecost in the community of the new heart, which  Paul called the firstfruits of the coming glory, present in fullness when the new heaven and the new earth come down out of heaven from God, when He will be our God and we will be his people (Revelation 21:2,4).  To this hope the Church is the eternal witness, beginning in Jerusalem and Judea and extending to the furthest parts of the earth while time shall last.   Jesus says to the Prophet John, the last words recorded in his Revelation, Surely, I am coming soon,” to which John replies, “Let it be so; come Lord Jesus” (22:20).  And the Church ever replies, “He will come again in glory.”