Book Review: Daniel-Rops’ A Fight for God

One of the things Americans politicians endlessly yammer about is the way they’re “fighting” something or someone.  It never ends–they fight special interests, they fight the President, and when they want to be more positive they’re “fighting for you”.

The result of this mentality is obvious these days.  But what if there’s really something–or someone–worth fighting for, against a real enemy?  The answer to that, from a Roman Catholic perspective at least, is Daniel-Rops’ A Fight for God, which details the history of the Church between 1871–the beginnings of the French Third Republic and the unification of the German Second Reich–and 1939, when the Third Reich invaded Poland and began World War II.  It’s an eventful and trying era for the world in general and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, although the “separated bretheren” didn’t escape unscathed.

Daniel-Rops opens with a sweeping view of the secularist age which he writes about.  In this “goose who gets up in a new world every morning” age we live in, his description of the various enemies of Christianity has a very contemporary feel to it, and it’s hard to see that much has changed in the half century since he wrote it.  An example of this comes when he gets to the effect secularism had on sexual morals:

No less evident was the disruption of Christian society, the second factor which marked the process of dechristianization.  The collapse of Christian social structures was both case and consequence of that process.  It was not by chance that in all countries one of the first aims of anticlerical governments had been to secure the passing of laws to legalize divorce.  Indeed one of the most flagrant signs whereby the ebb of religion might be recognized was the progress of divorce.  It gained ground wherever it was made legal.  At the same time there was a marked increase in the number of purely civil marriages.

While ecclestiastical law was thus flouted, Christian morality itself was undermined.  This becomes clear when one looks at the sexual life of countries which still called themselves Christian.  The strict principles of the Church were openly defied.  The number of children born outside of marriage steadily increased; at Paris it rose from 22 per cent in 1877 to 39 per cent in 1937.  But even that was not the most serious feature; abortion was common, and adultery, fostered by a certain type of literature, was frequent among the middle classes.  The whole western world was gliding towards that obsession with sex which is so characteristic of our age; and the cinema from its very beginning contributed largely to encourage such an outlook.

He then outlines the lives of the four Popes whose reigns span the era: Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI.  In the American church it has been fashionable to forget the era before Vatican II as a pious monolith that was blown apart by Vatican II and the 1960’s.  But each pontiff had a different personality and handled their situation differently.  Because of both the nature of the Catholic Church and the era, each pontiff also had to deal with both spiritual and temporal matters.  Daniel-Rops is careful to note that, if Vatican I had proclaimed the pope’s infallibility in spiritual matters, same did not extend to temporal ones, although he shows that in many cases the Vatican used wisdom and discretion.

He then launches into the main body of the book, the history of the Church, largely in Europe.  Secularism–and Daniel-Rops does not fail to include Freemasonry as central protagonists of that idea–was on the offensive in the last part of the nineteenth century, but how this played out relative to the Church depended upon the country.  In Germany and Switzerland, both governments launched  kulturkampfs which, if successful, would have severely curtailed the activity of the Church.  The Church managed to fight the state to a draw in both cases.

France was a more serious situation, but some of that was the result of French Catholics (lay and clergy) belligerently overplaying their hand (sound familiar?) in the early years of the Third Republic.  That led to a backlash that came to a head with l’affaire Dreyfus.  The result of that was that most of the Catholic educational system in France was forced to close, the Concordat revoked and state and church officially separated.  “Separation of church and state” meant something entirely different in France and many other parts of Europe; it generally meant the state was free of ecclesiastical control to the extent that the state controlled the activity of the church (sound familiar too?)

The situation in Italy was complicated by the fact that, in the process of unifying the country, the Kingdom of Italy had the bad taste to take over most of the Papal States.  The Pope became a “prisoner” in the Vatican.  It took more than half a century to finally straighten out this mess with the Lateran Treaty, and that signed with Benito Mussolini’s government.

In the early years of the era the Church took a dim view of the development of democratic institutions in Europe, but reality slowly sunk in.  Another reality that sunk in was that the Church had largely lost the working class.  A large part of that response was the papal formulation of Catholic social teaching and the beginning of Catholic Action movements, which included Catholic trade unions and political parties, the mix and nature of which varied from country to country.  American Catholic conservatives have expressed shock that the current pontiff has reminded the world of Catholic social teaching; part of the problem is that American Catholicism never had to develop a truly independent social action movement from the main political parties and trade unions.

Relationship with hostile states wasn’t the only difficulty the Church experienced in this period.   Pius X especially dealt with the problems posed by Modernism.  It may seem strange that Daniel-Rops is himself concerned with this after some of the things he says in books such as Sacred History, but there’s no doubt that people such as Alfred Loisy and George Tyrell went further than the church–and even Daniel-Rops–were ready to go.  Some Catholics may still be sore at the outcome of this, but it beats the outcome of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in Protestant churches–on both sides.

World War I (where the Pope was accused of taking sides) saw a softening of attitudes towards the Church, especially in France, where many priests died during the war (and that in an army without official chaplains).  This is a similar result to the one we saw in Stalin’s Soviet Union during and after World War II.  But that leads us to the last part of the history: the rise of the totalitarian states such as the Soviet Union, Italy and Germany.  Concerning these Daniel-Rops has this to say:

Whatever their respective ideologies, all those new regimes were totalitarian.  According to them the State, the collectivity, was the sole legitimate reality.  Under State direction all living forces must be united in order ensure growth of the collectivity.  The State therefore had a righ to dominate man from his birth to his death, to impose upon him the principles, activities, ways of life and even opinions which it considered useful.  In such a system man is nothing: the State alone counts.  That doctrine was charcteristcs of the Soviets no less than of National Socialism, and indeed of Fascism, whose theorists coined the very word ‘totalitarian’.

The Church adopted a two prong strategy to deal with this.  One the one hand, it signed concordats with regimes such as Mussolini’s Italy (1929) and Hitler’s Germany (1933).  Daniel-Rops defends such a practice by basically stating that a concordat gave it status within such states without necessarily approving of that state; one would hope that the Vatican is taking that approach with its recent recognition of the Palestinian State.  On the other hand the Church opposed many moves of both states, especially Germany, to integrate the Church into its general program; Daniel-Rops rightfully characterises Nazism as “fundamentally antichristian.”  The book’s time scope ends with Pius XI dying as Germany prepared to invade Poland and once again drown Europe in blood.

But all was not in Italy, Germany and France; Daniel-Rops spends time on the smaller countries such as Belgium, Austria and Spain.  But he also casts his view abroad.  This is where the book really looks to the future, now our present, more than anywhere else.  He details both the Church’s situation in traditionally Catholic areas (such as Latin America), countries that transition from mission field to home front (such as the United States and Canada) and true mission fields such as Africa and Asia.  He notes the pastoral issues in Latin America and warns that they could give an opening to Protestants, which they have done in a big way.  He also notes that Islam’s “revival” and renewed opposition to Christianity started in the years leading up to World War II, something that the West was slow to realise (and, especially in the case of Britain, actually fomented that revival with its policies).

Roman Catholic missions have always been hampered by the rigid structure of the church and its priesthood.  One thing that offset that was an important decision by the Vatican shortly after World War I: the decision to actively open up the priesthood and episcopacy to non-European people.  In that regard they were ahead of just about every Protestant church out there except for the Pentecostals, whose own mission was just getting started.  The success of the Catholic mission is in no small way attributable to that decision.

The United States occupies an interesting place in his history.  It is introduced in a negative way as Daniel-Rops considers “Americanism” as a precursor to Modernism.  It’s sometimes hard to figure out what he means by Americanism, but what it boils down to is that the practical way in which the American church operated came out as something entirely different when put in front of a European (especially French) audience.

In spite of a good deal of anti-Catholicism in American society, Daniel-Rops recognises that the Roman Catholic Church had almost ideal conditions to operate in the United States.  Without an agressively secular government interfering in its affairs, it could carve out its own destiny.  Part of that destiny was the Vatican’s rejection of the concept of different systems of parishes and dioceses for the various ethnic groups.  The practical result of this was that the Irish came to dominate the life of the American church.  As was the case with Evangelicalism, Celtic Christianity set the agenda, something that doubtless needs some revision for the present situation.

The book ends with a brief biography of St. Thérèse de Liseux, who became the Church’s patron saint for missions within a few years after her death in 1897.  That may seem strange for an author as scholarly as Daniel-Rops, but he uses the simplicity and austerity of her life and the single-mindedness of her faith as a response to Friedrich Nietzsche’s proclamation of ‘God is dead’ which he starts the book with.

Protestants are generally loathe to make a positive spin on Catholic history such as this.  However, with corporatist states breathing down Christianity’s neck in so many places and in so many ways and with other types of persecution rearing their ugly heads, the relevance of his narrative of this era leaps out at you.  People decry  the decline of Christianity in Europe, but reading Daniel-Rops we should be thankful it survived at all, and we who are elsewhere should be neither so smug nor short-sighted about our own situations.  Instead we should be concentrating on the conflict we really need to be waging: A Fight for God.

On the Creation of the Universe: The Six Days

Another day, another post from Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 5:

The design of God in the creation and in the description which his Holy Spirit dictated to Moses, is first to make himself known as the all-powerful and very free creator of all things, who without being limited to another law except for his will, had done all without need or constraint, only by his pure will.  It is thus why he who could do all, who could by a single decree of his will, create and arrange all things, and by a single wave of his hand, to say so, to make the outline and the end of his canvas and at the same time to draw it, to paint it, and to perfect it.  Nevertheless he wanted to suspend in order the efficacy of his action and make in six days that which he could do in an instant.

But the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of all of this unformed mass which we saw in the first words of Moses, preceded the six days, which did not begin until the creation of light.  God wanted to make and mark the outline of his work, before showing his perfection; and, after having made first as the foundation of the world, he wanted to make the ornament with six different steps which he wanted to call six days.  And he made these six days one after the other, as he made all things; to make visible that he gives things being, form, and perfection as pleases him, as much as it pleased him, with an entire and perfect liberty.

Thus, he made the light, before making the great heavenly lights where he wanted to put them together; and he made the distinction of days, before creating the stars which he used to perfectly regulate them; and the evening and the morning were distinguished, before their distinction and the perfect division of day and night were well-marked; and the trees and bushes and grasses were seeded on earth by the order of God, before he made the sun which ought to be the father of all the plants; and he explicitly detached the effects with their natural causes, to show that all, naturally, only holds to him alone, and only depends on his will.  And he was not content to approve all his work when it was done, in saying that it was very beautiful and very good; but he distinguished each work in particular, in remarking that each was good in and of itself; he shows us that each thing is good in particular, and that the assemblage is very good.  For it is in this way that he distinguishes the beauty of all with those of particular beings; to make us hear that if all things are good in themselves, they receive a beauty and new goodness by their order, by their assemblage, by their perfect assortment and addition one to another, and the admirable help which they give each other.

Thus, the creation of the universe, as God wanted to do it, and as he inspired the narrative to Moses, the most excellent and first of his Prophets, gives us true ideas of his power; and makes us see that, if he constrained nature to certain laws, he did not constrain himself, for as much as he wished, reserved to himself the supreme power to detach the effects which he desired, the causes which he gave them in the common order, and to produce the extraordinary works which we call miracles, according to what pleased his eternal wisdom to dispense them.

On the Creation of the Universe: Efficacy and Liberty of the Divine Command

Marching on in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 4:

God says: Let there be light, and there was light.  The King says: March, and the army marches; that one makes such an evolution, and it is made; all the army moves at one command of a Prince, that is to say at a single small movement of his lips.  It is among human things, the most excellent image of the power of God; but, at its base, this image is defective! God has no lips to move; God does not beat the air with a tongue to produce some sound; God only has to want in himself, and all which he eternally wants is done as he wished and when he has marked.

He then said: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.  Let there be a firmament, and there was one.  May the waters be assembled, and they were assembled.   Let great lights be lit , and they were lit.  Let animals come forth, and they came forth, and so one with the rest.  He spoke, and things were made; he commanded, and they were created.  Nothing resisted his voice, and the darkness did not follow the body more rapidly, as all followed the commandment of the All-powerful.

But bodies necessarily shed their shadow; the sun itself sends its rays; the waters themselves gush forth from one source, without which the source could hold them; the heat, to say so, forces fire to produce it; because all is submitted to one law and one cause which dominates it.  But you, o supreme law!  O cause of causes! Above your works, master of your action, you do not act outside of yourself except when it pleases you.  All is equally nothing in front of your eyes; you owe no one anything; you need no one; necessarily you do not produce that which is equal to you; you produce all the rest by pure goodness, by a free commandment, not this changing and irresolute liberty which is the lot of your creatures, which do not make you greater nor happier, and of which all together only have the right to exist which you give them.

Thus, my God, I owe you all.   I would owe less to your goodness, if you owe me something, if your liberality be necessary.  I want to owe you everything, I want to be to you in a way most absolute and entire; because that fits best with your supreme perfection, to your absolute domination.  I consecrate to your free and sovereign empire, all which you have given me in freedom.

On the Creation of the Universe: God Had No Need Either to Find a Location to Place the World or to Fix the Beginning of All Things

Getting back to Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 3:

Weak and imbecile that I am, who only sees mortal artisans whose works are subject to time, and who choose certain moments to be the start and end of their work, and who also need to be in a certain place to act and to find a location to fashion and set up their work!  I want to imagine the same thing where something similar in this all-powerful worker who made the heavens and the earth; without dreaming that, if he had made all, he made the time and the place, and that these two things, which any other worker ought to find set up, were themselves part of his work.

Afterwards I want to imagine, there are six or seven thousand years, and before the world was made, as an infinite succession of revolutions and moments one after another, of which the creator had chosen one to fix the beginning of the world; and I do not want to understand that God, who made all, did not find anything that God who made all did not find anything done in his work before he acted.  Thus before the beginning of the world, there was nothing but God alone; and in the nothing, there was no succession, no duration, nothing that is, nothing that exists, and nothing outside of God which God has made.

Lift up my thought above all image of sense and custom, to make me hear in your eternal truth, that you who are him who is, is always the same without succession or change; and that you make change and succession everywhere where it is.  Consequently you make all the movements and all the circulations of which time is the measure.  You see in your eternal intelligence all the different circulations which you can make; and, naming them to call them all by their name, you have chosen those which pleased you to make them so one after the other.  Thus the first revolution which you have made was the course of the sun, was the first year; and the first movement which you have made in material, was the first day.  Time began according to your pleasure and you made the beginning as it suited you, as you made what and when came after, that you do not stop to develop the changeless centre of your eternity.

You made place in the same idea that you made time.  For you, of God of glory and majesty, you have no need for any place.  You live in yourself entirely, without another extent except those which you know, you know all; either that of your power, you can do all; or that of your being, from all eternity you are all.  You are all is necessarily so; and that which cannot be and which is not eternally with you, adds nothing to the perfection and fulness of the being which you alone have.  Who added to your knowledge, to your power, to your grandeur, what type of local space is there?  Nothing at all.  You are in your works by your strength which forms and sustains; and your strength, it is yourself, it is your substance.  When you stop acting, you are no less than what you are, having no need to extend yourself, neither to be in your creatures, neither in some location or space which might be.  Because the place where space is extended, and a space and an extension, proportions, distances, equalities are nothing; and if one wants that you might find all these distances done, these extensions, these proportions that you did not make yourself, one falls back into the error of those who place something outside of you, which would be necessarily co-eternal and not your workmanship.  O God! Dissipate these false ideas from the spirit of your servants.  Make them hear that without having need to be any part, or to make yourself a dwelling place, you are all to yourself; and that, when it pleased you without any need to make the world, you made with the world time and place, all extension, all succession, all distance; and to the end that from all eternity and before the beginning, there was nothing but you alone: you alone then one time, you alone not needing anything but yourself.  All the rest is not; there was neither time nor place, since time and place were something; there was only pure possibility of the creature you wanted to make, and that possibility existed only in your omnipotence.

You are thus eternally, and because you are perfect, you can do all you want; and because you can do all you want, all is possible for you; and it is only possible radically and originally because you can.

I adore you, o you who can do all!  And I submit to your all-powerfulness so that I eternally want only what you want of me, and only reserve the power to carry it out.

Book Review: Daniel-Rops’ Sacred History

In the Nazi-Occupied France of 1943, the Gestapo visited the French publishing house Fayard to break the plates of a new book they were publishing. So what was the Gestapo stopping the presses on? How to Help the Allies When They Finally Get Around to Invading France? Hardly. The book they were so concerned about was entitled Sacred History, by the Catholic author Daniel-Rops, the nom de plume of Henri Jules Charles Petiot (1901-1965). There were many Catholic books being printed in those days, so why this one?

The answer to that question is what makes this book one of the most intriguing that any Catholic author has ever written. In a church which began and perfected “replacement theology,” the idea that Christianity in general and the Church in particular replaced the Jews and their temple sacrificial system with a new people and system, Daniel-Rops produced a sweeping treatment of the central role of the Jewish people from their father Abraham all the way until the time of Jesus Christ. This kind of emphasis on the Jews may have been distasteful to some of Daniel-Rops’ fellow Catholics, but it was anathema to the Nazis, who were busy with their “Final Solution” of the Holocaust. In a way the book was resistance literature, and the Nazis didn’t miss its import. It was not published in France until after the war and, translated into English, published in the U.S. in 1949.

Daniel-Rops begins his history of the Jews in this way:

At Ur in Shinar, a local capital of the Lower Euphrates, about four thousand years ago, a man called Abram was visited by God and, without hesitation, believed the promise: “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great” (Genesis XII:2).

This is the point of departure assigned in the Bible to the whole historical development of which the people of Israel were both the agent and the witness. It is an event of an essentially mystical order, no less mysterious in its essence and no less tangible in its results than was, for example, the mission of Joan of Arc for France. That a small Bedouin clan, nomads wandering, like many others, across plains and steppes, should be the source of a destiny so fraught with significance, the distant heirs of the Patriarchs were to understand as a fact that cannot be explained by the logic of history; it is explainable only as the will of God.

He uses the fruits of archeology—much of which involved his fellow Frenchman, Roland de Vaux—to explain and illuminate the “Sacred History” from Abraham through the coming and going from Egypt, Moses and Joshua, the time of the Judges, the turning point when Samuel anointed first Saul and then David as King, the zenith of the nation under Solomon, its division and long road to disaster, captivity in Babylon, return under the Persians, revolt under the Greeks and at last the various aspects of Judaism that were in place at the time of the coming of the Saviour.

The historical aspect of the Old Testament is one that many people, both its supporters and detractors, struggle with. The detractors decry the cruelty they see in God and the way his people advanced themselves (although they are by and large content to allow the cruelty of the present Middle East pass them by without substantive action.) The supporters, whose principal interest is to apply the Scriptures directly to their own lives, either gloss over much of the sacred history, pick and choose episodes that are easy to understand, or spiritualise it using a sensus plenior based hermeneutic. Daniel-Rops addresses both. To the former, he calls on the concept of progressive revelation, the idea that the way God deals with his people varies according to their state of development. During the conquest he describes the Israelites as “people in their infancy,” carried away by “all the energy and the illogicalness of impetuous youth.” He describes the development of the way the Israelites matured in the way they looked at themselves and their relationship with God through the calamities and triumphs they went through.

To deal with the latter, Daniel-Rops is emphatic: the monotheism of the Jews is the cornerstone of Western civilisation. He makes that point in discussing the name of God given at the Burning Bush and in other places. That may not be spiritually edifying for immediate application, but it’s central to God’s message to the world. The Nazis, who were busy remaking Europe in general and Germany in particular with a pagan construct, didn’t miss the import of Daniel-Rops’ point, another reason they broke the plates.

Sacred History was written by one of Roman Catholicism’s premier authors of the twentieth century, and yet it is not a particularly “Catholic” book as most non-Catholics would understand the term. He uses the deuterocanonical books from time to time, but mostly to catch the pulse of Judaism in the years between the return from exile to Herod. English speaking readers will probably have more trouble with his references to French history and literature than to a Catholic frame of reference. But the one place where his Catholicism comes out is the way he handles the truth content of the Scriptures.

He makes frequent and generally disparaging reference to Protestant Biblical scholarship; neither higher critic nor fundamentalist comes off particularly well in his pages. He is completely convinced of his title: as the quotation above shows, he believes and is convinced (to use Origen’s phrase) that the sweep of Old Testament history is a God-directed process. He is not afraid to consider human events in the process. For example, in Abraham’s call to leave Ur, were there migrations across vulnerable Mesopotamia that made God’s call more credible and motivated him to move himself and his family elsewhere? (Mesopotamia/Iraq’s vulnerability to foreign invasion is certainly something we have seen in abundance lately.)

On the other hand, he takes a breezy, informal approach to the truth content of the details of the Scriptures. He is no inerrantist, but he does not let that stand in the way of his faith. In a long passage towards the end of the book that considers these matters, he states the following:

It is clearly beyond our subject to ask in what measure divine inspiration corresponds with historical exactitude. If the critic, who sees the Bible as a historical document, reduces the facts in the crucible of his analysis, their dogmatic verity is not thereby destroyed. The test that we read is expressly declared to be the work of God, but by the intermediary of man: this accounts for certain fabulous details, or the many different styles, which are inevitable enough. On the other hand, the pseudo-scientific theories of concordism that during the last half-century have attempted to classify the facts of the Bible like facts of modern geology, astronomy, or biology, have produced only superficial criticisms.

The key to understanding this seeming contradiction is in fact Daniel-Rops’ Catholicism. He drifted from his faith and then came back to it. His belief in God is not based on a book but in God himself mediated through an institution. For all the problems that institutionalist religion has, Daniel-Rops—and many other Catholics—see the truth of the Scriptures primarily buttressed by the truth of God and not the other way around, as is customary with Protestants. That reordering, which many non-Catholics find disconcerting, was part of the key as to why the Roman Catholic Church, for all the chaos that came with Vatican II, has survived with its belief structure far more intact than those of its Main Line Protestant counterparts. It’s something that Evangelicals, wrestling with their own current problems in this area, would do well to consider.

Today we have our own new Gestapo and our new Nazis who are trying to impose their own pagan replacement for our civilisation. And we have the lengthening shadow of a very secular state. When Daniel-Rops wrote the book, the Third Republic (only recently gone from the German invasion) had imposed full-bore laïcité on France for at least forty years. It is fitting that we reconsider to our profit this magnificent little book, which finds its message for the present by considering nothing short of its subject: sacred history.

On the Creation of the Universe: Before the Creation, There Was Nothing But God

Continuing in Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 2:

Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27)  And of what do I speak to you, O Lord? By where can I better begin to speak with you than the place where you began to speak to men? I open your Scripture and I find first these words: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) I do not find that God who has created all things, had need like a vulgar worker to find a material prepared with which he worked and from which he made his workmanship.  But only having the need to act from his own power, he made all of his workmanship.  He is not a simple maker of forms and figures in a pre-existent material: he made the material and the form, that is to say his work is entire.  Otherwise his work would not owe him everything, and basically it would be independent of its worker.  But there is no worker so perfect as God.  He who is the form of forms and the act of acts, he made all according to who he is, and as much as he is, that is to say, as he made the form, he made also that which was capable of being formed, because the same was something which could not be formed by itself, neither could it be formable from itself.

It is why I read here in your always true Scripture: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  And the earth was useless, unformed, void, invisible, confused, and the shadows covered the face of the abyss which was the sea.  And the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit in figure, according to the first meaning of the letter, a wind, an air which God agitated, was carried on the waters, or placed on them.  See this confused material, without order, without arrangement, without distinct form.  See this chaos, this confusion, of which the tradition is kept in the human kind and is seen in the most ancient Poets.  Because it is that which should be called shadows, this immense abyss which covered the earth, this confusing mix of all things, this lack of form, if one can speak in this way, of the void and sterile earth.  But at the same time, all of this was not without beginning, all of this was created by God.  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  This spirit, this shadowy air which carried itself on the waters, came from God, and was only made and agitated by his hand.  In one word, all this mass, as much as we understand, was nevertheless his creature, the beginning and the outline, but always from the same hand as his great work.

O God, what was the ignorance of the wise of the world, who were called Philosophers? Having believed that You, perfect architect of the universe, absolute former of all that is, you found under your hands a material which was co-eternal with you: unformed nevertheless and waiting for your perfection.  Blind ones! Who has not heard that, to be capable of forms, there is already a form; that is some perfection that is capable of perfection; and if the material had from itself this beginning of perfection and form, it would have soon had the entire work done.

Blind and the leaders of the blind, who fall off the cliff and take those with them who follow! Tell me, who has subjugated God to that which he has not done, he who is himself also well as God, he who is independently the same as God? By where has he found taken that which is foreign and independent of his power?  By what art or by what power is he submitted? How is he taken to be moved? Or if he moves of himself, then confusedly and irregularly as one would imagine in the chaos, how will he give order to these movements, he who does not give moving force? This indomitable nature would escape from his hands; and, never imparted in its entirety, she cannot be formed in its entirety according to the power and the art of her maker.  But what after all is this material, so perfect that she has from herself the essence of her being and so imperfect that she awaits the perfection of another?  Her adorning and her perfection are only an accident, because she is eternally unformed.  God will have made the accident and not have made the substance? Will God have made the arrangement of letters which make up words and not have made the letters to be able to be arranged?  O chaos and confusion in the spirits, more than in this material and these movements which one imagines to be eternally irregular and confused! This chaos, this error, this blindness is still in all spirits, and it is not dissipated except by these words: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1) and by this: God saw everything he had made and they were very good, because he alone made them in all goodness: all goodness, in one blow, and not only perfection in the end but also at the beginning.

On the Creation of the Universe: God is Not Greater, Nor Happier, For Having Created the Universe

We’re back to Bossuet, starting another series of Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 1:

Collecting my thoughts in myself, only seeing in me sin, imperfection and nothingness, I see in the same time, above me, a happy and perfect nature: and I say to him in myself with the Psalmist: You are my God, you have no need of my goods (Psalm 15), you have no need of any goods.  What use to me are the multitude of your victims? All is mine, but I have no need of all which is mine: it is enough for me to be and I find in myself all things.  I have no need of your praises: the praises which you give me make you happy, but if you don’t give them to me I have no need: my work praise me.  But then do I not need the praise which my works give me: all praise me imperfectly, and no praise is worthy of me, except for that which I give myself in joy of myself and my perfection.

I am he who is.  It is enough that I am: all the rest is useless.  Yes, Lord, all the rest is useless to you and cannot take any part in your grandeur: you are not greater with all the world, with a thousand millions of worlds than you are alone.  When you made the world, it is by goodness, and not by need.  It is suitable for you to be able to create all that you please; because it is the perfection of your being and the efficacy of your will, not only that you are, but also that all that you wish, be: that he might be, as soon as you want it, as much as you want it, when you want it.  And when you want it, you do not start wanting it: from all eternity you want what you want, and never change: nothing begins in you and all begins outside of you by your eternal command.  Is there something missing because you have not made something you could have made? All this universe which you have made is but a small part of that which you could have made, and after all nothing is before you.  If you have made nothing, being would have missed the things you would not have made; but nothing is missing to you, because independently of all things, you are he who is, and that is all that is necessary for you to be happy and perfect.

O Father eternally and independently of all other things, your son and your Holy Spirit are with you: you have no need for fellowship, and see, one in yourself eternal and inseparable from you.  Content with this infinite and eternal communication of your perfect and happy being, to these two persons which are your equals, which are not your workmanship, but your co-operators, or better said with you the same creator of all your works; who are with you, not by your commandment or by an effect of your all-powerfulness, but by the unique perfection and fullness of your being: all other communication is incapable of adding anything to your grandeur, to you perfection, to your happiness.


Daniel-Rops on the One God

From his Sacred History:

 Moses is, in the Hebrew religious history, the man who revealed the name of God.  In the encounter of the burning bush, he had exclaimed, “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” (Exod. III:13).  And, bold as the question was, God did not conceal the answer.  The importance of the event is not easily understood by the modern mind, but in antiquity men attributed a mysterious power to the name, an irresistible potency.  We retain certain traces of this belief; we feel very strongly that a name describes a character; we speak of a Don Juan, or a Tartuffe; Balzac chose with great care the sounds that should designate his characters; and in the “Our Father” we still praise the name of God which, as the Commandment says, is not to be taken in vain.

In Mesopotamia and in Egypt the knowledge of a name was regarded as sacred.  The ancient Greek philosophers even admitted that there is a connection between things and their names.  To name is to call into existence.  To know the name of a god is to have the power to invoke him.  In the Egyptian legend of Isis we see the god Ra, stung by a serpent, begging the goddess-magician to cure him; and she first of all demands that he should give his name, the secret of his supreme power.  Something that our society, desiccated by rationalism, refuses to understand is regarded in the ancient traditions as one of the spiritual foundations of humanity…

And God said unto Moses, I am that I am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I am…The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.  (Exodus III:14-15)  In speaking of himself, God says, I am.  When man speaks of Him, he must say, “He is.”  The latter is to be the name of God as we find it throughout the Bible….

What is the meaning of that enigmatic formula, I am that I am? Countless pages have been written on the subject of those simple words.  The study of grammar permits of two interpretations.  Jahweh could signify “it is”–which expresses the metaphysical idea of the uncreated being, which exists in itself which requires no thing and no person in order to be: the God of eternity.  Or it can mean, “it makes to be,” “it realises,” that which creates, sustains, keeps promises, God the creator.  The two interpretations are in fact linked and the tradition of Israel does not separate them.

At all events, the Bible clearly indicates that the knowledge of the divine name marks an advance.  “I am Jahweh,” God further said to Moses. “I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El-Shaddai, but by my name of Jahweh was I not known to them.” (Exodus VI:3)  El-Shaddai was the God of power, the mysterious and incalculable power by which everything on earth is regulated.   It is the Most High, the Almighty.  Jahweh is something more, the same God, the God of the Patriarchs, but defined..

It would be out of place to carry metaphysical analysis too far.  Moses’ contemporaries probably had only a vague intuition of the immense varieties that were implied.  But what is clearly important is the development that in the course of generations grew from it and which is implicit in the sacred tetragram.  God is unique in His very nature, and not by the exclusive choice of a man or a nation, which differentiates him absolutely from Hammurabi’s Marduk, or the Egyptian Aton.  He is necessarily the God of the Universe, of the whole of humanity, even if He is know and served by a specific nation.  And the virtues which in Him are worshipped–bounty, justice, and benevolence–are the natural attributes of His unique being, since every injustice, every violence, is opposed to harmony and unity…

Here again, we are struck by the human character of this theology.  Its point of departure is an even in history.  Israel, unlike so many nations, does not claim any legendary descent from God; the revelation took place at a moment of time and was transmitted through a man.  Hebraic humanism which is, together with that of Athens and Rome, one of the three foundations of our civilisation, depends entirely upon this simple affirmation.

The Assault on Christians Wasn’t Supposed to Happen This Fast

Back in 2006, before the accession of the current Occupant, I began to write a little novel entitled The Ten Weeks.  It describes, among other things, the result of a democratically elected left-wing government and how it, using the sexual revolution as one of its weapons (and mob action as another), took progressive power in the society.

If we look at history outside the U.S., the progression of left-wing regimes pretty much follows a pattern, one which varies depending upon how, when and where that regime got into the driver’s seat.  But the idea that this was coming has been in the background of this blog since its inception.

However, to tell the truth, even I am surprised at how fast things have come “over centre”.  This is supposed to be a “rights” crusade.  But in a society deeply in debt, with growing economic inequality and a weak moral compass, “rights” are a dicey concept.  That’s especially true when we consider how one-sided these rights are administered, the result of an outcome-based judiciary and administrative system.  It decides what it wants to happen and “interprets” the law to make that decision a reality.  Under those conditions the judicial redress option is too iffy to really count on any more.

So that leaves us Christians with Lenin’s (and Russia’s really) favourite question: what is to be done?  I’ve got a few suggestions that hopefully will take root, especially with our leadership, whose “deer in headlights” stance is all too clear.

The first is to remember what we’re supposed to be doing here.  Our core goal is eternal life; that needs to stay our mission, for ourselves and for those to whom we reach out.  We’ve gotten off track with our attempts to show that who we are and what we do has “social value”.  At this point our opponents don’t care if what we do has social value: if it doesn’t empower them and fit into their ideological lens, they will hate it no matter what it is.

That refocusing of our mission also applies to the other time and energy wasting thing that Evangelicals in particular are bad about: upward social mobility.  There are certainly benefits for drying out, getting off of drugs and being responsible.  But when your opponents only recognise the right to party as the core goal of life, any attempt to instil austerity will be met with opposition.  And trying to move up will likewise engender opposition from an established “clerisy”.  I found the following statement interesting in Rod Dreher’s secret interview with elite-school law professor “Kingsfield”:

“I could still imagine having a kid who was really strong in his faith, and believing that God was calling him to going to a prestige college. I’m not ready to say ‘never’ for that, but I do think there are a lot of kids that we need to steer away from such hostile places, and into smaller, reliably Christian schools where they can be built up in their faith, and not have to deal with such hostility before they’re strong enough to combat it.”

I tire of Christians trumpeting the entrance of their progeny into “élite” schools as a sign that they have “arrived”.  I’ve always taken a jaundiced view of such “advancement”, and now a few people have figured that out.  (I’ll bet that Harvard is wishing it turned down Ted Cruz, but that’s their problem…I’ll deal with the merit issue of these institutions next month).

That leads to the next point: stick together.  That’s not as easy as it looks, but at this point it’s necessary.  If those opposed to us figure out they can split us on stuff, it will be very difficult to live in this society.  That in turn will make two other things which will make our lives easier.

The first is to allow ourselves to enter into patron-client types of arrangements.   That’s the essence of what the LDS church did in Utah with their new law.  The Roman Catholics are probably thinking the same thing; the biggest problem there is disunity among the bishops.  Given the perils of Americans negotiating, this can be a tricky proposition.  It’s a fine line between entering an arrangement and carrying their water.  Getting past that problem, we may not like heading towards a system more like the Ottoman millet system than anything else, but face it: the old Ottoman millet system beats what is fashionable these days, which is ISIS.

One interesting part of this direction is taking place in New York.  It didn’t get much press, but SCOTUS declined to review the appeals court decision that allows the City of New York to boot churches from meeting in schools.  Then Mayor DeBlasio allowed them to continue.  DeBlasio has his shortcomings, but he is one of the few prominent politicians on the left who realises that the LGBT community is not the be-all and end-all of progressive politics.  That, in turn, was doubtless driven by the many non-white groups who have their own opinion of the LGBT community, and they’re a part of DeBlasio’s–and the Democrats’–base as well.

The other thing is to do what we have to do to insure the integrity of our institutions.  Dreher’s “Kingsfield” discusses that in some detail; I would throw in that our ministers should take the Marriage Pledge and get civil marriage out of the church altogether. One thing that would advance this is to lose the idea that church as a private club is bad; I dealt with this in my response to Frank Matthew Powell.  Evangelical churches are obsessed with this open, populist idea of church, but it’s a luxury we’ll find harder to afford as time passes. In Roman times the church was looked at as a collegium, which is a form of private club.

Finally, I also think we need to realise that, if it ever was, the U.S. isn’t our country any more.  That must inform how we act on a number of issues, from military service to how we look at the state to even where we do send our children to college.  (There’s no dishonour going abroad).  Besides, it’s hard to be really fired up about a country that, one the one hand, promotes LGBT rights all over the world and on the other is hell-bent on signing a nuclear agreement with a regime that hangs the same people from hydraulic cranes.

It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be fun.  But Our Lord never promised either.

Duck and Cover Catholicism? Maybe, Maybe Not.

R.R. Reno at First Things isn’t happy:

Some months ago, I predicted that Catholicism in America would basically accommodate itself to whatever sexual regime dominates our society. The accommodation won’t be explicit. The Church won’t endorse homosexuality or gay marriage. Instead, the bishops will step aside, avoid controversy, and just stop talking about things that carry a high price for dissent. This duck-and-cover non-statement fits perfectly into this trajectory.

I’m the first to decry the frequently Jesuitical tendency of the of the RCC to deal with issues (they elected one as Pope, after all).  But I think that the RCC, along with other religious institutions, is looking at this differently.

Given what’s going on in Indiana, the easiest way to put this into perspective is to look at another state and another church-defined religion to see how things can work out in another way.

The other state is Utah and the other church-defined religion is the LDS church, the Mormons.  The LDS church and the LGBT leadership basically brokered a deal which carves out exemptions for the LDS church (and anyone else who wants to go along for the ride) to allow them to practice their faith without impositions by pansexualists.  Some on both sides whined about this, but compared to the virtual slugfest we have in Indiana, it’s pretty peaceful and accepted by both sides.

The difference is that, in Indiana and anywhere else where RFRA type legislation is either being considered or on the books, the practices of religious people are protected by such legislation as a matter of right, not because their leadership cut a good deal.  For the LGBT leadership, whose goal is to swap one set of rights for another, this will not do.  For people who think that politics is all about different identity and special interest groups getting ahead through government action, it won’t do either.  Changing that very nature of politics and political life is a core (if unspoken) aim of the left in general and the Democrat Party in particular.

The RCC has a longer history of wheeling and dealing with governments of all kinds, from the Roman Empire onwards.  And, because of its sacramental concept of marriage, it’s in a better place (as, for a different reason, is the LDS church) to deflect public accommodation assaults on its churches to perform same-sex civil marriages.  Civil marriages? It’s marriage system is even ready to dispense with that nuisance, although it’s traditionally loathe (and in places like France, unable) to do so.

So it’s likely, IMHO, that what Reno sees as cowardice is in fact the realisation that the political food fight going on in places like Indiana isn’t their battle.  And they may be right.  The RCC has outlasted Hitler and Stalin; only Mao’s nationalisation of the RCC in China still sticks in the craw.  The RCC knows an undemocratic dictatorship when they see one; why voluntarily go into the political arena when the deck is stacked and the game is fixed?

The group left in the lurch are the Evangelicals, who have relied on “inalienable” rights to protect their status since the beginning of the Republic.  To pull off what the Mormons did in Utah would need a more cohesive leadership (difficult with their diffuse organisation) and a negotiating process with the LGBT counterparts.  Evangelicals view the latter pretty much in the same light as they view Obama’s negotiating with the Iranians.  (What we really need to see is the LGBT leadership go to the mat with the Iranians…)

This process isn’t going be pretty moving forward.  I’m not convinced that the low-laying strategy of the RCC is the best, but what the “Religious Right” has done the last forty years or so hasn’t worked either.  It’s time to get creative, and in a hurry.