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The Crisis: Nothing New?

January 24, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By GEORGE A. KENDALL

In the terrible crisis our Church is struggling with today, we have an obligation, at the very least, to try to understand what is happening, not just spout clichés. A cliché that particularly irritates me is this one: “The Church has been through many things like this, and survived. This is nothing new.”
This is delusional. This crisis is unique, differing in crucial ways that make it an order of magnitude greater than any previous crisis.
By my reading of the Church’s history, we have been through four truly major crises, plus quite a number of lesser ones.
First, the Arian crisis, which threatened to put an end to Christianity in both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires, but basically died out over time, perhaps because people eventually realized that Arius, in denying the divinity of Christ and, by implication, the Trinity (you can’t have the Father without the Son, and without both Father and Son the Holy Spirit, as the love uniting them, would be impossible), took out the very core of Christianity.
Second, the split between the Eastern and Western Churches, which occurred around AD 1000. This split, unlike the Arian schism, did not go away in a hurry (a thousand years and counting). A substantial part of the Christian world was lost to the Catholic Church, but, on the other hand, the issues that divide East and West do not appear to involve central Christian teachings, other than the teaching on the papacy. The Eastern Church is still recognizably Christian in most essentials, and, in principle, a resolution of the schism should not be impossible. And the East still has apostolic succession and valid sacraments.
Third, the Protestant revolt: Here the schism runs deeper. The Church lost a major part of Europe, and the denominations that separated themselves from Rome also abandoned much of what had been considered central to Christianity for 1,500 years. Just for starters, no Holy Orders, no priesthood, and no apostolic succession. Yet, generally speaking, they remained recognizably Christian, though in a distorted, attenuated form, to the point where we can legitimately call them “separated brethren.”
Fourth, and now, the present crisis: the so-called Enlightenment, going back to about the seventeenth century. The Enlightenment tends to see the whole universe in mechanistic terms, not as God’s Creation but as an aggregation of tiny bits of matter with no real relation to each other except force — that is, bumping into each other. When this was applied to human existence in society, the movement began to see humanity as made up of individuals who are, by nature, autonomous. (This is, of course, very oversimplified. Anyone who wants a less simplistic exposition would do well to read Michael Hanby’s book, No God, No Science: Theology, Cosmology, Biology.)
Now, in all sane societies, it has long been understood that, when you come into the world, you come into a whole network of relationships, rights and duties, which you did not choose, but which in a sense choose you. You can’t legitimately say, “I didn’t choose to be born into this family, this town, this country, so I owe none of them anything.”
But to Enlightenment ideologues, the social world is made up of autonomous individuals who form only those relationships they choose. Things like family, Church, governments, and so on are institutions set up by evil people to oppress other people. Of course, the ideology does recognize that autonomous individuals can form alliances with other autonomous individuals to protect themselves from each other, but, in principle, this is the closest it comes to recognizing any concept of community. But basically, there is no such thing as community, or an ordered society, or an ordered universe, ordered to a common good, but only the mechanical arrangement of fragments of matter, including human matter. And no Creation.
It is easy to see how this outlook could evolve in time into nihilism, and that is exactly what has happened in the lifetime of those of us who are now elderly.
The Catholic Church has been under attack by the so-called Enlightenment for centuries, but withstood the attack fairly well till the nineteenth century, when modernism became more and more influential in seminaries and universities (probably more in Europe than here). Finally, in the early twentieth century, Pope St. Pius X became alarmed and took steps to suppress the modernists. This slowed things down and certainly reflected right intentions on his part, but had the effect of driving the modernists underground more than suppressing them. That put them in a position to quietly influence future priests and Catholic scholars, while mostly staying behind the scenes.
Then came the 1960s, still a vivid memory for people my age, then in our formative years. In those years, secular society was invaded, in what I am inclined to compare to Hitler’s Blitzkrieg, by Enlightenment ideology, now radicalized far beyond the ideas of its founders in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (and they were bad enough).
Suddenly, sixties activists seemed to burst on the scene, forming weak-minded people into mobs wherever they went, attacking, often in the name of free speech, the freedom of speech of anyone who dared to disagree with them. Suddenly, everything normal, sane people had taken for granted about life, things Russell Kirk called the “permanent things” — the family, Christian morality (especially in regard to sex), patriotism — was being rejected as repressive.
What they were attacking was the conviction sane people have that there is an order to the universe, put there by its Creator, and reflected in the order of society and the human soul. The truth about the radicals of that time was that they loved confusion and disorder for their own sake, as Satan, their master, does.
Inevitably, the Catholic Church was invaded too. She was already weakened by modernism, and then the Second Vatican Council provided an opportunity for the radicals, creating a public space for them to promote their agenda. Returning to their home dioceses and parishes, they instituted drastic changes not even dreamed of by the council fathers (most of them, at least), turning the Church, in many places, into a tool for promoting radical movements of the left, with little interest in quaint things like saving souls. They also began a concerted attack on the liturgy, as well as on Catholic moral teaching, especially in regard to sexual matters, like birth control, abortion, and, eventually, homosexuality.
All this in the name of an alleged “spirit” of Vatican II. The consequence is that, for about half a century now, we have had a Church in which a substantial portion of the members reject central Catholic teachings.
Compared to previous crises in the Church, this one goes as far as you can go in rejecting all of Catholicism, and not only that, but in rejecting being as a whole. One of the earliest events in the history of the Enlightenment was Descartes’ embarking on his project of methodical doubt — questioning the reality of everything he could think of to question, then concluding that the one thing he could not question was his own existence, and then reasoning from that to the reality of everything else.
But of course later generations of the enlightened discovered that you can too question your own existence, and proceeded to keep right on questioning, until they simply questioned everything, and summed it up brilliantly in the phrase, “Nothing is real.”
And once you deny that there is any truth or any reality, you have gone as far into nihilism as you can go. In invading society, this ideological force has taken more and more control of our institutions — the family, the government, public schools, and universities.
Finally, it has made major inroads into the Catholic Church, hitherto the institution with the strongest resistance. In the 1960s, Pope Paul warned of the smoke of Satan entering the Church through cracks in its walls. Now we are starting to realize that a gaping hole has been blown in those walls and Satan is right inside, in the person of many powerful Vatican functionaries, many Judases, who are doing all in their power to implement Satan’s takeover of the Church.
Enlightenment ideology, now culminating in nihilism, has gone as far as any ideology can go in rebellion against God. What we need to understand about this ideology, with all its variant forms over several centuries, is that it ends up rejecting the Creation, and if you reject God’s Creation, you obviously reject God. Put another way, the Creation is the gift of divine love, so if you reject it, you reject love. And since God is love, you reject Him. The loveless regimes, which come into being when Enlightenment ideologues take power, make this quite clear.
Looking at the situation, I find myself forced to ask the question: Is this the final battle between Christ and Satan? No one except God knows the answer with certainty, but something huge is happening, and denial is not an appropriate response. It’s not just one of those things. So, as St. Peter warned us: “Be watchful. Your adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (I Peter 5:8-9).
(© 2019 George A. Kendall)

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