IS THERE NO ATHANASIUS, NO AUGUSTINE, NO BERNARD?
It seems that the World has lost its way and, like Dante in Canto III of The Divine Comedy, we stand at the gate of Hell and read:
Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into the eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric moved:
To rear me was the task of power divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.
Before me things create were none,
save things Eternal I endure.
All hope abandon ye who enter here.
( Cary’s translation)
In frozen fear we stand at the gate of Hell. What is the scene that we survey? Dreadful wars in the Middle East, relentless poverty in so many countries in the World, especially in Africa and South America which remind us that we in the West are like Dives, and they like Lazarus. We see the two great powers; the Islamic World and the Secular World intent on the destruction of Christianity whatever they might say to the contrary. For Islam has almost from its earliest days always seen Christianity as the enemy, because it cannot accept that Christ is greater than Mohammed, for the very simple reason that it will not accept that Christ is God Incarnate. The Jews view Christ as a Jewish heretic, and have no time for him, as he is not the Messiah that that they want. And the West, the rebellious child of Christendom, like some silly teenager wants to stay out late and have a good time.
Traditional Christianity, by that I mean Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and the conservative Protestant Churches, who are Bible based, when it comes to morality, are seen as the enemy for different reasons. However precisely because of its ethical teaching on sexual behaviour it will offend Liberal and Reformed Judaism, and Islam which allows polygamy, will not take kindly to Christ’s strictures on the subject of lustful thoughts, let alone actions. Monogamy must fill Moslems with concern, if not horror, The West wants easy sex any time, any way, anywhere, and buttressed by the law, and Judaism sadly is quite easy on divorce. Christ stands against all this, because he is purity itself. Blessed are the pure for they will see God, the sixth beatitude which is the one for today. Precisely because the vast majority of Westerners are sexually immoral, they do not have pure spirits, their eyes are clouded, their vision false. They stand at the gates of Hell and know it not. The words over the gate of Hell in another translation of Dante’s Inferno are far more powerful, just by changing the word order: Abandon Hope all ye who enter here!
What hope for the children of Iraq, Syria, and now Egypt? The children of Iraq have been worn down by years of sanctions, proposed and executed by the rich, the powerful and the well fed. No doubt the children of Syria will experience the same. The merciless political leaders, exemplified by Bush, Blair, Obama, can expect no mercy. All the prophets of the Old Testament thunder with Amos “Israel prepare to meet your God”, but this time it is “You who were once known as Christendom, and now are called “The West” have become worse than a harlot, and your sins far worse than Sodom, and more terrible than Gomorrah; seek mercy or despair forever. Blessed are the merciful for they shall have mercy shown them. Mercy is not something that leaders and politicians are interested in; normally they are interested in the Gross National Product, and arms, and land, and oil. Do they not know that the faltering nuclear power station in Japan might blow up and the consequences will be far worse than they were when fire and brimstone fell on Sodom and Gomorrah? Japan will be wiped out, and much of Asia will be uninhabitable, as also large tracts of Western Canada, and the western areas of the United States. This is not scaremongering talk. It is the sober truth, but Western Man, and Westernized men and women, be they Africans, Chinese, or Japanese have lost the ancient wisdom of care for Creation, not in some New Age way, but because God appointed Adam as steward of Creation and he failed.
The Popes from Paul VI to Francis are overwhelmed by an avalanche of secularism, pseudo science, the nonsense of Evolution, and demands for sexual gratification. On the whole the Papacy is not greatly helped by the college of bishops, who have so often been the subject of tongue lashings from Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, St Peter Damian, Bernard, St.Hildegarde of Bingen, and St. Elizabeth of Schonau .
For today we celebrate St Bernard of Clairvaux, the last of the Fathers, the greatest phenomenon of the great 12th Century, that even the 13th Century could not really surpass. In a century that saw such great personalities as Henry II of England, St. Thomas Becket, Barbarossa, Abelard, and the coming of Innocent III, the most powerful pope in all the history of the Church, no-one comes near Bernard, who like a colossus told Christendom what to do and she obeyed. Popes were his pupils and did what he told them, and Abelard the greatest philosopher of his age, after Anselm. Fell foul of him. He was sought by Princes and Kings to arbitrate in their quarrels. He won back Toulouse and the Languedoc from Albigensianism, but it was a short lived victory, because he did not stay long enough for Orthodoxy to dig its roots back into those parts of France scourged by the new Manichaeism. Gone are the days of an Ambrose or a Basil who could face down Emperors. Gone are the days of an Athanasius who could take on the World and fight fearlessly for the truth that Christ was God, and not some superman, and gone are the days of the greatest theologian of them all, Augustine who shaped the West, and the Way the West thought before the advent of that Augustine Friar, Martin Luther, who unwittingly paved the way for the individualism of modern man, and the dangerous heresy of relativism.
The West is about to enter Hell, and there is no Virgil, and No Dante to lead them, no muse like Beatrice to guide them to Heaven, and no vision of the Divine Comedy to inspire them. So much filth in the Church. were the words uttered by Benedict XVI not long before he was elected, and if there was so much filth in the Catholic Church, the Mother of all churches, what of the others.
As Western Man enters the dark gates, and stares beyond its black portals, he sees not Hell, but something entrancing. A mirage of beauty deceives his eyes, and hungrily he puts his feet over the threshold, but there is still time, still time to hear the words of Augustine “Our hearts are restless till they rest in him.” How is that we contemporary Christians, and Catholics have for the last 50 years made Christ so unattractive? The answer is most probably because we have made him in the image of Western Man, whether he be the gun toting South American revolutionary Christ of the 60’s, the gentle Jesus Meek and Mild of the early 20th century, the Modernist emasculated powerless Christ, or the American handsome Hollywood Jesus. None proclaim his Divinity and his absolute right to be obeyed. But if we do not obey him, and do not love him, if we run the Church as an NGO, as Pope Francis has warned us against, then much of the Christian World will rush furiously through the portals of Hell. Never before have we so needed an Athanasius, An Augustine, and a Bernard and there is none, not even Blessed John Paul II, courageous though he was, is of their company, for the Popes of such a stature as these great saints have been gone long ago, and the last was Gregory The Great, or perhaps Nicholas the Great, and none of their like have been seen since then.
As we gaze, not into the visions of the night, but into the jaws of Hell, let us pray for a great Saint to arise and take the entire world by the scruff of the neck and kindly force it to its knees and there make it humbly submit to Christ, and in that act of obeisance find humility, and gaze not on a man, but Christ who is Love and wants us to experience his love, and return it as he does to his Father in the love of The Holy Spirit.