Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI on Christ the King (pt 2)

Today, we finish looking at Pope Pius XI. Today we will continue looking at this great encyclical, specifically looking at the necessity of all men recognizing the power of Christ the King and the hopes Pope Pius had in establishing this great feast. (with my emphases and comments) if you missed it you can read part one here.

20. If the kingdom of Christ... receives, as it should, all nations under its way, (yes ALL nations) there seems no reason why we should despair of seeing that peace which the King of Peace came to bring on earth... Oh, what happiness would be Ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ (the path to peace is conversion of the world to Christ, not "tolerance.")

21. That these blessings may be abundant and lasting in Christian society, it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to the end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year--in fact, forever. The Church's teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man's nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities ...

24. If We ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King, We shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society. We refer to the plague of anti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities. This evil spirit, as you are well aware, Venerable Brethren, has not come into being in one day; it has long lurked beneath the surface. The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers... The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences..... We firmly hope, however, that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. ... if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.

25. Moreover, the annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them. While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments (sound familar?), we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.


29... (The feast) is at the end of the liturgical year, and thus the feast of the Kingship of Christ sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year...


31. When we pay honor to the princely dignity of Christ, men will doubtless be reminded that the Church, founded by Christ as a perfect society, has a natural and inalienable right to perfect freedom and immunity from the power of the state; and that in fulfilling the task committed to her by God of teaching, ruling, and guiding to eternal bliss those who belong to the kingdom of Christ, she cannot be subject to any external power...

32. Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ. It will call to their minds the thought of the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for his kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.


Given at St. Peter's Rome, on the eleventh day of the month of December, in the Holy Year 1925, the fourth of Our Pontificate.

Pope Pius XI

Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI on Christ the King (pt 1)

Yesterday was the Feast of Christ the King. Today and tomorrow, we're going to take a close look at Pope Pius XI's encyclical in which he instituted this feast to answer the question, "why did Pius think we needed this feast in the 1920s?" (with my emphases and comments).

Venerable Brethren, Greeting and the Apostolic Benediction.

IN THE FIRST ENCYCLICAL LETTER which We addressed at the beginning of Our Pontificate to the Bishops of the universal Church, We referred to the chief causes of the difficulties under which mankind was laboring. And We remember saying that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives (how much more true is this today than it was 88 years ago?); that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ...
 6. Since this Holy Year (1925 was a jubilee year) therefore has provided more than one opportunity to enhance the glory of the kingdom of Christ, we deem it in keeping with our Apostolic office to accede to the desire of many of the Cardinals, Bishops, and faithful, made known to Us both individually and collectively, by closing this Holy Year with the insertion into the Sacred Liturgy of a special feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ...

7. It has long been a common custom to give to Christ the metaphorical title of "King," because of the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures. So he is said to reign "in the hearts of men," ...But if we ponder this matter more deeply, we cannot but see that the title and the power of King belongs to Christ as man in the strict and proper sense too. For it is only as man that he may be said to have received from the Father "power and glory and a kingdom," since the Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.

8. Do we not read throughout the Scriptures that Christ is the King?...

11. Moreover, Christ himself speaks of his own kingly authority...

12. It was surely right, then, in view of the common teaching of the sacred books, that the Catholic Church, which is the kingdom of Christ on earth, (the Catholic Church IS the kingdom on earth) destined to be spread among all men and all nations, should with every token of veneration salute her Author and Founder in her annual liturgy as King and Lord, and as King of Kings... The perfect harmony of the Eastern liturgies with our own in this continual praise of Christ the King shows once more the truth of the axiom: Legem credendi lex statuit supplicandi. The rule of faith is indicated by the law of our worship. (lex orandi, lex credendi)


14. ... it is a dogma of faith that Jesus Christ was given to man, not only as our Redeemer, but also as a law-giver, to whom obedience is due (want a personal relationship with Jesus? Obey Him!) . Not only do the gospels tell us that he made laws, but they present him to us in the act of making them. Those who keep them show their love for their Divine Master, and he promises that they shall remain in his love... In this power is included the right of rewarding and punishing all men living, for this right is inseparable from that of judging. Executive power, too, belongs to Christ, for all must obey his commands; none may escape them, nor the sanctions he has imposed.

15. This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things...The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism... This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness...


17. It would be a grave error... to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power. Nevertheless, during his life on earth he refrained from the exercise of such authority, and although he himself disdained to possess or to care for earthly goods, he did not, nor does he today, interfere with those who possess them...

18. Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. To use the words of Our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII: "His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error (Protestants), or have been cut off from her by schism (Eastern Orthodox), but also all those who are outside the Christian faith (all others); so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ."(Enc. Annum Sacrum, May 25, 1899.) ... If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ. (Re-read that. How does that make you feel, especially as an American?)... "With God and Jesus Christ...excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation."

19. When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty... (Note: Christ must rule both our private and public lives. There is no room for us to leave our Faith out of the public square. None.) ...


Pope Pius XI

We will finish looking at this encyclical tomorrow.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Columbus Day, 1892

Columbus Day is tomorrow.

Some will celebrate the eponymous man and his accomplishments. Some will be happy for a day off of school or work (if they even get one). Others, however, especially those who loath western culture, their own culture and thus, in some way their ancestors and themselves, will stop to denounce Columbus and cry out for this holiday to be stripped from the calendar.

What was once an uncontroversial day to celebrate one of the greatest navigational feats in human history has, unfortunately, become a moment for those living on these shores to battle one another.

Thus we each are forced to ask ourselves who was Columbus? What is his import? Is he a character to be celebrated? A villain to be denounced?

Can we, in 2015, still raise our voices to proclaim the greatness of the "Admiral of the Seas? Or do we now, with many of our contemporaries, merely see Columbus as an imperialist slave-trader?

More specifically, how should we, as American Catholics, feel about Christopher Columbus?

Hero or Villain?

Perhaps the best way to answer these questions is to reflect on how we have answered them in the past. Therefore, today we turn our eyes to selections from the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII from July 16, 1892 on the occasion of the Quadri-centennial of Columbus' famous voyage. (With my comments and emphases).

"To Our Venerable Brethren, the Archbishops and Bishops of Spain, Italy, and the two Americas.

Now that four centuries have sped since a Ligurian first, under God's guidance, touched shores unknown beyond the Atlantic, the whole world is eager to celebrate the memory of the event, and glorify its author. Nor could a worthier reason be found where through zeal should be kindled. For the exploit is in itself the highest and grandest which any age has ever seen accomplished by man; and he who achieved it, for the greatness of his mind and heart, can be compared to but few in the history of humanity. By his toil another world emerged from the unsearched bosom of the ocean: hundreds of thousands of mortals have, from a state of blindness, been raised to the common level of the human race, reclaimed from savagery to gentleness and humanity (we often forget today, in our age of cultural relativism and hatred of Western Civ. how brutral native society was. "Savagery" - human sacrifice and cannibalism were ritually practiced - and "blindness" - technologically the native populations were in the Stone Age - darkened pre-Columbian America), ; and, greatest of all, by the acquisition of those blessings of which Jesus Christ is the author, they have been recalled from destruction to eternal life (extra ecclesiam nulla salus - even though the natives were in invincible ignorance of the Catholic Faith, unrepentant violation of the moral law leads to damnation and without the teachings and graces available to Catholics the road to destruction is indeed very wide.) Europe, indeed, overpowered at the time by the novelty and strangeness of the discovery, presently came to recognize what was due to Columbus...amidst so lavish a display of honor, so unanimous a tribute of congratulations, it is fitting that the Church should not be altogether silent; since she, by custom and precedent, willingly approves and endeavors to forward whatsoever she see, and wherever she see it, that is honorable and praiseworthy. It is true she reserves her special and greatest honors for virtues that most signally proclaim a high morality, for these are directly associated with the salvation of souls (i.e. Columbus is not a saint. He did evil things and his ultimate fate is unknown to the Church); but she does not, therefore, despise or lightly estimate virtues of other kinds (i.e. although Columbus wasn't a saint, we still can, indeed should, praise his virtuous actions)...

2. But there is, besides, another reason, a unique one, why We consider that this immortal achievement should be recalled by Us with memorial words. For Columbus is ours; since if a little consideration be given to the particular reason of his design in exploring the "mare tenebrosum," and also the manner in which he endeavored to execute the design, it is indubitable that the Catholic faith was the strongest motive for the inception and prosecution of the design; so that for this reason also the whole human race owes not a little to the Church.

3. ...We say not that he was unmoved by perfectly honorable aspirations after knowledge, and deserving well of human society; nor did he despise glory (he did demand the title "Admiral of the Seas"), which is a most engrossing ideal to great souls; nor did he altogether scorn a hope of advantages to himself (he was to profit nicely from any discoveries he made); but to him far before all these human considerations was the consideration of his ancient faith, which questionless dowered him with strength of mind and will, and often strengthened and consoled him in the midst of the greatest difficulties. This view and aim is known to have possessed his mind above all; namely, to open a way for the Gospel over new lands and seas (Do we still feel the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls to be the greatest good for man?).

4. ...when he learned from the lessons of astronomy and the record of the ancients, that there were great tracts of land lying towards the West, beyond the limits of the known world, lands hitherto explored by no man, he saw in spirit a mighty multitude, cloaked in miserable darkness, given over to evil rites, and the superstitious worship of vain gods. (The native populations were lost in a sea of polytheism and nature worship. These gods are "vain" because they either don't exist at all or are demons deluding men and leading them astray, leading them into "evil rites" such as human sacrifice.) Miserable it is to live in a barbarous state and with savage manners: but more miserable to lack the knowledge of that which is highest, and to dwell in ignorance of the one true God. Considering these things, therefore, in his mind, he sought first of all to extend the Christian name and the benefits of Christian charity to the West (the moral teachings of Christ), as is abundantly proved by the history of the whole undertaking..(Columbus) hastens to seek missionaries from Pope Alexander VI, through a letter in which this sentence occurs: "I trust that, by God's help, I may spread the Holy Name and Gospel of Jesus Christ as widely as may be." He was carried away, as we think, with joy, when on his first return from the Indies he wrote to Raphael Sanchez: "That to God should be rendered immortal thanks, Who had brought his labors such prosperous issues; that Jesus Christ rejoices and triumphs on earth no less than in Heaven, at the approaching salvation of nations innumerable, who were before hastening to destruction.(These were all people no Catholic knew. Men, like Columbus, risked their lives for the salvation of unknown souls. Before we begin casting stones, perhaps we ought to ask if we have, if we even would, do the same.)"

5. ...Columbus threw open America at the time when a great storm (Protestantism) was about to break over the Church. As far, therefore, as it is lawful for man to divine from events the ways of Divine Providence, he seemed to have truly been born, by a singular provision of God, to remedy those losses which were awaiting the Catholic Church on the side of Europe (Today, almost half of all Catholics are in lands discovered by Columbus).

6. ...We mention what is indeed well known, but is also characteristic of the man's mind and soul. For being compelled by the Portuguese and Genoese to leave his object unachieved, when he had reached Spain, within the wall of a Religious house he matured his great design of meditated exploration, having for confidant and adviser a Religious—a disciple of Francis of Assisi. Being at length about to depart for the sea, he attended to all that which concerned the welfare of his soul on the eve of his enterprise. He implored the Queen of Heaven to assist his efforts and direct his course; and he ordered that no sail should be hoisted until the name of the Trinity had been invoked. When he had put out to sea, and the waves were now growing tempestuous, and the sailors were filled with terror, he kept a tranquil constancy of mind, relying on God. The very names he gave to the newly discovered islands tell the purposes of the man. At each disembarkation he offered up prayers to Almighty God, nor did he take possession save "in the Name of Jesus Christ." Upon whatsoever shores he might be driven, his first act was to set upon the shore the standard of the holy Cross: and the name of the Divine Redeemer, which he had so often sung on the open sea to the sound of the murmuring waves, he conferred upon the new islands. Thus at Hispaniola he began to build from the ruins of the temple, and all popular celebrations were preceded by the most sacred ceremonies .

Columbus lands on Hispaniola

10. Meanwhile, as a pledge of heavenly favors and of Our own paternal goodwill, we lovingly bestow the Apostolic Benediction in Our Lord upon you, Venerable Brethren, and upon your clergy and people."


Thursday, October 1, 2015

How Pope Francis Evangelized America (And You Can Too!)

Pope Francis’ visit to the United States was a smashing success… right? He certainly seemed to capture the attention, at least for the moment, of the American people and that’s no small feat. 

Will his visit, though, have any lasting impact? 

The mission of a pope in the world of the twenty-first century is not an easy one. Far from being widely respected, let alone obeyed, as popes once were, the power to command, or even influence, people - even among their own flock - of pontiffs today is questionable. 

In his authoritative early work, Introduction to Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI relates the following story originally from Soren Kierkegaard, which might well sum up the position of the Pope (and even of the rank and file believer) in today’s cultural climate.
According to this story, a traveling circus in Denmark caught fire. The manager thereupon sent the clown, who was already dressed and made up for the performance, into the neighborhood village to fetch help, especially as there was a danger that the fire would spread across the fields of dry stubble and engulf the village itself. The clown hurried into the village and requested the inhabitants to come as quickly as possible to the blazing circus and help to put the fire out. But the villagers took the clown’s shouts simply for an excellent piece of advertising, meant to attract as many people as possible to the performance; they applauded the clown and laughed till they cried. The clown felt more like weeping than laughing; he tried in vain to get people to be serious, to make it clear to them that this was no stunt, that he was not pretending but was in bitter earnest, that there really was a fire. His supplications only increased the laughter; people thought he was playing his part splendidly - until finally the fire did engulf the village; it was too late for help, and both circus and village were burned to the ground. (p. 30)

Benedict asks whether this isn’t a perfect analogy to the task of the theologian, or indeed we might add any Christian seeking to evangelize in the world today. The clown, of course, represents the Christian, especially the Catholic, dressed in odd (we might even say Medieval) costume, fascinating the world with his performance, but not quite ever being taken in earnest. He pleads with his “modern” neighbors, warning of their impending doom, but they can’t ever quite get themselves to take him seriously. It is, they insist, all just a role he is playing, even the clown, after all, knows he’s just a clown.

This story, related by Benedict a half-century ago and written by Kierkegaard a century before that, is particularly relevant today, in the aftermath of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Here the citizens of the United States, the epicenter in many ways of “modern culture”, cheered, celebrated, and watched - with baited breath - every movement of the Vicar of Christ on Earth. But where they doing so merely as the crowd in Denmark gathered to watch the clown? Was this just a sideshow, a moment to watch a man, dressed in oddly antiquarian garb, teach oddly antiquarian truths? Were the Holy Father’s pleas, diplomatically delivered, received with the same urgency that the clown’s were? And will the consequences be as terrible? Did Pope Francis with his visit succeed in getting Americans, including American Catholics, to realize a fire is threatening them or was he taken for a mere showman, a clown in a silly costume, who ought to be watched, enjoyed, but never taken seriously?

Now that the media coverage is over, now that the spectacle has subsided, the answer will become clearer and clearer. These questions can only really be be answered only with the passing of time. 

But what if the answer is “yes?” Where does that leave us Catholics? What are we to do to get an increasingly deaf world to listen to our warnings?

Reflecting on our opening story, we might conclude the circus clown would have been quite a bit more convincing had he simply taken off the costume, the make up, and the big red shoes. If he could have just looked like everyone else, then the villagers would have listened to him and been saved from he flames. It seems like an obvious answer, doesn’t it?

We Catholics then ought just to get rid of those ridiculous, medieval, costumes! 

Replace cassocks with shirts and pants, get rid of the religious orders’ ancient habits, substituting the same clothing any other person would wear, drop the incense, the Latin, the chant, and all that “sacred” art from the churches, in fact - build new churches that look like office buildings or schools!

In short, take off the “clown make-up” and put on modern dress and everything will be okay. This line of thought, called aggiornamento, ripped through the Church in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. Nuns abandoned their habits, priests wore jeans and celebrated Mass on the beach, even the Pope got rid of his tiara.

Now none of these changes are necessarily bad in themselves. Our Faith isn’t in vestments, but in the beliefs of the Church and I’m not here arguing that a return to “Pre-Vatican 2” appearances are some magical panacea or that these changes, again though some semi-magical and never fully explained process, led to the current state of alienation of people from the Church. However, at fifty years remove, it is abundantly clear that aggiornamento, whatever your aesthetic preferences, wasn’t enough for modern man to take the Church seriously. Nor, I think we can safely conclude, would the message of Francis be taken any more seriously if he came in a neck tie or a t-shirt and jeans rather than in his simple, white cassock. 

Aggiornamento, the changing of the exterior look of the Faith, wasn’t enough to fool modern man who still smells the odor of the centuries on the Church, a smell - the smell of tradition - which repeals modern man, fixated as he is on “progress” and “the future.” What is new, is “improved;” what is old, is “obsolete” and no amount of cosmetic surgery can possibly trick modern man into thinking the Church is anything but ancient.

Maybe, we might begin to think, it isn’t just the clothing we need to change. If our clown came running into the village, dressed normally but spouting jokes even as he warned of the impending danger of a wild fire, we could forgive the villagers for not taking him seriously, despite the costume change. What we need, then, isn’t just aggiornamento, but “demythologizing.” How is modern man to take us Christians seriously when, even in more modern dress, we go about speaking of miracles? Of men rising from the dead, of sin, and of things like Hell? Wouldn’t it be better to reinterpret our Faith to be more palpable? Jesus didn’t feed the five thousand by miraculously multiplying bread and fish… no! He got people to share, that was the “real miracle!” Resurrection from the dead? Yes, yes, we believe that, but not in the sense of a physical rising… no… we rather mean that the memory of Jesus lives on and His mission carries on with us, His followers. Etc.

This “demythologization” of Christianity has been ongoing for over a century and thanks to it we’ve seen a massive pouring of people into the Church… or not. 

In fact, this doesn’t work much better than aggiornamento does it? The leading exemplar of a “demythologized” Christianity might just be the Anglican Communion where even belief in God is no longer the belief in something “supernatural” (“we believe in the objective value of the concept of God” says the demythologizer). Yet this tactic must necessarily fail for two reasons.

First, once you’ve finished “demythologizing” Christianity, you’re left with believing in well, something other than Christianity. We haven’t saved the Faith, we’ve abandoned it. We’ve not thrown out the baby with the bathwater, but we’ve found that we’ve meticulously preserved every drop of dirty bathwater and discarded the baby in the nearest dumpster. 

Second, and this is a direct consequence of the first reason, we’ve found that no one is really all that interested in our “demythologized” religion. So Jesus got people to share, modern man asks, “who cares?” So the Apostles kept the teachings and workings of a particularly kind man alive after his brutal execution? “thanks for the ancient history lesson, now may I move on to life in the twenty-first century, please?” A “demythologized” Christianity, aside from being both absurd and false, is entirely irrelevant. The “historical” Jesus, who is constructed in myriad, contradictory ways, but who always just happens to reflect exactly the passions of the constructor of the image, is just that - historical, trapped in the past and unable to reach man here and now. And worse still this ancient artifact, this “demythologized” Christianity makes demands, moral demands, on men to live in a way quite contrary to the spirit of the age. Why should I, asks modern man, deny myself to follow a first century Jewish nice guy (or political rebel or false messiah or what have you)?

Aha! We might think, that’s the key. It isn’t enough to change out of the ancient costume or stop speaking about miracles, what we really need to do to make Christianity relevant again is to change the moral teachings! Let the world lead the way and we Christians will follow. You are a feminist, we’ll have women’s ordination; a homosexual, gay marriage; promiscuous? easy divorce (and remarriage!); sin? forgettaboutit. 

Finally, we might think, we’ve managed to get rid of all the clown and now we too are perfect villagers. 

In fact, we’ve blended in so fully with the rest of the village that we’ve managed to forget about the fire and will be as surprised as the rest when we die in the flames. Not only that, but this move too (like the other two we’ve tried) simply makes the Church, the Faith, redundant. Modern man doesn’t need to bother with sitting in some church somewhere on a Sunday morning just to hear the same platitudes he can hear elsewhere and he quickly learns this. Why go through all the effort when the game is on, or when he can sleep in, or do whatever else he feels is more important and a better use of time? We’ve tried to save the circus and the village and managed only to lose both.

Is there any hope? Can we Christians do no more than either abandon our Faith entirely or be laughed at by an unbelieving age?

Introduction to Christianity has another story for us that might light the way forward, this one originally from Martin Buber.
An adherent of the Enlightenment, a very learned man, who had heard of the Rabbi of Berditchev, paid a visit to him in order to argue, as was his custom, with him, too, and to shatter his old-fashioned proofs of the truth of his faith. When he entered the Rabbi’s room, he found him walking up and down with a book in his hand, rapt in thought. The Rabbi paid no attention to the new arrival. Suddenly he stopped, looked at him fleetingly, and said, “But perhaps it is true after all.” The scholar tried in vain to collect himself - his knees trembled, so terrible was the Rabbi to behold and so terrible his simple utterance to hear. But (the) Rabbi… now turned to face him and spoke quite calmly: “My son, the great scholars of the Torah with whom you have argued wasted their words on you: as you departed you laughed at them. They were unable to lay God and his Kingdom on the table before you, and neither can I. But think, my son, perhaps it is true.” The exponent of the Enlightenment opposed him with all his strength; but this terrible “perhaps” that echoed back at him time after time broke his resistance. (pp. 34-35)
“Perhaps it is true.” That simple message, that awe-inspiring thought is enough to break down the futile resistance of our “adherent of the Enlightenment” (think New Atheist). We can imagine what would have happen in our village had one person said to himself, “perhaps it is true.” He would surely have escaped the flames, but more importantly could very well have saved both the circus and the village. 

“Perhaps it is true,” those words must arrest any secularist in his tracks. Is he so sure of his knowledge and erudition (and when dealing with our New Atheists they tend to be painfully short on both these in the relevant fields) that he can entirely dismiss that “perhaps?” 

But what of the vast majority of those who laugh at our clownish ways? They haven’t left off the Faith because of argumentation. Rather they have drifted slowly from the Faith, first failing to live the moral teachings of the Church, then denying those teachings altogether. What of this type? Can someone who has lost the Faith not through rational argumentation, but through immoral living be struck by the power of the “perhaps?” 

In his seminal masterpiece, I Promessi Sposi, Alessandro Manzoni introduces us to the archetype of this modern man. He is so representative of everyman that he bears only l’innominato (the unnamed) as an identification in the story. 

This man lived as worldly a life as one can - committing any and every sin to promote his material well-being, indeed he exemplifies the lifestyle that is the natural consequence of disbelief in God, summed up so well by Dostoyevsky, “if God doesn’t exist, all things are permissible.” Now, lying alone in his castle in the darkness and stillness of the night, he is haunted by a sense of his own mortality, of the possibility of his own death…
It was not death threatened by an enemy who was himself mortal; it was not to be replaced by stronger weapons, or a readier arm; it came alone, it was suggested from within; it might still be distant, but every moment brought it a step nearer. (p. 322)
And this sense of his own eventual demise brings with it just that same “perhaps,”
That God, of whom he had once heard, but whom he had long ceased either to deny or acknowledge, solely occupied as he was in acting as though he existed not, now, at certain moments of depression without cause, and terror without danger, he imagined he heard repeating within him, ‘Nevertheless, I am.’ (p. 322)
Most of the people who we must evangelize fall into this second camp. Maybe they are not the arch-sinners that l’innominato was, but they neither “deny or acknowledge” God, living “as though he existed not.”

How does the Church, how do we, reach them? With that “perhaps.” With that “nevertheless.” We need not worry ourselves about the costume we wear, about whether those outside the Church already believe the miracles and morality of the Faith (of course they don’t, else they’d be in the Church rather than out). We can’t pretend the Faith we hold is “new and improved” when we all know it is the common heritage of the Western world these last two millennia. 

Dressing in different guises, blending in with the world, will do us no good. At best we become redundant, at worst we are seen as deceivers. What we need to do is what the Faith has always called us to do - “preach the word, in season and out” (2 Tim 4:2). Proclaim that comfort shattering “perhaps” to the unbelieving world. Is materialism true? Can science be the measure of all human knowledge? Or is there something beyond physics? 


That’s not to imply that we can’t, through philosophy, know God exists. It isn’t to suggest the believer and the non-believer are alike stuck in a perpetual “perhaps.” It is, however, a place to start. That one powerful word, “perhaps,” can be what it takes to move someone from indifference (like l’innominato) or from outright disbelief (like our “adherent of the Enlightenment”) into serious, soul searching, dialogue. In that regard it also will do much more than aggiornamento, “demythologizing,” or dumping the moral teachings of Christ for those of Dr. Phil ever could to start the reconversion of the world, to launch the New Evangelization. 

And I think that is exactly what Pope Francis’ visit achieved. 

Time will tell.


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