Do the Blessed know the value of π?

“Lest too great a variety of religious orders leads to grave confusion in God’s church, we strictly forbid anyone henceforth to found a new religious order. Whoever wants to become a religious should enter one of the already approved orders. Likewise, whoever wishes to found a new religious house should take the rule and institutes from already approved religious orders.”

 – Lateran IV (1215)

“…the disgrace into which the Society of Jesus had fallen made Catholics hesitant to embrace doctrines with which the Jesuits had been identified. One such doctrine was that for those who were inculpably ignorant of the Christian message, or of its truth, explicit Christian faith was not strictly necessary for salvation. Jesuits had taught that such people could be saved, as those who lived before the coming of Christ could be, by a faith in Christ, or a desire of such faith, that would be implicit in their faith in God. As we have seen, this was a departure from the teaching of St Thomas and the whole mediaeval tradition, which had required explicit Christian faith for the salvation of everyone in the Christian era. After the suppression of the Jesuit order, hardly any Catholic theologians dared to question the traditional teaching on this point.”

– Francis Sullivan S.J.


Mgr Andrew Wadsworth, provost of the Oratorians in Washington, summarizes Ven. Bartholomew Holzhauser on the 7 ages of the church. They are supposed to be prefigured by the 7 churches of Asia Minor at the start of the Apocalpyse. I suppose that if he is right, this blog ought really to be re-named Exsardi. Mrg Wadsworth doesn’t draw out the links with Apoc. 1-3, go the original to find out more.

If you don’t have time for the talk, here is the summary:

The Seven Ages of the Church
According to the writings of the
Venerable Bartholemew Holzhauser

1. Status Seminativus
AD 30-70
from Christ and the Apostles
until Pope Linus and the Emperor Nero

2. Status Irrigativus
AD 70-330
10 Persecutions of the Church

3. Status Illuminativus
AD 330-500
from Pope Sylvester to Leo III

4. Status Pacificus
AD 500-1500
from Pope Leo III to Leo X

5. Status Afflictionis et Purgativus
from Leo X to a strong ruler/strong monarch/holy pope

6. Status Consolationis
from the holy pope until the Antichrist

7. Status Desolationis
from the Antichrist to the End of the World

St Augustine:

As the ointment on the head, which descended to the beard, to Aaron’s beard, which descended to the fringe of his garment. What was Aaron? A priest. Who is a priest, except that one Priest, who entered into the Holy of Holies? Who is that priest, save Him, who was at once Victim and Priest? save Him who when he found nothing clean in the world to offer, offered Himself? The ointment is on his head, because Christ is one whole with the Church, but the ointment comes from the head. Our Head is Christ crucified and buried; He rose again, and ascended into heaven; and the Holy Spirit came from the head. Whither? To the beard. The beard signifies the courageous; the beard distinguishes the grown men, the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man. Thus that ointment descended first upon the Apostles, descended upon those who bore the first assaults of the world, and therefore the Holy Spirit descended on them. For they who first began to dwell together in unity, suffered persecution, but because the ointment descended to the beard, they suffered, but were not conquered…. (in Ps. 132)


St Thomas Aquinas:

It is becoming for those who apply themselves to the Divine ministry to be shaven, and to be tonsured in the form of a crown by reason of the shape. Because a crown is the sign of royalty; and of perfection, since it is circular; and those who are appointed to the Divine service acquire a royal dignity and ought to be perfect in virtue. It is also becoming to them as it involves the hair being taken away: both from the higher part of the head by the tonsure, lest their mind be hindered by temporal occupations from contemplating Divine things, and from the lower part by shaving, lest their senses be entangled in temporal things (Suppl. 40, 1).

I’m not sure how to overcome this aporia, unless we think that Hanon in 1 Sam. 10 had the right idea by shaving off one half of the beards of David’s servants. However, Cornelius a Lapide says that this episode represents the Jews plucking off hairs from Christ’s beard during the Passion, or the devil stripping religious men of their courage, so that does not seem promising. I suppose we have to say that per se it is better for a man, especially a Christian, to possess a beard, at least in this life, but per accidens, e.g. because of a particular need to signify something else, it may become better to be shaved (and tonsured). I say ‘in this life’ because Aelianus tells me that the earliest depictions of our Lord present Him as risen and beardless, in token of eternal youth, and suggests that this may be the ‘other form’ which hindered people from recognising Him after the resurrection.

I presume that the historical reason why priests in the west have generally been shaven is Romanitas. Eastern rite priests of course often have beards, and I have a theory that the East-West division here is a providential counterbalance to the characteristics of their respective liturgies. That is, the Eastern liturgies put before us in particular the glory of the resurrection, so it is fitting that their priests be bearded, to preserve some suggestion of the trials and labours of this life as well, lest we float off into unreality. On the other hand, the Roman rite is more stark and sacrificial, so perhaps there is a danger that adding beards as well might make it too much for some people to take. I hope these are not irreverent thoughts.

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“He shall be a wild man: his hand will be against all men, and all men’s hands against him: and he shall pitch his tents over against all his brethren.” (Genesis 16:12)

In the Gospel According to St Luke 21:24 we read “and they shall fall by the edge of the sword; and shall be led away captives into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles; till the times of the nations be fulfilled.” The verse speaks of the sack of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It is a rather disturbing verse as it implies that when the Jews recover possession of the earthly Jerusalem the ‘time of the nations [will] be fulfilled’. In various places the New Testament foretells a great apostasy of the Gentiles preceding the end of time. As Our Lord says in Luke 18:8 “the Son of man, when he cometh, shall he find, think you, faith on earth?” Indeed, in the discourse of which Luke 21:24 forms a part there is a clear shift at this very verse from describing the sack of Jerusalem to describing the end of the world. The very last event prophesied before the return of the Lord is the conversion of the Jews. As St Paul explains in Romans 11 “For if the loss of them be the reconciliation of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? … For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, (lest you should be wise in your own conceits), that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles should come in and so all Israel should be saved”. But between the falling away of the Gentiles and the conversion of the Jews there intervenes the reign of the Antichrist.

The old city of Jerusalem was recaptured by the Jews on 7th June 1967. One would have to be very blind not to have perceived a great falling away of the nations since that time. This carries the alarming implication that things are only going in one direction and that the Antichrist is on his way. It is slightly chilling that in revelation when the 144,000 are enumerated from the twelve tribes they are all alive while the ‘great multitude’ of the Gentile Christians are all dead. It is as if the remnant of the faithful in the time of Antichrist will all be children of Abraham (or rather Jacob) according to the flesh as well as the spirit. It is slightly consoling that the elect are drawn from all twelve tribes and who knows who might be descended from Israel in the female line? Another mysterious statement in Revelation 14:1-4 implies the Israelite elect will all be celibate. This might resolve a difficulty St Augustine raises towards the end of the De Civitate Dei. St Augustine notes that Our Lord says it is only possible to despoil the property of the strong man while he is bound and  Revelation tells us that in the last days the Devil will be unbound. St Augustine considers the possibility that during the three and a half years during which the Antichrist will rule the world no one will be justified. He discards this idea because of the efficacy of infant baptism. However, if the remainder of the faithful at this time are all celibate, infant baptism may not be such an objection. Our Lord even says in Matthew 24:37-39 “And as in the days of Noe, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noe entered into the ark, and they knew not till the flood came, and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.”

So, if the gentiles are to fall away entirely until only a tiny number of celibate Catholics, all descended from Jacob, remain, where will the Gentiles fall away to? A monk once showed me a book (written by a Protestant) given to him by a Cardinal which pointed out the startling similarities between the eschatology of the Mohammedans and that of the New Testament. The one key difference is that the heroes of Mohammedan eschatology are the villains of Christian prophecy. In Christian eschatology there are two key figures behind the final persecution of the Church: the Antichrist and the False Prophet. These correspond to the first and second beasts of Revelation 13. One is a great temporal ruler and the other his false religious auxiliary. Yet there seems to be some confusion in the tradition, for while the temporal ruler seems to take the lead and it is towards him that the False Prophet directs the worship of the reprobate, it is the second beast – the False Prophet – who is described as impersonating the Messiah “two horns, like a lamb, and he spoke as a dragon”.  Yet it is normally the first beast who is though to be the Antichrist. The hero of Mohammedan eschatology is the Mahdi who will subject the entire world to Islamic rule. In his time Isa (the Mohammedan Jesus) will return. The Mahdi will offer to defer to the pseudo-Jesus but the latter will recognise Mahdi as greater. Isa will then commence the extermination of all remaining Jews and Christians on earth (two groups which, it would seem from the New Testament, may by then be materially identical). This suddenly makes a lot of sense of the two figures in the New Testament. Indeed, St Hippolytus in his treatise on the Antichrist seems to suspect that this is partly why the second beast has two horns: “By the beast, then, coming up out of the earth, he means the kingdom of Antichrist; and by the two horns he means him and the false prophet after him. And in speaking of the horns being like a lamb, he means that he will make himself like the Son of God, and set himself forward as king.”

In Galatians, St Paul famously contends that Ishmael is a type of the unbelieving Jews. As Ishmael was a slave so they are bound in servile subjection to the law. As Ishmael lived out his life in Arabia so they are bound to the covenant given on Sinai “a mountain in Arabia”. As he was rejected in favour of the miraculous son of the promise so they have been rejected in favour of the miraculously converted multitude of the Gentiles. How does this typology run once the children of Isaac after the flesh have once more become children of the promise? If the apostasy of the Jews means the conversion of the nations and the conversion of the Jews (and apostasy of the nations) means the end of the world might it not be that the return of the Jews to the promises of God will mean the transformation of the Gentiles into children of Ishmael according to the spirit?

“But what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:30)

In his delightful book Enthusiasm, Ronald Knox remarks on the Jansenist belief that the Church is destined to decline continuously from her pristine excellence until the end of the world. He says that this opinion would be as hard to justify from history as it is from theology. Newman in Loss and Gain puts the same Jansenist view in the mouth (if I remember correctly) of Campbell, the Scotch Protestant, but without giving any indication of whether he himself endorses or opposes it.

Chesterton, I think in his book on Chaucer, recounts how he was once asked by a very intelligent agnostic whether he thought that the human race improved as time went on, or degenerated, or stayed about the same, and that the questioner seemed to think that he had covered all the possibilities. In reply he asked the other chap whether he thought that Ebeneezer Brown of 22, The Beeches, Tooting Bec, improved, degenerated or stayed about the same between the ages of 30 and 40 (I quote from memory, and invent the names.) Chesterton says that it then seemed to dawn on his interlocutor that the answer rather depended on Mr Brown and how he chose to behave. In other words, for Chesterton, because man has free will there is no necessity for the human race to go in any direction in particular. This is certainly an invigorating way to answer our question, but I’m not sure the conclusion follows. There is such a thing as having moral certainty about future events that will depend on free will; St Thomas says somewhere that in a town full of irascible people, you can be sure an argument will break out at some point, even though you can’t tell in advance when or between whom. In the same way, one could hold that the human race will go in a certain direction even though each man is free to go where he wants.

Maritain throughout his writing has a theory that both good and evil increase in the human race as time goes by, like the wheat and the cockle growing side-by-side. I suppose this means that the just will on average be more just, and the unjust on average more unjust from one century to the next. I don’t think he really tries to prove this, though he does make the point that if persecutions intensify, those who resist them will need to have a correspondingly greater holiness. On the other hand, even if his theory were true, it could still be the case that an increasingly large number of people became unjust in every age. Also, since the cockle on his account can be within the Church as well as outside, it wouldn’t help to answer the question about how the Church on earth was destined to fare.

Tolkien, in a private letter from 1956, wrote: “I am a Christian and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat.” I like those quotation marks around ‘history’. Presumably they signify that the subject as usually studied is defective, as abstracting from the supernatural truths that alone allow us to understand it. But why ‘a long defeat’ rather than a series of victories and defeats? Presumably he was thinking of history as tending toward the reign of the antichrist, which he must have considered as the final period of history, ended only by the eucatastrophe of the second coming.

St Thomas, speaking about how the articles of faith have grown over the years from Abraham onwards, says this:

The final consummation of grace came about through Christ, and so His time is called ‘the fullness of time’. Consequently, those who were closer to Christ, whether before, like John the Baptist, or after, like the apostles, knew the mysteries of faith more fully. We see the same thing in regard to the condition of a man, who has {bodily} perfection in youth, and a man is the more perfect in proportion as he is close to youth, whether before or after (2a 2ae 1, 7 ad 4).

He is not speaking here about an increase in the articulation of the mysteries of faith, I think, since then it would not be true that knowledge declines after the apostles. After all, we have their writings, and we have the commentaries on them made by the Fathers and doctors which make explicit many things contained only implicitly in Scripture. He must therefore be speaking of the depth of understanding, or intensity of faith. But this comes about, as he explains elsewhere (2a 2ae 6, 1) through the grace given to intellect and will; by charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But this apparently implies that sanctifying grace is poured out more abundantly insofar as people are closer in time to the Incarnation and Pentecost. If the mysteries of faith are more keenly understood the closer people are to the time of Christ, this must be because charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – which are proportioned to one’s degree of sanctifying grace – are given more abundantly, the closer one is to that time. This would be fitting, as emphasising the central place of the Incarnation within history. It would also fit in with some remarks of St Gregory the Great which I have quoted elsewhere in these chronicles:

By the awful course of the secret dispensation, before this Leviathan appears in that accursed man {antichrist} whom he assumes, signs of power are withdrawn from holy Church. For prophecy is hidden, the grace of healings is taken away, the power of longer abstinence is weakened, the words of doctrine are silent, the prodigies of miracles are removed

St Bede, like St Jerome, thought that the overthrow of antichrist would come before the end of the world. But he still thinks that there will be very little true faith left at the end of the world. Commenting on Luke 18:8 (“When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?”), Bede writes:

When the almighty Creator shall appear in the form of the Son of man, so scarce will the elect be that not so much the cries of the faithful as the torpor of the others will hasten the world’s fall.

Were the Janensists, then, correct? Is the Church a kingdom gradually sliding into decay, which will be saved from extinction only by the coming of the Lord? Things are more complicated. For one thing, not only has the Church on earth expanded in numbers from about 120 on Pentecost Sunday to its present membership, but also there have been periods since Pentecost when the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace was surely increasing; for example, from AD 33 to AD 133. This is certainly a victory for the city of God over the city of man. The Church has also progressed in the ever more perfect elaboration of sacred doctrine and the possession of more splendid liturgical rites (whether these are used is another question). Also she has progressed in having an ever greater treasury of merit and satisfaction on which to draw, and more examples of holiness, through the lives of the saints who have passed to their reward. Moreover, as Vatican I taught, her continued existence is in itself a sign of her divine mission, and this sign in the nature of things becomes more striking with the passage of time. All these things are triumphs over the kingdom of darkness.

Nevertheless, it could still be true, as seems to be implied by the words of St Thomas, that the average level of grace of those in the Church is lower in every generation; it could also be true that the percentage of those in the Church living fervent lives is in continual decline. Yet even this could be a tendency rather than an iron law. St Thomas uses the analogy of the human body, which is more perfect the closer it is to youth. Yet while this is true others things being equal, it may be that a particular man exercises more or has a better diet, and so is stronger or has more stamina, at some time earlier or later than at his natural peak of health. So it could be that the exercise demanded by the stress of particular events, for example, universal persecution, will temporarily raise the average level of holiness in the mystical body; or it could be that the intake of many new members to whom God wishes to attach a special blessing (for example the Jews, for the sake of their fathers) will have the same effect. But all the same the underlying trend would be downwards. Yet any given Christian may still achieve heroic sanctity, if he wants. And the proportion of people on earth in a state of grace can increase even if the average level of their sanctity decreases; though other things being equal, for example if there are no new pagan lands to evangelise, this seems less likely than likely.

A happy and fervent new year to all the saints at Laodicea.

This Sunday, in the old rite, part of our Lord’s discourse about the end times will be read or chanted. The first three gospels each tell us that after He had prophesied the destruction of the temple, His disciples came to Him to ask when all would be fulfilled. St Matthew and St Luke simply tell us that “the disciples” asked the questions; St Mark specifies that four disciples asked, namely Peter, James, John – and Andrew. This evangelist was recording the preaching of Peter in Rome, and doubtless St Peter had mentioned the names, so as not to lose the opportunity to honour his own brother, who had first brought him to Christ.

We are familiar with the idea that the first three of these disciples formed an inner ring within the twelve. They were chosen to be there when Jairus’s daughter was raised from the dead, at the Transfiguration and at the Agony. But this is the only occasion when St Andrew is joined to their company: to hear first of the fall of the temple, of the end of the rites of the Old Covenant and of the slaughter of the ancient people of God; and then of that which these things foreshadowed, the great persecution of the Church, the coming of the lawless one, the consummation of all things and the return of Christ in glory. Why was the apostle Andrew chosen to hear these things directly from the mouth of Christ?

Perhaps in part because he is the “first-called”, Πρωτόκλητος, and so had been following the Lord longer than anyone (along with the disciple who was with him when he was called); it was fitting therefore that he should hear of the rewards for those who persevere to the end. Perhaps also because he would become the patron saint of that nation which, more than any other, seems bound up with the Church’s fortunes as she makes her way toward those last days: Russia.

It is now almost a hundred years since Lenin entered holy Russia in his sealed train and since the Queen of Heaven told the three children that that nation would first spread its errors throughout the world and then be made the chosen instrument for their correction. And they have been spread, perhaps beyond the hopes of hell itself. But just as Christ’s words do not pass away, so nor do hers, through whom the Word was made flesh. St Andrew’s nation will be consecrated to her and become a fountain of grace for the last days, perhaps for resistance in that final persecution, or perhaps only when antichrist shall have been overthrown, and the Church enjoys, if this be the plan of heaven, a time of flourishing before the second coming, foreshadowed by the forty days her Spouse once spent on earth between Resurrection and Ascension.

It is not without reason that his feast everywhere is celebrated on the cusp of Advent, on the vigil of December’s kalends. As St John the Baptist from his place on earth prepared all men for the first coming of the Lord, so St Andrew from his place in heaven prepares all men for the second. Nor is his name devoid of mystery, for it means manliness, or courage. When those days come, upon whomsoever they may come, such as have not been known since the foundation of the world, we shall have need of Andrew then.

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