religion war violence


charlemagneparis

The Ecumenical Councils of Trent and Vatican I and the Creed of Pius IV all require us to:

…accept the Holy Scripture according to that sense which holy mother the Church hath held, and doth hold, and to whom it belongeth to judge the true sense and interpretations of the Scriptures [and] never take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

If is often said that the Church has, in fact, only very rarely defined the precise meaning of a biblical passage. Whether or not that is true one clear instance of such a definition is the Bull Unam Sanctam which has very precise teaching concerning Luke 22:35-38 and John 18:11. In ordering the disciples to buy a sword if they had not one already, and in telling them that two swords are enough, and in ordering Peter to sheath his sword Our Lord laid out the precise nature of the jurisdiction of the sacramental hierarchy and  the Supreme Pontiff over the temporal power.

Both the temporal and the spiritual power are intrinsic to the Church. The spiritual sword is to be exercised for the specific ends for which the Church was instituted and by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In contrast, the temporal sword must be exercised by members of the Church but cannot be wielded by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (although they may confiscate it if it is misused and assign it to another) because it is not a means by which the specific ends of the Church may be advanced.

What rarely seems to attract much notice is the reason Our Lord gave for this arrangement:

And he said to them: When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, did you want anything? But they said: Nothing. Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword. For I say to you, that this that is written must yet be fulfilled in me: And with the wicked was he reckoned. For the things concerning me have an end. But they said: Lord, behold here are two swords. And he said to them, It is enough.

The apostles are told to obtain a sword because Christ will be treated as a criminal. As Our Lord also said at the Last Supper “the servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.” The opposition between the Church and the world is such that the Apostles (and their successors) need to have the protection of force in order to function. Yet, a short time later when Peter uses his sword to try to defend the Lord he is rebuked. “Put up thy sword into thy scabbard”. The Apostles have two swords but they are permitted to wield only one. The word of God is in the power of the clergy the state is to be in the power of the laity.

How does this fit with the prohibition on coercive conversion? The temporal sword of Christendom is essentially defensive. It is not ‘for’ the Church as Boniface VIII insists, it is wielded ‘by’ the Church (the lay faithful). The essential purposes of the Church cannot be advanced by violence but the non-ordained members of the Church can use the temporal sword to defend the Church from external persecution. Once the state is no longer in the hands of the Church this is not possible. So long as the state is non-Christian the Church’s business lies in buying the sword (bringing the temporal order by consent into the possession of the Church). Once it is purchased the sword may be drawn – but only by the laity – to stave off temporal impediments to the operation of the spiritual sword. We do not live by the sword. The life of Christendom is established and maintained by the peaceful spreading of the Gospel. However, once that life has reached the highest temporal level of social organisation the temporal sword can and should be drawn in its defence.

As St Cyril of Alexandria teaches:

He says sell his cloak, and buy a sword: for henceforth the question with all those who continue in the land will not be whether they possess anything or not, but whether they can exist and preserve their lives. For war shall befall them with such unendurable impetuosity, that nothing shall be able to stand against it.

At the beginning of the Song of Roland Charlemagne (in deference to his council) seeks to negotiate a temporal peace with Islam. He seeks to keep his cloak instead of buying a sword. He forgets the truth that he remembers later in the midst of battle with the Emir of Babylon: “Never to Paynims may I show love or peace.” The Lord tells us “the things concerning me have an end” there is no new revelation to dispense us from the unremitting opposition of the world. As Leo XIII teaches “Christians are born for combat”. The faithful must sell their cloaks and buy a sword because the state cannot simply be left in the hands of the pagans if the Church is to survive. This is why the Song ends with a weary Emperor roused from his bed by St Gabriel to carry on the war. He sought not first the Kingdom of God and His justice and so earthly peace is taken from him until he learns his lesson.

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the bloodiest day in British military history. I wonder how many of the young men who went over the top on the Somme that Saturday morning in July knew that it was the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. Too few: but those who gave their lives or limbs for Christian civilisation, however poorly understood, made a sacrifice which He surely did not spurn. If there are any souls of those who died on either side in that battle still in purgatory, may they rest at last in peace.

A week ago the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fought on the Somme, and at Mons and Passchendaele voted. They voted to resist an anti-Christian empire that wishes to rule them. The vote was close, but it was clear. It may be that if five more years had gone by, the changing of the generations would have caused the vote to be different. But the vote was not taken in five years time, it was taken in the year of grace 2016.

Now we hear voices saying that the people must be made to vote again, till they get it right. How can the poor and the uneducated be expected to know what is best for them? A feature in the Guardian yesterday solemnly warns us that elections can be the enemy of democracy. Here at Laodicea we have supported suffrage by household rather than by individual; but given that the youth vote was in favour of ‘Remain’, and given that a larger proportion of such voters than of older ones are living in another’s household, then the margin of victory would have been even larger on Laodicean principles.

In any case, the vote has been taken, and has shown an impressive popular will to resist the propaganda and the vested interests of the godless rich, and the sense of having a heritage to defend. Of course the country cannot be healed by such a will or such a sense, without first turning back to the Precious Blood. But this is, at least, a chink in the darkness, a first unmerited grace (gratia operans) given to Britain. May the descendants of the heroes of the Somme be not unworthy of their sires.

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On Monday, students at Indiana University Bloomington mistook a priest for a Ku Klux Klan member, taking to social media to express their fear of the alleged Klansman, who they claimed was carrying a whip, and dressed in “white robes.”

In Greek mythology, Bellerophon was a brave hero who caught and tamed the winger horse Pegasus. By his aid Bellerophon won great victories; but his pride and ambition grew, until thinking himself to be a god he flew up toward Mount Olympus, whereupon Zeus sent a gadlfy to sting the flying horse, who cast his rider to earth. Bellerophon survived the fall, but lived out his remaining days a crippled hermit.

“History is all irony”, said Belloc. There is at any rate a fine irony in the fact that when Napoleon Bonaparte was looking for a way out of France after the great fall at Waterloo, it was to a ship called HMS Bellerophon that he went, as it patrolled the coastal waters off Rochefort. There he surrendered to the British, with the words: “I am come to throw myself on the protection of your Prince and your laws.”

Poor Napoleon, thrown off his magic horse to become a hermit on St Helena! And poor France, with its ‘Law of Separation’, which might equally be called a ‘Law of Death’; for the Church should be to the State as the soul to the body, and the separation of these two is the very definition of death. After such a fall, can any give life to the dead?

POPE HONORIUS, of happy memory, charged St Dominic to gather in one enclosure all the nuns who were lying scattered all over the city, and then, after he had constructed a monastery for them at St Sixtus, to make them continue in common life. St Dominic, however, asked the Pope to name other fitting helpers for carrying out so hard an under taking: accordingly the Pope gave him for helpmates the Cardinal Ugolino, bishop of Ostia, who became Pope later on, Stephen of Fossa-Nuova, Cardinal by the title of the Twelve Apostles, and Nicholas, Cardinal and bishop of Tusculum, and bade them stand by him should he need their aid.

Now when all the other nuns would obey neither the Pope nor St Dominic in this matter, the abbess of St Mary’s across the Tiber, and all her nuns, with only one exception, offered themselves and their property with all the revenues of their monastery to St Dominic. Then St Dominic and the three Cardinals associated with him gave orders that on the first Wednesday in Lent, after the imposition of ashes, they should all meet at St Sixtus for the said abbess to resign her office before them and all the nuns, and make over to him and his companions all rights over the monastery. While St Dominic was sitting with the three Cardinals, and the said abbess and her nuns were standing by, lo, a man came in tearing his hair and shouting aloud: ‘Alas, alas!’ When those present asked what was amiss, he rejoined: ‘The Lord Cardinal Stephen’s nephew has fallen from his horse and is dead.’ The young man’s name was Napoleon, and at the news his uncle swooned away in St Dominic’s arms. The others held him up and St Dominic sprinkled him with holy water. Then, leaving him, he went out to where the dead man lay, horribly crushed and mangled, and bade them carry him into a house outside the enclosure and shut him up therein. Next he told Brother Tancred and the others he had brought with him to prepare the altar for him to say mass.

Now there were standing in that place St Dominic and the Cardinals with their followers, and the abbess with her nuns, for the Cardinals and St Dominic held her in great reverence for her sanctity. Then St Dominic said Mass with abundance of tears. On coming to the elevation of the Lord’s Body, holding it uplifted in his hands, as he generally did, St Dominic was seen to be raised a span from the ground. All who were present witnessed it, and were lost in wonderment at the sight.

When the mass was finished he went back to the corpse, and with him went the Cardinals and their company, the abbess and her nuns, and on coming to the body he with his own most holy hands laid out the crushed and mangled limbs, from the head down to the feet: then he knelt down and wept much while he prayed by the bier. Thrice he composed the lacerated head and limbs, praying the while, then he got up and made the sign of the cross over the body, and standing at the dead man’s head, his hands upraised to heaven, and himself uplifted by divine power above a span from the ground, he called aloud: ‘O young man, Napoleon, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I bid thee arise!’ And instantly, in the sight of all those who had crowded in to see what marvel would happen, the young man rose up sound and well, and said to St Dominic: ‘Father, give me something to eat.’ Then St Dominic gave him both meat and drink, and restored him to his uncle hale and happy, and without a trace of his injuries; now he had lain dead from early morning till nine of the clock. Sister Cecilia narrated this wondrous miracle just as it is herein set down, for she was present all the while, and saw everything with her own eyes and heard all with her own ears (from the ‘Story of St Dominic’ by Blessed Cecilia Cesarine O.P.)

The Catholic Church, that imperishable handiwork of our all-merciful God, has for her immediate and natural purpose the saving of souls and securing our happiness in heaven. Yet, in regard to things temporal, she is the source of benefits as manifold and great as if the chief end of her existence were to ensure the prospering of our earthly life. And, indeed, wherever the Church has set her foot she has straightway changed the face of things, and has attempered the moral tone of the people with a new civilization and with virtues before unknown. All nations which have yielded to her sway have become eminent by their gentleness, their sense of justice, and the glory of their high deeds.

– Leo XIII

Once upon a time I was reading a book about the English Civil War* and I came across the soldier’s prayer offered by Jacob Astley at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642 “O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not forget me.” I thought this rather splendid and I read it out to a rather saintly individual who was on the other side of the room at the time. To my surprise she thought it a very wicked prayer. I know the Bible tells us to pray without ceasing, but we do cease and it seems reasonable to ask God that He not forget us when we do. Of St Dominic it is said he only ever spoke to God or of God, but he is a very great saint. My interlocutor is not a native English speaker so perhaps she gave ‘forget’ a stronger sense than one normally would. But then the psalmist does exclaim “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten.” The repetition of the key word  is uncomfortable in this context. Perhaps there is something inherently Protestant in Astley’s prayer, an implication that – human nature being entirely depraved – temporal activity is irreducibly secular. Perhaps, if there is not a holy joy in battle one ought not to be engaged in that battle.

As if in answer to Astley the preacher says, indeed “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” This is a worrying thought. One is reminded of the strange phenomenon whereby Christian civilisation in itself prevails over its rivals in the temporal sphere, but those whose good fortune it is to live within it and yet who do not believe, prosper temporally more than those who do believe because they pursue temporal glory with more singleness of mind. As Our Lord puts it “the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” Yet the Saviour also promises “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” It is venial sin that convinces us of a conflict between the temporal and the spiritual. The Kingdom of God is without frontier, it demands the whole person and every recess of our intellectual, moral, social and political existence must be subjected to it. As the Apostle teaches,

Many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.

The ‘other things’ that come with the kingdom are not outwith its sovereignty and scope. They are entrusted to the laity not given over to be trampled upon by the gentiles. The religious show the way, the clergy maintain the crossing, but the laity must hold the bridge. As Blessed John Henry Newman insists,

…it is only in proportion as things that be are brought into this kingdom, and made subservient to it; it is only as kings and princes, nobles and rulers, men of business and men of letters, the craftsman, and the trader, and the labourer, humble themselves to Christ’s Church, and (in the language of the prophet Isaiah) ‘bow down to her with their faces toward the earth, and lick up the dust of her feet,’ that the world becomes living and spiritual, and a fit object of love and a resting-place to the Christian.

If our task is fitting then remembrance of the Lord should enflame us and spur us not distract us.

And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God.

* Aka the British Civil War or the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

So, the Irish have chosen madness and the abyss. Another one for the ‘astonishing but unsurprising’ file.

The Irish State has dissolved itself, and this for two reasons. First of all because it has renounced the Catholic faith that until now was enshrined in the preamble to its constitution. St Thomas Aquinas writes:-

It must never be permitted that infidels should newly gain dominion over the faithful, for this would cause scandal and be a danger to the faith. For easily those who are subject to the government of others can be changed by those under whom they live, so that they may follow their rule, unless those who are subject be of great virtue. . . . And so the Church in no way allows infidels to acquire dominion over the faithful.

This would by itself be sufficient to make the official institutions of Ireland henceforth illegitimate. But there is a second reason. The state has officially declared war on marriage and the family, abolishing marriage insofar as lies within its power. But the State is a society of families united under a common rule. By nullifying the family, as far as lies within its power, it nullifies itself; it denies its own reason for existence and so it denies or dissolves itself.

When the Moors swept over Spain, no Spanish Catholic, surely, would have supposed that those Moors who got permanent control over their particular village or town were their legitimate rulers. They were not in the same position as the pagan Roman rulers who held power from God, according to Romans 13. If the Spanish obeyed the local Moorish ruler, it was from prudence, because until a counter-attack could be organised, it was the lesser of two evils. In the same way, from now on the Irish need not obey the ‘laws’ of the ‘State’ out of justice, but only out of prudence. Heretics, apostates and lunatics do not hold power from God over the faithful.

Ideally, the remaining Catholics should officially secede from the evil pseudo-State, and find some promising young army general to help them set up a new State somewhere in Eire. I am serious. Apparently of the 43 constituencies, only Longford and Roscommon-South Leitrim voted to retain marriage. Since these are contiguous, that would seem to be the best place to found it. Maybe Poland or Hungary would help them.

I suppose what we might call the Blackadder Goes Forth version of the First World War is pretty standard by now. It might be summarised as “Both sides as bad as each other, engaged in slaughter out of commercial ambition and stupid jingoism, until one side happened to win” (it’s not only materialist historians who speak like this, incidentally; a recent article of John Rao’s seemed to take the same view.) Yet even such a version of history seems preferable to the Daily Telegraph attitude of solemnly commemorating the heroic sacrifice of our forefathers while simultaneously promoting abominations that would have caused those same forefathers to say that the country they defended had simply ceased to exist.

There was a painful juxtaposition of headlines on the front page of the Telegraph at the time of the 100th anniversary of the start of the war last year. One of them said: ‘We will never forget’. The other one said, ‘What’s wrong with {excuse me} sperm banks for lesbians?’, the columnist arguing that nothing was. Never forget, forsooth. When it comes to the civilisation we were fighting for, or rather that those young men were fighting for, whose names we read on the war memorials, often several from the same family in even the smallest English village: they forgot long, long ago.

I’ve been reading recently some of the articles that Chesterton wrote in his weekly newspaper column during the War. While the style is recognisably his, they have an elevation of tone that sets them apart from his peacetime works. He has no doubt that the cause of the Allies is not only just, but that the fight is essentially spiritual: a war for the what remained of Christendom, for natural law, justice, the traditions of chivalry and honour and civilisation, against that mixture of brutality, totalitarianism, and mystical self-worship which is evoked by the word Prussia (I wonder if he had any inkling that the young emperor of Austria was a saint?) In one sense, namely as a defence of Belgium, the justice of the war is obvious, and can be judged by posterity as easily as by contemporaries. With regard to the spiritual essence of the combat, insisted on by Chesterton, things are less easy. It is not one or two obvious facts but a multitude that can justify one in speaking as he does. Spiritual things, though supremely real, are subtle, and it is hard for those who have not directly experienced them to speak of them. Yet Chesterton’s words carry conviction. Here are a few variations on a constant theme:-

Prussia was not a nationalist democracy which chose evil; it was not a nation, or even, in the proper sense, a people. It was simply such accidental crowds of colourless, lumpish, outlying northern men as certain chiefs could hammer and harden into mere regiments conscious of no flag. It is necessary to be ruthless because we must reach the centre of the machine in order to break the spring – or, perhaps, the spell. But it is not necessary to be hopeless, because in a sense the men living under it have never yet lived at all. There is nothing in their native and somewhat mild character to prevent their ripening under a better civilisation into very happy and humane Europeans. In that sense this is quite strictly to be called a religious war – in that it is waged to save souls by hypothesis capable of salvation (March 17th, 1917).

We hear this conflict called, not unreasonably, the most horrible war of history. But the most horrible part of it is that it would not be the most horrible war. Wars more and more horrible would follow the failure to vindicate and restore Christian equity and chivalry in this one. This does not make the fight less ghastly to the feelings; but it does make it more inevitable to the mind. It is, even in its most intense agony, still a problem of the reason, and even of the senses – of the sense of external things (29th September, 1917).

There is one fatal blunder in [the] whole picture of the war between England and Germany, and that is that it is a war between England and Germany. There is no war betweeen England and Germany. What happened, as a simple historical fact, in A.D. 1914 was not  a war between England and Germany, either in origin or occasion, or motive, or proportions, or excuse. What happened was a war between Prussian and the remains of the older civilisation which Prussia had not yet subdued, and with which England only threw in her lot at the last moment, by a belated implulse mainly noble, but almost entirely new. It is profoundly true that now the very existence of England is bound up with beating Prussia; but that is a result of her largely unexpected act and its many unexpected consequences (December 1st, 1917).

What we have been fighting is the half-finished design of a sort of inverted Roman Empire. It is one in which the least civilised instead of the most civilise power is on top; and one which originally radiated not from an old republican city, but from a new royal court. Bavaria is part of it only as Bulgaria is also a part of it. They both belong to it, in the sense that the Bavarian King would say to the Kaiser what the Bulgarian King also said to the Kaiser: Ave Caesar (August 24th, 1918).

Suppose we were at war, like the Children of Israel, with a Phoenician State vowed to the worship of Moloch, and practising infanticide by flinging babies into the fire. If we used strong words about smiting such enemies hip and thigh, I think it would be unreasonable in essence, though it might sound reasonable in form, for some sage to say to us: “Are there no good Phoenicians? Do not Phoenician widows mourn for their warriors? Is it probable that even Phoenician mothers are born without any motherly instincts?” The answer is that all this misses the main fact; which is a very extraordinary fact. The wonder is not that some Phoenician mothers love their babies, but that most Phoenician mothers burn their babies. That some mothers revolt against it is most probable; that many mothers have so many feelings urging them to revolt against it is almost certain. But Moloch is stronger than the mothers – that is the prodigious fact for the spectator, and the practical menace for the world. When Moloch’s image is fallen, and his fane laid waste; when his worship has passed into history and remains only as a riddle of humanity – then indeed it may be well worth while to analyse the mixed motives, to reconstruct in romance or criticism the inconsistencies of cruelty and kindness. But Moloch is not fallen; Moloch is in his high place, and his furnaces consume mankind; his armies overrun the earth, and his ships threaten our own island. The question on the lips of any living man is not whether some who burn their children may nevertheless love their children, it is whether those who burn children shall conquer those who don’t. The parallel is practically quite justifiable; what we are fighting has all the regularity of a horrible religion. We are not at war with regrettable incidents or sad exceptions, but with a system like the system of sacrificing babies, a system of drowning neutrals, a system of enslaving civilians, a system of attacking hospital services, a system of exterminating chivalry. We do ot say that there are no exceptions; on the conrary, we say that there are exceptions; it is our whole point that they are exceptions. But it is an almost creepy kind of frivolity that we should be speculating on the good exceptions at a moment when we ourselves are in peril of falling under the evil rule (July 20th, 1918).

And just after the Armistice:-

There is another form of the same materialist fallacy which fools have sown broadcast for the last four years. Its most fashionable form may be summed up in the phrase, “It will all be the same a hundred years hence.” I have read pacifist poems and essays in which the old rhetorical flourish to the effect that the corn will grow on the battlefield, or the ivy on the ruined fortress, is seriously used to suggest that it makes not difference whether the battle was fought or whether the fortress fell. We should not be here at all, to moralise about the ivy on castles and the corn on battlefields, if some of the great conflicts of history had gone the other way. If certain barbarian invasions had finally swept certain civilised districts, men would very probably have forgotten how to grow corn, and would certainly have forgotten how to write poems about ivy.

Of some such Eastern Imperialist it was said, as a sort of proverb, that the grass would not grow where he had set his foot. Europe has been saved from turning gradually into such a desert by a series of heroic and historic wars of defence, such as that of the Greeks against the Persians, of the Romans against the Carthaginians, of the Gauls against the Huns, of Alfred against the Danes, or Charles Martel agains the Moors. In each one of these cases the importance of the result does not decrease, but does definitely increase with time. It increases with every new generation that is saved from that destruction, with ever new civilised work that is built on that security, with every baby that might never have been baptised or reared, with every blade of grass that might never have grown where it grows today (November 23rd, 1918).

Though the darkness has returned and Moloch is again in his high place, yet what was gained by their sacrifice will at least always have been gained. Whether or not there can still be continuity for our civilisation, those young men have at least left us an example. So in those words of Tolkien that so moved his friend Lewis, both of whom fought on the Western Front, I say that these were “great deeds, not wholly vain”.

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