I hope that Western Christian readers are having a lovely (and early) Paschal season while we Orthodox have five more weeks of Lent and Holy Week.
For today, I would like to showcase a remarkable article in The Wall Street Journal: “The Challenge of Easter.” The piece is written by the Jesuit editor of America, Fr. James Martin. Yes—a Jesuit essay on the Resurrection of Christ in WSJ. A selection:
. . . If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, however, everything changes. In that case, you cannot set aside any of his teachings. Because a person who rises from the grave, who demonstrates his power over death and who has definitively proven his divine authority needs to be listened to. What that person says demands a response.
In short, the Resurrection makes a claim on you.
This is unlike Christmas. To be clear, Christians believe that, at the first Christmas, God became human. This is the meaning of what theologians call the “Incarnation.” God took on flesh, a concept as bizarre then as now.
But the Christmas story is largely nonthreatening to nonbelievers: Jesus in the manger, surrounded by Mary and Joseph and the adoring shepherds, is easy to take. As the Gospels of Matthew and Luke recount, there was no little danger involved for Mary and Joseph. But for the most part, it can be accepted as a charming story. Even nonbelievers might appreciate the birth of a great teacher.
By contrast, the Easter story is both appalling and astonishing: the craven betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest followers, the triple denial by his best friend, the gruesome crucifixion and the brutal end to his earthly life. Then, of course, there is the stunning turnaround three days later.
Easter is not as easy to digest as Christmas. It is harder to tame. Anyone can be born, but not everyone can rise from the dead. . . .
What difference does Easter make in the life of the Christian? The message of Easter is, all at once, easy to understand, radical, subversive and life-changing. Easter means that nothing is impossible with God. Moreover, that life triumphs over death. Love triumphs over hatred. Hope triumphs over despair. And that suffering is not the last word.
Easter says, above all, that Jesus Christ is Lord. That is an odd thing to read in a secular newspaper. But I’m merely stating a central Christian belief. And if he is Lord, and if you’re a Christian, then what he says has a claim on you. His teachings are invitations, to be sure, but they are also commands: Love your neighbors. Forgive. Care for the poor and the marginalized. Live a simple life. Put the needs of others before your own. . . .
That’s some high proof good stuff there. “Easter says, above all, that Jesus Christ is Lord.” From a Jesuit in a mainstream secular newspaper! Amazing.
I recently learnt about Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Latin bishop of Münster during the Second World War. You may read about his extraordinary life on Nobility.org: “March 22 – He Stood Up to Hitler Without Flinching.” From the article:
In 1941 von Galen gave a string of sermons protesting against Nazi policies on euthanasia, Gestapo terror, forced sterilization and concentration camps. His attacks on the Nazis were so severe that Nazi official Walter Tiessler proposed in a letter to Martin Bormann that the Bishop be executed.
On July 13, 1941, von Galen publicly attacked the regime for its Gestapo tactics of terror, including disappearances without trial, the closing of Catholic institutions without any stated justifications, and the resultant fear imposed on all Germans throughout the nation. The powerful Gestapo, he argued, reduced everybody, even the most decent and loyal citizens, to being afraid of ending up in a basement prison or a concentration camp. As the country was at war, von Galen rejected the notion that his speech undermined German solidarity or unity. Using the lines of his friend Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, as written in Opus Justitiae Pax and Justitia fundamentum Regnorum, von Galen noted that “Peace is the work of Justice and Justice, the basis for dominion,” then attacked the Third Reich for undermining justice, the belief in justice and for reducing the German people to a state of permanent fear, even cowardice. He concluded: “As a German, as a decent citizen I demand Justice.”
In a second sermon on July 20, 1941, von Galen informed the faithful that all written protests against Nazi hostilities had proved to be useless. The confiscation of religious institutions continued unabated. Members of religious orders were still being deported or jailed. He asked his listeners to be patient and to endure, and that the German people were being destroyed not by the Allied bombing from the outside, but from negative forces within.
On August 3, 1941, von Galen informed his listeners in a third sermon about the continued desecration of Catholic churches, the closing of convents and monasteries, and the deportation and murder of mentally ill people (who were sent to undisclosed destinations), while a notice was sent to family members stating that the person in question had died. This is murder, he exclaimed, unlawful by divine and German law, a rejection of the laws of God. He informed them that he had forwarded his evidence to the State Attorney. “These are people, our brothers and sisters; maybe their life is unproductive, but productivity is not a justification for killing.” If that were indeed a justification for execution, he reasoned, everybody would have to be afraid to even go to a doctor for fear of what might be discovered. The social fabric would be affected. Von Galen then remarked that a regime which can do away with the Fifth Commandment (thou shalt not kill) can destroy the other commandments as well.
A Jesuit, by the way! The article notes that the White Rose Society featured the bishop’s sermon in its first publication (I mentioned die Weiße Rose in “Alexander Schmorell”). After the war, the bishop tried to defend the German people from brutality by the Allied occupiers. Von Galen died in A.D. 1946. May his memory be eternal!
I hope that the Lenten season continues to be an occasion of blessings for you. Also, I hope that Western Christian readers have a beneficial Holy Week.
Below is the Patriarch of Moscow’s homily for this past Sunday of Orthodoxy. Fitting for the feast day, the patriarch’s words are direct and needed.
You may watch some translated portions here and here.
As I have repeatedly mentioned, I am so pleased with Patriarch Kirill’s shepherding of my Church. Though Patriarch Kirill looks exactly like one of my uncles, I had worried that he might succeed the late Alexy as the Patriarch of Moscow, knowing that he represented the modernist, ecumenist wing of the Russian Church. He did get the post, but my anxiety was pointless. Our fringe lefties seem better than many of the West’s traditionalist stalwarts. Ἄξιος!
I hope that my fellow Orthodox Christians have a beneficial Lent.
The Last Anchorite is a documentary about an Australian Marxist professor who repented and became a monk at Saint Anthony’s Monastery in Egypt. Here is the first part:
The second part:
Marvelous and surprising is man in his search for God.
Lydia McGrew has written some cogent thoughts about “gospel fictionalization” on What’s Wrong with the World: “A Gospel Fictionalization Theory Is No Help to the Gospel.” You may read McGrew’s follow-ups on her Extra Thoughts blog, too: “Discussion Continues Concerning Gospel Harmonization and Fictionalization” and “Seeing the Forest.” I was previously unaware that this new hermeneutic was a thing in evangelical Protestant circles. People scoff at slippery slopes, but how many bible jackets sponged with Schleiermacher Jelly does it take for Protestants to recognize Harnack Herps when it flares up? Run away! Flee the oncoming ruin!
More generously, I suspect that this interpretive approach by Michael Licona and friends results from a unmoored (i.e. Protestant) glimpse of what Origen termed the scriptures’ spiritual meaning (see Russell Ronald Reno’s “Origen and Spiritual Interpretation” for details). Yet, just as meat is unsuitable for infants, so higher biblical exegesis for orphans in the faith. Despite their intelligence and good intentions, these Protestant scholars have no wise guardian to monitor their diet. They fend for themselves on the mean streets of Carthage, where extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.
Speaking of R.R. Reno, this theology professor at Creighton University and editor of First Things did a delightful interview for America (a Jesuit magazine for the great unwashed out there), “‘He’s a Disruptor’: Interview with ‘First Things’ Editor R.R. Reno on Pope Francis’ U.S. Visit.” Nice title there, boys! Reno makes many interesting points, including this insightful closing:
I think it’s fitting that, in an interview with America magazine, I emphasize how important it is that this pope is a Jesuit. That, to me, is the hermeneutical key to this papacy and a testimony to the wisdom of the church for not electing a Jesuit in the past—perhaps also to God’s sense of humor for giving us a Jesuit in the present! But it’s also a testimony to the power of the charism of St. Ignatius that it so distinctively marks the men who are formed in the Society.
One can see in this pope clearly the distinctive character of a Jesuit charism. He is a Jesuit: It’s just unbelievable, for good and for ill. The Jesuit charism is a profound internalization. It’s not a rejection or distrust of the church’s outward forms, ritual life, or intellectual life. People often mistakenly see Jesuits as radical revisionists, and there are some Jesuits like that, but the charism is really an interiorized trust that enables one to let go of the outward forms to pursue the essential mission of the church.
To me, that’s why there’s never been a Jesuit pope, because the papacy is primarily an institution of preservation and transmission of the tradition. So this kind of purification and internalization, I think, is at odds with the papal office. You know, a typical Jesuit would ignore renovations of St. Peter’s because it’s not important to preserve a building, but instead to discern what God is doing with that building. But the purpose of the papacy is to preserve the outward forms so the whole world can enter into the church as a living body and institution with a set of laws and form of life, so that they can then embark on that journey of interiorization.
So Francis is exemplifying the end goal of the Christian life and the danger is that Jesuits often neglect the ordinary means by which people often enter into the Christian life. Jesuits are virtuosos who can neglect the need for basic instruction. You know, Francis is the 265th successor of St. Peter and he’ll do with this job what needs to be done, but I guarantee you there’s not going to be a Jesuit pope for a long time after this one.
Reading about Reno’s background, I see that this orthodox, patristically informed convert from Anglicanism taught theology at Jesuit Creighton—mirabile dictu—for twenty years. Incredible! From ample personal experience, I assure you that Jesuit theology departments are the last place that you would expect to find Catholic theology. Indeed, I have a humorous anecdote to share. During undergrad., my school’s philosophy department held a Fides et Ratio conference to discuss the relationship of faith and reason in academic life. During the planning phase, I asked our chairman whether the philosophy department had invited the theology faculty to the conference. The fellow, a brilliant man and a devout rabbinical Jew, shook his head, gave a sardonic smile, and said, “Those people have no fides and even less ratio.” The professor spoke truthfully.
Last month, Laura Wood posted a selection on Americanism from John Rao in “The Americanist Religion.” The source material, Rao’s Americanism and the Collapse of the Church in the United States, makes for a provocative read. I appreciate his effort to articulate how a faithful Catholic could be a patriotic American. With Francis Cardinal George, I suspect that the practical importance of that question will continue to increase in the near future.