Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday BookReview: Dawson's grand brushstrokes of history as if God exists and Christ is its center

"This great central truth (the Christian doctrine of the transformation of human nature in Christ) has been obscured and often forgotten by the religious individualism of the last two or three centuries which conceived salvation as a happy after-life to be attained by pious individuals as a reward of their moral perfections or religious practices. But the Christian idea of salvation is essentially social. It has its roots in the Old Testament in the conception of the People of God and the prophetic teaching of the restoration of Israel and the progressive manifestation of the divine purpose in history... The mystery of the Incarnation is the birth of a new humanity through which man is incorporated into the unity of the Divine Body... All temporal events and all changes in culture are in some way to be related to this central reality." 
                                                            (Christopher Dawson, d. 1970)

Dr. Pence's reaction to Dawson's The Judgment of the Nations:

Armed conflict -- especially with the contest in doubt -- often clarifies for religious men the larger drama shaping the role of nations in God's divine plan. C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity grew from his radio addresses in England during World War II. Judgment of the Nations by another wartime Englishman, Christopher Dawson, was written from 1938-42.

For Dawson, the cohering principle of national cultures is religion. Thus, he argued that the eleventh-century schism between Latin Catholics and Greek Orthodox, as well as the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, tore asunder the spiritual unity that bound the empires and nations of Europe. The great wars of the twentieth century were the failed attempts of the West to socially organize itself apart from this lost religious center. "The racialist ideology like the Communist ideology... was an attempt to find a substitute for the spiritual reality in some other social element which is primary and indestructible. But Europe... was a spiritual reality and cannot be replaced by a biological or economic unit, for these belong to a different plane of social reality."

Dawson is explicit in a chapter on the failure of the League of Nations. He thought its universalistic tendency (a league of all existing states) was too wide and its real political-military basis (the military supremacy of a small group of founding Powers) too narrow. He argued that "the very idea of international law"... has "its ultimate basis in the belief in a transcendent spiritual order... a natural and divine order to which States and peoples as well as individuals were subject." His emphasis in positing natural law was not its accessibility to human reason but its grounding in the Eternal Law of the spiritual order from whence it springs. Surveying the wreckage of armed atheism, he was unafraid to call for a more solid religious basis for the next international structures of agreement.

His lesson went unheeded. The United Nations was organized by legitimatizing all existing States as equal voting members, rewarding war victors with the Security Council, and positing individual rights as a transcendent. The creature -- the human person with no reference to God -- and some rather dubious States claiming sovereign rights of their own became the twin golden calves of the new international order.

As bleak as this sounds, there is nothing in Dawson that resonates with a contemporary tendency of religious men to retreat from the messy struggle of the nations and the exercise of armed authority. Dawson had learned from Augustine that history is a linear dynamic process ending in the realization of God's purposes. He does not ask us to return to medieval Europe but to understand that once there was a Europe united by a social reality that both allowed and transcended bonds of fatherland, blood, and language in a wider body of nations. Because the Christian view of history "is a contemplation of the Divine irruption in time" this can happen again especially if Christian men do the intellectual work to infuse the nations' discourse with spiritual purpose. This was the basis of the Sword of the Spirit movement modeled after the prophets of Israel who "in all the crises of history that changed the course of history saw the hand of God and for each crisis there was a corresponding Word which it was the mission of the prophet to declare."

What full-throated men were Dawson and Cardinal Arthur Hinsley -- leaders of that movement advocating a total war against the Nazis. "Total" meant a war effort which understood the spiritual stakes of the conflict which if unattended would leave even military victory incomplete. Winston Churchill once said that the only adequate defenders of Britain's war aims were Cardinal Hinsley and himself. How different these men were from the thin-chested orthodox Catholic graduate students today who sip their lattes and find one more scholastic fine point keeping them from their nation's battlefields.

As American evening news has become a mixture of consumer reports and medical updates for individuals, our moral theology has become a list of principles and values accusing history and public actors of being imperfect. The rights revolution is extended to stem cells waving their banners and this is considered deep thinking at Catholic conferences. The purpose of the nations and protective authority is eclipsed. Better to scold the City Fathers to forgo capital punishment and war then to seriously address how to establish civic authority to fight evil at home and abroad.

But the religious awakening in the Islamic Mideast with its deep Shia/Sunni rifts, the great threat to Christians at the fault lines of these popular outpourings, the fall of the Soviet Union, the bizarre inadequacy of the atheist sexual left, the rise of a Christian global South, the mastery by the Asian tigers of the machinery of industry and the market... and their assertion of authoritative Confucian and Asian morality against the intemperance of "Western values": All these await an outpouring of the Spirit, a new spiritual coherence of the Church and a new alignment of the nations.

The "Modern West" is just what Dawson said it would become if it lost its spiritual center. It decayed; it died; and it is rotting. Its name is an unbounded concept of time and space. For it has no defining limits in sacred space or holy season.

In Advent of 2011, a high-status feminist from America visited Geneva and told the nations of the world to glorify the unspeakable; while a high-status feminist from Germany told the nations of Europe to come out speedily with their hands raised high and their national treasuries laid low.

These foes are not as tough as the military forces of Japan, Germany and the Soviets. They reign because we Christian men are decidedly weaker and less magnanimous than the men of Dawson's day. But the fate of the nations is not dependent on men alone.

We await an irruption of the Spirit. As Michael Keating in his forward reminds us: "It was in hope of bringing the compelling Christian vision once more to a western society, that had forgotten God to its own great hurt, that Dawson published the book."

Dawson understood the sinews of old Europe and in this book he championed a new confederation of European nations whose core identities would be Christian. Both West Germany's Adenauer and France's DeGaulle would favor this approach after WWII. In later books Dawson recognized that many more nations of the South and East could be configured under a spiritual banner. He envisioned a new alliance of nations-each with its own vocation. This would no longer be limited to a single region. He foresaw that the Church would once again provide the only truly supranational community which would temper the nations while respecting their organic sacral character. This realization could surely be one of the yet maturing fruits of Vatican II.

The Modern West is dead, but the Church amidst the nations is alive and well. Give thanks for this reissued book and sit with Mr. Dawson anew. The judgment of the nations sharpens the sword of the spirit. The language of Christian historians and foreign policy analysis must become ever more grounded in the spiritual realities which will give light to our day. In the midst of war Professor Dawson knew both the depravity of the enemy and the power of God. On the book's last page, he encourages us: "For the powers of the world formidable as they may appear are blind powers which are working in the dark and which derive their power from negative and destructive forces. They are powerless against the Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of Life."

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pence on the original mission of Adam

[Published 10/22/11]

"When Christ died on the cross, He was a victim of the Jewish priests, the Roman soldiers, and the sins of us all. He did not raise a sword against his earthly slayers. But to freeze him there -- an unarmed victim dead on the cross -- is to accept the atheist’s tale of a slave religion. He was also a priest whose death gained him entry to a higher battlefield where he vanquished death and mortally wounded Satan -- dethroning him but not yet executing his final eviction from earth.

It was the original mission of Adam and Eve to fill the Earth. Just as surely, it was the original mission of Adam and his Sons to 'subdue and rule over…all the living creatures that move upon the Earth,' among whom 'the most subtle was the serpent.'

The Second Adam did not release us from our original mission, but saved us from the prison camp of Satan’s dominion and restored our nature as free men. Once again we are ordered, as was Noah and all mankind, to fill the earth with life and subdue all the living under God’s will. This time we are to establish the Kingdom of God on earth through the apostolic Church, baptizing all nations and casting out the evil spirits which will oppose this endeavor.

Man was not created so he might sin and then be saved. He was created to fill the place of the fallen angels in a communal embodiment of worship and love. But to win this favored place in heaven, man would first have to restore justice by suffering and contesting the Evil One. He would restore order to the Earth, set aside as the Household of the Living. The Earth is not the physical center of the Universe but it is the elected stage for this great drama. Man could not fully appreciate the mission of Adam and his Sons until Christ and his Apostles clarified the communal forms by which the Evil One is to be finally vanquished. We are not just Adam and Eve making life in the garden. We are also Adam and his Sons making war on Satan throughout Battlefield Earth.

We were not saved to be reduced to a victim’s nature as a POW, safe and plump in the heaven of the garden. We were saved to enjoy again the liturgical fruits of the sacramental garden while getting back to our original task of restoring justice by evicting that father of all lies who was a murderer from the beginning. Much of the pacifism and the failure of courage and authority in the Church stems from an arrested satisfaction with 'being saved' and 'living in love.' Make no mistake. It is a gift to be saved and the restored sacramental love of the liturgical altar and marriage bed are joys to be savored. But we returning prisoners must also hunger and thirst for restorative Justice, and be thankful that once again we are allowed to be about our Father’s original directive."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Getting the Universe Right

Doctor David Pence on the Realism Necessary to Better Proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ

“Every account of a higher power that I've seen described, of all religions that I've seen, include many statements with regard to the benevolence of that power. When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence.” 
(Astrophysicist and TV scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, answering if he believed in a higher power)


Those of us who allow our spiritual intellects to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit and instructed by Divine Revelation should be able to help the materialist scientist in answering his honest question about the place of the physical universe in the larger realm of spiritual reality.

If you tell someone that on a daily basis you are soaring above the village, they might ask you to describe a few things about the village which they can’t see from the neighborhood alley. The Fathers of the early Church with their new-found spiritual understanding of time, space, and man confidently adapted much of the best cosmology of their day as a fitting landscape to present the cosmic dimensions of the Incarnation.

In this discussion we propose five salient truths about the Earth’s place in the Universe, which we have learned in the last century that must be accounted for in a Christian rendering of reality:

1) The material universe has a beginning.

2) Most of the matter in the expanding Universe is dissipating and headed into cold isolation. There is a "casting out" which continues to be acted upon by a powerful force.

3) While the physical properties of certain elements made in stars billions of years ago allow the molecular and cellular forms necessary for life, the Universe as a whole, its physical laws, and almost all of its temperature-pressure environments are hostile to life.

If the Universe just obeys its own physical laws, life on earth will be destroyed by some event: a meteorite or a super-volcano, or the certain expansion of the Sun in a few billion years causing a heating of the earth incompatible with life.

A materialist can correctly say, "The laws lead to death; to speak of ultimate purpose or human destiny is absurd." The Christian response: "We need to be saved to achieve our destiny."

4) The earth is not the center of the universe nor the fruitful culmination of the whole process. It is much better described as a set-aside place, an elected "just right" environment where an interaction between a Spiritual form of life and physical matter has shaped a Garden where physical life forms could be planted.

5) While some living forms are being drawn into the Body of Christ, most matter is headed out into oblivion and is not returning. The world will not end with a return of all matter to a single point (Omega Point of Chardin, the Apocatastasis of Origen, the cosmic harmony of pantheists, the Big Crunch of the oscillating universe.) The world will end with a separation of almost all matter outward in an isolative expansionary arc, while an in-gathering of much less matter and living forms will be drawn into a communal form of eternal life.

The physical universe is a sacrament of spiritual reality. But spiritual reality is not Communion alone. Purgation, Illumination, and Communion -- they go together. Spiritual reality, like the material universe, is both Communion and Contest.

The astrophysicist wants to know why the Universe seems so hostile. We owe him a simple explanation that while God really is beneficent, we are born on a battlefield. Telling the whole Christian narrative -- particularly that embarrassing part about the Rebellion before the Fall by powerful angelic beings -- is essential to properly interpret the frightening realities of outer space.
The wisdom of ancient cosmology did not silence the Church Fathers from telling the Good News against the backdrop of celestial spheres thought to be perfect.

Modern cosmology should not frighten us, though it is frightening.  We have gone to outer space and we found ourselves not in the dreamy world of perfect stars, but swimming in a deadly milieu of terrifying floodwaters. Spatially, there appears to be much more of the deadly floodwaters than the saving Ark—but there is an Ark.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Pence argues that we need to open our eyes to the centrality of election (setting aside) -- and of "casting out" -- in both Holy Scripture and the physical universe. They are related, in that human history occurs within a central action of God casting out the rebellious Lucifer.

The fallen angel has dominion over the physical world. The first appearance of matter and energy 13.7 billion years ago in a event known as the Big Bang is described by many physicists as the unraveling of the four basic forces in nature. From the time of this explosive event -- the universe continuing to expand and to dissipate, to grow colder -- this stark emptiness is the dominant fact of physical creation.  The accretions of matter which are hot burning stars are all going in the same direction -- toward colder, more dissipative states.  This is called the arrow of time.

The setting aside of the earth and the creation of life was a drawing inward of matter in the midst of chaos...

All things are liturgical. Sacrifice has three components: a setting aside, a sacred killing, and communion.

The earth was "set aside" from the universe.  Then God set aside life nearly four billion years ago in the form of an individual cell with tremendous potential for growth, division, and transformation of forms. The setting aside of the biosphere -- the particular configuration of the earth within our solar system for life, and the in-drawing of matter into the extremely complicated life form which worked toward its own end -- these are countering acts of setting aside amidst a universe being cast out.

Contra the ideas of Father Pierre de Chardin (d. 1955), almost all of matter is being separated out. He underplayed the importance of election and overplayed the notion of convergence.

Progressive Christians ask the Church to be the place of the smothering "vast embrace": open door, open arms, universal salvation.  All space is sacred, all time is sacred, and all 'truths' are subjectively authentic.

The liturgical idea of setting aside sacred space for a killing and communion is a very different notion.


[painting by Raphael]