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Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1918–2008

Russian traditionalist, Nobel laureate, feted in the West for criticism of Soviet Communism, then spurned for rejecting liberal materialism

Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, the most famous Russian writer and historian of our age, has died at eighty-nine years of age. Solzhenitsyn was the earliest to bring first-hand knowledge of the Gulag, the Soviet system of prison colonies and labour camps, to wider Western attention. For this noble task, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and expelled from the Soviet Union four years later, returning in 1994. After the fall of the Soviet regime, he despised Boris Yeltsin’s incompetence, identifying 1998 as the low point of Russia’s recent history. “Yeltsin decreed I be honored the highest state order,” Solzhenitsyn explained. “I replied that I was unable to receive an award from a government that had led Russia into such dire straits.”

He gave cautious support to the presidency of Vladimir Putin, and was pleased that while, in his words, “Moscow is still communist”, there was a growing readiness under Putin to admit (and even broadcast on state television) the crimes and outrages of the Soviet regime.

“Putin inherited a ransacked and bewildered country, with a poor and demoralized people. And he started to do what was possible — a slow and gradual restoration. These efforts were not noticed, nor appreciated, immediately. In any case, one is hard pressed to find examples in history when steps by one country to restore its strength were met favorably by other governments.”

Influenced by his experience in exile in both Switzerland and New England, Solzhenitsyn insisted on the need for local self-government in Russia. “Today I continue to be extremely worried by the slow and inefficient development of local self-government. But it has finally started to take place. In Yeltsin’s time, local self-government was actually barred on the regulatory level, whereas the state’s ‘vertical of power’ (i.e. Putin’s centralized and top-down administration) is delegating more and more decisions to the local population. Unfortunately, this process is still not systematic in character.”

Solzhenitsyn expressed further disappointment with the new Western imperialism being waged against Russia, embodied in the 1999 War against Serbia which turned so many Russian minds against the Western powers they had previously been quite friendly to.

In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Solzhenitsyn was asked whether he was afraid of death:

“No, I am not afraid of death any more. When I was young the early death of my father cast a shadow over me — he died at the age of 27 — and I was afraid to die before all my literary plans came true. But between 30 and 40 years of age my attitude to death became quite calm and balanced. I feel it is a natural, but no means the final, milestone of one’s existence.”

When the interviewer from Der Spiegel wished him many more years of “creative life”, Solzhenitsyn calmly responded “No, no. Don’t. It’s enough.”

Born in the Caucasian spa town of Kislovodsk in 1918 just a year-and-a-month after the Bolshevik revolution, Solzhenitsyn’s father was a wealthy self-made man who died in a hunting accident shortly before his birth. He was raised in humble circumstances in a Russia mired by civil war that did not end until the last tsarist general, his back to the Pacific Ocean, surrendered in 1923. All land was confiscated by the Soviet government and the Solzhenitsyns’ holdings were turned into a collective farm.

His well-educated mother had encouraged Alexander’s academic disposition and raised him in the Russian Orthodox Church. Solzhenitsyn studied mathematics at Rostov State University while simultaneously taking correspondence courses from the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature, and History. He had not questioned the Soviet apparatus until his service in the Red Army during the Second World War, for which he was twice decorated. In February 1945, he wrote a letter home from Soviet-occupied East Prussia in which he included a passing comment that questioned Stalin’s handling of the war. The letter, like all letters sent home by soldiers, was opened and read by the security apparatus. Solzhenitsyn was arrested, beaten, interrogated, and four months later given the standard sentence of eight years in a labour camp followed by permanent internal exile.

It was during his imprisonment and internal exile, when he spent every night writing in secret, that Solzhenitsyn rejected Marxism and developed the religious philosophy for which he became known. In 1962, with the approval of Nikita Khrushchev, his book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was published. It was the first book ever printed in the Soviet Union to deal openly with the system of forced labour in prison camps and caused a sensation both in the USSR and the West. In 1964, Khrushchev was ousted by the Soviet politburo, and Solzhenitsyn’s moment in the sun came to a swift conclusion as he was denied permission to publish and had some of his papers seized by the KGB.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, but refused to receive the award for fear that he would not be allowed to return to the Soviet Union and so be separated from his family. In 1974, the government of the USSR deported him to West Germany and stripped him of his Soviet citizenship. Feted in the West, he spent some time in Switzerland before accepting an invitation to reside at Stanford University in California. In 1976 he moved to the woodland town of Cavendish in the state of Vermont, which remained his home for the next eighteen years of his life. Two years later, Harvard University awarded him an honorary degree, and the incident took place which ended the West’s love affair with the exiled Soviet dissident.

Giving the 1978 Commencement Address at Harvard University, Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered a sharp and stunning rebuke to the modern West, repudiating its liberalism, materialism, and supremacism.

“There is this belief,” Solzhenitsyn said, “that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction. However, it is a conception which developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development is quite different.”

He went on to describe the mentality which led the Western elites to adopt multiculturalism and pluralism, while they simultaneously lacked the courage to defend their Western culture or to challenge Communist governments which did not have the support of the peoples they governed. Solzhenitsyn described this lack of courage as “the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days”.

“The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists. Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?

Solzhenitsyn went on to condemn the materialism of Western culture, fostered by the welfare state. He argued that the extreme safety and prosperity of the Western world caused Western people to be unwilling and reluctant to defend the most essential and important values that their culture and tradition were based upon, for fear of relinquishing the “physical splendour” they enjoy “to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about”.

“Even biology knows that habitual extreme safety and well-being are not advantageous for a living organism. Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to reveal its pernicious mask.

The wide freedom allowed by the rule of law in the West is admirable, Solzhenitsyn argued, but in these circumstances it led to a system in which morality and legality were confused, whereby what is legal is automatically also considered acceptable:

“One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames. An oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it. I have spent all my life under a communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.

The hyperindividualism of the West, Solzhenitsyn argued, hampered the necessary civil good from being enacted:

“A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly; there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him, parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that every single step of his is well-founded and absolutely flawless. Actually an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself; from the very beginning, dozens of traps will be set out for him. Thus mediocrity triumphs with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.”

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counter-balanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.”

“And what shall we say about the dark realm of criminality as such? Legal frames (especially in the United States) are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorists’ civil rights. There are many such cases.”

“Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil has come about gradually but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature; the world belongs to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems which must be corrected. Strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still is criminality and there even is considerably more of it than in the pauper and lawless Soviet society.”

“The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media). But what sort of use does it make of this freedom? Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No, it does not happen, because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.”

Again referring to the legalism of Western society, Solzhenitsyn criticized the attitude which purported to refuse morality a place in political decisionmaking:

“Very well known representatives of your society say: we cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against communism’s well planned world strategy. There are no other criteria.

“… no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being.”

But what, Solzhenitsyn asks, is the cause of these unfortunate circumstances in which the West finds itself? “How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about?”

“How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.”

“This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.”

“This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. Merely freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.”

“However, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the Twentieth century’s moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the Nineteenth Century.”

“As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.”

We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the [Communist] East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.”

“It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. … Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?”

“If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.”

“This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.”

Harvard was not amused. It had identified a genius, it had awarded him laurels, it had graced him with earthly dignities, but he had seen through all its pretensions and glanced the rotten core of its very soul. Harvard is one of the highest temples to Man in our realm. It was founded as a Protestant seminary, and Man’s usurpation of God’s role is inherent (if only implicitly) in Protestantism. In Catholic Christianity, not even the Pope can change the Truth; in Protestant Christianity, every single individual person is the arbiter of every single aspect of doctrine, belief, and morality. Catholicism is authority, Protestantism is the absence of authority, and the liberal Enlightenment thinking which easily superseded Protestantism at Harvard is the negation of authority.

Communism has ceased to play a part on the world stage, but if Solzhenitsyn is remembered centuries from now I do not think it will be for his criticism of Communism but for his repudiation of the West’s rejection of Christianity and it’s embrace of the Enlightenment. His experience of the prison camps of the East, in which humanity was despised, allowed Solzhenitsyn to see through the vain pomp and glory of the West, in which humanity is worshipped. Solzhenitsyn understood, to the incomprehension of the self-satisfied elites of our time and place, that it was neither communism nor capitalism, neither money nor equality, neither economics nor politics that should be worshipped, but only God.

May God in His mercy grant eternal rest to the soul of
Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
1918–2008

This post was published on Sunday, August 3rd, 2008 10:40 pm. It has been categorised under Church History Politics Russia and been tagged under , , , .
Comments
  1. Tobias
    4 August 2008
    9:57 am

    “just one month after the Bolshevik revolution”

    The revolution was in 1917, not 1918. Minor error — I’ll compliment you later if I have a chance to read the whole thing!

  2. Árpád Farkas Horváth
    4 August 2008
    10:45 am

    He and Philippe de Villiers were connected, and Soljenitsyne went to the Vendée to dedicate the monument to les Chouans in the 1980s.

  3. David
    4 August 2008
    11:34 am

    Did he ever become Catholic?
    I hope so.

  4. Robert Harrington
    4 August 2008
    11:59 am

    He died in the Russian Orthodox church.

  5. Matthew Dunnyveg
    4 August 2008
    12:20 pm

    “Catholicism is authority,”

    How true, and this explains why Catholicism has been so unpopular traditionally in the US. It wasn’t the church per se that alleged bigots, such as the No Nothings, objected to as much as the authoritarian procedures and constitution of the church. The church had to be democratized to fit with American values. And I say good for the Americans who demanded such.

    Unbridled authority, whether wielded by king, emperor, or pope is a bad thing as all are subject to the same frailties and foibles that Solzhenitsyn warns against. Human nature DOES have a strong evil component.

    Are popes somehow immune to the corruption caused by power? I think a quick survey of some of the Medieval popes, such as the Borgia pope, and even Paul VI, would suggest otherwise. Vatican II should be proof enough to anybody that church councils suffer the same problems as other human organizations. When the Church embraced Vatican II it embraced modernism, which is the bane of all Christianity, and hence a mistake that the church is paying for to this day. An infallible being wouldn’t have made such a mistake.

    As far as each person being able to interpret scriptures for his or her self, obviously such an arrangement is flawed, and even Martin Luther acknowledged as much. But as flawed as vesting power in the laity is, vesting absolute power in a fallible human being is infinitely worse.

    Authoritarian rule has never had a place in America, and I hope it never does, the Catholic Church notwithstanding.

  6. Robert Harrington
    4 August 2008
    1:33 pm

    The phrase “unbridled authority” is a bit of a misnomer, as “unbridled” surely implies exceeding the bounds of authority. But maybe you mean “authority” in the sense of “power”.

  7. JM
    4 August 2008
    1:51 pm

    Good article, but your concluding remark about Protestantism is idiotic.

  8. jerry
    4 August 2008
    2:00 pm

    Mr. Solzhenitsyn falls for the trap that so many people have… he assumes that capitalism and money and freedom make a people degenerate, he claims to have rejected communism, yet his views and the views of many other traditionalists shows that they are really just believers in a system of communism of another name with the word “God” attached. A system of classical liberalism would allow faith, technology, and freedom to flourish, yet it seems the ugly heads of Marxism, Traditionalism, and variations thereof always seem to try to stamp it out at every chance they have

  9. little gidding
    4 August 2008
    2:47 pm

    Contra Matthew, it’s “Know Nothings,” not “No Nothings.” And … “unbridled authority” is, actually, what God has, and “unbridled” deference to that is what the Church is all about.

  10. Robert Harrington
    4 August 2008
    3:17 pm

    I’m not sure he’s saying that capitalism and money and freedom themselves make a people degenerate, but instead that in the West (and now in Russia too) we’ve had capitalism and money and freedom and all we’ve done with it is be degenerate.

  11. John Belmont
    4 August 2008
    3:22 pm

    I was at the Harvard speech. What infuriated people was not his comments about the non-universality of Western Liberalism and its flawed nature – that is projecting back into the 1970’s, concerns of the Bush II era. What angered people was his accusation that America had “wimped out” in Vietnam, and evidently did not have the moral courage to defeat the evil dragon of Communism. Since 90% of the audience had been anti-Vietnam War protesters, this went over like a lead balloon!

  12. Re
    4 August 2008
    5:34 pm

    Matthew: “Authoritarian rule has never had a place in America, and I hope it never does, the Catholic Church notwithstanding.”.

    The truth is authoritarian by its nature: if anyone is not subject to it then that anyone is unconditionally subject to a lie.

    There is a place for authoritarian rule of The Truth and The Catholic Church in America.
    The seeming majority who definitively reject it will eternally suffer from their lies which promised them eternal good and gave them eternal evils.

    It would do you good to learn when the pope is infallible and when he is not infallible, when the council is infallible and when the council is not infallible. Your ignorance may cost you dearly.

  13. Andrew Cusack
    4 August 2008
    5:39 pm

    JM: Good article, but your concluding remark about Protestantism is idiotic.

    Really? Would you care to explain?

  14. Re
    4 August 2008
    5:42 pm

    Also, to learn what is the teaching of The Catholic Church and what is not the teaching of The Catholic Church etc.

  15. Andrew Cusack
    4 August 2008
    5:53 pm

    Mr. Belmont, I looked a few newspapers from the period and, while the criticism of pacifism over Vietnam was prominent in their coverage, it was only part of the objection. Like a hot knife through butter he attacked the entire Western liberal construct, and while Vietnam may have been the most immediately emotive issue, it would be foolish of them to focus on that when their entire system has been rhetorically attacked with great calculation.

    Regarding Jerry’s criticism, I agree with Rob Harrington’s defense that what Solzhenitsyn is really asking us to do is to quit mindlessly praising the handsome tree and start observing how rotten its fruits are.

    As for Mr. Dunnyveg’s remarks, “American values” is a very suspicious term. I have never been fond of the tendency to mistake America the nation for the United States the ideological project. I am no more “un-American” for being of a monarchist persuasion than a British republican is “un-British” for being republican.

    But on to your point about the necessity of the Catholic Church democratizing to fit American values (part of the Catholic heresy known, conveniently enough, as “Americanism”). What will eventually happen is that so-called “American values” will have to be Catholicized to fit the Catholic Church, rather than the other way round.

    Where the Know-Nothings were on firmer ground was in their suspicion that untrammeled immigration would change the very nature of the country permanently. It is surprising, however, how much the huddled masses eventually conformed to the pre-existing American culture, though it took generations.

  16. Mr. WAC
    4 August 2008
    6:53 pm

    I can parse Robert’s defense down a bit: Solzhenitsyn’s point was that the love of money is the root of all evil.

  17. Mr. WAC
    4 August 2008
    6:57 pm

    “I have never been fond of the tendency to mistake America the nation for the United States the ideological project.”

    I think the question is “Can one be separated from the other?” Historians have been fighting about this forever.

  18. Rick Johnson
    4 August 2008
    7:25 pm

    Solzhenitsyn’s frequently proclaimed belief in the importance of national groups (which is why he supported Israel)as opposed to diversity and universalism, is one of the reasons the intelligentsia turned against him. I well remember the distaste evinced by George Will after the Harvard speech. The great man’s thought did not comport with the comfortable liberal premises.

    Some of you guys couldn’t discuss a game of marbles without bringing in Catholicism. America is not a Catholic country. Get over it, children.

  19. Andrew Cusack
    4 August 2008
    8:00 pm

    America is not a Catholic country. Get over it, children.

    Forgive me, but who here claimed it was? It seems the very point of much of this chatter has been that America is a now a very Protestant nation.

    God willing, that will change, but I don’t think that’ll be any time soon.

  20. Bob
    4 August 2008
    8:08 pm

    Well, all I know is that this was an excellent obit, and after all of those excerpts from the Harvard address, to read this: “Harvard was not amused,” was the perfect comedic relief (in a somber manner, of course). God bless him. It’s weird, but I’m not sure that were this a more sane and moral time, if his death would have been given more attention or less. That is, the West is so far gone that his death has registered little, and yet were this a moral time, it might also have registered little because he would not have been so unusual.

  21. resh
    4 August 2008
    9:40 pm

    Ok. I have to ask. If the west’s-read the US’-moral vacuum-let alone its eschaton-arises from godlessness and the triumph of what A/S calls anthropocentricy, then why do folks like bin Laden rise to the surface? When I see wackos like him I’m troubled by the assertion that unadulterated devotion to a higher order is the formula for exacting the better angels of our nature.

    Or doesnt Allah count as a higher authority?

  22. resh
    4 August 2008
    9:44 pm

    That’s “anthropocentricity.” Sorry, Al.

  23. Andrew Cusack
    4 August 2008
    11:02 pm

    Because it’s not just a case of “any old higher order will do”; it has to be the true one, which is to say the Christian one.

    Nonetheless, there is a sense in which “any old higher order” will still beat the West because presumably even a false sense of higher order will be able to command more of its adherents than materialism does.

  24. Cindy
    5 August 2008
    12:14 am

    May God bless and have mercy on the soul of Alexander who found God in prison and told the world the truth about Communism, modernism, etc. As for America, it becomes more communist everyday having taken prayer out of the schools, removing the ten commandments from government, and next may be that the Bible is hate speech. The mockery of God made man, Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother, Mary have certainly over flowed the cup and will surely bring God’s chastisement upon us all as the world is much more sinful then it ever was in Sodom & Gomorrah. Our Lady of Fatima, ora pro nobis.

  25. 5 August 2008
    5:20 am

    What a loss to ex-Christendom! Thank you for the wonderful obituary; I had heard of Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard address, but had never gotten to read any long excerpts of it. The head of the Political Science department at the college I’m now attending is reportedly a Solzhenitsyn enthusiast, so with luck I will learn much more about him in the future.

    Our Lady of Guadelupe, pray for the conversion of America+

  26. 5 August 2008
    9:53 am

    Thank you for the fine piece, Mr. Cusack. The excerpts were wonderful to savor. And I liked your concluding remarks about Protestantism. God bless you.

  27. jerry
    5 August 2008
    5:51 pm

    How sad that so many people and groups fight over who gets to control an authoritarian government. Marxists, Liberals, neoconservatives, monarchists…… your all the same, each of you demands YOUR ideology to be ruled by YOU on the people. I mean, God forbid, we actually just live in a country where we have small government and …gasp… where people can make their own choices and live by consensual association.

    Look at the Vatican… The church has certain rules and guidelines to follow if you wish to be a member, it also allows many areas where people can make their own choices in certain matters, and while the Vatican has certain rules and hierarchy, it does not control people by force, it does not force people to stay in the church or convert. So why on Earth can’t we have a government like that? I will tell you why, it’s because government does not rule by consent, it rules by force. Even the best and smallest government is still evil. This is why God hates government, and why he hates kings and warned Israel not to ask for one lest they suffer and turn away from him:

    And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”

    Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (I Samuel 8:7-18)

    “The desire to rule is the mother of heresies.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

  28. PRJ
    5 August 2008
    6:59 pm

    The Protestantism remark is certainly unfortunate. I assume Mr Cusack has never met one. Protestant Christianity is marked, above all, not by a bending of Truth to man – but upon fidelity to Holy Scripture, guided by the Holy Ghost. It is much less easy and plausible to fool yourself into doctrines that please you and let you off the hook, and simultaneously profess true piety and love of eternal Truth, than you’d imagine. Protestants are not really a bunch of manic hypocrites. If Mr Cusack had read many works of Protestant devotion or theology or liturgy, he would see this well enough. Do not take the hideous modern Episcopal nutjobs as archetypes, any more than we do the same for the numerous abusive priests in the Roman church.

    The curious irony in your remarks, in fact, is that Protestantism is far more obviously a turn *against* the worship of man – the Pope, the Catholic hierarchy, and all its doctrines of human religious authority being coequal, even when additional or contradictory, to the authority of Holy Scripture.

    Many would quibble loudly with the remark that even the Pope cannot change the Truth under Roman beliefs. For both he and that church can and have done so: and the teleological get-out that in doing so they are simply serving the Truth, by the fact of their authority, convinces few.

  29. Araglin
    5 August 2008
    7:37 pm

    Jerry,

    While I sympathize with your frustration over the increasingly totalitarian character of contemporary political life, I think that you may be missing the boat, here.

    Just because it may be unjust and inappropriate to forcibly prevent certain (vicious, ugly, or sinful) behaviors and modes of living, doesn’t mean that these things can’t be matters of public concern:

    Politics, in the Aristotelian sense of rational persuasion of free persons regarding how we ought to order our common life, extends beyond questions of the appropriate uses of force.

    Hence, it is a mistake to read all critiques of consumerism, materialism, greed which are made publicly and framed in terms of the common good as always and everywhere having as their upshot the promotion or justification some government to “fix” these problems.

    In fine, property rights, freedom of contract, and freedom of association may indeed be necessary conditions to social flourishing – but they are hardly sufficient conditions. Why? Because commutative justice is not the only virtue, and a perfectly just society which was entirely lacking in courage, courtesy, loyalty, hospitality, liberality, grace, and friendship would still be a hell on earth.

    Thanks,
    Araglin

  30. kd
    5 August 2008
    7:39 pm

    I, for one, would like to hear more about “America the nation” vs “the United States the ideological project”. Your meaning is not clear.

  31. 5 August 2008
    7:57 pm

    Your concluding commentary about Protestantism, though understandable in terms of the more radical branches of the Reformation, paints with entirely too broad a brush stroke. There are many Protestant denominations, such as those in the conservative Presbyterian/Reformed branch from which I harken, that would not recognize the bigoted caricature you draw of them. With JM, I found this a worthwhile article and even linked to it, but glossed over the anti-protestant hyperbole as a familiar hazard of reading like-minded Catholic brethren, with whom I hold so much in common.

  32. kd
    5 August 2008
    8:25 pm

    Knowing that a “nation” is not necessarily the same thing as a “state”, I can only presume your mean (when saying “America the nation”) British colonial America — which more or less fits the definition of a “nation” as a human community with a shared origin, identity, culture, set of beliefs, etc.

    Is this idea behind your comment?

  33. Robert Harrington
    6 August 2008
    1:04 am

    The Protestantism remark is certainly unfortunate. I assume Mr Cusack has never met one.

    On the contrary, having known Mr. Cusack for a very long time I can assure you that not only has he met Protestants, but I think he probably knows more Protestants than Catholics.

    Protestant Christianity is marked, above all, not by a bending of Truth to man – but upon fidelity to Holy Scripture, guided by the Holy Ghost.

    Protestant Christianity is very faithful to the Bible… except of course the parts of the Bible that disagree with Protestant Christianity, in which case Protestantism obviously knows best. That part in John 6 where Our Lord instructs that only those who actually eat His real Flesh will have life in them… well, Our Lord didn’t really mean what He was saying (or so Protestantism tells us).

    Besides, there is no one “Protestant Christianity”, which is exactly proves Cusack’s point about authority. What is the opinion of “Protestant Christianity” on marriage? In short, it is whatever any Protestant Christian wants it to be. Some think you can get married as many times as you want, some have a fairly orthodox opinion of marriage, but there is no one position. Our Lord, on the other hand, had one very definite position.

    Protestants are not really a bunch of manic hypocrites.

    Did someone say they were?

    If Mr Cusack had read many works of Protestant devotion or theology or liturgy, he would see this well enough.

    OK, I’m sure Cusack can defend himself here but since he hasn’t yet, I’ll give it a start.

    1) Cusack has studied in a Protestant school of theology
    2) Cusack owns a Book of Common Prayer (and I believe he has other Protestant devotional works)

    The curious irony in your remarks, in fact, is that Protestantism is far more obviously a turn *against* the worship of man – the Pope, the Catholic hierarchy, and all its doctrines of human religious authority being coequal, even when additional or contradictory, to the authority of Holy Scripture.

    Anyone who worships the Pope or the hierarchy is by the very nature of the fact a heretic and thus not an orthodox Catholic.

    Given your mistaken concept that Catholics worship the Pope, who has a very limited though nonetheless hugely important role in Catholicism, it would seem that you don’t really know the Catholic Church and thus don’t actually have proper grounds to object to it. Is worshiping the Pope wrong? Yes! And every good Catholic will agree with you on that. Rather than objecting to Catholicism, you merely object to what you think is Catholicism, and that’s not very much of anything.

    The real question is: from whence does Protestantism get its authority? Christ founded the Church and guaranteed that He would protect it from error. Protestants rebelled, not just against bad Catholics (to whom there are legitimate objections) but against the Church as a whole. If Christ guaranteed that He would keep the Church from error, but then the Church fell into error, Our Lord was wrong. Furthermore, there is no one Protestant Church that then corrected the alleged error and then united all the faithful. Is Protestantism one, holy, catholic, and apostolic? It is certainly not one, it is sometimes (perhaps even often) holy, it is usually catholic in that it is usually open to all, but it is definitely not catholic in the sense that the majority of the Christian faithful have rejected it, and it is not apostolic because it has rejected the direct link to the apostles.

    Furthermore, attacking Protestantism is not “bigoted” because he has not said all Protestants are bad, or that Protestants are not Christian, or that Catholics are necessarily better people than Protestants. Cusack’s merely pointed out that Protestantism has an exceptionally huge problem when it comes to authority because it was begun in direct contradiction to divine authority. Again, that doesn’t mean Protestants are bad, merely mistaken, but it does mean that Protestantism is bad, or at least the parts in which it diverges from traditional Christianity are bad.

  34. jerry
    6 August 2008
    3:25 am

    As a Catholic I feel we are are blessed that Protestantism came along, the least is because it actually made the Catholic church better! The reason Protestants came along at all was because so many of the church leaders were highly corrupt, because of the Protestant crisis, it forced the church to look at itself and say “oh boy, we screwed up bad, we better fix our mistakes before more people leave”. Because of that we had the wonderful counter-reformation (as the history books referred to it as) which was the church looking at itself and correcting mistakes, making their teachings more clear to the masses, and so forth. It did not all happen in one day, though, and in fact corruption would remain in many areas for a much longer time, but by having an opposing Christian sect that could entice fellow Catholics, it made the church work harder and more practical than it would have in an otherwise lazy state of affairs with no one to compete with it.

  35. Andrew Cusack
    6 August 2008
    7:21 am

    To answer Rob’s scandalous accusations, yes I have studied in a Protestant school of theology.

    But as to owning a Book of Common Prayer, well, I once did but I made the mistake of leaving it in the Catholic chaplaincy at St Andrews where somebody nicked it. I am sure that if I had left it in the Protestant chaplaincy it would’ve been found and returned, since only well-behaved people are Protestants, whereas Catholics are a mixed bag.

    I think it was Ronald Knox who said he’d never worry about leaving his umbrella in a Methodist church because he could return and find it still there, whereas he would worry should he have left it in a Catholic church, because while only good, respectable people are Methodists, you find all sorts of people in the Catholic church.

    This post, however, was not meant to be a place for theological debate. The comment on Protestantism was in passing, because there is really no authority in Protestantism. The Bible cannot be an authority because it was created and assembled by the Catholic Church, and because even if one does nonetheless claim it is an authority, one faces the dilemma that nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Bible is an authority.

    If the Bible is the authority for belief, but nowhere in the Bible does it say the Bible is the authority for belief, then there must be some other authority which says that the Bible is an authority, and that exterior authority is Man.

    Let’s look at it using mathematical logic.

    There is Set A, which we shall define thus:

    A = [X,Y,Z]

    Then let us make Statement B:

    Set A is the only authority

    But if neither X, nor Y, nor Z are statements confirming that Set A is the only authority, Statement B must be, according to its own criteria false, because there is no statement within the closed set which states that only the closed set is the authority.

    So, if we accept the theory of biblical authority, then logically speaking we are forced to reject the theory of biblical authority, because if the Bible is the only authority but the Bible doesn’t say it is the only authority, then the Bible cannot be the only authority.

    Therefore, the theory of biblical authority is illogical.

  36. PRJ
    6 August 2008
    10:32 am

    I think, at the last day, you may regret that post. It is extraordinarily frivolous and impious.

    Did not the Apostle Paul say that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”? (2 Timothy 3:16)

    Do we not see in Christ’s use of the scripture – e.g. “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:10) – the clear fact of Biblical authority? It was sufficient that “it is written”. Christ needed not to point to any hierarchy or action of man for his guarantee.

    Is the not the very fact of Christ and his life, death and resurrection – fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies – sufficient to prove Biblical authority? For he did much “so that the prophecy might be fulfilled”. He himself was bound to obey Biblical authority. So must we and all the church be.

    And he himself was “the Word” “that was with God in the beginning” (John 1). Is not that testimony enough for the Word of God – the Bible’s – authority? That Jesus Christ was its fleshly incarnation?

    What more do you need to believe?

    I think it extraordinarily sad to see an apparently devout Christian spending careful time arguing against the authority of Holy Scripture. Try and think if that would gladden the heart of God; or whether you do the work of devils.

  37. PRJ
    6 August 2008
    10:42 am

    Robert Harrington,

    As for not believing bits of the Bible – I do utterly believe every word, every jot and tittle, as do most Protestants (and once all of them; but as with faithful Romans, there has been a corruption in this past century). I wholly subscribe to John 6. At the Lord’s Table we do most certainly partake of the body and blood of Christ.

    But then I also believe in Hebrews 9:28: that “Christ was *once* offered to bear the sins of many”. And that, as St Paul further says, it is a sin to “crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” I therefore cannot hold to the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, and fresh sacrifice upon their stone altars at each Mass. That blasphemes God and Christ and the Holy Ghost and is very dangerous.

    I stand therefore with the Reformers and Martyrs in holding the Sacrament of the Body & Blood most sacred, comfortable and essential; glorying that it allows us to partake of the spiritual body and blood of the Ascended Christ; and is a memorial, not a recreation and by no means actual God itself.

  38. Andrew Cusack
    6 August 2008
    11:01 am

    Trying, rather, to argue against the heresy that scripture is the only authority. Perhaps you should read my comments again, and then re-read your selections from the Bible.

    And yes, I do think that fighting error would gladden the heart of God. It is those who use the Bible against the Church to start a group apart from the Church (which of course then splits in two, each of which then splits further, and so on and so forth) rather than humbling oneself to the authority that Christ endowed in His church.

    Even if we ignore the obvious logical fallacy (remember that reason is a gift of God) of “sola scriptura”, and we accept that the Bible is the only authority, Protestants have widely varying interpretations of the Bible. If there is no authority but the Bible, then effectively there is no authority except ourselves, because we are left to decide what it all means. Sola scriptura in practice is the elevation of Man as the arbiter of Christian belief. How is the Protestant to know what interpretation is correct? This unknowing is one of the cruelties of the Protestant heresies.

    Wouldn’t it have been better for Christ to have created some mechanism whereby we know which interpretation is correct and which incorrect? Wouldn’t it have been better had Christ created something so that Christians are not led into error or incorrect belief? Well, yes, of course it would be better. And it happens to be so. Christ founded the Church and guaranteed that He would keep His church from error and that Hell would not prevail against it. Catholics believe Christ has kept His word (which, incidentally is in the Bible). Protestants, despite professing the authority of the Bible, apparently do not take Christ at His word (in this case, and in others).

  39. Araglin
    6 August 2008
    11:18 am

    PRJ,

    You said:
    “I think, at the last day, you may regret that post. It is extraordinarily frivolous and impious.

    “Did not the Apostle Paul say that ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness’? (2 Timothy 3:16)

    “Do we not see in Christ’s use of the scripture – e.g. ‘Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God’ (Matthew 4:10) – the clear fact of Biblical authority? It was sufficient that ‘it is written’. Christ needed not to point to any hierarchy or action of man for his guarantee.”

    The problem with this argument is that, at best, it would tend to show that the writers of certain of the books which ultimately came to comprise the canon of the New Testament took most of the books which ultimately came to comprise the canon of the Old Testament as authoritative. This leaves entirely which books count as Scripture! When writing his epistles, St. Paul never (to my knowledge) stated that they were themselves scripture. As you probably know, the decision as to what books would be included within the canon (which of course was a highly contested question, given the existence of various gnostic texts which Elaine Pagels has made so much hay with) was ultimately made by the Church several hundred years after Christ’s death, under the inspiration of the Holy Spririt.

    I suppose you could say that the early Church was inspired in assembling the canon (and in making that decision enjoyed a kind of infallibility), but that sometime thereafter such inspiration disappeared. But, then, that position runs up against Christ’s (1) guarantee that “the gates of hell would not prevail against” His Church, (2)the giving to Peter of the Keys of the Kingdom, and (3) promise, that through the bestowal upon the Church of the Holy Spirit, that He would lead the Church into “all truth.”

  40. Robert Harrington
    6 August 2008
    11:21 am

    I therefore cannot hold to the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, and fresh sacrifice upon their stone altars at each Mass

    Catholics would agree with you! Not against transubstantiation that is, but the Catholic Church teaches that the idea of the Mass as a fresh sacrifice is a heresy. Rather, it is Christ’s one-time sacrifice at Calvary made present once again, not a new sacrifice.

    So I am happy that you have found something in which you and the Catholic Church can agree.

  41. Robert Harrington
    6 August 2008
    11:23 am

    I wholly subscribe to John 6. At the Lord’s Table we do most certainly partake of the body and blood of Christ.

    Ah, so you do believe in transubstantiation! At least, if you believe that you partake of the actual flesh and the actual blood of Christ, then you do.

    Again, it seems that some Protestants don’t actually object to Catholic teaching, only to a mistaken impression of what Catholic teaching is.

  42. Matt Cusack
    6 August 2008
    4:46 pm

    The NY Times seems to agree with you Andrew
    as to the year and a month after the revolution for his birth, if we accept the NY Times as an authority on anything.

  43. PRJ
    7 August 2008
    1:07 pm

    What rot again! I have no wish to turn a Solzh post into a Roman VS Protestant debate, but I can’t leave some of your more scandalous remarks unrebuked.

    Protestantism does not make man the arbiter of God’s truth. It makes the Holy Bible -interpreted by the Holy Spirit – the arbiter. We don’t make our own way in that, either, but depend upon the great works of Protestants past, and preachers present, to help us through as well; for they also have trod the same path. But we are constantly measuring both them and ourselves, as they did, against the immovable Truth of the Unchanging Word – of which God himself made *himself* the fleshly incarnation of, in Christ Jesus; it is an anchor, a bulwark, as fallen men can never be, as a teleological, self-fulfilling, illogical Roman system can never be. The average Protestant is defined by humility and openness before the Bible and the Spirit, not donning his own papal hat.

    Meanwhile the doctrine of the automatic verity of the Roman church is a self-insulating paranoid fantasy equal to the ruling maxims of Marxist-Leninism. And look where it leads you! You say you believe the Truth of the Bible, but which is more faithful to it – Catholic or Protestant? Which has to have on hand an excuse – as you have given me – to explain one’s clear lack of fidelity? And if the Bible is not sufficiently authoritative in itself, and the Roman church’s authority is necessary next to it, where then does the Roman church have its foundations? For do you not cite a scripture – “You are Peter” etc – as that foundation (erroneously I might add, but that’s beside the point)? You are a like a magician attempting to pull *himself* out of his own hat. It can’t be done.

    And rather than splitting apart on a million things, in fact, nearly every Protestant church is bound together in the same creedal beliefs and fundamental doctrines. A quick survey of their liturgies, statements of beliefs, catechisms and whatnot would show you this. The chief differences are what St Paul called discretional: not matters of truth, but of church management, service style, things which we must not cause our brother to fall by, but which do not approach the center of the Christian faith by any means. They are not like your prayers to the saints, devotions to Mary, and blasphemous idolatries – but are questions, as I say, of management and style.

    We know among us nothing more nor less than Christ and him crucified. Like the primitive church – which Christ himself founded; and spoke to in Revelations, I should add, without any reference to Bishops of Rome – we might vary from branch to branch, town to town, on local expressions of that faith. But the faith is the same, it is simply that we do not excommunicate over incense or other such secondary things. And if we get things wrong, as has happened from time to time, but only really of late, the faithful ar not swept along but can withstand it: and hold onto the infallible Word of God till the storm is past.

    As for transubstantiation. I do not believe it, for Christ does not move from the right hand of God and descend to Earth again till the Second Coming. But I do believe it is his spiritual body and blood, as the Protestant church teaches, and that we can – in a mystery that defines ‘sacrament’ – feed on that sacrifice through faith and the memorial of Holy Communion.

    As for ‘fresh’ sacrifice – come now, why else are the altars stone? I have read enough of Catholic divines and others to know that you believe you have sacrifice each week. But Christ was only sacrificed once.

  44. Andrew Cusack
    7 August 2008
    5:58 pm

    It makes the Holy Bible -interpreted by the Holy Spirit – the arbiter.

    And what about when two Protestants, both of whom believe they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, disagree on an interpretation, as has happened numerous times through the centuries?

    The average Protestant is defined by humility and openness before the Bible and the Spirit, not donning his own papal hat.

    He doesn’t need to don a papal hat, because he has more power than the Pope: he believes he has the freedom to interpret as he chooses, which is something the Pope is not free to do. Besides, you can be humble and open, and still be wrong.

    but which is more faithful to it – Catholic or Protestant?

    “This is my body”

    Catholics: Yes! Protestants: Err, well, spiritually, but not really of course.

    “… and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

    Catholics: Yes! Protestants: The Gates of Hell prevail for 1,500 years before Luther, Zwingly, Calvin & Co. come around and “reform” the Church.

    Those are but two examples, and it seems to me the Catholics are more faithful to the Bible there.

    where then does the Roman church have its foundations?

    Christ! It’s been going since He walked the Earth. He founded the Church and the Holy Spirit has sustained it since, just as He said.

    You ask for scripture, and the “You are Kephas” moment in the Bible is a good example, (though you claim the Bible is erroneous here).

    and spoke to in Revelations, I should add, without any reference to Bishops of Rome

    Funny, he didn’t mention the Protestants either, but fair enough…

    we do not excommunicate over incense or other such secondary things

    Hmmm… I don’t know of the Catholic Church ever excommunicating someone over incense. However, I do seem to recall a part in the Old Testament in which the Lord struck down an Israelite for offering the wrong kind of incense.

    But I do believe it is his spiritual body and blood

    Oh OK. So you don’t believe it is His Body and Blood, you believe it is bread and wine and kinda sorta in-a-way can-be-seen-as His Body & Blood. Christ’s statements (in the Bible) lacked the ambiguity you afford yourself.

    As for ‘fresh’ sacrifice – come now, why else are the altars stone?

    I have to admit I do actually enjoy this one! Perhaps you could explain why the building material necessitates the heretical notion of a fresh sacrifice?

    I have read enough of Catholic divines and others to know that you believe you have sacrifice each week. But Christ was only sacrificed once.

    Well, apparently the “Catholic divines” you’ve read are a bunch of heretics. Ask a Catholic priest, even write a letter to the Vatican! The idea of fresh sacrifices is wrong! Christ sacrificed Himself once! But, like my friend Robert, I am glad that we have at least found something on which we can all agree.

  45. Araglin
    7 August 2008
    7:47 pm

    Mr. Cusack,
    Nice work. I do have one question for you regarding the event of transubstantiation: How do you understand the relationship between (1) the bodily presence of Our Lord in the species of the Eucharist; and (2) the doctrines of the Ascension and the Second Coming, on the other.

    While I believe that PRJ is wrong in denying transubstantion by raises the Lord being at the Father’s side in Heaven, etc., I think his argument merits attention: Specifically, I suppose one would want to say, the resurrected body has certain crazy properties (walking through walls into the Upper Room, not being obviously Jesus until the eyes of his followings are opened, etc.). As such, the presence of Christ in Heaven isn’t in competition with his being present in a monstrance at Benediction (why? Heaven isn’t literally a kind of big heights, that I know of). As for the Second Coming, in what sense will Christ’s coming again be different or more than his coming during consecration of the elements in the Roman Canon?

    Thanks,
    Araglin

  46. PRJ
    7 August 2008
    8:38 pm

    Eurgh. Too much ill will and mean inaccuracy. But still. Since you are applauded for it.

    “He doesn’t need to don a papal hat, because he has more power than the Pope: he believes he has the freedom to interpret as he chooses, which is something the Pope is not free to do.”

    Ha-haaa… Just because the Pope doesn’t say he, and the church, are making it up off the top of their heads (or rather out of the bottom of their sinful hearts), and instead claims the fig-leaf of teleological authority, it makes it no different. As I say, a magician pulling himself out of a hat is nothing more than an interesting maniac. In fact it makes it worse, because it erects the barrier of their fallen authority against corrections, having degraded the Bible and the Spirit to mere coequals with its manly hierarchies. And it binds that mistake upon every believer who must submit to it and daren’t question it lest they be cast out. How many Romans can refuse to ever pray a Hail Mary and continue fully in their church, even if they point out all the many Biblical grounds against it? And yet if they do pray it, how they imperil their immortal soul!

    ““This is my body”

    Catholics: Yes! Protestants: Err, well, spiritually, but not really of course.”

    Ha-haaa… So do Catholics believe Jesus was actually a genuine lamb, who simply learned to walk on two legs, trim his wool into a beard, and pass among us that way? Symbolism and metaphor have no place in your Christianity? When, in this case, interpreting the words to mean transubstantiation results in a blasphemous, contradictory doctrine wresting Christ from his throne, into the hands of priests, and weekly or daily onto the altars of man, we must resist it, and take the Biblically and Spiritually congenial meaning. For no-one is forced to make an idiot out of themselves, nor wrest words to their destruction, if they take the WHOLE Bible to be WHOLLY authoritative, and check their mistakes by depending on its inerrant entirety, regardless of the arguments of man.

    ““… and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

    Catholics: Yes! Protestants: The Gates of Hell prevail for 1,500 years before Luther, Zwingly, Calvin & Co. come around and “reform” the Church.”

    No, no. The Protestants, it seems, have a greater knowledge of church history than Romans these days! For whilst heresy and idolatry did indeed creep into much of the church over later centuries, the very term Reformation describes what all Protestants rejoice in: that the Gates of Hell did not, in this, prevail, but God reformed and turned his church back to its original, Primitive, Biblical verities, which history shows flourished in the first several centuries of its existence, and afterwards in pockets hither and yon. He always preserves a remnant. The way is narrow, and few there be that find it.

    “As for ‘fresh’ sacrifice – come now, why else are the altars stone?

    I have to admit I do actually enjoy this one! Perhaps you could explain why the building material necessitates the heretical notion of a fresh sacrifice?”

    Troubling. Do you not know why we tore those blasphemous things out, and replaced them with wood? Do you not know why your own church long denied any material but stone? Do you not – for all your admirable love of architecture – understand the spirit, significance and utility of such things?

    “Christ sacrificed Himself once! ”

    Careful. Next thing you know you’ll be saying that you believe in salvation by grace alone. And then it isn’t long before you are tasting the joyous, free, redeeming airs of Protestant Christianity, no longer a slave of Roman tyranny and a clouded Christianity, but a faithful servant of God and Christ, before His altar day and night in hymns and sacrifices of praise for the grace and sheer indomitable love he has shown you.

    Or you can go back to clockwork, drip-drip, superstitious, idolatrous, blasphemous, distracted Romanism, where half your life is wasted on treating saints like the bureaucrats of God, and the other half on swilling sherry.

  47. Liz Smith
    7 August 2008
    8:48 pm

    I think PRJ lost most of us at the “why else are their altars stone?” remark.

    Still, a bit of kookery makes the world a more exciting place.

  48. T. Hayward
    7 August 2008
    9:00 pm

    “why else are their altars stone?”

    Sola fide! Sola gratia! Sola formica!

  49. PRJ
    7 August 2008
    9:23 pm

    :-D

  50. PRJ
    7 August 2008
    9:29 pm

    “The present discipline of the Church requires that for the consecration of an altar it must be of stone.”

    (Catholic Encyclopedia).

    Indeed it wasn’t always this way, as the Encyclopedia admits. The Primitive Church used wood. But as the entry further notes, by 517 it was mandatorily stone. Why? Because the error of the Eucharistic Sacrifice had crept in, along with transubstantiation and other manifold blasphemies (I mean seriously, God begetting himself in the man/God Christ Jesus; and then Christ Jesus begetting himself in… wafers and plonk; wafers and plonk becoming God; wafers and plonk containing the Godhead, even though they were never made in the Father’s image… etc, etc… manifold absurdities when you depart from reading the Bible as inerrant and binding).

  51. Liz Smith
    7 August 2008
    10:12 pm

    Still not following you on the “stone is evil” idea, dear.

  52. Charlie Frobisher
    7 August 2008
    10:28 pm

    OK, admittedly not a Catholic so don;t really have a dog in this fight, but I was wondering PRJ: You attack the Cafflics for this ‘fresh sacrifice’ thing, they say ‘actually, we agree, the fresh sacrifice thing is wrong and a heresy’ and you just keep on going ‘no! you do believe in a fresh sacrifice!’

    well I had a looksy-dooksy at the old catholic encyclopedia cited by none other than Mr. PRJ and it says in the article on ‘sacrifice’ and in the article on ‘the mass’ that there is only ONE sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. so if, as you suggest, the Catholic Encyclopedia is a reliable source of info on what Catholics believe, then shouldnt you just admit that you and the Catholic agree?

    I mean, like cusack says, isn’t it a good thing everyone agreeing on something? Or you just tryin to be ornery for the shit of it? I mean whats the deal?

  53. PRJ
    8 August 2008
    9:15 am

    I see what you’re saying. However, Cusack and myself mean two different things by ‘one sacrifice’. I do not believe Holy Communion involves sacrifice. I believe that Christ died *once*, then rose bodily, and ascended bodily into heaven. The Roman faith has it that, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says, “the Church intends the Mass to be regarded as a “true and proper sacrifice””.

    Indeed:

    “If any one saith that in the Mass a true and proper sacrifice is not offered to God; or, that to be offered is nothing else but that Christ is given us to eat; let him be anathema”.

    Now, they would say this simply involves bringing down the eternal single sacrifice of Christ by the authority of priests. And quite how this isn’t a new sacrifice in addition to the historic cross, I don’t know; they simply think it’s an ongoing one, I suppose. But Protestants would say that when Christ said “It is finished” and gave up the ghost upon the cross, he really meant it. And that God looking upon that sacrifice to pardon us, does not in any way require a recreation of it; for God is after all outside time, and knows full well what happened there. And Christ is after all fully man, and so ascended as God/man to heaven; so cannot descend regularly into bread and wine to be sacrificed except in a spiritual sense. For we believe in the Apostles’ Creed, that he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead; and not one moment sooner.

    So, then, the Mass denies in part or in whole the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the Second Coming. Pretty good going! The kind of monstrosity you can only perpetuate if you have degraded the Holy Scriptures to be no longer the very substance of Truth which Christ acknowledged to be, and even fleshly incarnated, but something solely equal to the authority of men.

  54. Andrew Cusack
    8 August 2008
    9:58 am

    Wow, I never thought I’d see the day when Charlie Frobisher deigned to leave his cocoon and post a comment on my blog!

  55. Charlie Frobisher
    8 August 2008
    10:10 am

    Ta-da!

  56. 8 August 2008
    5:04 pm

    St Thomas Aquinas dealt with some of this when he said that Christ does not move from heaven as bodies move from place to place. Protestants believe as we do that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18.20) and this does not affect our belief that Christ will come again in glory.

    You have to choose between Luther’s belief that the bread and wine are present as well as the body and blood of Christ, Zwingli’s view that the Eucharist was a simple memorial, and Calvin’s view that we receive the body and blood of Christ by faith.

    They all based themselves on the plain meaning of scripture, of course. The problem is that St Paul tells us what is the pillar and ground of truth – not “the scriptures” but the Church (1 Tim 3.15) which existed before the scriptures, and from which the scriptures came, inspired by the Holy Spirit. If you appeal to the scriptures without a living teaching authority which can define, with the certainty of Christ, what the scriptures mean, then you will have to find some other way of picking out which particular interpretation of scripture is the true one. John 6 is a good case study.

    And in fact, the scriptures testify to this living teaching authority, founded by Christ: “he who hears you hears me” (Lk 10.16) “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt.16.19). Christ himself said “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28.20) and this is true both in terms of the sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist and his living teaching authority in the Church.

  57. PRJ
    8 August 2008
    7:15 pm

    Why then does the Roman church so fail to resemble the faith embodied in scripture? It seems a bit thick to say scripture needs a guarantor, and then have that guarantor wander off and ignore it, indulging in all sorts of obvious wrongs which it can only justify by degrading what it guarantees or by equally useless elaborate, pip-squeaking explanations that ignore whole tranches of scripture and history.

    Sticking with 1 Tim, indeed…

    Where are we ever told to supernaturally engage with Mary or any other saints, as Romans do? We aren’t. We are taught the Our Father. Never the Hail Mary. Never saints as God’s bureaucrats. And further warned by the same St Paul you say refers to the Roman church of Popes and Cardinals (by sending a letter long before either existed): “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

    You can splice and elide all you like, but the plain entirety of scripture is totally inimical to all of the Roman heresies which Protestants protest against.

    If the Roman church is the same church which wrote the scriptures (even though of course it didn’t exist at the time; only discreet, local churches did, much like in Protestantism), why then does it contradict its own text so much? Surely whilst it might claim authorship, a brief survey of the facts will show us that such a claim must be laughed out of court.

  58. PRJ
    9 August 2008
    12:34 am

    Now, I suppose everyone is as tired of this as I am, given the lack of replies as the thread continues. So I am quite happy to leave you with the final word, whoever wants it, and go back to normal, silent readership of this fine publication.

  59. Neil Glanfield
    9 August 2008
    5:05 am

    “Communism has ceased to play a role on the world stage”? And here’s me thinking the Olympics were in Beijing.

  60. Paul Knight
    9 August 2008
    7:05 am

    ‘Why then does the Roman church so fail to resemble the faith embodied in scripture?’

    I’m afraid that’s merely your opinion, PRJ. To understand the Scriptures as they are meant to be understood one must strive think with the mind of the Church, and one can only do that by living the life of the Church, that is, by full participation in the liturgy/sacraments. It is the liturgy which conforms us to the mind of the Church, and it is the proper place of the Scriptures. It is by living this life that God reveals Himself to us and we in return encounter the living God.

    The Scriptures were never meant to be used as the sole authority for our faith: ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.’ (2 Thessalonians 2:14) Neither are they something which can be interpreted by us alone: ‘Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation.’ (2 Peter 1:20)

  61. T. Hayward
    9 August 2008
    7:25 am

    And here’s me thinking the Olympics were in Beijing.

    Beijing’s capitalist these days.

  62. 9 August 2008
    11:53 am

    To me, as a “completed Catholic” (that is, a convert from Protestantism), PRJ’s criticisms of the Church seem pretty off base. Where you see people actually worshiping Mary or the saints (as my wife did when she spent a semester in Guatemala in college), there you see heresy and wrong practice — the same as when you see misguided Protestants convinced that acting correctly (not smoking, dancing, drinking, etc.) will somehow save them. (Before anyone objects, let me say that I spent four years at a pretty prestigious Protestant Christian college where I had to commit to not smoke, drink alcohol, or dance. I can honestly say that I met more people there who really — if often unconsciously — believed in “works righteousness” than I ever have as a Catholic.)

    Concerning Saints, Catholic teaching identifies official saints as exemplars meant to inspire others. That’s all. As for “praying to” saints, or the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary), well, it’s no different than talking to your friend and asking him to pray for you. Or don’t you believe in “the communion of saints”? If the communion of saints is true, then asking believers who’ve died to pray for you is no different than asking your friend who’s still alive to pray for you. After all, God is not the God of the dead but of the living — all believers are alive in Christ and are part of the same communion. Denying that is denying the Nicene Creed.

    As for John 6 being symbolic, well, that interpretation just doesn’t comport with Jesus’ style, does it? Several times in the Gospels, Christ says or does something that the disciples misunderstand, and when that happens Christ points out their misunderstanding and explicitly tells them the correct interpretation. For example, in John 4 Jesus tells his disciples that he has food to eat that of which they know nothing. When the disciples conclude that he must have already bought bread, he corrects them and tells them that his food is to do the will of the Father. In another place, when Christ says to beware of the yeast of the pharisees his disciples are sure that he’s talking about their lack of bread. He corrects their error and lets them know that “yeast” meant “teachings and influence”.

    Now, in John 6 you have a case where Jesus makes an inflammatory statement with explicit cannibalistic rhetoric. (He tells people they must gnaw on his body, chew and swallow his flesh, and drink his blood.) His disciples take his words at face value — and begin to leave. If ever there was a time to correct misunderstandings, this was it. But Jesus doesn’t. He seems fine with them taking him at face value. He never (at least in the Gospels) corrects the cannibalistic interpretation his disciples took from his words. Given his quickness to spot and correct errors and misinterpretations (at least among his close disciples), Jesus’ refusal to correct his disciples’ belief that they must literally eat his flesh and drink his blood speaks volumes. The fact that the early church (“early” meaning “late first century”, if the records of Polycarp’s teachings are at all accurate) believed that the Eucharist was literally Christ’s body and blood only adds to the abundant evidence that the Catholic Church’s teaching is correct and scriptural.

  63. Maureen Flannery
    12 January 2012
    2:53 am

    Andrew
    I loved this tribute. Solzhenitsyn is the one greatest figures of the 20th century and I’ve always considered that he would be a supporter of the Catholic economic system of distributism. I have read his address to Harvard as well as his novels. His criticism of the capitalism influenced by the Darwinism of the Austrian school was so prescient. I wish all my “conservative” friends would read his Harvard address as a warning to the West.
    Thanks for the tribute. Maureen

  64. JLaan
    17 February 2012
    9:15 am

    Even it is now 2012, the comments on this article have advanced my trod towards the Roman Catholic Church as The Church closer. Still stuck on papal infallibility, though. I hear the explanations but not yet totally convinced.

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