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John Bruce Leonard

The Problem of Christianity – Part 2

Series: The Problem of Christianity

What good can Christianity do for us in the present – and in the future?

This will be our final essay for the year, as Arktos Journal will be taking a hiatus for the holidays. We look forward to beginning a new year of critical analysis from the Right, and in the meantime we wish our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

1. The theologico-political problem — About any idea or ideology, one can and must ask three distinct questions: ‘Is it true?’, ‘Is it beautiful?’, and ‘Is it beneficial?’ It might be that in certain cases two of these, or even all three, coincide; but it is both gratuitous and irresponsible to suppose that they must do so.

2. The moralism of the Church — What is the Catholic Church, if nature, at least this human nature, is not corrupt? Without the concept of original sin, that innate blemish on the human material, a taint indelible, save by the intercession of Christ alone, what remains of the rest of the superstructure of church and faith?

3. Consider but the Christian conception of sex, that rigorously and reductively teleological interpretation of an essential organic part of the human being; the Christians really would interpret the entirety of the sexual aspect of man’s nature as tending unambiguously and exclusively toward reproduction alone! By that same logic, one should never eat for the pleasure of it, listen or see or smell for the pleasure of it. Truly, pleasure itself comes into deep suspicion within the context of Christianity – suspicion which, to be sure, is quite wanted in our day, but as compared to the healthy and unashamed vitalism of the ancients may leave something to be desired.

And that to speak of only one aspect of sexuality, the lower and more obvious part of it; for truly, that is but the surface of a very deep phenomenon, one which extends to love, to artistic creation, to spirituality, to transcendence, perhaps to some metaphysical principle in the reality of things – to any number of organic, intellectual and divine aspects of this human soul which suddenly are barred off in the most unsettling and unnatural way when one takes upon oneself the chains of Christian mores.

Might Christian love become the doorway by which the small-souled modern man is once again trained to morality – and thence to virtue?

Surely, this much is clear: one cannot expect from the Christians any unqualified celebration of the beauty of the human form, of the naked human spirit, of a merely human excellence, such as one finds so starkly and boldly in the heathens of old. It is no accident that the nude fell out of favour in the arts of the Church, was even for many centuries quite literally covered in shame; this is not merely a question of prudish moralism. One has but to recall that the great and peerless art of the Renaissance would have been impossible without a prior prying into the physiological secrets of the human body; Michelangelo took up the scalpel in the mortuary before he took up the chisel in the quarry, and in his drawings, Da Vinci, too, revealed that he was no stranger to these mysteries. The fine old innocence of the pagans was surely lost with the Church, briefly reclaimed in the Renaissance – and then lost in a much more offensive and vile way in later Modernity.

Nothing in any of this disproves, of course, that there really might be something ‘corrupt’ or deeply problematic and questionable within in human nature. Suffice it to note that all human societies in all times and all places, from the Greeks to the Persians, from the Romans to the Gauls, from the Chinese to the Cherokees, from the godless moneygrubbers of Wall Street to the simplest Bushmen of the African plains, have seen it fit to cover man’s nudity – a peculiarly human habit noted in religious or allegorical form already in the tale of the Garden of Eden. No society, and certainly no civilized society, could be so much as imagined in which this were not the case. But why should that be, if man really is ‘innocent’?

It would seem that the Greeks pressed ‘human innocence’ as far as it can be pressed – and it is a matter open for debate to what extent the results were healthy.

 

4. What in Christianity is Judaic, as opposed to Athenian, Roman or Nordic? To what extent has Christianity been a foreign imposition on the ways of Europe? And to what extent is that imposition itself to the detriment, rather than the enlargement of our souls? Original sin, the idea of the chosen people (extended, albeit, to the entirety of practising Christians), the idea of creatio ex nihil – perhaps even monotheism itself – are these European? Hebrew? Human?

5. It is difficult to avoid the impression that even the polytheistic faiths tend toward monotheism in their highest and most clarion expressions – that there is something more rigorously theologically satisfying in the idea of a single deity as sustainer of the world, than of a host who evidently are somehow sustained by it.

6. Sufficient proof — If it could be definitively shown that even a single Christian virtue was such an innovation upon human morality that its analogue could not be found in all the societies before the birth of Christ – if it could be proved that just one of these Christian virtues bore the watermark or stamp of God himself, in all the enigmatic mysteriousness of divine intervention, such that without the touch and grace and command of some god, such a true virtue could never have arisen in the mortal world of men – that and that alone would be sufficient to demonstrate the necessity and the truth of Christianity as a whole.

7. Christians sometimes speak as if theirs had been the first god to ‘overcome the grave’; haughty claim, in the face of the old initiation rites, and a hundred pre-Christian works of East and West that definitively point to the reality and possibility of a human afterlife, following in the initiatory path of any number of deities and ‘schools’! One does not know if such claims come of a specially Christian cultivation of ignorance – or of a peculiarly Christian excess of subtlety. For it might well be that Christianity was the first to overcome, or to desire to overcome, the potter’s grave, and to extend hope in an afterlife to all of humanity; that, no doubt, is eminently Christian.

One is still entitled to wonder if it is at all justified – and more to the point, if it represents an improvement on human morality.

8. The Christian doctrine of the soul has been a stumbling block to intelligent men for the entire history of that faith’s existence. Setting aside the atheists, who do not concern us here, any man who is attempting to develop a natural theology from out of honest and conscientious observation of the immanent world and the points (today, alas, all at best tangential) at which this immanent world is evidently touched by higher planes, is a thousand times more likely to come to the same conclusions that so many pre-Christians did indeed attain: namely, that the soul is capable of being immortal, in certain exceptional cases; that in the majority of cases the soul (which is generally speaking unformed and inchoate) merely disperses upon death or lingers about in partial and mindless forms (the ghosts of Hades, or even ghosts as such); that a man who cannot remember what he did yesterday or who is incapable of even sufficient wakefulness to recognize the simplest consequences of this or that simplest thought or action is unlikely to possess the raw being necessary to transcend his earthly form; that a man must awaken and work long upon himself to produce anything capable of withstanding the shocking trauma of his demise; that this is part and parcel of the innate and natural aristocratic hierarchy of human souls.

To be sure, there are some pre-Christian figures who seem to suggest the doctrine of the immortal soul, such as Socrates. Most of what we Socrates’ teachings are the mythoi preserved in Plato’s dialogues, which appear to have fulfilled a certain moral or political end, while the argumentation within the Phaedo in particular must be taken carefully within its extremely suggestive context. It appears at any rate that Plato’s Socrates considered the idea of the immortal soul to be a salubrious notion, and attempted to inculcate it accordingly in his interlocutors. To make man better on account of the promise of posthumous award, the threat of posthumous punishment; to extend the idea of justice beyond the course of this life, in order to render it as hard as a diamond amidst the holocaust of human iniquities – to give the life of man depth by giving it breadth, longevity – this idea, contained clearly within Plato, has clear legislative justifications, and its worth in our world of petty, tawdry, greedy economism should be carefully weighed.

But to what extent can the doctrines of Christianity be taken as merely legislative?

9. Christianity substituted theology for mystery, baptism for initiation. This constitutes an act of democratic equalization unheard of in the old religions of the world; it is a Christian innovation. It made the Church into the great bastion of learning to which we owe so very much; but the hand that giveth taketh away, and that same innovation also sewed strict and harsh limits into the fabric of potential studies on the part of the churchmen themselves. Even Abelard ran hard against these in his day, and discovered that while the Church was the great protectress of philosophizing, to the philosophers it was a deadly foe.

This, of course, has never been and never could be otherwise, so far as the general and exoteric teachings of any faith go. Save that all other faiths have their esoteric teaching to somewhat counterbalance this inequality. It was hitherto understood that the sage, for his sagacity, had liberties even in thought that the common man should never be granted.

Does the Church recognize the difference between the exoteric and the esoteric? Has it ever?

10. Whatever is made common is brought low; whatever is exceptional stands on a pinnacle. Beware you then of strewing jewels into the hands of the masses; for they become but pebbles in common fingers, and lose all their lustre and their flame – even for the commoners who now possess them.

11. The love of Christ! A love extended to all the world, to the lowly, the meek, the helpless, the damaged, the suffering, the sinner (supposing he only ‘repent’!); a love like a net spread out to catch even small fry, eels and anglerfish; a love like a sieve which captures rubies, diamonds, chunks of granite and bits of shale, and calls all of them to a one gemstones. Truly, there is much that is ‘mysterious’ in this kind of love. But it is a vulgar curiosity which goes prying at each and every mystery as though it were necessarily a veil over a lamp, rather than a fig-leaf over a pudendum, and one is tempted, and more than tempted, to wonder if there is not something untoward and even ugly in such ‘divine affections’…

12. The love proposed by the Christians was as a doorway leading down; through it stumbled the magnanimous virtue of the ancients, passing from their lofty noble heights to the lowly brother-love of the Nazarene. Magnificence degraded to munificence, the crowning greatness of the single towering giant to the sleepy and complacent democratic embrace of our modern world.

Reason – or Faith. That is an old enmity one can never hope to bind, save by making one of these powers the handmaiden to the other.

But a door once opened can be traversed in both directions, and it is well worth asking if even this path might not be tread again, only now in the upward way. For truly, this Christian love is much more accessible to our democratized modernity than any higher love of prior epochs. Might it then become the doorway by which the small-souled modern man is once again trained to morality – and thence to virtue?

13. The philosophers of early Modernity rebelled against the Church – and why? Because they were made cattle-like to keep to the safe pasture indicated by the Church’s doctrine and dogma, when their souls yearned as ever for the wild and dizzy peaks – those places where sheep, yes, will fall and break upon the clefts, but where hardy bearded goats like them leap with greater ease and liberty.

The Church played a subtle game: you can have your reason, and work it to its uttermost limits, and be philosophical as much as you please within the same. Indeed, within the proper borders of reason, the Church has her ‘philosophy’ – that is, her apologia: an apologia such as the world has never known, in which I do not doubt that every pointed objection and every valid question ever raised against the Church has now or then been assessed and answered – aye, even the question as to why the true Church should need such a gargantuan, sophisticated, sometimes sophistical apparatus to protect her. Beyond these proper borders of reason lie the enigmatic and mysterious wildlands of faith, in which a few gleaming points of divine revelation stand out like fires. And who will determine precisely where the unmovable merestones of these borders are truly placed? Why, Holy Mother Church! In which one must have faith

Christianity does not mark, of course, the first time the philosophers came up against the walls of a creed. Ever have they lived ‘in their time and against their time’; that is a riddle posed already by the execution of Socrates for impiety, and resolved by none other than one of the greatest riddlers and unriddlers of all time, Plato himself. The philosophers had dwelt uneasily and in their half-occult way beneath the pagans and the politicians, beneath Jew and Muslim – but something changed within Christianity, and particularly the Christianity of the High Middle Ages, which caused the philosophers to revolt against it as they had never done before. What had changed? Was it the institutionalization of philosophy under the doctrine of faith that somehow rendered true philosophers impotent and helpless as they had never been beneath regimes that were more or less openly hostile toward their practice? Or was it that the philosophers themselves had become unsubtle in the course of time, and forgotten the canny and uncanny arts of their long survival, and the limits of their own special legislation?

Are the two things not deeply intertwined?

14. What philosopher would ever deny at least the possibility that reason has its limits? The question is always one of assignation: who or what power will assign borders to the kingdom of the mind? And how can one ever be certain that these borders might not be pressed a foot or a yard the further? And supposing there were some divinity standing on the other side and speaking to us in suave and persuasive tones about ‘truth’ and ‘goodness’ and ‘beauty’, all lying at the other side of yon mountain – well, what philosopher would not strive with all his being to catch that god and force him to tell his secrets about the way hence, even as it is said that Midas once caught Silenus, and even if the secrets be so desperate as those that the satyr revealed?

Reason – or Faith. That is an old enmity one can never hope to bind, save by making one of these powers the handmaiden to the other.

As for Evola’s ‘super-reason’ – well enough, but in essence, that is only reason once again, understood perchance in a truer and fuller sense.

15. The morality of the Church — Where else but in Christianity can we hope once more for the moralizing of man, that most enigmatic deepening of the common human soul, by which alone man may improve himself rather than wallowing in the animal-like parts of his nature? Can Paganism give us so much today? Or can it stand against the diminution of our populations, this burning out of the seed that would waste a potential new generation in base hedonism and wanton abortions? Or can it recall to man the width and scope of his spiritual status on this Earth today, in our lost and wandering epoch?

‘But surely not even Christianity can do as much, with its pandering to “meekness” and docile obeisance in the face of authority! Surely, not even it can bring us back to the fullness of spiritual greatness…’

So, Mr. All-Or-Nothing, you find that the ‘all’ is impossible, and you opt instead for – what? Nihilism? But these are not times for purist calculations. A thousand times better a nearing perfection within narrow limits today, than a great hollow imperfection spread across the face of the world.

16. The secular state – The secular state is one of those barbarous inventions that could only have arisen in Modernity, on modern presuppositions, as part and parcel of this modern project of humanization and egalitarianism. One wants the Kingdom of God – sans God.

Never once has any secularist philosophy proposed any value or vision that did not seem but the wan and distorted reflection of an older religious view. Most particularly, the whole of the Enlightenment is but the illsome reflection of Christian virtues, a kind of mass Christianity without the Christ – a low-laying road to ‘paradise’ that has proved a great temptation even to wayward Christians themselves, and lately even to the Church. Man does away with god, hoping to make himself into the same – and finds that he remains man, only now without so much as the ladder to climb upward into the heavens. Truly, man is capable of becoming like the gods – but not without living belief in the same.

The modern atheists cannot get away from Christianity, they are negators through and through: in seeking to escape the orbit of the ages, they find themselves rotating about the same sun,

And still we find it all around us, this godless pipedream. The ‘new atheists’ rise up even today in defence of science and progress. World peace, the elimination of famine, poverty and unnatural old age as guaranteed by our science, the solemn abolishment of sickness, disease, misfortune, and all the other inconveniences imposed on us by our merest nature – perhaps even the avoidance of irksome parturition and the overcoming of the unhappy necessity of death, who knows!

And what do they propose as the end of this path? Why, some kind of transmutation of the substance of man via robotics and the digital revolution and the ‘singularity’, making man into – what? A spirit? A giant? A gargantuan dwarf? Do they even know? Do they even care? These are but artificial substitutes for that same spirit and that same kingdom they themselves have sought to obliterate! They cannot get away from it, they are negators through and through: in seeking to escape the orbit of the ages, they find themselves rotating about the same sun, only now in the bleak void, and so distant to that star that not even its heat and light any longer reach them save in the most suggestive and dimmest glimmers. And there are some, even on the Right, who really see in this the future of mankind, an ant-like pullulating and colinization of other balls of stone in the void, as if mankind itself were sufficient unto itself – as if they had not known quite enough ‘men’ to realize that man, left to his own devices and cut off entirely from all divine support, example and encouragement, is really almost exclusively but ‘one of the apes’…

Nietzsche long ago laid bare this hypocrisy, and Dostoevsky disposed of this sickly myth with a master’s hand and an unmatchable creative gravitas. Evola laid the crown upon their efforts. And yet still we find ourselves beating our faces against the same cinderblock wall. It has wielded its own strange kind of gravity – the gravity of low things that draw one ever lower. It is the inevitability of sinking, it is the lure of the fall itself.

But where, friends, will we find the force to counter that grave power, if not in the bosom of some church?

17. Power and truth — When shall we have had enough of this vulgarity which conflates size with power, and which, seeing the ‘smallness’ of man and the ‘vastness’ of the material universe, concludes the absolute unimportance of the one, the absolute and terrible gravity of the other!

The real fallacy here is to be found in the quintessentially modern equation of power with truth. Christianity is one of the few forces remaining today that can cure men of such an elementary error.

18. There is much to be said for the aesthetic power of Christianity – nor should the aesthetic question be relegated to third or fourth rank, as is often thoughtlessly done today. The beauty of Church ceremonies, that weekly touch of an ennobling and spiritualizing ritual on the life of man – who can estimate the consequences that the Catholic mass alone has had on human life, in the sum total of its effect over these many centuries!

This not to speak of the question of good and evil itself, which gave to life a profundity and a terrible richness it has subsequently most sorely missed. The skies, the ground beneath our feet, were both infinitely deeper in Christendom – in both a metaphorical and a literal sense – and the souls within us were the theatres of great moral dramas, where today they are not even the scenes of puppet plays. Man’s life on this Earth took on a thousand different hues that today our eyes can barely even perceive, and every action had weight to it. Angels and demons, paradise and inferno, love and hate, fire and light, darkness and goodness, salvation and damnation – what ‘good and bad’ in all the world can match this chiaroscuro? This not to speak of the the whole of hagiography, or the glamour and unspoiled selfless glory of the knightly code, the art and the music to which these things have given rise! Surely, the Renaissance was as brilliant outwardly – but how if that was but the gorgeous spark-show of the hammer beating the chain, followed by the worst and most disappointing kind of ‘freedom’? Why, even the wicked has never had so varied and interesting an aspect as when the Church still deigned to denounce Hell and Lucifer. Truly, life has become simply bland since the ‘death of God’.

19. Eclipse — Is it any wonder that Europe’s star is on the wane? We do not believe in anything; our enemies abroad believe in everything.

20. It is clear that now, as has been the case indeed for more than a thousand years, Christianity has always been the obstacle to the growth of Islam in Europe. Islam would claim Europe for its own, today as ever, and it is a thousand times stronger in spirit than is this sickly egalitarian liberalism which shutters our vision and dams up our minds – this dim view of the world which looks at everything, not even as the frog (for the frog still sees up), but rather as the mole.

21. The Brotherhood of Man — We would put walls around Europe and European peoples – through Christianity? Through the universal religion par excellence, from which even Islam learned its tricks? From the faith that has built itself on proselytizing (though now, of course, it has decided to quell that dirty business), on conversion, on traversing the world from Karachi to Kingdom Come, seeking to ‘save souls’ and win new members of the church, no matter what their substance or mettle or heritage might be, since every man is endowed with his own immortal and precious soul, each equal in the fundamental sense to the next –

What, this belief would save Europe?

One recalls the Crusades to exonerate Christianity of the charge of too gross a universality, as demonstration of the capacity within Christianity to uphold the banner of Europe herself. And rightly enough, for by this faith was Europe saved, not once, but many times. But it is not idle to wonder what would have been the fate of Europe if the Arab hordes had simply converted. And yet, is this not really what Christianity craves and must crave?

How can this faith, which was born from the destruction of all borders and all barriers, the substitution of ‘Jew’ and ‘gentile’ with ‘believer’ and ‘non-believer’, succour us in our need today?

22. That this religion, a faith first of Jewish fishermen, rug-weavers and carpenters, could become then the faith of heretics and martyrs, then of Rome and Empire, then of knights and Crusaders, then of saints and anchorites, then of fat prelates and supercilious bishops, then of petty moralists and mean bigots, then at last of meek egalitarians and self-immolating globalists – to name but several of the most prominent of its historical incarnations! – what does this say of the Christian faith? Have all of these forms been the manifestations of one and a single belief? Have they been but superimpositions on an original foundation that was so plastic it could be molded to sustain such a variety of structures? Could so protean a beast as this – have a single heart?

This much at least seems sure: the men of early Modernity who did what they could (and it was much indeed) to undercut the Church and to secularize the state seem not to have had sufficient awareness of the mutability of the thing they fought; else why should they not have sought to right the straying ship and guide it back to port? The best of them were not lacking in patience: why not then cultivate the great patience of the legislator?

23. Supposing for a moment – strange and tempting supposition! – that the Church has indeed its divine mission in this world, which may or may not be identical to that which it has so long proposed for itself; supposing that ‘God resides within it’, and has never once abandoned it these long centuries since the birth of Christ; supposing that its mission, its life, its destiny has always in some almost inscrutable way been connected to Europe, despite its ecumenicalism or even its ecumenism; – well? Granting all of this (admittedly a great deal to grant!), would it not be clear that we must throw all our strength and will behind it, in the good hope that it will be the first part of this Modernity to – be resurrected?

Is the Church not a fit place to look for the first sign of the end of Satan’s reign?

24. Why Catholicism today? — Never have we been so much in need of God the Father, God the Judge, God the Rewarder; even the old idea, as contestable and strange and indeed objectionable as it might seem, of the eternal human soul that rises or burns, would be a great improvement over this mewling stew of second-rate machines, facetiously called ‘human beings’, that live for purchase and for pleasure, and, in believing themselves to be slaves to ‘chemicals’ or ‘evolutionary laws’, have finally become so.

To be sure, such a God as the Christian’s lives far from us, does not seem to answer to our prayers and most desperate needs at this late hour, and speaks, it would seem, eternally in puzzles. But might it not be that today above all, with our ‘clear-sighted’ science, our technological prowess, our obsession with fact and figure, information and data, we are in need of nothing more than a riddler God who will confound the wisdom of our ‘wise’, and remind us that whatever the limits of this world might be, they do not lie there where we would seek them with our eyes

25. Here we stand in some nominally Catholic town, and lo! the church bells ring, and one is tempted to bathe a moment in the clean fine old sound of them. Yet perk up your ears: these are not church bells you hear, but rather some recording of bells, played out on megaphones mounted within the church tower, by some computer they have stowed away therein. Rather than the daily renewed symbol of a living spirit, a living will, a living desire to be placed once more in direct communion with God, deliberately rung out by men who await the hour with aware and ready minds – men who lay their hands upon the rope and, in cognizance of their act and all its pregnant significance, pull – we have but the stale recording of the same, played out automatically, mechanically by some computerized system that at hour x, robotically releases sound z.

And that is an allegory for all the Church today.

26. And the Orthodox Church? Has the Orthodox Church ever been Western? Or is the West, the Occident, Europe itself finally living up to the probable etymology embedded within all these terms? Is it dwelling at last in the land where the sun declines and sinks and vanishes? Is it living its twilight? Then perhaps we are in need of precisely something non-Western and yet still Western, to revitalize us? A new sun risen from the East, in a land we have seeded, but not cultivated? Do we finally need Russia, the ‘Westernized East’, and Russia’s Orthodoxy?

And could Orthodoxy ever take root in the north, the west, the south of Europe, in more than that superficial, sporadic, almost inorganic way it already has?

East and West, Rome and Athens, Catholic Church and Orthodox Church, Europe and Russia – we speak here of two divided halves of what might be forged into a single destiny.

27. Catholicism chose Latin, Orthodoxy Greek. That is a simplified expression of a most evocative, perhaps even fateful historical datum: two Churches divided by a common faith, to steal a quip from George Bernard Shaw. And admittedly, whatever doctrinal differences there might stand between them, there is above all a world of difference in terms of the feel of them. Catholicism, at its highest, has been a splendid hierarchy and unity, presided over by a single head; the Orthodoxy, a monkish and spiritually intent faith spread throughout a network of most diligent faithful. The Catholics have been more politically and philosophically astute, for they have been eminently European; the Orthodoxy, perhaps on account of its penetration of the East, its penetration by the East, has been morally deep and almost mystical, and has never once lost its various links to given places, given lands, given sets of custom. It is interesting, fateful almost, that the Church should be linked eternally to the eternal city, should be Roman, while the Orthodoxy should be, among other things, Greek: one is almost tempted to suppose in these two distinct manifestations of the Christian Church the continuation of the old brotherly quarrel between Rome and Athens.

One steps into the best kind of Catholic Church, and at once one has the sense of rising, ascension, verticality, grandeur, hierarchy, space, exultation and exaltation – the greatness of God in the works of man; man as the vessel for divinity on Earth, man transfigured by his faith — God-man. One steps into the best kind of Orthodox Church and all is intimate and spiritual, internalized and drawing one inward, into meditation, into communion with spirit, with Spirit: deep, byzantine, mysterious.

Do we go too far to say that the Orthodoxy has been the more Christian of the two, and that Catholicism has been more – Western? But then –

28. Must Europe cede to Russia? Must she tend, as a wilted flower, to the stronger light, which has yet to be totally frozen by this chill Modernity? If it is to be so, then it is clear as well that the Orthodoxy might yet become the faith for faithful Europeans – that is, Europeans who hold their faith, not only to the True God, but to their own true land…

Europe, loyal to Europe through betrayal of Europe. A modernized Europe ceding to a Westernized Russia. If that is to come, then perhaps the Orthodox Church, too, has a future among us.

29. The Orthodox Church has proved excellent at surviving. It is nothing to be frowned at that it managed to live through three-quarters of a century of the worst kind of Communist tyranny. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, once excelled at championing the faith: once, it was a ‘religion of the sword’ and did not hesitate to bring the sword against its enemies.

Which of these do we need today? Has the time come to take up arms once more, and to defend this Europe tooth and claw, with all the power at our disposal? Or rather to store up, to stock up, to hold up in some rock fortress in hopes that the hurricane will soon abate? Or rather to prepare for some new Dark Age, to take the long breath before the plunge? – And supposing a man wished to ‘convert’ – would his choice of Church not reflect something about his view of the future, as well?

30. Give unto Caesar… — Christianity seemed to abandon all desire for political power from the beginning, and did not hesitate to draw a clear line between state and religion, which the old cults had never sought to draw and which in its way prefigured even that ‘separation between Church and State’, so absurdly celebrated in our day. It is no wonder that the Romans smelled something apolitical and therefore politically dangerous in this new cult sprung up among them; one can comprehend the error they made, of attempting to put it down with the sword, not realizing it was the very hydra they were so striking.

31. …what is Caesar’s. — And yet this apolitical cult, this merely religious cult, rose up by and by and was recognized – by the emperor of Rome. What is the meaning of that? What is the meaning of Constantine, of the conflict between Pope and Emperor, the Guelphs and Ghibellines, the Investiture Controversy, or that fateful moment which now and then has approached the Church, when it seemed that this or that Pope would gather all spiritual and also secular authority to his bosom, to become highest representative on Earth of the both?

The Pope as King of Kings – one cannot help but wonder –

32. East and West, Rome and Athens, Catholic Church and Orthodox Church, Europe and Russia – we speak here of two divided halves of what might be forged into a single destiny. Europe is in need of rejuvenation, Russia of defence against the juggernaut of Yankee globalism; might one dream at last the spiritual unification of this Europe, this Russia, at a single point? And what could bring together this fractured geode, to enclose its riches again within itself and to be the well-spring of a new inner life, if not a common faith?

33. ‘We are in want of new gods.’

Then you shall be a long time awaiting, friend. For no more arid earth than this modern ground, sown with all the special salts of the Enlightenment, can be found for the birth of a new cult, a new faith, a new deity. You are come upon a desolate land, and you seek at once to build an orchard and a grove. Seek you rather to put up a garden and to reclaim a little spot of this land: sink you a well, and reconstitute this bit of earth. A fountain is wanted for lack of a sea; no millennial oak ever came but of a sprout. Build a modest wall and begin with a small settlement of fine and upright men; not the most splendid city of all of history every started otherwise.

Then and then alone we will see what can be done with the rest.

It is no accident that we have posed a great many questions and counter-questions in this all-too-brief and all-too-shallow overview of the Christian problem. Few certainties are to be had in this morass of complexity and vicissitude that spreads over the face of no less than two millennia. But amidst all these doubts, all these curiosities and qualms, this, I think, can and must be said with decisive surety by any man of the Deep Right: some god is needed to draw our flagging societies to a straightness of spine and uprightness of purpose; some faith is wanted in the life of man to bring him full into his divine mansion, and to provide for him once again a vital vision of the future. And well should any man of the Right ask himself, in as much sincerity, clarity and candour as he can muster: what could this be today, if not Christianity?

It seems to me that G. K. Chesterton was right when he said that paganism is the single valid competitor on the religious plane to Christianity. To be sure, he cast a rather wide net with that, and probably meant to catch Hinduism in its snares as well – dubious equivalency – nor did he give sufficient heed to the potential that Islam could have in the face of a declining Church. Suffice it to say regarding Hinduism (as well as other Oriental traditions) that it cannot validly be thought a potential substitute for popular Western religious forms, for the simple spaces of geography and tradition that separate it from us; and suffice it to recall of Islam, in its generalized and ‘mass’ manifestation, that it would scrape the plaster from the Sistine, break the arcs upon their violins and burn Dante in his own Hell. Supposing one wants to redeem and reconstitute Europe as Europe, one must look to European forms of spirituality. It is therefore to the specific manifestations of European paganism that one must look, if one seeks a valid alternative to Christianity.

We leave off that question in the good hope we might return to it after the close of the present year.

This Post Has 16 Comments
  1. John, this is a fascinating pair of articles, so thank you very much for writing and publishing them. As someone who was raised a Methodist and is now a communicant member of the Church of England, I was interested by your lack of discussion on Protestantism. In your last essay you discuss the role of christianity in Europe, yet the protestant churches are only truly and fully European Christian invention. While the protestant revolution was an attempt to return the church back to its roots – to celebrate in the manner that the early christians did – it arose solely as a European endeavour. I’d welcome your views on this.

    1. Many thanks for your kind words and extremely pertinent questions, Peter.

      You are right to note that I did not address the question of Protestantism. I do not feel myself to be yet in a position to comment with any degree of justice on the Protestant part of the Christian question – paradoxically because it is the form of Christianity that I should know best, having grown up with it. However, since you have invited me to it, I will offer a few thoughts.

      I must of course begin with what is perhaps the most salient problem in Protestantism: namely, its ‘individualism’. Lacking in any central and binding authority, it is easy for Protestantism, particularly in democracies, to degenerate into a kind of theological free-for-all on the part of men who are simply ignorant and in many cases outright foolish, giving them ‘divine justification’ to make the most outlandish and frankly preposterous claims on the basis of the presumed authority of the Bible – content of which authority, of course, one derives from one’s own and personal interpretation of the text.

      I am aware, of course, that several of the more august Protestant denominations can boast a history of exceptionally well-prepared and thoughtful theologians who have recorded their commentaries, making for a kind of informal exegetical tradition similar to that within Islam, Judaism or Orthodox Christianity; nonetheless, it has been my experience that the doctrine of sola scriptura tends to foment the individualistic and anarchical tendencies inherent in our day.

      This reflects directly on the question of the traditionalism of the Protestants, about which you specifically inquire. The Protestants would return to the well-spring of the Christian faith, but in doing so, they often have to abolish or deny all the traditions which purport to be the living connections to that source, and so in their attempt to find the origins, they really isolate themselves from them by a bi-millennial chasm. In order to bridge that chasm, they make decisive reference to the Bible, as if by it they could lay their hands on the origins themselves. But apart from the question of whether and to what extent the Bible should not itself already be regarded as a later Christian tradition, rather than the origin itself – this apart, I say, what will stop a man from reading the Bible through the lens of his folly, his ignorance, his prejudices, his biases, and all the lies and errors promulgated by his time? Why should his reading of the Bible be any purer than his reading, say, of Shakespeare or Homer? If the latter are so evidently contaminated by the modern dogmas, why should the private and naked interpretation of the Bible on the part of this or that individual not equally compromise the original and ever-living message of that holy book? Can we count on the illuminating intervention of God in any private individual’s sincere Biblical reading – and if so, how can we account for the great variety of Biblical interpretations furnished by evidently upstanding and decent men?

      As for the Europeanness of Protestantism which you have suggested, the historical and geographical reasons for such a claim are evident; I wonder, however, about the deeper or spiritual reasons behind it. I find something suspect in the fact that the Protestant Revolution (note even the term itself!) emerged at the dawn of the Modern Era, and would seem in any number of ways to be an early expression of the tendencies to which that period gave rise. Protestantism often seems to be symbolic and representative of the dissolution of the old orders; it seems to contain more than a hint of the anti-aristocratic, anti-authoritarian, anti-traditionalistic spirit of the past five-hundred years; and this spirit would appear to be encapsulated in the fact that Protestantism has almost entirely failed to produce any unified and durable tradition of its own, be that in politics, in the arts, or in theology itself – save perhaps with few exceptions, such as, for instance, your own Church of England, to whose unique position here I will happily bow. One is still permitted to wonder if Protestantism does not stand essentially against the very idea of tradition, if it is not radically opposed to that idea in its very essence – and, if so, what longevity or unification could possibly come of it?

      Of course, many of these ‘institutional weaknesses’ of Protestantism (which are largely responsible for the fact that when one speaks of ‘Protestantism’, one refers in point of fact to literally hundreds of different churches) might also be in a certain sense its strength, insofar as they allow for ‘flexible unity’: ideally, each Christian would choose his own church or interpretation of the Bible, but all Christians would understand themselves as belonging to a wider Christian community, unified beneath that common faith despite their particular disputes – brothers-in-arms, albeit brothers who often enough and most fraternally vie against one another. This would make for an interesting solution to the present difficulties which beset particularly Europe, with its patent need to balance its native variety and diversity with a larger pan-European unity and cohesiveness. The Anglican Church, the special limits of which are suggested already by its very name, could indeed give an indication of what this might mean on a national scale.

      This ideal, however, is far from the reality, so far as I have seen of the situation at least in the United States, where there is a long-standing and evidently unhealable animosity between several of the most popular denominations, with each one ready and willing to accuse the others of rank heresy and even sinfulness and Satanism. I wonder if this fractiousness and sectarian closure is not a necessary trait of Protestantism. I might formulate this objection in the following form: given that Protestantism might ideally give rise to a series of local or ‘national Christianities’, it is evident that the national ‘Christianity’ of several nations, foremost among them Italy, would necessarily be Catholicism. Would the Protestants be willing to countenance this fact, or would the Catholics ever accept the rule of Protestantism in other countries?

      My own various doubts aside, I would be curious to hear more on your own view, Peter, and particularly on your claim that Protestantism is the only strictly European form of Christianity.

  2. John, thanks you for your comments and for your encouragement to respond and clarify some of my points. I hope I do not exhaust your patience with a rather lengthy reply.

    The criticism of individualism is, of course, a common one, but I think it relies on a largely theoretical critique of Protestantism. In my experience no one in the protestant churches takes what might be called an individual approach to the Bible or to Divine revelation. We come out of a particular tradition and we accept the rituals of worship of that tradition, be it Methodist, Lutheran or Anglican. In this sense, individual worshippers are very much part of a tradition.

    While I accept your point on the dangers of individualism, I think we should accept that there is a positive aspect that we ought not to ignore, in that, regardless of denomination and liturgy, transcendence can only be gained individually. Redemption and regeneration are, by definition, personal, even if we follow a prescribed path. One of my problems with Traditionalism or perennialism is that it puts the emphasis on structure and symbols, or what we might say as ‘the path’, rather than the one or ones taking the path. The great strength of protestant thinkers is that they have put the seeker back into focus. In contrast, writers like Guenon seem to suggest that all the seeker need do is find the right (i.e., orthodox) path and all will be well.

    Incidentally, my main criticism of Guenon is actually very similar to our comments on individual interpretation of scripture. I initially found guenon fascinating, and I still would argue that he provides one of the most complete and effective critiques of modernity. However, what worried me about Guenon’s ideas was where they came from. He was notorious in not revealing his sources and his teachers and I think it is legitimate to doubt their authenticity. Perennialism itself is a product of the Renaissance, which, as we know, Guenon saw as the final destruction of Traditionalism in Europe. I also think that Guenon would have been more convincing if he would have stayed within his own Catholic path (as Hani and Borella did, for instance) rather than adopt one ‘alien’ to his culture and history. The idea that one can choose which path to take seems to me to be a pretty good example of the individualism you rightly take issue with.

    The issue of tradition as opposed to Tradition is a really big issue and one that I can’t do justice to here. I have written about aspects of this is my book Here and Now, which Arktos were kind enough to publish in 2015. I recall in the book that there was a time when I would only go to services if they followed the Book of Common Prayer. This was a source of great anger for me that the Church of England as playing around with its traditions and seeking to be ‘relevant’. This anger though came very close to pushing me completely away from the Church and fortunately I no longer have such a strong view (although I still much prefer the BCP service) and I think it really does not matter what form the service takes. What does matter is my frame of mind in entering the church and who I am sharing the service with.

    I see tradition as very much a living thing, which changes over time. What matters, to follow Burke’s dictum, is that we only reform to correct and thereby conserve what is essential in the institution. Clearly, the protestant churches cannot trace their history back as far as the Catholic and Orthodox congregations, but I do not see tradition as being a matter just of longevity. Of more importance is its endurance and its continued connection with a community. The Church of England is certainly struggling here to remain connected to English life, but where it exists it is vital and strong and survives in spite of the occasional silly comments of its leaders.

    On the issue of Protestantism as being European, my point here was largely an empirical one. The early church moved the Europe after its inception and was as strong in North Africa as it was in Rome. Therefore, Protestantism is an exclusive product of Europe in the narrow sense of where it began. I do not wish to suggest that it is ‘better’ as a result or more suited to European condition. I do though think that this point needs to be recognise when some European Traditionalists, following Benoist, critique Christianity for obliterating European culture and religion.

    1. On the contrary, Peter, I thank you for the extensiveness of your comments. The questions we are speaking of would indeed require a much longer examination than we can possibly engage here; your seriousness and diligence is well appreciated.

      Before anything, I agree emphatically with you on the danger inherent in the ‘pathism’ into which many Traditionalists fall, confusing mere praxis for proper self-development. As to whether Guénon is one of them, I am not prepared to pass judgement on this point. I think it safe to say that Evola, at least, emphatically transcended any such rigid formalism; and the best teachers in what might be regarded as a Traditionalist mould are sure to indicate the spiritual danger in the same. I am equally at one with you in resisting the idea that Christianity is an imposition on European traditions, rather than the independent product of the same; even if it could be rigorously demonstrated that certain elements of Christianity are of Asiatic or Middle Eastern or Judaic origin, that would hardly compromise the European quality of the whole of the faith in its historically European forms. Indeed, such critiques often sadly neglect the plastic and assimilative power which is an integral part of European culture.

      Returning to the Protestant question in particular, it interests me to hear that in your experience ‘no one in the protestant churches takes what might be called an individual approach to the Bible or to Divine revelation’; I confess I have had precisely the contrary experience in the United States, where I encountered a great many people who were fast willing to make utterly unorthodox and idiosyncratic claims on the basis of their personal reading of the Bible.

      I limit myself to a few examples. One of these, on his special interpretation of Calvinist doctrine, believed he was destined for heaven (the which had been promised to him in some personal revelation, if I recall correctly) and consequently could do anything he pleased, including the most horrendously immoral acts, without fearing repercussions of any kind. Suffice it to say he took wide advantage of this remarkable liberty. As for the second example: I once had a series of debates, over the course almost of a year, with a very intelligent (and equally tenacious) Protestant, which finally culminated in his openly admitting that the interpretation of the Bible he presented, which he believed fervently to be the only correct one and by which he judged practically the entire world, was exclusively his own and no one else’s. I myself, as a boy, developed a peculiar interpretation of the Fifth Commandment (‘Thou shalt not kill’ – the Sixth by the count, if I am not mistaken, of the Jews and many Protestants), by which it was to be extended literally to all living things; the ‘Church authorities’ lacked precisely the authority to inform me of my error. The danger in both these cases, I believe, is self-evident.

      I recognize these are but two examples; we are in some ways here fighting anecdote with anecdote, and I am pleased to learn that the Protestant situation at least in England is ‘stabler’ than that found in America. The real question is the extent to which the examples I have furnished are exceptions that prove the rule, or extreme manifestations of the rule itself. In my mind, they are at least representative of a more general, if in most instances more anodyne, trend at least in the United States. One can give rational account of why this should be so, as follows: The authority of any given Protestant denomination can be regarded as authoritative, only insofar as it accords with the Bible; the unique judge of that agreement or disagreement inevitably reduces, sooner or later, to the private individual and his private judgement; the private individual is thus the final and irreducible arbiter of true and false authority, and can in full right reject any authority, including that of his present church or its peculiar teachers or teachings, the moment he discovers or concludes that these have traduced the meaning of the Bible. But an authority which can be accepted or rejected on the basis of the merely private opinion is surely only dubiously an authority to begin with.

      Having said all of this, I must hasten to add that I very much appreciate the naturalness and, if I might call it so, the flexible integrity of your view (something which I have noted, incidentally, in your work generally), which holds to substance more than form, and firmly resists the great temptation of rigid doctrinairism of any kind. I think if we all could cultivate such an attitude, it would be well, not only for us personally, but for the Right as a whole. If Protestantism should be characterized essentially by this attitude, that must be taken as a great and perhaps even determining mark in its favour.

      I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, Peter, and thank you again for so interesting, and timely, a discussion. After these holidays have passed us, and you have a few minutes at your disposal, I would be interested in hearing (beyond any particular respond to my points above) more of your thoughts on the particularism of Protestantism. Protestantism, as a form of Christianity, seems to me to tend decisively toward universalism; many of the various Protestant churches have hardly been without their missionaries and missions in foreign lands, and have sought, with an intensity not less than that of that Catholics, to proselytize and convert the many peoples of the globe. In that special sense, Protestantism seems to me as catholic as Catholicism. Or do you believe that Protestantism resists this tendency somehow, or tends to remain somehow more localized or rooted?

  3. John, Thanks for your interesting and full response. I will certainly think more about the issues and perhaps respond more fully in due course on the particularism of the protestant churches. What I would say now is that my own tradition – Anglicanism – is almost by definition tied to a place. Roger Scruton has written wonderfully how the Church of England is linked to the land in which it was formed. Scruton goes so far as to suggest that Anglicans need not believe in any particular dogmas, but what matters is an almost inchoate sense of belonging. I do not fully subscribe to this view although there is something comforting to it.

    The other important point about Anglicanism is that, for many, it is really ‘reformed Catholicism’. Much of the liturgy remains, we claim apostolic succession, and so on. In this sense, it is perhaps a poor example of Protestantism (which is, incidentally, a word seldom used in Anglican circles).

    I accept your point on individualism, and I claim no particular expertise here. There are indeed many examples of individual interpretation. However, I would see these as being at the margins. Also, I would suggest that for most protestants, basing their faith on an interpretation of the Bible is entirely appropriate. In nearly all cases, however, that interpretation will not be their own.

    A final point on Guenon. I think he must have realised, in part at least, the inevitable contradiction of his predicament. He was an acute critic of modernity, but he was also a product of it (how could he not be being born where and when he was?). The milieu in which he was placed was modernist and his questing and questioning were typical of modern intellectual enquiry. Perhaps then he realised, to be true to his critique, he had to literally step out of modernity and move to Egypt. This is commendable, although again and without being uncharitable, it does show a modernist trait, in that he had both the choice and the means to achieve it. It was an act of individualism.

  4. John, I believe that, in answer to point 6, Christ did redefine love in such a way as to give birth to the unique worldview of the Middle Ages. Andrew Willard Jones has written well of our inability to view the Middle Ages through anything but a Hobbesian, modern lens; we should understand that Christendom sincerely saw the world of men as one in which a Christian’s natural state was to act out of a selfless love, not some power-play motivation in a zero-sum game. Anything that deviated from this was a perversion or even heresy. Christ’s redefinition of love was undoubtedly part of the development of the uniqueness of the West.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Richard. I do not know Jones, but I will look into him. As for your wider point – truly, it is impossible to dream of chivalry, for instance, arising in anything other than a Christian context. I am reminded of something Nietzsche wrote:

      This makes it plain why love as passion – which is our European specialty – simply must be of noble origin: as is well known, its invention must be credited to the Provençal knight-poets, those magnificent and inventive human beings of the ‘gai saber’ to whom Europe owes so many thing and almost owes itself.

      And these knight-poets – the Troubadours – could they have existed without Christianity? Would their idea of love have arisen without it? One doubts it. You make a strong case.

  5. A really great two-parter! It is probably worth noting that the history of right wing thought is pretty much majority Christian, and in many of the non-Christian cases, these in fact returned to the faith later, like Charles Maurras, Guido de Giorgio, or even Edgar Jung who initially seemed to use Christianity only for its moral value but later, as Nazism was instantiated, saw it as absolutely necessary in a spiritual sense to preserve what was good and beautiful about European life in the Traditional sense. I particularly like what you said here about Russia as this has been my thinking.

    Faustian civilization, like Apollonian civilization before it, has died. The ruins remain, and these must be brought forward into a new identity and spirit, found in the meeting of East and West, the onion dome and the spire, the plane without limit and the infinite space. I think ultimately this will require Christian realization and a great leader unlike any other.

  6. Richard Storey said:
    «[…]Christendom sincerely saw the world of men as one in which a Christian’s natural state was to act out of a selfless love[…]»

    Yes, indeed, although this ‘state’ wasn’t realized ‘naturally’—spontaneously or effortlessly, intrinsically and uncontrived—in the vast majority of people, only in the true saints (in a St. Francis, for example); and yet, more than a few may have been touched by it. And even though the vast majority of persons in all castes of the social order (clergy included!) remained in the gross leaden stage of the alchemical transformation of one’s nature, any culture that maintains the very possibility of sanctification, of theosis, of the illumination of the heart—for which the saint represents the human norm, the True Man—is superior to one that denies such a possibility and does not look beyond the gross state of common (for Christianity: fallen, devolved) man, which it considers the be all and end all, beyond which there is nothing save perhaps the dehumanising technological monstrosity of transhumanism that deconstructs and disintegrates the natural human condition rather than transcending it.

    The problem of Christianity in the medieval world is that it didn’t go far enough! This is also the great tragedy of Europe: that having once been entrusted with the Christian revelation, instead of deepening the knowledge and practice of Christianity in all areas of life, making a veritable sacred science of it that could have vastly surpassed the institutional, formal religion as it were, this great project was abandoned before it had matured or reached its full fruition. The baby was thrown out with the bath-water, so to say; having developed the Christian civilization imperfectly, Europe chose the profane direction that is now threatening to destroy humanity globally. (The Protestant Reformation was of course an idealistic attempt—at least by some—to renew the Christian project, but misguided due to a lack of holistic knowledge; if masters like Böhme had been more listened to, some things might have been different.) It is only the path of sacred science that could have transformed the imperfections of the medieval system, leading to a real progress without bringing about the cataclysm that submerged the medieval world into the spiritual wasteland of modernity. Too often people imagine that the only alternative to the chain of causes and effects that resulted in modernity would have been a stagnant medievalism.

    There were secretive networks of initiates in Europe that attempted to bring about such an esoteric transformation of Europe, but they were defeated insofar as the mainstream development came to be dominated by profane, materialistic and dark forces. However, there may still be time for certain unexpected victories on the right side before the end.

    I warmly recommend Philip Sherrard’s ‘The Rape of Man and Nature’ for a treatment of some of these questions from the point of view of Christian metaphysic… Also Seyyed Hossein Nasr, ‘Man and Nature’, ‘The Need for a Sacred Science’, etc.

    Yes, Christ gave us the possibility of realizing infinite, unconditional Love, which had certainly been prefigured in the teachings of earlier ‘prophets’ as well (whereas the prophets of modern scientific knowledge gave us the Bomb!), such as the Buddha in India (whose tradition, interestingly enough, perfected the way of infinite compassion in the Mahayana around the time of Christ and afterwards; this is a cosmic synchronicity, I would say)—but even so, who else demonstrated this principle in so absolute a way? What is truly superhuman about the Christic revelation is the alchemical transformation of the deepest suffering by this power of Love, and the idea of descending into such suffering voluntarily for the sake of all. This is the truth that humanity needs to live if its hellish condition in the depth of this Kali Yuga at the end of history is to be transformed — but do we want it? It takes heroic daring and self-sacrifice in the quest for the Grail if this wasteland shall begin to blossom again.

    One more word concerning this selfless, Christic Love. More than a ‘redefinition’, which sounds abstract and conceptual, we are dealing with a living force that was initiated by Christ to forge this path. If one has been struck by it even briefly (as it is only a stable condition—or ‘station’, rather than passing state, as the Sufis would say—in the saints), one would see that this is not a natural quality of mortal mankind, which is to say something merely humanistic, because it transcends the ordinary limits of a human individual as such. It is not a mere sentiment, emotion, idea, concept, attitude, willing etc, as so often believed. It is more like a ‘power’, and must be ‘tasted’ for oneself. So it belongs to a deeper level of being than the human individual and comes as grace from that deeper/higher level of being than terrestrial humanity is commonly aware of; it cannot be simply produced by will, but the conditions can be made right for its manifestation, through various spiritual practices. Outside of a spiritual path, this grace will never be realized to the degree it is by the true saints. However, it is obvious to me that such ‘deified’, by grace transformed persons have arisen also within other religions than Christianity (these being implicit Christians as they have been baptised by the Spirit), which is one of the reasons why I have Perennialist leanings and cannot believe that the formal church sacraments and so on are required in all cases for this spiritual grace to operate all the way to deification. If this is deemed heretical by many, then so be it; I cannot deny obvious evidence. There is no reason, however, why one cannot admit this presence of grace in other religious forms and at the same time grant a certain preeminence to formal Christianity due to the case of that unsurpassable incarnation in the flesh who originated that form and His Great Work. The fact that this grave is effective within other religions, as proved by numerous Buddhist, Hindu or Sufi saints for example, makes its fruits none the more ‘natural’ as far as ordinary humanity is concerned. Not, at the very least, natural in the sense that this word is commonly used — especially not when nature is considered a result of a reductionist physical ‘evolution’! (See the works of physicist and philosopher Wolfgang Smith.) But then again, it is false even to assume that ordinary individually conditioned consciousness and self-awareness could possibly ‘evolve’ from dead insentience without the need of a conscious cause which is eternally intrinsic to reality. Once it is remembered that the innermost centre of Man is a ray of the Spirit, uncreated and uncreatable in Meister Eckhart’s word (this preeminent Germanic master of contemplation) the scope of what is really natural to Man is vastly deepened. All that one can say is that this ‘True Self’ of Man has become so obscured and darkened in ordinary human consciousness that the grace of an initiating intervention from without, including that of religion, is necessary for him to awaken to the Light within. In this sense it is evident that Christianity is still needed, and is the primary spiritual resource of European man, but the formal Church isn’t the only vehicle for such transformation when individuals are concerned.

    1. An extremely interesting comment, Elijah, for which I thank you, even though it was no addressed to me specifically. I think you have touched upon some central problems confronting Christianity in our day, and the Church in particular, to wit: the Church never instated a truly initiatic tradition within its hierarchy, but instead in the main insisted on baptism and the sacraments in the place of a truly initiatic ladder. This is one of the more suspect democratic aspects of Christianity which I have referred to in the course of my essay. The Church indeed closed off the possibility of extra-Christian initiation, and simultaneously insisted on that closure by defining itself as the unique true path to redemption. You have indicated the difficulty here with great clarity by noting that your very acknowledgement of alternate routes of inner transformation in other traditions might render you a heretic in the eyes of the Church. How then be at once a Catholic and also a Perennialist? And if one is forced to choose, why, then…

      The problem is compounded still further. One would like the Church to recognize this possibility, the possibility of extra-Christian initiation; but this is dangerously near to the soggy ecumenism lately embraced by the Church. One simultaneously wants the Church to awaken to its militant aspect, to hold itself up as the only remaining possibility for a wide front, a broad defence of what has been Europe’s culture; but in order for it to do so, it is clear it must double down and insist upon its special dogma, its own doctrine, its superior magisterium; it must in short close itself off even more strongly than before to other traditions and other spiritual paths. But it thus would aggravate the problem you have put your finger on.

      It seems necessary to me precisely for this reason to insist upon the difference between the social and the philosophical meaning of the Church, as the old, pre-modern philosophers were want to do with the faiths reigning in their respective societies – to do this, indeed, precisely with an eye toward cultivating that which is best in Christianity and making space for future forms of the right kind of ecumenism. Put otherwise: it seems necessary to me that each one of us particular, insofar as he is able and in direct proportion to the height of his vocation, seeks to reinstate in his own work and thinking the distinction between the esoteric and the exoteric.

      1. I am right now reading Jean Borella, an excellent writer, who seeks to resolve the problem of the relation between Tradition and Catholicism. As I understand him, he claims that there is an esoteric current within the Catholic faith, which is evident in St. Clement of Alexandria and in Origen and in other Church fathers. From a cursory reading of St. Clement I can confirm that this is true. The relation between esoterism and exoterism in the Catholic faith is different however, because Catholicism is a Mystery Religion. Borella claims that one of its central premises is eliminating the distinction between the esoteric and exoteric. But that does not exclude the fact that there is a reserved teaching for those who are qualified which is different from the common teaching. Borella is excellent and I would recommend him highly on this question of the relation between Tradition and Catholicism.

        1. Many thanks for the suggestion. I am unfamiliar with Jean Borella, but the question he addresses is of great interest to me. If you could indicate which of Mr. Borella’s works might make for a good point to commence with him, I would be much obliged.

          I would also be very curious to hear more regarding the difference you perceive between esoteric vs. exoteric on the one hand, and a reserved teaching vs. a common teaching on the other. The two distinctions seem to me, at first glance, identical. Is it a question of the degree of difference standing between their respective terms (i.e., the esoteric stands farther from the exoteric than the reserved teaching from the common teaching)? Or is it a difference of their scope (i.e., that the esoteric teaching is an entire worldview unto itself, whereas the reserved teaching might restrict itself to this or that special proposition or specific doctrine)?

          1. There are three books by Borella that I would recommend. One is “The Sense of the Supernatural,” then I have ordered a book called “The Secret of the Christian Way.” And the one I am reading currently is called “Christ: The Original Mystery,” in which Borella specifically addresses Rene Guenon’s thesis about Christianity. Guenon puts forth his main thesis about Christianity in his book “Insights into Christian Esotericism.” Guenon basically argues that there was an esoteric Christian teaching in the middle ages with regard to the Holy Grail and the Knights, and that Catholicism declined into a purely exoteric dogmatic or doctrinal form and lost the esoteric, initiatory element that was present in the Knights. But Borella argues against this thesis. He argues for the idea that there was an original gnosis that Jesus Himself transferred to three apostles- James, Peter, and John. There is evidence in the New Testament that there is a hidden meaning behind the parables. (Matthew 13:10-16) James, Peter, and John are the three apostles who witnessed the Transfiguration. And the gnosis was also transferred to Paul in his vision of Jesus at Damascus. These four transferred the gnosis to other disciples. The idea of this original gnosis is doctrinal, it is found in the early Church fathers, Clement and Origen. So this would be the authentic gnosis, as distinguished from the heretical gnostic teaching. Borella also argues that the sacraments were understood as initiatory by the Church fathers. I think Borella’s main idea about Christianity and esoterism is in the following passage “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8:17) The Christian Mystery makes the authentic gnosis available to anyone who is called to receive it. This may be seen as a disappointing democratic egalitarianism, but I think there is still room for the recovery of an aristocratic nobility. I am trying to work out how this could be accomplished in my current project.
            “The Sense of the Supernatural” is available as a pdf here: http://tripletopper.com/wosbald/TheSenseOfTheSupernatural.pdf

  7. Can I add the works of Jean Hani to those mentioned by Anthony? Like Borella, Hani integrates Guenonian Traditionalism with Catholic doctrine in a number of useful books, such as ‘The Divine Liturgy’, ‘Symbolism of the Christian Temple’ and ‘Divine Craftsmanship’. The latter work is one I find especially edifying, providing in the author’s words ‘a preliminary for a spirituality of work and the active life’.

    The work of Jean-Claude Larchet is also interesting, linking Guenon to the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

  8. Christianity is to far complex to understand it from the theological standpoint. There are many diverse Christianities as there are three distinctly different Buddhist practices and possibly several Muslim variations. The whole point of Christianity [even if one does not accept it historically] is that everything [including all the mystery schools] were seeking became a reality when the Word was made Flesh. Now mankind did not have to seek the gods from above but from within. At least if one is going to go against it at least know what it is in essence. Most don’t.

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