Pope Benedict: “The sun is setting over an entire world.”
In his traditional Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI expounded the parallels between the social upheaval, political chaos and moral vacuum which constitute the modern era, and those which precipitated the fall of the Roman Empire. He concluded as did the apocalyptic prophets of old: “The very future of the world is at stake.”
And he exhorts believers as the Psalmist did: “There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline. All the more insistent, then, was the invocation of the power of God: the plea that he might come and protect his people from all these threats.”
An impotent and absent God seems to have forsaken the world at the time of tribulation.
Describing the decline of the Roman Empire, the Pope noted: “The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples.
“The sun was setting over an entire world,” he continued. “Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline.”
Comparing the empire of Rome to the modern of one of Europa, he said: “For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defence of such structures seem doomed to failure.”
The leitmotif of the address was unavoidably the numerous incidences of priestly sexual abuse of children and their systematic cover-up, which he referred to as ‘the great tribulations to which we have been exposed during the past year’.
2010 was designated by the Pope as the ‘Year of the Priests’, and it certainly was, but for all the wrong reasons: “We were all the more dismayed, then, when in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.”
In that dismay one senses a profound anger simmering beneath this pontificate. While the Pope spoke of the need for the Church to reflect upon its own inner workings to determine how such an evil could have become so endemic, he felt it was mitigated in the context of the moral disintegration of wider society, and he referred specifically to the ubiquity of child pornography, sex trafficking, drug abuse and ‘the tyranny of mammon’, saying, “No pleasure is ever enough, and the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart – and all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man’s freedom and ultimately destroys it.”
And he recounted a vision which brings to mind that given to the Apostle John on Patmos:
In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 1170, I had been lying on my sick-bed for a long time when, fully conscious in body and in mind, I had a vision of a woman of such beauty that the human mind is unable to comprehend. She stretched in height from earth to heaven. Her face shone with exceeding brightness and her gaze was fixed on heaven. She was dressed in a dazzling robe of white silk and draped in a cloak, adorned with stones of great price. On her feet she wore shoes of onyx. But her face was stained with dust, her robe was ripped down the right side, her cloak had lost its sheen of beauty and her shoes had been blackened. And she herself, in a voice loud with sorrow, was calling to the heights of heaven, saying, ‘Hear, heaven, how my face is sullied; mourn, earth, that my robe is torn; tremble, abyss, because my shoes are blackened!’Pope Benedict is clear: the stain of dust is the rape of innocence; the torn garments are the sins of priests.
The only solution, he avers, is to stand against relativism, and the warping of the idea of the conscience: “In order to resist these forces, we must turn our attention to their ideological foundations. In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos. It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than’ and a ‘worse than’. Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist. The effects of such theories are evident today.”
Perhaps in the observation ‘even within the realm of Catholic theology’ is a swipe at the modernisers, the liberals, and the unintended consequences of Vatican II.
In talking of his visit to the UK, His Grace was struck by this quote from the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman:
In January 1863 he wrote in his diary these distressing words: “As a Protestant, I felt my religion dreary, but not my life - but, as a Catholic, my life dreary, not my religion.”It would appear that he never experienced the profound joy at the heart of the Anglican expression of Protestantism. And doubtless some of His Grace’s readers and communicants might also insist, if his life were ‘dreary’, that he never tasted Catholicism.
The Pope also called on political leaders to ‘put a stop to Christianophobia’.
But it is not clear how they may do so in the era of omnipotent ‘Human Rights’, in which all religions are equal and the mere offer of prayer may mean instant dismissal from one’s job, and the proclamation of Christian orthodoxy may lead to economic hardship, arrest, fines and even imprisonment.
In the final analysis, the Pope observed that ‘only if there is…a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function’.
So quite why he supports the emerging Empire of Europa, in which there is no consensus and no accountability to the demos, is a mystery. There may indeed be public agreement on essential truths which are ‘derived from the Christian heritage’, but in the secular and Godless EU this heritage is ignored and morality is subsumed in the pursuit of ever secular union.
He concluded: “To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.”
Indeed it is.
Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni.