The Church: called to be a bulwark against the coming Apostasy
Editor’s Note: The following is the second part of an in-depth essay by author and painter Michael D. O’Brien on the coming Great Apostasy. The first part is here. The entire essay can be viewed here.
November 28, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – Why have so many Christians proved to be so vulnerable to, even eager for, the pathological narratives of our time? Why, in short, do we tell lies to ourselves? We deceive ourselves because there are abundant rewards for doing so, while simultaneously the inner tensions inherent in the moral struggle of the human condition are eased, left behind, as if we were discarding an outmoded legend. Daily, we gulp plausible lies, a web of falsehoods coupled to flattery, to emotional and physical pleasures, and constantly reinforced by a new world culture largely contrived by the entertainment and communications media, by the corruption of education, by morally compromised politics, and most reprehensible of all, by ambiguous theology and spurious spiritualities.
In his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul exhorts the shepherds of the flock of the Lord to preach the word of God with determination, in season and out of season, to “convince, rebuke, and exhort,” to be unfailing in persistence and in teaching. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim 4: 3-4).
If the current studies of faith and practice in the Western world are accurate, it appears that more than 80% of Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the need for Confession, nor in other fundamental doctrines of the Faith. Consistently, this majority rejects Church teachings on sexual morality. Yet many among them continue to attend Mass or define themselves as Catholic as a kind of cultural religious identity, useful as an ethical system in which to raise one’s children as law-abiding citizens—as “basically good people”—but demanding no accountability before God and man.
In 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-4, St. Paul cautions us to not be hastily shaken by any spirit or word to the effect that the Day of the Lord has come, for that day will not come until after the great apostasy (“falling away” and “rebellion” in some translations) which is the prelude to the revealing of “the man of lawlessness, the son of perdition,” who opposes God and exalts himself, taking his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. This is the Antichrist, who through lies and flattery will rise to power upon waves of a strong delusion, which takes root in the minds of men because they have opposed the truth and the authority of God and, in effect, exalted themselves as gods over their own lives.
In his second letter to Timothy he warns:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of distress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying its power. (2 Tim 3: 1-5)
Clearly, St. Paul is not so much referring here to the external enemies of the Church as to those who remain within her ranks. St. Peter’s second letter also reinforces this warning, pointing out that the coming infidelity will be not only external but internal:
There were false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who ransomed them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentious ways and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. (2 Peter 2: 1-2) . . .
. . . Remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles. First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions, saying, ‘Where is this promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.’ They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar, and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. (2 Peter 3: 2-10)
Because man is religious by nature, the void that opens within him in the absence of a truly ennobling faith is soon filled with some kind of faith-system. As G. K. Chesterton once pointed out, when men cease to believe in God they do not then believe in nothing; they then become capable of believing anything.1 Nevertheless, the apostate must live with himself, and so he demands that he be the arbiter of the meaning of good and evil and that he enjoy an untroubled conscience as he goes about it, and woe to him who disturbs it. In order to live with the remnant of his conscience the apostate must see himself as a reformer-liberator: he is enlightened, he is compassionate, he is mellow—until he is resisted, and then he becomes merciless. The self-proclaimed “liberal” soon finds himself behaving very much like a fascist, and not knowing why—not even questioning why. This is also true of many a liberal heretic who remains in the ranks of the Church and takes upon himself the project of deconstructing her from within and attempting to rebuild her according to his own notions—offering the world a tame Christ rather than a merciful one, an undemanding Christianity rather than one which calls man higher to become his true self, an amputated Gospel missing vital limbs and organs. They are rebels masquerading as moral reformers.
In his prescient 1942 book, The Judgment of the Nations, historian Christopher Dawson warned that in the near future the imposition of neo-totalitarianism and corrupt morality would be purveyed as a moral crusade, one that by necessity would demand the Church’s submission to the will of the State:
It is due to the invasion of the spiritual by the temporal, the triumphant self-assertion of secular civilization and of the secular state against spiritual values and against the Church. The real meaning of what we call totalitarianism and the totalitarian state is the total control of all human activities and all human energies, spiritual as well as physical, by the State, and their direction to whatever ends are dictated by its interests, or rather the interests of the ruling party or clique. . . . In such an order there can be no place for religion unless religion forfeits its spiritual freedom and allows itself to be used by the new power as a means for conditioning and controlling the psychic life of the masses. But this is an impossible solution for the Christian, since it would be a sin against the Holy Ghost in the most absolute sense. Therefore, the Church must once again take up her prophetic office and bear witness to the Word even if it means the judgment of the nations and an open warfare with the powers of the world.2
The future that Dawson foresaw seventy-five years ago is now here. It should be noted that this social revolution has been legally enforced in the once-Christian West by governments led by heretical or apostate Christians, complete with punishments for resistance to the new “orthodoxy.” It is perversely logical, therefore, that state-sanctioned, state-funded murder of widening categories of the human community (children, the elderly, the weak, the infirm, the depressed, et cetera) is promoted in the name of humanity, and that the erosion of freedom is done in the name of freedom. Moreover, wherever this spirit and ethos cannot cross the guarded frontiers of Islamic and Marxist nations (which have their own masks of the Beast), it does so through the medium of culture, electronically. It is thus a global revolution that has as its purpose the exaltation of man and the denial of the absolute rights of God. As the consequences of this brave new religion are hidden from man’s eyes, he has now come to call darkness light; he promotes betrayal as romance and murder as compassion; he calls the depths the heights. He will gain nothing and call it everything. He will lose everything and call it nothing. He will worship, as all created things must worship, yet as he strains to worship himself alone he will come, without knowing it, to worship the father of lies. Then follows the unleashing of greater and greater degrees of evil that will, in the end, seek to devour everything.
Only one thing stands in its way: the Roman Catholic Church—that is, the Church when it lives to the utmost the fullness of life in Christ. When it is the bulwark that stands firm against all the malice and deceptions of the diabolic, and when it is a “sign of contradiction” against every corrupt rationalization produced by fallen mankind.
The gulf between the authentic follower of Christ and the heretic (or de facto apostate) is not always clear, because human beings are ever in transition, cannot be reduced to any one thing. For Newman, however, the distinction between the two could be seen in the conscience:
. . . Christ dwells in the conscience of one, not of the other; that the one opens his heart to God, the other does not; the one views Almighty God only as an accidental guest, the other as the Lord and owner of all that he is; the one admits Him as if for a night, or some stated season, the other gives himself over to God, and considers himself God’s servant and instrument now and forever.3
But what happens when the bulwark and sign of contradiction becomes the very instrument for malformation of conscience? When its universal charity for sinners mutates into a parody of itself and degenerates into empathy for sin? When its voice grows feeble and no longer calls man higher to become his true self?
Sacred Scripture is replete with warnings:
And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath; their way I have requited upon their heads; says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 22: 30)
And the words of Jesus:
I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead. Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; keep that and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. (Rev 3:1-3)
These warnings will strike us as harsh, authoritarian and loveless, to the degree that we do not hear the authentic voice of the speaker. “. . . he that will hear, let him hear; and he that will refuse to hear, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3: 27). When Christ himself tells us that we must repent lest we lose what has been given to us at so great a cost, can we not hear the sweet fire of love in it? Can we not hear his words as the urgency of a passionate shepherd, rather than the vindictiveness of an autocrat?
And if we cannot hear this burning love, what has gone wrong with our interpretive lens? Have we approached the holy ground of God without removing our sandals? Have we presumed that God is there to serve us, on our terms? Have we placed ourselves, consciously or subconsciously, above the exigencies of Divine revelation, above the living Word of God, above the teaching authority of the Church which the Savior has given us and formed through two millennia of countless martyrs, great doctors, pastors, teachers and the humblest of hidden saints, a cloud of witnesses, “the great and the small”? Have we presumed that we are on the cusp of a new and better revelation. Have we been seduced into thinking of ourselves as the most advanced generation of Christians, the most enlightened, the last best interpreters of the law and the prophets—and of Christ himself? If so, we have become neo-gnostics—the Knowers—without knowing that we are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:15-18).
To be continued…
1. This oft-quoted maxim of Chesterton’s is not, in fact, something he wrote, but rather a paraphrase or synthesis of similar insights scattered throughout his writings; for example, in one of his Father Brown stories his priest-detective says, “The first effect of not believing in God is that you lose your common sense.”
2. Christopher Dawson, The Judgment of the Nations, Sheed & Ward, New York, 1942.
3. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, V, Sermon 16, December 25, 1837, “Christ Hidden from the World.”