The City of Light under the Regime of Darkness: Historical Meditation on Current Events

Op-Ed: “The City of Light under the Regime of Darkness: Historical Meditation on Current Events” (by John C. Rao)

Monday, August 28th, the Feast of St. Augustine, followed hard upon the Sunday statement of Archbishop Viganò regarding papal delinquency in the chastisement of episcopal evildoers. Mulling over the possibility of some providential connection of the annual commemoration of the Doctor of the Church and the ex-nuncio’s document brought to mind the Bishop of Hippo’s City of God. It did so because this work, published in the early fifth century, one of the many tragic eras in the history of Western Christendom, is of continuing significance to all of us living through what is without a doubt the worst of such periods of trial to date. Its significance comes both from the circumstances surrounding its publication as well as the substance of the arguments to be found therein.

Perhaps the most painful aspect of the circumstances in which St. Augustine wrote the City of God—after the Sack of Rome in 410 and just before the Vandal invasion of his native Africa in 429—was that the period preceding the disaster was one where Catholics in the western part of the Roman Empire were filled with hope. St. Jerome, visiting the Eternal City in the late 300’s, recounts how changed it was from his earlier memories of it, due to the fact that during his absence the Christians had triumphantly occupied so many public spaces that had once served pagan purposes. Nevertheless, hopeful as the changed public scene might have been, the victory was recent and time was needed in order to make it permanent. The disaster that overtook the Christian Empire in the West—its occupation by barbarians who were either pagan or heretical in belief—subjected the Church to their influence and made the recovery long and difficult.
Similarly, the most painful aspect of the descent of the Western Church into her present decadent state is that the century and a half that preceded the 1960’s was in many respects one of impressive recovery from another age of decline whose history is unknown to most Catholics. The eighteenth century as a whole witnessed a steady and often pathetic Catholic surrendering of intellectual, spiritual, and social bastions to the forces of naturalism and secularization. The French Revolution merely intensified this collapse in a violent way. Renewal began even in the depths of this Catholic winter, emerging from small circles of laity and clergy working in union with one another to rediscover the Catholic Tradition that the eighteenth century had neglected, often mocked, and almost entirely forgotten. A deepened understanding of the full meaning of the Incarnation and the Mystical Body then led to an energetic nineteenth and twentieth century effort to reoccupy all the intellectual, spiritual, and social spaces that had been abandoned to the naturalists, claiming them for Christ the King.
Slowly, but definitively by the reign of Blessed Pius IX (1846-1878), these seemingly powerless circles gained the support of the Papacy. One salient feature of the papal involvement in the effort to reoccupy public space and transform all things in Christ was the recognition that doing so required a commitment to shedding Catholic light to dispel the darkness of a previous era of doctrinal murkiness and practical surrender of the Faith to outside influences; to shedding Catholic light to make it clear to the faithful and the non-faithful alike that the modern western world was engaged in a massive “civil war”. In this civil war, either Christ would rule, truly liberating the individual and society in the process, or godless man would rule in the name of a naturalist freedom that actually blindfolded him to his true good and enslaved him. Whatever its blunders, the Papacy of Blessed Pius IX and his successors for the next one hundred years was a Papacy committed to building the City of God, which must by its very nature be a City of Light. Document after document from the time of Pius IX onwards contributing to clarifying the nature of that City of Light and aiding in its construction. The first important one, identifying what was Catholic and what was not in the most crystal clear manner imaginable, was the Syllabus of Errors of 1864. It is because of its clarity that the Syllabus aroused the anger that it did from those who wanted the Church to behave herself and leave the public spaces of society alone.
It is no wonder that those reformers who ushered in our own half a century and more of ever more obvious decadence openly proclaimed the teaching upon which they wished to construct the world to be a kind of Counter-Syllabus. The Counter-Syllabus inspiring the “spirit of Vatican Two” was to be one that opened the faithful to the light that came from the outside, non-Catholic world. And yet it was precisely this supposed light from the outside world that the revival seriously beginning in the nineteenth century understood to have obscured the Faith in the name of the naturalist Enlightenment and the Revolution.
If the founders of the Catholic Revival could have been brought back to life in the 1960’s they would have told the faithful that what the “modernizers” of the 1960’s were actually doing was merely renewing the older assault on the fullness of the Faith that they themselves had worked so energetically to defeat. The Sack of Rome was to begin again, and, as in the case of the one that saddened St. Augustine in 410, it was people on the inside who were to open the gates to the enemy. The City of Light was to be replaced by the City of Man, ruled over by a Regime committed to Darkness.
I have no intention in this brief meditation of discussing the whole substantive message of the City of God. The chief point that I want to recall to everyone horrified by the Regime of Darkness is Augustine’s teaching that the forces working to build the City of God—which involves the effort to transform all things in Christ—and those committed to constructing the City of Man—which insists upon living according to the dark “lights” of the unredeemed natural world alone—are inevitably mixed in with one another until the end of time. We experience their warring influences inside our own souls and we see that war played out inside every single natural and supernatural institution, the Holy Church of Christ, with her popes, bishops, priests, and religious included.
We know that that war will end with the humbling of the wicked, for God will not be mocked. Nevertheless, each and every one of us cannot avoid the difficult, seemingly unending struggle, both within ourselves as well as for transformation of the world around us in Christ the King. We are always in spiritual combat and that combat is now very much going against us. But there can be no rest for those who want the good, since rest means allowing the occupation of all public spaces by the wicked, and, through that occupation, the danger that society will effect our private seduction and even entice us to enlist in the ranks of the enemy. Thinking that there is some “Benedict Option” that permits us to hide from battle in a safe spiritual cubbyhole is as foolish as the work of the murk-makers who have abandoned the City of Light to help create the current Regime of Darkness. The Benedictines themselves understood this by the tenth century. It was at that point that the monks of Cluny, seeing how easily the corrupt, contemporary powers-that-be dominated the monasteries “opting” to stay independent, created their famous large federation, which then set out to occupy public spaces, winning over local lords, kings, and emperors to serving the cause of Christ.
St. Augustine’s City of God is replete with examples of the wicked and self-delusional means by which the unredeemed City of Man is built and the power of the rulers of the Regime of Darkness over their often quite clueless victims is maintained. In reading them, one is struck by the unchangeable nature of the ways in which the forces who wish to block the transformation of all things in Christ throughout all of history—what I like to call the Grand Coalition of the Status Quo—go about their business. It is interesting to note that the same unchangeable tools are also identified by Plato, both in his general discussion of the Sophist campaign against any effort to gain knowledge of and act in accordance with the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, as well as in his highly amusing treatment of the particularly ignorant behavior of mass “democratic man”. Both Augustine and Plato indicate that the “modern” strategy of those trying to discredit Archbishop Viganò’s accusations is effective because it is actually a very ancient one indeed, with a proven record of success behind it from the time of the Sophists onwards. The unum necessarium of every application of this strategy, ancient and modern, is the need to keep men and women firmly and mindlessly chained to the back wall of Plato’s murky cave and prevent their ascent to the light; to keep them away from the knowledge gained in the City of Light and under the ignorance guaranteed by the Regime of Darkness.
One extraordinarily successful method for obscuring the light discussed by St. Augustine involves a mixture of silence and calumny. Silence regarding the very existence of Christianity was a favorite tool of the conservative pagan forces in the Roman Empire, and many enemies of the Faith continued to employ it long after its legalization under Constantine. Others who felt obliged to speak of the hated Christian enemy did so through calumny regarding the real content of the Church’s teachings and what believers were supposed to do to put them into practice. We have repeatedly seen the current facilitators of the Regime of Darkness mobilizing both of these tools to achieve their own murky goals. In Archbishop Viganò’s case, this has involved Pope Francis taking the high road of disdainful silence, while his allies invent anything that comes into their heads that might work to discredit the whistle blower and his supporters, including everything from Latino-hatred to pollution mongering.
This silence and calumny can work their impact due to another tool that St. Augustine describes with many examples from Roman History: a self-delusion about the gods and nature that allows for the domination of the City of Man by those with a libido domandi, a lust for power. Augustine shows that some of those who misrule the City of Man under their Regime of Darkness may themselves be self-deluded, while others with a libido dominandi are fully aware that they are manipulating their victims for their own sinful benefit.
The self-delusion that has created the decadence of our own day is to an enormous degree the result of a theme that goes back to the tragic and dangerous path taken by one of the original leaders of the nineteenth century Catholic revival gone astray: the Abbé Felicité de Lamennais (1782-1854). His vision, kept alive through the many decades when the Church was dedicated to building the City of Light, gained new strength through different representatives of the many-headed school of Personalism, active from the 1930’s onwards. Its main point, as expressed by the Personalists, is that the Holy Spirit speaks through the vital, energetic elements of the world around us, and that listening to, dialoguing with, and giving Catholic “witness” to accomplishing their “will” will lead to the emergence of a new and more authentic Christian order. Emmanuel Mounier (1905-1950), one of the representatives of the movement, is instructive in this regard:
Surely [development] is slow and long when only average men are working at it. But then heroes, geniuses, a saint come along: a Saint Paul, a Joan of Arc, a Catherine of Siena, a Saint Bernard, or a Lenin, a Hitler and a Mussolini, or a Gandhi, and suddenly everything picks up speed…[H]uman irrationality, the human will, or simply, for the Christian, the Holy Spirit suddenly provides elements which men lacking imagination would never have foreseen….May the democrat, may the communist, may the fascist push the positive aspirations which inspire their enthusiasm to the limit and plenitude. (J. Hellman, Emmanuel Mounier and the New Catholic Left, McGill-Queens, 1997. pp. 85, 90).
Nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of listening to the “voice of the Holy Spirit”. Hence, people sharing Mounier’s vision were always logically ready to consider the possibility of shelving entire realms of Christian scripture, theology, and spirituality, should they clash with the “emerging convergence.” If silence regarding the Christian Tradition were not enough, then calumny and mockery of anyone taking that Tradition seriously had to be mobilized to help the Holy Spirit accomplish His goal. By the last years of World War Two, “there was little place for sin, redemption and resurrection in the debate; the central acts of the Christian drama were set aside” (Hellman, Mounier, p. 265). Nietzsche’s critique of slavish Christianity now seemed to him to be unanswerable, and he “came to think that Roman Catholicism was an integral part of almost all he hated. Then, when he searched his soul, he discovered that those aspects of himself which he appreciated least were his ‘Catholic’ traits”(Ibid., 190).
Doing what one willed was the only thing that mattered. Not surprisingly, all rational Greek attempts to understand the True, the Good, and the Beautiful that had been used to support Christianity and dampen the “vital will” were execrated along with Catholicism as well. The Socratics, for him, were indeed Seeds of the Logos—and, as such, had to be driven into the wilderness with a fiery sword. Those obsessed with Catholic dogma, Catholic practice, and the philosophical hunt for the Logos all required diagnosis and serious psychiatric help.
Mounier came flatly to denounce old-fashioned Christianity and Christians. Christianity, he wrote, was “conservative, defensive, sulky, afraid of the future.” Whether it “collapses in a struggle or sinks slowly in a coma of self-complacency,” it was doomed. Christians were castigated, in Nietzschean style, as “these crooked beings who go forward in life only sidelong with downcast eyes, these ungainly souls, these weighers-up of virtues, these dominical victims, these pious cowards, these lymphatic heroes, these colourless virgins, these vessels of ennui, these bags of syllogisms, these shadows of shadows…”. (Ibid.,191). Metaphysical speculation, Mounier declared, was a characteristic of “lifeless schizoid personalities.”…He referred to intelligence and spirituality as “bodily diseases” and attributed the indecisiveness of many Christians to their ignorance of “how to jump a ditch or strike a blow.” “Modern psychiatry,” Mounier wrote, had shed light on the morbid taste for the “spiritual,” for “higher things,” for the ideal and for effusions of the soul…Thus, once again, he dismissed many forms of religious devotion as the result of psychosis, self-deception or vanity. Prayer was often a sign of psychological illness and weakness that analysis could do much to heal. Vigorous exercise would help as well. (Ibid., 192-193).
If Pope Francis and his followers do not sound like Mounier, both in much of their thought as well as in their actual language, than I cannot imagine who else could possibly resemble him. Surely the dead man is turning in his grave, lamenting his failure to come up with the words “Promethean Neo-Pelagians” to describe those remaining faithful to a combination of Faith and Reason now considered to be an offense to the Holy Spirit.
Let us give the Bergoglians the benefit of the doubt and count them among the self-deluded. But, be that as it may, the Mounier-like Counter-Syllabus guiding the Church for the last half a century has done nothing other than what St. Augustine shows that control of life by the friends of the City of Man must do: guarantee a subjection to the demands of those with a libido dominandi, and the satisfaction of whatever their particular whims might be—including making the world save for the Homosexual International—what an old friend called the Homintern—to go about its business.
Obedience to the wishes of the rulers of the City of Man and the Regime of Darkness that it creates have brought the Church herself into the project of silencing, calumniating, and mocking her own Tradition. The special “modern” achievement of those who have opened the gates to the enemies of Christ has been to unify Church, State, Society, and Zeitgeist as never before in history on behalf of the Triumph of the Will of the enemies of Christ, baptizing their every whim as the voice of the Holy Spirit in our times. One might be tempted to admire the sheer magnitude of the fraudulent achievement if the price were not to be silent about the continued abuse of innocent children and contemptuous of those seeking to end it. You are in league with the powerful and you are hideous, o fallen daughter of Jerusalem!
Self-delusion, libido domandi, silence, calumny, and mockery all do their work in creating a population ignorant of the Truth, blocked from discovering it, and so accustomed to its ignorance that it cannot see how degraded it has become. St. Augustine, notes, among his examples of the degradation of contemporaries committed to the City of Man, the shock of the population of North Africa at the behavior of the exiles escaping the Sack of Rome arriving on its shores. Ready to commiserate with the victims, the Africans found the dull-witted mob only interested in whatever “shows” were taking place in Carthage at the time.
Much of the dull mass of the western world today is so ignorant regarding our civilization in general and the Catholic Tradition in particular that it will believe any lies told it by the powers that be: that the Pope can declare anything he wishes to be the Truth, so long it obscures or contradicts past Church teaching; that everything he says and does must be obeyed, so long as it weakens the Faith and its practice; and that even though abuse of young boys is indeed horrible, that the only people who cannot possibly be involved in it are homosexuals; and that anything that might threaten their influence in the Church would be a far worse disaster than the fate of a few adolescent kids.
In the 1970’s, when Dietrich von Hildebrand was still alive, a speaker whose name I cannot remember came to the young Roman Forum to lament her inability to interest her bishop in stopping the lies of priests and nuns who were destroying her children’s faith. She told us that, shocked by his refusal to do anything to stop the rot, she went to a nearby shrine to pray before the statue of a Catholic Reformation saint for his help instead, asking herself the question as she did so: “who are the dead and who are living?”.
Von Hildebrand told us that he once stood next to Ludwig von Pastor, weeping for joy in St. Peter’s Square at a ceremony of canonization of a new saint. He was weeping tears of joy because he knew that the Church was filled with saints as well as sinners. If alive today, this servant of the Church, this lover of the Papacy and its greatness, whose famous history is filled with many examples of stupid and wicked deeds done by significant numbers of the successors of the Apostle alongside those of brilliance and goodness, would tell us to remember the double reality of sin and sanctity. Yes, he would say, the leaders of the Church, in a world where the forces seeking the City of God and the City of Man are mixed together with one another until the end of time, can be self-deluded or active servants of the Regime of Darkness. Yes, they must be called to account for their misdeeds. But merely because we see the supporters of the City of Man and its Regime of Darkness dominant today, we must remember that the Mystical Body of Christ does not die, even if its leaders are today “the living dead”. The good elements will arise once again. They will awaken Peter from his slumber—if not his present manifestation, then his successor, or the successor after that. The Darkness will be dispelled. The true voice of Holy Spirit will win out over its parody.
But this will take time, and it will only happen if we reject the temptation to despair; the temptation to flee from a battle that grows more and more unseemly as the years go by and to hide in our own little “Benedict” corners instead. It will only happen if we continue to study our Faith more deeply, practice it more fervently, and, along with the woman mentioned above, call unceasingly upon the aid of the truly living help of Christians: Mary and the saints in heaven.
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